At HOPE not hate we monitor far right activists wherever they can be found, from public street protests to closed groups in the dark corners of the internet. The most worrying place to encounter them, however, is in our newspapers and on our TV screens, presented as participants in a legitimate political debate. The term ‘platforming’ refers to mainstream media outlets giving space for far right activists to present a sanitised version of their politics, largely neglecting to challenge their rhetoric or provide essential context about their histories.
Perhaps the worst mainstream offender in terms of platforming the far right is the Spectator, which, thanks to its long history and intellectual airs, has nevertheless managed to escape much of the rancour that more lowbrow outlets receive for similar behaviour. Despite its regular promotion of far right talking points and bigoted columnists like Taki, Rod Liddle and James Delingpole, the Spectator can still draw the great and good to its annual summer parties.
Among the various instances of such platforming was a softball interview in November 2021 with French Presidential candidate Éric Zemmour by deputy editor Freddy Gray, which drew criticism for its failure to highlight or address the most damning elements of Zemmour’s rhetoric and history. Using Zemmour’s statement “Immigration is war” as its headline, the piece gave him a platform to propound incendiary far-right rhetoric, such as declaring that: “It is by destroying our cultures, our history, that they make a clean sweep of all that and allow a foreign culture, history and civilisation to come and replace it”, to which was offered no pushback or critique.
In fact, despite noting that Zemmour was “echoing the Great Replacement theory”, Gray’s sole response was to quip that “somebody, probably David Aaronovitch, will no doubt accuse The Spectator of giving a platform to nativism or white supremacism merely by speaking to him”. He did not think it worth mentioning that the Great Replacement theory is frequently cited as a motivating factor by mass killers who have slaughtered civilians in New Zealand, Germany, Norway and the United States. Nor did he mention either of Zemmour’s convictions for inciting hatred against racial or religious minorities.
This dangerous narrative around immigration is not limited to The Spectator’s interviewees. In August last year, regular columnist Lionel Shriver wrote her own alarmist diatribe, disingenuously titled “Would you want London to be overrun with Americans like me?”, in which she used a string of phrases that could have been lifted directly from an extreme-right blog. According to Shriver, immigration constitutes “incursions by foreigners so massive that the nativeborn are effectively surrendering their territory without a shot fired”, promoted only by those who believe that “evil European cultures deserve to be subsumed”.
The Spectator’s sister publications in the USA and Australia have also offered their pulpit to notorious far right figures in recent years, with The Spectator USA providing a guest column to the Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and its Australian counterpart giving space to the ‘alt-lite’ activist Lauren Southern on two occasions in 2020.
Airings of such views are not limited to The Spectator. In October 2021, the newly formed GB News channel invited the anti-Muslim Canadian commentator Mark Steyn on to its primetime show to discuss immigration. The hard-right leaning channel’s Twitter account trailed his appearance by asking viewers if Steyn was right to say that “our attitude to migration means Europe is committing ‘demographic suicide’”, to which 85% of respondees answered “yes”. Steyn then used his appearance to argue that immigration was destroying the idea of a “socially coherent society”, citing the example of a “nice chi-chi gay couple living next door to a big bearded Mullah with however many wives”.
Steyn did not use the opportunity to share his darkest views about Europe’s future. In a horrific passage from his 2006 book America Alone, he casually described the genocide of Bosnian Muslims as an understandable reaction to demographic change, stating that “in a democratic age, you can’t buck demography except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.” Yet Steyn’s appearance on GB News was clearly not an unfortunate error of judgement: his guest appearance was promptly followed by the announcement that he would occasionally guest host Nigel Farage’s show and then, as of January 2022, his own daily primetime talkshow.
Some of the most striking examples of a semimainstream figure platforming fascists this year came via the podcast of regular Spectator columnist and former Breitbart London executive editor James Delingpole. Delingpole describes himself as having been “redpilled” by the pandemic, a process which appears to have involved him embracing increasingly extreme conspiracy theories and their politically extreme proponents. Delingpole’s podcast has hosted unsavoury guests since it launched in 2019, with the fringe “race scientist” Edward Dutton among his earliest guests, but a rising number of guests associated with the traditional far right have appeared on the show in the past year.
The most extreme of his recent guests was “Morgoth”, an anonymous blogger and video producer from North Tyneside whose offerings combine pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theories with vicious racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. Delingpole offered Morgoth an embarrassingly craven introduction, describing him as “one of the smartest people on the planet” and praising him for having been “much further down the rabbithole than me” at an earlier stage. Other guests during 2021 included QAnon promoter Charlie Ward, neo-reactionary Ralph Masilimani and the then-Patriotic Alternative member Josh (aka Richard Lionheart). Delingpole’s hand of friendship towards the established far right was reciprocated in December with his own appearance on the ‘Millenniyule’ series of livestreamed interviews by Colin Robertson (aka Millennial Woes).
Other outlets have similarly platformed far-right activists, often without providing any context to their audience. The anti-migrant campaigner Steve Laws was invited on to talkRADIO in September 2021 and described simply as “social commentator”, a term that neither Laws nor anyone else had used to describe him up to that point. As HOPE not hate has detailed at length, Laws is far-right activist who has promoted the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory and even reposted a meme carrying the slogan “There is no political solution” – a rallying cry for extreme-right accelerationists who seek to overthrow society by violent means.
In recent years there has been a growing and understandable clamour for social media platforms to do more to root out the proponents of racism and bigotry from their platforms. Yet such efforts are in vain if the same toxic figures can also be found in the pages and broadcasts of our mainstream media. The political marginalisation and electoral failure of the British far right is not an immovable fact of life, but an ongoing process of resistance that is at perennial risk of collapse. Far-right figures will always find an audience for their toxic message online, but they should not launder their reputations with assistance from the mainstream.
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