Dublin riots expose Conor McGregor’s role in stoking anti-migrant hate
The UFC’s biggest star is among the agitators stirring chaos and hate in Ireland. Now he is reportedly being investigated by Irish police.
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In the wake of a knife attack that left three children injured, anti-migrant riots erupted in Dublin last week—riots that police later described as the worst violence that the Irish capital has endured in decades.
Public transport and other vehicles were set ablaze while shops were looted as rioters took to the streets on Thursday night. More than 400 police officers were deployed in response to the unrest, several of whom were assaulted during clashes. 34 people were arrested following the chaos.
The riots began several hours after rumours spread that stabbings were committed by an assailant who was an immigrant. (The identity of the attacker has not been revealed but it is worth noting that it was an immigrant fast food courier who stepped in to stop the attack)
“What we saw last night was an extraordinary outbreak of violence,” Garda (Irish police) commissioner Drew Harris said during a press conference Friday, adding that the riots were the result of a “lunatic, hooligan faction driven by a far-right ideology.”
Tensions have been high in Ireland over the past year due to several high-profile crimes committed by foreign nationals, which in turn has spurred far-right anti-immigration campaigning and propaganda. Last week, a Slovakian man was sentenced for the 2022 murder teacher Ashling Murphy, while an Iraqi-born man was sentenced last month for the murder of two gay men in April 2022.
Meanwhile, several influencers and notable celebrities have been fanning the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment, chief among them is UFC superstar Conor McGregor.
Over the past few weeks, McGregor has been vocal about the high-profile murder cases. Following the sentencing of the Slovak national who murdered Murphy, McGregor blamed the Irish government for the murder in a since deleted post on Twitter, stating “Shame on the Irish government for harboring this.”
“The Irish government makes me ashamed to be Irish,” McGregor added. “We are appalled with you all! You can’t fix this, no problem it is a war then and God is with us!!”
The former two-division UFC champion has since continued to stoke anti-migrants sentiments on social media. He responded to a post discussing Ireland’s Head of State asking migrants to vote, calling it a “disgrace” and “shame.” (Asylum seekers and refugees have been permitted to vote in local elections in Ireland since 2004 but only Irish and British citizens who live in Ireland can vote in general elections in Ireland).
“US allows non residents to vote? Visitors can vote? I can fly in now and register a vote in the United States elections? Surely not. However, Ireland's current government is proposing this. A disgrace! A shame! Hang their heads in shame!”
Apart from spreading misinformation about migrants being allowed to vote, McGregor also endorsed a “task force” to monitor migrants and seemed to suggest that Ireland should leave the European Union.
The night before Thursday’s violence, McGregor posted: “Ireland, we are at war.”
In the wake of the riots, he wrote: “We are not backing down, we are only warming up. We are not losing any more of our women and children to sick and twisted people who should not even be in Ireland in the first place.”
McGregor later tweeted that he did not “condone” the riots before calling for “change” in Ireland.
“I’m in the process of arranging. Believe me I am way more tactical and I have backing. There will be change in Ireland, mark my words. The change needed,” McGregor added in his tweet, which was a response to far-right figure Paul Golding calling for the UFC fighter to lead a “freedom march” in Dublin.
The Irish government has not taken kindly to McGregor’s words. Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who serves as Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, called the comments “absolutely disgraceful.”
“Isolated voices like that and voices that are essentially inciting hate and a degree to some extent incitement, are unacceptable,” he said.
Irish police are now reportedly investigating McGregor’s social media posts as part of an inquiry into the dissemination of online hate speech.
For those who have followed McGregor’s behaviour over the years, his recents antics are no surprise. During the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow, McGregor posted a picture of himself alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he referred to as “one of the greatest leaders of our time.” He also called former U.S. President Donald Trump a “phenomenal president.”
McGregor has since continued to voice his political opinions. He criticized his country’s handling of taxation and the coronavirus pandemic. He even hinted at his interest in pivoting to politics in 2018, saying “"Maybe, who knows?! I know they're shakin' in their boots anyway!"
It is unclear whether McGregor would be taken seriously as a potential political candidate, in part due to his divisive track record. McGregor was previously arrested by the NYPD and charged for his role in the bus attack at the UFC 223 media day, faced assault charges for punching an elderly man in a Dublin pub, and faced several allegations of sexual assault and indecent exposure.
Nevertheless, McGregor’s anti-immigrant sentiments, coupled with his reverence for despotic political figures underscores the ongoing trend of MMA fighters flirting with far-right politics.
There are numerous reasons behind MMA’s penchant for extremist, right-wing political action. The sport’s beginnings as a niche counter-culture activity, its growing popularity among conservative audiences, and the UFC’s embrace of Trump all contribute. There are also links between the sport and authoritarian regimes around the world.
Several notable Brazilian fighters and jiu-jitsu competitors helped elect Brazil’s far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018. Legendary MMA heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko campaigned for long-time president Russian Vladimir Putin, and other Russian fighters have since openly supported their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Ramzan Kadyrov, the ruthless dictator at the helm of the Russian republic of Chechnya, founded his own MMA fight club and now has several fighters affiliated with him competing in the UFC.
McGregor's stance, emblematic of a broader trend, underscores the sport's entanglement with right-wing sentiments.
As the champion wrote in the wake of Thursday’s riots: “You reap what you sow.”
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