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One J.K. Rowling Podcast Guest Renounced the Project Before It Even Began

J.K. Rowling arrives at the 2019 RFK Ripple of Hope Awards in New York

The “Witch Trials” of J.K. Rowling have begun.

What are The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling? Well, Rowling has decided to do what every college graduate considers doing when faced with the realities of the world: start a podcast or an OnlyFans. In Rowling’s case, it’s the former—though it’s those at The Free Press who created and produce the podcast.

The podcast will no doubt feature a slew of TERFy hot takes for which Rowling is famous. But this time there’s a twist! In this podcast, Rowling has actually been cast as the victim—the aggrieved, misunderstood “witch” that the internet has “put on trial” for her “controversial” point of view. She is ever oblivious to the irony that she has been putting the rights of trans people on trial since her first Twitter post about the matter, but what are ya gonna do?

Which is why …

One of the podcast’s guests, Natalie Wynn, better known by her YouTube persona Contrapoints, has already turned on the project.

You may have seen a Contrapoints video before. After all, Wynn is internet famous. She came into the public eye for her long-form video essays that deconstruct various aspects of internet culture. Many of her videos target trans issues and transphobia (she answers the question “are traps gay?” after all) but her other videos tackle a variety of topics, such as incels, beauty, and Jordan Peterson. She has been celebrated for “de-radicalizing” members of the alt-right community and is known for her use of logical arguments punctuated with humor.

Recently, Wynn took to Twitter to announce that she received an email from a woman named Megan Phelps-Roper, who is a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. If you don’t know who the Westboro Baptist Church is, I’m honestly jealous. They are described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America” and are known for their signature hate slogan, “God hates f*gs.” Charming, right?

Megan Phelps-Roper felt the same for years, until she one day decided to walk away from the church for good. She is now a self-identified “reformed bigot” and invited Natalie to appear on a podcast about J.K. Rowling. Wynn agreed, a decision she now calls a “serious lapse in judgment.”

Phelps-Roper told Natalie that, in the course of making the podcast, she contacted J.K. Rowling and confronted her with a “series of talking points” from a Contrapoints video. She then said that it only seemed right that she speak to Wynn about Rowling. Natalie claimed that the interview was “miserable” and retreaded the usual “concerns” that people have about trans rights. At the conclusion of the interview, Phelps-Roper asked for advice about the project. Natalie stressed to her that the project should not be framed as a debate between two legitimate points of view, for example: “trans people vs transphobes—both have some good points!”

And that’s exactly what Phelps-Roper did. According to Wynn, Phelps-Roper is of the opinion that trans people and transphobes are “equally dogmatic and combative.” The former Westboro Baptist Church member chalks the entire issue up to “incivility,” i.e. “if we could all just have a calm, civil conversation, empathy would prevail.”

The most dangerous aspect of this argument is that it’s a procedural one, meaning that it asserts that the issue itself is not the problem; it’s the way the issue is being discussed. Phelps-Roper is happy to equivocate support for trans rights and transphobia as legitimate talking points, but draws the line when that talking stops being “nice.” A procedural argument was also used to against Colin Kaepernick when he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against Black Americans. His detractors wouldn’t dare find fault in the reason as to why he was kneeling (at least not out loud), so they attempted to delegitimize the procedure he used to make that argument: taking a knee during the national anthem.

This sort of argument has been used to harass and harry civil rights movements since time immemorial, yet now Phelps-Roper’s procedural argument is especially insidious because it’s couched in “both sides”-ism. In Phelps-Roper’s mind, the problem here is not that one group of people is trying to rationalize and explain away the rights of another group of people fighting to survive; the problem is that both sides are being “mean” about it. This also creates a dangerous false equivalence between the two opposing sides, lending moral credence to both when, in reality, one is a form of oppression and the other is not.

Wynn explains that Phelps-Roper’s reasoning is due to her experience leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, which was aided by Twitter users who “kindly pushed back” against her once-bigoted views. Wynn goes on to say that because of this experience, Phelps-Roper has created a political worldview where the fundamental problem that humanity faces is “polarization.” Phelps-Roper was not de-radicalized by counter-protestors “screaming back at her”; she was de-radicalized by “love and compassion.”

While Wynn agrees that the latter has its place, she believes that Phelps-Roper has “dangerously misapplied” this logic with regard to the present issue. Due to her desire to paint bigots as “misunderstood and redeemable,” Phelps-Roper has eschewed actual anti-bigotry arguments for “spineless skepticism with no moral convictions beyond wondering ‘Who’s the REAL bigot here? I guess we’ll never know.'”

Wynn explains that by reducing the “trans debate” to no standard but civility, Phelps-Roper fails to see the big picture. She fails to see the systemic oppression of LGBT people, the “legislative, institutional, and stochastic terror threats” that community faces every day. Trans people are fighting for their right to exist in society, and that fight is “in no way equivalent to the rationalizations offered up by people who oppose trans rights.” To paraphrase Wynn: In the mind of Phelps-Ropers, the phrase “God hates f*gs” is wrong because it’s rude, but if God had ‘reasonable concerns’ about f*gs, then it’s worth a podcast episode, right?” Wynn doesn’t buy it.

Wynn concludes with a damning indictment of the Witch Trials podcast, calling it a “tendentious framing that presents JKR as the victim of an irrational hate mob”—a “hate mob” that includes exhausted members of the LGBT community, respected public figures, and every person under 40 who’s ever been in a Harry Potter movie. Wynn reiterates that she regrets her involvement with the podcast, saying that she has been “used,” and “shares the sentiments of other trans people who speak out against it.”

The top comment of the post perhaps raises the most salient point of all. It is a webcomic drawing of a group of stick figures. One on the left-hand side, one stick figure is Black, one is trans, and one is queer. On the right-hand side, one stick figure is a cop, one a Klan member, and one is outfitted in a Confederate flag shirt while holding a shotgun. In the middle of the drawing, a pair of stick figures, one wearing red and one wearing blue, smile and embrace, saying, “Can’t we all just be friends?”

Sorry, no. We can’t.

(featured image: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Correction 2/27/2023: This article has been corrected to note that The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling is a creation and production of The Free Press, not J.K. Rowling, and that Rowling is not the host. The spelling of Megan Phelps-Roper’s name has also been corrected.

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