Opinion

Pro-Trump, Hitler-appeasing Hard Right Is Now Targeting Britain

Trump's alt-lite acolytes are hoping the chaos of Brexit Britain will open a door for their nationalistic culture wars. But the disastrous launch of Turning Point U.K. showcased the indefensible flaws in their crusade

Candace Owens speaking at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida
Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

No one asked Candace Owens to bring up Hitler. She volunteered her grotesque piece of revisionism herself, answering a question about nationalism at the U.K. launch event of hard-right serial provocateurs Turning Point USA, where she serves as communications director.

"If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that … he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize … that's not nationalism. … I don't really have an issue with nationalism ... I think that it's OK." 

The backlash was swift and justifiably merciless, prompting Owens to further explain her distinction between bad globalist Hitler, who "wasn't a nationalist. He was a homicidal, psychotic maniac," and the good, wholesome nationalism of Trump and America First. Lucky, really, that Turning Point is a group that loves to "disrupt" the "smears" and general comfort levels of the "liberal scum" media. 

The U.K. expansion is part of what Charlie Kirk – TPUSA's founder, leader and guru – hopes will become "a worldwide movement." Brexit rabble-rouser and friend-of-Trump-and-Bannon Nigel Farage has hailed the U.K. branch as part of "a great battle. … We’ve got to stop the brainwashing of our youth."

Turning Point UK is dedicated, like its mothership, to combating "socialism, racism and identity politics" on campus – which in the U.K. are, apparently, plagued by "censorship and conformity of thought." Despite the TPUSA leadership's official refutations of racism and the alt-right, it's germane to note that there is a constant stream of members being outed as racists or as fans of prominent neo-Nazis. 

The irony is that Candace Owens' Hitler gymnastics – which only made the rounds online more than a month after TPUK's December launch even  – "saved" TPUK's launch as worthy of mainstream coverage, no matter how critical, in contrast to the whiff of satire that permeated U.K. press reports at the time.

That's because its launch was comprehensively sabotaged by a happy impromptu coalition of left-wing-to-centrist U.K. social media activists who hyperactively set up parody TPUK Twitter accounts and published a steady stream of insults against TPUSA leaders, accusing Turning Point’s genuine account of being a fake set up by antifa, and declared in no uncertain terms that the import of this particular form of hard-right U.S. political culture wasn't welcome.

Certainly Turning Point must have thought that a Britain a month before Brexit with a failing Conservative Party leadership was a ripe environment for the entry of a loud nationalist conservatism born of absolute certainty.

Indeed, the U.K. launch was reportedly attended by pro-Brexit right-wing billionaires and activists like Arron Banks, Leave.EU campaigner Andy Wigmore, InfoWars editor-at-large and alt-right agitator Paul Joseph Watson and Breitbart London editor James Delingpole. 

But the U.K. isn't eager for this kind of U.S. implant, and the cultural and political codes are very different. The debates roiling U.S. campuses and politics don't translate well into U.K. terms, nor the crass Trumpian nationalism of America's alt-lite.

Britain's fingers have already been burnt by the dark money behind the Leave campaign, some allegedly channeled from the United States, and by Koch Foundation funding for other hard-right causes. There's unlikely to be much appetite for another U.S.-sourced right-wing group funded by undisclosed donors.

The U.K. doesn't idolize constitutional protections for free speech as the U.S. does, and student unions and universities are free to "no platform" racists and xenophobes, rather than being unwilling venues for spectacles like Richard Spencer's U.S. campus speaking tours

The culture wars in the U.K. don't push conservatives to back the intimidation of academics accused of leftism, either – a key campaign of TPUSA. Nor is there such a shrill chorus against the contamination of young people’s minds by "Cultural Marxism" – the "alt-right’s favorite meme" and another TPUSA battle cry.

But the biggest difference is the Trump factor. TPUSA and Kirk celebrate their close ties to the White House, especially to Donald Jr., and their faithfulness to the cult of Trump and MAGA mania. That access to the first family’s inner circle (some call it grift) has been a key moneymaker as well. Kirk basks in the smell of power, success and access.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Turning Point USA head Charlie Kirk after a discussion at the Generation Next forum in Washington, D.C. March 22, 2018
Bloomberg

None of that travels well – not least in the U.K., where a skimpy 19 percent of the population holds a positive opinion of the U.S. president (Obama reigns at 71 percent; both Clintons, Bernie Sanders and George W Bush beat Trump, who does, though, edge out Putin and Netanyahu). The widespread hostility when Trump visited the U.K. last year made this explicit.

One issue the alt-lite must still surely be banking on is Jeremy Corbyn, the ultimate – and justly sosoft target. At the U.K. launch, Kirk suggested: "Every day, please, just say, ‘Oh, you mean the anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn?’" in every sentence. Owens thought Trump would have come up with an effectively pejorative nickname, and Kirk offered: "‘Jew-hater Jeremy.’"

Happily, those in attendance were spared the discomfort of hypocrisy by their shared selective amnesia about Jew-baiting from the U.S. hard right, the White House's own weaponization of "globalist" as an anti-Semitic slur and the allegation by InfoWars' Alex Jones that Jews dressed up as the KKK to provoke the events at Charlottesville. 

Another topic that TPUK hopes is conservative gold dust is full-throated support for Israel. George Farmer, Owens’ fiancé and TPUK head, calls himself "one of the biggest supporters of Israel in the UK" and another TPUK honcho, Darren Grimes (fined £20,000 for breaking EU referendum spending laws last year), has even put out a video on why he’ll be "cheering on Israel even louder than usual during this year's #Eurovision." That lockstep support not only differentiates them further from the hated left, but is an automatic position not only for Republicans but for most of the alt-right across Europe.

It’s too early to say whether groups like Turning Point can carve out a place for themselves in the now-chaotic U.K. as they have done in the U.S., though its launch was disastrous, and revealing.

Its leaders must be hoping that their photogenic, energetic style and diversity (in contrast to the archaic white upper-class Tories who currently lead the Brexit charge), their stance as "free speech" crusaders – a trope that’s already been popularized on the far right by Tommy Robinson – and their unembarrassed ownership of nationalism at a time when Brexit-fueled xenophobic instincts are on the rise mean they have a chance.

But Owens’ riff isn’t the first time Hitler has featured at a Turning Point event. At its December 2017 conference, a policy adviser for the pro-Trump group America First Policies declared: "The only thing the Nazis didn’t get right is they didn’t keep f***ing going!" As Oscar Wilde never said, to make one positive analogy to Hitler is unfortunate, but two looks like carelessness – or ignorance, complicity or a deep-seated moral emptiness.

Esther Solomon is the Opinion Editor of Haaretz English. Twitter: @EstherSolomon