Women's Rights

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Misogyny and White Supremacy: The Far Right Reaction to Supreme Court Abortion Decision

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 10:45pm in

Groups linked to Trump and the 6 January attempted insurrection were exultant over the overruling of Roe v Wade, report Sian Norris and Heidi Siegmund Cuda

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When Illinois Republican Mary Miller stood up to praise the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 ruling which allowed for nationwide access to safe, legal abortion in the US – she called it a “victory for white life”.

A spokesperson later told reporters Miller meant to say “victory for right to life”. The Trump-backed Miller, who previously quoted Adolf Hitler approvingly, won her primary just days later.

Mistake or not, it came as no surprise. Ever since the movement to criminalise abortion in the US gained momentum in the 1860s, it has been linked to white supremacy. 

The far-right believes that women’s reproductive and sexual freedoms contributes to the ‘great replacement’ – the belief that white people in the West are being replaced by black and minority ethnic from the Global South. White nationalists such as Ayla Stewart set ‘white baby challenges’ and sites like WhiteDating.Net invite far-right white people to date, marry and have babies for the white race. 

The Great Replacement, once a fringe conversation occurring in the darkest chat rooms, has been mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News, which reaches millions of Americans nightly. Great Replacement Theory was cited by the Buffalo shooter, who murdered 10 black people in a grocery store. The 18-year-old posted a 180-page manifesto about White Americans being replaced by people of color. Digital DNA revealed he had been in a chat room with a retired federal agent, who is under investigation for grooming the shooter to commit domestic terrorism. The 2019 Christchurch mosque shooter also warned of White genocide.

Little wonder, then, that the far-right infosphere welcomed the news that the Supreme Court had overturned 50 years of precedent to allow states to make their own abortion laws. 

Already nine states have triggered laws banning the procedure, with a further 17 expected to follow suit. 

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Misogyny and the Far-Right

The decision to overturn Roe v Wade came as the 6 January Select Committee hearings continued to process evidence of far-right militia involvement in the attempted insurrection at the Capitol. This included the presence of the male-only Proud Boys, the leaders of which have been charged with seditious conspiracy over the violence in January 2021.  

The group’s Telegram channel included disturbing and distressing responses to the Roe decision, telling women worried about getting unplanned pregnancies that they could “learn to suck d**k” and saying they would dig up the corpse of late pro-abortion judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September 2020, to “tell her the good news”. A doctored image featured babies gathered around her grave giving it the middle finger. 

The channel members indulged in further misogynistic language, referring to “hoes getting mad” alongside mocking video clips, and telling women to “seethe b***h”. The UK branch, Proud Boys Britannia, echoed much of the rhetoric, while posting an image of a crying woman surrounded by cats and a vibrator, captioned: “women after a long day of fighting to kill babies”. 

The mocking of women “getting mad”, and the hatred towards women accused of wanting to “kill babies” was encapsulated by far-right TikTok channel No White Guilt. The account shared a video where a man described pro-abortion protesters at the Supreme Court as “the depraved hysteria of women screaming like literal banshees from hell about having the right to kill babies”.

Another far-right organisation involved in the 6 January violence was Turning Point USA, which organised buses to bring protesters to Washington D.C and take part in the Trump rally. Among posts about how guns “save lives”, the so-called “pro life” organisation posted content that referred to women who have abortions as “baby killers” and mocked “crazy liberals” as they “freak out, scream and cry over Roe”. It also posted content claiming to “destroy” left-wing arguments in favour of abortion.

This style of mockery was echoed by anti-abortion activist and 6 January attendee Tayler Hansen, who made vidoes of protesters outside the Supreme Court for Next News Networks of “libtards” reacting to SCOTUS “blocking them from killing babies”. Hansen famously defaced a Planned Parenthood clinic with the slogan “all lives matter”. 

Not to be outdone, the UK branch of Turning Point USA posted in celebration of Roe being overruled, saying “it’s time to reignite the fight for life” in the UK. When the organisation was set up in 2019, it received supportive messages from Conservative MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel. Its former chairman George Farmer was a prominent donor to the Conservative Party and a member of its elite donor dining group. 

There are many overlaps between the far-right and the extremist misogynistic incel subculture – and views on abortion is one of them.

While some incels are in favour of abortion, the majority support abortion bans which they view as a just punishment for women having sex. 

Incels celebrated the end of Roe as a “great day for us brothers”, that will “make it impossible for promiscuous Stacies [attractive women] to get an abortion at their whim. One small step for the based [good] Supreme Court judges, one giant leap for incelkind”. 

Democracy in Danger

Alongside the far-right reaction, experts have identified how the Supreme Court decision is being used by right-wing, disinformation channels to try and disrupt democracy and deter people from voting in the US mid-term elections. 

There are fears that a Republican majority in the mid-terms would lead to a complete, nationwide ban on abortion. 

According to Bot Sentinal’s Chris Bouzy, within 24 hours of Roe being overturned there was an increase in inauthentic accounts engaging with people angry at the Supreme Court decision. The accounts sought to dissuade others from voting in November by using messages like “Why bother voting now?”; “All is already lost” and “Voting won’t change anything”.

"Not much has changed since the 2016 presidential election, and bad actors continue to weaponise social media platforms to manipulate voters,” Bouzy told Byline Times. “Platforms and lawmakers must do more to address the problem”.

Experts are warning of Russian involvement in fuelling disinformation and division. 

“The overturning of a Federal protection of privacy emboldens States with extremist leadership to assert an autonomous differentiation,” said OSINT researcher Brett Allpress. “The Divided States of America is a Russian playbook. It mirrors Brexit”.

Campaigners are also fearful that having won on abortion, the US far and radical right will now come after other human rights.

“The rolling series of rulings gutting women’s rights and favouring a police state is a shock and awe strategy, a show of power, and just the beginning of an historic move towards authoritarianism in America,” said disinformation researcher Jim Stewartson, who has called on President Joe Biden to shut down Telegram as part of emergency measures to stop digital poison.

 “Every signal I see indicates that the next target is the LGBTQ+ community. This comes from both the rapid increase in hate and violent attacks, and because of Clarence Thomas’s explicit signal in Dobbs that he wants to turn over Obergefell, which guarantees the right to gay marriage”.

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Born in the USA: The Americanisation of Reactionary Politics in the UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 9:04pm in

From dark money think tanks to health privatisation, the influence of the American right on British politics is greater than we think, says Rachel Morris

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As a nation we’ve gone from running America, to being at war with it, allied to it, in a ‘special relationship’ with it, to consuming its wares.

Gum and stockings were the WWII thing; jeans, burgers, peanut butter and TV are more recent imports. The Cadbury’s chocolate of childhood tastes sort of the same, but you get less for more, and it’s shinier – more ‘perfect’ and more American, because it’s American-owned now.

Britain has turned its back on Europe, though we haven’t landed in the lap of America, even if that was part of the Brexit plan. The trade deal that was supposed to mitigate our economic losses hasn’t materialised. Donald Trump was part of that plan, but a win for Joe Biden in 2020 put a stop to that.

Yet the Americanisation of British politics was further propelled by Brexit – via the dark money that lurches from one side of the Atlantic to the other. And you can spot it by watching the reactions of some parliamentarians to recent, regressive American political developments.

When Roe v Wade was overturned last week, Conservative MP Scott Benton retweeted – though subsequently deleted – a Republican Party tweet celebrating the reversal of US abortion rights. During the 2019 General Election campaign, Benton’s opponent raised his links to the homophobic, anti-abortion faith group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

Benton said that he was no longer linked to SPUC, because as a gay man he remains anti-abortion but supports same-sex marriage. SPUC is British, but received more than £72,000 between 2020 and 2022 from US donors using an agency to make the transactions opaque.

