Brendan O’Neill

Parkland’s secular saints shouldn’t be immune to criticism

Parkland's secular saints shouldn't be immune to criticism
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Oh America, what have you done to your kids? Consider David Hogg, the 17-year-old survivor of last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and now omnipresent media agitator for tighter gun-control laws in the US. That young Mr Hogg’s instant reaction to being criticised by a news anchor was to whip up a virtual mob to try to have her sacked is a terrifying testament to the new intolerance among America’s young. We are starting to see what the cult of self-esteem and the ideology of the Safe Space have wrought: a new generation that cannot handle criticism; which is positively allergic to divergent views; which thinks nothing of trying to wreck the lives of anyone who dares to disagree with them.

I can’t be the only person who, when he saw that recent cover of Time magazine featuring Mr Hogg and four of his fellow students cum opponents of gun culture under the headline ‘ENOUGH, thought to himself: ‘Yes, that is enough — enough of these kids and their juvenile self-righteousness.’ It’s not nice to criticise survivors of a school massacre, I know. But the problem with the Parkland students is the way they have been beatified by the American media and celebrity set, turned into secular saints whose every pronouncement on guns is a gospel truth that only the sinful or the sinister would question. Not surprisingly, such cynical idolisation has made these youths into, well, little monsters. Little monsters who will brook no criticism whatsoever of their ideas or outlook.

So it was that Mr Hogg responded to a Fox News presenter’s mockery of him by marshalling a virtual army of thousands to try to have her show taken off the air. The blasphemer in question was Laura Ingraham, presenter of The Ingraham Angle, who last week committed the speechcrime of very mildly making fun of Mr Hogg. In response to Hogg’s complaints that he has been rejected by four colleges he has applied to, and his implication that this might be related to his recent activism on guns, Ms Ingraham tweeted that this is a fairly normal number of rejections and accused Hogg of whining. For this, for this tame rebuke, Ms Ingraham has been punished harshly. She is currently on leave after Hogg and his furious followers instigated a corporate boycott of her show. 

Hogg responded to Ingraham’s swipe by tweeting: ‘Soooo...what are you biggest advertisers? Asking for a friend #BoycottingIngramAdverts [sic]’. The retweets were legion. Egged on, Hogg released a list of Ingraham’s 12 biggest advertisers and encouraged the attack dogs of the Twitterati to call on them to withdraw ads from her show. Some of them, including Bayer AG, did just that. There has been an advertising ‘exodus’, news reports say. Stung, and unsure of her future, Ms Ingraham is now on vacation. Shunted off air by zealous youths for the sin of ribbing one of the Parkland saints.

Hogg and his censorious acolytes have gloated over Ingraham’s fall. ‘I’m glad to see corporate America standing with me...because when we work together we can accomplish anything’, he declared. Or as one news piece summed it up, Mr Hogg seems to believe that ‘with the help of big business, his power is unlimited’. That so many lefties and liberals are cheering this unholy marriage of big business and youthful intolerance is alarming. They are in essence supporting the weaponisation of corporate power to the end of silencing a woman who spoke out of turn. Nice.

It is very telling that, with zero self-awareness, Hogg said Ingraham deserved what she got because she is a ‘bully’. This is a young man who had just led tens of thousands of tweeters and activists in a crusade to have Ingraham’s show starved off funds and ideally dumped by Fox (though Fox says she will be back soon). And he calls her the bully. I’m sorry but it is Hogg who is the bully here. I sincerely hope he doesn’t behave like this at school, gathering together large gangs to isolate and silence people they don’t like. 

It isn’t only Ingraham that the Parkland zealots have rounded on. They aren’t much fond of old people in general. The old are on ‘the wrong side of the history textbooks that we [will] write’, Hogg recently decreed. That is, you will soon be erased from the historical record. ‘We can and we will outlive our opponents because they’re old and they are stuck in their old ways’, he said. Oof. That’s unpleasant. But it is only to be expected. Having imbued the Parkland kids with an extraordinary amount of moral authority, having hung on their every word and rounded upon their every detractor, the liberal elite in the US have helped to make them insufferable. The key problem here is not really the kids themselves; it’s the sanctification of them by a media and political set that hopes these energetic youths will achieve political goals they have never managed to. 

But there’s a bigger story, too. A story of 21st-century intolerance. I find it really worrying that some young people think fury and censure and corporate punishment are a reasonable response to words or ideas they disagree with. We see this everywhere these days. Online, on campus, in petitions demanding that such-and-such a comedian or actor or artist be expelled from public life because they once said or did something people disapprove of. We have taught the young to fear diversity of thought and to destroy difficult opinion. ‘Division is the last thing this country needs’, said Hogg in justification of his campaign against Ingraham. In short, everyone must agree, or else. Or else they will be chased out, shamed, silenced. I ask again: America, what have you done to your kids?