Leak To Mail on Sunday Claims Chief Constable Believes Allegations Against Ted Heath “120 Per Cent”

A dramatic front-page splash from the Mail on Sunday:

The online version expands on the claim:

Sir Edward Heath WAS a paedophile, says police chief: Astonishing claim is made that the former PM is guilty of vile crimes ‘covered up by the Establishment’

However, neither version of the headline makes clear that this all according to unnamed “sources”. Wiltshire Police has been trawling for allegations against Heath (who died 12 years ago) via Operation Conifer since August 2015, but Chief Constable Mike Veale has not made any public statement announcing Heath’s guilt. According to a police spokesman quoted at the end of the article (emphasis added):

…the Chief Constable was determined to ‘ensure the investigation is proportionate, measured and legal’ and that the job of the police was to ‘impartially investigate allegations without fear or favour and go where the evidence takes us. It is not the role of the police to judge the guilt or innocence of people in our criminal justice system.

The spokesman also declined to comment on a claim that Veale believed the allegations “120 per cent” – a striking phrase that is now likely to define Veale’s career, just as the words “credible and true” will be forever linked with the Metropolitan Police’s “Operation Midland” fiasco.

According to the article, “more than 30 people have come forward with claims of sexual abuse” against Heath, and some accusers “are believed to have told police they went on to commit sexual abuse crimes themselves as a result”. Further, according to a “source”:

‘There are very close similarities in the accounts given by those who have come forward. The same names used for him, the same places and same type of incidents keep coming up.

‘What stands out is that the people giving these accounts are not connected but the stories and the details dovetail…’

This may amount to strong evidence against Heath, but without more detail it is impossible to assess whether the “close similarities” really reflect uncontaminated independent testimonies. Several allegations against Heath appeared in the media in 2015, and there is also a wealth of online conspiracy material about Heath and other politicians. If police have been merely comparing interview notes, this may not have been properly taken into account. (1)

Operation Conifer has been controversial from the beginning: police are apparently going through Heath’s papers looking for evidence, and late last year the Mail on Sunday revealed that one accuser was making particularly incredible allegations that linked Heath to Satanic Ritual Abuse; this person had been under the care of a therapist who had “recovered” the memories.

The article also outlines some known allegations against Heath

The claims, some of which have been proved false, include alleged links to a convicted brothel keeper known as Madame Ling-Ling. A paedophile dossier compiled by Labour peer Baroness Castle said he offered young boys trips on his yacht, and in a separate incident one man claimed Sir Edward picked him up hitchhiking in Kent as a 12-year-old in the 1960s and lured him to his Mayfair flat.

Labour MP Tom Watson also said he had received allegations about Sir Edward. However the claims Mr Veale is investigating, which date from the 1960s to 1990s, are not linked to the discredited evidence of the man known as ‘Nick’, who alleged a high-level paedophile ring.

This needs some unpicking. First, Myra Forde (aka “Madame Ling-Ling”) ran a brothel in Salisbury, where Heath lived in retirement. In 1991 she was facing prosecution, and she apparently raised Heath’s name in the hope that the authorities would be deterred from taking action. The trial was indeed dropped, although for unconnected reasons and she was successfully prosecuted in 1995. She did not name Heath at this later trial. Her brothel involved underage girls, which is significant given that the allegations against Heath concern boys.

Second, we have no evidence that Barbara Castle ever compiled a “paedophile dossier”. The claim that such a dossier existed comes from a journalist named Don Hale, who says that Castle gave it to him in the 1970s but that it was taken from him by police before he could use it. Hale’s claims appeared 2014, but he made no mention of Heath. His article on the subject in the Sunday Mirror also included a number of direct quotes that he attributed to Castle, although he did not explain how he was able to remember what she had said to him so exactly decades before. I discussed this in more detail here.

Third, claims that Heath took children out for a spin on his sailing yacht are only sinister once one has decided that he must have been an abuser. But according to accounts, he took children out in groups, and his yacht was a racing vessel with a a three-man crew and without any private space. This is hardly conducive to committing acts of abuse.

Fourth, the 1961 “hitchhiker” accuser mentions a grand apartment, which was inconsistent with where Heath was living at the time, but which reflects a dating error that appears in a biography of Heath.

I discussed all these allegations (and others) against Heath in 2015.

According to the Mail on Sunday article, Wiltshire Police intends to publish its report in June – although in December, Veale said that his final report would be “confidential”. So, that’s at least three and a half months during which conspiracists and those who enjoy making allegations of “VIP paedophilia” will be deluging social media with the most lurid assertions – all based on the authority of what a Chief Constable allegedly “believes”, but without any substantiating detail. And even come June, we may still be none the wiser.

The Mail splash also includes a sensationalizing sub-section heading, titled “Do These Photos Undermine Ex PMs defence?” Such a heading obviously implies compromising material, when in fact the photos merely show that, contrary to a claim otherwise, Heath owned a car and drove it himself in 1975.


(1) An example: in the case of Operation Midland, the Metropolitan Police were particularly impressed by the accuser’s ability to describe a private location where he was supposedly abused as a child – but they were unaware that the location held open days for tourists, and that the accuser had visited there just a couple of years before.

The Year of Trumpification and Other Donald Trump Prophecies

A striking word of caution from Steve Shultz, editor of neo-Pentecostal prophecy website Elijah List:

Of course we must always remind ourselves and others that President Trump is not our Savior. Jesus Christ is.

But God has both appointed and anointed President Trump to take the reins during the time and season when many of God’s prophets are hearing words such as


• The Greatest Awakening of All Time.

• More miracles than at any time in History.

• The Time for GREATER WORKS than Christ, as HE PROMISED!

Ahead of the election, neo-Pentecostal prophets received messages from God comparing Donald Trump to Cyrus (a non-believing ruler who restored the Jews to Jerusalem and Judea) and to King David (whose heroism was flawed due to sexual indiscretions) – useful rationales for voting for a man whose character and appetites were otherwise completely incompatible with Christian Right values.

It has also been claimed that prophets were told years ago that Trump would one day be president: in 2007, God told “singing prophet” Kim Clement that “I will raise up the Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate”, which, although obscure at the time, is now taken to be a reference to the election. Then, in 2011, God made himself clearer to a retired Florida fire-fighter named Mark Taylor, while Taylor was watching Trump on TV.

During the campaign itself, God told Denise Goulet, wife of Pastor Paul Goulet, that Trump was his “son, with whom I am well pleased”, while a Messianic Rabbi used numerology to prove that God had arranged for Trump to become president at just this moment. On the day of the inauguration, God further made his views known by a bit of rain, supposedly a “blessing”.

Since then, God has continued to communicate with various prophets about Trump and the meaning of his presidency. Shultz’s Elijah List is a sort of clearing house for these messages and visions, and some items are further disseminated via Charisma News, which is part of Stephen Strang’s evangelical/neo-Pentecostal media empire. Charisma‘s correspondent here is Bob Eschliman, who ahead of the election also produced secular anti-Clinton articles for the website. Eschliman tends to quote the prophecies at length, one suspects because they are very difficult to encapsulate coherently.

Here are some examples from Charisma:

20 January: Stephen Powell Shares Prophetic Words for President Trump
“This man will batter through demonic barriers, even on the world stage, which no man or woman in world history has been able to have the breakthrough in before…”

30 January: Prophecy: 2017 Will Be a Year of ‘Trumpification’
From Gale Sheehan of the Christian International Apostolic Network: “We are moving into a year of ‘Trumpification’ here in the United States like maybe no other year in our history. This word was coined to represent the effect of our next president on the affairs of men.”

1 February: Prophecy: The Lord Is Decreeing a Clarion Call for Intercessors
Lana Vawser warns of demonic snakes “with a specific assignment to do whatever it took to hinder what God is birthing in the United States of America and through President Donald Trump”.

1 February: Prophecy: Donald Trump Is Unstoppable Because the Lord Is Unstoppable
God told Stephen Powell that “This man is unstoppable because I’m unstoppable. My kingdom is unstoppable, and this man has a mandate from heaven; he has momentum that is not his own. His movement will not dissipate, it will grow, and it will reach beyond the borders of American governing. It will inspire; it will stir up a nest.”