Conservative MP Danny Kruger told the House of Commons that he “disagrees with those who think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter”. His colleague, Peter Bone, told LBC that he’s disappointed the BBC uses the term ‘anti-abortion’ rather than ‘pro-life’.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has in the past said that she wants to stop clinics from giving abortion counselling. Conservative MPs Richard Drax and Jacob Rees-Mogg have promoted ‘pro-life’ ideas in Parliament. As revealed by Byline Times, Conservative MP Rehman Chishti is being paid £22,400 a-year to work part-time for a religious pressure group in the United States linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ efforts

There are more evangelical Christians in Parliament, or those who adopt their positions, than many realise.

This serves as a reminder that, in 2019, 99 MPs voted to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. It isn’t the ‘wedge issue’ here that it is in the US, but some seek to make it one. Simply remarking on American rulings draws it further into our discourse.

The same conglomeration of dark money-funded ‘think tanks’ and their adherents who backed Brexit are fuelling imported culture wars, such as promoting ‘woke’ as a pejorative, and arguing for reduced reproductive rights: these include the Adam Smith Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), Net Zero Watch, the New Culture Forum, Turning Point UK, and Young Voices UK.

Some huddle under the opacity and respectability of being registered with the Charity Commission while promoting reactionary American values via Fox News-lite platforms such as GB News and TalkTV. None of these organisations or outlets are elected – they are arguably unknown by most except on the fringes – yet they have an enormous impact on our discourse, and perhaps even our laws.

As Peter Geoghegan, author of Democracy For Sale, has written: “Britain’s politics looks increasingly like America’s, with private money buying ever more access and influence inside the corridors of power”.

Some such money is – at least indirectly – dollars, provided via right-wing funders like the Charles Koch Foundation, which helped to sponsor the notorious pro-herd immunity ‘Great Barrington Declaration’, and the Mercer family, that funded Cambridge Analytica.

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Imprisonment-for-profit is another import. Private prisons were introduced in Britain in the 1990s and there are now 14, managed by outsourcing giants like G4S and Serco.

The credit scoring system used to filter people wanting to rent property is an American practice barely seen here before the year 2000.

And education is being commodified – with British students competing with their American cousins over their comparative levels of post-graduation debt. Free or heavily discounted tuition, meanwhile, is still commonplace in the EU.

Domestic schools are gradually being converted into academies, still state-funded yet independent of local authority control. Hundreds of ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs) run thousands of such schools, the idea being that high-performing ones will help struggling ones. But in some cases, unqualified management has proved corrupt and education has been badly impacted, a normal outcome of American-style marketisation and self-regulation.

More than 70% of secondary and 27% of primary schools are now academies, despite limited evidence of higher standards. MATs are often run by businessmen and hedge fund managers, not education experts, with public funds invested in high pay rather than facility improvements.

One Nation Under GOP

In healthcare also – a lodestar of collectivism in a fragmented Thatcherite consensus – GP surgeries and some of our data are now owned by American companies, while trusts face strikes by privately-employed staff who receive less pay and fewer holidays than NHS colleagues.

The NHS will shortly become an umbrella brand for 42 separate ‘Integrated Care Systems’, that will allow private health company representatives on their boards. Privatisation and profit is creeping into our cherished NHS, without popular awareness.

One of the most divisive tropes in the US, especially under George W. Bush and Donald Trump, is accusing those you disagree with of being unpatriotic. This age-old authoritarian polarisation has become fully clothed in the stars and stripes in the culture war era.

In Westminster, both Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Attorney General Suella Braverman have launched their own ‘patriotism’ campaign in recent weeks to justify their ludicrous Brexit provocations, while Labour is repeatedly accused by Boris Johnson – himself born in New York – of ‘talking down’ Britain.

If you’ve experienced the USA’s size and diversity, flag-grabbing makes sense. In some ways, it’s the only thing holding the country together.

Despite the UK having a different profile entirely, this trend is on the rise here too. No politician seems able to appear in their office without multiple union jacks on display. The bigger, the better.

Post-Brexit, the UK isn’t bound by EU regulations on workers’ rights, safe data, or a healthy environment. Charter cities, known here as ‘freeports’, are seen as a way of delivering tax-free, low-rights, non-transparent commerce. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a disciple of American Professor Paul Romer, who tried and failed to start charter cities in Honduras, keeps popping off to meet with US interests. Sunak held a US green card, allowing permanent residence there, until last year.

Rees-Mogg wants to see a forest fire of regulations, grounded in Ayn Randian clean slate libertarianism and late stage vulture capitalism. Dominic Raab is seeking to introduce a British ‘Bill of Rights’ – the US Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments to the US constitution – potentially usurping the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci described the Americanisation of Europe as, “the gradual infiltration of the conviction that we moderns, practical and unscrupulous, must despise everything that does not concern our immediate profit”.

And if you think ‘it’ can’t happen here, watch Kate Andrews, the American-libertarian former director of the IEA (now economics editor of the Spectator magazine, formerly edited by Boris Johnson) banging the drum repeatedly for privatisation on the BBC’s flagship political programmes.

The IEA does not declare its funding sources, yet its current and former staffers are propelled into the public limelight – key actors in our contrived, Americanised culture war.

Perhaps most insidious of all, the Conservative Party appears to be adopting the playbook of the GOP in curtailing voting rights for the marginalised and disadvantaged. As Republicans gerrymander seats to artificially create a perpetual right-wing majority, the British opposition believes that millions of voters – those least likely to vote Conservative – could be disenfranchised under Johnson’s plans.

We must declare independence from creeping Americanism, before we’re too cooked to jump.

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The Conservative MPs Trying to Follow the US in Cutting Abortion Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

A chunk of Boris Johnson's party – including some of his own ministers – want to turn the clock back on women's abortion rights

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The overturning of the constitutional right to abortion in the United States has led some to suggest that the same could never happen in the UK. However, while those wishing to restrict women's right to safe and legal abortions in Britain are in a small minority among the public, they retain plenty of influence inside the Government.

Last week, a total of 61 Conservative MPs voted against the Government's plans to extend abortion access in Northern Ireland, with a further 190 not recording a vote.

Among the number voting against the measure were several ministers, including the Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has previously said that he is "completely opposed" to women having the right to abortion, including in the cases of rape or incest. He is also patron of the anti-abortion organisation Right to Life.

Most alarmingly, he was joined by Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, another Right to Life patron, who is also the Government's Women's Health Minister. Caulfield has previously been accused of making "baseless claims" about the issue after she used an interview to call for the Government to reduce the upper time limit on abortions.

Tory MP Scott Benton, who was recently made a parliamentary private secretary at the Foreign Office, was also among their number. In the aftermath of the decision to overturn Roe v Wade, Benton shared a tweet from the US Republican Party, with the caption "Life Wins".

Another Conservative MP on the list was Danny Kruger, who previously worked for David Cameron's speechwriter and was Boris Johnson's political secretary. In a parliamentary debate on the Supreme Court's decision, Kruger said that politicians in Britain should not "lecture" the US about abortion rights and said that he disagreed with those who "think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter".

The Prime Minister himself has said he is opposed to changing the law on abortion and described recent developments in the US as a "backwards step". However, support for limiting access to abortion in the UK within the Conservative Party is likely to be significantly broader than the 61 MPs who explicitly opposed extending abortion access in Northern Ireland.

One person who previously led the fight to mobilise opposition to abortion rights within the party is Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries – who did not take part in last week's vote. She has previously had strong links to fundamentalist Christian groups, such as Christian Concern and the World Congress of Families, while the Conservatives were in opposition. She also continued to campaign on the issue once David Cameron became Prime Minister.

In 2011 she claimed that 90% of Conservative backbenchers supported reducing access to abortion. Her 2008 attempt to reduce the upper time limit for abortion was supported by all but one of the then Conservative frontbench, including future Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Hunt, who has been vocal about his leadership ambitions, has said that he believes that abortion should only be available up to 12 weeks.

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Backbench and pressure group lobbying on the issue may have continued to have an impact on government policy.

In 2018, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid rejected calls to place 'buffer zones' around abortion clinics as being disproportionate – despite the Government's own review into the issue finding evidence of harassment of women outside dozens of abortion clinics.

