Today
Sat 17 April 2021

As a new free speech digital platform launches today, Sian Norris and Nafeez Ahmed investigate how its editor is part of a network attacking anti-racist activists

An anti-racism activist has been targeted by a network of far-right and right-wing voices after being accused without evidence of sending a racist tweet. The incendiary campaign has involved the breaching of her privacy and resulted in her dismissal from her advisory role at Leeds Beckett University.

The network includes Turning Point UK, founded by scientologist John Mappin – a pro-Donald Trump supporter of the white nationalist QAnon conspiracy theory movement – an offshoot of Turning Point USA which is reportedly “rife” with racism.

Its news site, Point News, published an article about a tweet sent by the Race Trust, an initiative founded by Aysha Khanom to mentor young people of colour. The article printed private messages exchanged between Khanom and another Twitter user. Khanom says that these were shared without her consent. 

Jay Beecher’s Vote-Watch and Leave.EU’s news website, Foxhole, also published articles about the tweet. Beecher, former editor-in-chief of banned alt-right fake news platform Politicalite, has sent repeated tweets to Khanom’s employer demanding that it “take action” and, as with Point News, published the private messages without her consent.

Private direct messages are generally considered off-the-record and printing them without consent and without a good public interest justification is considered a breach of privacy. 

The tweet in question followed Conservative activist and Brexit Party candidate Calvin Robinson telling BBC’s Big Questions that he had been called “bounty, Uncle Tom, house n***o” by critics. The Race Trust then tweeted Robinson, asking: “Does it not shame you that most people see you as a house n***o?”

In an article for the Daily Mail, Robinson explained the “shock and revulsion” he felt when he saw the tweet and how “sometimes the stress of these continual attacks even keeps me awake at night”.

Robinson is strategy and policy advisor for the new Reclaim Party, created by actor Laurence Fox, who boycotted Sainsbury’s for supporting Black History Month. Fox has also criticised black and working-class actors for complaining about the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry. 

Robinson says that the attacks on him represent how “many on the left want to remove my freedom to speak independently” and has written about threats to free speech from no-platforming policies. 

In response to Khanom’s dismissal from her advisory role at Leeds Beckett, an open letter authored by Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, has received more than 70 signatures. 

In the open letter, Andrews writes that, in cutting ties with Khanom, Leeds Beckett University has shown “utter disregard” for “black intellectual thought” and “it is the height of anti-black racism to censor central concepts in black intellectual thought as ‘racist’ or ‘inappropriate’”.


Who is Free Speech For? 

Whether one agrees with the contents of the tweet directed at Robinson or not, the actions of Turning Point UK and Beecher raise questions about whose freedom of speech they are interested in defending. 

Turning Point has a history of anti-black activism and Islamophobia. The US branch’s founder Charlie Kirk has downplayed anti-black police violence, described the concept of white privilege as racist, and claimed that white conservatives rather than black people are the real victims of discrimination on campus. 

In 2017, the New Yorker reported that former national field director Crystal Canton sent a text message to another Turning Point employee saying “i hate black people. Like f*** them all… I hate blacks. End of story”. Activist Candace Owens hit the headlines with her comments that the problem with Hitler was that he “had dreams outside of Germany” but “if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine”.

Its launch in the UK was praised by far-right politician Anne Marie Waters, who founded Pegida UK with English Defence League founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known as ‘Tommy Robinson’. 

Turning Point’s history of anti-black and Islamophobic remarks undermines the credibility of its attacks on the Race Trust. Its media arm, Point News, was the first to publish an article about the Race Trust’s tweet. While it stopped short of calling for Khanom to lose her job, its Facebook followers responded to the article by demanding that she “be arrested for hate speech” and writing “I hope she gets fired”. 

This is in direct contradiction to the stance Turning Point UK generally takes on freedom of speech issues, hate crime and bullying. It describes itself as a movement for “freedom” who “stand up to the modern Left”.

Opinion articles on Point News have expressed concern about “cancel culture” and “the fall of free speech”. Facebook posts include sharing a video by Conservative MP Ben Bradley about “restoring free speech at universities” and a quote from Conservative Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg accusing Oxford University of being “snowflake central” – a term often used to denote young people concerned with safe spaces and in favour of no-platform policies. 

The group has also accused UK universities of “McCarthyism” and says that “free speech and discussions should be everyone’s”. Again, such a stance appears to contradict its criticisms of the Race Trust’s actions and raises questions about its motivations. 


Networked Attacks

Activist and journalist Jay Beecher also published the direct messages between a Twitter user known as ‘Glen Gooner’ and Khanom on his site Vote-Watch without her consent.

He tweeted ‘Gooner’ asking him to share the messages, saying that “I’ll add it into the article”. Misspelling her name, Beecher accused Khanom of making “further racist remarks and stereotypes” by using the term “white fragility”.

Beecher claims that Khanom confirmed that she wrote the Race Trust tweet, however, an email seen by Byline Times to Beecher says that an employee of the organisation was the author and that this employee was subsequently let go.

This is not the first time that Beecher has accused activists of what is sometimes known as ‘reverse racism’. He claimed Violence Against Women and Girls Advisor to the Home Office, Nimco Ali, had “written racist tweets” about white people. 

Beecher has also been accused of racism himself, having sent a tweet to Black Lives Matter activist Natalie Rowe saying that she looked like a “cross between seabiscuit and a transexual fish”. 

His singular focus on so-called anti-white racism, and his remarks to Rowe, again call into question his motivations and the credibility of his attacks on black and minority ethnic campaigners. 

Beecher is a Vote Leave coordinator and was a “key UKIP figure” before being suspended from the party for making “deliberate and demonstratively false allegations against other members of the party”. He is now set to launch Lion News, a journalistic venture from hard-right fake news website Politicalite, where he was formerly editor-in-chief.

Launched in 2017, Politicalite mixes sensationalist headlines and alt-right talking points, chiefly around ‘Tommy Robinson’, Muslims and Brexit, attracting around 50,000 visitors a day. It is one of a loose network of nakedly partisan British political websites that have sprung up in the past five years, which include Vote-Watch, Foxhole and Point News, as well as Unity News Network.

Its output includes republishing articles from InfoWars, Alex Jones’ alt-right conspiracy theory platform website. Jones has claimed that 9/11 and school shootings in the USA were “false flags”, that the US Government controls the weather, and promoted the infamous ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. Politicalite was banned from Facebook and Twitter for violating hate speech policies.

Beecher has been accused of running a sock puppet account known as “Rob Daniel” or “The Secret Journalist”. The account frequently shared posts by Beecher and, when Beecher was challenged by Byline Times’ executive editor, ‘Daniel’ sent a “troll reply”. Beecher denies this, inviting ‘Daniel’ for a pint. Bots frequently share Beecher’s tweets. 

Aysha Khanom has now been added to a website detailing a so-called ‘race offenders register’, having been nominated “for and on behalf of the brilliant Mr Calvin Robinson”. It is almost exclusively made up of black and minority ethnic campaigners, journalists and politicians accused of being “anti-white”. The register appears to have been created by a parody Twitter account. 

Following the publication of Beecher’s article, Khanom requested that he delete his tweets targeting her employer. She told Byline Times that the attacks were “orchestrated intentionally to damage the reputation of anti-racists like myself. It is ironic that racists get upset by anti-racism”.

She believes that Leeds Beckett University “succumbed to the pressure of Jay Beecher in fear of right-wing retaliation. The disrepute would have only been from the right-wing. They have only made the environment more hostile to anti-racists”.

Beecher denies the claims made and told Byline Times: “If you wish to defend racists, that is of course your choice.”

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