2 February: Prophecy: ‘Even This Week, I Will Shake Your Courts!’
Via Hank Kunneman, senior pastor of Lord of Hosts Church in Omaha: “Watch even this week, I will shake your courts and I’m going to establish as I said before. I am stepping in upon your courts for I am the Supreme Judge. And what I have planned shall now balance your courts, but very soon there will be vacancies again, and I’ve said to you and say to you again I am breathing upon your courts.”

6 February: Prophecy: Trump’s Inauguration Signals a Time of Reconstitution for America
From Diane Lake of Starfire Ministries: “We can expect the Lord’s glory to shine through like never before. God re-establishing His covenant is going to usher a movement of greater glory—expect new levels of glory, new dimensions of His presence and expansion within the prophetic. Watch for His voice to come forth from the cloud (Ex. 34:5; Luke 9:33-35).”

6 February: Prophecy: Here’s What Edie Bayer Saw While Praying for President Trump
“I believe that Jesus is giving us a ‘new hat’ to wear! Just like the horse in my vision wore a hat as protection from the blazing sun, this new hat will be one that protects us from the elements that would affect our mind, will and emotions.”

8 February: John Kilpatrick: Through President Trump, the Lord Is Lifting Up Truth Again
“The Lord said that He is changing the appetites of people. Instead of rejoicing in rumors and lies, the people will now become excited to hear truth again. They will love the truth and reject the lies as well as the liars.”

Excavators Claim to Have Identified New Cave Where Dead Sea Scrolls were Formerly Located

From BBC News:

New Dead Sea Scrolls cave discovered

Archaeologists have found a cave that once housed Dead Sea scrolls in a cliff in the Judean desert – the first such discovery in over 60 years.

Israel’s Hebrew University said the ancient parchments were missing from the cave, and were probably looted by Bedouin people in the 1950s.

…The team excavating the latest cave was led by Dr Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with Dr Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia.

The article is one of many deriving from a press release from the Hebrew University – and it’s ironic to see the Daily Mail offering up the slightly more cautious headline:

Has the 12th Dead Sea Scrolls cave been found? Excavators discover a new site they believe was once home to the ancient religious writings

The Mail frequently introduces sensational yet dubious claims with question-marks, as a distancing device (e.g. from 2014: “Are these the bones of a water demon?”-  a classic QTWTAIN) – but in this instance the paper is being very reasonable, even if just by habit rather than design. The claims reflect the considered opinion of professional archaeologists, but they have not so far been peer-reviewed or formally published.

According to the university press release, the findings don’t just indicate the past presence of scrolls, but actually “prove” they were there. These findings include “a leather strap”, which the archaeologists state was “for binding the scroll”; a cloth, which they assure us “wrapped the scrolls”; and “tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments”. There were also Second Temple period storage jars that had been placed in niches (or “hidden in niches”, to use the press release’s terminology); a small piece of parchment, found “rolled up in a jug”, which “was being processed for writing” (not sure if this means “is being processed”, to see if there is writing on it); and a 1950s pick-axe, which suggests that the site had been ransacked in modern times. Thus the press release is based on an interpretation of the site, without scientific tests on organic remains, and without any detailed account of the methodology employed by the excavators.

Stories about archaeology that relate to the Bible are often presented sensationally. This is clearly a significant find, but it’s a shame to see the Hebrew University play up to sensationalism rather than urge caution. The cave was explored as part of a project called “Operation Scroll”, which is already dubious: archaeology is not a treasure hunt, and a project focusing on a quest for desired objects rather than the interpretation of a site does not reflect best practice, even though other objects are also being logged – in this instance, Chalcolithic and Neolithic flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated carnelian stamp seal. (In fact, the name “Operation Scroll” was also used previously, in late 1993 and early 1994, when the Israel Antiquities Authority ordered a rush survey in the wake of the first Oslo Accord.)

The press release adds that the cave is to be known as “Q12”, the letter before the number indicating that no scrolls were found on the site. Otherwise, the the number should go first, as in cave “4Q” – although this convention is not universally applied and I’ve seen plenty of works that write of “Q4” as the site of the most famous discoveries. The advantage of having the number first is that the cave number can then be combined more clearly with a numbered document or fragment.

The involvement of Randall Price and his students is worth special notice: Price is indeed a professional archaeologist, and there is no reason to doubt his formal competence when it comes to digging and identification. However, he is also an evangelist and apologist, and as such his formal expertise can be put into the service of extravagant theories and absurd projects – thus in 2009 he was involved in a ridiculous expedition to look for Noah’s Ark. He is also a prolific author of apocalyptic Christian Zionist tomes and DVDs, with titles such as The Coming Last Days Temple and How the MidEast Conflict is Preparing the World for the End Time.

Price is not the only evangelical archaeologist to engage in this kind of thing – in September, there was a report concerning Steven Collins, director of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in Jordan. Collins apparently told a church audience that he had found a building that may have been used by Moses while he was writing the Book of Deuteronomy – a proposition so ludicrous that it verges on trolling Biblical scholarship.

For some reason, Fox News has decided to report on the exploration of “Q12” with an odd article co-authored by one Jeremiah J. Johnston, “president of Christian Thinkers Society”, and Craig A. Evans, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University. Their piece purports to explain how the “Incredible new Discovery Proves that the Dead Sea Scrolls belong to Israel”; but the discovery, even if confirmed, is not “incredible”, and the article’s polemical points do not pertain to anything found in the new excavation.

Labour Councillor Attempts to Mainstream “Rothschild” Conspiracy Theories

John Clarke, a Labour Party councillor in Essex and a one-time Parliamentary candidate, makes an announcement:

This followed a Tweet stating that he objects “2 Rothschild & co. against their greed, monopolistic exploitations and unchecked power”.

This is apparently Clarke’s idea of damage limitation, having shortly before manually RTed a Tweet by a neo-Nazi Twitter user who had uploaded a text image containing the following proposition:

Israel owns the Senate, the Congress and the executive branch. but … who owns Israel? The Rothschild family who has been creating almost all of the world’s money at interest for a couple hundred years. They have used usury alongside modern Israel as an imperial instrument to take over the world and all of it’s resources, including you and I… and if you have a problem with that, you’re an “anti-semite”

The image also included a Star of David and a photo of Jacob Rothschild. It was produced by Smoloko News, an American neo-Nazi and anti-Jewish conspiracy website that produces many such “meme” images, and the site’s url is included at the bottom of the the image promoted by Clarke. Clarke commended the image as “an oversimplified view of the world economy but containing a great deal of truth”, while the Twitter account that he eventually conceded “probably” anti-Semitic includes a graphic of Adolf Hitler in its avatar and describes itself by announcing “THERE WERE NO GAS CHAMBERS – HITLER WAS RIGHT 88”.

Clarke now presents himself as victim of “nutters” (here) and of “faux outrage” from “Zionists”, who “will find Antisemitisim in ANYTHING” (here). He eventually announced that he had blocked the account he had formerly advertised, acknowledging that it had posted “pro Nazi propaganda” and adding that “I regret RT’ing his/her rubbish but disagree actions were ever Antisemitic”. He also emphasised his support for Palestinian rights.

Clarke’s Tweets about being “anti-Rothschild” are worth noting as the mainstreaming of a particular conspiracy theory: that of “Rothschild Zionism”. I’m not sure where this phrase originally came from, but it is particularly associated with the rhetoric of David Icke. The term does not purport to identify a particular kind of Zionism, but rather to uncover the essential nature of Zionism. As Icke wrote in 2009:

Zionism is a political creed introduced by the House of Rothschild to advance the goals of the Illuminati families that are largely controlled by the Rothschilds. When people think of Zionism they think of Jewish people.

When they think of Israel they think of Jewish people. That’s understandable given the propaganda, but it is seriously misleading and those instant connections need to be broken if we are going to understand what’s going on here.

Zionism means Rothschild just as Israel means Rothschild. When we see the extraordinary number of Zionists in key positions around the world we are looking not at ‘manipulating Jews’, but manipulating Zionists representing the interests and demands of the Rothschilds.

…Today, Rothschild Illuminati fronts like the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Royal Institute of International Affairs, and others, still answer to the Round Table which string-pulls and coordinates from the shadows. This is why Zionists in government are invariably connected with these Rothschild-controlled organisations.

