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04th Jun 2019

As Trump visited Britain, once again the heart of our democracy was the focal point for anger

James Dawson

“We love Trump, we love Trump, we love Trump”

It was fitting that on the second day of the US president’s visit to the UK, under grey skies, the rallying cry from the few of his supporters that had gathered in Parliament Square, was not in celebration but antagonisation. Thousands of anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-everything else on the other side of the culture wars had come together; of course, the opposition team had to be there too.

And so it went, next to an inflatable balloon of the US president: “We love Trump, we love Trump, we love Trump” from the tiny, right wing rabble. Against them shouts of “idiots”, “wankers”, “what are you doing here?” Clenched fists, death stares, a sense of coming violence. It didn’t take long before punches were thrown and the sides had to be held apart.

Each claimed the other had started it as police stepped in. “She ran over, bang, and hit her,” one woman, her face beneath a MAGA hat, told me. “Unfortunately, no one gives a shit.” But she could have been a member of either tribe.

Soon the blame game of who-hit-who spread out to tens of thousands via Twitter, the numbers of angry men and women on each side growing.

Over the last year, parliament has become a focal point of conflict. A small number of pro-Brexit supporters, feeling increasingly betrayed by politicians in Westmininster, have looked to act out the ending of V For Vendetta in real life.

They have targetted MPs with chants of “Nazi”. They have waved Union Jacks and subjected bewildered police officers to chants of “paedophile”. They have attempted to storm the gates of parliament to get to the “traitors” on the inside.

The instituions of the far-right – the BNP, the National Front, even Tommy Robinson’s English Defense League – have fallen apart, along with traditional militant opposition, and been replaced by social media. We are now living in the age of PayPal fascism, oddballs – modelled as much on Logan Paul and PewDiePie as they are on Oswald Mosley – are standing at the gates of our democracy, incessantly filming themselves and their hardline anti-immigrant views. Goading anybody who will listen.

This morning a man stood in front of the Trump balloon in an England football shirt, across the St George’s flag he held aloft was his YouTube username. Others, wearing their red pro-Trump hats, livestreamed themselves, spewing bile as anti-Trump protesters crowded around them asking why they were there and what Trump had ever done for them.

The vocal minority of pro-Brexit, pro-Trump supporters who have occupied the ground around parliament over the past year may not represent the 17.4 million who voted to leave the EU, but they have exposed the id-ian potential of the culture wars. Once again, parliament – the centre of British democracy for centuries – became a focal point for anger and violence.

And, as commonplace as it has become, it should be a worry for us all.