How to spot someone who’s been radicalised

This is the British Army’s guide to spotting dangerous extreme right-wing (XRW) people, courtesy of James Wallis on Twitter.

Heres’s a summary.

  • They describe their opponents as traitors
  • They become increasingly angry about perceived injustices and threats to their national or cultural identity
  • They say their critics have been indoctrinated
  • They make sweeping generalisations and peddle untruths about specific minority groups
  • They claim their opponents’ ideology is the root of injustices against vulnerable people
  • They refer to political correctness as a left-wing plot
  • They make sweeping generalisations about “the left” or government
  • They claim they’re preparing for or already fighting a war
  • They actively seek out impressionable individuals to indoctrinate or recruit
  • They claim it’s okay to be abusive to specific minorities
  • They have columns in national newspapers

I may have added an extra point there.

You know where I’m going with this one. The signs the British Army urges squaddies to look for don’t just appear among young men in Army barracks. They’re visible among supposedly nice, respectable middle-class people with jobs in the media too.

The radicalisation described here doesn’t just apply to anti-Islam racism. It’s visible in other forms of bigotry too.


Old man shouts at crowds

Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, pictured, has gone off on one about trans people again. Yesterday he claimed on twitter that calling cisgender women cis “is the most extreme form of misogyny”, which I’m sure will be news to many women who’ve endured much worse things than being accurately labelled with a latin prefix.

Cis is to trans what straight is to gay; nothing more, nothing less.

He’s yet another example of something that happens again and again:

  • Ageing, straight, cisgender person writes about trans stuff, gets it wrong
  • A couple of trans people say “hey man, that’s not cool. You’re wrong about X.”
  • Ageing, straight, cisgender person shouts “DON’T YOU OPPRESS ME YOU TRANS BASTARDS!” and becomes a rabid anti-trans activist

It’s not the first time; it won’t be the last. So let’s just re-read this A Thousand Flowers piece from February about MacWhirter’s long opposition to women’s rights and disregard for the views of women’s groups.

So what exactly is Macwhirter’s history of standing with Scotland’s women when they asked for protection? Oh aye, he opposed all that feminism gone mad.   Yer New Definitely Feminist Hero last got a menshie on ATF for his opposition to the years of work done by women’s organisations, to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which he condemned as “mince” in another Herald Da-sterpiece.

…Macwhirter is, sadly, far from alone in being a man guilty of uncritically parroting a tiny group of anti trans activists, while not doing even the most shallow bit of digging or asking any of the women’s organisations you’d imagine any journalist writing about gender would have on speed dial.


The song remains the same

I’m writing about some really horrible things today so let’s start with something beautiful instead: here’s Swedish group Erato covering Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend.

Okay. Let’s talk about hate.

Writing in Buzzfeed, Patrick Strudwick speaks to a man whose name should be more widely known. Terry Sanderson was a lone voice against the media bullying of LGBT+ people from the 1980s onwards, and won the first ever ruling against the press for homophobia.

Here’s what I grew up seeing on the breakfast table (content warning: vicious homophobia and transphobia including offensive slurs).

Poofters. Benders. Shirtlifters. Bumboys. Lezzies. This was how British tabloid headlines referred to gay men and lesbians in the 1980s — an echo of the taunts heard on the street before a beating. The stories beneath would expand on the pejoratives, justifying them with news of “sick” “evil”, “predatory” gays; all arising from a presumption: that readers would agree.

…In a typical example from 1985, Sanderson is left returning fire on one homophobic piece after the other, all drawn from a single month. The first, a Sunday People spread under the headline “Ban the Panto Fairies”, saw the comedian Bernard Manning arguing that gay actors should not be allowed on “television, on stage, in clubs or pubs” in order that they don’t “corrupt the children”.

…It wasn’t just the national newspapers. In the same column, Sanderson selected a delightful mezze of local paper bigotry. “Gays are EVIL” was the headline in a recent edition of the Bromley Leader. The Plymouth Evening Herald described a mere advert for a gay club as “an offensive gay club poster”. While the Solihull Daily Times blared in a headline: “Row over poofs and queers”.

