Over all the years we’ve been working in communities, we have always found that the vast majority of people are proud of the place they live, and just want to get on with their fellow residents. Even if residents admit they don’t necessarily have that much contact with everyone who lives or works near them, most people are happy to live side by side with others. But sometimes, something comes along to change that. A threat to the unity of a community can come in many guises, and some are easier to spot than others.

Many tensions that arise in communities are because of an outside threat, but don’t underestimate the trouble that can be caused by division arising within a community too.  Sometimes hate comes as a response to an event or incident which impacts on a whole community, but hate does not have to be the default response, even to terrible events such as a terrorist incident or the exposure of organised child sexual exploitation.

The list below isn’t exhaustive, but we hope it will give a flavour of the kinds of issues a community might face.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations can be intensely disruptive to communities but they don’t automatically spell danger. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a group of local citizens holding a demonstration against something that they are concerned about. That said, its worth considering whether they are effective in terms of achieving a strategic goal. Often, they are a good way for people to feel they have had a chance to loudly protest, and ‘do something’, but has that protest achieved anything? Or has it merely upset the local people and businesses who have had their day disrupted as a result?

Some demonstrations are planned not just to protest, but to disrupt and to intimidate, particularly if they are being organised by an outside group coming in to a community. A good example would be the frequent demonstrations held by Britain First outside mosques during Friday prayers. The intimidation is aimed at mosque congregants and the wider Muslim community and the disruption is designed to draw negative associations with the mosque itself among local non-Muslims. There’s a final motivation here, which is to use the demonstration as an opportunity to create publicity, photos and film footage of Britain First, which can be used to garner support for their cause nationally and online.

This last point is particularly important when considering whether to engage face to face with those holding a demonstration. If they have their cameras or phones out, they could capture any engagement made with them, and edit it to their advantage for future use.

You never know who might be taking photos or film at demonstrations and editing it for their own use

Marches

Marches can be a particularly nasty way of demonstrating hate and hostility. Like some of the bigger far right demonstrations in recent years, far right marches are planned in advance, with social media being used to recruit attendance, and with different groups coming together to march for a 'common cause'. It's not unusual for that common cause to get forgotten on the day itself, when old rivalries between different groups and factions surface, and internecine violence kicks off.

The National Front, the North West Infidels, the NOP and others struggle for prominence at a far right march

EDL marches were notorious for planning routes through areas with a high Muslim population, being sure to pass by mosques to be as provocative as possible. Marches have the potential to be hugely disruptive, and are difficult to police. There is the risk of splinter groups moving off the planned group, or trailing behind with the intent of giving police the slip in order to cause trouble and there is potential for counter demonstrators or angry locals to engage in verbal or physical confrontation with marchers. Very often, the marchers will welcome this engagement, as they can then frame themselves as the victims, whose ‘peaceful march’ and ‘right to freedom of speech’ were violated.

If the march has been planned in advance, it is quite normal for protestors on the march to have travelled together from well outside the community, sometimes in organised buses. Such groups often see the whole event as a good way to have a day out with old friends, involving much drinking and for some, the opportunity to literally have a good punch up is part of the sport of the day.

Dover 2016. The hoody worn has the letters 'NEI' - the North East Infidels travelled from Newcastle to Dover to join the protest

A good example of a planned march which escalated into violence and mayhem was the planned march against immigration in Dover 2017.

Terrorism

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon around the world, or even in the UK. Tragically though, in the last 20 years, the UK has suffered some appalling terrorist attacks, both coordinated by groups under an ideology, and by individuals motivated by hate. In many ways, a terrorist attack in a community is the worst possible scenario when it comes to hate. A successful attack, whether involving fatalities or not, comes out of the blue, its victims are generally random, and for those in a position of authority, there is a terrible sense that with better intelligence or more rapid or effective response, perhaps lives could have been saved.

A town that experiences terrorism is violated, fearful and angry. There is a serious possibility of a backlash against people perceived to be sympathetic to any known perpetrators. A coordinated, compassionate response is vital in such a situation, and needs to give people a sense of safety and security, and a chance to express the raw emotion the community is feeling, while being an opportunity to bring diverse voices together to mourn.

