opinion

In June, some of Pete Evans' biggest fans threatened to kill me.

In June, some of Pete Evans' biggest fans threatened to kill me. 

Or, even better, have me kill myself. 

I'd written a piece for Mamamia about how Evans' social media posts were veering far away from pictures of delicious salads and towards reposts from and links to the beliefs of Holocaust deniers, anti-COVID conspiracists and known racists. The story I wrote contained only images and captions taken from Evans' own Instagram account. The original headline was, in retrospect, more than a little provocative: Pete Evans Is Not A Truth Teller. He's Just A Narcissist Who Makes Nice Salads.  

Evans didn't like it. He posted a screen-grab of the headline and my byline. Not an actual link to the story, but just the headline. And just like that, his army came for me. 

I'm not asking for any sympathy over the torrent of abuse I received next. I'm a woman who writes on the Internet, so being called names is not a novel experience. And I'm sure Pete's followers would argue I started it, which I did. Even so, the level of vitriol, and the calls to 'neck yourself, you dumb b*tch,' were unusually numerous and consistent. Being the subject of that level of abuse is not fun, however often it happens. It plants a tough little nut of fear and anxiety in the pit of your stomach that sprouts and spreads with each new notification.

Watch: Pete Evans on 60 Minutes. Post continues after video.


Video via Nine.

But I blocked and deleted, blocked and deleted, and quickly, Pete's army moved on. To Magda Szubanski, after she appeared in a public service announcement on behalf of the Victorian Government. To Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a New Zealand microbiologist who publicly criticised Evans. Every time, it was the same tactic. Evans posts a headline or a snatched video grab, says little, and his troops mobilise. Pete posts a popcorn emoji, and sits back to watch the fun unfold. 

Pete Evans is not responsible for the actions of his followers, but for someone who preaches "love and light" as his ubiquitous sign-off, he wields a particularly toxic power to intimidate those who criticise him. 

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Pete Evans' post about Magda Szubanski back in August. 

 

But snide headline aside, it appears I was right about the way Evans' political leanings were heading. This week the oblique gave way to the overt when he posted a cartoon that showed a MAGA-hat wearing caterpillar having a drink with a butterfly whose wings were adorned with the 'black sun' - a symbol adopted and displayed by the Nazis, most notably by Heinrich Himmler, one of the primary architects of the Holocaust. These days it's employed by new-breed Nazis, and it adorned the backpack of the man who murdered 51 praying Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, just last year. 

In the cartoon, the caterpillar is saying to the butterfly "You've changed". And the Nazi butterfly is saying, "We're supposed to." 

After the entirely reasonable shock and anger that cartoon generated, Evans took the post down, insinuating that he didn't understand its significance: 'Sincere apologies to anyone who misinterpreted a previous post of a caterpillar and a butterfly having a chat over a drink and perceived that I was promoting hatred. I look forward to studying all of the symbols that have ever existed and research them thoroughly before posting.'

He said the same in a video on Tuesday afternoon, that the "mainstream media" were trying to make him appear racist but he even had to look up 'neo-nazi' to know what one was.

Unfortunately for Pete, and his self-proclaimed commitment to love and peace, screenshots exist. 

As Evans himself might say, let's just leave these here: 

Pete Evans' comment on his post. Image: Twitter/@byronkaye. 

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A screenshot of Pete Evans' alleged comment on Facebook. Image: Twitter/@MagdaSzubanski.

No-one much describes Pete Evans as a 'celebrity chef' any more. Not since he pivoted from wood-fired pizzas to fear, conspiracy and hatred. 

But he still, until the Nazi butterfly at least, has enjoyed the benefits of the fame he won back when he was 'just' a judge on a cooking show. 

A lucrative many-book deal with Pan Macmillan, which has screeched to an abrupt stop this week, with the publisher offering a buy-back scheme to retailers who suddenly don't want the heat a tainted chef brings to the cookery section. Until early this year he was still under a hefty contract to Channel Seven, and clearly he's still fielding invitations to appear on reality shows, since Channel Ten reportedly pulled him out of I'm A Celebrity quarantine in the midst of the 'butterfly' scandal. Only now are mainstream stores pulling his products - from dog food to cookware - off shelves. He will continue to sell them through his own outlets, to the true believers. 

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And more importantly (most importantly), he's still speaking to hundreds of thousands of people on mainstream social media platforms. Instagram has not banned him, even temporarily, over sharing that hateful symbol, the one that stirs horror and fear and trauma in millions of people. The mainstream TV networks might have finally cancelled him, but the most powerful voices in the world have not. They are still distributing his misinformation and prejudice - alongside his beautiful salads - all day, every day. 

Of course, not all of Pete Evans' fans wanted to kill me. Not all of the DMs, emails, comments and messages I received after I wrote that story were hysterical and violent. 

Most of it was from people who wanted to defend their hero for a good reason - he has changed their lives for the better. His Paleo Way program, his advice and his recipes had helped them get well when they were sick, or to lose weight when everything else failed them. To them, Pete Evans stands for health and integrity and freedom, a dissenting voice against a big machine that's constantly trying to sell us what's bad for us. 

And it's because of those people - all the reasonable, decent people who wanted to feel less terrible - that Pete Evans should be banned from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Because they don't deserve to be served a palatable side of hatred alongside their Asian mushroom salad and their cauliflower fried rice.

Feature image: @chefpeteevans

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