Since the right-wing foot-soldiers of today's culture wars tend to be annoying, vapid YouTubers, it made sense that, sooner or later, one of them would pull a stupid prank that went way too far, and be forced to shamefacedly distance themselves from it.
When a socialist bookshop was attacked by pro-Trump protesters on Saturday, it fed into an ongoing and unnerving narrative in recent UK politics: Boris Johnson's Islamophobic dog-whistle this week, Steve Bannon's meddling in European politics and a stream of far-right apologists all over the media. Far-Right Watch – the YouTube channel that captured the video that was uploaded and swiftly removed by one of the pro-Trump protesters – noted, "That’s quite 'Berlin, 1933'."
Mind you, if headlines about an attack on a socialist bookshop fuelled your Trumpian-dystopia dread, then watching the beginning of the video provides a surprising sense of light relief – like getting hauled into a Gestapo interrogation room only to see Herr Frick from Allo! Allo! sat across the table.
The farce was enacted by "Make Britain Great Again" (MBGA), a grouping on the right of UKIP which is largely a vehicle for a guy called Luke Nash-Jones. Their particular beef is "cultural Marxism" – a conspiracy theory about the takeover by left-wing thought, peddled by everything from the Daily Mail to the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer. Speaking at the Trump welcoming party that MBGA organised last month, Nash-Jones was almost campy in his vile, OTT bombast, warning: "Our once beautiful country is overrun by an unholy alliance of Islamist degenerates and Marxist cuckholds." The bookshop invasion was an impromptu stunt following a protest against the BBC and Facebook's ban of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Following the incident, three leading members of Make Britain Great Again – Luke Nash-Jones, Martin Costello and Elizabeth Jones – were suspended from UKIP, pending an investigation.
Now that he's been told off, Nash-Jones has started saying it was all the other kids' fault. The MBGA member released a video on Monday in which he condemns the actions of "certain individuals", seemingly blaming everything on a guy wearing a Trump mask. He goes on to claim that he entered the shop alone, saying: "I had no Trump hat or anything, no signs, nothing, just calmly looked at the books and I would have been very happy to have some kind of positive dialogue, even a little bit of friendly debate, as to why he supported those political ideas."
This claim might wash a little better if it wasn't for the opening moments of the video from the bookshop, in which Nash-Jones says: "Guys, shut up! Everybody wait about three minutes. I'm going to go in, I'm going to hide this [Trump] hat for a minute so they don't know who I am… I'm just going to go in and act normal and ask them for a few awkward books… And then you can come in and make a right nuisance and I'll get the hat out. OK?"
With their red MAGA hats and tucked in T-shirts, the protesters can't help but look like dweeby school kids on a day trip, too excited to pay attention to their stressed out teacher. Having just about managed to follow the instruction to wait three minutes, the group enters the shop and starts chanting "We love Trump!" The guy filming starts chuckling to himself. As he marches through the shop, his chants are interrupted by his own breathless laughter as he is unable to contain himself. He is giddy, at the obvious hilarity of it all.
It's at this point that the sinister stupidity of it all becomes a bit less Four Lions.
The chants of "We love Trump!" give way to abusive shouts, which become more and more vitriolic. "Paedophile lovers!" it starts, almost whimsically, before you can sense the venom as a shop worker is called a "Fucking Corbynite! Scum!" and "Fucking traitor, scummy cunt."
As the guy holding the camera picks up books and starts confusedly judging them by their covers ("What the fuck is that??" he asks of a title about abortion rights in Ireland) a "Tommy Robinson" chant goes up. A placard reading "Don't let the racists divide us" – a placard in opposition of Robinson – is ripped up as someone shouts "disgusting!"
The noise builds and builds as the marauding clowns make facetious complaints that the shop attendant pushed them as he asked them to leave. Similarly, in his explanation video, Nash-Jones claims, "I was assaulted – I was actually shoved twice." This is possibly the most nauseatingly childish part of the whole spectacle: storm into a shop with your pals, throw all the books around, and when some grown-ups tell you off, whine, "Buh, buh… but he started it!"
When I asked Luke Nash-Jones what had happened, he told me: "A third party YouTuber who isn’t part of MBGA, and whom no party suspended, suggested another filmmaker with a Trump mask visit the communist bookstore for a prank video, in the style of a Vine, etc. They wanted to shout Trump for a few seconds and leave." Ah yes, the Dapper-Laughsification of politics.
"No one from MBGA vandalised anything," Nash Jones insisted. "The third party YouTuber did become very vocal. Another third party did express his dislike of a free Antifa protest sign. I was disgusted by his behaviour, and I left the store. I have condemned the actions of third parties in the store. Those overexcited persons are not, and were not, members of MBGA."
It makes sense that Nash Jones is trying to distance himself from the protest he led, because it clearly did not go to plan.
I remember one of the first times I got properly drunk as a teenager, some friends and I telephoned the home of a mate who had strict parents late at night, and untruthfully slurred down the answering machine that their son "does drugs", because we somehow thought that would be funny. The burning shame of the subsequent recriminations, cringing apologies and parental disappointment is still with me to this day.
This is basically that, but with far-right clowns.
While it's concerning that right-wingers feel able to attack left-wing bookshops, it is perhaps some small comfort that even they are mortified by their own cringeworthy actions.