Article by @RickEBlaine1 from Resisting Hate
Emile Zola’s 1896 open letter to the French press “JAccuse” laid bare the Dreyfus affair, a high level cover up of the treason of Ferdinand Esterhazy, which two years earlier culminated in the wrongful imprisonment for life of Alfred Dreyfus, an army officer of Jewish descent.
Zola’s letter stimulated the nations press into a campaign to right the injustice. The ensuing melee involved complex games of subterfuge and deceit, laced with smear and false accusation, driven by antisemitism and which left even the most discerning of observers bewildered, outraged and confused.
A five-month spat within the online antifascist community has infinitely less significance than did the Dreyfuss affair. But the comparison holds a certain resonance: the concerted use of distortion, smear, subterfuge and lies to eliminate unsuspecting innocent victims, to outrage on-lookers, cloud reasoned judgment and polarise opinion: the strategies of neoliberalism in decline- an ideology Gatiss purports to despise, as she adopts their methods to suit her cause.
In her recent blog, Judy Gatiss returns to the events of previous months to outline her narrative concerning the subsequent fracas. She recounts the first occasion she claims to have come across Resisting Hate (RH). Her purpose, she says, was to call out a racist:
“You’d think, being an antifascist organisation, they’d come to support me, a mixed-race woman who’d received gorilla pics and had my 10 year old doxed and targeted with ableist slurs, but no, Resisting Hate were on the scene to protect white men who they believed were fine antiracists who could do no wrong.”
Should any organisation allow itself to be so partisan that their actions should be based solely on allegiance to skin pigmentation – and on social media where a person’s identity is easily masked? Appearing to recognise the absurdity of her proposition, Gatiss embroiders her indignation with claims of victimhood. She has received “gorilla pics”. But Gatiss tells us she has never before encountered the group who she now claims fell foul of not having access to her personal history, which, she appears to presume, would immediately persuade them that the account she was challenging, an account she believes they consider a comrade, should be turned on in favour of her cause. She is, after all, “mixed race”.
It is instructive that Gatiss embroiders this encounter with imagined motivations of those she condemns, presented as fact. To “fine antifascists” (were not meant to think they’re fine) the supposed offending account “could do no wrong”. Conspicuously absent from her account is any qualification or nuance that might lead to reflection or equivocation.
Gatiss makes a virtue of conceding no middle ground where, she tells us elsewhere, with characteristic eloquence and dignity: “I take a shit”. And as we shall see, no middle ground is tolerated by those with whom she surrounds herself. You are either for Gatiss or against her.
And to sustain the lie, to shield her acolytes from opinions contradictory of her own, to block any evidence which undermine her facile accusations, she exhorts all those gulled by her, to block the unworthy. An inoculation to contradiction characteristic of the cult.
But let us not fall into the Gatiss trap of bland, reasonless, unevidenced assertion. Let us examine the facts she would seek to obfuscate.
Having expressed outrage that RH had not fully supported her challenge to an account she alleged had been racist, Gatiss turned her cannons on other accounts associated with RH.
Monkey and Joker (both persons of colour) comprise two thirds of a trio (including Laz) who for years have been well known among online antifascists. The activities of this trio include collating evidence for court prosecutions of fascists, outing fascists in public-facing employment and driving accounts off-line altogether. In the UK there is no more effective group. So effective were they that in the Summer of 2019 the well-known hate figure Tommy Robinson offered money to anyone with information to identity the owners of these accounts, which have in the six years I have been a peripheral observer, have repeatedly been subjected to death threats. Such are the dangers they faced for their activism.
True to the character of her Avatar, it has often been Monkey’s practice to show affection or pleasure by offering her friend a banana.
Smarting from her previous spat with RH and knowing this innocent action for what it was, Gatiss chose to present one such episode as evidence of racism, broadcasting her false claim to any who would listen, that such bananas were brandished abusively toward a black woman.
It is not my intention to recount the detail of the ensuring fracas. The attempt would be laborious to produce and tedious to read. Suffice it to say, a concerted, four-month campaign of denigration ensued. What it achieved is a great deal of unnecessary conflict in which threats of violence were repeatedly issued, people were abused and insulted and fascists presented an opportunity they gleefully exploited, with Gatiss’ collusion, to further divide the movement.
