A week after Byline Times writer Mike Stuchbery became subject to targeted harassment and threats of violence, he reflects on the impact it has had on his life.
It is 10 past five in the morning. I can’t sleep. This time just over a week ago, I was lying where I am right now when I was awoken by shouting and frantic pounding on the door.
A senior figure in UK far-right circles was paying me an early morning visit, making several allegations that I consider defamatory and encouraging their followers to come and visit too.
My crime, as it were, was publicising and fundraising for a lawsuit against them. Nothing more.
This figure hasn’t come back. For his faults, he’s not that stupid. Yet, in livestreaming outside my home, and making subsequent videos painting me as some sort of extremist, they have arguably placed me in more danger.
I’ve given statements to police this week about sustained harassment, handing over a folder of hate mail. I’ve sent them footage of people coming to my home, including a kick-boxer and a woman doing a round trip of over a hundred miles to jam a note in my door – ‘I’M COMING BACK MIKE’.
Elsewhere, I’ve logged and reported online accounts – many seemingly created in the the last few days – for a variety of threats, from the generic ‘watch your back’, to specific, detailed threats to my life.
Similarly, I’ve implored Twitter to take action against several accounts which have spent much of the last week whipping up hatred by repeating the lies spread in various videos and adding to them, by accusing me of being an extremist.
One of these, run by a supposed ‘freelance journalist’ from Ohio calling himself ‘Nick Monroe’, has been amplified by several high profile far-right personalities, leading to fresh torrents of threats and abuse every time he focuses on me. As one user of Gab, the ‘free speech’ social network put it, the far-right has chosen to “make an example” of me.
They don’t see the person whose life they have been asked to destroy.
‘Stochastic Terror’ they call it – the incitement of followers to take action against a target, by painting them as an enemy to be feared and reviled. The hope is, that someone will act on the call to action. It’s an insidious, underhanded tactic, with just enough plausible deniability to ensure that whoever is leading the charge isn’t called to account.
Those engaging in the abuse and threats don’t feel blame or remorse. They merely see the target provided to them, the sum of their worst fear and loathings. They don’t see the person whose life they have been asked to destroy.
Indeed, in checking the accounts of those sending abuse and threats, I find family men, loving grandmothers, working mums. They’re not hardened racists, or thugs – they have just taken the word of those they follow as Gospel. I’m shocked at the genuine hate they feel for me, having swallowed the lines fed to them.
Yet here I am, still unable to sleep.
This week, I have to have serious discussions about my personal safety. The nature of some threats means that simply taking public transport locally or around London is fraught with risk. I also have to start looking for a new job. I can’t place my colleagues in this, nor do they deserve a distracted, unfocused co-worker while this continues. I have to go to the doctor as my anxiety is through the roof, and it needs to be managed while this is going on. I dare say I’ll be prescribed further medication. I need to make an appointment with a lawyer.
With a life substantially scattered around me, besides my loving wife and family, I have no choice but to keep going in my opposition to the far-right.
If I give in to the threats and abuse, I have the one thing I love most – writing for an audience – taken away from me. My resolve has hardened under pressure.
I just wish I could sleep.