If Britain’s media culture can be thought of, in abstract, as Victor Frankenstein, Katie Hopkins thinks of herself as its monster. She is proud of the phrase but likely not of some of its implications. Hopkins wanted absolution from blame, painting herself almost as a Newtonian reaction. This is unsustainable. But she is a little like Shelley’s monster in another, different way. Cobbled together from other people’s opinions as much as the character was made of other people, Hopkins’ media profile is nonetheless unique – its animating influence the worst aspects of her character.
Now Hopkins is a signed-up member of the international far-right, keen to discourse to anyone who will listen about race and nation and religion. Gone forever, for her, is the hope of a career within the mainstream.
But at one point, not too long ago, Hopkins was a mainstream pundit, someone who defended herself – and indeed was defended by serious people – not as a brilliant commentator, but perhaps a necessary one. Hopkins gave outspoken voice to prejudice – and did so in the guise of revealing things we know are true but cannot say. That defence is no longer, even tepidly, offered. But in form and in content, words of this kind were employed to justify the roots of Hopkins’ later turn to the far-right, a transition which could have been predicted.
Hopkins began her media career appearing on reality television. On the business-flavoured Apprentice, she was outspoken; this led, via other programmes of a similar sort, into appearances on Question Time, which has a bad habit of including cast-offs from the BBC’s more serious reality shows, and presented pseudo–documentaries about public bugbears such as obesity and the benefits system.
Her mode at this point took on a recognisable focus. Hopkins began revelling in a callous attitude bolstered by her nominal focus on common sense verities regarding weight loss and unemployment.
Callousness becomes cruelty when left alone, or focused. For Hopkins, her arrival in the mainstream turned what was previously a pursuit of controversy into cruelty. From late 2013, with a Sun column to write, Hopkins, in endless search for new material, became conduit not just for the wisdom of ‘common knowledge’, but also for popular prejudice.
Writing to deadline for a national newspaper provides its own challenges; coming up with things to say is one of them – especially if, like Hopkins, one has only the vaguest sense of politics beyond being uncommonly opinionated. Here Hopkins began to develop a worldview fast, falling into the idiomatic language of the far-right, simply by following her callous impulses to their logical limits.
In one piece, emblematic if not representative, Hopkins said, of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, ‘Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit “Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.’
More representative was how the column began: ‘No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.
‘I still don’t care.’
It could have begun like that every week. Despite media pressure, despite liberal squishiness, Hopkins wanted you to know, she refused to care about dying foreigners or people suffering the world over; she refused to care, likewise, about the response to her demanding a ‘final solution’ after the Manchester bombing.
The same attitude predominated as Hopkins moved from The Sun to LBC radio, to Mail Online and on to The Rebel, a far-right website known for deploying rhetoric long-established among extremists amid sparky new media packaging.
Except now there seemed to be something Hopkins did care about: the integrity of the West, and securing a future for white children.
As Hopkins became more undeniably a member of the new radical right, she did so by hanging on the coattails of provocateurs and imitating that style. But one cannot remain a jester for ever. Ideology intrudes.
For Mail Online, Hopkins took boat rides with the group hoping to ‘defend Europe’ by preventing migrant vessels from being rescued in the Mediterranean. For The Rebel, she travelled to South Africa to interview, in tears, the Afrikaans farmers which a global far-right campaign paints as a bellwether of a coming genocide of the world’s whites.
Some speculate that Hopkins and The Rebel have parted company; Jared Holt notes that Hopkins has not appeared in anything new on The Rebel’s website since October 2018, nor is she featured among its online list of staff. If this proves to be true, it will demonstrate that even with her more extreme opinions, Hopkins is unable to secure a place in the established far-right landscape.
It is difficult to say what had more of an effect on Hopkins: a calculated desire to chase an audience, or the inevitable effect of uncritically socialising with real extremist ideologues. It is possible, though not entirely likely, that she believes in none of it at all. But race and religion became her subjects nonetheless as she channelled first common prejudices and finally drew upon the extremes. Hopkins’ media career, perhaps now in jeopardy once again, was founded on a callousness which, through constant public reiteration and reinforcement, eventually became indefensible cruelty. Accumulated cruelty born of an entirely amalgamated career.
This piece was originally published at Perspectives, the Quilliam blog.