If Clarke’s obsession with “Rothschild” is not derived from this kind of conspiracy mongering, then where has it come from? It is no secret that Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild supported early Zionist settlement in Palestine and that other members of the family have maintained support for Israel ever since – but if there is some reputable work in history or political science in which “Rothschild” provides a credible explanation for the history of modern Israel and its current place in global affairs, I’m not aware of it. And neither is Clarke, who, instead of citing such a source, can only bluster and block.

And what about the alleged “greed” of the Rothschild banking dynasty? Again, there is no evidence that this is a particular characteristic of the family that stands out within the banking or financial sector – and Jacob Rothschild is actually on record as having “sympathy” with the Occupy movement that emerged in the post-2008 banking crisis. That crisis, of course, was caused by reckless lending rather than high interest rates, which is the “usury” to which Clarke’s regrettable source refers, and the banks responsible were American investment banks (particularly Lehman Brothers) rather than the Rothschild Group (despite conspiracy theories).

I doubt very much that Clarke knows anything much about the various members of the Rothschild banking dynasty, or has undertaken any study of the financial sector and the position of the Rothschild Group within it. Perhaps, in a world of faceless multinational banking corporations, it’s easier to interpret financial trends through the imagined motivations of an old-fashioned banking dynasty – and in the case of “Rothschild”, there’s a ready store of anti-Semitic conspiracy literature to draw on, going back to the early nineteenth century (as discussed by Brian Cathcart here).

In some cases, this kind of literature gets recycled with the overt anti-Jewish element downplayed: for instance, in 1991 the US televangelist Pat Robertson published a book called The New World Order, which recycled old anti-Jewish conspiracy theories by the likes of Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins but emphasising the Illuminati and Freemasons rather than Jewish bankers. Icke, meanwhile, rants about extra-terrestrials and a “Jewish clique” rather than Jews in general. But that kind of fine distinction is functionally meaningless, given the extravagances of the theory being proposed: it is one thing to criticise Israel based on facts, but quite another to propose paranoid pseudo-explanations for human affairs that are no more than a gateway to explicit anti-Semitism. Clarke’s idiotic inability to see the obvious anti-Semitism of his source at once is a case in point.

In the 2015 General Election, Clarke stood for Labour in the consistency of Witham in Essex. He came in third, just behind the UKIP candidate and far behind the Conservative winner, Priti Patel. During the campaign, Clarke made a number of statements about Patel that she regarded as offensive, and for which he apologised after she complained to Ed Milliband. However, he now takes the view that further references to his behaviour during the campaign are evidence that he “hit a nerve” with his claims about her. He also suggests that Patel’s supporters “are behind the Antisemitic lies about me”, based on Oliver Kamm (who has usually voted Labour in elections) raising the subject.

It should be noted that Clarke bills himself as a “retired lecturer”, and his Twitter name indicates that he must be entering his 57th year. In other words, this is not some young activist who doesn’t know much apart from what they find on the internet: this is a man old enough and educated enough to know much better.

UPDATE: In fairness, I’ll note that Clarke did fire off a hostile Tweet at Icke in 2014, after Icke linked to a Daily Mail article about how activists in the Paedophile Information Exchange had associated with Labour Party figures in the 1980s through the National Council for Civil Liberties. Clarke’s view was this was a “conspiracy ‘theory'” that could be dismissed because of the very fact that it had appeared in the Daily Mail.

However, Clarke also believes that “Right wing press attack powerless victims of historic sexual abuse; often taking side of powerful men”; he made that statement in October 2015, at a time when an actual conspiracy theory about politicians and organised paedophilia was falling apart after months of sensationalising coverage.

End-Times Paperback From Birther Pastor who Mocked Sandy Hook Parents as “Actors”

A book advert from WND:

When the Lion Roars: Understanding the Implications of Ancient Prophecies for Our Time

by Carl Gallups

Product Description

The return of Israel. Increased turmoil in the Middle East. China and Russia’s presence in the Fertile Crescent. The exponentially increasing technological explosion. The rise of the Sodom and Gomorrah spirit. These are just a few prophetic fulfillments occurring in our day that point to significant biblical times to come. The Bible is 100 percent accurate in regards to the ancient prophecies—and ours is the first generation to see them converging.

In itself, this is an unexceptional addition to the tottering pile of evangelical paperbacks that have been sold over many decades on the promise that “ours is the first generation” to see ancient Biblical prophecies converging. Most famous, of course, was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, and Gallups appears to have adopted a similar breezy style (one chapter is entitled “Pass the Turkey, Please”, just as Lindsey used desperate puns such as “Sheik to Sheik” and “Russia is A Gog”). Gallups’s book is simply more of the same racket, although it’s worth noting because of the exceptional toxicity of its author and the endorsements it has received.

I’ve been aware of Gallups – pastor of the Hickory Hammock Baptist Church of Milton, Florida – ever since he published a video in which he argued that the Jesus had named the Anti-Christ as “Barack Obama”. Gallups eventually backed down from that, claiming that the “leftist media” been unable to appreciate a piece of “political satire”. More recently, he published a book through WND called The Rabbi Who Found Messiah, which claimed that an elderly Israeli Kabbalist had accepted Jesus as the Messiah shortly before his death in 2005, and that this had End Times significance. He is also known for his birtherism and association with Mike Zullo – it was on Gallups’s radio show that it was first announced that Sheriff Joe Arpaio intended to give a final press conference in December about Obama’s birth certificate.

However, Gallups is most notorious as a sometime Sandy Hook Truther. This achieved wider attention when Gallups led prayers at a Trump campaign rally in January 2016. The Daily Telegraph has the details:

An evangelical pastor who led prayers at a Donald Trump campaign rally has been accused of being a Sandy Hook “truther” who claimed that the school massacre never happened and that the parents of the child victims were “Hollywood actors”.

.It has emerged that on his radio show Freedom Friday earlier this year, Rev Gallups suggested that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school, where Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six staff members in 2012, were a hoax.

…”[David Wheeler] played the part of a grieving father with a woman standing beside him, crying, slinging snot,” said Rev Gallups on the show that aired in February.

“This guy, he and his so-called wife, are standing up there and they’re grieving, and ‘my child, my child, this and that, we gotta get take the guns.’ … This dude is a Hollywood actor, his so-called wife is a Hollywood actor.”

The Trump campaign’s website listed Gallups among a number of Florida “community leaders” whose endorsement it had been “a great honor” for Trump to have received; the page is still live, although after the Sandy Hook comments came to wider attention the campaign’s attitude changed to “I know not the man”. Under pressure, Gallups claimed that he had never endorsed his guest’s view, and uploaded a radio extract titled “Carl Gallups Says Sandy Hook Never Happened? NOPE! Sorry Media Matters!”. However, the original audio is available here. Whatever Gallups’s overarching Sandy Hook theory may be, it is completely unambiguous that he referred to two recently bereaved parents with contemptuous mockery based on a ludicrous conspiracy theory, and that in doing so he degraded the memory of a murdered six-year-old boy, Benjamin Wheeler. Surely such a person should be beyond the pale?

Apparently not. The cover for his new book comes with an endorsement from Joel Richardson, author of The Islamic Antichrist (“Carl Gallup’s prophetic detective work will stoke the fire of urgency and expectancy”), while the first pages feature praise from Pat Boone (“you will become increasingly convinced that we are living in the most profoundly prophetic days since Jesus Christ first walked the earth in the flesh”), Herman Bailey (a televangelist), Mike LeMay (a radio evangelist); and Messianic Rabbi Zev Porat, who uses Gallups’s Rabbi Who Found Messiah book to evangelise Jews in Israel.

The website advertising the book also has blurbs from Zach Drew, who is Jim Bakker’s co-host; Cheryl Chumley (author of another WND title, The Devil in DC: Winning Back the Country from the Beast in Washington); Thomas Horn (who blends Christian fundamentalism with David Icke-style science-fiction conspiracy theories); Richard Syrett (“host of the Conspiracy Show and guest host of Coast To Coast AM“); Laurie Cardoza Moore (of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, a Christian Zionist outfit); Grace Vuoto (“editor of Politics and Culture at World Tribune”; Pastor Mark Biltz (originator of the now-outdated “Blood Moons” End-Times theory); and Gregg Jackson (“bestselling author of Conservative Comebacks To Liberal Lies“).

There’s also a Foreword by WND’s CEO, Joseph Farah. Farah is most famous as the man who guided Trump’s birtherism, but he also represents a link between general conservatism and various Christian Right strands. More recently, Farah has produced his own theological opusThe Restitution Of All Things: Israel, Christians, And The End Of The Age, described as “a primer on the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith”. This does not just mean understanding the historical Jesus in his historical context, or a better appreciation of the Hebrew Bible; rather, it is a specific movement that seeks to purge Christianity of “paganism” and appropriate Jewish cultural elements – hence Farah often prefers to write of “Jesus-Yeshua” rather than just “Jesus”. The book also stresses the idea of Jesus’s thousand year rule over the earth as a literal proposition, during which he will “reign with His faithful friends – true believers like you and me”.

Farah’s own book comes with a cover blurb by Biltz, a long-rolling endorsement from Gallups, and a further endorsement from Bill Cloud, who has also been promoted by the WND website.

Channel 4 Reveals “Sadomasochistic Cult” Allegedly Linked to Elite Evangelical Anglican Camp Holiday

This one is being reported widely; from Channel 4 News:

Police have today launched an investigation into claims that teenage boys from Britain’s leading public schools were violently beaten, in what’s been described as a “sadomasochistic cult” run by a lawyer with links to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Operation Cubic, run by Hampshire Police, will examine allegations uncovered by Channel 4 News that John Smyth QC stripped and brutally lashed 22 young men he had groomed at the Christian youth camps he ran.

Archbishop Justin Welby, who worked at the camps managed by The Iwerne Trust [1], and was once a colleague of Mr Smyth, issued an “unreserved and unequivocal” apology on behalf of the Church of England, admitting it had “failed terribly”.

(For non-British readers: public schools here mean posh private schools) The alleged beatings – so severe that some alleged victims were forced to wear adult nappies due to bleeding – did not occur at the camps themselves. Instead, it is claimed that they took place in  Smyth’s garden shed, after the boys had come under Smyth’s influence. Many of the alleged victims were originally associated with Winchester College, and one, allegedly pursued by Smyth to university, attempted suicide rather than submit to a beating for his 21st birthday.

Smyth (pronounced “John Smythe”) was famous as the “go-to barrister” for “clean up TV” campaigner Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers and Listeners Association, and he represented her in several campaigning legal actions, most famously against Gay News in 1977, for publishing a poem “about a homosexual centurion’s love for Christ at the Crucifixion” (the paper was convicted of the archaic offence of “blasphemous libel”), and against the National Theatre in 1980, for staging a play that featured a homosexual rape scene (although he fell ill before the trial and the case was unsuccessful). As “John J. Smyth QC” he also wrote letters to The Times arguing for controls on video recordings and other subjects (he is also referred to in some sources by his full name and title of John Jackson Smyth QC).

Smyth appears to have had a particular obsession with homosexuality – his website (since deleted, but available on the Internet Archive) includes booklets such as Why Choose Heterosexuality?, Homosexuality and Political Correctness: The Great Media Deception, and The Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality.

Unlike some other historical abuse claims, in this instance we have a very clear paper trail which shows that the Iwerne Trust compiled a report on Smyth in 1982, which was passed to the police by the Titus Trust in 2014 after it took over the Iwerne Trust’s work. Smyth did not challenge the report, but instead left the UK for Zimbabwe in 1984, where he worked for a mission group called Africa Enterprise for two years and then ran similar camps under the name of the Zambesi Trust from 1986. In 1997, he was charged with culpable homicide over the death of Guide Nyachuru, a boy who drowned at one of his camps in December 1992, and of having injured several other boys in April 1993 [2]. However, the case collapsed due to legal irregularities, after which he relocated to South Africa. There, Smyth became Director of the Christian Lawyers’ Association of South Africa, in which capacity he opposed civil unions, and later became Honorary Director of the Justice Alliance of South Africa (which has also deleted its website).

The Iwerne Holidays were founded in the 1930s, and they have been instrumental in promoting evangelicalism within the Anglican Church. Here’s some background from From Controversy to Co-Existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England 1914-1980, by Randle Manwaring and published by the Cambridge University Press in 1985 (pp. 57-58):

For a long time there had been Scripture Union Camps but, as the work of its sister organisation, the C.S.S.M. [Children’s Special Service Mission], expanded, so the latter flowered into what were called Varsities and Public School Camps… These took many forms… but one the most far-sighted and far-reaching enterprises was led by the Rev. E. J. H. Nash, who, at the age of thirty-three, gave up his work as chaplain of Wrekin College (a Maryrs Memorial Trust School) to work full-time for C.S.S.M. and S.U. Immediately, he organised camps at Clayesmore School, Iwerne Minster, Dorset, which continue to this day, the mantle of Elijah having fallen on the Rev. David Fletcher. The keynotes of Iwerne were always very simple bible teaching and pastoral care through strongly developed friendships at all levels. Attendance was by invitation only and limited to boys at major public schools, at least boarding schools. The unofficial, sotto voce, slogan of the ‘Bash Camps’ (Bash being the very affectionate name given to E. J. H. Nash) was ‘key boys from key schools’ and, whilst this strategy of creating a patrician, elitist Christian society was criticised by many, the results were most remarkable…

Many influential figures in British Anglican evangelicalism were associated with the camps over the years, including John Stott and Bishop Michael Green.

Fletcher was in charge when the report on Smyth was compiled (he “declined to comment to Channel 4”); and Smyth’s alleged flagellomania gives an unfortunate new connotation to the name “Bash Camps”, even though it is claimed that the alleged abuse took place away from the camps themselves. An assessment from a 1969 work (The Evangelicals, by John King) has been included in Nash’s Wikipedia entry, and it provides some clue as to how the culture of the camps may have facilitated Smyth’s alleged predations in the decade that followed:

Controversy is eschewed by “Bash campers”; it is held to be noisy and undignified – and potentially damaging. As a result many issues which ought to be faced are quietly avoided. Any practical decisions that must be made are taken discreetly by the leadership and passed down the line. The loyalty of the rank and file is such that decisions are respected; any who question are liable to find themselves outside the pale… It does not give a place to the process of argument, consultation and independent thought which are essential to any genuine co-operation, inside the church or outside it.

There are two details from yesterday’s media report that may perhaps have been overlooked:

1. In 2012 the media moralist Anne Atkins published an article in the Daily Mail headlined “‘I haven’t handed over a sex offender to the police – because I was told in confidence’: A leading agony aunt makes an explosive confession”. The article was mainly about Atkins’s knowledge about sex abuse by a man she named as “Peter”, but near the end she wrote about another individual:

Years ago, when I was still a child, we had a family friend who was an eminent lawyer, with considerable influence in a well-known public school. He used to invite boys to his house for Bible study. And then encourage them to confess their sins. If they admitted masturbation, for instance, he would strip and beat them, in a shed where no other adults were allowed.

When word of this got out, the parents understandably wanted to protect their sons; the school wanted to protect its reputation.

Instead of facing trial, he was allowed to leave the country quietly .  .  . and continue the same practices abroad, where eventually he punished a boy so severely that he died. Again, I understand there was no trial.

Friends of ours recently went to stay with him and his family, still living respectably in another country. ‘How are they?’ I asked.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Atkins has now confirmed that this part of her article pertained to Smyth – although her claim that the boy died due being “punished” rather than accidentally due to drowning has not been substantiated.

Channel 4 News specifies that according to the old report on Smyth “the abuse was violent but not sexual”, but extra details in the South Africa Mail & Guardian state that Smyth is alleged to kissed his victims’ backs and necks after beatings. He is also alleged to have had an enthusiasm for showering with boys while in Africa.

2. The 1982 report has not been published, but the Channel 4 News report includes a couple of screenshots. These show that a second person was also involved in administering beatings:

J and S saw this as a ‘ministry’ from God. But the ‘ministry’ of discipline in this sense, was secret, self-appointed and never approved by other Christian leaders (cf. Acts xiii.1-2). and of course unknown in lists of ministries (cf. Ephesians iv.ll, etc.)

The knowledge of other people’s sins, and ‘power’ over them through their humiliation, nakedness and beating, is exceedingly bad for the operators.

Note the plural “operators”; “J” is John Smyth – but who is “S”?

There are similarities here with the Anglican Bishop Peter Ball, who in 2015 was convicted of misconduct in a public office for similar practices involving “humiliation, nakedness and beating” in the 1980s and 1990s. It seems that the Anglo-Catholic Ball and the Evangelical Smyth might have a couple of things in common.

UPDATE 1 (3 February): Anne Atkins has now published an article in the Telegraph, titled “Inside the Sexual Apartheid of John Smyth’s Summer Camps”. Although the camps were for boys, it appears that in some cases their sisters could also attend as “helpers”, although “confined to the kitchen”:

I was discreetly steered away from volunteering for a helicopter trip advertised over breakfast; told off for stopping to chat to a young man I was introduced to destined for the same Oxford college; then for agreeing to play tennis with my brother (he was not); and finally for talking to some boys who lay down near us at the swimming pool. It was the last straw: it was politely suggested I should leave, as I didn’t fit in….My husband – not eligible because not public-school-educated, but with his clergy world heavily influenced by it – has boasted ever since that I am the only person to have been sent down from one of its camps.

UPDATE 2 (3 February): Channel 4 News has now broadcast a follow-up segment about Smyth’s activity in Zimbabwe and how the Titus Trust dealt with the matter when it took over the Iwerne Trust in 2014. Once again, there’s an interesting screenshot of a document, this time of some legal advice that has some background about how Smyth was dealt with at the time:

The trustees at the time did warn other organisations in the UK about the character of John Smyth in an attempt to ensure that he could not continue to work with young persons in same capacity. The Headmaster of Winchester College was immediately notified. The trustees subsequently ensured that the Lawyers Christian Fellowship was made aware so that he was prevented from speaking at one of their meetings and various other organisation were contacted. Preventative actions were therefore taken but there was not a full disclosure… At a later date the trustees responded to a request for information from Zimbabwe and ensured that church leaders warned their congregations about John Smyth.

UPDATE 3 (4 February): The Telegraph has published a follow-up article, which notes that the allegations appeared in a 1989 book by John Thorn, a former headmaster of Winchester College, titled The Road to Winchester. Here’s the quote:

I was told the extraordinary news that the neighbouring barrister had gained such personal control over a few of the senior boys in the group, and had kept it after they left the school, that he was claiming to direct their burgeoning relationship with girls and was, with their consent, punishing them physically when they confessed to him they had sinned.

The World of Conservative Evangelism was reft in twain. Absurd and baseless rumours were circulated that he was an unhinged tyrant, the embodiment of Satan. He must be banished. And – quietly but efficiently – he was.

He left the Winchester district and then the United Kingdom. He departed for Africa with his family and, by me, has not been heard of since.

This minimising spin immediately brings to mind the dismissive way that allegations against Peter Ball were dealt with in Eric Kemp’s memoir.

It does not appear that Smyth was named in the book (I haven’t been able to see the original), but according the Telegraph Smyth then circulated a confidential release to church leaders in Zimbabwe in which he admitted to an “aberration of judgment” due to a dependency on sleeping pills. Oddly, however, it seems that he never felt the need to make amends to those who had suffered at the receiving end of this “aberration”.

So – punishment dished out to boys and young men for having normal sexual feelings; but a feeble excuse for his own predatory sadism.

UPDATE 4 (5 February): BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme has a segment on the story. Anne Atkins criticized some reports that this is a “Church of England scandal” (it should be noted that the Iwerne camps were not official Anglican events), while Andrew Graystone, who advised the Titus Trust about the matter in 2014, suggested that while Smyth’s alleged activities were not a part of evangelicalism, they were a “corruption” of evangelicalism that may have drawn on ideas about the need to suffer for Christ just as Christ had suffered for humanity, and about the status of children as unformed adults. Graystone also said that he had become aware of a “second abuser” since the Channel 4 broadcast, and that he would be naming this person to police – presumably this is a reference to the person named as “S” in the 1982 report.

UPDATE 5 (5 February): The Telegraph has published a July 1993 letter that Smyth sent to the “parents of new campers” in which he explained his regime. He said that he wanted “a relaxed family atmosphere”, but that “with so many high-spirited boys we need some form of sanction. I never cane the boys, but I do whack them with a table tennis bat when necessary.” He also said that it was normal for leaders to shower with the boys and for campers to swim naked in the camp pool.

UPDATE 6 (5 February): The South Africa Times Live has reported that the chair of the Justice Alliance, Msizi Cele has said Smyth has been “asked to step down” and that “I don’t think it will be possible for [him] to come back”. A member of the board, Stephen van Rhyn, also confirmed that Smyth has no association with his Jubilee Community Church in Observatory‚ Cape Town. According to the South Africa Sunday Times, Smyth actually had a leadership position with Church-on-Main in Wynberg, Cape Town; the pastor, Andrew Thomson, has said that Smyth has “agreed to step down”.

UPDATE 7 (5 February): The Telegraph has some details on Smyth’s assistant named as “S” in the 1982 report – he was a teenage boy who was allegedly “forced” to join in the beatings, and although he may also now be reported to the police, “the boys he beat are said to regard him as a victim of Mr Smyth, rather than an accomplice”.

The same paper also has an account by the man who had attempted suicide, published anonymously. The author writes that he met Smyth through Winchester College’s Christian Forum, and that he suffered beatings for five years. On the beatings themselves:

At 30 [lashes], he stopped and embraced me from behind, leaning against my back, nuzzling his face against my neck and whispering how proud he was of me.

I never felt or saw him have an erection and he never touched me sexually, although he, too, was often naked and groaning in spiritual ecstasy while doing the beating. He did the same thing, pretty much every time.

It was not the conventional sexual abuse that people might imagine; it was something more complex. It often crossed my mind that in his upbringing in a religious sect, he was repeating an experience from his own childhood.

On Iwerne more generally, he adds:

By 1980, and two years before my beatings stopped, I had become very uncomfortable at Iwerne Minster. My “antennae” for predators had become quite well developed through my school days and, to my mind, Iwerne Minster was an “unsafe” place. A holiday camp for boys but also, potentially, one for predators. 

The writer suffered greatly in the years that followed, and at one time even contemplated arranging a meeting with Smyth in order to kill him.

UPDATE 8 (6 February): The Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, has made a statement saying that he was subjected to a beating by Smyth and has now been in contact with police.

UPDATE 9 (7 February): Channel 4 News has now pursued Smyth to South Africa, where he predictably declined to face the journalist Cathy Newman. Newman did, however, speak to Herbert Ushewokunze Jnr, who was the prosecutor in the 1997 case in Zimbabwe. Ushewokunze says that a private phone call he had made to a relative, in which he had stated that Smyth would be convicted, had been recorded and that this had been used as evidence of his supposed bias. Ushewokunze made the point that even if he deserved a “rap on the knuckles”, there was no reason why another prosecutor couldn’t have taken over the case – yet Smyth was instead allowed to leave the country.

The same segment says that concerns about Smith were raised in Zimbabwe as early as 1986, and there is a screenshot of a document that relates that at a camp in 1991 Smyth forbade underwear and enforced the rule through corporal punishment (“administered either to the naked buttocks or to buttocks covered with a pair of shorts only”). He would also “stand, in the nude, in the vicinity of, or just inside” the shower area, handing the boys soap and shampoo, and one evening he “[led] the boys in prayers whilst he was naked”.

UPDATE 10 (9 February): Matthew Scott, aka Barristerblogger, has a post on the subject, in which he describes his own time as a pupil at Winchester College and his impressions of the Christian Forum, which was regarded by non-members as

as a clique occupying the ground somewhere between ridiculous and unpleasant. There was of course something of an overlap with the more mainstream Christianity in the school, but to those on the outside the Forum members seemed inclined towards self-righteousness and sanctimony, and it did not help that they operated in partial secrecy.

Matthew reports that there was some animosity between the Christian Forum and his father, a teacher at the school and a “quietly religious but very tolerant man who loathed the Christian Forum both for its evangelical theology and because he didn’t much like many its members.” Matthew also describes the headmaster, John Thorn, as “a good and wise man”.

Matthew further notes that the Channel 4 screenshot of the 1982 report includes the criticism that the practice of beatings “is very akin to the Roman Catholic system of confession nnd penance”. As Matthew puts it: “Smyth and his fellow operator were being criticised not just for the beatings themselves, but also because the beatings appeared to be a flirtation with Popery.”

UPDATE 11 (9 February): According to the Guardian, the Church-on-Main told Channel 4 News that it became aware of the allegations against Smyth in September, when it received a phone call from a camp attendee in Zimbabwe. Smyth told the pastor that he had been the victim of “malicious rumours” in Zimbabwe, and that “there was nothing in his past in the UK that we needed to know about.” However, he and his wife were removed from leadership on 2 December, due to “unresolved issues and concerns.” There were also complaints of “heavy-handed” leadership, and the statement claims that

Smyth made a practice of meeting young men at a local sports club for a game of squash, which was “followed by a shower in a common shower, then lunch over which we were told [Smyth] would make generally unsolicited enquiries about the young men’s experience of pornography, masturbation and other sexual matters.”

Smyth was “offering his advice regarding sexual matters that left the person feeling uncomfortable,” the church added.

This seems to me to tend towards sensationalism: presumably the “common shower” is normal at the gym, so here I begin to wonder whether evidence of inappropriate behaviour is being imposed on events in retrospect.

UPDATE 12 (10 February): The Telegraph reports that Smyth has been financially supported for many years by a charitable foundation in the UK also called the Zambesi Trust. The money has continued to flow to Smyth despsite Smyth’s move to South Africa – which apparently was in 2001, four years after the 1997 court case. According to the report:

The most recent trust accounts appear to show direct funding of around £12,000 per annum from the Zambesi Trust to John Smyth, until 2001. Thereafter around £6,000 per annum up until as recently as February 5, 2017. 

That funding as now ended in the wake of the Channel 4 News report. However, the charitable trust’s chair – Jamie Colman, heir to the Colman’s mustard empire and a London solicitor – already knew of the allegations and had flown to Zimbabwe to meet complainants’ parents in 1993. According to the article:

Minutes of the meeting show that he accepted that Mr Smyth had beaten boys with a wooden bat, showered with them, and encouraged them to swim naked.

The documents, now disputed by Mr Colman, record him saying that “the beatings and nudity were justified in the context of a weak church; Zambesi Ministries was aimed at portraying Christianity as a rugged, manly religion”.

He also told the parents that Zimbabwean authorities had “a different attitude towards beatings” to British police, and tried to persuade them not to involve lawyers, citing passages from the Bible indicating that “complaints against a Christian should be addressed within the Church”.

The Charity Commission is now “probing” the trust, while the Solicitors Regulation Authority is looking into Colman.

UPDATE 13 (12 February): The Sunday Times reports that John Thorn regrets not having referred Smyth to the police at the time, and that he “felt to blame for acting ‘too slowly’ before he banned John Smyth QC, 75, from entering the school or contacting its pupils.”


1. The village of Iwerne Minster is misspelt in some reports – the BBC thus has “the Irwerne Trust” and some other sites “the Irwene Trust”.

2. These details are from a legal document relating to his application for the case against him to be dismissed (Smyth v Ushewokunze and Anor – ZLR 544 w). The document can be seen in the 1997 edition of The Zimbabwe Law Reports and in Suid-Afrikaanse Hofverslae, Volume 3, both of which are available on Snippet view on Google Books. The text states:

The applicant, who ran several youth camps in Zimbabwe, was charged with culpable homicide as the result of the drowning of a 16-year-old boy at one of the camps in December 1992. He was in addition charged with five counts of crimen injuria arising from his alleged conduct at the same camp during April 1993. The applicant was arrested on 15 September 1997 and taken to a magistrate for initial remand.

…In 1984 he gave up legal practice and came to Zimbabwe with his family on a temporary immigration permit to do Christian teachings. For the initial two years he devoted himself to a mission organisation known as Africa Enterprise. Then, in 1986, he founded Zambesi Ministries, a body whose primary objective is to work in conjunction with High Schools throughout the country and establish camps for pupils during the school holidays. These camps are known as Zambesi Holidays. The first such camp was held in August 1986 at Lake Chivero. Since that time the applicant has directed camps for Grade 7 to Form 6 pupils every school holiday, with the venue changing after a few years to Ruzawi School, in Marondera, and more recently, to Zambesi Ministries’ own centre on Cotter Farm, ten kilometres from Marondera. The camps are normally attended by about ninety boy-campers and thirty leaders, usually senior pupils who have exhibited strong leadership qualities.

Jesus the Refugee: Fox and Breitbart versus the Bible

From Fox News:

Rev. Al Sharpton has faced backlash on social media for his Sunday tweet saying Jesus was a refugee.

…There’s one problem though: Sharpton’s tweet is not exactly accurate, at least according to the Bible.

Raw Story relates the associated video segment, originally broadcast on Fox and Friends:

“Well, that’s not exactly accurate,” co-host Steve Doocy claimed.

“Well, according to the Bible, it’s really not,” agreed Carley Shimkus, who then read tweets claiming the holy family was just traveling to pay taxes.

“Who gave (Sharpton) his gift certificate to be a reverend?” co-host Brian Kilmeade said. 

The co-hosts’ mockery seemed to imply that to associate Jesus with the category of “refugee” is self-evidently weird and inappropriate.* Oddly, despite Fox News being a favourite media source for conservatives, this bizarre dismissal of one of the most famous stories in the Bible appears to have elicited little complaint from the target audience, although many liberal sites picked up on the error very quickly (e.g. Wonkette: “All Right, ‘Fox & Friends’ Idiots, Time For A F*cking Bible Lesson”).

The distortion appears to derive from a story that appeared on Breitbart (“the closest thing to a state-owned media entity” under the Trump administration, according to Fortune) on 26 December. The article, by one Victoria Friedman, was written following a Christmas Day sermon by an Austrian bishop, Aegidius Zsifkovics, who is known for his advocacy on behalf of refugees:

Nestled in a boat for a crib with a barbed-wire Christmas star, the infant Jesus was given a “contemporary face” by an Austrian Catholic bishop who claimed that “Jesus 2016 is a refugee in a boat”.

Broadcast live on Christmas Day via television to the German-speaking world, Catholic diocesan bishop Aegidius Zsifkovics of St. Martin’s Cathedral, Eisenstadt, Austria, compared the “scandal” of the migrant crisis to the Christmas story, alluding to the Virgin Mary as a pregnant migrant.

“For how can it be that a pregnant woman has to go on a strenuous journey? … It is precisely this scandal that is happening every day on our planet a thousand times, which makes the Christmas story more relevant than the evening news. For in the centre of Christianity stands the refugee child Jesus.”

Last year during the height of the migrant crisis, head of the worldwide Anglican communion Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also said that “Jesus … was himself a refugee.”

However, the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph were not migrating to a different continent for better opportunities or fleeing war, but were returning home for a government-mandated census (Luke 2:1-7).

Readers then added comments linking censuses to taxation policies, which is where the further “traveling to pay taxes” distortion that appeared on Fox has come from.

I find it difficult to believe that the author of the above knew enough about the Bible to find the passage from Luke, but was unaware of the story told as in the Gospel of Matthew, which relates that before returning to Nazareth, the Holy Family first had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15):

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity...

This is not just some obscure footnote: Herod’s “Massacre of the Innocents” is proverbial, while “the Flight into Egypt” is a perennial theme in Western art. Matthew’s account is imaginative, written to compare the infant Jesus with the infant Moses – but historicity is hardly the point: the story expresses something very deep about the values that are meant to be at the heart of Christianity.

Was the Breitbart author truly ignorant of Matthew, or was the article a deliberate attempt to manipulate an audience that likes to think of itself as Christian but that doesn’t know much about the Bible beyond a clutch of self-serving proof-texts? The reference to Mary as a “pregnant migrant” in Zsifkovics’s sermon of course refers to the journey to Bethlehem before Jesus was born (which Friedman confusing calls “returning home”, rather than travelling to the home of Joseph’s ancestors), but the official church website makes explicit that his comments and the boat-crib also pertained to Jesus travelling to Egypt as a baby:

Diese Darstellung gebe der Krippe ein aktuelles Gesicht, so Bischof Zsifkovics. Die Heilige Familie sei nach Ägypten geflohen, um dem von Herodes angeordneten Kindermord zu entgehen. “Jesus 2016 ist auf einem Flüchtlingsboot unterwegs. Die Weihnachtsgeschichte ist vor 2.000 Jahren dort entstanden, von woher heute so viele Menschen zu uns kommen.”

The post is headlined “Jesus 2016 ist auf einem Flüchtlingsboot unterwegs”, and it is same article that Breitbart links to as its source, albeit at a different site (now paywalled, but confirmed by Google Cache).

Fox’s Steve Doocy is supposedly something of a Bible enthusiast, and in 2015 he invited an Oklahoma State Senator onto Fox & Friends to advocate for Bible classes in schools. Perhaps Doocy ought to attend one himself.

* On Twitter, the proposition that Jesus was a refugee has elicited incredulity and disgust, along with crude abuse aimed at Sharpton. One hazards that this is because of a new stigma around the very concept of “refugee”. Case in point:

Call For Fox News To Delete Misleading Tweet on Quebec Shooting Shows Problem of “Zombie News”

From the Independent:

Fox News has deleted a “false and misleading” tweet that claimed the suspect in the Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, following a call from the office of the Canadian Prime Minister for the network to remove the post.

…Early reports of the shooting suggested two men had been arrested following, one of whom was of Moroccan origin, though the man was found to have been a witness and later released by police without charge.

The Fox News Tweet stated “Suspect in Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, reports show”, and clicked through to a story which has since been updated to reflect later developments. It has since been established that sole suspect now in custody is a white man who holds far-right and anti-Islam views; if it is true that the killer shouted “Allahu Akbar”, as “witnesses” reportedly claim, it seems reasonable to conclude that this was done in mockery of those he was in the process of murdering. In any case, the mosque would have been an unlikely (incoherent, even) target for a Jihadi, even allowing for sectarianism.

The continuing existence of the Fox Tweet until just now raises an issue similar to that fake news: something we may call “zombie news”, the persistence of old and inaccurate reports that nevertheless continue to float around on the internet like ordure that refuses to flush away. Fox had of course issued later Tweets that had superseded the original, but thanks to Re-Tweets the earlier version was still being re-published. Anyone who clicked on the link would have seen the later developments – but headlines are often consumed without generating click-throughs.

The general problem, it seems to me, is likely to be exacerbated by urls embedded in social media, which cause headlines to appear but not their dates, meaning that a debunked and discredited media report can continue to circulate if it remains live on the source’s website.

Outdated information can also be weaponized into fake news. Type “Mohamed Khadir” into Twitter, and as of 1 February results continue to show new Tweets identifying him as a Quebec gunman – despite the fact that his innocence has been established beyond reasonable doubt. In particular, such Tweets direct readers to Pamela Geller’s site, where the virulent anti-Islam activist continues to host a 30 January article headlined “Quebec mosque shooters identified as Moroccan Muslim Mohamed Khadir and Alexandre Bissonnette”, and in which she boasts that “As I predicted last night, the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim, as is generally the case in these circumstances.” Of course, the Fox News item was never such a wild extrapolation as Geller’s article is, but like Fox she was working with what was thought to be the case at the time, rather than making up a story from whole cloth.

Geller doesn’t have any general principle against amending her site – in 2012, she deleted a claim that Barack Obama wears a Muslim ring after the story was debunked. In that instance, she knew that the story made her look foolish – but perhaps this time she’s calculated that there is more to be gained by continuing to spread a lie. After all, Alex Jones is continuing to assert that Khadir is guilty, just as in 2013 Glenn Beck accused an innocent Saudi student injured at the Boston bombings of having been the mastermind (Beck eventually settled a libel action).

Geller’s sidekick Robert Spencer is little better – he also deletes (but does not correct) untrue stories when it suits him (e.g. here and here), but in this instance the original headline remains on his Jihad Watch website: “Quebec mosque mass murderers: Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed Khadir”. Underneath the dateline is now a churlish note conceding that “Now police say that Bissonnette is the sole suspect.”

Both articles are continuing to be spread on social media, and I doubt either of them loses any sleep over the falsehood.

Northern Ireland Inquiry Undermines Claims of “Westminster VIP Paedophile Ring” Witness

From The Sunday Times:

Richard Kerr, originally from Belfast, was one of the most high-profile “witnesses” to claim that a Westminster VIP paedophile ring operated in the 1970s and 1980s, but he made claims that could not be true, according to an investigation of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

Kerr’s lurid account of being trafficked from Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast to VIP sex parties at Dolphin Square — a Westminster apartment block popular with MPs — and to a homosexual brothel, the Elm Guest House, was given wide coverage by Channel 4, various newspapers and the defunct Exaro news website…

The article goes on to quote the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland, which recently published its Report (hereafter “the Report”). Chapters 25 to 29 are concerned with Kincora, and Kerr’s claims and history are discussed in paragraphs 151 to 232 in Chapter 26. According to the details there (230),

There is no evidence to support his claim that he was “trafficked to London” aged seventeen. The irrefutable evidence examined by us is that from 4 October 1977 until February 1979, except for the few days between 21 October and 7 November when he was on bail before being remanded back into custody when he stole from [Raymond] Semple, he was in secure custody in Rathgael Training School, and then in Millisle Borstal. He left Northern Ireland in mid-May 1979 when he reached the age of eighteen and was automatically discharged from care. He then made the decision to go and live with his aunt in Preston.

The section of the report concludes (231-232):

Richard Kerr’s recent accounts of his experiences in Williamson House and Kincora are very substantially different from the detailed accounts he gave in the past. When these recent accounts are compared with the accounts he gave in the 1970s and 1980s, and with other documents from that era, a very different picture emerges from that which he now portrays. Having carefully examined all the material available to us we are satisfied that his more recent accounts are not to be relied upon.

We are satisfied that Mr Kerr was sexually exploited and abused as a boy and young man and are in no doubt that this had an adverse impact on his life. However, we cannot set aside or ignore the inconsistencies in his accounts of the abuse he said he suffered.

It seems that Kerr named certain individuals as having abused him only after their names had become public in relation to other cases – such as Dr Morris Fraser of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Cyril Smith (who allegedly abused him in Manchester). It should be noted that the Inquiry was concerned with his claims only insofar as they have a Northern Ireland connection: “If his allegations about his experiences in London or other parts of England are to be investigated that will be a matter for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse” (229).

The report was compiled without any active input from Kerr  himself – arrangements had been made for Kerr to give evidence, but at the last moment Kerr declined to participate, on the grounds that relevant documents were not being disclosed to his legal team. The Report disputes this (152):

…His legal representatives had been provided with over 700 pages of documents relating to Mr Kerr. They had accepted to the Inquiry that what the state agencies knew about the abuse perpetrated at Kincora, and the individuals perpetrating that abuse, or when they knew about it, were matters that are not within Mr Kerr’s knowledge. The Inquiry had no reason to believe that Mr Kerr was able to speak of his own knowledge on the issues of state participation, and he and his legal representatives had been provided with all of the documents available to the Inquiry at that time that the Inquiry considered directly bore upon Mr Kerr or on matters that the Inquiry considered that Mr Kerr was in a position to speak about from his own knowledge.

Kerr’s media appearances were in the first half of 2015, at a time when the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland was in full swing: an accuser named Nick had told police that he had been trafficked into a “VIP Westminster” paedophile ring as a child by his stepfather, where he had been subjected to sex abuse and torture, and had even witnessed child murders. In March 2015, the police had raided the homes of Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall and Leon Brittan to look for evidence – the raid on Proctor’s home was described by John Mann MP as being “the first of many”.

Rumours about a “Westminster paedophile ring” consisting of politicians and other establishment figures have been in the public domain for many years (most famously thanks to Scallywag magazine in the early 1990s), but the recent flurry of media and police interest has for the most part focused on the testimony of several alleged survivors of the ring: “Nick”, “Darren”, Richard Kerr, and Esther Baker.

Nick’s account turned out to be highly fantastical and problematic, and he is now being probed for allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice, while Darren was highly erratic and inconsistent. Both men have been the subject of critical investigative newspaper articles. Operation Midland was finally wound down last year; the Henriques Report, published in November 2016, was highly critical of how the police handled the whole affair.

However, Kerr’s story has not been subjected to any critical scrutiny before now. Abuse at Kincora has been established beyond any doubt, and Kerr was obviously genuinely distressed when discussing his memories of the past in his media appearances. On Channel 4 News, he described having been taken to various locations in the north of England aged 15 before reaching London aged 17. Arriving at King’s Cross (until its recent regeneration, a seedy area of London associated with the rougher end of the sex industry), he was taken to a nearby hotel and made to have sex with several men; he became associated with rent boys in Piccadilly Circus and was taken to Elm Guest House and “by taxi” to Dolphin Square. He says that Elm Guest House he was subjected not just to sex abuse but to sadism.

Around the same time as he spoke to Channel 4, he also contributed to an Australian news documentary segment titled “Spies, Lords and Predators”, which was broadcast on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes. That documentary introduced a distortion to the story: it claimed that Kerr had entered Kincora aged 9 rather than 14, and in a reconstruction of Kerr supposedly being taken by Rolls Royce around London to be abused by VIPs, the boy model used looks about 10 years old. In this version, Kerr stated that Dolphin Square was “the first place” to which he was taken in London, rather than a hotel in King’s Cross.

On television, Kerr did not name any of his alleged abusers, aside from Peter Hayman – Hayman, a diplomat who died in 1992, was known to have been a paedophile and to have worked for MI6, probably as Deputy Director. Hayman’s photo was shown to Kerr by the Channel 9 journalist Ross Coulthart, who introduced it as “another photo” – an indication that Kerr had in fact been shown a series of photos that were not included in the documentary. According to the Needleblog, whose author has spoken to Kerr, Kerr did indeed identify several other individuals, but then asked for this segment not to be used. He said that he had been taken by surprise, and that he was unsure about some of the identifications he had made.

Channel 9 agreed not to show that part of the documentary, but it was seen by Mark Watts at Exaro News, who then ran a piece headlined “Richard Kerr Names Powerful Men who ‘Covered Up’ Kincora”. The Needleblog reproduces an email which shows that Watts went ahead despite having been specifically asked by Kerr not to do so – apparently, the incident led to another Exaro journalist, Fiona O’Cleirigh, leaving the website.

In the article, Kerr is said to have named Lord Mountbatten, Sir Maurice Oldfield (former head of MI6), Anthony Blunt and Sir Knox Cunningham (Unionist/Ulster Unionist MP). Exaro added (as quoted by the Report, 159):

Kerr tells 60-minutes that he walked in on a meeting at Kincora between Oldfield and Joseph Mains, the warden of the children’s home. He says that Mains immediately and forcefully ordered him out of the room. Mains was subsequently, in 1981, jailed for six years for sexual offences against boys. Kerr did not know at the time who Oldfield was, he says, and does not suggest that he abused Kincora boys. Kerr says that he recognised Blunt from his time at Kincora as one of a group of three men, the other two men sexually abused him as a boy, he says, although Blunt did not.

It does seem implausible that anyone could recognise a face decades later belonging to someone they had had happened to “walk in” on. According to the Report (230):

[Kerr says that as] a school boy he returned early to Kincora one day, walked into [Joe] Mains’s office and found Mains and Semple with “three men in suits”. He said he got the strong feeling he “had interrupted something secret and important, I would describe them as being shocked to see me”. He does not say that any of the three men spoke. As we shall see in the next chapter and as has already been confirmed by many of the other residents, officials from social services regularly visited Kincora during his time there. No doubt others did so in plain clothes, such as DC Scully. Any reputable visitor would have been surprised at a school boy entering the office and interrupting their business in that fashion. To infer from his description that he interrupted something improper is to place a sinister construction on the occasion without a shred of evidence to justify it.

Chapter 28 of the Report discusses Oldfield in more detail; it says that a 2001 note from someone in the Special Intelligence Services places Oldfield in Northern Ireland in the 1970s (paragraph 616), but its accuracy has not been established. Further (618):

Whilst on balance the absence of any reference in the SIS records to Sir Maurice Oldfield being in Northern Ireland before he became Security Coordinator in 1979 is indicative that he was not, however, the absence of an explanation for the note to which we have referred means that we cannot put the matter any higher than that.

In contrast to the sensational articles that appeared in 2015, the Sunday Times article and a follow up the next day in The Times seem to be the only articles now raising the problems around Kerr’s testimony in the wake of the Report. However, other articles have noted that the Report rejects claims that Kincora was used by the security service to blackmail British politicians – a long-standing allegation.

One final note: given Kerr’s unhappy past and his obvious present distress and vulnerability, it is natural not to want to take a critical approach to his claims. Some would say that we must simply “believe the victim” – and Kerr undoubtedly is a victim of sexual abuse and exploitation. However, such an approach does not make the difficulties with Kerr’s testimony disappear. These are matters that must be addressed by anyone who wants to continue to take his claims at face value – both for the sake of truth, and because false and mistaken allegations destroy innocent lives.

Evangelical Leaders Promote Claim Rain was a “Prophetic Sign” at Trump Inauguration

Here’s one I missed from a few days ago: from Charisma News:

A Major Prophetic Sign Appeared the Moment Donald Trump Stepped to the Inauguration Platform

The inauguration of Donald Trump was being watched live by tens of millions of people all over the world, and it was at that precise moment that God gave all of us another little reminder that He is in control. It had not been raining prior to the time Trump stepped up to the inauguration platform, but when he did, the rain began to fall…

The author is one Michael Snyder, who is an increasingly significant figure in the process of mainstreaming David Icke-style conspiracy theories in American evangelicalism (e.g. here and here). The neo-Pentecostal evangelical leader Rick Joyner concurs, as noted by Right Wing Watch:

After declaring that Trump’s election was “a miracle,” Joyner explained that, with the exception of Noah’s flood, “everywhere in scripture that rain is mentioned, it is a blessing,” meaning that the presence of rain during Trump’s inauguration was a heavenly sign.

“Anywhere that rain is mentioned in scripture, it is referenced as a blessing to bring fruitfulness to the earth,” Joyner said. “And it was so extraordinary that it was like the rain held off until he stepped up to the podium and then there was just enough for people to know it was raining, and then it seemed to quit again right away. But there was just a touch and I think that was a blessing from God.”

Of course, Franklin Graham himself had said something similar at Trump’s inauguration, although he held back from an explicit claim of supernatural causation, and I took it as a light-hearted quip rather than a serious proposition:

“Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform. It’s my prayer that God will bless you, your family, your administration, and may He bless America.”

There are several texts in the Hebrew Bible in which God promises to either provide or withhold rainfall depending on how the Israelites behaved; one of religion’s primal functions is to explain why seemingly random disasters such as drought and famine occur, and to offer guidance about how heavenly powers might be appeased so that future calamities are avoided. However, these passages obviously refer to rainfall as a general condition required to sustain life in the Levant. To my recollection, there is no instance in the Bible where God uses rainfall as a sign to bless a particular individual or action at a particular moment.

Further, these evangelical leaders have conveniently forgotten a passage in the New Testament – the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:45:

[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In other words, everyone gets rained on – it is not a sign of a special blessing or a curse, although we all know from personal experience that it is usually annoying and slightly unpleasant, and that it may be hazardous to health. I do not believe for a moment that these “prophets” and “Bible teachers” would have interpreted rain at a Democratic candidate’s inauguration as any kind of “blessing” – indeed, they probably would have said that such “bad weather” indicates divine disapproval. The idea that the rain was a “prophetic sign” at Trump’s inauguration merely highlights the shameless opportunism of the USA’s evangelical leadership.

Meanwhile, Trump’s own version of what happened with the rain is slightly different, as related by a critical article in the Daily Beast about Trump’s constant lying:

It stopped raining immediately when I started speaking, he said. No—it started raining when he started speaking; it was visible to any viewer that some on the podium started donning ponchos (it was a light rain that didn’t last long, but it was still rain). There was a huge rainstorm after, he said. No, there wasn’t. Again, the whole world could see this.