23 May 2019

You Tube, UKIP and Red Pill -- Gamergaters and YouTubers radicalize fans to vote far right in elections?

Ahead of the European Parliament election, those who once thrived only in dark corners of the internet have overtaken British political dialogue, as an increasingly emboldened far right seeks electoral support from new radical audiences.

Guest Mavens
Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
You Tube, UKIP and Red Pill -- Gamergaters and YouTubers radicalize fans to vote far right in elections? - NewsMavens
Carl Benjamin, Mike Meechan, Wikimedia Commons

The recruitment of right-wing YouTubers Carl Benjamin and Mark Meechan -- known to their followers as “Sargon of Akkad” and “Count Dankula” respectively -- as European Parliament candidates for the far-right political party UKIP is the first example of mainstream UK politics explicitly reaching out to extreme online enclaves in order to promote candidates with hateful views to high level political office.

The Sargon of Akkad YouTube channel has close to one million subscribers who have been fed a daily diet of tacky Grecian graphics, right-wing politics, misogyny, and a message that men’s freedoms -- particularly freedom of speech -- are under attack by the left and by feminists.

Since Benjamin announced his UKIP candidacy, that same audience has been exposed to a constant feed of UKIP and hard Brexit campaigning. With Benjamin’s YouTube account de-monetized following comments about raping a Labour MP, his fans are also imbibing a mix of pro-UKIP and anti-liberal content on his other channels: BitChute and Discord.

Fellow YouTuber Count Dankula -- who was arrested after teaching his girlfriend’s dog how to make a Nazi salute in response to an anti-Semitic command -- was fourth on UKIP’s MEP list for Scotland in 2019. He spoke at the Party’s political conference last year, and in June 2018 posted a video titled “UKIP needs you.” Meechan has over half a million followers on YouTube.

Benjamin’s and Meechan’s followers employ white supremacist rhetoric, use racist images as avatars, including the “Pepe The Frog” meme, and share emojis associated with white power movements. They express misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and other racist views in the comment sections of YouTube videos, as well as promote and support Benjamin and Meechan on “men’s rights” forums such as A Voice For Men.

Now these supporters are invited to show their support for an extreme Right political party that uses dog-whistle anti-Semitic terms such as “Cultural Marxism” in its policy statements that include abolishing the Equality Act, repealing hate crime laws, and supporting men’s rights interests on issues surrounding family courts. A post on the website A Voice For Men in the week leading up to the European elections urged forum members to vote UKIP in the European elections.

Although UKIP is not one of the “big three” political parties in the UK, it has been part of mainstream politics for the past decade, winning 166 local council seats and 24 European Parliament seats in 2014. They were influential on the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum and the subsequent success of the Leave vote.

Since the peak of their electoral success in 2014, voters have switched their support to the Conservatives or the newly-formed Brexit Party. This has led to UKIP taking ever more extreme views on issues such as immigration and race -- often couched in terms of defending freedom of speech.

Selecting as their candidates YouTubers who believe freedom of speech is under attack by “draconian” EU laws, who share misogynistic “jokes”, and whose followers post racist content, suggest that UKIP is at least willing to reach out to “men’s rights activists” and white supremacists.  

The Red Pill and the man-o-sphere

We do not know how Benjamin’s and Meechan’s followers politically identified before the YouTubers became influential UKIP voices.

However, research by Florida University’s Pierce Dignam and Deana Rohlinger on the behavior of the “man-o-sphere” during the 2016 US election is informative in helping us recognize how political parties can use extreme online spaces to drum up support in elections.

According to Dignam and Rohlinger, the 2016 US election saw the political radicalization of men’s rights activists engaging with the Red Pill Reddit forum, as influential posters urged members to go out and vote for Donald Trump.

While Trump’s electoral success cannot solely be attributed to a swell of support from extreme online men’s rights groups, Dignam and Rohlinger write that the fast and effective politicization of the forum’s users shows how “extreme online enclaves” can help “candidates holding distasteful views to get elected”. It also “indicates that extreme misogynistic discourse can successfully create political action in the modern age”.

The Red Pill forum was set up in 2012 by former Republican lawmaker Robert Fisher. Named after the 1999 film The Matrix, the “Red Pill” refers to the main character’s “awakening” to the reality of the world around him. In men’s rights terms, this “awakening” explains the process of realizing that the world is (allegedly) rigged against men. Forum members wage war against feminism to defend men’s place in the world, believing women to be “parasites on society.”

Red Pill activism does not solely exist on Reddit. On A Voice for Men, for example, there are numerous threads titled “Red Pill Hangout” where users share content that reflects Red Pill beliefs about women -- including Sargon of Akkad videos and news. Benjamin himself shares content that reflects Red Pill beliefs about women and men, such as in his “Advice for Incels” video posted on 26 December 2018.

Between 2012 and 2015, Red Pillers waged their war on women via two means: physical self-improvement that would transform the individual man from a “beta” (weak and unpopular) to an “alpha” (physically strong); and sexual conquest -- often accompanied by aggression, degradation of women, and even violence.

However, this shifted in 2016, when Donald Trump won the US Republican Presidential nomination and his election campaign began.

While Red Pillers had previously turned away from mainstream political engagement, the months running up to November 2016 saw the forum becoming politically radicalized in favour of Trump. He represented “their man” in the White House; the leader to stop the “feminization of politics” by politicians like Hillary Rodham Clinton. According to Red Pillers, Trump represented the “alpha male who would fight for men’s political fortune.”

