Gay reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown has been bombarded with racist abuse after describing the national clap for Captain Tom Moore as a “cult of white British nationalism”.
In a since-deleted tweet on Wednesday (3 February), reverend Robinson-Brown wrote: “The cult of Captain Tom Moore is a cult of white British nationalism. I will offer prayers for the repose of his kind and generous soul, but will not be joining the ‘national clap.'”
The London-based clergyman removed the post the same day and offered an “unreserved apology for the insensitive timing and content” of his tweet, adding that he has now read and will sign the Church’s digital charter.
Robinson-Brown was not alone in criticising the idea of a “national clap” for Captain Tom, with several commentators suggesting the centenarian’s generosity had been co-opted by the government to mask its many failings.
But his blunder was notable for the visceral hatred it attracted online, much of which came from voices who are ordinarily known for extolling freedom of speech.
Some of the fiercest criticism was from followers of the erstwhile actor and “free speech champion” Laurence Fox, whose barbed tweets have unfortunately led to homophobic, racist abuse before.
Not April 1st.
“He has said he is ‘passionate about issues of justice, particularly in the areas of race and sexuality’ and has ‘an interest in gender, desire and ethnicity in Late Antique Egypt’, alongside ‘liberation theology’ and ‘queer theology’.” https://t.co/MJkAGpXW3I
— Laurence Fox (@LozzaFox) February 4, 2021
“I can certainly see why his ancestors ate people like him,” read one of the many appalling comments beneath Fox’s tweet.
More hypocritical backlash came from Nigel Farage, former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie and Guido Fawkes reporter Tom Harwood, all of whom have vocally opposed political correctness in favour of free speech.
“Does the Church of England really think this man is the best person to become the new curate of the oldest church in the City of London?” Harwood asked, having previously dismissed cancel culture as “hypocritical and unedifying” – but presumably only when it attacks those he favours.
— Tom Harwood (@tomhfh) February 3, 2021
The fervour has grown so great that a petition has been launched calling for Robinson-Brown to be immediately removed from his post.
“He is a divisive and damaging figure that has insulted the memory of a national treasure and true hero of this country, along with millions of decent people whom he is essentially branding bigots and racists,” the petition claims. “Such outbursts are not helping community cohesion.”
The Diocese of London attempted to ease the tensions with a statement admitting that Robinson-Brown’s words were inappropriate.
“Jarel Robinson-Brown’s comments regarding Captain Sir Tom Moore were unacceptable, insensitive, and ill-judged,” the statement said. “The fact that he immediately removed his tweet and subsequently apologised does not undo the hurt he has caused, not least to Captain Tom’s family.
“Nor do Jarel’s actions justify the racist abuse he is now receiving.”
The Diocese was not alone in condemning the extraordinarily hateful abuse directed at the clergyman. The KCL LGBT+ society issued a statement of “complete solidarity”, noting the support that the gay reverend provides for numerous queer students of faith.
“We are shocked and saddened to see him face such disgusting abuse for expressing his opinion,” the group wrote. “It cannot be denied that this abuse is overtly racist and homophobic in nature.”
They urged the Church of England, the Diocese of London and Bishop Sarah Mullally to “confront their own biases and defend Jarel against the disgusting attacks he’s currently facing.”