08:30 GMT11 April 2021
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    Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have moved to California after falling out with the Royal Family and being targeted by the mainstream media. But why have the Duke and Duchess of Sussex - to give them their proper titles - found such an unlikely fan club on social media?

    On social media there is a war going on between supporters of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the couple's detractors.

    On Twitter supporters of the couple use the hashtag #SussexSquad and defend Prince Harry, his US-born actress wife and their son Archie with fierce devotion. Their arch-enemies tend to use the hashtag #megxit.

    ​But why do they identify with the couple and why are they so passionate in their advocacy for complete strangers?

    Zanye Linda, 41, from Uganda, said she had little interest in the British Royal Family until Prince Harry met Meghan Markle, star of legal drama Suits, in 2016.

    ​She said: "When the story broke that he was dating Meghan, I looked her up, including binge-watching Suits, and I found her to be very fascinating, especially when I looked at her humanitarian work. So Harry together with Meghan drew me in."
    Ms Linda said: "What I like about them as a couple is their commitment to using their platform to bring about positive change."

    ​She said the Duchess’s work with the Hubb Community Kitchen and Vogue’s Forces For Change campaign and her Smart Set clothing collection - which raises money for charity - demonstrated “she was prepared to do what it takes to reach out and help.”

    Another Sussex Squad member, Marleigh Prince, 38, said she had always had a bit of a “crush” on Prince Harry and was aware of his “escapades” as a young man and she said knew of Meghan Markle from her acting career before she met the prince.

    ​She said: "They are good-hearted people trying to make a positive difference in the world. Harry overcame a lot and became a better man. It seems like he got his heart and kindness from his mum…Meghan has used her fame for humanitarian and advocacy work rather than focusing on becoming a huge ‘star’.”

    Marleigh Prince, who lives in the United States, said: “It warms my heart to see how devoted they are to each other. She basically gave up her dream career and independence for him. And he loved her enough to give up his to escape their abusers.”

    ​For many members of the #SussexSquad the "mother ship" is Meghanpedia, a website which was set up "to not only celebrate Meghan’s achievement and journey as royal, but also to point out how the first bi-racial duchess was treated by British media."

    A spokeswoman for the Meghanpedia team told Sputnik: "Some of us couldn’t sit by and watch how a woman, who did nothing wrong, was maligned, slandered and attacked every single day since news broke she was dating Harry. We wanted to gather information and document this time in history."

    She explained the couple's appeal: "They are genuine people and relatable, authenticity will always trump pretense. All you have to do is look at their successful charity work to understand that both are not consumed by the trappings of royalty. These two are here to make a positive difference in the lives of people. That resonates deeply with us and is rewarded by loyal support."

    ​The Duchess of Sussex is currently suing Associated Newspapers - the owners of the Daily Mail and Mail Online - after the Mail on Sunday published five articles in February 2019 which were based on a private letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle.

    ​At a hearing on Friday, 24 April, lawyers for the Duchess said the publication of heavily edited excerpts from the letter was not only an invasion of privacy but an attempt to denigrate her and widen the split between her and her estranged father, who lives in Mexico.

    Her barrister, David Sherborne, said the Mail group had an "obvious agenda of publishing intrusive or offensive stories about the claimant intended to portray her in a false and damaging light."

    ​The Sussex Squad is not an official organisation and Ms Prince said people have a range of allegiances and very different reasons for using the hashtag or supporting the couple.

    Ms Prince, who is 38 and lives in Texas, said: "Some are independent Prince Harry or Meghan fans, some relate to Meghan’s background (race or nationality), some just wanted to see Harry finally get his happy ending but I think the intensity of support comes from seeing this happy couple that only wants to do good in the world being blatantly bullied in the British press."

    Many Sussex Squad members are African, black British or of mixed heritage, and empathise with what they perceive as veiled, or even unveiled, racism which they feel has been directed at the Duchess, whose mother, Doria Ragland is African-American.

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend the annual WellChild Awards in London in October 2019
    © AP Photo / Toby Melville
    The Duchess of Sussex gazes at her husband Prince Harry

    Ms Linda said: "They have gained such a strong following because for a lot of us we recognise the prejudice and bigotry that Meghan was subjected to. Regardless of who we are, many of us have experienced either racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia or misogyny. Some have experienced all."

    She said: “We recognised what was being done to her by the media and while this was happening the Royal Family not only sat back and did nothing but in many cases they encouraged it.”

    Ms Linda said the Sussex Squad was simply "liked-minded individuals working towards this common goal of not only defending them but also ensuring that the good they do does not go unnoticed."

    The Sussex Squad claim pictures have been altered in Photoshop, quotes have been twisted and even facts have been made up by certain mainstream media outlets who have been hellbent on painting the Duchess as a bossy and self-obsessed foreigner who has got Prince Harry under her thumb.

