Christian Right Activist and Kentucky State Rep. Commits Suicide after Investigative Exposé

Self-Styled “bishop” had long-standing links with Larry Klayman and Gordon Klingenschmitt

Johnson at 2013 rally with Larry Klayman

Kentucky-based WDRB reports:

Kentucky State Rep. Dan Johnson, who was under investigation for alleged sexual molestation, died of a “probable suicide,” the Bullitt County coroner said.

…On Tuesday, Johnson held a press conference at his church on Bardstown Road, where he denied the molestation allegations. According to court documents obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the alleged molestation took place on New Year’s Eve in 2012. The alleged victim, who was 17 at the time, told authorities that she was staying in a living area of the Heart of Fire City Church where Johnson was pastor, when Johnson, who had been drinking a lot, approached her, kissed her and fondled her under her clothes.

Johnson left a semi-coherent post on Facebook in which he stated that “the accusations from NPR are false GOD and only GOD knows the truth”, and referred to “NYC/WTC, PTSD 24/7 16 years”. Johnson was previously in the news in 2016, after it came to light that he had posted images to Facebook mocking Barack Obama as a chimpanzee – a revelation that was apparently not so offensive as to prevent his election.

The link in the paragraph quoted above clicks through to a long-read by R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan which documents Johnson’s history. The researchers found evidence of “bounced checks and credit card debts”, insurance-related arson, and illegal sales of alcohol at his church. The alleged molestation included digital penetration, and Johnson apparently afterwards said that he had been “drugged” by someone on the night it was alleged to have occurred and that he had no memory of the incident. The article also explains that a police complaint at the time was “botched”, but that it had now been re-opened.

The most credible explanation for Johnson’s suicide is that this was the final attempt of an inveterate liar to re-assert control over his destiny as his past caught up with him. Even the World Trade Center reference in his suicide note is spin; as the article notes:

To hear him tell it, Johnson has been on stage nearly his whole life. Like Forrest Gump, he just so happens to be in the front row, playing a pivotal role in America’s biggest moments. Time after time. Decade after decade.

He claims he served as White House chaplain to three presidents. A United Nations ambassador. He says he set up the morgue after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was the pastor who gave last rites for all of those pulled from the towers.

However:

…But Storm Swain, a Philadelphia theology professor who wrote a book about chaplains at Ground Zero, has never heard of Johnson. She said it’s highly unlikely that any civilian, let alone an out-of-town clergyman, would have been asked to — or would have been able to — set up a morgue in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

And a spokeswoman for New York City’s medical examiner’s office said she checked with several colleagues who were at the scene. No one remembers Danny Ray Johnson.

Despite this, Johnson was apparently drawing an income from benefits payable to workers who were injured or became ill as a result of 9/11.

At first glance, Johnson might seem to be a marginal figure, a big name in his own small pond but not of wider significance. However, the article also notes that in 2013 he was a speaker at a Freedom Watch rally in Washington, DC, organised by Larry Klayman. Klayman is a lawyer notorious for grandiose and absurd lawsuits (I blogged one here), and his rally called for the creation of a “shadow government” should Obama resfuse to resign. US News & World Report noted at the time:

Approximately 100 conservative activists gathered in front of the White House on Tuesday for a kickoff of what organizers call “the second American revolution.”

…Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman, who emceed the event, told attendees if President Barack Obama does not resign by Nov. 29, conservative activists will meet in Philadelphia to elect a shadow government.

“We’ve got God on our side,” Klayman said. “He’s going to make sure we win this revolution.”

Bishop Dan Johnson of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville, Ky., prayed with ralliers, asking God to “cause [elected officials] to get on their knees, not to Allah, but to God almighty.” In his prayer, Johnson denounced homosexuality, permissive parenting, pornography and welfare.

A long video of the event has been uploaded  to YouTube; the various speakers and the timings of their appearances are posted underneath. The first speaker, following Johnson’s introduction and opening prayer (recorded on a different video) and a turn by a George Washington impersonator, was none other than Joseph Farah, who advised Donald Trump during Trump’s “birther” period and who has often promoted Klayman on his WND website. The line-up over the following five hours included Bob Barr and Michael Peroutka, and a recorded statement from Pat Boone.

Two years before the rally, Johnson was part of an attempt by Klayman to force New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to give clergy an official role at the Ground Zero ceremony on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Bob Unruh wrote it up for WND:

Klayman said his clients who would be plaintiffs in a legal action include Bishop Dan Johnson, a member of the “World Bishops Council” who on the early morning hours of 9/11 had arrived in Manhattan.

According to his story, he was resting when his wife called concerned about an airplane accident. He immediately responded to offer his help, and was asked by the New York Police Department to set up the first morgue in the financial district.

He kept records of victims brought in, performed last rites on the dead and prayed for them, and has participated in every 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero since.