Had this hitherto unknown account, this self-professed “no 1 Race-Baiter” initiated this debacle to establish herself as a credible voice among the antifascist community? One exchange in these troubles involved a woman of Jewish heritage @Elieflower12 wrote:
“I am prepared to sort things out for the greater good”.
Gatiss’ response is instructive:
“there’s no place in the greater good for you…Black or South Asian Muslims would NEVER associate with you.”
Note the conflation of two ethnic communities brought assumptively to her support. Notice too how Gatiss shifts with effortless ease from her presumption to speak for a community of which she is no part (South Asian Muslims) to “othering” her would-be Jewish pacifier. Gatiss responds to her call for a truce by erecting a clear boundary with the “other” – the Jewish dissenter – firmly on the outside.
This extrication from the group is an experience many ex-followers of Gatiss have complained of and which I witnessed on a number of occasions as her band began to shrink under the weight of its own unarticulated contradictions.
Over the ensuring months as many more accounts entered the fray, we observed the construction of an amorphous collective identity characterised by intolerance with dissent, galvanised by soundbite, smear and accusation to outrage, to attack antifascists they too had not before encountered. And this ignominious little fray expanded to the broader left.
In his seminal work, the Italian author and professor of linguistics, Umberto Eco, whose perhaps most famous work, “The Name of the Rose” recounts the ecclesiastical dispute between Franciscan and Benedictine monks as a backdrop to his theme, elsewhere described by him as “Ur Fascism”, (eternal fascism), a notion he developed from his boyhood experience of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini in the 1930s.
Ur Fascism, Eco warns, is not identified by ideology or philosophy but “pre-exists” in history, surfacing when conditions are conducive. “Under the most innocent of guises”. Dressed in borrowed robes it is “a collage of ideas… a beehive of contradictions” Eco identifies 14 typical characteristics, and it is the duty of the antifascist to uncover them.
What witnesses have coined “the Gatiss Cult” appears perhaps as an attempt to establish a new tradition, the first characteristic Eco identifies, centred around the personality of Gatiss, whose repeated expressions reflect the third characteristic, distrust of the “liberal” established intelligentsia. Check out @GoodwinCharlie as he sets himself apart from (antifascist) “racist scum” and tells me:
“Your on their level until you distance yourself”. (spelling as original).
You might be forgiven for reading this, no doubt as it was intended, as an exhortation to a more elevated, more dignified personal position in relation to my apparently lower standards. This from a guy who excuses his mentors’ expressed intention to abuse children (more later).
On another occasion I was surprised to be accused by @jasinyaprt4, of being a:
I’m not exactly certain what is a granny slammer. Though clearly, it’s not good. And although I have no idea how or in what way I enabled such slamming of granny, I’m apparently complicit.
Then there’s the affable @ContingencyPla3 who, like his friend Charlie, is OK with his mate Gatiss’ expressed intention to abuse children, and prefers to project this onto others:
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting any of you near my minor. Something with you lot is definitely off”.
Meanwhile, this from @siempre_hustler, another of the Gatiss entourage, on this occasion in conversation with Gaiss’ daughter, @rudayyb1 (whose mission, remember, is to enlighten others on the importance of dignity and respect for the dispossessed and the oppressed):
“there’s not enough rohypnol in the world to make me want to fuck either of them”
And (laughable, I know) @tenfootpaul:
“He’s not a hate-grifting scumbag like your pal, Tommy Ten names.”
Ironic then that with no intention of engaging in reasoned discussion or of evidencing their assertions, this motley pile on sees fit to label me at various points: an abuser of children, an abuser of elders and a fascist. And this from the instigator of this pile on, Gatiss herself:
“I would punch Tommy in front of his grandma… In front of his kids…. I would shit in their Christmas presents. I don’t give a shit about the children of fascists.”
One might be forgiven for imagining such an utterance might have been penned in a moment of abject rage later to be regretted. But even as she demands respect for the dignity of herself and her children, Gatiss continues to hiss contempt with an intention to visit revenge upon the children for the crimes of their father. Furthermore, one might expect her acolytes to shrink from such disturbing rage. One would be mistaken. Here’s @GoodwinCharlie on the topic:
“You’re upset Judy wrote a mean tweet about Tommy Robinson and his kids? That Tommy never saw…Kinda the critical aspect of it”
No Charlie. The crucial aspect is the expressed intention to scar children for life.
