Last month, For Britain – Anne Marie Waters’ post UKIP political party – held its conference in Liverpool. One of those speaking at the conference was the former reality TV contestant, Katie Hopkins. Speaking alongside Ingrid Carlqvist – a Swedish anti-Muslim writer who has previously denied the Holocaust – Hopkins told the gathered delegates, “I’m on your bench, I’m on your team”. The ‘team’ Hopkins pledging her allegiance to being one that Hope Not Hate describes as radical-right, explicitly anti-Islam and keen to stir up hatred and exacerbate divisions in today’s Britain.
Hopkins has, for some time, been trying to rid herself of her reality TV past. Rebranding herself as a straight-talking bulwark against political correctness, she has done so by making a series of outlandish and at times, quite repugnant statements, each exploitatively designed to garner attention as a means of remaining in the media spotlight. While it is right to acknowledge that this has not gone without criticism or censure – she has lost jobs as a result of certain statements – to what extent is it possible to suggest that Hopkins has used her ‘celebrity’ status as cover for being a radical right extremist? Could it also be possible that because of her ‘celebrity’, those undeniably bigoted views have been attributed with less seriousness than if they had emanated from someone perceived to be ‘political’? And finally, has the mainstream media afforded her an unprecedented amount of column inches and airtime to espouse her bigotry on the general public?
Hopkins first came to fame in 2007 as a contestant in the third series of the BBC’s The Apprentice. Having rejected an offer of a place in the final, withdrawing from the competition at the penultimate task, Hopkins’ fledgling oeuvre was already emergent, regularly commenting to camera about the fake tans and weight of her fellow contestants. Providing her a launch pad, Hopkins went on to appear on 8 Out of 10 Cats, Loose Women, The Friday Night Project, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and Celebrity Big Brother. She also had her own television shows, My Fat Story and If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World both of which aired on TLC.
It has been in columnist and broadcaster roles however where she acquired greatest notoriety. Joining The Sun as a columnist in October 2013, from the outset the newspaper billed her as “Britain’s most controversial columnist”. Two years later, she had joined Mail Online, the Daily Mail’s online companion. Described as “reality TV’s very own Adolf Hitler” while at Mail Online, her contract was not renewed by mutual consent in 2017. Simultaneously, Hopkins had also hosted a Sunday morning talk show on LBC radio from April 2016. Having left the station somewhat abruptly in May 2017, Hopkins re-emerged in January 2018 when it was announced that she was joining Rebel Media, the far-right Canadian-based website where she would be working alongside Tommy Robinson – the former leader of the English Defence League and PEGIDA UK – and Jack Buckby – previously of the British National Party and the anti-Islam party Liberty GB – among others.
As a columnist and broadcaster, Hopkins variously stated that “Islam disgusts me” following the 2016 Nice truck attack, announced that she was in favour banning the face veil worn by some Muslim women, labelled Islamic culture as homophobic, declared that parts of Britain were controlled by a “Muslim mafia”, and labelled London Mayor Sadiq Khan as the “Muslim mayor of Londonistan”. Despite calling on people to “fight for your country” against Muslims, she refuted claims she was Islamophobic, arguing instead that her views about Muslims and Islam were wholly rational. At other times, Hopkins attacked Britain’s multiculturalism, announced that “white genocide” was taking place in South Africa, described hospitalised people with dementia as “bed blockers”, and referred to migrants to Europe as “cockroaches…spreading like the norovirus”. While Hopkins’ comments were routinely denounced, it is worth noting the two occasions when she attracted widespread condemnation. The first was in 2015, when she claimed that a photo of the dead body of a Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach had been “staged”. The second was in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in March 2017 when she tweeted the need for a “final solution” against Muslims. A phrase indeterminably linked to the extermination of Jews in the Second World War, the condemnation that followed led to her losing her job at LBC.
As such, there should be little surprise therefore that Hopkins now chooses to peddle her wares at Rebel Media. For them, it is hoped that Hopkinsworld – the name given to Hopkins’ dedicated website – will reverse the decline in subscriber numbers that has been evident since the platform gave its support to the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville which left one dead and scores injured. For Hopkins, the benefits are potentially even greater: a much larger, global audience than she has had before and an audience that will be nothing if not sympathetic to her bigoted views. As she said when asked about Hopkinsworld, she replied: “When you think of me you think of migrants and anti-migrants and Muslim-bashing…which I appreciate is part of my portfolio which I’m proud of” adding, “I need a platform that is not beholden to anybody”.
While Rebel Media may not afford Hopkins the same kudos or mainstream access she had previously, the legitimacy afforded to her for more than a decade by certain sections of the mainstream media is likely to mean that her lurid and bigoted claims will continue to be deemed newsworthy. Not only that but having been established as a household name, it is possible that Rebel Media’s increasingly activist agenda will support Hopkins to launch a political career: a new darling of the British radical right. In support of this, not only has Hopkins recently spoken at the For Britain conference, but so too is she set to speak at the annual conference of the Traditional Britain Group. A radical right outfit run by the former Conservative Gregory Lauder-Frost, Traditional Britain Group supports the deportation of non-white Britons to their “natural homelands” and resistance to what it believes is enforced multiculturalism.
Is it legitimate then to suggest that Hopkins is an extremist of the radical right?
As regards the radical right, Hopkins positions herself squarely within this ‘team’. There can be little doubt about her political and ideological preferences.
As regards the suggestion she is an extremist, the definition posited by the Manchester Commission is useful here. Set up in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack, it defined ‘hateful extremism’ as “both ideas and behaviours that are hateful towards specific ‘others’ and designed to undermine social cohesion”. Unequivocally, Hopkins and her views can be clearly aligned within this definitional frame. Hopkins’ oft and various views embody ideas that are hateful to specific ‘others’. As considered previously, this can be Muslims, ethnic minorities or the infirm among others. Given her self-positioning of being ‘on the bench’ for For Britain – as before, a group that is known to be keen on stirring up hatred and exacerbating societal divisions – it would be fair to conclude that Hopkins is complicit in undermining social cohesion. Accordingly, Hopkin fits the Manchester Commission’s definition of extremism and by extension, what it means to be an extremist.
Such a suggestion will be an anathema to some. Can a reality TV star really be an extremist of the radical right? One way of responding to this is to look at how normalised and trivialised her ‘celebrity’ status has allowed her to be; invited into our living rooms in the form of light entertainment despite espousing very real hate-fuelled messages. As written previously, far from conveying the message that such individuals are extremists or even challenging their views, the mainstream media confer notions of acceptability and legitimacy. A trivialised and at times ‘joke’ figure, not only has the result been that Hopkins and her views being seen to be acceptable but so too has she been able to espouse such with adequate recourse or rebuttal. In this respect, the mainstream media has played down Hopkins’ highly politicised views while simultaneously affording her unprecedented and privileged platforms despite having been promoting the views and ideas of the radical right for far too long.
As regards what Katie does next, we will just have to wait and see.
Dr Chris Allen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and and an Associate Professor in the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. See his profile here:
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