If you've ever thought that Jonathan Pie's contrived rants sounded like they could've been written by someone from a left-liberal rag obsessed with getting speaking gigs for fascists, you were right.
Jonathan Pie emerged in 2015 as a fictional news reporter who lets his own 'left wing' views spill out into his reporting amongst a barrage of swearing. It turns out the people behind him have some interesting real-life connections.
On 2nd February 2018, in response to Bristol Antifa's heckling a speech given by ultra-conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jonathan Pie tweeted 'Antifascists acting like fucking fascists. Grow the fuck up you stupid cunts'.
Neither the sweary tone nor the boilerplate liberal catchphrases are out of character for Jonathan Pie: in another video he blames Brexit and Trump's election on left-wing censorship (rather than, you know, years of the majority of print and television media fomenting racism against migrants and Muslims, which interestingly doesn't get a mention) saying that "It's time to stop banning people from speaking at universities" and that if people are 'triggered' by his comments, they can "fuck off to [their] safe space."
That these preoccupations (supposed left-wing censoriousness, especially at universities) dovetail those of the notoriously awful Spiked Online is no coincidence. Andrew Doyle, co-writer of Pie alongside Tom Walker, has written over 20 articles for Spiked Online between August 2015 and January 2018.
This obviously isn't the result high-end detective work on our part; the Jonathan Pie website mentions Andrew Doyle as a co-writer and it was easy to figure out from there. We're just not in the habit of googling shit 'comedy' acts, so hadn't realised the connection. But, then again, neither have most people.
Spiked is perhaps best known for its university 'free speech' rankings, published annually and reported both gleefully and uncritically by Britain's broadsheets. Yet, for anyone who spends five minutes examining them, one of the factors they count against institutions is simply having a 'bullying and harassment' policy. Worth panicking about censorship over?
Doyle's own articles on Spiked contain lines such as:
It’s a sobering reminder that bad ideas are only defeated through language and debate. Political violence is an oxymoron. The hostile modus operandi of groups such as Antifa has alienated those who might otherwise be sympathetic, as well as enabling white supremacists to portray themselves as martyrs.
We've covered why this is a hopelessly bad take before, but suffice to say that Jonathan Pie's tweet precisely reflects Andrew Doyle's views rather than simply being 'comedy'.
The conflation of any attempt to protest a serving politician with 'fascism' ignores what the politics and methods of fascism actually are. For example, the Traditional Britain Group, whose dinner Rees-Mogg attended in 2013 and later apologised for (even though he had been informed by anti-fascists beforehand), would like to repatriate all black Britons to Africa and the Caribbean and halt immigration. It does so by lobbying Tory politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg at expensive dinners.
So who here is acting 'like a fascist'? People taking part in a protest against a politician or the far-right lobbyists wining and dining the hard-right of the Tory Party? More than anything, Jonathan Pie's writers show a lack of understanding about what fascism actually is.
What's more, there seems to be a complete double-standard as to what counts as an attack on free speech and who deserves to be defended.
In 2011 Rees-Mogg called for public sector strikers to be summarily sacked. More recently Rees-Mogg met with Steve Bannon, until recently editor of Breitbart and former chief strategist to Donald Trump. While editor of Breitbart, Bannon described that he wanted the news site to be "the platform for the alt-right". Bannon was also in post at the White House when Trump issued an executive order immediately banning citizens of seven-Muslim majority countries from entering the US, resulting in even long-term US residents with Green cards being detained and deported on arrival, and protests at airports from New York to Birmingham, Alabama.
For Doyle and his alter-ego Pie, political violence is an anathema, showing they have no critique of state violence at all. In this formulation, heckling someone is bad but calling for strikers to be sacked in parliament is fine - despite mass sackings of strikers having considerably more implications for free speech. Heckling is like fascism but the poster boy of the Tory hard right meeting a man who ran a multi-million dollar far-right news website and was part of a government which detained and deported people based on the country they were arriving from doesn't merit a mention.
Of course, if you reduce 'acting like fascists' to 'doing banal things that fascists also do' then it seems unfair not to mention that Jonathan Pie himself had a show on the British arm of Russian state television network Russia Today from 2015 to 2016. RT is known for regularly interviewing fascists and white supremacists, such as Richard Spencer 1, 2. 3 4, 5 6, Matthew Heimbach 1 and 'third-positionist' Alexander Dugin 1. An alternative explanation for the rising public profile of Spencer et al would need to take into account their promotion by RT and liberal-left publications such as Mother Jones in the US, something which has been happening since 2012, long before Spencer got punched.
If 'doing something that fascists might also have done' is the test for being as bad as the fascists, and we exclude things like breathing air or eating or wearing coats in winter, does attacking the left on RT count? Doyle himself described the moment when he woke up to Trump supporters sharing aforementioned Jonathan Pie video all over social media following the US election result with this remark:
In any case, I consider it a small victory that so many Trump supporters are now sharing a video that refers to their hero as a "pussy-grabbing, wall-building, climate-change-denying, healthcare-abolishing, tax-dodging, shit-spewing demagogue".
In his HuffPost article Doyle laments:
I'm more convinced than ever that part of the problem is an over-emphasis on identity politics at the expense of the class struggle. Identity politics is not necessarily progressive. It's a bourgeois fig leaf, an illusion of progress that distracts from the realities of economic inequality.
Unfortunately, as with many other 'left' critics of identity politics, Doyle fails to articulate what a class politics might be. Later in the article he waxes lyrical about social mobility - exactly the sort of 'bourgeois fig leaf' that New Labour was very fond of. When we talk about class politics at libcom we mean abolishing the class system, not just encouraging Oxbridge admissions from (white) working class grammar school boys like John Major.
Heckling and even physical confrontation of politicians is nothing new. In 1909 suffragette Theresa Garnett horsewhipped Winston Churchill on a train platform in Temple Meads shouting "Take that in the name of the insulted women of England!" If the Bristol anti-fascists were acting like fascists, then no doubt so was Theresa Garnett? Churchill would later send 10,000 soldiers armed with machine guns, six tanks and a 4.5 inch Howitzer to Glasgow in 1919 to break the 40-hours strike. Whether that would count as 'acting like fascists' is unclear.
Twenty years ago Chumbawamba drummer Danbert Nobacon threw a bucket of ice water over John Prescott at the 1998 Brit awards shouting "That's for the Liverpool dockers!" (who had been on strike since 1995, but had been stonewalled by the then new New Labour government and eventually had to concede defeat). The mainstream press mostly laughed off 'two-jags' Prescott in the late '90s.
Recent years have seen an increased boldness among both far-right street movements and their chauvinistic representatives. Any response, whether physical opposition to fascism or the mild heckling of MPs, is being met with increasing hysteria. Publications like Spiked, and sockpuppet comedy aliases like Jonathan Pie, provide left-liberal cover for far-right nationalists: not only do they discourage any direct action in opposition, but they actually encourage us to allow space for bigots to spread their message. And they've got the nerve to call us stupid cunts?