Nottingham murders serve as rallying point for far-right UK influencers
Anti-immigrant influencers weaponized immigration status of the accused murderer to spread racist, Islamophobic rhetoric
BANNER: People in Taunton, UK watch on a large screen the funeral service for Barnaby Webber, one of the victims of the Nottingham attack, July 14, 2023. (Source: Reuters)
Much of the discourse that proliferated across the media ecosystem in the wake of the murder of three people in the city of Nottingham, UK, allegedly by a man of West African descent, was anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and racist in nature. Valdo Calocane, a legally settled migrant with dual Guinea Bissau-Portuguese citizenship, stands charged of the murders Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley-Kumar, and Ian Coates on June 13, 2023. Voices from mainstream talking heads on cable news channels to far-right groups on Telegram used Calocane’s ethnicity and migrant status as a racist and xenophobic rallying cry.
The DFRLab identified several outlets and individuals who seemed to be driving this type of rhetoric in what appeared to be an attempt to further their own ideological agenda and normalize anti-immigrant and racist sentiment among the broader public. These accounts were not relegated to the United Kingdom; public figures and media outlets on a global scale weighed in on the Nottingham murders.
Despite the families of the three killed asking for restraint and not leverage their loved ones’ deaths for political purposes or spreading hate, a number of far-right pundits and influencers have nevertheless used the killings to call for stricter immigration laws.
Influential voices within the United Kingdom
In our companion piece to this story, the DFRLab examined anti-immigrant and racist narratives that circulated in the UK information ecosystem. These narratives gained particular traction through amplification by a number of voices on the UK far right.
GB News, launched in 2021, is a far-right media outlet that one Guardian writer referred to as “chasing Fox down a path of being economical with the facts.” According to May 2023 statistics, gbnews.com was the UK’s fastest-growing national news website. In addition to its popular website and its presence on UK cable television, GB News has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and TikTok. YouTube is its most popular platform with over 974,000 subscribers, whereas its other platform followings range from 6,923 followers on LinkedIn to approximately 594,300 followers on TikTok.
Between June 13 and June 17, 2023, GB News uploaded thirty-five videos about the Nottingham murders to its YouTube channel; as of July 14, GB News had not uploaded any additional segments about the murders. Between them, the thirty-five videos have accrued over 1.87 million views and over 24,000 comments. When the news of the murders first broke, the segments uploaded to YouTube centered on eyewitness reports and responses from Nottingham locals. Once the identity of the suspect was revealed, however, GB News switched gears, uploading video segments titled “GB News sources confirm suspect of Nottingham attack is West African migrant” and “GB News: Nottingham fatal stabbing suspect is West African migrant with history of violence.” Both videos were uploaded to its YouTube channel within one minute of each other.
The most popular of the thirty-five videos in terms of views, likes, and comments is titled “Nigel Farage calls out ‘LAZY left wing media response’ after three killed in Nottingham attack.” Several of the top comments on the video center on the UK’s immigration policy as being responsible for the murders: “I was in Birmingham last weekend and not in a million years would you think you were in a supposed white Christian country;” “ALL THESE MPS HAVE BLOOD ON THERE [sic] HANDS;” “I just wish the whole country could see this report and the damage that mass migration is having on the UK.”
GB News’ second-most popular social media account is on TikTok, where it uploads shorter snippets of the same YouTube content. Even though GB News uploaded fewer Nottingham attack-related videos to TikTok than it did YouTube – twelve versus thirty-five – its TikTok content accrued over 2.19 million views. The comments on TikTok, while fewer in number (1,961 to YouTube’s 24,000-plus), echoed the same sentiments as those on YouTube. For example, one commenter suggested that the UK “round up every west African migrant and deport” to “make a point.” Another claimed that the suspect – before the suspect’s race or migrant status were identified – is an “illegal dingy crosser by any chance” and urged the British public to “brace yourselves for more.”
GB News, its commentators, and its guests have further contributed to the discourse surrounding the attacks in Twitter posts. A GB News tweet announcing that the Nottingham suspect was a “West African migrant with a history of violence” has 1.8 million views and over 1,600 combined retweets and quotes. One of its presenters, Darren Grimes, posted a tweet focused on the suspect being a “West African migrant with a known history of violence,” almost exactly mirroring the language used in the outlet’s social media posts.
