Mosques, #ScumMedia and Katie Hopkins

As we are approaching the end of the ninth week of the lockdown the far right has started to turn their eyes towards other issues than the pandemic, finding space in the media cycle to raise traditional far-right issues. A video posted by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage last week about migrants crossing the Channel has continued to be shared widely.

However, other news in the UK and the US has grabbed the attention of the far-right. The death of George Floyd and following riots in Minneapolis has provided material to spread traditional racist narratives around black people being prone to violence as well as conspiracy theories of protests being paid for by the left and individuals such George Soros. 

In the UK, some mosques were given permission to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer over loudspeakers at sundown to mark the end of fasting. This small gesture of solidarity with British Muslims has been seized upon by some on the far right as a symbol of “Islamification” in the UK, with videos being posted to far-right accounts on Twitter and Telegram with captions decrying it as an assertion of “dominance” and “conquest”.

Related to this issue is the far-right opposition to the proposals to convert the Trocadero Centre in London’s West End into a mosque. The far right have been urging their supporters to register their opposition to the proposal on the planning application, but at the time of writing the comments are almost 70% in favour of the proposal. 

Cummings and #ScumMedia

Evidence that Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings flouted the lockdown rules by traveling across the country emerged last weekend and resulted in harsh criticism from newspapers from across the political spectrum. Far-right activists who have previously opposed the lockdown have unsurprisingly taken to his defence.

Katie Hopkins, one of the most prominent critics of the lockdown wrote “You won’t be happy until Cummings is swinging from a tree”, on Twitter and gained support from ex-UKIP leader Gerard Batten. Conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson took a similar position, tweeting that: “This isn’t about a car journey. You all just hate Cummings because of Brexit. Be honest.”

For much of this week, the hashtag #scummedia was trending on Twitter, with thousands of users tweeting it to attack journalists and broadcasters that they perceived as unfairly targeting Cummings and the government over the issue. Analysis of the accounts promoting the hashtag by Professor Marc Owen Jones, an expert in social media disinformation, found that a large number of the accounts contained references to Brexit and President Trump in their Twitter bios. Yet polling by YouGov found that 52% of people who voted for Brexit in 2016 thought that Dominic Cummings should resign, suggesting that this issue does not neatly divide the nation along the fault-line of the Brexit referendum, as some have suggested.

Katie Hopkins & John Mappin

Katie Hopkins’ appears to have made the transition from lockdown sceptic to full-blown COVID-conspiracy theorist, judging by an interview she gave late last week. Appearing on a webcast with John Mappin, the hotelier and crank QAnon conspiracy theorist who helped to found Turning Point UK, Hopkins appeared to endorse the idea that Boris Johnson might have been blackmailed with evidence of his participation in sexual abuse. 

Speaking about Boris Johnson’s apparent pivot away from a laissez faire approach to containing the virus towards a stringent lockdown in late March, Hopkins questioned whether a “powerful, malevolent force” had “got at Boris” to prompt this change of heart. Mappin went further: 

“I don’t know what [Boris] was threatened with […] but I do know that in Washington DC, the types of leverage they hold over politicians is of the most revolting kind that the mind can conceive of […] if you look at what happened to Epstein, I think he was gathering compromising material. And what is that material used for?”

Hopkins nodded enthusiastically throughout Mappin’s wild insinuations, and then expanded on it with her own unfounded narrative: “I think he received a visit, and either they threatened him with something incredible, or they offered him something beyond his wildest dreams. I happen to think it must have been a threat”. It is a vivid example of Hopkins’ incredible opportunism that she is now happy to implicitly endorse insinuations of paedophilia about a Prime Minister whose election she was celebrating just a few months previously.