So it’s finally happened. Cancel culture has come for Mumford and Sons. Winston Marshall, former banjo player in the hugely successful group, has left the band after becoming embroiled in a Twitterstorm earlier this year, during which he was essentially smeared as a hard-right lunatic. It seems that the culture war can now leave no corner of actual culture untouched, from the Royal Academy to middle-of-the-road folk rock.
And what a bizarre Twitterstorm it was. Marshall was first set upon in March because he tweeted about a book written by a conservative author – namely, Unmasked, a book about Antifa by US journalist Andy Ngo. That’s genuinely it.
Marshall didn’t have a Wiley-style meltdown. He didn’t leave a glowing Amazon review of Mein Kampf. He just called Ngo’s book ‘important’ and said he was ‘a brave man’. In one tweet. And so, of course, he has been cast out and forever stamped as far-right adjacent or something.
Marshall has written a piece sticking up for himself and explaining why he has chosen to step away.
‘[M]y commenting on a book that documents the extreme far-left and their activities is in no way an endorsement of the equally repugnant far-right’, he writes. It’s mad that this even has to be spelled out.
The smearing of him as far-right was particularly hurtful, he says, because of his family background:
‘Thirteen members of my family were murdered in the concentration camps of the Holocaust… My family knows the evils of fascism painfully well. To say the least. To call me 'fascist' was ludicrous beyond belief.’
Indeed it was. For not only is Marshall clearly not a fascist – neither is Ngo. Ngo has spent years documenting Antifa activists’ violent exploits, particularly in his home city of Portland. For his trouble he has been brutally attacked by them. But while many people will disagree with his views, and he has been criticised in the past for partial and skewed reporting, he is just a conservative at the end of the day. Meanwhile, Marshall identifies as a centrist or a liberal.
But in the dopamine rush of joining a Twittermob such details are unimportant. The ‘scandal’, Marshall says, soon engulfed the entire band:
‘The hornets’ nest that I had unwittingly hit had unleashed a black-hearted swarm on them and their families.’
He says his bandmates had initially wanted him to stay, so he apologised for the tweet – a move he suggests he now regrets – and caught hell from the other side of the culture war for doing so.
But it seems that staying on would mean him having to keep his mouth shut, and so he is stepping away for his dignity’s sake:
‘For me to speak about what I’ve learnt to be such a controversial issue will inevitably bring my bandmates more trouble. My love, loyalty and accountability to them cannot permit that. I could remain and continue to self-censor but it will erode my sense of integrity. Gnaw my conscience. I’ve already felt that beginning.’
What a mess. That the Mumfords, their management and the money men surrounding them apparently couldn’t weather this frankly barmy controversy is regrettable. But so is the fact that tweeting out a book recommendation is today so fraught with professional peril, and can put you and your colleagues under sustained media and social-media attack for days on end. However we ended up here, the whole thing is rotten.
Good on Marshall for at least walking away with his head held high.