STEALING THE CLASH (part 2)
The New Online Fascism and Radical Rock
By Richard Chorley
Rich’s first LTW piece in November 2019 Stealing the Clash provoked a huge reaction and inspired him, Robin Banks and Brenda Siegelman to form The ‘Clash Against the Right’ Facebook Group which can be found here.
”The Rolling Stones and The Clash are my two favourite bands, make of that what you will” BORIS JOHNSON 2019
The British Prime Minister uttered those words in response to a journalist’s question, during the run-up to the last General Election, which saw the Conservative Party romp to a landslide victory. It was not the first time he’d alluded to supposed affections for the band, but the way they were delivered and the timing of that claim, rang bells in my head. In the ’90s, I worked with Oonagh Blackman, the then Deputy Political Editor of The Daily Mirror, on investigative politically flavoured news stories. During that period, I developed a refined instinct, in response to surprising statements from politicians and public figures. Having said that, I and nobody else was prepared for what immediately followed in THE CLASH online world of the 21st Century.
In the evening following Johnson’s words, a long and passionate debate opened up on ‘CLASH ON PAROLE’, a Facebook social media Clash fans group, with over 10,000 members. Many people were understandably angry and passions ran high. I was a Moderator of the group at the time with my dear friend Brenda Siegelman, an original American Clash fan, who worked for the band and amongst many other experiences and stories, provided handclaps in the studio during the ‘Combat Rock’ studio recording sessions. Brenda also worked for The Ramones and numerous other bands during the era. We had our work cut out for sure, particularly when a supposed Clash fan named Peter Hall entered the debate and began to make a number of sustained and quite astonishing statements. When I later transcribed his contributions into a continuous monologue, they read like a Tory Party political broadcast to middle aged Clash fans, the theme being that the messages and political convictions of Joe Strummer and the band, dovetailed allegedly with Johnson’s own beliefs and vision for British society. This ludicrous stance elicited contempt from many fans, but there was a disturbing percentage who seemed comfortable with them. We had noticed the development of this ‘cult’, middle aged males in the main, who voiced reactionary Right Wing style political perspectives – whilst professing an undying love for The Clash – for some time and their responses to Hall’s overtures, raised my suspicions to full ‘Alert’ mode. The ”Bullshit Detector” was going into overdrive.
”Right Wing Clash fans? I’ve heard it all now. Next thing you’ll be telling me Elephants can fly. It’s ridiculous and we all have to get up and speak out!”.
Martin Muscatt, Cousin of Mick Jones and frontman of West London band TAURUS
Our investigation into Peter Hall revealed that in fact, he was a Multi-Millionaire Businessman donor to the Tory Party, a long term champion of Boris Johnson within its ranks and the head honcho of a prestigious Tory Foundation, with a membership including many other nationally known Conservative politicians and personalities. He’d revealed none of that and the full story of that incident can be read here…
In the contemporary digital age and as the West has lurched chillingly to the Right, the online infiltration and appropriation of left wing cultural bastions is a relentless rhythm of our times. The original American Alt-Right internet strategies have now been drip-fed down the online food chain to such gigantic degrees, that the ”parallel universe” of which one Clash fan spoke of in a ‘Louder Than War’ comment thread last year, has become a sometimes mind-boggling dystopian reality. In a musical sense, as the ultimate figurehead of British Radical Rock, it is of no surprise perhaps, that The Clash have faced an onslaught of such energies, These manifest in a wide range of forms. In the months since Johnson’s shameless bid for the warped ‘Hipster’ voting ticket, we have witnessed some unbelievably sinister examples of these trends.
In a Joe Strummer FB fan group, 12,000 members strong, long term Clash fans were stunned to see an explosion of Right Wing views being aired, these ranging from clever political de-constructions by Trump voting American Libertarians, to blatant postings of Anti-Black racist memes from middle aged exPunks, who somehow saw no obscene dichotomy between their actions and the original Anti-Racist, Ant-Fascist messages and spirit of The Clash. Wedged between these parameters were large numbers of Tory voting Brexiteers and Farage fanboys, who appeared only too delighted to use a Clash platform to spout their reactionary, bigoted views.