Leading the charge against buffer zones was the backbench MP Fiona Bruce, who has repeatedly tabled bills designed to restrict access abortion. These include attempts to ban sex selective abortion; and to exclude cleft lip, cleft palate and clubfoot as qualifying physical abnormalities for the purposes of medical termination of pregnancy. Bruce has links to the US anti-abortion movement through ADF International – the European arm of the Arizona-based religious freedom giant Alliance Defending Freedom.

The ADF has been instrumental in fighting against women's reproductive rights through the US courts, including a ban on buffer zones and on so-called 'partial birth abortion'. In 2019, Bruce spoke at ADF International's youth conference, with the organisation paying for her expenses. The group's London office receives a yearly grant from the US parent organisation.

Bruce is not the only Conservative MP with links to the US anti-abortion movement. Many leading Conservatives have spoken at the radical-right think tank, the Heritage Foundation – including former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and former Conservative Party Co-Chairman and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

The organisation welcomed the overruling of Roe v Wade, saying that it would give the American people "the power to fix America’s extreme abortion laws".

The Government also remains opposed to formalising women's rights to seek an abortion. Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab ruled out enshrining the right to abortion in the Government's new Bill of Rights Bill – saying that it is an "issue of conscience" and there is not "a strong case for change".

Should the Conservative Party decide to follow its ideological cousins in the US Republican Party and seek to restrict abortion rights in the UK, it is likely that they would meet with strong public resistance. Recent polling by YouGov shows that around 85% of the public believe that women should have the right to an abortion, compared to just 5% who disagree.

However, with the Conservative Party still containing significant numbers of MPs who want to restrict abortion rights – and with the Government opposing moves to enshrine the right to abortion in the UK – it still remains possible that the UK could one day follow the US down a similar path.

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Emboldened Opposition and a Galvanised Movement: What the End of Roe v Wade Means for Abortion Around the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

The overturning of the seminal 1973 ruling by the US Supreme Court has been met with a mixed reaction by pro-abortion activists globally, reports Sian Norris

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“The decision to overturn Roe v Wade is extremely grave in the impact it will have across the US,” Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “The retrogressive nature of the decision is completely unprecedented in the global arena, in terms of the move to remove a constitutional right for abortion that has existed for 50 years.”

The announcement that the US Supreme Court had decided to overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 case that allowed for nationwide access to safe, legal abortion – sent shockwaves around the world.

Since the decision was published, nine states have implemented abortion bans and a total of 26 states with a female population of 64 million are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion in the coming months. 

In the decades since Roe v Wade, 55 countries have introduced policies improving abortion access, including Spain, Ireland, Argentina, Kenya, Romania, Nepal and South Korea. Only four have introduced new restrictions on abortion in that time – the fourth being the US. 

The implications of the decision go beyond US borders.

Since Roe v Wade was introduced, America has occupied a dual role of being both a beacon of progress and freedom, and a world-leader in opposing access to safe, legal abortion – with opposition groups using their wealth and influence to attack reproductive healthcare in the US and around the world.

“The decision overturning Roe v Wade opens the home front in the US and Europe to autocracy’s war on democracy,” Monique Camarra, co-host of the Kremlin File podcast, told this newspaper.

The unprecedented nature of this decision now risks undermining progress on abortion across the globe. But there is a flipside too. The renewed focus on the fragility of human rights – with women and girls’ rights often a canary in the backlash coalmine – could galvanise progressive movements and law-makers to take positive action to protect abortion rights from further attack.

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An Emboldened Opposition 

When news of Roe v Wade being overturned hit the headlines, anti-abortion groups and think tanks celebrated.

Heartbeat International – a crisis pregnancy service accused of spreading disinformation about abortion – called it the moment it “had been praying for”. Radical-right think tank The Heritage Foundation, which has multiple links to the UK Conservative Party, said it gives states “the power to fix America’s extreme abortion laws and enshrine protections for the unborn in law”. 

Across the Atlantic, extremist anti-abortion group CBR UK said “the UK is next” and Right to Life UK called it the “overturning of an unjust law”. 

“The main impact we are going to face is an emboldened opposition,” Martin Onyango, associate director of legal strategies for Africa at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, told Byline Times. “And an emboldened opposition movement is dangerous anywhere in the world. The opposition groups are getting bolder and braver. We expect them to intensify trying to influence other countries, including in Africa.”

In Kenya, where Onyango is based, abortion is protected as a constitutional right but is only permitted when there is a recognised threat to the mother’s life or health, or in emergency situations. It remains restricted by colonial era laws in the penal code. A recent constitutional court case, won by Onyango and his colleagues at the Centre, saw the High Court affirm the right to abortion under the constitution. The case involved a minor and a healthcare worker in the town of Malindi being arrested, after the healthcare worker provided post-abortion care. 

That the US was able to overturn abortion as a constitutional right after 50 years concerns Onyango, not least because the means that the anti-abortion movement used to win its battle could potentially be replicated elsewhere.

Roe v Wade as a judicial precedent and the setting up of abortion as a constitutional right has been used by Kenya and other countries,” he said. “In the Malindi case, we brought in the same principle reasoning that supported Roe v Wade – that forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy amounts to a violation of their rights including right to privacy.

"So when Roe v Wade falls, it means the reasoning for constitutional positions in countries like Kenya has fallen. That opens up a direct challenge to those constitutional provisions – although in our case, a referendum is required to change the constitution.”

In Europe, there are fears that opposition groups, including from the US, will use the overturning of Roe v Wade to push forward their own agendas. Between 2009 and 2018, US anti-abortion groups spent at least $81.3 million in Europe

“For decades, we've seen US fundamentalist organisations and the Christian-right working in the European region,” said Leah Hoctor. “There are active anti-abortion organisations in the European region who will seek to capitalise on this, and who will seek to grow support for their beliefs and their anti abortion activism.”

The majority of countries in Europe allow women access to safe, legal abortion, but there are exceptions.

Last January, Poland extended its already draconian abortion bans to include a ban on terminations in cases of foetal anomaly, while in Malta the procedure is banned in all cases. In Italy, where abortion is permitted, there has seen a concerning backlash against a woman’s right to choose, with increasing numbers of doctors refusing to perform abortions and populist leaders such as Matteo Salvini blaming abortion for causing a “demographic winter”. 

Room for Hope

While the overturning of Roe v Wade will embolden anti-abortion actors, the global trend when it comes to reproductive rights is a positive one. 

In June, Germany overturned a Nazi-era law that had prohibited the advertising of abortion services. France, the Netherlands and Spain have also taken steps to improve access to reproductive healthcare – despite fervent opposition from Christian fundamentalists. 

"The decision out of the US Supreme Court could actually galvanise the potential for even increased progressive reform across European countries,” Leah Hoctor told Byline Times. “We are calling on European leaders that support reproductive rights to put this support into action now, and to really take steps to bring European laws and policies into line with World Health Organisation guidance.”

Progress on reproductive rights is also happening in the Global South. In Kenya, the Malindi case was “a great milestone, because gradually we are chipping away at the restrictions we have, when it comes to abortion care in this country,” said Onyango.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, more and more states are liberalising abortion laws in what has become known as the 'green wave' movement due to the green scarves, flags and sashes worn by pro-abortion activists.

In 2020, Argentina legalised abortion, while abortion is now available on request to any woman up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy in Mexico City and the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Colima, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California Sur. Colombia legalised abortion on demand up to 24 weeks in February, while Chile is planning a referendum on making abortion a constitutional right. 

“The green wave across Latin America is a movement that has had so much impact in terms of systemic change in that region,” Hoctor added. “It's very important to underline that the global picture is a very hopeful one, and a very progressive one.” 

Additional reporting by Heidi Siegmund-Cuda

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The End of Roe v Wade is Just the Beginning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/06/2022 - 8:01pm in

The decision to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling will strip human rights from millions of women and girls and threatens the rights of minority groups across the US

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That it was inevitable did not lessen the magnitude of the shock. 

