The Lead recently published a pretty straightforward and, as we thought, uncontroversial article about hiking. Specifically, our contributing editor Natalie Morris wrote about groups aiming to get more Black and brown people out into the countryside.
Although Black, Asian and minority ethnic people make up 18 percent of the UK population, they only make up 1 percent of hikers.
Given that, you’d think a feature highlighting the effort to claim some of the joy of Britain’s green spaces would be a feel-good read - even if it did speak some uncomfortable truths about the colonial histories of these places. Everyone should be welcome in the national parks - right?
But for many on the hard right, the very idea was too much.
The first hint of trouble came from no less a character than the son of David Icke - Gareth, lizard man junior. Gareth’s ominous tweet was mild by his crowd’s standards, practically Farage, but it got worse fast.
A short while later, a user with the reassuring handle “havgunwilltravl” beelined for Natalie’s instagram, screenshotting pictures of her with her partner (“No surprise here, she dates a white man”) and, detouring via the 18th century, declaring that “Integration is never possible and mulattos will always be resentful they are not white”.
Other tweets, which we won’t link to, featured screenshots of Natalie’s house, leading her to restrict access to her profile lest she gets doxxed.
Then came the Unherd stampede, culminating in the perpetually outraged Paul Embery - who, perhaps inadvertently, summed up much of the knee jerk reaction to the piece: “I refuse to believe…”
And finally, the piece garnered the attention of the world’s sulkiest Balrog, Jordan Peterson, who now follows Natalie.
(The angry brigade also dug into Natalie’s colleagues. Leah, Filipino-American, was described as a “mutt”, among other charming epithets. And the internet sleuths also deduced that yours truly, an Israeli journalist, has written for so many ((((mainstream))))) publications he might, just might be (((((Jewish)))). Slow clap.)
By the end of that weekend, Natalie's post got viewed 3 million times, and quote tweeted over a thousand times - mostly with comments ranging from the whining about "anti-white racism" to frothing-at-the-mouth go-back-to-where-you-came-from actual racism. We reported the most genocidally violent ones - over 200 of those; not one got taken down on Musks's Twitter. All in all, the backlash against the idea that certain groups faced barriers to enjoying the countryside followed the classic line of denialism: "Didn't happen, and also, they deserved it."
Taken together, the outrage belies itself and reaffirms the point of the article. If this is the kind of bile you get online for writing about hiking, imagine being a young person of colour, encountering this kind of attitude on the trail - alone, on unfamiliar ground.
But it’s also illustrative of an even larger problem. It took all of 48 hours to go from the absolute looniest of the loons - lizard-people adjacent crowd - to the alt-right legitimisers: Paul Embery, who pretends far-right populism somehow serves the working class, Unherd generally, who think flirting with the stranger reaches of the right is subversive, and Jordan Peterson, the thinly spread intellectual veneer.
This isn’t to say there’s some vast conspiracy. But it does suggest that there is a densely connected ecosphere, where extreme right ideas feed into each other organically and with alarming speed. There’s very little daylight between the Ickes of this world and the kind of people who’ll be gathering for the UK’s first National Conservative conference in London next week.
The veil of respectability is so thin it takes a conscious, wilful effort to not see through it. Presumably, this is precisely the effort being made by key speakers at NatCon: cabinet ministers Suella Braverman and Michael Gove.
Over here at The Lead we'll keep covering these connections - which will become all the more important as the Tory hold on power slips and the far-right anger grows. If you want to be the first to learn of what we dig up, subscribe - and spread the word.