How the far right has perfected the art of deniable racism

Electoral successes in Europe and the US are the result of a process whereby bigotry is made palatable

By Gary Younge | The Guardian | January 26, 201


In July 2016 the bigoted troll Milo Yiannopoulos, a British darling of the American far right, was banned from Twitter after encouraging a torrent of racist abuse at Leslie Jones, a black actor who starred in the remake of Ghostbusters. In one example he branded her “barely literate”. A few months later it emerged that Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, had given Yiannopoulos, 33, who calls feminism “cancer” and Donald Trump “Daddy”, a $255,000 book deal. “I met with top execs … earlier in the year and spent half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous opinions,” he said. “I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building – but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money.”

A few months after that, he suggested that sex between 13-year-old boys and adult men and women could “happen perfectly consensually”. This was apparently one “outrageous opinion” too far. Simon & Schuster cancelled the book. Yiannopoulos sued.

In the subsequent court submissions we see the critical notes of his editor, Mitchell Ivers. Yiannopoulos argues: “Given my penchant for black denizens of the dark continent I can’t be accused of being racist … I’m the left’s worst nightmare.” Ivers replies: “Having sex with black people does not prove someone is [not] racist.” Elsewhere the editor demands: “Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke.”

In a section on feminism, Ivers says: “Don’t start chapter with accusation that feminists = fat.” Tellingly, he adds: “It destroys any seriousness of purpose.”

With the Brexit referendum out of the way it’s really just the racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia keeping Ukip together.

When the notes were made public, some liberals hailed them as evidence of Yiannopoulos’s shallow thinking. But they actually lay bare a far more sinister process. Simon & Schuster knew who he waswhen it signed him. Ivers’ job was to get him into shape, to coach him in how to make his racism and misogyny palatable. What we see in those notes is the strenuous, and ultimately doomed, effort to lend Yiannopoulos’s bigotry gravity; to extract from the dung heap of his hateful worldview “the seriousness of [his] purpose”; to locate the boundaries of acceptable prejudice so that those borders can be more effectively breached. He was not just an editor but an enabler.

This is the electoral challenge of the extreme right in the west: to find a plausible balance between how racist it actually is, in its policies, and how racist it can appear to be in its pronouncements. Its raison d’etre is to promote and project a mythical sense of national and racial purity; its conundrum is how to simultaneously attract racists and xenophobes to that project while denouncing racism and xenophobia. In short, to deny any connection between its agenda and the intended effect.

Milo Yiannopoulos.

Milo Yiannopoulos. Photograph: Lisa Williams/Getty Images

This contradiction has been most glaringly apparent in the travails of the UK Independence party. Its most recent crisis was triggered by the disclosure of racist texts by Jo Marney, the girlfriend of the party leader, Henry Bolton. Among other things, when asked, “What’s wrong with black people?” Marney responded “ugly”, and when subsequently accused of being racist she remarked “lol so what”. Particularly upset by Prince Harry’s black fiancee, Meghan Markle, she wrote: “This is Britain not Africa,” and that Markle would “taint the royal seed”, and she worried that black people were “pushing their way to the top slowly, slowly. Next will be a Muslim PM … And a black king.”

Bolton split up with Marney (for now) and suspended her from the party. Nonetheless, senior members of Ukip, including Bolton’s deputy, have now resigned en masse, calling for him to step down.

It’s not difficult to see where Marney got these views from. Ukip ran its election campaign on banning the burqa and enforcing genital checks on girls from groups (by which it means Muslim) at risk of suffering female genital mutilation. Its former leader Nigel Farage once said: “Any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door.” One of its