In the same column, he reported that The Sun, Britain’s bestselling newspaper, had “negative gay stories almost every day for the past few weeks”. In one, the paper branded a council leader “barmy” for campaigning for black and gay people to be protected from murder.

It’s shocking to see how little regard the papers had for human lives. As Strudwick writes, the AIDS era produced some astonishingly vicious journalism in papers such as The Times.

Shortly after The Sun’s near-daily anti-gay coverage, The Times declared its official position in a leader editorial: “Many members of the public are tempted to see in AIDS some sort of retribution for a questionable style of life.”

The Sun and The Times are both owned by Murdoch, as was The News of The World.

“The News of the World carried ‘gay plague’ headlines in three consecutive issues,” wrote Sanderson, detailing each one: “Victims of gay plague long to die”; “My doomed son’s gay plague agony”; “Art genius destroyed by gay killer bug”.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Sun ran a headline asking, “is it wise to share a lavatory with a homosexual?”

…The Sun then called gay men “walking time bombs” with the “killer disease AIDS” who are a “menace to all society”

Even when the evidence was clear that heterosexuals also had HIV, The Sun, wrote Sanderson, “still insisted that AIDS sufferers were ‘gay plague victims’” and merrily printed headlines unencumbered by facts: “Beer mugs may spread the disease”.

There’s a generation of LGBT+ people who read this stuff daily. When some of us finally came out in later life, people around us expressed surprise. Why didn’t we come out earlier?

Here’s The Sun on 12 December 1987, when I’d just turned 15.

Perverts are to blame for the killer plague.

The Telegraph:

The homosexuals who have brought this plague upon us should be locked up… Burning is too good for them. Bury them in a pit and pour on quick lime.

Broadsheets advocating for the murder of gay people; tabloids demanding they be locked up. The national press celebrating anti-gay hate crimes. Even The Guardian got in on the act.

[Sanderson] accuses the outlet of “giving a voice to people who should never have one in a paper like that, simply because they felt they should have balance.” Sometimes it was worse than that. Media Watch highlighted the reporting of a vicar who had been caught cottaging, entrapped in a public toilet by a policeman, but rather than criticise the police The Guardian published the defendant’s home address.

Publishing a gay man’s home address during a time of homophobic murders and petrol bomb attacks. No doubt The Guardian later ran a story pondering the mysterious rise of anti-gay hate crimes.

As Sanderson notes, the focus later moved to trans women in columns containing ‘phrases such as “man in a dress”, “dicks in chicks’ clothing”, “shemales”, “trannies” and a warning to trans people: “You really won’t like us when we’re angry”.’

The media regulator proved toothless for many years, and when it did finally rule against the press – against Garry Bushell’s Sun columns – they doubled down on the abuse.

And now, as Sanderson says, “the whole thing is starting again.”

The same slurs, the same publications, often the same writers. There are growing demands for Section 28-style legislation to prevent children being “exposed” to the existence of LGBT+ people. Newspapers are telling their readers to be afraid of people in toilets. A tiny, vulnerable minority is being victimised by some of the most powerful people in the world. Hate crimes have doubled; for trans people they’ve trebled.

The newspapers didn’t stop the abuse because of press complaints adjudications, because the had a change of heart, or because they discovered basic human decency. They stopped because their readers didn’t share their hatred. There wasn’t money in it any more.

the backlash eventually ebbed, says Sanderson, as newspapers began to realise “which way the wind was blowing”. Their readers were changing before they were.

The current anti-LGBT+ abuse won’t stop until the same thing happens. That means voting with your feet, with your web browser and with your wallet.

If you buy the papers that are currently conducting a vendetta against LGBT+ people – such as the Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday, even The Guardian – or read anti-LGBT+ content online, you can’t claim to be supportive of LGBT+ people.

Your money means you are part of this. You’re funding it. You’re fuelling it.