The cult mentality distorts reality in order to justify unconscionable aggression even as they allege with no evidence but with an ever-increasing hysteria, aggression from those not part of their group. And if it is a group without a shared, coherent idea, it is nevertheless driven by a single voice, given expression through the personality of Gatiss who determines and nurtures the norms and boundaries of acceptability, policed with a ferocious intolerance of dissent and razor-wire boundaries between those who are for and those who are against. Passivity is not tolerated – another of the 14 characteristics posited by Eco.
The character at the centre of this fracas entertains a certain charisma, at least with her entourage, achieved with modest skill in the control and the manipulation of language. In her latest article, Gatiss writes:
“Resisting Hate…is breathtakingly ignorant, deeply racist and filled with harmful assumptions and stereotypes of disabled people and trans men and women. Victims of rape, disabled people and the LGBTQ community are used to diminish the experience of the victims of Resisting Hate’s racial aggression.”
With an obvious disdain for any need for supporting evidence, Gatiss nevertheless has no inhibitions about expressing powerful emotional responses, eliciting images of an array of victims. Her opponent (I use the singular here because you’ll note Gatiss’ enemy here is not any one or number of offending individuals, but a loose collection of antifascists. Gatiss’ aim is to condemn the whole organisation as rotten to the core. A powerful enemy which nevertheless must be opposed. It is of course “racist” to ask Gatiss to evidence her claims.
Now here’s the problem with throwing this accusation around like confetti: it is the UK experience that our role in the slave-trade catapulted our nation into the first industrial revolution, in turn providing opportunity to amass an Imperialist legacy. Our culture is consequently infused with the myth of supremacy, our language with the tropes of ascendancy and our thought imbued with binary oppositions laced with unconscious echoes of the past. With such a legacy who can with intelligence and honesty deny that racist thinking and responses are an on-going cause for consideration and self-exploration? This being the case, no right-thinking white person can reject the obvious consequence that racism permeates our language and therefore our thinking and behaviour.
Condemnation of those whose views don’t fit with your own as “racist” has in many cases, the effect of closing down debate, particularly as in almost every online circumstance is the case, the accusation attracts any number of acolytes willing to join a chorus of abuse and condemnation. This serves Gatiss’ purpose whilst undermining prospects for constructive, ongoing appraisal of unconscious racism. It is in this respect that confetti-like accusations present a deep disservice to the antifascist cause. Although, to be fair, Gatiss has denied that she is indeed antifascist. And that perhaps provides further scope for self-reflection.
And we know that Gatiss’ favourite topic of conversation is herself. One recent brief article on her blog refers to herself on no less than 43 occasions. I pointed this fact out to her recently whereupon the next article focused on another – this time with intent to destroy. So, when she is not indulging her self-referential bent, seeking to build for herself a reputation, when frustrated by her failure, rather than reflect and seek to improve, her frustration is projected onto others. Thwarted by her own inner turmoil, her strategy is to seek to burn down the reputations of others, through lies, smears and poorly articulated rage; all in the hope of perhaps of having opportunity to walk among the ashes.
So, what is it that drives a personality that purports to be “anti-racist”, which condemns those it considers “ableist” yet inspires so much conflict between so many accounts also purporting to oppose those oppressions? Could this be a consequence of some deeply held philosophical position of the rightness of her cause? Well, let us first consider that purported cause.
To consider what it is to oppose racism we first need to share an understanding of what racism is. For arguments sake, and in defiance of Gatiss who tells me that as a white man I have no right to do this, (I do), I shall offer a definition which some may contest in its detail but it is hoped might be broadly accepted:
“Prejudice, discrimination or antagonism based on perceived “race” or ethnicity, where the enthnicity has limited power within the broader nation or “collectivity”. Racist thoughts, expressions or behaviours may be intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious. Racism has the intention or effect of denying the rights and dignity of others.”
