Conservative academics “live in fear of the woke hate mob,” alleges Matthew Goodwin, a political science professor in a British university. He makes this claim in a major tabloid; he’s also been invited as guest speaker to this month’s National Conservatism conference, which he will address alongside top ministers and MPs. Well-connected to various right-wing thinktanks, he’s also director of a polling company and has easy access to the mainstream media. Fear not though, in his most recent book — published by one of Britain’s main publishers — he is “tak[ing] aim at a small and increasingly influential group [he] call[s] the New Elite”.
Yet this unjustifiable claim of having been silenced by the real powers that be is far from an individual shortcoming. Indeed, it’s become a daily occurrence across public discourse. Whether because of obsessive transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, or white supremacism — or simply as a grift — if you are well connected, there is plenty of room on the reactionary bandwagon, no matter how ludicrous or dangerous your argument. There’s no need to be worried about opposition, either: mainstream political and media figures are generally here to help.
Below is a non-exhaustive blueprint that various reactionary actors have put to the test in recent years. We could even consider it a proven success, given how obvious their grift is. Perhaps most amazing has been how easy it is to convince those who believe liberalism to be an inherent bulwark against fascism to accept reactionaries in their midst. In fact, liberals generally end up doing much of the legwork for them in terms of mainstreaming their ideas and politics.
So, forget about Jordan Peterson’s twelve rules for life. Here are ten rules for right-wing grifters:
1. Be part of the elite, but pretend you speak for the people.
Whether you’re a billionaire, a former stock-exchange broker, or a tenured professor, in cahoots with conservative governments, wealthy right-wing donors, or think tanks, brazenly claim that you are speaking on behalf of “the people,” “the left-behind,” “women,” “children,” “the white working class” etc. Patronizingly impose your voice and views from your golden elevator onto any constituency you choose to essentialize. Use them to pretend you are speaking for more than your small elitist grouping. Clearly, there’s no need to be part of these communities to speak on their behalf. It’s good if you can find some long-lost connection to the salt of the earth, but it also works if you just pretend and act like a caricature of the working class.
Don’t worry — this comes with no obligation to meet these people or get to know them. In fact, the less you know about them, the better you will be able to mischaracterize their grievances to suit your elitist politics. If you get to know them, you might start to realize the error of your ways, and it will be far less comfortable to paint them in your image. Ignorance is bliss, and no one on your side really believes that with politics such as yours you could really like them anyway.
Needless to say, you should not feel like you owe them anything either. You know full well that transphobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, or racist politics have never served the rights of all women, the working class, or anyone at the sharp end of systemic inequalities and oppression. If anything, it divides them — and the more divided they are, the better for you and your kind.
2. Pretend you are a rebel: crusade against cancel culture while speaking from a position of power and for power.
Use the many platforms you can access through your wealth and/or elite networks to complain that you are being canceled by a nefarious left-wing elite whose actual power exists only in your paranoid fantasies. No need to confine yourself to the right-wing media either — their liberal counterparts are generally all too happy to fall for your claims. They will give you plenty of opportunities to voice your grievances against the made-up “wokerati,” even if it is them and their audience you are attacking (more on this in rule seven).
Worried that your argument about the leftist elite — in power in Britain despite over a decade of right-wing governments and a massive slide to the right across the political spectrum — is too ludicrous to get traction? Count on the Guardian to give you some space to promote it. Concerned that there might be some backlash when you choose to spend your spare time as a billionaire with a huge social media presence to vilify an oppressed minority? Don’t be: the New York Times will come to your defense. Dreading that your constant attacks against the public media will get you disinvited from their platforms? Fear not: the BBC will make space for you and ensure that its audience is generally on your side.
In fact, countless platforms have been given over the years to politics even more extreme than yours in generally euphemistic ways. For example, white supremacist Richard Spencer was famously described as “a dapper white nationalist” by Mother Jones, while the New York Times ran a sympathetic piece on a neo-Nazi portrayed as the guy next door. No wonder then that yours will likely be mischaracterized as “populist,” giving you further legitimacy.
Evidently, this is not about balance. You know well that the homogenous and all-powerful leftist elite you rave about does not exist. Most radical voices are generally confined to alternative media outlets that cannot compete with the right-wing misinformation empires you are rely on. Yet pretending you are the little guy gives you street cred and makes your elitist politics more palatable to your gullible followers.