You are paying the wages of people who make a living inciting hatred against people.

People like me.

If only there were some explanation

Today, in The Guardian:

That’s the same Guardian that’s printed inflammatory drivel about trans people for months now. The same Guardian whose US staff were so outraged by its promotion of “transphobic viewpoints” that they took the unprecedented step of writing an open letter damning their UK colleagues.

Maybe their UK colleagues should read it again.

Cis women’s intolerance should not be a legitimate reason for limiting the rights of trans women. The idea that all trans women should be denied civil rights because a trans woman might someday commit a crime is the essence of bigotry and goes against feminist values.

That’s not to say The Guardian doesn’t sometimes print voices supportive of trans people. It does, albeit vanishingly rarely, in what looks rather like an attempt to deflect criticism of its overwhelmingly negative portrayal of trans people – criticism of which goes back many years.

I was at a talk last night by Juliet Jacques, whose transition diaries appeared in the Guardian from 2010 to 2012. The diaries were longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011, but Jacques was under no illusions that the editors had any interest in reporting trans issues beyond tokenism: her attempts to describe the wider picture, both cultural and political, had to be done by stealth.

However as Jacques’ columns show, sanity does sometimes get a word in – as it does in this powerful piece by “Chris”, one of the two women attacked on a London bus this week.

This attack and the ensuing media circus are par for the course in 2019. In both my native United States and here in the United Kingdom, it always has been and still is open season on the bodies of (in no specific order) people of colour, indigenous people, transgender people, disabled people, queer people, poor people, women and migrants. I have evaded much of the violence and oppression imposed on so many others by our capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal system because of the privileges I enjoy by dint of my race, health, education, and conventional gender presentation. That has nothing to do with the merit of my character.

…The commodification and exploitation of my face came at the expense of other victims whose constant persecution apparently does not warrant similar moral outrage.


LGBT+ articles you should read today

This is a powerful and important piece by Katelyn Burns, one of very few trans journalists, on the problem with mainstream reporting on LGBT+ issues: the lack of dedicated LGBTQ media is a disaster.

It begins with something depressingly common: a major newspaper highlighting the views of a website crank as some kind of expert, without seeking input from people who actually are experts.

This is the kind of reporting you get when LGBTQ writers and reporters are cut out from mainstream media. It turns our everyday experiences into fodder for pundits, cranks, and transphobes. Phony or inconsequential organizations like “Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics” are elevated to legitimacy by publications who think their readers need to hear “both sides” of an issue, even when one side is composed of hatred. Many in mainstream print media have fallen into this sort of lazy both-sides-ism which ends up promoting the junk science and wild conspiracy theories of the anti-trans and larger anti-LGBTQ movements.

Burns makes a point I’ve also made: the people reporting on LGBT+ issues don’t suffer from the consequences of their reporting. They aren’t beaten up on buses or yelled at in the street. They aren’t denied healthcare or evicted by bigoted landlords.

those largely responsible for covering the issues have no personal stake in the fallout from their reporting. Most writers and editors won’t ever have to worry about their parents kicking them out of homes for being LGBTQ.

There is a very large, very important imbalance in the mainstream reporting of LGBT+ issues and trans issues in particular. The right-wing, anti-science voices are platformed and amplified while the actual scientists and decades of scientific research are ignored. And that platforming has been happening for several years now.

Publications from Breitbart to The National Review have been feeding their audiences a steady diet of trans-based outrage for years now. As a result, there’s significantly more interest in trans issues on the political right than there is on the left — something I don’t think the average progressive voter even realizes.

In the UK, you can add Spiked, The Spectator, the Mail on Sunday and The Times and Sunday Times to the list. You can also add some left-wing publications, notably The Guardian and The New Statesman, which so far seem unable to spot the links between anti-trans faux feminists, hard-right politics and religious evangelism; The Guardian has a long and troubled history in its reporting of trans issues.

