With Sad Puppies already trailing enough dirt around the landscape, I hesitated a long time before eventually deciding to write this up. One reason I hesitated – and also one reason I finally decided to write – is that much of the to-and-fro in this particular spat was done on a no-name basis, with Tweeters and Facebook posters not naming the people concerned. It also doesn’t help that one of the main instigators/protagonists was briefly off Facebook – in what I hope wasn’t a hack attack motivated by the controversy. And I certainly hesitated because there was right and wrong – and arguments for and against – on both sides. But I’m writing because of the way those arguments were undermined by the language and the approaches used.
This concerns veteran British horror writer David A. Riley, who also had a less well-known, though hardly hidden, career as an electoral candidate in the early 1980s for the National Front. As far as I can tell, he long since discontinued any active involvement in that or any other movement, but his brief involvement with the Weirdbook relaunch brought him onto some people’s radar and unleashed a series of attacks, by others, on Facebook and elsewhere against not only him, but also people who had Friended him on Facebook and otherwise had current or past associations with him. (And yes, it may be unfair to single out David A. Riley by name here without naming his opponents, but I think enough bad blood has already been spilt on this, and am naming only those in the public record outside Facebook.)
David A. Riley did reply personally to what was being said, in a Facebook post on a thread that has now gone down. Hence, I’m not going to repeat it word for word, only condense and paraphrase it – as accurately as I can – and the sentiments in this paragraph are his not mine. Riley admits he was in the NF from 1973 to mid-83, claiming that he never thought of it as fascist per se, despite less savoury elements within it. He states that he became sick of it c.1983 with the worst right-wing elements overwhelming the populist democratic wing, and left. He never saw himself as fascist, Nazi, or white supremacist.
I chose some words carefully there because, as may be obvious, I think the most charitable interpretation that can be put on this is that Riley must have been exceptionally naive to conclude that the NF wasn’t racist or fascistic in its tendencies from the start. I certainly had no such illusions growing up in the UK in the 1970s. Even if there was definite infiltration by more extreme neo-Nazis during the 1970s, the party was founded with the aid of such delightful people as the Racial Preservation Society to oppose immigration and multiculturalism in Britain.
That said, Riley left the NF and is no longer associated with it – to my knowledge at least – or to any active right-wing group, and again, as far as I know, doesn’t project significantly racist views in his current work, even to whatever degree H.P. Lovecraft did in his. (Although for some possible past concerns, see here.) Quite a few significant writers of impeccable left-wing pedigree, including Samuel R. Delany and Charles Stross, are still his friends on Facebook. Maybe they’ll change their minds now, but we’ll see. I’m one too, for now, partly to keep track of what’s going on, but also because after what happened, I feel like making a stand on the issue of personal conscience here.
And above all, Delany, Stross, & co. should probably be left to make their own call on that issue, without being called a Quisling, fellow traveler in white supremacism or actual racist/fascist, and other accusations leveled at some of Riley’s social media Friends and general acquaintances in a circle around Ramsey Campbell, for not unFriending and otherwise ostracizing him. I’m not going to say who made those comments, to spare their blushes, but some – launched across the Atlantic – basically claimed that British horror has been co-opted by a right-wing clique.
I could tick off every type of wrongful false or exaggerated accusation in the lexicon in what was said about Riley’s supposed “defenders” or “sympathisers”: association fallacy, guilt by association, hasty generalization, the ad hominem fallacy, collective guilt – all there. At times, they seemed to be reading off a script drawn up to demonstrate Orwell’s cases of the worst misuses of politicized language to damn its targets.
Simon Bestwick put it beautifully in a Facebook quote he gave me permission to quote:
I don’t like fascists.
I don’t like fascists because I think that racism is as ugly and hateful as it is pathetic and ridiculous.
I don’t like fascists because I think that woman are human beings who deserve the same rights and status as men, and aren’t submissive breeding machines.
I don’t like fascists because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay or transgender – and again, I believe that gay and transgender people deserve the same rights and status as the rest of us.
But most of all, I don’t like fascists because:
I don’t like people who try to tell others what to think.
I don’t like people who form mobs to hound other people for their opinions.
I don’t like people who try to force others to join lynch mobs.
I don’t like people who hound others because they won’t join lynch mobs.
I don’t like people who decide that other people’s private lives and personal choices are their business and constitute some terrible offence.
I don’t like people who believe that there’s such a thing as thoughtcrime.
And if you want a real-world example of the damage this kind of behaviour can do to the causes and principles it espouses, see the history of “no platform for fascists” here.
Plus, if Riley can’t turn around and repent his past follies, what hope is there for any of us? Maybe he hasn’t – but quite enough people seem to have concluded that once a fascist always a fascist, and damned him eternally. And Riley’s verdict on his own past may have been less than 100 percent convincing, but others obviously didn’t wait to read that before condemning him. And for opponents of virulent racism and poisonous attitudes, there are enough all-too-live and current targets to go after, without dredging up moribund and past ones.
The whole controversy appears to have died down, which is probably where it should be left – because there really are arguments on both sides. As one other great modern American horror writer put it – marvelously – if it’s someone who Captain America would have fought against, what else is there to say? On the other hand, knowing someone does not equal endorsing them, let alone sympathizing with them – and thought-policing to deduce the extent of someone’s sympathies, or tarring them with the blackest brush you can find just on suspicion, sounds like total Hydra tactics to me. And far too much hydra venom seems to have been spilt on this one.