Sifting through the tweets tagged with #riotcleanup there is swift equivocation: at once the physical act of clearing rubble from the streets merges with the act of cleansing the street of black youths. The cleaning of streets amounts to the wiping away of traces of social unrest. Cracks in society are smoothed over and at once an oppressed underclass is rendered invisible again.

Commentator after commentator has described the rioters as “animals” and “feral rats”. The videos of these statements are repeated perpetually on news channels. The message: these rioters are not humans. The demand: that they not be treated as human. The ideology of hate is drummed into our skulls, and unsurprisingly the chatter of the social media responds by saying that those involved should be locked up, and the key thrown away. Or, perhaps more concerningly, that they should be subject to the street justice of vigilante action.

The reward offered for such action is “true community”, or “community spirit.” In the face of such rampant dehumanization, these new communities, the battalions of #riotcleanup, reassert their supposed true humanity. And such a new humanity is a badge to be worn with pride. It is forgotten by many that it is premised on exclusion, on the sweeping away of neighbours. Raise your broom to the sky and create the world anew, a world without unrest in the face of poverty and oppression. A world in which black youths, and the real antagonisms of society, are consigned to oblivion.

Last night the first of the major vigilante actions to come took place in Enfield. According to reports, a group of middle-aged white men ran up the streets proclaiming, “We are English, we are English.” Their aim was to terrorise those who had been involved in unrest the night before, and in the process the notion of an exclusive new community was transformed into the abuse of those not born in England. In other tweets under the #riotcleanup tag similar politics have been presented, mainly focusing on poor black communities. The English Defence League are also reported to be interested in playing a leading role in these “community” actions.

Meanwhile, in Clapham, people gathered together on streets, brooms raised. Boris arrived, giving a rousing speech and the crowd (mainly white, middle-class, and middle-aged) applaudedthemselves, not as individuals who had decided to clean the streets, but as an exclusive collective of true citizens.

In 1921, Freud wrote one of the most penetrating and insightful texts of the early twentieth-century: On Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Freud offers analysis of the church and the army as forms of groups that centre themselves around not only a type of exclusivity but on a relation to an ideal version of an object. It was but a short step from here, in Italy and in Germany that this idealized object was the future in which the exclusionary nature of the group was made manifest and total, in the form of fascism. For this reason, Wilhelm Reich’s 1933 book, The Mass-Psychology of Fascism, borrowed heavily from Freud.

It is this structure of “community”, and “clean up” as the activity of this group, that an old form of popular fascism appears to be revitalized. The new communities of #riotcleanup again make their exclusionary nature clear: these people work not for all, and certainly not for the wellbeing of those who caused the unrest – to work against the poverty and racism – instead, they work for themselves, as a group, and their new society. They call this “The Big Society”, but the truth is that the Big Society can never be big enough. As the cause of #riotcleanup becomes the first mass-venture in the Big Society, it shows itself to be nothing more than an organized mode of social exclusion that reaffirms existing economic exclusion. Its first victims are the black, the poor, the young, and the unemployed.

Frequently modern fascism is modeled as a post-human technocracy: Marx’s description of the human as a mere appendage to a machine elevated to a rule. Today we need to reassess these thoughts, as under the label of #riotcleanup an older ideology-based fascism is being restored. Unlike dystopic fantasies of a borg-like matrix, it is now necessary to start questioning the fascistic nature of “community” as it is manifest in the response to the riots. This should be a matter of grave concern for all who wish to have an inclusive society, free from prejudice.

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