Burns quotes Gillian Branstetter of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Every morning, Branstetter reads a collection of media clips on trans issues; she says recently she’s tracked the horrifying phenomenon of anti-trans talking points leapfrog right over the mainstream media from the right-wing press straight to Congress. “There are members who oppose the Equality Act, for example, or trans protections in the Violence Against Women Act or are in favor of the military ban who have picked up, word for word, the language and the messaging of far right media in discussing transgender people and issues,” she said. “So then you do suddenly see this messaging that’s baseless, that is not founded in anything, that is fear mongering seep into some of the triple-A media sites.”

The same thing is happening here in the UK.

This piece, by research scientist Liza Brusman, is a good explanation of why sex and gender are considerably more complicated than you learned at primary school.

Many people believe that biological sex is binary: Either you’re male or you’re female. But as with many binaries, things are more complicated than they seem.

…Sex is our biology — what chromosomes, hormones, genes, sex organs, and secondary sex characteristics we have — while gender is how we think of our identity in the context of how norms function in our culture.

…The science is clear—sex is a spectrum.

And finally, a reminder that we’re talking about living, breathing, loving human beings here.

The Guardian: My Catholic, trans child is living proof of how wrong the Vatican is about gender.

The Vatican says you can’t choose your gender. Trans and non-binary people don’t “choose” their gender. They know who they are, and they wish to live authentically and happily.

Weaponising media

Detroit Pride this weekend.

Another day, another bunch of saddening headlines: armed neo-Nazis with a police escort intimidating Pride attendees in the US, lesbian women attacked in the street in England, the usual raft of anti-LGBT hatred in the press.

Two UK stories stood out for me, because they demonstrate two elements of the same thing: how anti-trans individuals and groups play the media and social media.

First up, Edinburgh University. An anti-trans event led to the mass resignation of the university’s staff pride network and lurid headlines about an attack on one of the speakers.

The reporting of this has been interesting. The staff pride network quit partly because of the event, but mainly because the university attempted to stop them from publicly criticising it. Fans of irony may want to use the words “silencing” or “erasure” here. They were also appalled by the university’s withdrawal from the Stonewall workplace equality index in “a reversal of the progress that the network has made over the last three years. We feel viscerally upset that the good work over the last three years is being undone.”

For most of the media, however, that wasn’t the story. The story, the bit that appeared in headline after headline, was that one of the speakers, Julie Bindel, was physically attacked by a trans woman.

Except she wasn’t.

Bindel, a well connected journalist and activist, has long agitated against trans people, and tends to attract protest when she speaks: some university LGBT+ groups have attempted to have her events cancelled on the grounds that they encourage hatred of LGBT+ students. Immediately after the Edinburgh event, she tweeted:

I was physically attacked as I left the event for the airport.

Except she wasn’t. She was shouted at.

I’m sure that was frightening, but a professional writer should know the difference between “physically attacked” and “shouted at”. Such as, “shouted at by protester” won’t get you in the papers; “physically attacked” will.

When PinkNews approached her for comment on the apparent difference between what she said on social media and what actually happened, Bindel  said: “I despise your woman-hating, anti-lesbian rag, and would rather give Donald Trump a massage than speak to you.”

It’s as if there’s some kind of agenda here.

Did someone say agenda?

Last week, the NSPCC threw Munroe Bergdorf under the bus. Bergdorf, a trans woman, is hate figure for anti-trans bigots; given the blurred lines between them, the alt-right and racists of various stripes the fact Bergdorf is a woman of colour no doubt played a factor too.

The news that Bergdorf was going to be one of the public faces of the NSPCC’s Childline led to a storm of protest and a cowardly decision by the NSPCC to “cut ties” with her.

The furore was spearheaded by Times columnist Janice “trans people are sacrificing our children” Turner. It claimed that Bergdorf was a “porn model” (a deliberately inflammatory reframing of the fact she once posed for Playboy) who shouldn’t be around children (one of the oldest tropes in the bigots’ playbook) and mobilised Twitter users to say they would cancel their direct debits to the charity.

