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Racist abuse, far-right vloggers and the monstering of refugee hotels
‘Please keep your door and windows locked and keep safe’
The video begins in a hotel car park on an overcast day last summer. A woman who blogs under the name Yorkshire Rose is starting a livestream on YouTube. She breezily welcomes her regular viewers — they call her Amanda — and tells them she is at the Britannia Hotel in Didsbury. It looks like a typical suburban three-star joint: there’s a pub, a pool, and a carpeted function room. Amanda murmurs approvingly about the leafiness of the grounds then walks past the main building. “It’s absolutely full of illegal immigrants,” she snaps.
A hotel receptionist spots Amanda and her male friend wandering around the car park, and asks her to leave. “I’m a local journalist,” Amanda says by way of excuse. Then she turns the conversation around by quizzing the hotel worker. “What have you got to hide? Why don’t you want us in your grounds?” Amanda spots a couple of Asian men at a smoking area. She assumes they are refugees and begins shouting at them. “Hi guys, do you like our country?” The men put their hands over their faces. “I'm just a reporter. Are they looking after you well? Nice food? Why are you covering your faces? I'm no harm to you.”
As she leaves the hotel, Amanda fumes about the government sheltering refugees who cross the English Channel. “Why is it all so secretive? How do we know the Taliban, the jihadis are not coming? Anybody could be coming in on those dinghies. We don’t have a clue who these people are. Enough is enough.” One of her livestream viewers agrees. “Go back and torch it,” he says.
Far-right groups have been monstering hotels that house migrants like this for at least 18 months. Activists are travelling the country to film themselves harassing staff and shouting at refugees, egged on by their followers watching on livestreams. Their videos are a more aggressive version of a format popularised by Nigel Farage. In July 2020, he posted a video onto his YouTube channel in which he turned up at a hotel in Worcestershire, filmed Asian men on the premises, and tried to book a room before being turned away. His comments in the video now form talking points for activists like Yorkshire Rose. “We've no idea who some of these people are,” Farage says in the clip, now viewed seven million times. “We've no idea whether some of these might be ISIS. It's possible, I don't know."
The Mill has counted 76 instances of hotel monstering in the last 12 months across the country, many of them in the North West. Judging by the fierce reaction that some residents have to their local hotels sheltering refugees, the videos are likely to remain a prominent form of far-right activism this year.
When one member of a Facebook group called News for South Chadderton shared the information last week that the Victoria Hotel in Oldham was housing migrants, it triggered a heated thread. “It’s a bloody disgrace,” says one comment. “Filthy maggots,” adds another. “We do not need their wars or primitive practices in our country.” Many of the members claim they had only seen single men in the hotel and warn each other that these refugees are rapists, terrorists, and future enemies in a civil war. Failsworth Street Patrol, a vigilante group that posts news of its night-time activities on Facebook, posted last month that it has been maintaining a "higher presence" around the Victoria Hotel. "Please keep your door and windows locked and keep safe."
Typically, when a far-right activist arrives to cause trouble at a migrant hotel, they say they have received a local tip-off. Nobody on the South Chadderton Facebook group commented about it, but the Victoria Hotel has actually already been visited by activists. Britain First, a Manchester-based far-right party whose leader Paul Golding was jailed for anti-Muslim hate crimes, dispatched a cameraman to the Victoria just before Christmas.
His video, posted on December 21st, opens with a photo montage of the hotel set to thumping cinematic music that could have been taken from a Batman movie. Then the footage starts. A man behind the camera approaches a group of young guys hanging out by the hotel and demands to know where they were from. “How long have you been waiting at this hotel?” he asks. “Are you waiting for a house? How do you say ‘house’ in Iraqi?” He wanders around speaking to men who say they have come from Iraq, Iran, and Eritrea. “Lots and lots of illegal immigrants here,” he says. “The whole hotel is packed with them, costing taxpayers a fortune. Absolute disgusting outrage.”
