Milo Yiannopoulos is the latest well-known bigot to join UKIP, further evidence that Gerard Batten’s party is careering towards the far-right fringes

“Alt-light” Islamophobe Milo Yiannopoulos has announced that he has joined UKIP, following similar recent announcements from the far-right conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, anti-feminist YouTuber Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) and online “comedian” Mark Meechan (AKA Count Dankula), notorious for teaching his girlfriend’s pug to perform a Nazi salute.

Yiannopoulos, the disgraced former star of far-right news outlet Breitbart News Network known for his deliberately offensive statements – such as claiming that Muslim immigrants would bring “lamb chops, yoghurt and gang-rape” to America – has been welcomed into the party, alongside Watson, Benjamin and Meechan as “true crusaders for freedom of expression” by senior UKIP figure Neil Hamilton.

A tweet from Neil Hamilton, leader of UKIP in Wales

Common Ground

As is typical of the “alt-light” – the wing of the broad Alternative Right primarily concerned with culture, unlike the racially-obsessed white nationalist “alt-right” – this action is cloaked with a semi-joking irony. “Take over UKIP for the banter?”, Watson tweeted, adding “How hard can it be?” Meechan initially promised to join the party if he could achieve 10,000 retweets.

However, this irony masks a potentially more serious project. A UKIP spokesman told The Independent that the recruitment of Watson, Benjamin and Meechan has led to an influx of around 500 new members, a significant number for a party that has lost large sections of its membership in its prolonged freefall since the June 2016 EU Referendum.

The likes of Yiannopoulos and Watson can find common ground with UKIP; under Batten, himself a committed Islamophobe and conspiracy crank, the party has adopted an increasingly hard-line anti-Muslim message.

Batten, who took the reins of the ailing party in February 2018, has recently spoken at street rallies in support of jailed anti-Muslim extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), and at the gloriously-misnamed “Day for Freedom” rally again in Whitehall, which also saw speeches from Yiannopoulos, Meechan and Benjamin. Batten has also sought to recruit from the hooligan-led street movement, the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), and its offshoot Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA).

Batten with DFLA members at the Day for Freedom event in May
A scuffle breaks out involving DFLA members at the Day for Freedom event in May

These rallies, and the engagement of the likes of Yiannopoulos with UKIP, marks a period of increasing interaction between extreme figures who have made their names online (such as Yiannopoulos), in electoral politics (such as Batten) and on the streets (such as Lennon). Such figures are uniting around an anti-Muslim and pro-“free speech” agenda, and seem increasingly willing to ignore points of disagreement, and often to turn a blind eye to those with more extreme ideological positions.

UKIP’s journey to the far-right margins under Batten has reportedly alarmed even former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who has “expressed disquiet” about the party’s trajectory and Batten’s support of former English Defence League (EDL) leader Lennon.

Batten speaking at the Day for Freedom event outside Downing Street in May

 

UKIP’s Newest Members:

 

Milo Yiannopoulos

Credit: Channel 4

Yiannopoulos made his name as a key promoter of the “Gamergate” movement, a 2014 campaign against the perceived encroachment of feminism into gaming culture, marred by the brutal harassment of female game developers and critics. Yiannopoulos, who has called feminism “cancer”, was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 for his role in encouraging the harassment of black actor Leslie Jones.

At Breitbart Yiannopoulos emerged as a figurehead of the Alternative Right, downplaying the brazen racism of some elements associated with the loose movement. Buzzfeed revealed in October of last year that he had sought advice for a Breitbart explainer piece on the alt-right from white nationalists. Buzzfeed also revealed a April 2016 video in which Yiannopoulos sung a karaoke rendition of “America the Beautiful” as members of the crowd, including alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer, gave Nazi salutes. Buzzfeed reported that Yiannopoulos claimed his “severe myopia” meant he was unable to see the salutes a few feet away.  

Yiannopoulos’ reputation was ruined in February 2017 after footage emerged of him appearing to endorse sexual relationships between “younger boys and older men”, following which he was forced to apologise and to step down from Breitbart, also losing his $250,000 book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster. He has since struggled to stay in the spotlight, but shared a stage with Batten, Benjamin and Meechan at the “Day for Freedom” march outside Downing Street in May 2018.

Paul Joseph Watson

Watson (left) with Farage’s comms officer Dan Jukes

Watson is a senior editor at the notorious conspiracy theory site InfoWars. Watson is a longstanding fake news pusher, having previously promoted conspiracy theories around the US government’s supposed involvement in 9/11 and, in 2013, described the 7/7 bombings as a “false flag event”. He is now primarily known for his reactionary YouTube videos.

Media Matters have also reported Watson’s claims that liberals are anti-science for not accepting that African and Middle Eastern people are more aggressive because they have lower IQs, stating that “You can’t deny that there are differences between races when it comes to IQ”.

Watson is often photographed with Dan Jukes, who handles communications for former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad)

Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad)

Benjamin is a British Youtuber who first gained attention through the Gamergate controversy and has since continued to produce videos attacking feminism, and progressive movements more generally, relying heavily on tired tropes of a homogenised, “Social Justice Warrior” left wing supposedly curtailing free speech.

Benjamin rejects the label “alt-right” and has been highly critical of the movement on various points, instead referring to himself instead as a “classical liberal”. His commentary, however, follows the Alternative Right’s playbook of justifying extreme statements as mere “trolling”, belying the genuine hostility that drives them.

Most notably, after Jess Phillips MP tweeted “People talking about raping me isn’t fun, but has become somewhat par for the course” in 2016, following a cross-party campaign ran by Phillips attempting to fight online misogyny, Benjamin replied stating “I wouldn’t even rape you, Jess Phillips”. He later told The Times “I’m not going to lie, I was trying to be provocative” and that he had been planning to target Phillips since November 2015 after he decided that he had “no respect for her”.

Benjamin has been noted by key figures in the alt-right, including Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin of the neo-nazi Daily Stormer website, as a potentially useful gateway some of their extreme-right ideas.

Mark Meechan (AKA Count Dankula)

Meechan, a YouTube “comedian”, rose to fame after he was tried and ultimately convicted of hate speech for repeating the phrase “gas the Jews” in a video, viewed millions of times, in which he teaches his girlfriend’s pug to perform a Nazi salute upon commands such as “Sieg Heil”. 

Meechan’s legal woes have made him something of a martyr to the likes of Lennon, and spoke at the Day for Freedom event in May alongside Yiannopoulos, Benjamin and Batten.