GB News guests also played a role in fear-mongering and driving anti-immigrant sentiment. For example, businessman Adam Brooks tweeted about his appearance on GB News during which he spoke about the Nottingham murders; it is one of the most widely viewed tweets about the murders and the suspect’s migrant status, with over 405,500 views as of July 17, 2023. It is unclear why Brooks, a pub owner from Essex, was asked to weigh in on the incident.
A popular anti-immigration Twitter account, @LittleBoats2020, was a driver of conversation about Calocane. The account’s full name contains a mix of UK-related geographic abbreviations and flag emojis: “LittleBoats 🇬🇧NI🏴🏴En.” Per the account’s Twitter bio, “LittleBoats mission is to highlight the danger illegals bring, stop more coming & ensure those here are deported!” The account regularly refers to Calocane as “the Nottingham killer” and “the Nottingham triple killer,” presuming Calocane’s guilt before the trial is conducted.
On June 20, the account used Islamophobic rhetoric in a tweet claiming that Calocane is likely Muslim, as Islam is the predominant religion in Guinea-Bissau. It also alleged that Calocane lived in a town in Portugal – Tapada das Mercês- with “ISIS links.”
In a follow-up tweet, the account doubled down on its claim by using a picture of the Association of the Islamic Community of Tapada das Mercês and Mem-Martins celebrating Ramadan, presenting it as evidence of the town containing “ISIS cells.” LittleBoats also attempted to draw a connection between the fact that the association was founded in 2007 and that Calocane allegedly received Portuguese citizenship that same year.
On June 25, LittleBoats posted a video of Eid al-Fitr celebrations in Lisbon, “to cast doubt on whether [Calocane] is a Christian.” Although LittleBoats claimed the event took place on June 24, in reality, the celebration took place on April 21. LittleBoats has consistently questioned Calocane’s beliefs and heavily implied he has connections to extremist groups, even saying they “suspect he’s a plant,” although there is currently no evidence to support this statement.
Far-right politicians and pundits
Politicians from far-right political parties quickly leveraged the Nottingham attacks to promote anti-immigrant viewpoints. For example, Paul Golding, leader of the far-right Britain First party, posted one of the most retweeted Twitter posts mentioning Calocane. Twitter removed Britain First and Golding’s accounts in 2017 for violating the platform’s hate speech policies. Following Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, Twitter reinstated Golding and granted him a blue check mark. Twitter also reinstated the Britain First account first with a gold check mark before switching it to blue.
Golding, who was jailed in 2018 for Islamophobic hate crimes, tweeted that “unconfirmed reports” claimed Calocane had recently converted to Islam, playing on the similar Islamophobic tropes LittleBoats used. Writer David Atherton tweeted the same sentiment, claiming his source for the statement was a now-deleted tweet by former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie.
Other individuals from far-right parties also tweeted about the attack. For example, Pat McGinnis, co-founder of the National Housing Party, questioned whether migrants and refugees such as Calocane are capable of enriching British society. His tweet about refugees being an “invasion” remains pinned to his profile, over a month after the attack.
Influential voices from outside the UK
Several non-British media outlets and influencers have capitalized on the Nottingham murders to push harmful narratives. For example, right-wing US provocateur Andy Ngo tweeted the day after the murders, framing the Nottingham attack as similar to the previous week’s stabbing in Annecy, France. In both incidents, the accused were migrants from non-Western countries. Ngo’s tweet has had fewer than 100,000 engagements as of July 24, 2023.
VDARE is a multimedia company that is active across a variety of social media and messaging platforms, including Twitter, Telegram, and Gab, where it has a combined following of over 186,000 subscribers, in addition to publishing articles on its website. VDARE describes itself as “the main project of the VDARE Foundation,” used to “publish data, analysis, and editorial commentary” to “inform the fight to keep America American.” To avoid amplification of VDARE’s white supremacist and white nationalist views, the DFRLab has opted not to link directly to any of their materials.
