Content Warning: This piece includes racist language and references to rape threats.
One of the most prominent anti-feminist voices during GamerGate has turned towards politics, having been named a candidate for the European Parliament representing UKIP, a political party with a bent towards xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigration. It helped push the UK towards its infamous Brexit vote in 2016, which the country continues to wrestle with, and has yet to find a real path forward on.
Anyone paying attention during GamerGate probably remembers Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin. He was one of many far right grifters who rose to prominence in that era, when the online hate group went around claiming it was for ethics in games journalism, but largely spent its time harassing women online. In the years since, Benjamin has turned his moment in the sun into a profitable endeavour, with nearly a million subscribers on YouTube, and more than 3,000 people sending him nearly $12,000 per month on Patreon before he was banned.
Benjamin was also banned from Twitter and quickly fled to Gab, a popular haven for far right figures chased off social media platforms that, once in a blue moon, show a measure of consequence for the extreme and frequently consequential rhetoric of its users. On Gab, you can be as racist as you want to be, baby. To date, however, Benjamin’s still very popular on YouTube, which is where he made his announcement:
His grifting is now poised to become something darker and more influential.
“I'm part of a class of people who have emerged from their living rooms to get involved in the way that the world is run because we're not very happy with the job that's been done so far,” he said, riffing on his usual topics: opposing political correctness, decrying immigration, and pushing for the UK to leave the European Union. “My online presence has always been a place for levity, in addition to serious commentary, and that won't change and neither will I apologise for it. Political correctness is for other people. I'm here to tell the truth.”
It’s weird how “the truth” often involves bashing women and minorities? Strange.
Like the time Benjamin theorized, without proof, the academic group DIGRA (Digital Games Research Association) was “co-opted by feminists to become a think tank by which gender ideologies can disseminate their ideology to the gaming press and ultimately to gamers.” (One of many extremely long videos he dedicated to the subject.) His endless ramblings that, just coincidentally, focus on women critical of video games—here, here, here, here.
Or how about when Benjamin who, in the middle of a live stream, announced to the people in the chat room: “I can’t be bothered to deal with people who treat me like this. You are acting like a bunch of n***ers, just so you know. You act like white n***ers. [...] Maybe you’re just acting like a n***ers, mate? Have you considered that? Do you think white people act like this? White people are meant to be polite and respectful to one another.”
Benjamin is not an edgelord, merely trolling for Internet clicks. Unlike other far right personalities like now-deplatformed Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s largely disappeared from influence and relevance because his schtick was repeatedly (and successfully) poking platforms and people to see if they’d snap back, Benjamin has straddled a blurry line of authority that’s given him a chance to cash in cultural power from the internet, to a potential seat in parliament. It’s an enormous step forward that would give Benjamin, and those like him, opportunities to transfer rhetoric into action.
In the days since Benjamin broke the news, his past, full of purposely provocative statements to embolden his audience and provoke outsiders, has caught up with him.
Take, for example, a 2016 tweet from Benjamin, where he said “I wouldn’t even rape you #AntiRapeThreats #FeminicismIsCancer” to a UK politician, Jess Phillips. These comments are altogether common from characters in the alt-right movement, and the current leader of UKIP, Gerard Batten, tried his best to defend Benjamin’s ugly remarks as “satire.”
“Well, I don’t know the exact context of that,” said Batten during a recent appearance The Andrew Marr Show, a popular political interview show in the UK, "and I certainly don’t condone any remarks like that, but he is not a bad person, as he’s trying to be portrayed. He is a proponent of free speech, that was the context that he said [in which it was] satire, against the people he was saying it about. He wasn’t actually making a literal statement.”
This tortured explanation for why a person would use rape as a talking point betrays a simpler explanation for why UKIP is associating with Bejamin: however toxic his message, it’s found deep resonance on social media platforms that have spent years knowingly profiting off the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist rhetoric responsible for Benjamin’s popularity.
Upon defending Benjamin, Sky News reported three members of European Parliament representing UKIP—Jane Collins, Jill Seymour, Margot Parker—announced they would leave the party.
"To have people like Carl Benjamin on the list for the party is something I find disgusting,” said Collins, “and to hear Gerard Batten on national TV yesterday defending this man's use of rape as 'satire' made me sick to my stomach. I know women who have been raped and the mental and physical destruction it wreaks on these victims and their loved ones is the opposite of satire: it is a tragedy."
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed published a piece investigating a Discord channel Benjamin promoted as part of his election campaign, a way to gather like-minded fans. What BuzzFeed found was “white supremacism, anti-Semitism, support for the Christchurch mosque terrorist, and discussions about murdering members of the European parliament.” That all adds up.
It’s unclear if Benjamin could win—it’s still early days for the upcoming election—but in a post-Trump world, take nothing for granted. That he thinks he could win is scary enough, and shows how far we’ve come since GamerGate, a hellscape all its own but one where the implications were beyond the grasp of too many. It’s easy to dismiss these types of figures as fringe, or merely trolls from the internet. It’s racists openly marching in Charlottesville, it’s a mass shooter in New Zealand streaming on Facebook.
This is our new, unhinged reality, and the question is whether we're prepared to push back. The social networks are not going to do it for us, and our political parties are happy to cynically ride on their backs. We have to bear the burden. That's on us.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: email@example.com.