'Symbols can be extremely powerful – and be easily misused for hate'

A range of political or pseudo-political causes at times attract extremists who have resorted to violence, hate and intimidation and as part of this, symbolism plays an important part in their activities and aims.

Chrissy Meleady, director of Equalities and Human Rights UK

A symbol is a visual image or sign representing an idea.

Human cultures use symbols to express specific ideologies and social structures and to represent aspects of their culture.

Symbols have the ability to be extremely powerful as they can convey complex messages, ideologies and history in a compact, recognisable form.

As such, relatively simple symbols can be hugely significant to different cultures around the world.

One can see this in the reverence held for national flags or religious symbols.

As such, the defamation or appropriation of a particular symbol has the potential to be hugely insulting to individuals, entire communities or even entire countries.

Unfortunately, symbols can also convey negative connotations.

Some symbols are designed to communicate ideologies that promote hate and anger or instil in others fear and insecurity.

Members of extremist groups use symbols to intimidate individuals and communities.

Hate symbols are more than just ‘signs’ demonstrating racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobia, anti-Christian or

Homophobic or Transphobic attitudes and beliefs. These symbols are meant to instil a sense of fear and insecurity within a particular community. They can be found in graffiti, tattoos, flyers and literature, banners and flags or displayed as insignia, or on clothing. These symbols give extremists a sense of power and belonging, and a quick way of identifying with others who share their ideology.

However, it is important to note that symbols carry different meanings depending

upon one’s cultural background. For example, most people within Western Society view the Swastika as synonymous with the Nazi party, their extreme ideology and the crimes they committed. However, variations of the Swastika were used in many ancient cultures and they remain in use today, particularly within Indian culture and the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. As a result, extremists have appropriated many symbols from pre-Christian Europe for their own uses. They give such symbols a racist significance, even though the symbols did not originally have such meaning and are often used by non-racists today, especially practitioners of modern pagan religions. Other symbols also may also be significant to groups or individuals, who are not extreme or racist or discriminatory in other ways too.

We in Equalities and Human Rights, understand why in recent times, the iconic British clothing designer and retailer, Fred Perry, has announced they will no longer be selling one of their most treasured shirts in North America and Canada as a result of its growing affiliations with the far right group – The Proud Boys, founded in 2016 and whom in 2018, the FBI classified as an “extremist group with ties to White nationalism”. This extremist group also have The Proud Boys Girls which is the female auxiliary of the men-only group. Their ideology and intent is far right and neo-fascist and they are proponents of what they call ‘political violence’.

The Proud Boys and their Girl contingent, favour as a uniform, the Black/Yellow/Yellow twin tipped shirt designed by Fred Perry. A company founded by a Socialist MP’s son and his Jewish business partner Tibby Wegner, an Austrian footballer. Fred Perry have dissociated themselves with any individual or group wearing it for purposes of hate and are working with lawyers to pursue any unlawful use of the brand.

We know only too well, here in Sheffield and South Yorkshire, how damaging, comparable far right extremist groupings can be, as we have been for years, the subject of their ‘invasions’ and the appropriation of once harmless and indeed once, inclusive symbols being flaunted as symbols of hate.

Decent, right-minded local people, all recall having to contend with, groups of middle-aged men and younger lads, along with some females who they described as ‘lady attendants’, rampaging through our areas, bedecked in Fred Perry shirts, and misusing the firm’s laurel wreath as a badge of hate here.

Today in the UK we are seeing a rise in far right extremism. We have been here

before. The British Union of Fascists, whose membership reached a peak of 40, 000 in 1934, was antagonistic of others, and intent on spreading hate. South Yorkshire stood solid against them. Fred Perry are to be highly commended on their anti-fascist stance.