This weekend I undertook a spot of defiance. It was not on a picket or in the voting lobbies of parliament. It might not be recognised as defiance at all. All I did was post a picture of me wearing a beanie hat in the shape of a turkey and post a further picture of a charming piece of writing my son had done where he used Brummy phonetics to spell the word toast as “towst”. The first picture was sent to the columnist and writer Bryony Gordon, who had been suffering online hate and misogyny all day, and the other was to Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 journalist who had suffered a similar fate. Now I’m not claiming to be Rosa Parks or Gandhi, my action was nothing more than a small act of love, a momento of the brilliance and fun of life to make a crack where light could shine in on all the hate. I’ll not be expecting a call from the Nobel people any time soon.
Cathy Newman is no stranger to online misogyny. As a journalist she fearlessly stands up to sexism. This week she sealed her fate as a target once again by standing up to the poster boy of the alt-right clickbait teenyboppers Milo Yiannopoulos. I was asked to go on to Channel 4 that night to give my views, but couldn’t make it because of other commitments. I had no idea Yiannopoulos was on and I regret in hindsight that I couldn’t make it as I’d have loved to give him a piece of my mind. A mind he thinks no doubt is feeble, emotional and affected to often by my pesky menstrual hormones.
The alt-right, or as I like to call them racist fantasists, are in a frenzied state about the fact that their efforts have delivered Donald Trump to the White House and have sealed a top job in his team for Steve Bannon. They are emboldened like dogs on heat and are currently flipping the final switch on a project of radicalisation of young white men that they have been undertaking for years. Using the exact tools deployed by Isis and other terrorist organisations before them, the alt-right have been grooming vulnerable young or isolated people online with fake mocked up videos of hatred. They have been finding people with no friends and offering them a brotherhood. Like every man who groomed a lonely teenage girl with the promise of love, affection and the gift of popularity, the racist fantasists followed the playbook and recruited en masse. They are home-grown hate preachers. Each individual who joins in a fevered dog pile of hatred against a dissenting voice thinks they are acting as as an individual with free speech and free will. The reality is they are part of an organised radicalised group whose creation took planning and disciple by each cell and its leaders.
On Channel 4, Yiannopoulos cut a very pathetic figure. So affected was his nonchalance it showed he was not nonchalant at all. Like those incredibly arty people who spend hours and hours perfecting the “oh I just threw this outfit together” look, he appeared as a massive try hard. He lent his head on his hands like a 1980s teenage girl talking on the phone to her best friend - teenage affectations that belong in movies like the Adventures of Babysitting. They are designed to make us think that he is harmless, just saying what he thinks innocently. Yiannopoulos, Farage and Trump are great examples of utterly faked, polished and focused-grouped authenticity. These people don’t say what they think, they say what they think will get them the most likes on Facebook.
That’s the rub of this issue, clickbait shock articles and memes. The money shot that makes the viewer feel dirty and desperate to look away the second it’s done. For every ten people who look away at the sight of the alt-right shock tactics, one kid gets sucked into the crescendo and the delicious drama of the thing. Yiannopoulos and his kin behave like angry emotional teenagers for a reason - it helps recruitment. Like everyone does, I’ve played over in my head what I would have said to him if I’d made it to the studio that day. I love to have arguments with people in my head, as I always get to win. The truth is I need not insult him or come up with zinging sick burns - he needs no punishment from me. Yiannopoulos has to walk around all day every day being him, using hatred and anger to rouse attention - to be honest I think that’s punishment enough. This movement that he and Bannon have emboldened is terrifying in its reach, but for every fevered disciple who will post sexism on their behalf there are hundreds of people who have kindness and love to offer. Love and hope are amazing tools for recruitment and we must start using them better. We should not have perfectly polished arguments with the alt-right online any more than we would try to convince Abu Hamza to change his ways, instead we need to send messages of love and kindness to their targets and organise against them.
These people will attack me, God, who knows one day one of them might very well walk up to me in the street and try to hurt me - that’s what radicalisation does and famously did. Our government and others around the world must take this stuff more seriously. I have no doubt that any Prevent programme should include this form of hatred. What we can do is stop normalisation of this behaviour, don’t fall for it and don’t let fear of it silence us. We must counter it every day and resist being sucked in by a moment of dirty drama but instead build real relationships with love and pictures of us in silly hats.
First published online on 21/11/2016 at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jess-phillips/alt-right_b_13111582.html