As a society, we have become exceptionally bad at forgiveness. How much does anyone really deserve? Are they remorseful? What if they’ve changed? We barely know where to start anymore.
But now that social media has been around for long enough that people who rose to infamy early on have, in many cases, had enough time to ‘grow up’, it’s important to decide how we judge others. So, when Lauren Southern — a free-speech activist or an alt-right neo-fascist, depending on your source — returns to the public eye seeking to revive ‘meaningful, sane conversation,’ how should she be treated?
Southern, a long-haired, blonde Canadian, rose to prominence when in 2016 she legally changed her gender to male in Ontario in less time — and with less paperwork – than your average health check-up takes. Her rejection of feminism, her pro-Trump advocacy, and her opposition to Islamic immigration solidified her place among the pantheon of outspoken alt-right darlings such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson.
For a long time, Southern flirted with the unpleasant extremes of this movement. In February 2018 she was cautioned by police for handing out flyers in the English town of Luton bearing the slogan ‘Allah is Gay’. The previous year she had been detained by the Italian coast guard for attempting to stop a boat carrying shipwrecked migrants to shore.
In 2019, however, something appeared to change. Just after the release of her surprisingly thoughtful and nonpartisan documentary about immigration, Borderless, Southern suddenly disappeared from the public eye. On June 19 this year she posted on her YouTube channel a 17-minute video entitled ‘Why I left, and why I’m back’. She has, in her words, taken the ‘real-life pill’ (I hope she never uses this awful phrase again), and in her absence she not only went back to university but also got married and had a son. Now, she wishes to break away from the culture of ‘entertainment and hot-take politics’ and return to public life making objective documentaries that tell the human story of complex political issues.
This perfectly reasonable announcement prompted a vicious response from her former fans and allies on the radical right, who felt betrayed. Look down the comment section of her video and you will see innumerable accusations of covert financial profit, admonishments that she should ‘stick to being a mother’, and perhaps the most common: ‘It’s too late for nuance — the mob will come after you either way’. Her one-time ally, Paul Joseph Watson, vomited out indefensible abuse at her on Twitter, calling her a fraud and an ‘e-thot’ before bragging how ‘thirsty’ she was for him in one of the most embarrassing Twitter displays of the past year.
Others have given Southern a chance. In an interview with Mikhaila Peterson this week Southern spoke about how unhealthy it is for 19-year-olds (as she then was) to become known worldwide for contentious political activism. When ambitious, intelligent but naive young people stumble into political tribes that demand ever-greater allegiance, stifling all shifts of opinion borne out of maturity, we must ask where the blame lies.
Did Lauren bring this all upon herself? Perhaps. I have no time for people who distribute stupid, inflammatory leaflets in Islamic neighborhoods — such behavior does as much damage to the cause of proper conservatism as anybody on the radical left. But if Southern changed by becoming a mother and mellowed by experience; if she now seeks to return to the public eye with a more compassionate and thoughtful politics — well, good on her, I say. I wish more people would do the same. She’s attractive, too.