Our reporting has identified two groups who are principally behind the monstering. One of them is Britain First. The other is Yorkshire Rose, whose chief vlogger Amanda turned up at the Britannia in Didsbury. “Save our Small Island from Invaders,” reads her Twitter bio. But there are others who dabble in the same trend. James Goddard, another far-right activist from Manchester, has started making migrant hotel videos. On January 2nd he also visited the Britannia Hotel in Didsbury, saying he had received a tip-off (he could have saved himself a lot of trouble and just watched Yorkshire Rose’s visit). Goddard received a suspended prison sentence for hounding Anna Soubry, an MP at the time in Westminster, and calling her a Nazi. He has also been given a restraining order for harassing a journalist from the Independent. Last year Goddard was appointed a regional organiser of Patriotic Alternative, a white nationalist group founded by a man who calls himself a “Nazi sympathiser” and speaks highly of Mein Kampf.
These activists believe that the sheltering of Afghan migrants in British hotels makes good propaganda material. Just like their videos about the crimes of Asian grooming gangs, the far-right hopes to sway new believers by hammering the hotel issue. That’s why livestreamers like Britain First’s man in Oldham will refer to the “injustice” of sheltering Afghans in hotels instead of, for instance, homeless veterans of the armed forces. They will call refugees “economic migrants” to undermine their status as fugitives from the Taliban and portray them as devious foreigners looking to exploit the asylum system for a cushy life in Britain.
Part of this narrative involves proving that single men, and not families, are being put up in hotels, and showing that these men own nice clothes and smartphones. If the hotels putting up migrants appear in any way to be fancy, the activists take great umbrage. A video that Farage posted in August 2020, in which he toured hotels in the North West in search of migrant guests, he described the “lovely swimming pools” of Daresbury Park in Warrington and the “amazing” grounds” of Chimney House in Sandbach.
Farage became particularly irate after learning that a local charity had organised a trip for young migrants to visit Anfield Stadium. He believes this would encourage more migrants to undertake the perilous overland journey from Afghanistan to Calais, and then cross the world’s busiest shipping channel in a leaky dinghy, in search of a free tour of Liverpool’s home turf which would otherwise cost £23. “All these people will be sending selfies and pictures back to their countries,” he says. “And the message is: come on down, get into the country. Hotels, forty quid a week spending money, full board, trips to Anfield…It's stone bonkers.”
Britain First was similarly fuming when their activists visited the Risley Hall Hotel in Derby, lamenting that this “11th century Saxon country house” is now being used to “house illegal immigrants”. When the group uploaded footage of their visit in late October, their fans said this was evidence of the “Kalergi Plan to get rid of the white populations of Earth.” The Kalergi Plan is named after a 20th century Austrian politician whose work is thoroughly misunderstood. Fans of Britain First say the Kalergi Plan encourages miscegenation that will one day eradicate racial categories, leaving them susceptible to Jewish rule. It’s part of the wider conspiracy theory that white people are being threatened by genocide.
The housing of migrants in hotels is frequently arranged by Serco, the contracting company, whose signs can sometimes be spotted in the videos. Housing is meant to be temporary while asylum seekers await news on their immigration status. However, some of these arrangements have been criticised for overcrowding. Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan, said the use of the Britannia Hotel in Standish was unsuitable for this reason. Serco says hotels are only used as a last resort and are being used as an overflow to cope with an increase in the number of refugees coming to the UK.
So what do hotel staff make of these visits? Hotel chains enforce strict rules on speaking to the press, which is perhaps unsurprising given the frequency with which their premises are targeted. Attempts to contact the Holiday Inn chain and Britannia Hotels went unanswered. Most workers we spoke to did not want to jeopardise their jobs by agreeing to an interview. A worker from Risley Hall brushed off Britain First’s visit, and said it was just a minor distraction. But a receptionist at the Heston Hyde hotel near Heathrow Airport in London said the monstering they received was “such a nasty thing”. “This is not something that needs to be exposed,” they said. “Everybody has the right to stay and be protected, whoever they are.”