Was any of it real?

Twitter user Helen, aka MimmyMum (parents of trans kids use pseudonyms on Twitter because of the abuse they’re subjected to) analysed the protesting accounts and found an interesting pattern. They don’t seem to follow the accounts of child protection groups or charities such as the NSPCC. But they do follow the most rabidly anti-trans pressure groups.

It’s as if there’s some kind of agenda here.


Many people have pointed out the apparent double standards of the NSPCC and of the activists here.

Previous Childline/NSPCC ambassadors have included the topless model Melinda Messenger and lingerie model Abby Clancy, neither of whom have attracted the attention of Janice Turner and the “protect children” crowd. By a strange coincidence, Messenger and Clancy are not black or trans. And the NSPCC’s current ambassadors include the cisgender, white, footballer Wayne Rooney, who has been arrested for drunk driving and whose controversial sex life includes many allegations about infidelity and the use of prostitutes. Nobody seems to have a problem with that either.

That the NSPCC could do this while proudly flying the pride rainbow has upset many, including UK Black Pride.  “To the spineless leadership of the NSPCC,” they posted earlier, “remove the rainbow from your branding. You’ve quite the journey ahead to prove you’re worthy of flying our flag.”

Straight talk about “straight pride”

One of the “straight pride” organisers out for a walk.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen of the so-called “straight pride” march apparently happening in Boston has demonstrated how broken much of the media has become. It’s been treated in “and finally…” style, a gently amusing little story in much the same style as a cat on a skateboard or a dog that can say sausages.

Whereas the reality is that it’s a stunt by a bunch of violent neo-Nazi thugs who want to create a white Christian ethnostate, who are preparing for a race war and who believe non-compliant women should be raped.

Tee-hee! Here’s Carol with the weather!

The organisation behind the proposed march is a rebrand of Resist Marxism, a violent, far-right group with very strong links to neo-Nazi extremists. Leader Mark Shahady organised a violent rally in late October to which he invited the notorious Proud Boys, who attacked protesters.

In December, Shadady hosted an anti-immigration “debate” where a known neo-Nazi organisation called Patriot Front provided “security”. As Antifash Gordon, an anti-Nazi activist, writes on Twitter:

Patriot Front is an openly neo-Nazi organization that endorses the use of “ethnostate rape gangs” to police the behavior of white women after they win the race war they think is coming.

Their leader is a member of Resist Marxism.

These lovely gentlemen attended the Boston Women’s March this year, where they attacked attendees. There’s footage of Sahady attempting to assault a trans woman.

There is much, much more of this. Gordon has a long thread providing evidence.

Here’s how the Guardian chose to cover it: with a sideways look at the hilarity of a straight pride march.

Do say: “If Straight Pride had been invented sooner, they might not have had to close all those branches of Burton.”

Don’t say: “Where are all you guys going? The Boat Show’s that way!”

Apparently there’s a lighter side to ethnofascism, violence and rape.

In fairness The Guardian has since reported on the background of the organisers, but like most such coverage it’s too little too late. A stunt by some utterly despicable, vicious, bigoted people has become a global news event, a funny little item at the end of a broadcast, yet another opportunity for the far right to spread their hate.

This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a snigger.

The reason is there is no reason

I politely declined to go on a radio programme last night. The topic was YouTube’s selective enforcement of its anti-harassment and hate speech rules, with a look at the wider issue of online abuse, but the other contributor would be an antagonist who’d argue that the real victims of online abuse are the people who do the abusing.

I’m not going to help legitimise that.

We often assume that someone on the other side of a debate is just like us: if it turns out that our facts are wrong, we change our views. It’s a nice idea that’s been ruthlessly exploited by people who aren’t interested in facts. Demolish argument #1 and they’ll calmly switch to argument #2, even if it completely contradicts the previous argument. The goal is not to be right. The goal is to win, to tire you out or goad you until you snap.

