For reasons unclear to everyone except themselves, mainstream commentators love Steve Bannon. He may be the demagogic leading strategist of the international far right, the man behind rolling hate machine Breitbart, the former chief exec of Trump’s presidential campaign, and someone obsessed by an idea of a great clash of civilisations between Islam and “the west” – yet they will not stop giving him a platform. Because despite all this, liberal discourse would have it that Bannon is someone whose ideas can be undermined by some good old fashioned debate and er, “scrutiny”.
Not everyone believes that, thankfully, which is why protestors assembled outside the Edinburgh International Conference Centre this afternoon. Bannon was in town as one of the star speaker’s at the European Broadcasting Union’s annual News Xchange conference. The event made headlines recently after Nicola Strugeon withdrew from it when Bannon’s attendance was brought to light by The Ferret. Sturgeon blasted the BBC – who helped to organise today’s event – as running the risk of the “normalisation” of fascist views. The Beeb tried to justify his inclusion by telling the First Minister that he is “powerful and influential figure… promoting an anti-elite movement”.
The BBC’s report of this afternoon’s event is headlined “Man arrested at Steve Bannon protest in Edinburgh”. and reveals that a 56 year old man was “arrested and charged with threatening and abusive behaviour”. Unfortunately the man arrested was not Steve Bannon. Rather, it was a protestor who was lifted for holding a sign saying “Nae Nazis”.
We have since learned that the sign in question was not even made by the man arrested. A protestor has told how both herself and a friend attended with homemade signs, both reading “Nae Nazis”, and one featuring a crossed out swastika. They were told that by holding them they may be committing an offence and put them down. A man picked one up and was then arrested.
“We were both asked to put them away by the police ‘because it could constitute an offence. They wouldn’t specify which offence,” she says. “When I put my sign down, another guy picked it up and was arrested by police immediately.”
“The police dragged the guy off further down the road and I don’t know what happened over there, although a large crowd were watching and filming.”
More police then circled in as they waited for a van to collect their arrestee. It’s understood the man was told he was being arrested for breach of the peace, which – unlike England – is a catch all offence in Scotland with no limit on the potential sentence. It is unclear how or why saying “Nae Nazis” on a street in Edinburgh constitutes threatening and abusive behaviour, but we’ll leave that to the courts to figure out. We will, of course, keenly await the howls of outrage from all the free speech bros, Spiked columnists and assorted liberal commentators about it though.
Inside, Bannon was pitted against the BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith. As this thread from Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick shows, Bannon spent the entire time talking over her, evading questions, and bringing up his pet subjects, like ‘racism: actually good’, while Smith tried to nitpick about inaccurate things Trump has said.
“Bannon is basically delivering a monologue about the wonders of enthonationalism and sometimes asking Smith a question,” tweeted Broderick. Bannon rounded it off by calling the entire audience “the opposition” and saying how excited he is for the European elections – the same elections for which he is making a big shown of co-ordinating far right parties across the continent.
There was a high profile stooshie recently about Police Scotland guidance on what flags may or may not constitute an offence when being flown “in a provocative manner”, handed out to officers policing an Orange march over the summer at which Arlene Foster was appearing. The restricted police document, shown to the Herald on Sunday after an FOI battle, stated that: “Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000.”
The man arrested today for holding the “Nae Nazis” sign was arrested under this same law. It would be logical to assume that police officers were, similarly, briefed ahead of the event over what would and would not be allowable in terms of protest signs and flags. The real question now is – who passed down orders that “Nae Nazis” is a breach of the peace?
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