3. Find a generally voiceless and oppressed minority and turn it into a threat supported by a nefarious elite.
Crucially, and against all logic, you must convince others that it’s not your elitist politics that are a threat. While much of the grim situation we find ourselves in is the result of the politics you support, it is easier to blame it on generally voiceless and oppressed communities with the support of some nefarious elite. Right-wing governments are not responsible for the plight of the left-behind — it’s refugees, immigrants, or Muslims and Islamo-leftists. When the hype isn’t on grooming gangs and racialized minorities, trans people are twisted into the biggest threat to women and children and supported by their powerful “lobby.” And what about the authoritarian demands of people of color and their woke allies — aren’t they the real racists?
No need to reinvent the wheel: antisemitism often provides the blueprint for all your othering needs. And should you get accused of inciting hatred and tapping into the vilest of politics, turn it on its head: fascism is bad of course, but Antifa are the real fascists; anti-racists are the real racists; trans activists and allies are the real tyrants, etc. Insist that you are just saying aloud what everybody thinks.
4. Couch your argument in pseudo-democratic/liberal tropes.
Sure, your politics are derived from the worst movements in history and/or rely on the same strategies, but liberals’ lack of courage in confronting the failures of the current system can easily allow you to escape from the margins. All you need to do is tap into the many concepts the mainstream has accepted as innately positive, no matter their limits, and twist them to suit your reactionary needs.
Want to vilify Muslim people without sounding too much like a typical racist? Pretend you are doing it for the sake of women or LGBTQ communities, even if you could not care less about either, or even oppose them. Take your cue from French reactionaries and use the concept of laïcité (secularism) to protect women’s rights against the threat of Islam by removing their right to wear whatever they choose — because nothing says women are free more than others telling them how to dress. You want to say something that clearly crosses the line in terms of basic decency? Claim that you only say it because you believe in free speech like our forefathers did — and isn’t that worth fighting for?! If all else fails, twist Orwell beyond recognition and misquote Voltaire, and it is likely that your liberal counterparts will end up nodding along.
5. Contradictions are not an issue — they are your friend.
Remember, hypocrisy is the point. You will not be held accountable for your ludicrous ideas by those in power, as that would be a risk for them too. In fact, the bigger the contradiction, the better. Sure, you speak on conference stages alongside countless Tory ministers and MPs and other right-wing elites, but that shouldn’t prevent you from pretending to fight against the “elite” (i.e. pretty much anyone to the left of the hard right-wing of the Tories). Demand unfettered free speech when it suits your reactionary ideas, call any criticism censorship, and demand censorship of those who do not let you say whatever you want regardless of the harm done. Women are whatever suits your transphobic argument, and those who disagree are not really women — only you stand in defense of women’s rights, and if it takes allying with the worst misogynist groups and even Nazis to protect women, then so be it.
Yes, you are a billionaire and/or have privileged access to the mainstream media and/or prestigious publishing houses, but you will be surprised how easy it is for you thanks to your networks to pass as the little guy, a rebel, a victim of the woke elite, a voice of the “left behind,” if only to those who platform you. In much of the mainstream media, the racialized and downright patronizing picture of the working class you paint to suit your reactionary agenda will go entirely unchallenged, despite having no grounding in reality.
6. You’re not defending harmful oppression — you are defending (your) fundamental rights.
You’re the last stand against woke authoritarianism, just like your forebearers were the last stand against political correctness, and their forebearers the last stand against universal suffrage, the vote for women, the abolition of slavery etc. Yes, you are fighting for the right to be able to cause harm without any repercussions, but it is just as easy to argue that you are fighting for tradition or even for your right to sovereignty, self-determination, and free speech.
In fact, whether consciously or not, you take your cue from what extreme-right intellectuals theorized in the 1970s when their politics seemed to have been irremediably confined to the dustbin of history by the more progressive movements in the 1960s: disguise your biological, essentializing, elitist arguments under a veneer of “culture.” Argue that yours is not superior to others, but that it needs to be protected. Of course, this still relies on the same flawed essentialization (as if there was such a thing as a homogenous culture), but it is much more palatable. This slight discursive shift will give you access to many mainstream platforms. Why wouldn’t they love such “nostalgia,” as, like you, they do benefit from those privileges?
While you’re at it, use your many platforms to impose your euphemistic language: you are not far right, you are “populist.” The mainstream will use it as an insult, but you can turn it on its head and claim that you are proud to speak for “the people,” even if this could not be further from the truth. You are not racist. You are not even nationalist; you are a patriot (who cares if the distinction is made up). You are not a closed-minded bigot; you are a concerned citizen who cares about women and children (even if you have shown no particular care for them when it’s not about targeting trans people or Muslim communities). You may be concerned that this is too obvious a trick, but rely on the mainstream to fall for it time and again.