This last sentence is the most crucial. Championing the dignity and respect of others is the only genuine motivation for anti-racism. Any other motivation would seem to be something other than anti-racism. Gatiss however, is not seeking to elevate the dignity and respect of all those subjected to racism. Instead, she posits a hierarchy of racist oppression and it is only the Black experience that gives rise to the expertise required to define, identify and challenge racism. And it is to Gatiss, who purports to give voice to this expertise, that all other views must defer. Yet, when subjected to the hail of abuse I and others have received from Gatiss and her acolytes, when I have sought to question her views, the nagging question resurfaces time and again: how does this notion of an aspiration for the dignity and respect of others sit in the psyche of a woman who likes to “shit in the middle ground” (and) “on the Christmas presents of children”?
Whilst most of the antifascist and broader socialist movement has stood back perplexed by this continuing debacle, a more crucial question the more discerning observers will have asked themselves is: “who has benefitted from all of this conflict within the antifascist community?”
The most obvious answer is that when workers are divided one against the other, it is the agents of the state, racists and fascists who will be the beneficiaries. But truth is often a little more nuanced than that. And in order to glean the apparent subtlety in this ignominious little spat, let us consider what may be the motivations of the instigator.
Gatiss tells us her aim is a defence of identity politics: from its role in empowering on the ground community mutual aid with the kind of energy that built the Black Lives Matter movement, to the influence of the theoretical developments of understanding of intersectional oppressions. A noble aim. What is notable is the absence of any of this in the arguments she puts forward, except in the most superficial terms and in her own defence against the criticisms of others. Other than this one would not know that anything more than a superficial adherence to the politics of identity forms any part of the Gatiss world view. Her writings, as has been said and as is clear from her Twitter feed and her blogs, have two basic topics: herself and her family; and the failings of others. There’s no evidence of the promotion of an understanding of intersectional oppressions. There’s nothing on developing an understanding of racism in history, culture or the arts and sciences. There’s no evidence of engaging in anti-racist or antifascist action. Seeking to burn the reputations of others in order to promote herself will be what you will find in a Gatiss blog. As here, when she attacks one of the founders of RH:
“I’d like to say that the caucasity has Roanna [Roanna Carleton Taylor] believing that her view as a middle class white woman holds more weight than that of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, but the truth is her attack on identity politics is an escape route. A dog whistle that marks the marginalised as a threat to unity “
Credit to the skill with which so many denigrating tropes can be shoe-horned into two brief sentences without regard to the substantiation of such denigrating claims. So, let us examine this rhetoric to understand what it is that may be driving it.
We begin with the premise Gatiss slips smoothly in toward the end: that Roanna believes she is more important than Black Lives Matter Movement. One has to admire the audacity with which this is presented as though axiomatic. “Oh reader, question not the need for evidence”. There is of course nothing in the offending RH article to suggest Roanna has any such belief. With no real target to aim at, Gatiss constructs for herself a straw man and lights a match.
Gatiss refuses to dignify others in the way that she herself demands others dignify her. She concedes to Roanna no right of self-identification, identifying her both as “Caucasian” and “middle-class”. In the same way Gatiss has consistently and persistently denied the self-identification of online accounts, demonstrating an unwillingness to respect or accept the dignity of those accounts to self-identification.
Having established (as she hopes), Roanna’s ineligibility to have a view on identity politics (based on her perceived class and skin colour), Gatiss continues:
“Resisting Hate’s latest article about identity politics is breathtakingly ignorant, deeply racist and filled with harmful assumptions and stereotypes of disabled people and trans men and women. Victims of rape, disabled people and the LGBTQ community are used to diminish the experience of the victims of Resisting Hate’s racial aggression.”
What is truly breath-taking in this brief passage is, I would suggest, the sheer aggressive energy with which this condemnation has been penned– condemnation without consideration for the need to present any evidence and therefore reflective, I would suggest, of a personality whose will to power (I use the phase advisedly) is equal only to the need to resist it.
The article merely warned of a tendency among those promoting identity politics to apply it in the most simplistic (and therefore damaging), terms as here when Gatiss’ daughter, @Soshellfish1 condemns those acknowledging the Irish experience of racism:
“Racists always use the enslavement of the Irish to prove they are so hard done by”
The clear and present danger is the threat of disunity among antifascists and antiracists, driven by an attempt to establish a hierarchy of oppressions (in which almost always in such discussions incidentally, although purporting to be Communist, “class” is noticeably absent).
