The Dumbest Version of Free Speech Activism

A new “Free Speech Union” established by right-wing trolls in Britain is just the latest self-promotion gambit by those who insist on their inalienable right to spew hate while remaining exempt from criticism.

The Right in the United Kingdom has finally established a union of their own — fighting not for better conditions in the workplace but, instead, the right to be racist, sexist, and homophobic without any response.

To herald the New Year, Dominic Cummings wrote a blog post calling for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to join him at10 Downing Street, where he serves as chief special adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson. His plan, he explained, was to attract people outside of the traditional Oxford-Cambridge elite to solve problems such as the “selection, education and training of people for high performance,” among other problems. His first such “weirdo,” Andrew Sabisky, lasted very shortly at Number 10, after his comments were unearthed on the subjects of the purported lower IQs of black people, a penchant for incest porn, and his encouragement of people on government benefits to have fewer children to breed out “work resistance.”

Enter professional troll Toby Young, son of Labour peer Michael Young, who coined the (originally satirical) term “meritocracy” in the 1950s. Young has his own history of advocating eugenics, and appears to have taken his father’s term literally, claiming he and others are examples of meritocracy, despite failing to get the grades to enter Cambridge and being admitted purely because his father phoned the university to demand he be given a place.

Young has been criticized in the past for all manner of offensive views, and he has a habit of conflating criticism with censorship and an attack on his freedom of speech. Characterizing as “offence archaeology” the practice of his being held to account for his publicly expressed views, Young has started his own “Free Speech Union,” with membership fees ranging from £25 a year to £250. In exchange, Young and his team of dubious right-wing characters offer to defend you from “Twitter mobs” and criticism for “politically incorrect” views you may espouse.

Young has proclaimed himself a martyr after an offer to join the board for the Office for Students — an organization founded to hold higher education institutions accountable — was deemed controversial due to a litany of sexist and homophobic comments he had made over the years , as well as misrepresentation of his previous work at universities. He resigned soon after. His advocacy of “progressive eugenics” later also led to criticism, with Young stating, “once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs?”

To fight what Young describes as a decline in free speech, his union offers to fight for your right to say what you like, stating:

If you find yourself being targeted by a digital outrage mob on social media for having exercised your legal right to free speech, we will mobilise an army of supporters. If a petition is launched calling for you to be fired when you’ve done nothing other than exercise your legal right to free speech, we’ll organise a counter-petition. If you’re no-platformed by a university — a feminist professor who challenges trans orthodoxy, for instance — we’ll encourage you to go to law [sic] and organise a crowdfunding campaign to pay your costs. If newspaper columnists and broadcasting pundits start attacking you for dissenting from orthodox views and opinions, we could get our allies in the media to come to your defence.

By ignoring the fact that all of the examples he intends to fight against are also examples of people exercising their free speech, it becomes clear that the only purpose of the union is to defend the right of people to be expressly sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic without repercussions.

The list of people involved is a who’s who of famed dangers within the media: people with large platforms, who appear never to be off our TV screens, complaining at length in newspaper columns that they have been silenced and shunned by the world, while pulling in hefty checks for speaking engagements. Their issues are not that debate has been shut down, but that it has been broadened, and the great unwashed are now free to express their own view that they are talking utter nonsense.

One of the consequences of free speech is other people expressing their freedom of speech by disagreeing. Young and his ilk cannot accept this: speech, in their view, is only free if it is also free from criticism. While they claim their expressed opinions are efforts to widen the debate, they are, in fact, invariably a monologue that bridles at any challenge and seeks only to absorb attention to project a self-image as a brave iconoclast.

The union, for now, is another attempt to drum up more media attention, further absorb airtime, and inflate their own image. But swiftly, the union will fall apart: the structure is clearly ill thought through, and also a magnet for the worst dregs in society: racist conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, virulent homophobes and sexists, and the obsessive transphobes who fixate on genitalia and thrive on hate.

Unions succeed when they have shared goals. In the case of Young’s union, his gang of self-pitying far-right public figures will likely be overrun by alt-right weirdos desperate to push the very limits of what the so-called union will defend, and the wheels will swiftly fall off in a catastrophic tangle of extremist, self-contradictory ideas from the worst 4chan-style websites and the warped minds of hardened extremists.