This tactic is now being repeated in UKIP’s use of YouTubers as political candidates in the UK.

According to Benjamin and Meechan -- “Women’s favorite books are rape fantasies” 

Up until his candidacy announcement in April 2019, Benjamin was not well known beyond his YouTube fan base. That changed when the media reported a tweet he had written three years earlier, where he said he “wouldn’t even rape Jess Phillips”, a prominent Labour MP.

Benjamin followed up the tweet with a recent video saying he might “cave” and rape Phillips but “let’s be honest, nobody’s got that much beer.” The comments were brought up by the press after his candidacy was announced and subsequently defended by UKIP’s leader, Gerard Batten, who called them “satire” on the BBC’s flagship politics TV show, Marr. In retaliation to media criticism of his comments, Benjamin claimed he was “saving comedy” which is "being killed by the BBC".

He also posted a two hour video on his YouTube channel about his “crimes against political correctness.” Those watching the video responded by posting white supremacist memes -- sharing frogs and white power signal emojis. Benjamin himself has adapted a popular nationalist meme that originated in the USA -- a Union Jack-wearing “Pepe the Frog” -- on his videos.

Benjamin was very vocal during the Gamergate scandal, where men’s rights activists harassed and sent threats to women like Anita Sarkeesian, maker of a web series about gendered tropes in gaming. Gamergate became a flashpoint of online abuse and men’s rights activism, and in response to a video of Benjamin speaking at a pro-Brexit rally, one supporter wrote he “shows that gamers can, indeed, rise up.”

The content shared on the Sargon of Akkad channel repeats sexist stereotypes, rape myths, and denies the reality of gender inequality.

Take the above-mentioned video called “Advice For Incels” -- an internet sub-culture made up of men who are “involuntarily celibate” and feel rejected by women.

Benjamin reassures his male listeners that women “are not very visual” so if you aren’t a pretty boy or a Chad (the incel code word for men who are successful with “Staceys”, or sexually desirable women) then you can still attract a mate. He goes on to say that women are “attracted to masculinity” and like to be “acted upon” during sex; that women’s favorite books are “rape fantasies”. The women who don’t think like this, he argues, have been “brainwashed to become feminists.”

Benjamin is not alone. Meechan has also spoken about giving advice to incels and how the “lack of poontang” (slang for female genitalia) can “make a man go on a murderous fucking rampage.” Meechan says that modern women are a “lot worse” than women from “back in the day” and jokes about having a “trad wife who even lets me beat her when I’ve had a bad day.”

Other videos discuss the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, claiming the Trump’s nominee to the US Supreme Court who was accused of sexual assault did “nothing wrong”. In another video, called “What do feminists actually want”, Benjamin argues that women have the same rights as men in the western world and therefore women’s equality “isn’t a thing”. In yet another, called “Feminists will ban everything you love”, Benjamin jokes that he is continuing in his efforts to “explain to feminists why everyone hates them.”

Benjamin’s and Meechan’s influence goes beyond the confines of the YouTube channel, with their content enthusiastically shared on men’s rights spaces including A Voice For Men. Members of the men’s rights forum cite them as their introduction to anti-feminism and men’s rights, and threads crediting Benjamin indulge in sexist, anti-Semitic and racist language.

YouTube is the new frontier in political radicalization

Now in this European election, Benjamin and Meechan are bringing UKIP to their anti-feminist, white supremacist followers. Since the announcement of his candidacy, Benjamin has posted dozens of videos promoting the party on his YouTube channel. He positions himself as a “late night comedian” who never wanted to get involved in politics, but has been forced into this position as “every Briton needs to back Brexit.”

UKIP has always been an anti-immigration, anti-EU party whose leaders have indulged in dog-whistle racism and Islamophobia. However, since the Brexit referendum in 2016, it has become more openly aligned to Far Right activists such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (often known by his alias Tommy Robinson), and styled themselves as champions of free speech -- an issue much-discussed by Benjamin and Meechan on their respective YouTube channels.

Via their campaigning for UKIP, Benjamin’s and Meechan’s base is being politicized to take their anti-feminist and racist views to the ballot box and vote for UKIP -- making YouTube much more influential on electoral politics than has perhaps been credited before.

It shows how YouTube has become a new political frontier where prominent “stars” can use their influence and platform to transform their audience into voters for a political party.

A recent episode of the Ezra Klein show explored how YouTube is “where tomorrow’s politics are happening today”. It’s the place where young people -- including angry young men -- are spending their time, consuming their media, and looking for answers about their place in the world. Its growing in significance while at the same time becoming a place where radical views are normalized, ready to be brought into the mainstream political arena.

Along with platforms like Reddit and 4Chan, both of which guarantee anonymity, YouTube has increasingly become a safe space for radical and hate-filled ideologies to flourish -- supported by an echo chamber of comment sections and forums where members share and promote content providers like Benjamin and Meechan. These spaces have normalized behaviors and language that was once deemed unacceptable, and have created spaces where angry young men can be politicized -- contributing, in the case of the Red Pill Reddit, to Trump’s rise.

For a long time, these characters have been written off as trolls, or as just existing “online”. Yet Benjamin and Meechan have used this space to amass more than a million followers between them -- and now they are using this platform to encourage voters to support a right wing party which proposes policies that are damaging to equality, justice and fairness.

All of this warrants a much more serious look into the effect and power of YouTube. We need serious conversations about the platform's policies when it comes to hate speech, how users monetize the sight, and how algorithms present content to its users, if we are to be better prepared to understand the offline politics of both today and tomorrow.



Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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