THE foot soldiers of hate are gathering in the name of freedom. They come in different forms.

Some stand in stadiums and boo their national team as its manager appeals for national unity and leading players tell of the welter of online hatred which swamps them. Other foot soldiers gather outside Downing Street, as they did earlier this week, physically harassing journalists, shouting “traitor” into their faces because as reporters they speak of inconvenient facts which undermine conspiracy theories.

And then there is the natural habitat of these social media stormtroopers, the digital space which they flood with waves of lies, peddling untruths and narrowing minds.

The foot soldiers of hate are harder now to identify than in decades past. No longer skinheads sporting swastikas – although the far right is a presence amongst them. Rather they come now defended by middle aged mums and respectable grandparents acting as the benign echo chamber of friends and family who have been taken in and hoodwinked by the fake news being served up on social media, driven by algorithms and fake news farms paid for by those seeking to benefit from division.

In the name of freedom, life-saving vaccines are rubbished; in the name of freedom, expert advice is undermined; in the name of freedom, truth is trammelled, difficult decisions decried and collective caution ridiculed.

Of course, there is room for rational disagreement. The decision by the Government to extend current lockdown measures until July 19 will have economic and other consequences.

However, surely no one can reasonably think that the Government, knowing the desire of all of us to live freely and aware of how unpopular such a decision will be, somehow wants to extend lockdown unnecessarily?

But reasonable thought and rational disagreement are not the fighting ground of the foot soldiers of hate.

How else to explain those attending so called freedom marches in London stating the impact of current lockdown restrictions is akin to “genocide” ? How else to explain those caught up in conspiracy theories who tell their elderly parents and grandparents not to get a vaccine in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the beneficial and literally life-saving impact that vaccines have ?

There is always a temptation to let blowhards blow themselves out, to let those who rage run out of energy. The problem with such an approach is the damage they do in the meantime with the risk that the toxicity begins to poison the common waters of wellbeing that we all share.

There are times when the silent majority, the reasoned and reasonable, need to discover their voice. Not to repay insult with insult or evil for evil but rather without fear and with good courage to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have. To do so with gentleness and respect but without flinching in the face of the foaming mouths who respond.

This is not casting pearls before swine but rather believing that hope and reason will triumph over the hate and hysteria that we see increasing around us.

As Edmund Burke famously remarked: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”