7. Count on the laziness, cowardice, and complicity of the mainstream.
In a functioning democracy, your ridiculous arguments would be confined to the margins. Not because of censorship, but simply because there are so many more interesting and vital issues to discuss. But lucky for you, we live in shells of democracy, and you can count on your powerful allies and their media influence to make your ideas central to public discourse. Better yet, you can also rely on the liberal mainstream, which is so exhausted and unable to offer solutions to the many crises unfolding, that it will use your moral panics as convenient diversions.
We see it even with those academics who cross lines into the far right and flirt with the language of eugenics; even mainstream colleagues are still likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them as if their point is wrong in some academic sense. Even left-wing media will platform right-wingers to get clicks. Regardless of how clearly reactionary your ideas are or how your support is drawn from the most extreme right, count on the media to not only platform you, but give you the benefit of the doubt. Nothing you say will ever be classified as racist (at worst it will be “racist,” in quotation marks as if to signal that it is debatable). More often than not it will be euphemized as “populist,” which you can then turn to your advantage and faux anti-elite posing. The marketplace of ideas is a swindler’s den, and the cheap voyeurism core to the infotainment industry gives your ideas pride of place.
Serious coverage would make clear the need for radical change should we want to turn the tide, revive democracy, and address the many unfolding crises. But what appetite is there for radical change at the top when it would mean losing out for those in control of much of our public discourse? None, and so best to hype false alternatives. You are not the hero to the masses, but a tool of the status quo.
8. Deny the power of discourse — your words have no consequences regardless of how emboldened your followers get, or who joins your side.
Whatever someone chooses to do based on your ideas isn’t your fault. Sure, your career or latest political crusade has been dedicated to sanitizing unpalatable ideas and legitimizing the dehumanization of certain communities. But these were just words, and you made sure to stop short of any clear call for action. You may have become an expert at dog-whistling, but you never asked individuals to take up arms, insult, harass, and attack the groups you vilify. You’re just asking questions.
9. Make it personal and use plausible deniability.
In fact, people should be grateful you are asking these questions, because at least you are not one of those extremists. You firmly oppose them and denounce violence (generally after the fact and in a limited way obviously — you wouldn’t want to upset your most avid audience). If anything, you are a beacon of moderation, according to you, at least. You stand firmly and arrogantly against all extremes. You often say you are the least racist person, some of your good friends are from the minorities you vilify, but you also know there are fine people on both sides. The problem is not the rise of reaction and fascism, it is polarization on all sides. Horseshoe theory is ridiculous and widely debunked, but it still has such a grip on the mainstream that they will love it if you argue that the extreme right and left are equally bad. Of course, in your case, the extreme left is anyone to the left of the Right, and the extreme right can mean only Nazis.
Make it personal. How dare your opponents accuse you of being racist or transphobic? You’ve been misunderstood, and surely saying you are not should be enough. Of course, your intent is irrelevant, as what you really are or believe will always be subject to debate. And that’s the key: divert attention away from the consequences of your speech and actions and onto something your opponents will waste endless energy trying to prove. If you are willing to go further, blame those accusing you for being the real haters: calling someone racist is worse than actual racist speech these days. Demand free speech but threaten legal action against anyone who calls you out.
It’s worth noting that plausible deniability is increasingly optional; the masks have pretty much fallen by now, and there is no longer any need to euphemize your views. In fact, you can even choose, consciously or not, book titles that echo white supremacist and fascist slogans or theories, collect Nazi memorabilia, or demonstrate with neofascists and still get away with it.
10. Show a clear lack of care for basic decency and justice.
There is no accountability. If there was, you and your elite friends would have no claim to power or voice. Until radical change happens, you are safe, and there will be no consequences to your actions, as accountability would mean the collapse of this pyramid scheme that we still pretend is a democracy. Your ideals are foul, but your interests in preserving the broad status quo and structures of oppression ultimately match those of other elites, many of whom you claim to oppose. One thing you all agree on is fighting against any notion that your unfair privileges and power to oppress should be even mildly criticized.
If this isn’t clear yet, if you sign up, you are on the side of power, corruption, elitism, and cowardice. You know it, everybody knows it. In fact, many of the examples here (and many more you can easily find yourself) are covered openly in the mainstream media. Yet it doesn’t seem to impact the platforming of you or your politics. As long as you don’t cross some truly extreme line, you serve a purpose in upholding the unjust system you are “just” a part of and beneficiary and signatory to, maybe even a useful idiot for. And if the rest of us are to pay the cost — well, you couldn’t care less.