The Radicalisation of Katie Hopkins
In the week her Twitter account was suspended, Otto English looks back on how the mainstream media and the tabloid press paved Katie Hopkins’ path to the extremes
On the morning of 23 May 2017, the world woke to news of a horrific terrorist atrocity. The target was an Ariane Grande concert in Manchester. As concert-goers had filed out of the venue the night before, a suicide bomber had detonated his device and now 22 people lay dead, many of them children. The youngest victim was just eight years old.
As collective revulsion, in all quarters, to this act of unspeakable evil resonated across social media many right-wing figures scrambled to make political capital out of the atrocity. Chief among their number was Katie Hopkins who took to Twitter and wrote:
“22 dead and number rising. Schofield don’t you even dare. Do not be part of the problem. We need a final solution.”
The tweet was soon deleted but, by then, many more people than Hopkins’ 800,000 followers had read it. Many of her followers approved. The rest of us howled with outrage and shared screenshots of what she had said.
Katie Hopkins – a mainstream radio presenter on LBC, a regular guest on the nation’s daytime TV sofas and a columnist on Britain’s biggest news website, the Mail Online – had just evoked the language of the Holocaust and the worst atrocities of Nazism, in the context of 2.5 million Muslim Britons.
Hopkins had said many deeply offensive things in the past, but this was the moment that she tipped into full extremism. She was promptly sacked by LBC and, some weeks later, by Mail Online. From that point on, as her career nose-dived, the eventual endgame wrote itself.
From TV to Tabloid Press
It’s easy to forget that, just a few years back, Hopkins was a mainstream figure.
The former Met Office employee rocketed to fame on The Apprentice in 2007, a reality series that has since played no small part in the destruction of Western Civilisation. She was reality TV gold: arrogant, dogmatic and able to sow discord with a toss of her head – but she was also gifted with just enough charisma to carry it off.
Hopkins knew that the value of appearing on the programme wasn’t in the job offer at the end, but in the publicity it afforded. So she snubbed Alan Sugar and walked out of the boardroom and, fairly swiftly, was building a successful career as a professional controversialist.
By 2013, she was established enough to be offered a weekly column in The Sun but was soon poached by the Mail Online. In 2015, she earned more than £400,000 for a two-week stint on Celebrity Big Brother, reflecting her value as a guaranteed purveyor of controversy. She came second. In 2016, she got that regular Sunday morning show on LBC and book deals and TV shows followed. By 2017, she was undoubtedly one of Britain’s best-paid media figures.
As her star burned ever more brightly, Hopkins began to drag her ever more debased opinions into the mainstream. In that Sun column, she wasn’t afraid to call migrants “cockroaches” and “feral humans” and, having got away with it, went on to ever greater hyperbole. She called dementia sufferers “bed blockers”. She was consistently dismissive of minorities, the poor, the sick, the marginalised and anyone who dared to show sympathy for them.
Hopkins said she didn’t care about other people’s opinions but, sometimes – as in that infamous encounter on the This Morning sofa in 2013 – there were glimpses of vulnerability. In a much-shared clip, Hopkins explains how she hates it when celebrities call their children after places and things, only to be reminded by Phil Schofield that her own children are called Poppy and India.
As the wind briefly vanishes from her sails and the studio laughter ensues, there is a moment where Hopkins looks genuinely exposed. Fun, feisty ‘Katie’ thinks she’s been invited on to share her thoughts, but actually she’s been brought into the studio to be set up. The conversation itself is inconsequential. She is there for the purposes of schadenfreude. The calculation about her children will have been made long in advance. The trap set for her to walk into.
In that moment, rests an uncomfortable truth.
Hopkins’ fame was predicated on all of us indulging it. She was the pantomime villain of British politics and, with every single boo and hiss and angry Twitter backlash, we simply egged her on.
If a person’s fame and cash stream rely on controversy, to stay relevant they are obliged to keep turning up the heat. It’s like riding a tiger. And Hopkins, for all her puff and arrogance and self-promotion, was too blinkered or imprudent or lost in her ride into fanaticism to realise that one day she would be obliged to step off the tiger – and get eaten.
After losing her job at the Mail Online, she morphed from controversialist to fully-fledged extremist.
When food writer Jack Monroe sued her for libel, her unwillingness to apologise or admit that she was wrong – along with the loss of her income from the Mail Online and LBC – cost her family their home. Desperate for cash and relevance, she turned to libertarian Canadian Website Rebel Media, whose other star signing was one ‘Tommy Robinson’. Now she was a personality of the far-right – and she embraced it all, willingly.
Soon, she was endorsing the worst excesses of far-right conspiracy theories and making films about ‘white genocide’ in South Africa.
As the last vestiges of relevance ebbed, she accepted an invitation to be the star turn at last year’s UKIP conference, an event that was deemed so pointless that even the then party leader Dick Braine didn’t turn up.
What Hopkins did still have, and what sustained her, was a Twitter account with one million followers, a blue tick and the occasional retweet from the US President. She loved to brag that nobody could take it down, right up until the moment, earlier this week, when Twitter itself took her down.
Now Hopkins seems destined to disappear into the irrelevance of the Parler echo chamber but her journey through the media and political landscape of Britain does beg some important questions.
How could this happen? How could a reality TV star descend from the warm comfort of the daytime TV sofa into the depths of far-right extremism? And, is it just possible, that in sharing her tweets and turning her into the nation’s wicked witch, we all contributed to the rise and subsequent radicalisation of Katie Hopkins – even lovely, cuddly Phil Schofield?