As I’ve written before, what these people do is not a debate; it’s a performance. And you can see a great example of it in Donald Trump’s justifications for his ban on trans people serving in the military.

You may recall that when Trump originally promised to ban trans people, the reason was because the presence of trans people “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion”. It was a “military decision”.

A few months later, that was dropped after the military said “no, it wasn’t”. Suddenly it wasn’t a military decision. It was a financial one. The government didn’t want to pay the cost of trans people’s surgeries.

That one was debunked too. Now, he’s saying it’s because trans people “take massive amounts of drugs”.

Whether they’re true or not (they’re not, of course) doesn’t matter. He might as well tell us that the ban is because a mysterious hooded figure came to him in a dream, or that somebody told him that trans people are fatal to mice. The reason for the trans ban is that Trump wants a trans ban.

We’re confusing the beginning and the end. Trump didn’t decide to implement a trans ban because of X, Y and Z. He decided to implement a trans ban because he decided to implement a trans ban. X, Y and Z are merely flags of convenience; if they don’t fly, he’ll try A, B and C.

It’s cruel, of course, as are the other anti-trans (and anti-women) activities of the administration. They’re not based on evidence, but on a desire to hurt specific groups of people.

The cruelty isn’t an accident. The cruelty is the point.

The same process was visible with Betsy DeVos, the US education secretary. DeVos says that her office “is committed to ensuring all students have access to their education free from discrimination,” and the way to do this is to discriminate against trans students. When asked if she was aware of the negative effects discrimination has on trans students, she said “I do know that. I But I will say again that [my office] is committed to ensuring all students have access to their education free from discrimination.”

Of course it doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to. DeVos doesn’t care about evidence because the decision is not based on evidence. She wants to discriminate against trans students because she wants to discriminate against trans students.

The cruelty isn’t an accident. The cruelty is the point.

The same thing happens with the various anti-trans groups that have sprung up from nowhere to agitate against the rights and dignity of trans people, claiming to respect “genuine” trans people while fomenting hatred against them. Their ground is constantly shifting: as each specious argument is shown to be false, a new one takes its place.

Like Trump, the reason they hate trans people isn’t because X, or Y, or Z, so their views won’t change if you discredit X, or Y, or Z. They hate trans people because they hate trans people.

The cruelty isn’t an accident. The cruelty is the point.

Lag escapes nick in motor, sadly dies in eaterie

It’s not like me to get annoyed by little things. Okay, it’s very like me. And today’s little thing is the language used by Scottish news websites.

Here are some examples:

Masked thugs firebomb prison guards’ motors [The Sun]

Lags at four nicks are getting state-of-the-art football pitches [The Sun]

Motors? Lags? Nicks? Who’s writing this stuff? Guy Ritchie?

When they’re not pretending to be in English gangster movies, they’re using slang to downplay the seriousness of violent acts.

Air passenger headbutts police officer in flight rammy [Daily Record]

A man was taken to hospital for severe facial injuries after a rammy... [Daily Record]

Many of these are headlines, but offenders lurk in the text too. Trinity Mirror’s Glasgow Live frequently uses “eaterie” to describe restaurants, “lost their battle” to describe cancer patients dying and “sadly died” in subheads about death.

I’m annoyed by these partly because they’re annoying, but also because it’s proof that a whole kind of journalism job has gone. In the days when sub-editors ruled the newsrooms, you wouldn’t get away with “eaterie” – it’s an affectation – or “lost their battle” – it implies that people who die of cancer didn’t fight hard enough – or “sadly died”, because it doesn’t mean what you think it means: it’s the opposite of “died with a smile on their face”. It doesn’t mean “they died and that is sad”.

I know, I know, it’s not important in the great scheme of things. But precision in language is yet another thing we’ve lost in the name of cost-cutting, something of value sacrificed by people whose spreadsheets show the cost of everything but never their value.

Bad-faith theatre

Image by Jude Valentin, YouTube.

Yesterday I linked to a piece about women of colour being overwhelmed with requests to educate people. Not all of those requests are made in good faith, and even the ones that are can be exhausting.