The large number of American Right Wingers involved only bore further testimony to the vast influence of the Alt Right strategic gurus, who have seemingly succeeded now in their mission to pollute and desecrate iconic cultural entities, Men like Steve Bannon and Dominic Cummings have utilised the internet to levels which we were never, ever remotely warned about, when its original champions spoke of it’s ”educational” value towards the back end of the 1990s. When you moderate a big Clash group and find yourself removing rampant, gun toting NRA members and overt white Republican/Tory racists from it’s lists, these facts hit home, with piercing clarity.
Radical Rock’n’Roll is under online populist siege, as the great Western nations drift ever nearer Authoritarian and Neo-Fascist territory. The Clash are far from alone in such contexts. Jam fan group members who still adhere to the messages of Weller’s songs, are aghast at the amounts of their supposed fans who spout reactionary Right Wing perspectives in web arenas.. Perhaps it is little wonder at all that he has ignored calls for a Jam reunion so resolutely and who can blame him? From an American perspective, groups dedicated to bands like the Dead Kennedy’s have seen mirror reflections of all this, as the great Trump sickness has taken a hold in the music’s original birthplace.
Inside these vile virtual reality corridors, endless attempts to twist and convert some of Joe
Strummer’s most renowned statements, this in order to justify Right Wing viewpoints are
now a permanent sub-theme. The Strummer group mentioned, was archived after days of
ferocious conflict. Following weeks of research and investigation, there is now extremely
good reason to suspect that it was actually created by Alt Right trolls, in a deliberate
mission to cause chaos, confusion and despair, among those who still hold true to the
social conscience aspects, of The Clash songbook. Watching members whose personal
pages were carrying declarations of support for the pan-European ‘Generation Identity’
white supremacist organisation, delighting in the shocked reactions during exchanges, was
truly sickening. Seeing ex-British Army veterans angrily telling people what someone like
Joe would have thought, as they fire off missives condemning Corbyn, ‘Black Lives Matter’,
Extinction Rebellion and virtually every leftist cause or energy of this age, can be a
seriously disturbing experience.
”Is what was true, no longer so?”. That uncanny, almost prophetic lyric of Joe’s in ”Johnny Appleseed” now echoes with a frightening degree of surreal resonance. In other big Clash groups, the ”Stop talking about politics, it’s just about music!” refrain has evolved to the point wherein it now constitutes a form of online bullying and arises predictably whenever leftist-orientated fans make political equations with Joe’s lyrics. The fact that such demands are blatantly illogical and irrational has become utterly irrelevant. Vast numbers in the new musical Internet Universe, exist in total ”Flat Earth” mode and often emit this brain-numbing clarion call simply because of their own abandonment of the Clash messages. What Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper would truly think, counts for nothing among these legions, as all those who have witnessed this endlessly, know only too well. Sadly, some Admins involved in creating such groups, have capitulated to such pressures and now enforce blanket bans on politics. In a Clash group with 15,000 members, one such guy, recently issued a total ban on members even mentioning Trump’s name, or the American Elections, because he was ”Sick of hearing about it all”. When an American female member who knew Joe personally and appears in the ”Redemption Song” video appealed passionately to him, she was dismissed with blithe indifference. This writer’s further polite requests to him, resulted in me being barred from the group. And of course, in true 2020 internet custom, being blocked from communicating with him personally any further. This is bordering on insanity. If anybody remotely believes that Joe Strummer would not have vehemently opposed such a ban in the group’s name – particularly in this horrendous political climate – then they need to consider what planet their feet are actually walking upon. ‘Earthquake Weather’ met with ‘Remote Control’? As our American brothers and sisters stare into the abyss of the worst political crisis in their history – and are fighting against it with their hearts, souls, minds and bodies – the fact that someone started an internet fans group which now contains such large numbers, does not grant them license to impose such draconian, immoral levels of censorship. Not in the name of The Clash.
All that was one step too far for some of us. As such Brenda Siegelman, Robin Banks and myself decided it was time for action. After addressing it all, we concluded it was time for the ”Electric shockers” to be activated. No true Clash fan should need explaining as to
who Robin is. As Mick Jones’s great lifelong friend from schooldays, he was the inspiration
behind the song ”Stay Free” and was name-checked by him from the stage as The Clash
were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. 40 years ago, all three of us were backstage at The Electric Ballroom as The Clash brought the place down at the very height of their creative powers, on the ’16 Tons Tour’. If anybody had then told us that four decades later, we’d be staring all this in the face, such an idea would have been beyond our comprehension. But here we are and the new online Fascism is a solid cultural reality. The Internet has become the political and social battleground of the post-modernist age and we either acknowledge and engage in that, or wallow in sentimental nostalgia fests, for our our long departed youth.
