Teenage Brexit Fanclub: The Grant sisters one year on

When I eventually call time on this blog and reflect on the fine body of work I have produced over the years, I will likely have to conclude that it wasn’t my writing about gardening, Peppa Pig, or moronic YouTube vloggers that proved popular; it was two posh, pro-Brexit sisters from Kensington that drew thousands of visitors to my humble little corner of the Internet.

It’s now almost a year since I wrote my blog post about the Grant sisters. But in light of a recent Vice documentary about them (The Teenage Brexit Fanclub), I now feel compelled to write some more. Because questions about them – and their motives – still linger.

I first caught wind of the documentary in early October last year, when Vice contacted me to ask if they could use a screenshot of my original post in a short film they were producing about the sisters. After a few back and forth e-mails, in which I sought confirmation that they weren’t producing some kind of OK! magazine ‘At Home With The Grants’ docu-drivel, I agreed. Needless to say, by the time the film was in post-production my blog’s big moment had been discarded on the cutting room floor. However, the documentary’s Executive Producer did very kindly phone me to pick my brains about my research into Alice and Beatrice, where I spent 20 minutes breathlessly trying to explain that the sisters were part of an insidious Turning Point UK operation to convert young people to the far right, and that they couldn’t bemoan being called racists and fascists when they’ve aligned themselves with so many dark and unsavoury characters.

Anyway, here’s what the film turned up.

Lack of detail

Infuriatingly, we actually learn very little about the sisters’ origins and their sudden appearance on the Brexit scene in late 2018. Alice reveals that Beatrice “was always into campaigning for Leave…when she was 12 years old”, where she would often write Facebook posts about Brexit. She then explains that they gravitated towards the Leave campaign because of some half-baked nonsense about the need for British laws to be made at a national level and not by a “foreign power”.

Beatrice says that she got into “Brexit activism” after watching YouTube videos of Nigel Farage, with Alice adding that they were both drawn to his “courage and conviction”. Alice even claims to be an avid listener of Farage’s LBC show, tuning in “every evening or whenever I can”. And yet, in spite of Beatrice apparently churning out post-referendum nuggets of Brexit wisdom on Facebook, and both sisters feeling generally stirred to support the Leave campaign, and with Alice regularly listening to Nigel Farage’s “perspective” on the radio (a show he’s presented since January 2017), the fact remains that she didn’t tweet a single thing about Brexit for nearly two and a half years after the EU referendum.

And furthermore, even though she’s a self-confessed Farage fangirl, Alice didn’t even feel motivated to use one of her two YouTube channels (one created in January 2012, and the other in August 2013) to evangelise about Nigel’s vision for post-Brexit Little England. In fact, both channels were weirdly rinsed of content (beauty tutorials, by all accounts) when the sisters first appeared on the scene. Why?

Towards the end of the documentary, Vice producer and director Carla Cordell asks Alice about her very first tweets on Twitter, which, somewhat surprisingly, leads to her acknowledging the general air of suspicion around her account’s bizarre and very sudden transition from tweets about The Beatles and cats, to retweets of Jacob Rees-Mogg and a grotesque pro-Brexit cast of thousands. Annoyingly, though, she still doesn’t explain her motivation. Why did she surface then, in November 2018? Why enter the fray at that precise moment after being completely anonymous and disengaged? The details matter – and there is a distinct lack of them.

Interestingly, in the course of this exchange, we also learn that Alice no longer supports Jacob Rees-Mogg. Again, she doesn’t elaborate and Cordell doesn’t probe as to the reason why. I suppose it might be disgruntlement at the resignations of Annunziata Rees-Mogg and Lucy Harris from the Brexit Party prior to the General Election (one is JRM’s sister and the other is currently dating his special advisor, Hugh Bennett) but I guess we’ll never know. However, Alice was very quick to shut down any suggestion that JRM was someone she “admired”.

Drawn to the far right

To Carla Cordell’s credit, she does question Alice about her retweet of Marine Le Pen in February 2019 (it was actually a quote tweet, to which she added “Spot on!”) and asked her if Le Pen was someone she admired. Alice claimed that she agreed with Le Pen in that instance, but didn’t “really know much about her”. If true, it does make you wonder why Alice has been given so much media exposure when she’s apparently unfamiliar with someone like Marine Le Pen, who’s hardly an obscure figure in French politics. What are her credentials? That she can hold up a placard?

And if she doesn’t know much about Le Pen, then it makes you wonder how much she knows about Italy’s nationalist League party leader Matteo Salvini (who’s currently busy politicising the Coronavirus outbreak in the country by linking the crisis to African migrants). Three months after Alice’s Le Pen tweet, in May 2019, she quote-tweeted the far right Voice of Europe, which had posted a video of Salvini, saying: “there is no far right [here]…only politics of common sense”. Far from being a lazy and unknowing retweet, Alice opined: “Salvini in top form. Speaking for all the peoples of Europe who want freedom and democracy.”

In the months leading up to the European elections, Le Pen and Salvini had also been working together to court fellow hard-right populists across the continent in order to form a far-right bloc within the EU. These people are not enigmas.