This morning. Afua Hirsch writes about her experience on Sky News. Hirsch was asked to explain why an image was racist.

here was an instantly recognisable trope, familiar to generations of black people, shared on the birth of a baby whose family includes an African American grandmother, by someone paid by the BBC. That there was widespread condemnation of its racist nature – including from the man who posted it – is one of many reasons I was exasperated at having to debate it.

Hirsch’s appearance went viral when she decided she’d had enough of this particular game.

I realised, on air, that I had had enough – not just of having to deal with the content of an idea that compares people like me to another species, but of then being expected to persuade people why that’s bad.

Because this emotional labour is not distributed equally, broadcasters – by placing one black person in a hostile space and then requiring them to explain the injustice of racism – become complicit in that injustice.

The idea that everything is a debate, and that terrible bigotries can be defeated by it, is a bad idea.

Laurie Penny:

There’s a term for this sort of bad-faith argument: it’s called the justification-suppression model. The theory is that bigots refrain from directly defending their own bigotry but get hugely riled up justifying the abstract right to express bigotry. So instead of saying, for example, “I don’t like foreigners,” they’ll fight hard for someone else’s right to get up on stage and yell that foreigners are coming to convert your children and seduce your household pets.

You can’t defeat bad faith with good words, because the other side isn’t debating. They’re performing.

Remember the U.S. presidential debates of 2016? Remember how the entire liberal establishment thought Hillary Clinton had won, mainly because she made actual points, rather than shambling around the stage shouting about Muslims? What’s the one line from those debates that everyone remembers now? It’s “Nasty Woman.” What’s the visual? It’s Trump literally skulking around Hillary, dominating her with his body. It’s theatre. And right now the bad actors are winning.

Libertarians like to talk about “the marketplace of ideas”, but as Penny rightly points out, marketplaces are full of conmen and counterfeiters and criminals. “As always,” she says, “when the whole thing comes crashing down, it’s ordinary marks who lose everything.”

Public debate — at least the way I was taught to do it at my posh school — is not about the free exchange of ideas at all. You only listen to the other guy so you can work out how to beat him, and ideally, humiliate him.

…trying to bring someone over to your side by publicly demonstrating that their ideas are bad and that they should feel bad is like trying to teach a goat how to dance: the goat will not learn to dance, and you will make him angry.

Debate doesn’t stop bigots or fascists. We’ve been exposing far-right ideologies to sunlight for several years now, and the far right is stronger than ever. Since the UK began debating hard-right Brexiteers, racist incidents and discrimination have soared.

We’ve been debating LGBT rights for decades, and the bigots continue to argue against science and basic humanity. Since the UK began debating equal rights for LGBT people and trans people in particular, hate crimes against LGBT people and trans people in particular have soared.

Since the US religious right began an aggressive campaign demanding  we debate women’s reproductive freedom, legislation has been passed to remove that freedom altogether. The goal is to have similar legislation nationwide.

The “debates” over whether it’s okay to compare people of colour to monkeys, whether parents are right to stop their kids being taught about the existence of LGBT people, whether women should have bodily autonomy, whether trans people should have basic human rights… these aren’t debates. The debates were settled a long time ago.

What we have now is bad-faith theatre. The cruel, the career contrarians and the clueless punch down using “free speech” and “reasonable concerns” to disguise what they’re doing, dog whistling to their supporters and demonising their targets. Off-camera they and their supporters let the mask slip. On-camera they stay strictly on message and on brand. Debating these people is merely handing them a megaphone.

Fascists weren’t defeated by debate in the 20th century; they were defeated by bullets. People of colour didn’t get civil rights by asking nicely. The road to equal rights for LGBT rights began with riots.

As Michael J Dolan wrote on Twitter yesterday:

When you argue that fascists should be defeated through debate, what you’re actually suggesting is that vulnerable minorities should have to endlessly argue for their right to exist and that at no point should the debate be considered over and won.