”I never wanted to go back and relive the glory days. That’s what I took from Punk. Keep going. Don’t look back.” Paul Simonon The Clash
CLASH AGAINST THE RIGHT is a new Facebook group formed by the three of us. In
just over a month, the membership ranks have swelled to over a thousand people. We
have members from all over the world, with the largest number coming from the UK,
followed by hundreds from America. Others come from across the globe. CATR is a group
for true Clash fans whose lives were touched and changed by the band and as a result,
still keep faith with the principals, messages and spirit embodied within their music. We are
Ant-Fascist, Anti-Racist, Anti-ignorance and very, very ”Pro-Creative”. During their
existence, The Clash had a zero tolerance in terms of having Right Wingers anywhere
around them. As such, in keeping with that ethos, we have a strict ”No Platform” policy in
terms of such aspects. There is no place in CATR for Racists, blind Nationalist bigots,
Tories or bile spouting Right Wing propagandists of any sort. Our membership is built on a
bedrock of people who knew Joe Strummer and know the surviving members. We have
Clash Family relations and ex-Clash crew members. We have ex-members of The Ruts,
former members of the Vibrators, Paul Simmonds of The Men They Couldn’t Hang and
former members of The Specials like Roddy Byers. We have former members of Big Audio
Dynamite and members of Rotten Hill Gang and Taurus Trakker. In fact we have members
from countless bands, both from the original Punk era and many who still play in
Rock’n’Roll groups today. We have people like Spizz and Attila The Stockbroker (who is
performing a ‘Live’ set of his poems on our page, at the very moment I write this) and
many other solo performers whose lives bear personal testament to the ideals of The
Clash and the original Punk era. We have brilliant Painters, Photographer’s, Craftspeople
and many who are renowned Community activists in their own cities and towns. We have
Trade Union Leaders and Stewards from Britain and America. We have Kevin Miles,
Britain’s leading National Football Supporter Representative, who plans and manages the
Fan’s Embassies at World Cup’s and European Championships. We have legendary
Rock’n’Roll writers like Charles Shaar Murray and renowned Authors like Chris Salewicz,
who among many other books, penned the definitive biography of Joe Strummer
”Redemption Man”. We have members who host Community Radio Stations and online
Radio music shows. We have Film Makers, Scriptwriters, Actors and Technicians.
Our members post a wide range of Clash related content, musical, visual and otherwise.
We actively encourage political discussions and debates and in celebrating our core ”Pro-creativity’ ethos, provide an online platform for our members own artistic work albeit musical, design, photographic or any other medium. There are no musical barriers, people post all sorts of music, short films, news stories, humour items and Documentaries. We produce CATR T-Shirts and badges, with our share of profits being kept in trust for future real-life creative projects. In the New Year we plan to publish a classic CATR Punk style Fanzine. At this moment in time, we are providing a haven of solidarity for our American members as they prepare for the most important political moment of their lives.
CATR is growing fast and represents far more than a mere social media fans group. There
are plans for real life ‘Branches’ taking place, international gatherings and a future
Exhibition based on the group’s existence, in London. We have also formed the CLASH
ONLINE ALLIANCE in partnership with REBEL CLASH and a number of other online
Clash groups who share our ideals and vision. As this progresses, our aim is to build a
powerful online combined Counter Cultural energy, one designed to stand against the
malignant forces highlighted in this article.
We all adhere to a code of honour in the group and in doing so celebrate the words of Joe when he said ”Without people, you’re nothing”. We are Internationalist. We stand solidly with one race. The Human Race. We are for social justice and equality for all.. We are for compassion and we are for peace. We are CLASH AGAINST THE RIGHT. And we know exactly why we are here. If you get that too, come and join us.
”Nothing stands the pressure of the Clash City Rockers!”
Richard Chorley (C) Wednesday 14th October 2020
Clash Against the Right Facebook Group
Original Art by Doug Cole