Alice even replied to a tweet by MP David Lammy, who, having cited Tommy Robinson’s campaign to become an MEP, urged young people to stop the rise of the hard right. “Rise of the ‘hard right’?” scoffed Alice. “You mean those fighting for freedom and for the self-determination of our nation,” she retorted (punctuating her response with a Union flag emoji). Is that what she thinks Tommy Robinson is: a freedom fighter? Or does she really not know much about him? (Smirking face emoji.)

And while we’re on the subject of arseholes with ambitions to become MEP’s, it’s worth noting that Alice was also happy to sit down for a chat with Carl Benjamin (aka ‘Sargon of Akkad’ and UKIP’s candidate for South West England) while he was on the campaign trail last May. In the nearly seven minute video, she made comments like: “I feel like the UK is becoming a police state…and this is all because of the EU,” which even Benjamin disputed! She also asked him: “What do you think about all the hate that you’re getting from the Leftists, and how do you deal with it? Because they really do come from a place of hate, whereas we come from a place of love – love for our great nation.”

It’s difficult to buy into Alice’s far-right ‘love’ narrative, especially as she was speaking to someone who was, at the time, under investigation by West Midlands Police about a tweet he sent to MP Jess Phillips in 2016, in which he said: “I wouldn’t even rape you.” Prior to his chat with Alice, Benjamin had also campaigned with far-right ‘activist’ Milo Yiannopoulos in Truro, who had recently been banned from Facebook for violating the company’s policies on hate speech and promoting violence.

Furthermore, Carl Benjamin’s staffer and camera operator was Michael Brooks, who was exposed by Hope Not Hate in November 2017 as the moderator of a Facebook group called the Young Right Society (YRS), which was found to be “frequently awash with appalling racist and ‘alt-right’ content”. Brooks has also previously referred to himself as “14 and 88”, which is an infamous white supremacist slogan that combines the racist “14 words” with a numerical code meaning “Heil Hitler”.

“Fun debate in Bournemouth [Union flag emoji]. So good to see you again @MDeLaBroc,” tweeted Alice after the interview, tagging in Michael Brooks’ Twitter handle (his account has since been suspended). Again, maybe she doesn’t really know much about him either. You know, the Nazi stuff, which might be a little off-putting.

One thing’s for sure, though: these people do not come from a “place of love”. And yet, bizarrely, Alice seems to envision them all standing on a hillside together, with their faces bathed in warm morning sunlight, joyously belting out a rendition of I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.

And there certainly didn’t seem to be much love when the man identified as the sisters’ father, Matthew Grant, was filmed at a Brexit demo calling someone a “fucking whining Remoaner cunt”.

Playing the victim card

At one point in the film Alice mentions that she’d watched a video about the Communist Manifesto, which said that you can demoralise the enemy by assigning words to them like “fascist” and “racist”, which instantly leads to them becoming hated. She claimed that the same practice was being used against Brexiters. In fact, she made a similar claim in the Daily Mail’s piece about the sisters last year.

I think people our age are afraid of judgement because being a Brexiter is seen as being far-right, which is untrue, and there are horrible words attached to us like “fascist” and “racist”. We are made out to be extremists and people are afraid of that label.

‘We’re proud to be Farage’s fan-girls’, Barbara Davies in The Daily Mail (6 April, 2019)

The problem is, when you champion, promote, defend, and associate with far-right racists and fascists, those labels aren’t really smears anymore, they’re just a way of characterising what you stand for. Alice even has a BitChute account (the far-right alternative to YouTube), which she joined in June last year. She doesn’t have any videos on her channel as yet, but to have joined the platform at all creates the perception that she’s attracted to the far-right scene.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Alice is a racist – but she’s certainly naive. When Carla Cordell asks her if she can see how Nigel Farage’s ‘Breaking Point poster could lead to an increase in racist abuse, she pauses for a moment before saying: “I’d like to think that British people aren’t that kind of…erm…we aren’t like that.” Her refusal to countenance the idea that British people can be hideously and overtly racist is almost admirable, but sadly that’s exactly what Brexit has unleashed. Her inability to see it was telling.

Climate change denial

Alice has previously retweeted the notoriously Islamophobic, far-right Twitter account @AmyMek (aka Amy Jane Mekelburg). The tweet in question screamed “Climate Change Child Abuse!”, which sat above a screenshot of a tearful, young climate protester. No prizes for guessing that Alice, somewhat predictably, stands with the climate change deniers!

In fact, Vice filmed Alice protesting against “climate alarmism” alongside Piers Corbyn (Jeremy’s older brother) during the Global Climate Strike last September. In one scene she speaks through a megaphone, saying: “The climate change emergency is a hoax!”. She can also be heard chanting: “Man-made climate change is a hoax! Don’t be brainwashed!” At one point, a climate protester asks Alice if she believes Piers Corbyn over NASA, to which she replies: “Yeah, I do.”

When Carla Cordell suggests to Alice that lurching from one extreme view to another might lead people to think that she’s just trying to be subversive, Alice says: “I don’t think I’m being subversive at all. I just think more young people should actually start doing their research, then maybe my opinion, which is perfectly reasonable, wouldn’t be deemed extreme.” Of course, when asked if she’d actually read the IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Alice revealed that she hadn’t read it “in full” but had “noticed that it contained really vague language”.