    ​Ms Prince said: "Everyone likes to blame Meghan but I believe Harry drove their media engagement. He’s always had a problem with them and did not want his son to go through what he went through growing up - it was hard enough watching what Meghan was going through. I like that they didn’t give in to the media’s blackmail. You can’t treat them like s*** and then expect them to give you exclusive access."

    Many Sussex Squad members believe she is being subjected to treatment similar to was dished out to Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in the early to mid-1990s.

    Britain's Princess Diana looks at her two sons Prince William, right, and Prince Harry, at Saint Tropez, on the French Riviera, Monday July 14, 1997, where she is spending a few days vacationing and staying at the residence of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed.
    Britain's Princess Diana and her sons Prince William, right, and Prince Harry, at St Tropez, on the French Riviera in July 1997, shortly before her death

    Ms Linda said: "The similarities I see between Diana and Meghan is their authenticity and commitment to charity work. Reading accounts from people who had a chance to meet Diana and those who have met Meghan, they say there is this presence they carry with them that leaves people feeling like they have been seen."

    ​Ms Prince agrees: “They were both not afraid to help out untraditional charities helping people society despises. For Diana it was people with AIDS. For Meghan it was the One25 charity, which specialises in helping women break free from street sex work."

    The spokeswoman for the Meghanpedia team said: "The only similarities I see is the disrespectful media treatment and lack of support within the BRF (British Royal Family) for these two women. Diana went through a lot but in Meghan’s case, the added racism and organised smear attacks is worse. Prince Harry couldn’t protect his mother back then but he is now making her proud by protecting Meghan and Archie."

    Several articles have also been written in which the Duchess of Sussex is compared with Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who fell in love with King Edward VIII in the 1930s. Because of a ban on monarchs marrying divorcees, he was forced to abdicate in 1936.

    ​Ms Linda said: "I don’t think the UK establishment sees (her) as a threat in the way Wallis Simpson was because Harry’s position is very different from King Edward, so it is far from being a constitutional crisis."

    But she added: “I think for the establishment there is a current struggle for relevance in today’s society. You have a Queen and two adult kings in waiting, all seeming to compete for the same level of attention from the population.”

    Ms Prince said: “Abdication only happens if the Royal Family pushes them out. Remember, it wasn’t Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back fully. They presented an option similar to Princess Eugenie and Beatrice that would still allow them to work for the Queen with the one caveat being that they were no longer forced to use the royal rota. Due to media pressure the Queen and Prince Charles decided against it.”

    ​The spokeswoman for the Meghanpedia team said drawing similarities between Meghan Markle and Wallis Simpson were "historically inaccurate" because the latter was a "Nazi sympathiser" with nothing in common with the Duchess of Sussex.

    She said: "It’s a shallow and disingenuous exercise. The two women couldn’t be more different. Wallis was a socialite, Meghan was an activist, humanitarian, and actress prior to meeting Harry...Wallis may have posed a threat because Edward abdicated the throne to marry her, and that fundamentally shook the hierarchy. Harry is not the next King, so what is this really all about? If Meghan is seen as a threat simply because she’s American, that’s a separate  issue worthy of an honest conversation. Otherwise, what is Meghan’s crime? Is it her skin colour or work ethic?  Some in the establishment feel threatened by an accomplished woman of colour who doesn’t bow down to white supremacy."

    Ms Prince said there were a lot of mainstream media journalists in Britain who appeared to have a grudge against the Duchess.

    “The campaign of hate against Meghan feels very personal. They have what seems like a personal vendetta against Meghan and there is no way to justify the vindictiveness and the sheer volume. You would think Harry was their actual boyfriend who left them for her,” she said.

    Many Sussex Squad members also accuse the Royal Family and, especially Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, of leaking derogatory or false information about the Harry and Meghan.

    ​The popularity of Harry and Meghan was highlighted when they toured Australia and New Zealand in October 2018 and Ms Prince said: "There’s some jealousy from Kensington Palace, whether it’s from William and Kate directly or their courtiers. The venom and insider leaks increased after the Australasian tour. The crowds they got outnumbered all the expectations."

    Ms Prince said she felt the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had now started copying Harry and Meghan’s "touchy feely" style.

    "There are many examples of Harry and Meghan doing something new and getting crucified in the press only for William and Kate to get praised for copying them and modernising the monarchy for the future,” she said.

    But the spokeswoman for the Meghanpedia ​team said: "Sussex Squad has no enemies. We fight for what we believe is right and are motivated by fairness and principle. That seems to anger some forces. Given that we support Meghan with evidence, we do attract anti-Meghan trolls and bots on social media. There have been some attempts to infiltrate, divide and silence the group. We know British Royal Reporters don’t really like Sussex Squad because we fact-check their made-up stories with evidence. Our loyalty and support only applies to Meghan and Harry."
    Prince William, UK royal family, Prince Harry, Duchess of Sussex
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