From these encounters, what appears to be the case is that this tiny, ferocious minority have assimilated a neat little library of soundbites borrowed uncritically from the US black experience. The narrative never includes 2000 years of antisemitism in Europe or 800 years of Irish oppression. Imagining racism doesn’t exists in other contexts is patently absurd. But when this was pointed out to @Soshellfish1, her response exemplified the concern that the establishment of a hierarchy of oppressions can lead to disunity. She wrote, with an absurd lack of self-awareness: “Why is he competing?”
But let us put aside for a second questions of ideology and let us consider this conundrum in more personal terms. Let us ask ourselves: how well attuned is Gatiss to the thoughts and feelings of others? This question raises an image which Gatiss herself has etched into my brain, that of an angry, embittered black woman shitting on the Christmas presents of children.
We have seen how the Gatiss’ operational relationship strategy is predicated on attempting to deflect personal criticism as a felt need to defend a movement, just as she condemns personal views of which she doesn’t approve, as somehow rooted in racism. This self-referential defence strategy can be assumed to have been constructed from an appreciation of her personal history – a topic she returns to at regular intervals.
Gatiss tells us that as a child she found herself in a care system which, (I expect she would say – and who am I to say otherwise?), didn’t care for much her. A system which resulted in her being placed in a secure unit.
Now consider this. Secure units are extremely expensive. There are today 14 secure children’s homes in England and Wales with a total of 142 children accommodated overall last year (the actual number of children accommodated on any one day is less than this). Secure children’s homes purport to provide a “safe and therapeutic environment”. Highly specialised, they are reserved for the most troubled, troublesome, vulnerable and dangerous children. The decision to place a child in a secure unit is one imbued with significant ethical and practical dilemmas. This is not a decision that is taken lightly. This recourse is used for a tiny proportion of the population of children brought into care. As such, whatever the behaviours that led to the decision, they will have had to include considerations for the safety of others.
Having observed Gatiss’ behaviour and its consequences for online antifascism, I cannot help but wonder about the trauma that leads a child to engage in behaviours that decision-makers believe present as such a risk of harm to self or others that the only recourse is to secure containment of a child. And consequently, the compounding trauma on the child of the experience of such containment. And from this, how well or effectively such trauma has been processed as the child reaches adulthood.
That Gatiss boasts about her early adult use of weapons in violent incidents she describes, her recently expressed desire to shit in the Christmas presents of children, her tweets and imbued with an aggressive, condemnatory energy, her casual intolerance, her contempt for the rights and dignity of others: all suggest the hypothesis that such childhood traumas as Gatiss endured have been inexpertly processed.
Gatiss justifies the conflict that has ensured from her accusations, as necessary to the purpose of progressing her brand of identity politics. Given such childhood experiences some might be forgiven for postulating that driving this will to destroy what others have built, is a projected determination to reject others before others reject her – that what drives Gatiss is not so much a will to defend the dignity of others, but to seek revenge on those somehow representing her rejection. And perhaps, underpinning this, a deep and abiding uncertainty, given her experience of rejection, of her own identity.
Indeed, one might be forgiven for believing that for Gatiss, rejection is a warm blanket – one she clasped tightly around herself as a child for protection in a hostile and frightening world, and which having clung to ever since, has become to her a comfort and a balm, without which, she is bereft. Perhaps what drives Gatiss is not so much an ideological as an emotional drive: a felt need to reject others before they reject her.
So, in conclusion, what can we know of the character of what has been termed “the Gatiss Cult”. Such anecdotes as these identify nine of the fourteen characteristics of Ur Fascism identified by Eco:
- A rejection of modernism, expressed here as an expression of the irrational
- Distrust of the intelligentsia, expressed in the denouncing of all who oppose as “liberal”
- Intolerance of disagreement, (evidenced repeatedly)
- Seeking consensus through the reinforcement of fear of the dissenters
- Dissent as treasonous to the cause
- Passivism is treason (you must be actively for or you are against)
- An obsessive sense of identity, characterised by a rejection of the other
- Emotionally driven by a sense of humiliation.
- The manipulation of language to inhibit freedom of thought.