⇩ Use your ears. Click below to hear this post.
The Sunday Times profiled members of Generation Identity with a picture that made them look like members of a boyband. This dangerous trend of humanising extremists must stop.
ascism is all the rage these days. Hate is haute, white nationalism is the new black and neo-nazism never looked so good. So the Sunday Times – which recently published a piece about the white nationalist movement Generation Identity (GI) – would have you believe, anyway.
You may have heard about GI before. They’re the extremists who physically tried to stop refugee rescue boats from coming to Europe last year. The correct word to describe those who actively seek to oppress suffering people is “monsters”. Actually, “incompetent monsters” may be more appropriate – GI’s vessel got into difficulty off the coast of Libya during one of its anti-migrant missions and an NGO’s rescue ship ended up helping out. Sometimes karma is a boat. The Sunday Times had another way of describing GI, though. Its headline called its members “hipster fascists”. As if that wasn’t vomit-inducing enough, the title of the print version was: “Heil hipsters.”
The dubious headline might have been forgivable if the Sunday Times had gone on to unequivocally call a racist a racist and profiled the people GI’s “activism” has had an impact on; if they had talked about the families on the rescue boats fleeing unspeakable horrors or the rise in hate crime in the UK.
But, no, what it seemed most interested in was GI’s clothes. “Middle-class and well-spoken, dressed in skinny jeans and New Balance trainers rather than bomber jackets and boots, members of Generation Identity are accused of using slick branding and coded language to ‘normalise’ extremist views,” said the much-maligned piece. It crowned the article with a picture of the GI leaders that made them look like members of a boyband.
Guess what? It’s not New Balance trainers or skinny jeans that are normalising extremist views, it’s the media. The Sunday Times piece is the latest in a series of problematically chatty articles about fringe figures that have been published in mainstream outlets. It’s only the most recent example of a dangerous trend of the media humanising and legitimising white extremists.
Profiles of fascists tend to come in different flavours. Some, like this one, are packaged as quirky trend stories. While they may make a halfhearted nod to the fact that these rightwing groups are, ya know, sort of bad, these stories also trivialise them. They dress neo-nazism up like it’s just a bit of youthful, swashbuckling fun. In 2016, for example, the Evening Standard wrote a piece headlined: “Meet the ‘fascie’ pack.” This came out shortly after Mother Jones had profiled Richard Spencer in an article headlined: “Meet the dapper White Nationalist.” (After much internet outrage Mother Jones removed the “dapper.”) Please just pause for a moment and imagine if outlets like these had run pieces on dapper jihadists or how Isis members look really dashing in black? Yeah, it wouldn’t happen.
Not every darling of the “alt-right” is a fascist or racist, of course, but neither are they simply intellectual retrogrades crusading for free speech, as some coverage suggests. The most recent example of this is the New York Times’s story about the “intellectual dark web”, which profiled rightwing favourites such as Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. This article had the audacity to present Peterson et al not as incredibly problematic reactionaries, who have been given high-profile platforms, but as “iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities … largely locked out of legacy outlets”.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but there is nothing trendy about being a racist; nothing quirky about being a misogynist; and nothing fashionable about being a fascist. Please, please can the media put an end to stories that suggest anything otherwise?