Earlier this year, the writer Sohrab Ahmari published a piece on the website of the religious-conservative magazine First Things explicitly attacking the worldview of another member of that tribe, David French.
The subject in hand was the future of the American right. Can it be reconciled both to Donald Trump and to God? Ahmari’s piece accused French of timidity, and of selling out both his politics and his faith in opposition to Trump. Ahmari phrased all this strongly, and was accused by a good number of doing so with harshness.
In all likelihood, the article enjoyed only small circulation. But it elicited thousands of words of commentary nonetheless, days of open debate, and even a little private introspection.
The point is that these small internecine fights can not only grow in size and import into something considerably greater; it is also that these internal debates often signify much about the group their participants are struggling to dominate.
They can unearth long-hidden wounds and make divisions clear, but also express the propensity even of groups whose aims are uniform to fracture.
Few pieces written in the same spirit get the attention Ahmari’s attained. But others of the same sort can demonstrate much about conflicts within political tribes, and give real assistance to external observers attempting to categorise otherwise diffuse movements.
Something of that sort was published, to little reaction and less fanfare, by Milo Yiannopoulos earlier this year. Yiannopoulos was formerly a newspaper journalist in Britain, briefly a darling of conservative pundits in the United States, and now a social media personality orbiting the ‘new right’ which rose to prominence in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the American president.
His piece is a long attack on two people he terms the ‘klepto-queens of the British far-right’. It is telling.
The thrust of the thing is that Caolan Robertson and George Llewelyn-John, both of them former associates of far-right website The Rebel and that site’s cause celebre, Tommy Robinson, have fallen from favour.
That fall from grace was begun in 2017, and then suspended. But it appears now to have become permanent.
Yiannopoulos aims to conclude a lengthy saga. He charges that Robertson and Llewelyn-John concerted with anti-fascist activists, lived lavishly on others’ dime, and undermined the cause they claimed to advocate. It reduces down to one point of contention: money.
Both Robertson and Llewelyn-John and their detractors have traded allegations of financial impropriety. Robertson shot first in 2017, with a video on YouTube, in which he accused Ezra Levant (The Rebel’s proprietor and Tommy Robinson’s premier hype man) of operating the website less as news source than begging bowl, with the site more a vehicle for extracting donations than anything concrete.
Levant responded, in another YouTube video, by suggesting that Robertson was blackmailing him and traducing the work of Robinson. Levant concluding, amusingly, that he was no longer beholden to blackmail, declaring, ‘My name is Ezra Levant, and I’m free’.
For a time after that, these allegations were not repeated and the split did not seem to last, with Robertson and Llewelyn-John working, in time, with another member of the same new right media clique, Lauren Southern.
Now that hostilities have resumed, Southern herself has come under criticism – not only, in Yiannopoulos’ account, for knowing about and tolerating the behaviour of Robertson and Llewelyn-John, but also, oddly, for the morality of her private life.
More significant even than the money is the name of Tommy Robinson. Levant, in his original claim of blackmail, uses it like a totem. Yiannopoulos does so too, even suggesting ‘If you’ve ever donated to Tommy Robinson, … there’s a fair chance your money didn’t end up paying for his tour bus or security guards, but was instead diverted to pay for champagne-fueled gay soirées in some of London’s most expensive zip codes’.
With Robinson becoming the focal point of a global campaign, with Levant its chief carnival barker, the possibility of Robinson’s name having been defamed or injured by others becomes a potent accusation against Robertson and Llewelyn-John.
With Robinson’s stock both high and visible given his return to prison, his advocates, such as Levant, have much invested in defending his name. And those who are out of favour among mainstream conservatives, such as Yiannopoulos, have much to gain kicking those, like Robertson and Llewelyn-John, who are on the way down.
All this is less about money than reputation. And the management of that can cause cliques to fracture, factions to collapse, and more words to be written than is at all necessary.
This piece was originally published at the Quilliam blog, Perspectives.