If Katie Hopkins set out to be famous, she certainly achieved her aim. Having risen to short-term fame as a candidate on business gameshow The Apprentice, she's now cemented her place as a household name through a string of outrageous statements, interviews and newspaper columns. Her shtick: that she's just about the most right-wing woman in Britain, claiming to say what we all think, deep down (I'm fairly certain we don't). As a result, her name is never far from the headlines, or the social media trending topics.
A few choice soundbites: telling This Morning's Holly Willoughby she judges her children's school classmates by their Christian names (with particular disdain for Chardonnay and Tyler); referring to Scottish people as 'little sweaty jocks', and most recently calling illegal foreign migrants 'cockroaches' and suggesting that she didn't care about the hundreds of migrants feared drowned in the Mediterranean sea.
Almost invariably, her comments are met with derision, anger and reciprocal bile. Her outspoken – and frankly, hideously misguided – views win her few friends among her media peers (the Guardian labelled her 'a professional troll'), and celebrities including Russell Brand have lined up to criticise her. Even the UN High Commissioner has spoken out against Hopkins' comments.
And yet, despite all that, I still love Katie Hopkins.
Our culture is hungry for stories; for over-arching narratives bigger than ourselves which help to define our lives together. Those stories need heroes: sports stars, pop idols, justice campaigners and great leaders. They also need villains, people we define the good against. Sometimes they're just fallen idols (Western culture loves nothing more than building someone up, only to bring them crashing back down to earth again); disgraced politicians, or performers who squander their talent. Sometimes though, the media finds someone who is prepared to be complicit in the role of pantomime villain; to play up to it even. Enter, stage left, Katie Hopkins, dressed in flamboyant witches' costume.
Hopkins has realised that she can make a career out of media appearances playing this role. Whether, deep down, she really believes some of the things she is saying, none of us knows. Perhaps she no longer even knows herself. What we do know, despite the lone wolf image she cultivates, is that she isn't acting alone. There are a string of platforms, from The Sun to This Morning, who are not only happy to give her a platform, but who are delighted when she inevitably launches the next verbal grenade. She sells newspapers; she draws viewers; she keeps social media excited. That her more ridiculous comments are coming thicker and faster than ever before is only evidence that she's being enabled – bated even – to say ever more prejudicial things.
So if you're angry at Katie Hopkins, perhaps you're angry at the wrong thing. She's not nearly as in control of her media circus as she thinks she is; the moment she stops driving click-throughs or selling newspapers, she'll be discarded and her platform will disappear. She's only famous because on some level, our culture wants her to be.
I'm not on any level defending her comments. Egged on by the appearance fees and the huge levels of attention she's gathering, she's prone to spewing some truly hateful nonsense. It's hard not to feel bubbling rage when someone writes in a national newspaper (of the drowned migrants): "I don't care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in the water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don't care." It's hard to understand where that level of inhumanity comes from.
Similarly, Hopkins famously drew fire for her heartless comments about Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who was moved to a London hospital after contracting Ebola while volunteering to treat children with the virus in Sierra Leone. Against the backdrop of the Scottish independence discussion, Hopkins tweeted: "sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn't cricket," along with a follow-up tweet which concluded "not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?" She was rightly criticized across the board, with well over 10,000 people signing a change.org petition at the time for her to be charged with racism offences.
It is of course totally right to feel angry at the injustice she's calling people to, and at her provocative style. She brings an awful lot of hatred into the world.
But I still love Katie Hopkins.
Because hating her doesn't do any good; it just adds to the stockpiling rage and ugliness all around her. Whenever Hopkins releases another mystifyingly ill-judged statement, Twitter and Facebook explode in a fury. Normally mild-mannered people turn into social media versions of the Incredible Hulk, unleashing the full force of their wrath back in her direction, often with a lack of self-control or perspective. She might start the fire, but our response can often fan the flames (and guarantee she'll be asked to write another column).
Instead, as a Christian I'm called to find the antidote to that stuff; to somehow see through my anger to the real, vulnerable flesh and blood person behind the Katie Hopkins mask, and in some way, love her. That might sound trite; it might even sound like an inappropriate response to the woman and her poisonous words, but it is, I believe, the way of Christ. Like my parents always used to say to me: "we don't like some of the things you do, but we still love you."
As Christ-imitators, we're meant to model Jesus' unconditional love; to behave like him, not just to repeat his sentiments. When he was walking around on earth, Jesus didn't hold back from calling out peoples flaws and mistakes – from the woman caught in adultery in John 8: 1-11, to the rich young man in Matthew 19 – but he didn't publicly shame, criticise or get angry with messed-up people (the only group he reserved that for were the religious leaders, who acted as if they lived perfect lives). Instead, he offered them a way back from their sin. Grace, the outrageous, all-conquering love of God manifested in Jesus, is the biggest and greatest idea of the Christian faith. So when we can't manage to live it out ourselves, we reduce it to a theory and drain it of its power.
Jesus commands me to love. My neighbour (Mark 12: 31), my friends (John 13: 34-35), and in fact, everyone else ahead of myself (Mark 9: 35). That love isn't just an idea, or a feeling, but an action. It's the way he says others will know we're his disciples (and therefore that he's worth following). And however unkind, nasty, or downright evil the things Katie Hopkins says might be, that doesn't absolve me of my need to practically love her. To pray for her, to discover some sympathy for the real person trapped in this spiral of attention and expectation.
That doesn't mean I shouldn't speak out against the stupid things she says. I should do that – moreover I should feel motivated to advocate for the people she slanders or criticises. But let's not make this personal. Katie Hopkins is a messed up human being, but so am I; so are you. The Grace of God cuts across all that and offers each of us hope anyway. Jesus loves Katie Hopkins; lavishly, ridiculously, unconditionally. My response to her must somehow look to be the same.