When the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade – the 1973 case that allowed for nationwide access to safe, legal abortion in America – was leaked in May, both pro- and anti-abortion actors knew that it was only a matter of weeks before the right to abortion would end for millions of women, girls and pregnant people. 

But, despite that knowledge, when the decision was confirmed, the screams of despair from pro-abortion activists mingled with the cries of joy from anti-abortion groups gathered outside the Supreme Court. 

“This is a moment of trauma,” host of the Resistance Mom podcast Andrea Hildebran Smith told Byline Times

Within hours, the first states enacted 'trigger laws' – legislation to ban abortion that had been put in place ready for the day Roe v Wade was overturned. Missouri went first, banning abortion in almost all cases, making it a class B felony. Such a category comes with a prison sentence of up to 15 years. 

As he signed the new law, Attorney General Eric Shmitt called the decision “a monumental day for the sanctity of life”. Missouri still has the death penalty; recorded 89 domestic abuse deaths in 2018; and in 2020 had 1,426 gun deaths. Its maternal mortality rate is 16.4 per 100,000 live births. 

Arkansas and Kentucky have now banned abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is under threat. Women and girls who do not want to be pregnant, or who are pregnant in cases of rape and incest, will no longer be able to terminate a pregnancy. Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota have also introduced bans. 

In the space of three days, 11.5 million women and girls have lost their right to bodily autonomy in a country with a pro-choice majority. All these states, which boast of being 'pro-life', have the death penalty as a legal penalty for crimes.

More bans will follow in the coming days and months in Alabama; Arizona; Georgia; Idaho; Iowa; Michigan; Mississippi; North Dakota; Ohio; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.

Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska are also likely to implement bans. As previously reported by Byline Times, the new laws will impact 64 million women and girls (not all of child bearing age).

The Lives of Women and Girls

Many of the states that have already banned, or are set to ban, abortion had carried out a long-term assault on abortion services in their communities, closing reproductive healthcare clinics or imposing 'TRAP' (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws which made it almost impossible for clinics to survive. Before the decision was published, Kentucky had only one remaining abortion clinic. 

But, as law-makers across the states signed their trigger bills into legislation, those who had dedicated their lives to providing abortion services to women and girls were forced to cancel appointments, shut their doors, and come up with new strategies to support those in need of reproductive healthcare. 

“The Supreme Court’s decision to explicitly overturn Roe v Wade is already causing devastating consequences for abortion access across the country,” said Dr Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organisation committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. “Our hearts go out to the patients and providers seeking a path forward.”

For women and girls living in the states that have banned abortion, there are limited choices.

Those who can afford to travel can go to states where abortion is expected to remain legal, such as New York or California. But this option is simply not available for the poorest and most vulnerable in society – for the teenage girl who cannot be expected to miss school, escape the house, pay for a flight and accommodation, and pay for abortion care; for the single mum who cannot get time off work or additional childcare. 

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Others may seek to order pills online. Far too many will resort to unsafe abortion methods. 

Of course, many women and girls will be forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, with all the mental and physical health impacts that brings. We know, too, from the death of Savita Halappanaver in Ireland, and the deaths of Izabela and Agnieszka in Poland, that women with wanted pregnancies who suffer miscarriages or complications will lose their lives, as doctors left with few options by the bans avoid providing life-saving abortion care. Some law-makers have said that they will deny abortion care even in cases of ectopic pregnancy – condemning women to death.

“Decades of research consistently show that abortion bans and restrictions don’t reduce unintended pregnancy or demand for abortion, and they certainly do not help people improve their health,” according to Dr Palacio. “Rather, they impose significant hurdles to obtaining care, causing stress for people in need of abortion and leading some to experience forced pregnancy and all its troubling consequences.”

A 50 Year Fight – And Worse To Come?

The Supreme Court's decision represents the victory of a 50-year fight by the religious and far-right in America to overturn Roe v Wade and end the right to safe, legal abortion.

That fight saw the marriage of Republican law-makers – some of whom like Ronald Reagan had previously signed bills to decriminalise abortion in their own states – with the ‘moral majority’ represented by activists such as Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly. 

Abortion became a wedge issue that stood in for religious freedom, with organisations proclaiming to protect religious liberty. The Alliance Defending Freedom, for instance, achieved legal wins to ban buffer zones protecting clinics. So-called ‘partial birth abortion’ helped to chip away at access to reproductive healthcare. 

But it was the victory of Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence that finally allowed the anti-abortion minority to push through their agenda. 

Despite having once told reporters that he was pro-choice, Trump knew that in order to win the evangelical vote needed to propel him to power, he had to take an anti-abortion position. He was, after all, running against one of the most famous pro-choice women in the world, Hillary Clinton. According to the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, when Trump mentioned "partial birth abortion" during the Las Vegas presidential debate, that was the moment “he won the pro-life vote”. 

Throughout his presidency, Trump appointed mostly-male, anti-abortion judges across the nation’s courts, allowing for the creation of the trigger laws. He was supported in this by the anti-abortion Federalist Society, which trains conservative lawyers.

Trump also used his presidency to nominate Federalist Society-approved anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court to create a conservative majority on the benches: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh – who was accused of historic sexual assault during the nomination process – and Amy Coney-Barrett. Both Kavanaugh and Coney-Barrett said that they would not overturn Roe v Wade if appointed to the court. Both broke their word. 

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom funded law firms drafting anti-abortion bills and defended the Mississippi law that triggered the Supreme Court decision. Religious right groups such as the Thomas More Society, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the American Centre for Law and Justice submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court arguing against Roe v Wade

As this newspaper has documented, dark money groups have been funding the efforts to overturn Roe v Wade for decades.

A post-Roe v Wade world means that women and girls in the US have lost one of the most fundamental human rights: bodily integrity. Black and ethnic minority women, and women in poverty, will be worst impacted. But the Christian and far-right won’t stop there. There are clear warning signs that they will now seek to reverse progress on LGBTIQ and civil rights. 

The end of Roe v Wade, according to disinformation specialist Dave Troy, “signifies the roll-back of rights in the future, taking us away from progressive pluralistic democracy and back to something much darker and revanchist”.

Author Margaret Atwood has also laid out her fears for the future. “They want to go back to white male property owners being in control of the vote,” the writer of The Handmaid’s Tale observed. “Women aren't mentioned in the original Constitution, have no political power, are not therefore full citizens in law, and got the vote in the US only in 1920, via an amendment to the Constitution. Clearly, amendments can be overturned. What's next?”

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‘If I Had Raped Her, I Would have At Least Remembered It’: Inside the Westminster Sexual Misconduct Scandal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 7:48pm in

An environment of hyper-masculinity, a culture of staying silent to advance and protect careers and a backlash against the ‘Me Too’ movement – Adam Bienkov, Sian Norris and Sascha Lavin lift the lid on an endemic crisis at the heart of British politics 

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“I genuinely think Westminster is beyond saving now,” Tara O’Reilly, a former Labour Party staffer who left Parliament after speaking out about the abusive and predatory behaviour so many young women still suffer there, told this newspaper. “It’s literally diseased and I don’t think there is the political will on any side of the political spectrum to change it.”

O’Reilly entered Westminster as an idealistic, young working-class woman who was determined to make a real difference. After starting as a parliamentary researcher for a Labour MP, she quickly became a rising star in the party. Hoping to change the political culture that had excluded so many people from backgrounds like hers, she set up a cross-party organisation designed to help young women from all backgrounds get their foot inside the Palace.

But after years of witnessing and experiencing abusive and harassing behaviour from male colleagues and MPs, O’Reilly said she became completely “burned out”.

“It’s so sad,” she told Byline Times. “I set up Women in Westminster to try and help women get into positions like the one I was in… but I absolutely wouldn’t advise women to work in Parliament now.”

