Ukip has gained around 500 new members since allowing three far-right activists linked to the so-called “alt right” movement to join the party.
The party has opened its doors to three controversial YouTubers - Mark Meechan, Carl Benjamin, and Paul Joseph Watson - all of whom have substantial followings on the video streaming website.
The latter is editor of far-right conspiracy website InfoWars which is known for peddling false and outlandish conspiracy theories.
Views propagated on the site included the suggestion that the Sandy Hook school shooting of 20 young children was staged, the 2001 9/11 attacks were an inside job and the baseless reports about Hillary Clinton being part of a Washington pizzeria child sex abuse ring warrant serious investigation.
A spokesman for Ukip told The Independent the three new members had joined the party. He admitted Mr Watson, who has over 1.2 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, has “some unpleasant followers”.
But he insisted the three new members' ability to stoke controversy would be a positive force in the Eurosceptic party.
“It does make the job of the press officer somewhat more complex and it can be embarrassing at times but far better a bit of embarrassment than dealing with brain dead people,” he said. “Dealing with the odd awkward and unpleasant person is better. If they create controversy that is often a good thing”.
He said the new members would not have to change their social media usage and Ukip would not attempt to dictate the views they adopt.
“We can’t tell them how to live, or what to think or do. It’s just that depending on what they do, think and live, we will have to take that into account going forward. They are members, not spokesmen,” he said. “There has been a small but noticeable spike in membership since they joined a fortnight ago. We have had over 500 new members. The new members are of a different demographic in that they are significantly younger and much more media savvy.”
He dismissed the view the three new members were connected to the so-called “alt-right” - a political movement which has been accused of racism, antisemitism, and misogyny and of sharing an ideology with far-right parties such as the French National Front.
Mr Benjamin, who uses the moniker "Sargon of Akkad" on YouTube, rose to prominence for his anti-feminist videos.
He was later accused of promoting a series of rape threats from Twitter users against Labour MP Jess Phillips.
After Ms Phillips said: “People talking about raping me isn’t fun, but has become somewhat par for the course”, Mr Benjamin tweeted: “I wouldn’t even rape you, Jess Phillips.”
Mr Benjamin’s followers went on to repeat his statement and Ms Phillips later tweeted: “600-odd notifications talking about my rape in one night. I think Twitter is dead.”
The Ukip spokesman condemned Mr Benjamin’s comments, saying: “That was certainly something that was unpleasant. I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. I know he is aware of the rules governing and one hopes if he says something like that again then we would have to look into it. But more broadly bringing people into mainstream politics is a good thing.”
Mr Benjamin remained unrepentant for his comments at the time and refused to apologise. He is now banned from Twitter but continues to have a YouTube channel with 810,000 followers.
“I never made any threats. It was a classic example of how the regressive left tries to shame and silence anybody who disagrees with them. Any criticism of a woman by a man is called misogyny. It’s ridiculous,” he told The Times in 2016.
Meechan, a Scottish YouTuber who has nearly 250,000 subscribers, was fined £800 by a court earlier this year after he posted an online video of his girlfriend’s pug dog giving Nazi salutes, raising its paw in response to statements such as “Sieg Heil”.
While Ukip won almost four million votes in the 2015 general election - its support has plunged under a string of short-lived leaders and it was nearly wiped out in the local elections. A recent poll gave the party less than three per cent support.
Mr Batten - who has described Islam as a violent “death cult” - became interim leader after predecessor Henry Bolton was ousted in February.
A spokesperson for anti-racism campaign Hope not Hate told The Independent said it was "no surprise that, even if it was originally for a joke, Mark Meechan (AKA Count Dankula), Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) and Paul Joseph Watson, of the conspiracy theory site InfoWars, have found common currency with the increasingly extreme rump that remains of UKIP and joined up with the party.”
They added: "There are attempts afoot to forge an alliance between extreme figures who have made their names online, those involved in electoral politics, and those out on the streets, around an anti-Muslim and pro-“free speech” agenda. In following the path he’s chosen, Batten is leading UKIP down a dangerous route, and the acceptance of figures such as Watson and co just further underlines this.”
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