VDARE has been a key player in leveraging the Nottingham murders as supposed “evidence” of white replacement conspiracy theories like the Great Replacement Theory, as well as the notion that Calocane was motivated by racial grievance. On June 14, the day after the murders, VDARE took to Gab, Twitter, and Telegram to argue, “I think when an African immigrant runs amok and kills a bunch of white people, we can presume an anti-white racial motive, but this is something police are never willing to say in black-on-white killings.” The Twitter, Gab, and Telegram posts all linked to a VDARE article titled, “West African Immigrant Kills Three White People in Nottingham, U.K., Police Search for ‘Motive,’” again leaning into the notion that the murder was driven by race.
Whereas other drivers of anti-immigrant and racist sentiment surrounding the identity of the Nottingham murder suspect largely stopped discussing the murders after a week or two, the US-based VDARE continued posting about the incident into mid-July. Its latest mention of the murders (at the time of research) came in a July 10 article that was the latest installment in its monthly feature, “Another Month In The Death of White America,” even though the crimes happened outside of the United States.
VDARE’s coverage of the murders also included other controversies that other far-right outlets and accounts have tapped into. For example, a VDARE article mentioned the Nottingham police Twitter account’s use of a photo demonstrating a white perpetrator even though the suspect – who had not yet been identified or apprehended at the time of the tweet – was said to be Black. Meanwhile, another VDARE article mentioned two of the victims’ mothers’ quotes from the vigil, where they asked the city to “hold no hate.”
Red Ice TV
Similarly, Red Ice TV attempted to leverage the murders to drive xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. Red Ice, like VDARE, is a multimedia outlet dedicated to promoting white supremacist views and has been criticized for its Holocaust denialism and embrace of white replacement conspiracy theories. Founded in 2003 as a conspiracy theory-focused website that eventually devolved into white supremacy, Red Ice operates out of Sweden and the United States.
For years, Red Ice’s primary outlet was YouTube until it the platform removed it in 2019. That same year, it reportedly attempted to make its way back onto the platform but was again banned. Despite this, Red Ice TV maintains substantial reach across both mainstream and fringe platforms, including but not limited to Twitter (60,800+ followers); Bitchute (51,700+ subscribers); Odysee (26,000+ followers); Gab (12,500+ followers); Rumble (7,800+ followers); GabTV (3,800+ subscribers); and VKontakte (2,600+ followers). It also maintains an audio presence on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, and various radio stations.
In all five tweets Red Ice posted about the Nottingham murders, the company linked to its online show discussing the murders as an example of “refugee terror.” Two Red Ice TV shows discussed the murders, which aired in various combinations on Red Ice TV’s website, Odysee, Rumble, Twitter, Kick, BitChute, Gab TV, and VK. The breadth of streaming platforms employed by Red Ice TV uses highlights both its efforts to reach maximum viewers across platforms as well as the diffuse nature of the far-right streaming ecosystem.
Some of Red Ice’s highest engagement numbers in terms of both frequency and reach take place on Telegram. Its channel has more than 20,800 subscribers; its posts regularly achieve thousands of views. Across its eight Telegram posts about the Nottingham murders, Red Ice received over 61,800 views.
Far-right narratives are transnational in nature, and far-right actors – whether they operate on mainstream television or in channels that the average user may not be privy to – leverage similar conspiracy theories, grievances, and dog whistles to garner widespread support for their cause. In the case of the murders of Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley-Kumar, and Ian Coates, for which Valdo Calocane stands accused, right-wing voices capitalized on their deaths, spreading xenophobic, racist, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Such centralization around a shared narrative is a feature, not a bug, of far-right mobilization, and the harmful rhetoric that emerged following the Nottingham murders should be seen as merely the latest case study in an ongoing trend of coalescence and collaboration around perceived enemies that belong to marginalized groups.
Cite this case study:
Meghan Conroy and Tessa Knight, “Nottingham murders serve as rallying point for far-right influencers,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), https://dfrlab.org/2023/08/04/nottingham-murders-serve-as-rallying-point-for-far-right-uk-pundits-and-influencers.