She describes life in Westminster as “lawless” with the sort of sexually abusive behaviour practiced by some men within the Palace dismissed by senior figures as “just politics”.

“If you really wanted to, you could get away with pretty much anything,” she said. “I remember a few years ago, when I was working in Westminster, an MP who had been accused of rape at the time came over to speak to the journalist who I was having a coffee with. And he immediately, when he was introduced to me, made these jokes about what he was accused of having done. He was saying things like ‘if I’d done it, if I had raped her, I would have at least remembered it’. And that was the moment where I was just like, ‘yeah Westminster is done for me’.”

For sexual predators who work in Parliament, young ambitious staffers can seem like the perfect target. Unlike some workplaces, where staff are actively encouraged to speak out, young women in Parliament are often pressured into keeping quiet.

“You are inadvertently, and also often quite directly, told to keep your mouth shut”, O’Reilly said. “You are told that it will affect your career, and that it will ruin the reputation of the party that you’re trying to get elected. I was repeatedly told that ‘you’re going to make the Labour Party look bad and you’re going make Parliament look bad’ and ‘you really care about democracy, don’t you Tara?’.”


Many of the documented cases of assault and sexual harassment in Westminster have taken place within the confines of Parliament’s bars. Yet calls to reform Parliament’s drinking culture have been heavily resisted.

Last month, the Prime Minister dismissed calls for restrictions on drinking in Parliament, telling his own MPs that “had alcohol been banned in 1940 we might not have won the Second World War”.

Parliament’s watering holes – including the famous ‘Strangers’ Bar’ which backs onto a terrace overlooking the Thames – are where careers are often made and broken in Westminster. Yet this culture of alcohol and patronage can exclude those who are unable or unwilling to take part.

Labour MP Stella Creasy is among those who have spoken out about how his culture has helped exclude women and those with young families from getting ahead in politics.

“If you are a young activist who wants to get into politics then hanging around the bars and making middle-aged men who should know better, feel like they’re big and important because they might give you a job, is how you get a job,” she told Byline Times.

Some men use this culture to make themselves the “gatekeepers” to a career in politics, Creasy said, with sexual favours sometimes held out as a requirement for advancement. 

“The worst thing for me is that their employers know about this behaviour and they basically turn a blind eye to it,” she added. “Even when they’ve got clear evidence of somebody admitting that they basically said ‘yeah, because I run your office, you know, this girl’s got to sleep with me if she wants a job’ and they just say ‘well, boys will be boys’. So it’s everything to do with power and everything to do with people feeling like they’re special and different from the rest of us.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy speaking in the House of Commons with her newborn baby strapped to her

There was some hope after the ‘Me Too’ scandal broke in 2017 that the toxic culture pervading Westminster may finally be tackled. However, Stella Creasy believes the culture has only got worse.

“I was looking back at an article I wrote in 2018 about Me Too and everyone’s saying ‘oh, you know, is this going to be the big sea-change moment?’” she said. "But, if anything, the backlash that inevitably comes when you start to challenge that power to be privileged, and that power to be entitled, gets bigger every single time.”

Part of the reason for the resistance to change is that some of the biggest abusers and their allies are often in positions of power themselves. “It’s a case where everyone just protects each other’s skeletons so that their own skeletons don’t fall out of the closet,” Tara O’Reilly told Byline Times.

Speaking out about this culture comes at a cost.

O’Reilly has since moved on from Westminster and said it would be very difficult for her to ever return to Parliament.

“If I wanted to go back into Westminster, I think I would really struggle to find an employer who would be willing to take me on because I have a whistleblower reputation now,” she said. “Speaking up in the way that I did, and then putting my personal life at risk, with my finances and my not coming from a posh background, like most of the people I know there, was a huge, huge risk and a problem for me when I did eventually leave.”

Anyone walking around Parliament’s corridors soon notices the many photos, pictures and statues of men dotted around the estate. There are few similar portrayals of female politicians. In large part this is due to the fact that, until fairly recently, women were an overwhelming minority in this place.

Before Tony Blair came to power in 1997, just 10% of all MPs were women. By 2019, the figure had more than tripled to 35%.

But while these women – dubbed ‘Blair’s Babes’ by tabloids – changed how Westminster looked, not everyone was happy about it.

For Professor Sarah Childs, who co-authored the ‘Good Parliament’ report – on how to make the House of Commons more representative and inclusive – “those who previously had their power, unquestioned, are looking to reassert their positions”.

“What we might be seeing is actually a backlash to the increased presence of women and other groups in Parliament,” she told Byline Times. “There’s a recognition that the composition of the place, whether that’s on the administrative and/or on the political side, is shifting and that those new groups are making different demands on the institution.” 

Few politicians represent this macho culture like Boris Johnson himself.

The Prime Minister, who has a long record of making sexist comments about women, has made little noticeable effort to reform how Westminster works. Indeed, some of those around him have reportedly actively tried to stop it being exposed. After female Conservative MPs blew the whistle on their colleague Neil Parish for watching porn inside the Commons, Johnson’s chief strategist David Canzini reportedly criticised them for speaking out about it.

Prof Childs argues that there is “a hyper-masculinity that we see associated with the Johnson Government”, which she believes may explain the sheer number of abuse cases reported during his premiership.

Just as the power held by one man – Boris Johnson – has contributed to Westminster’s sexual harassment epidemic, so too has the power held by all men in Parliament. As academic and author of ‘Sexual Harassment in the UK Parliament’, Christina Julios, told Byline Times, an unequal Parliament is an unsafe workplace for women.

Although female representation in the Commons is at record levels, men still dominate in Westminster. As revealed by the Byline Intelligence Team’s investigations, only a quarter of the highest-earning civil servants are women; just over a third of special advisors to ministers are women; and, as of November, 11 Government departments had no women of colour ministers. 

Women not only occupy fewer top-level positions, they also earn less. This newspaper has revealed that male special advisors and civil servants are paid more than their female counterparts, demonstrating how entrenched gender inequality is. The gender pay gap also exists amongst MPs: on average, for every £1 a male MP earns from a second job, a female MP will earn just 37p.

MISOGYNY IN NUMBERS

  • 56 MPs currently face sexual harassment investigations, including three Cabinet ministers
  • 72 Conservative MPs had not attended parliamentary anti-sexual harassment training by October 2020
  • A 63% gender pay gap exists in MPs’ second jobs
  • The top 10 highest-paid male special advisors are paid 22% more than their female counterparts 
  • 75% of the highest-earning UK civil servants are men
  • As of last November, 11 government departments have no women of colour 
  • 36% of special advisors to ministers are women

This intertwining of power and sexual harassment means perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Conservative MPs Charlie Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths had the whip restored by Theresa May despite facing allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour at the time. Elphicke was later found guilty of assaulting a parliamentary worker and another woman; while Griffiths was found to have raped his wife and sent “depraved” messages to two women constituents. 

The former Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan, sentenced last month to prison for sexually assaulting a minor, was initially defended by his Conservative colleague Crispin Blunt, who later retracted his statement. MP Rob Roberts was suspended following allegations of sexual harassment – but has since had his Conservative Party membership restored and continues to sit as an independent. 

This is not purely a Conservative issue, however. 

Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins was eventually forced to quit the party despite previously being promoted by former leader Jeremy Corbyn following allegations of sexual harassment. 

The Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Anthony Lester faced allegations of sexual harassment – that were dealt with so poorly, a House of Lords committee responsible for members’ privileges and conduct published a damning report saying the handling risked putting other women off from reporting sexual misconduct in the future.

Just this week, SNP MP Patrick Grady was suspended from Parliament for two days following a complaint about him inappropriately touching a 19-year-old member of staff.

Yet, even when men are caught harassing women, the power they wield means they often get away with it. For Tara O’Reilly, this failure to act against abusers means women are now even more reluctant to speak out.

“When the ‘Me Too’ scandal first hit Westminster there was a sense of optimism, like, ‘oh my God, finally it’s on the radar and something will change’ and so people were willing to take the risks in speaking out”, she told Byline Times.