Reactions to newcomers

Communities have always experienced demographic change. Mostly this is something that happens organically and with little tension. There are times when rapid change to the makeup of a community can cause tension, and this can result in expressions of hate too. Resentment at perceived, and sometimes actual, worker displacement, and a lack of thought in increasing local services like school places and NHS services can build up and spill over, as well as increasing support for far right parties in elections.

In Lincolnshire in the 2000s, a major supermarket chain announced that it was cutting what it was prepared to pay for poultry by 20%. Local farmers were faced with an urgent need to cut costs, so made local workers redundant and recruited cheap overseas labourers in their place. The tension and resentment built up, and in Boston in 2004, a World Cup tournament gave England fans who had been drinking heavily the excuse they felt they needed to go on the rampage, rioting against Portuguese residents in the area.

Planning applications

A planning application can become a trigger for hate. For someone with hostile views about others, an application for a place of worship, or even for an extension to a home to allow for prayers in a residential home, can be seen as evidence that ‘other’ groups are ‘taking over’ a local area. This might be an objection to a Jewish sabbath boundary (‘eruv’) application, based on antisemitic tropes referring to ghettoes, or an objection to a planning application for a mosque, using seemingly genuine concerns around parking and street traffic to hide underlying Islamophobia. Take a look at our Shrewsbury and Golders Green case studies for examples of hostile objections to planning applications and how positive responses pushed back at the threat.

Hate Preachers

Using the term ‘hate preacher’ feels emotive, but communities who have experienced the negativity that a charismatic individual or group can stir up in a community by pushing an extremist interpretation of a faith will be able to relate to this issue all too well. Islamist extremist groups like Al-Muhajiroun and Hizb Ut-Tahrir have done untold damage to communities, both through inciting acts of terror, but also in intimidating and suppressing mainstream Muslim religious and community leaders. It’s no surprise that they are consistently condemned by Muslim leaders across the UK.

Ironically, East London, in particular the Brick Lane area around East London Mosque, has seen both extremist Islamist hate preached on the street and the false ‘Christian’ narrative of Britain First protestors, using large wooden crosses and the claiming of ‘Christian’ values in their rallying cries.

Similarly, the worrying rise of Sikh extremist groups has led to the ‘take over’ of gurdwaras, and the pushing aside of individuals attempting to resist a narrative which calls for an isolationist Sikhism which rejects engagement with democracy and with the wider British society.

Hate Preachers in the UK have sought to imbed themselves not just in places of worship but also on campus where there have been examples of I-Socs (Student Islam Societies) becoming bastions of intolerance and extremism, which most Muslim students have rejected, leaving them without an organised space in which to gather with other Muslims on campus.

Another popular tactic has been the use of street stalls in town centres, from which hate is peddled in the form of dramatic posters and offensive leaflets handed out to shoppers and passers-by.

Stickering

It’s really upsetting to find graffiti or stickers in your area that are filled with hate, especially if they are deliberately targeted at places of worship or if gravestones or cemeteries are defaced. If you see this happening, report it to the police and any hate crime support services immediately, because it might be part of a bigger pattern that is being tracked. Take photos if you can too. If the graffiti or stickers are in public spaces, you can contact the local council, as they have a responsibility to remove anything offensive  ASAP.

Some hate groups including far right and Islamist extremist groups have been known to use stickering as a rite of passage for young people interested in joining their groups, and also that some hate groups use the placing of stickers as a ‘tag’ to show their presence in the area. However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the kind of people who place stickers on lamp posts are usually far from those who are ready to commit violence, and while such acts are worth noting, they are not an indicator of an imminent threat to safety in the area they are found. They are meant to be a provocation, and it can be counterproductive to give them too much publicity.

Livestreams and online storms

As we all move, whether willingly or kicking and screaming, into the digital age, it will be no surprise that people interested in stirring up tension in communities are discovering the power of digital tools to power their message.

From the horror of the live streaming of the Christchurch terror attack to naïve teenagers sharing images, livestreams and memes online as incidents kick off in their communities. Even social media platforms which are actively trying to contain online hate cannot keep up with the sheer volume of content which is being uploaded daily, and as this gets shared swiftly around, this can have huge impacts offline in communities too.