Interestingly, in keeping with the theme of Alice constantly associating with very dubious people, Hope Not Hate recently released a report about the conspiracy theory group Keep Talking, which was co-founded by disgraced academic and Holocaust denier Nicholas Kollerstrom. The group draws conspiracy theorists from the far-right and far-left, and Piers Corbyn has attended several meetings and even presented at one. As recently as January, he was listed as a speaker against the title ‘The Reality of Global Cooling’. Holocaust revisionism and 9/11 Truthers aside, Hope Not Hate’s report notes how damaging climate change conspiracies can be.

Perhaps, of all the conspiracy theories covered in this report, the one that claims climate change isn’t really happening is the most dangerous of all for the future of humanity.

Inside Keep Talking: The Conspiracy Theory Group Uniting The Far Right and Far Left (Hope Not Hate)

At one point during the counter protest with Piers Corbyn, Alice chats with a young man about the supposed climate hoax, saying: “They don’t want us to know about it, because it destroys their narrative.” With a sentence like that, which feels like each word should be individually wrapped in tinfoil, it seems like some of the conspiracy world has already started to seep into Alice’s brain. Particularly telling was Alice’s reaction to Beatrice’s ongoing deliberation over her own stance on climate change, when she joked that “she’s the last one to be red-pilled.”

Turning Point UK

I don’t think I can definitively say that I called this first, but when I was researching and writing my first blog post about the Grant sisters last February/March, it became increasingly obvious that Turning Point UK might have had a hand in the Grant sisters’ rise to prominence.

Alice and Beatrice’s Twitter accounts both followed Joel Chilaka, Sussex University’s ‘Turning Point Influencer’, while Belinda de Lucy McKeeve’s ‘Brexit Betrayal’ Twitter account followed Turning Point UK and also several of its key figures: Dominique Samuels (who was in Nigel Farage’s orbit when he arrived for the ‘Brexit Betrayal Bash’ at Millbank Tower on 29 March), Tom Harwood, Darren Grimes, and TPUK Chairman (and former Bullingdon Club member) George Farmer.

Following its UK launch in December 2018, Turning Point tweeted: “The Left believes they have a monopoly over young people. It’s time us young people fought back. We are so excited to announce the social media launch of TPUK, which will be launching across UK [university] campuses soon.” Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted his support for the organisation following its launch (since deleted), as did Nigel Farage. In fact, Farage was a featured guest at the TPUK annual fundraising dinner in April 2019, and also worked with them to produce content.

With the Grant sisters’ unusually close relationship with Nigel Farage (through their involvement with Leave Means Leave, and later, the Brexit Party) it would have been surprising for them not to start popping up in TPUK-branded, shit-awful videos. But pop up they did, announced as TPUK’s newest ‘influencers’ last August, where they appeared in a video extolling the virtues of populism. Maybe this is all just an attempt to make right wing lunacy enticing? A recruitment exercise, perhaps?

Alice and Beatrice even got a shout-out on Twitter from John Mappin, a Scientologist and Trump supporter who was central to the launch of Turning Point UK. Last month, he raised the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory flag over the castle he owns (Camelot Castle at Tintagel) – but that didn’t stop Alice retweeting him!

Incidentally, Turning Point UK has recently launched Education Watch, a blog on the TPUK website that encourages students to report ‘Leftist’ academics and overtly political, left-leaning (i.e. biased) teaching practices in schools, colleges, and universities. Yes, exactly what I thought: FUCKED UP! But this is an organisation that Alice and Beatrice are helping to promote. In fact, Alice has already done her bit to raise this supposed issue in the press.

Mass exposure

Alice first appeared on Twitter throwing her weight behind Brexit in late November 2018. Beatrice came a little later in January 2019. Yet within a few short months they were the faces of the Leave campaign in practically every right-wing newspaper. By April – only five months after their emergence – they were all over the pages of the Daily Mail and Grazia magazine. A month later, Alice had written a piece for the i newspaper. And a mere 11 months after her first Brexit tweet, she was invited to be a panellist on The Top Table: Brexit Special on the BBC.

The Daily Express recorded a single video with Alice and then proceeded to release multiple segments of it between October and December 2019 under various grandiose headlines, which made it sound like she was the world’s foremost political pundit and intellectual. ‘UK must leave on October 31st on WTO terms says Grant ; ‘Johnson’s deal makes UK a ‘slave state’ says Grant ; ‘EU branded a ‘powerless institution’ by Alice Grant . WHO THE FUCK IS ALICE GRANT, ANYWAY?!

This kind of exposure doesn’t happen by accident. And they didn’t engineer these opportunities themselves. Young people are at risk from being seduced by the far right, and the Grant sisters are cogs in that machine.

Still, the one interesting nugget of information I did take away from Vice’s documentary is that Alice and Beatrice disagree on their support for Donald Trump. “Babe, I don’t support Trump,” says Beatrice.

Finally, there’s something we agree on.

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