“But I think now that people have seen how Westminster hasn’t changed, people won’t speak out or report abuse that has happened to them. The truth is that Westminster hasn’t changed in the slightest and I don’t think it ever will.”

The Rape Crisis charity supports women who have experienced rape, sexual assault or abuse or any type of sexual violence. Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 if you have been affected by any of the issues highlighted in this investigation

Have you got an experience to share about sexual misconduct or misogyny in Westminster? Contact Byline Times’ Political Editor Adam Bienkov confidentially by emailing adam@bylinetimes.com

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What Depp v Heard Tells Us About Toxic Fandom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 7:18pm in

Networked harassment, parasocial relationships and good old fashioned misogyny have all turned a domestic abuse into a spectator sport as part of the #MeToo backlash, says Sian Norris

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It was the TV event of the Christmas season. Stuffed with chocolates and leftover turkey, the nation sat down to enjoy A Very British Scandal, a miniseries packed with period detail and perfectly-applied red lipstick, detailing the scandalous mid-century divorce of the Argylls.

In between envying silk shirts and high-waisted slacks, I sent out a tweet referring to the male lead Paul Bettany’s friendship with actor Johnny Depp – a friendship that involved swapping text messages where they 'joked' about drowning and burning Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard.

The pair had only been married for 15 months when Heard left Depp and accused him of domestic abuse. The story was picked up by The Sun, where Dan Wootton called Depp a "wife beater". He sued for libel, but in October 2020 Judge Mr Justice Nicol said the newspaper proved its claims against Depp to be "substantially true" and found 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic abuse had occurred.

In the text exchange, Bettany had suggested subjecting Heard to a drowning test – the mediaeval method of determining if a woman was a witch. “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!” Depp responded. “I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” 

“My thoughts entirely,” replied Bettany. 

An average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the US. The vast majority are women.

What happened next surprised even me, a veteran of Twitter pile-ons. For at least three days, I received tweet after tweet, extolling the virtues of Depp and condemning Heard in the vilest, misogynistic language. My block button went into overdrive as I heard from Depp fans convinced of his innocence and victimisation, of my misandrist ignorance, and of Heard’s evil.

Numerous people informed me rather loftily that the exchange referenced a Monty Python joke. I can’t say I’m an aficionado of Python history, but I don’t think Cleese and Palin ever discussed raping a corpse. 

My experience of the Depp “stans” (a term derived from the Eminem song ‘Stan’ to denote extreme fandom) meant I had tried not to engage with the return of Depp and Heard to the courtroom – this time in the US with a jury and in front of an army of TV cameras. Depp had sued Heard for $50 million for defamation, regarding an op-ed she wrote about being a victim of domestic abuse. Heard countersued for $100 million.

But it didn’t really matter that I had decided not to engage. I couldn’t escape the courtroom that had turned allegations of domestic abuse into a form of grotesque entertainment for the masses. Whenever I checked my Instagram or Facebook feeds, I was met with pro-Depp content… despite my private Instagram account being mostly friends, books and classic movie clips. I wasn’t following the case, but social media made damn sure the case followed me. 

We now know that The Daily Wire, a conservative outlet founded by Ben Shapiro, spent thousands of dollars promoting anti-Heard and pro-Depp messaging on social media. Heard also claims Depp orchestrated a “trolling campaign” against her, with his promises that he would humiliate her leading to some experts suggesting the two court cases are a form of continued abuse.

Bettany’s and Depp’s text messages were beginning to feel accurate – with the peanut munching crowd turning the scene into less of a defamation case and more of a witch trial. 

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Toxic Fandom

The behaviour of Depp fans during the court case demonstrates an intense and often toxic bond between the star and the people who have chosen to make him their cause. 

“In the 1950s, a theory developed called ‘parasocial relationships’”, Dr Kirsty Sedgman of the University of Bristol told Byline Times. Sedgman researches audiences and fan culture. “The theory arose with the advent of TVs in the home, and parasocial interactions describe the intense, personal sense of connections that viewers can have with celebrities”.

Such interactions help to explain the identification of his fans with Depp – a man beamed into their living rooms and fantasies for more than three decades. It's the belief that he is someone they know and who would be their friend or even lover if they met. Women in particular seem to have a vested interest in defending and supporting him in a way that we would normally only expect of people we know ‘in real life’. 

While fandom can be a positive force  – creating communities and enriching culture – there is such a thing as toxic fandom. That toxicity has been on full display as Depp enthusiasts use misogynistic language and threats against Heard in the name of defending their fan object. 

“Toxic fandom used to be confined to the margins,” Sedgman explained. “Sub-cultural bickering between niche, highly-invested communities. Now it’s right at the centre of mainstream culture, with fandom being the battleground for playing out broader political conflicts”.

That political conflict is, in this case, domestic abuse and the backlash against the #MeToo movement. It’s a conflict of who gets to be believed, who gets to be a victim, and who has power. And that’s a problem. 

“It’s become a watercooler moment, the reality show we are all talking about,” explained Dr Phoenix Andrews, who is writing a book about political fandom. “People with no interest in celebrity culture previously, they now have an opinion on this case. But this isn’t a reality show, it’s real people in a courtroom, with people out to destroy Amber Heard as a human”. 

Networked Harassment

Many of the Depp fans are legacy fans – people who enjoyed him in his major film roles throughout the 1990s and 2000s. But Andrews has found that the “watercooler moment” effect means people who have never really taken an interest in Depp before have become heavily invested in the case, become entrenched in their positions, and become part of networks and communities that share the same viewpoint on Heard’s status as a victim or villain. 

“Because of the way the case is being shared on mainstream and local media, people make snap judgments and once they have an opinion on Depp or Heard, it’s hard to climb down from it,” Andrews explained. “Then, if they post their view on social media, they will get lovebombed by people who share that position – and likely receive hate from people who think the opposite. They find a community and can easily go down a radicalisation spiral, which is how you end up with someone who was pro-MeToo becoming really misogynistic”. 

When Depp is under attack, the community that identifies with him and is invested in defending him against Heard feels under attack too – and its members believe they have a moral duty to defend one another and, ultimately, their fan object. 

This turns the community aspect of fandom which can be so enriching into something toxic and leads to what academic Dr Alice E Marwick calls “networked harassment”. Rather than the harassment being one-on-one, it becomes a swarm of people who are defending their cause – in this case Depp – with a missionary zeal. 

We now know that The Daily Wire, a conservative outlet founded by Ben Shapiro, spent thousands of dollars promoting anti-Heard and pro-Depp messaging on social media.

“When you become part of a community, if anyone criticises your position it is like they are criticising your country, your family, your first born child,” said Andrews. “It suddenly becomes very important to defend your position, especially in front of your new social network. And if someone spots a person who has transgressed the norms of your community and is disagreeing with a member of your community, it becomes a moral duty to pile in and give back up. People feel they have to defend the honour and legitimacy of their group – where an attack on one member is an attack on all”. 

Harassment then, according to Marwick, becomes a “mechanism to enforce social order” with a networked group escalating the harassment while being fuelled by a moral outrage that their social norms have been violated. 

This is not solely an issue for the Depp versus Heard case. It’s something we have seen with sports teams, sci-fi fandoms, political parties and even Brexit v Remain. 

But this is not a hypothetical debate. It cannot be forgotten, as people declare themselves TeamHeard or TeamDepp and use vile hashtags to proudly display their misogyny, that at the heart of this case is domestic abuse. 

“The scary thing is we are reframing domestic abuse as entertainment,” said Sedgman. “It’s something we are being encouraged to actively invest in, like a sporting match between two equally powerful opponents. But people who have studied the case would agree that the idea the two participants have equal power is nonsensical. As a society, we are very bad about thinking through unequal operations of power”. 

Domestic abuse isn’t a spectacle or a battle of the memes. It’s a crime that impacts 1.2 million people in England and Wales every year, that disproportionately impacts women (83% of victims who experience more than 10 incidents of abuse are women) and where male abusers kill at least 100 women every year.

