First they came for National Action… Even extremists have the right to freedom of speech

Until recently, you would have been forgiven for having never heard of National Action; the bitesize, two-bob troupe of neo-Nazi trolls that make repeated attempts to promote the Third Reich in demonstrations up and down the country. Usually, they are confronted by a gaggle of far-left university types – festooned with surly looks and colourful language – shortly before both groups get bored of gesticulating in crap weather and return home for a night of clicktivism and delusions of grandeur. Life goes on the handful of flummoxed onlookers and local plod that bother to show up.

Meanwhile, the government, at the behest of Home Secretary Amber Rudd, elected to ban membership of, and support for National Action under the Terrorism Act last month, elevating them to the same level as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and various other global terror networks. This is irrespective of the fact that National Action have never committed an act of terrorism, nor have they ever conspired to commit an act of terrorism. In fact, as far as street protest movements go, they are at the peaceful end of the spectrum.

Rudd has chosen to ignore the facts and prescribe National Action in light of the present milieu. We are still very much in the midst of the post-referendum ‘hate crime’ hysteria, whereby the unsubstantiated spike in hate crimes since the 23rd June is being relayed as gospel by every single organ of the Brussels propaganda machine. And the Tories – now officially a ‘hard Brexit’ party – are being beaten over the head.

Rudd, in particular, caught the ire of the Remoaners at the Conservative Party conference back in October, when her plan to ‘name and shame’ businesses that employ ‘too many’ foreigners was met with widespread condemnation. The backlash culminated with LBC presenter James O’Brien comparing Rudd’s proposals to a chapter in Mein Kampf, along with numerous others asserting a link between the murder of Jo Cox and the “current rhetoric surrounding immigration.” National Action, incidentally, callously adopted the “death to traitors – freedom for Britain” line of Cox’s killer as their motto.

In response, a remorseful Rudd is now attempting to make amends: by outlawing a little-known far-right camarilla, she contrasts herself with their views and makes the Tories look tough on hate crime. A nice bit of a political point-scoring; a racist hate mob has been expunged; and no one else gets hurt, right?

Wrong. National Action’s repugnancy is irrelevant; the Home Secretary has been incredibly cavalier with a powerful piece of legislation. She has set a worrying precedent that articulating unsavoury views amounts to an act of terrorism. She actually thinks words can hurt us. This is a watershed moment; a concerning development for anyone with contrarian opinions.

Rudd’s description of the organisation – one which “stirs up hatred, glorifies violence, and promotes a vile ideology” – is hard to refute, but it is entirely unquantifiable and subjective. Officialdom could apply that description to any opponent they want to silence; not just fascists, but to populists, conservatives, and classical liberals. It is not enough for a group to be banned.

The responsibility to speak out falls to the Tory’s libertarian wing. We need to gently remind our fellow Conservatives that our party is the principled bulwark of liberty, not a hangout for prissy grandstanders or knee-jerk despots who chisel away at our freedoms and trade off the pieces for short-term political gain. Beware of the creeping normality.

Charlie Richards is a political blogger 

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty