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Michael Gove: The Extremist

Whether laughing at racism, or associating with the promoters of eugenics and anti-Muslim think tanks, the Communities Secretary is indicted by his own definition

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The UK Government’s new definition of extremism is out. And its purpose, according to Communities Secretary Michael Gove is to “ensure that government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights.” Unfortunately, he has failed in this endeavour because by the Government’s own new definition, Michael Gove is an extremist.

The new definition, released on Thursday, describes extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”, or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”. It also includes those who “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve” these aims.

Racism is Funny

Gove’s track record of extremism is, in fact, astonishing by any standard and started when he was a young man. As president-elect of the Oxford University debating society in 1987, Gove used the racist term “fuzzy wuzzies” to describe black people, arguing that the British empire was “moral” because the “fuzzy wuzzies couldn’t look after themselves.”

In 1993, while a journalist for BBC television, he used homophobic and sexist language at Cambridge University debates, including describing economist John Maynard Keynes as a “homosexualist” because “homosexuals thrive primarily on short-term relations”, and made a sexist joke about the then head of the Cambridge Union Lucy Frazer for doing “remarkably well coming as she has done from the back streets of the slums of Leeds”’.

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We don’t know what Gove’s excuse for all this is because he’s refused to comment, let alone apologise. Instead, the BBC noted that a “source” close to him said that Gove made the statements “in jest” (i.e. he basically thought they were funny), but that they were not his actual views. Oh, that’s ok then.

So we know that Michael Gove inhabits an alternative reality in which making jokes about people’s race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality is all fine and dandy. This perhaps explains his defence of Tory donor Frank Hester’s ‘joke’ that Diane Abbott, the longest serving Black MP, “should be shot” and makes him “want to hate all Black women”. Although Downing Street belatedly conceded that Hester’s comments were “racist and wrong”, Gove insisted that he would exercise “Christian forgiveness” over the remarks – and the Conservative Party has no intention of handing back the £10 million.

At least Hester did indeed apologise – which is more than can be said for Gove over his own racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. No wonder, then, that when confronted in Parliament over GB News co-owner and Tory donor Sir Paul Marshall liking and retweeting far-right, racist and homophobic content (including a tweet calling for a race war in Britain between Muslims and non-Muslims), Gove defended him as “a distinguished philanthropist”.

Eugenics and Education

But Michael Gove’s fascination with extremist ideologies tied to racism resurfaced in 2013 when he was Education Secretary. A 237-page private thesis drafted up for Gove by his then-special advisor, Dominic Cummings, was leaked to the press. The document claimed that a child’s educational performance has more to do with their genetic make-up rather than educational standards, and called for giving “specialist education as per Eton” to “the top 2% in IQ”. 

As author of Human Genetic Engineering Pete Shanks observed, the Gove paper promoted “the blatantly eugenic association of genes with intelligence, intelligence with worth, and worth with the right to rule”.

But the bulk of the ‘science’ cited in the Gove paper came from controversial scientists affiliated with scientific racism and eugenics, some of whose work came from research funded by the Pioneer Fund, a Nazi foundation set-up in 1937 – and classified as a hate group by the civil rights law firm Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Pro-eugenics scientists cited by the Gove paper include Charles Murray, Stephen Hsu and Robert Plomin. Murray is the author of The Bell Curve, which claims that Black people are intellectually inferior to white people due to genetics and environmental causes. He’s also identified as a “white nationalist” who uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics” by the SPLC. Plomin is an avid defender of Murray’s work, and has spoken and published with the racist American Eugenics Society, and addressed the racist British Eugenics Society. Hsu has promoted eugenic breeding schemes using embryo selection to improve the overall IQ of the population.

The Cummings dossier further revealed that under Gove’s leadership, Plomin was invited into the Department for Education to “explain the science of IQ and genetics to officials and ministers”.


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Racist and Anti-Muslim think-tank

Gove was also closely involved since inception with the Henry Jackson Society, as a signatory to its founding statement when launched in 2005. HJS would later be described as a racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organisation by two former directors, Marko Attila Hoare and Matthew Jamison.

