Two things have been clear for years: a) Katie Hopkins has cleverly built a popular, personal brand on provocative views that tend to to demonise people she doesn’t like, and get a rise out of people who don’t like her; b) the best way to respond is not to respond at all.
That’s fine - Hopkins has children to feed and dress - and we can unfollow her, and avoid what she writes and says. Free country, free speech. Just look the other way.
But when a national newspaper, which gives this brand an audience of two million people, happily prints language that might give Hitler pause, is that still OK? Or is it worth responding this time, even if she’ll love every minute?
A bit strong to compare Hopkins to Hitler? Read her column on page 11 of yesterday’s Sun.
“Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”. That was The Sun's headline, written apparently without concern.
She then refers to migrants in Calais who try to board trucks heading to Britain as “a plague of feral humans”.
She proposes an Australian approach to migrants on boats. “They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of sharia stoning”.
She says we don’t need Save the Children “encouraging” migrants to make the journey. “What we need are gunships sending these boats back to their own country”.
She adds: “Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money”.
Then she writes this, and The Sun prints it. “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit “Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors”.
In the environment that led to creation of the Third Reich in Germany, Polish people were seen as "an East European species of cockroach", while Jews were rats. When Hutu extremists used radio propaganda to incite violence against the Tutsis during the Rwandan Genocide, they called on people to “weed out the cockroaches.”
Putting to one side the facts - that Hopkins’ cockroaches include families trying to flee war zones - it is not a challenge to free speech to question the publication of language that reads so much like dehumanising, fascist propaganda. You don’t have to be humourless, or unsympathetic to the truck drivers Hopkins set out to protect, to feel like something is wrong here. And it is not about political correctness. It’s about decency.
Even before we consider her words in relation to the legal definition of racial hatred, The Sun has a responsibility to decide where to draw the line. What if any discussions took place before editors sent page 11 to be printed? (I asked Stig Abell, the Managing Editor, and Dylan Sharpe, the paper’s head of PR, for their thoughts on Twitter last night, but no reply so far.)
I suspect that if any other journalist had filed that column to The Sun, editors would have rightly gasped and spiked it immediately. But this is Brand Hopkins. This is what she does, and she peppers her prejudice with gags. People like her - there is demand for her views, and it’s good for business. And what about free speech?!
But as Hopkins becomes more offensive to stay relevant and in work, so that she can make a good living for her family, it’s not OK to sit on our hands, even if challenging her and The Sun fuels the brand and delights the writer. There’s no way she’ll stop - she loves this, as I found when I met her a couple of years ago - but if the editors and producers who giver her a platform (LBC have just given her her own radio show) think that column was acceptable, they must explain why, and justify her future employment.