An average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the US. The vast majority are women.

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Mainstreamed White Supremacy Sits Behind Social Media Hate of Kamala Harris

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

A new report reveals the horrifying abuse sent on Twitter to America's first woman of colour Vice President – but such racist hate is becoming normalised in the US

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US Vice President Kamala Harris has been the target of hateful and violent abuse online and Twitter has failed to react, a new report has found.

The Bot Sentinel research comes at a time of rising and mainstreamed white supremacism in the US, and a white nationalist movement emboldened by Donald Trump's presidency.

Trump was famously endorsed by white supremacists such as Klu Klux Klan Leader David Duke; referred to “fine people on both sides” following the Unite the Right rally; and hired high-ranking staff members with far-right beliefs and ambitions

He told the far-right Proud Boys group to "stand back and stand by" during Black Lives Matter protests – a former member said that Trump was "speaking their language".

The report also comes as the tech billionaire Elon Musk has bid to own Twitter, with the promise that he will restore freedom of speech to the platform. Human rights campaigners have expressed concern that this will allow more racist and sexist language to proliferate – not least because Musk has endorsed Trump's return to the social media network. The far-right US activist Nick Fuentes celebrated the prospect of a Musk-led Twitter. Fuentes openly mocked Kamala Harris over her stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Abuse uncovered by the report includes tweets using racist and misogynistic language, and men sharing manipulated photos of Harris engaging in lewd sex acts. 

A total of 4,265 problematic and disparaging tweets about Harris were sent in the first 135 days of 2022. However, of the 40 tweets reported to Twitter, only two were removed by the social network.

Tweets that were allowed to remain included those referring to Harris as the n-word. A tweet discussing assassinating the Vice President was removed but the account was allowed to remain active. 

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Normalised Hate

The scale of online hate directed at Kamala Harris fits a pattern of increasingly overt and normalised racism and white supremacy on the US right and far-right. 

On 14 May, a white supremacist murdered 10 people, the majority of whom were African American, in Buffalo, New York. A manifesto published by the killer indulged in far-right conspiracy such as the 'Great Replacement'.

While such extremist hate used to exist on the fringes of society, ideas like the Great Replacement are now becoming mainstream.

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is an elected politician, but that did not stop her from attending the America First Political Action Conference – a gathering set up by white nationalist Nick Fuentes who has referred to the conspiracy as the “Great Replacement reality”. 

Meanwhile, Republican law-makers have declared war on African American culture and literature, banning books that it considers to promote 'critical race theory' – an academic discipline that has become public enemy number one to the white nationalist right. Censored books include Beloved by Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison. 

Perhaps the most blatant example of mainstreamed support for white supremacy has been the response to the 6 January insurrection, where known far-right militias such as the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers stormed the US Capitol with plans to take politicians who had voted to confirm Joe Biden’s election hostage. 

Following the events that day, during which four people lost their lives, various Republicans backtracked from their initial condemnation of the insurrectionists, calling the attack “legitimate political discourse”.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz had initially said the event was a “violent terrorist attack”, before revising his assessment when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson called him “dumb”. Cruz told Carlson that he would never use the word “terrorist” to describe the “patriots” that were at the Capitol that day. 

A Chilling Effect

While women are more likely to experience abuse on social media platforms, women of colour are disproportionately targeted and suffer the intersection of misogynistic and racist attacks.

A report by Amnesty International into online abuse of women found that Diane Abbott, who at the time was the most senior black woman MP in the UK's Labour Party, had received half of all the abuse sent to MPs during the 2017 General Election. Abbott reported that abuse against her increased after the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess by a Muslim extremist last year. 

Abbott, who was the first black woman MP when she was elected in 1987, has spoken about the impact of the abuse on herself and her staff. She warned that the levels of abuse risked putting women, and black women in particular, off entering politics. 

Those warnings have been echoed by numerous women in public life.

MPs from across the political spectrum who stood down in the 2019 General Election have spoken about how online abuse played a part in them leaving politics. Speaking to Channel 4’s Dispatches, former Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in tears as she described the abuse she received and how it led to her changing her career. “It was a shame,” she said. “As I felt like I could have done some good.” 

Allen was speaking to Kim Leadbeater, the Labour MP whose sister Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016. Leadbeater herself was the target of misogynistic and homophobic abuse when she stood for election in Batley-on-Spen, Cox’s former constituency, in summer 2021.

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What the Controversial Conservative American Conference in Hungary Tells Us About the New Far-Right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 7:37pm in

Out of the shadows and into the mainstream, Sian Norris examines the line-up of right-wing politicians and far-right activists at a controversial conference in Hungary

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Babies, birth-rates and the Bible.

A week after a killer targeting black Americans in Buffalo cited the 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory in his manifesto, that same conspiracy was going mainstream in Budapest – as the conservative, religious and far-right gathered in Hungary’s capital to strategise, network and celebrate.

Top-billing at the US-based Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself, but eclipsing even the host was a video link talk from former US President Donald Trump – the leader most responsible for normalising white supremacy in American politics over the past decade. 

The line-up was a who’s who of the modern far-right in politics and in media.

Turning Point USA’s Jack Posobiec, the far-right US blogger who has used antisemitic symbols and promoted the fabricated 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory which smeared prominent Democrats as child abusers, closed the conference.

There was Matthew Tyrmand, board member of Project Veritas – the far-right group funded by US dark money and known for its entrapment techniques of progressive organisations.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was on the list – recently accused of normalising the Great Replacement conspiracy. 

British readers may not recognise the name, but Zsolt Bayer was also in the line-up – the TV talk show host who has referred to Jewish people as “excrement” and to Roma people as “animals” and used racist epithets to describe black people. 

Alongside the provocateurs were far-right politicians from parties such as the Brotherhood of Italy, as well as Italy’s Lega, Spain’s Vox, France’s Rassemblement Nationale and, of course, Fidesz – Hungary’s leading party known for its attacks on Muslims, people seeking asylum, the LGBTIQ community and the free press. 

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Making an appearance from the UK was ‘Mr Brexit’ Nigel Farage, who joined via video link. Conservative and Reform UK party donor George Farmer was a confirmed speaker, alongside his wife, Candace Owens. The latter was formerly in charge of communications at Turning Point USA and dubbed in the programme as “the favourite influencer of Donald Trump”. 

Farmer donated £45,000 to the Conservative Party and an additional £5,000 to Conservative MP Ben Bradley before switching allegiance to Reform UK – donating £200,000 to the artist formerly known as the Brexit Party. His father, Sir Michael Farmer, is the Conservative Party’s biggest donor, having given more than £6 million since 2010. 

Sir Michael Farmer now sits in the House of Lords alongside chair of the Office for Students, Lord James Wharton – who also spoke at CPAC Hungary. His presence on the same day as Bayer has raised questions about the Conservatives' commitment to antisemitism and anti-racism – but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a party which chairs a Council of Europe group packed with political representatives of the far-right parties present at CPAC. 

An Agenda for Europe

That CPAC has become a gathering for antisemites, racists and conspiracists was clear from the inclusion of men like Trump, Bayer and Posobiec. 

But alongside them was the growing influence of white Christian nationalism – with representatives from the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ and anti-divorce organisations that once made up 'Agenda Europe' – the shadowy network that linked anti-rights actors across the region. 

There was Grégor Puppinck from the European Centre for Law and Justice – the European arm of the American Centre for Law and Justice which has campaigned against abortion and equal marriage. Puppinck told the conference: "Without fatherhood there cannot be any lasting fatherland." 

Puppinck was a prominent member of the Agenda Europe network, as was Poland’s ultra-Catholic legal charity Ordo Iuris. Its President Jerzcy Kwaśniewski spoke at CPAC. 

In 2016, Ordo Iuris drafted a total ban of abortion in Poland and supported moves to increase abortion restrictions in 2020. It is currently running a campaign to monitor compliance with the abortion laws in Poland’s hospitals. At least three women have died since January 2021, when the law was tightened, after being refused life-saving reproductive healthcare.