In 2017, Gove joined HJS as a director. That was an interesting year for HJS – it was the year two other HJS directors, Douglas Murray and Alan Mendoza, spoke at the annual Restoration Weekend organised by the David Horowitz Freedom Centre. 

Held the year after Donald Trump’s election, the 2017 Restoration Weekend was a key celebration of the success of ‘Alt-Right’ nationalists who had risen to power thanks to the election of Donald Trump.

The Restoration Weekend is hosted by David Horowitz, who spent years mentoring President Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Miller, regarded as the driving force behind his administration’s “racist” policies – including the legal architecture of the ‘Muslim ban’. Horowitz himself has been described as “a driving force” of the “anti-black movement” by the SPLC. Just a week before the event attended by the HJS, Horowitz declared that “the country’s only serious race war” is “against whites”. 

The Restoration Weekend was a veritable Who’s Who of US white nationalism, attended by the likes of antisemitic Holocaust denier Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent Proud Boys designated as an extremist group by the FBI; notorious far-right commentator Katie Hopkins; and Sebastian Gorka, who co-founded a far-right Hungarian political party with known antisemites. Other speakers included key figures in US white nationalism such as Ann Coulter, Robert Spencer, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos.

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At the event, Douglas Murray delivered an astonishing racist speech characterising Europe’s ethnic minorities as fundamentally “different people” who have simply “walked into that continent”. He singled out Indian and Sudanese immigrants, noting that while an Indian migrant might “vim up the local cuisine”, a wider range of cuisines in Europe would be offset by “more gang-rape and beheading.”

Murray, a longtime associate of Gove and one of his ardent defenders, is a populariser of the far-right Great Replacement conspiracy theory – the idea that Muslim immigration is endangering and replacing white populations in Europe as part of an Islamist plot.

In 2013, he complained about “white Britons” being “abolished” due to too many ethnic minorities in London. He’d previously endorsed a ban on immigration from Muslim countries and, three months before the Trump campaign announced its ‘Muslim ban’, told anti-Muslim extremist Frank Gaffney (the man cited by the Trump team to justify the policy) that such a measure could be the solution to the Muslim “demographic time-bomb”. 

Most recently, Murray has suggested “we might need to send in the army” to control pro-Palestinian protestors in London – and if that doesn’t work, that the “British public” might have to take matters into its own hands: a veiled incitement to vigilante violence.

In May 2017, while Gove was a director, the HJS executive director Alan Mendoza invited the host David Horowitz onto his YouTube television show to discuss extremism on college campuses. He claimed that all American Muslim student groups are “terrorist front groups” orchestrated and funded by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Mendoza nodded as he listened to Horowitz’s claims, even though they have been debunked as anti-Muslim conspiracy theory.  

An Orwellian Move

This is just the tip of the iceberg but it makes absolutely clear that Gove has built his career by climbing the ladder of escalating extremism. In this context, Gove’s new ‘war’ on extremism is not just absurd: it is dangerously Orwellian.  

Gove thinks racist jokes are funny, has elevated scientific racism within the Department for Education, and worked with an organisation – the Henry Jackson Society – which for years has acted as a transmission belt amplifying mainstream far-right white nationalist ideas into the centre-right of UK policymaking.

Who, then, is really using the platform of Government to subvert Britain’s liberal democracy by advancing ideas rooted in ideologies based on hatred, intolerance and indeed violence, with a view to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms” of minorities? It’s Michael Gove. If the Government were to actually act meaningfully on its own definition, not only Gove, but numerous organisations he and the Government have worked with and patronised would fall under its hammer.

That Gove will not allow this to happen illustrates what this Government is trying to rush through before elections later this year: the architecture of a new far-right authoritarian politics that will erode democratic accountability, expand the ideological reach of the state, elevate white nationalist and anti-Muslim ideologies, while restricting the scope for reform long after this government collapses.

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