Patryk Jaki, a Polish MEP who hosted a screening of an anti-abortion film and who has spoken of the importance of the family to build a “strong Poland”, was another speaker. 

Opening the programme was Miklós Szánthó, of the Centre for Fundamental Rights – a Hungarian organisation that serves as a Government mouthpiece for its anti-LGBTIQ agenda. Little surprise that Szánthó was on a bill with Ordo Iuris – the two organisations signed a cooperation agreement in February 2021. The Centre had four speakers on the line-up.

The prominence of speakers at CPAC who push an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ and white Christian nationalist agenda tells us something interesting and disturbing about the 'culture war' issues being waged by the modern far-right. 

It is a movement that has folded white supremacy with male supremacy – that pits as its enemies black people and migrant people, alongside feminists, anti-racist campaigners and LGBTIQ people.

It wants to ban abortion, remove civil rights from black and ethnic minority people, and roll-back progress to a time when LGBTIQ people simply weren’t supposed to exist.

It believes that women should be submissive to men, and that men should have supremacy in the household and the state. Its members want to end protections against gender-based violence. 

We have known this for years. Throughout the 2010s, Agenda Europe and its members strategised on how to roll-back women’s rights – from abortion and domestic abuse protections, to political participation and access to public space. They campaigned against equal marriage and dreamed of an end to legal divorce. Its members lobbied their national governments and the European Union to stymie progress on LGBTIQ rights, although not always successfully. Conservative strategists and donors played their part. 

But what makes CPAC interesting – and disturbing – is how what once happened in the shadows is now happening in the mainstream.

Conservative peers are no longer embarrassed to share a stage with racists and antisemites. US and European anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ politicians and actors are coming together to pat each other on the back and share tips on how to reverse human rights.

The fascistic natural order strategised by Agenda Europe in the 2010s came to a conference centre in Budapest – and world leaders were there to wave it in. 

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Groped, Taunted and Followed Home: The Legal Observers of Protests Targeted by Officers for Peacefully Policing the Police

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Josiah Mortimer digs into a shocking new report on the challenges faced by those trying to defend our right to protest

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Legal observers have described being groped, followed home and spied on by police in a new report on the state of protest oversight in Britain.

The Article 11 Trust – set up to defend protest rights – has published shocking research into the treatment of legal observers by the police. 

While legal observers do not have formal legal status, their role is internationally recognised by the UN Human Rights Committee as necessary for the exercise of the right to peacefully assemble. They are often seen in high vis jackets at protests, handing out ‘Know Your Rights’ cards to activists and providing support to those arrested.

But police monitoring groups fear that they are targeted in the UK by hostile police officers – with legal observers who are females and people of colour at particular risk. 

The report, 'Protecting Protest – Police Treatment of Legal Observers in Britain', draws on the experiences of nearly 40 legal observers in Britain, a significant proportion of them still undertaking the role. They highlighted harassment, violence and discrimination by officers while monitoring police behaviour at protests. 

Several high-profile cases of police mistreatment of these volunteers have emerged over the past two years.

Last March, Greater Manchester Police sparked outrage after a woman was seen stripped down to her underwear and carried away by officers, during a 'Kill the Bill' protest. And following an incident on 1 May last year, three legal observers lodged complaints of assault against Greater Manchester Police, including one allegation of sexual assault where “a male officer grabbed a female legal observer’s chest”. On two occasions that day, an observer witnessed police pushing “two women [observers] very forcefully”. 

Sexist Policing

The Article 11 Trust found that more than half – 56% – of the legal observers interviewed faced gender-based discrimination from the police, ranging from patronising comments to sexual assault.

The vast majority of those interviewed also said that they had been deliberately obstructed in their work by the police, with participants describing being misled, threatened with arrest, or subject to use of force to limit their effectiveness. 

One woman – who stopped doing legal observing before the pandemic – told Byline Times that she was often intimidated by police at protests, in her eyes deliberately.

“At the G8 Summit in Cardiff [in 2014], I was parking my car and I was greeted by police officers. They knew I was going... I’ve been asked to leave places, and then followed. I have seen sexual assaults. You don’t have to grab women by the chests, you can grab them by the shoulders. You don’t have to intimidate them through physical contact.

“It’s the ‘innocent’ little conversations from officers: ‘hi Janie, how are you?’ when I hadn’t said my name. And calling me ‘love’. The Met Police’s intelligence on legal observers is appalling. There’s no guidance, and no training."  

One complainant said: “I am petite in size and find the male officers use their size to intimidate... At an anti-fracking demo, male officers were pressing themselves up against my back as well as female activists. It was disgusting and made me feel sick.” 

Another added: “I’ve witnessed sexualised actions by police, mainly on women – being grabby, lifting items of clothing... I have been followed and filmed by the evidence 'gatherers'."

Another observer interviewed for the report also said that they had been followed home – in their understanding, by a police officer – after observing a protest.

On one occasion "this really big male officer was shoving his body against me and kept saying that I couldn't touch him and to stop touching him – I wasn't," one female legal observer told the report's authors. "But if I pushed back I could have faced being arrested.” She said she was “shaking” after the incident.

Byline Times cannot verify the interviewees’ claims, but the Article 11 Trust says that all the testimonies are from legal observers with decades of collective experience monitoring demonstrations. 

Targeting Minorities

Racialised groups, including those at Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity protests, are more harshly policed than others, observers told the report's authors.

In March this year, four Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS) observers – three of whom were non-white – were arrested under Coronavirus regulations at a London demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The observers condemned the move as “an attack on vital community movements that hold the police to account”.

In a recent essay, two members of Black Protest Legal Support – Patricia Daley and Queenie Djan – explained how “the police’s interaction with black and brown protestors and legal observers alike has been starkly different to their interaction with white protestors”.

They described police repeatedly threatening and mocking black and brown observers for noting officers' badge numbers. 

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Who Polices the Police?

The report found that the policing of protest across Britain is “inconsistent” and influenced by the opinions and prejudices of senior officers – in other words, whether local police chiefs back the demonstrators or not.

The Article 11 Trust submitted Freedom of Information requests to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the College of Policing (CoP) and 17 police forces across the UK for any documentation or policy relating to legal observers. Of the 15 responses it received, Police Scotland was the only force to formally recognise observers’ roles. 

The Tactical Aid Unit within Greater Manchester Police, London's Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Defence, Police Scotland and Merseyside Police were identified as particularly hostile towards legal observers and protests more generally. 

Griff Ferris, a volunteer with the monitoring group Black Protest Legal Support, was arrested by the Met Police at a Kill the Bill demonstration in London last April – despite being clearly identified as a legal observer. 

“Under the COVID regulations, there was an exemption for doing work, and that includes voluntary work," he told Byline Times. "We spoke to the police... they said they didn’t care. They were told from ‘higher up’ that legal observers didn’t have an exemption." He was arrested, held overnight, and strip-searched after refusing to give his personal information. 

Police scrutiny group Netpol is warning that, with the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act this year, the protest landscape is set to worsen – and independent observers’ presence is “needed more than ever".

Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns manager at human rights group Liberty, told Byline Times that the reports of observers' experiences were “extremely concerning”. “Protest is a key way we can have our voices heard – and legal observers play a vital role in protecting the right to protest, ensuring the police act within the law and keeping people safe," she told Byline Times.

“If the police and Government believe that they are respecting protest rights, they should welcome the scrutiny that legal observers bring. Instead of giving the police more powers which are being routinely abused – particularly against women and people of colour – the Government should roll-back the powers of the police to prevent these kinds of abuses taking place.”

A spokesperson for Netpol said: “The National Police Chiefs Council must end the kind of aggressive treatment this report has documented – and properly recognise that the right to monitor the actions of the police is an essential part of protecting human rights.”

The National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and the Home Office did not respond to requests for comment. 

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