“Originally I was invited to attend this year’s 9/11 ceremony as a first responder, just like I was every year since 2001,” Bishop Johnson told former U.S. Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who also is involved in the case.

“But then I heard Mayor Bloomberg banned clergy, so it took five phone calls to his office before [a Bloomberg senior staffer] asked me if I was going to wear my clerical collar. I said I planned to dress just like I did the previous nine years, so she replied ‘they’ prefer you not attend. And that was it. I was disinvited.”

Bloomberg’s decision of course related to having clergy-led prayer; there was no dress rule that banned attendees from wearing clerical collars. However, according to Klingenschmitt:

“Disinvited because of his religion, his clergyman status, and his faith in Jesus Christ. Bishop Dan Johnson is a hero who faces arbitrary and illegal persecution and discrimination for religion by the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.”

A short post on Free Republic has further details:

In a sad display of anti-Christian censorship, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has banned clergy from participating or praying at the 10th anniversary 9/11 memorial ceremony honoring the victims of terrorist attacks from September 11th, 2001.  

Today I spoke with Bishop Dan Johnson, a 9/11 first-responder clergyman who ministered to the dead and dying in New York City on Sept 11th, 2001.  For the last nine years, Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg invited Bishop Johnson to the annual ceremony, but this year he was told by Mayor Bloomberg’s staff that he cannot attend “in his capacity as clergyman,” but only in his capacity as first-responder.  And he dare not pray aloud.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Southern Baptist leader Richard Land.  “We live in a country where the overwhelming majority of people identify as Christian or have a religion, and clergy were some of the first people to respond on 9/11 to minister to victims.  Why aren’t they welcome today?”

“I’m stunned,” said Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association.  “This event affected the whole psyche and soul of the country, and you are going to have no prayer? What’s a memorial service if you are going to leave God out of it completely? It seems kind of hollow.”

The original source for the post is not given, although it presumably derives from something written by Klingenschmitt that is no longer live. The quotes from Land and Wildmon in fact relate to Bloomberg’s decision in general, although they are here misleadingly presented as if made in specific response to Johnson’s complaint.

Of course, this was all before Johnson became known for his chimpanzee joke about Obama, and before his troubled history was fatally exposed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. But it doesn’t look like the prominent conservatives who put him on a platform more than once did much due diligence – and neither did local Republicans, who accepted him as a candidate.

UPDATE (15 December): Although Johnson’s death has received widespread media coverage, his past allies seem to have forgotten him: Larry Klayman hasn’t said anything on social media, while WND only has a brief excerpt from the WDRB article and a link.

Some Notes on Roy Moore’s Campaign

Sarah Palin uses Twitter to give her thoughts on Doug Jones’s apparent narrow victory in Alabama:

[1] Humbling night for GOP. Like him or not, Axelrod is right with his observation in Alabama: Jones focused on AL, didn’t get caught up in national winds or drama. (1/2)

[2] All politics is local – and personal – voters want and deserve candidates laser-focused on We the People on the local level! Lesson learned. – SP

Palin travelled to Alabama in September to campaign for Moore to win the nomination, where she spoke alongside Sebastian Gorka. Gorka is a less reflective mood, dismissing Jeff Flake’s comment that “decency wins” with the rejoinder that “Actually INFANTICIDE won”. Presumably this is an overheated and exaggerated reference to Jones’s views on abortion – but if this issue was more important than anything else, why then did he campaign against Trump’s initial preference Luther Strange, a solid anti-choice Republican who would almost certainly have won the election? Clearly, Gorka gambled on Moore due to wider ideological priorities – and lost (although Moore has not yet conceded, apparently).

Jones was also elected despite the exhortations of high-profile supporters. Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC organised a press conference in the wake of the sex allegations: Right Wing Watch noted that

Speakers included anti-abortion extremists like Flip Benham and Operation Save America‘s Rusty Thomas, long-time Religious Right fringe figures and like Alan Keyes and Gordon Klingenschmitt, right-wing internet personalities like Activist Mommy, local pastors, and even Janet Porter’s mom… Also speaking was Steve Hotze, a Texas activist who has been a major funder of Moore’s campaign, who Porter said had helped to organize the event.

One standout—both for being a non-Christian and for the intense ugliness of his anti-gay rhetoric—was Rabbi Noson Leiter, who denounced the “abomination” of marriage equality and “homosexualist gay terrorism and blackmail” and praised Moore for taking on “immoral Bible-hating millionaires” including “anti-god Republicans like McCain and Romney.” He said Noah’s flood “was triggered by societal recognition of same-gender marriage—so-called marriage.”

Moore also enjoyed the support of Jerry Falwell Jnr and Franklin Graham, as noted by The Hill. The two men had slightly different approaches: while Falwell stated that “I believe the judge is telling the truth” when it came to the sexual allegations against him, Graham was slightly more vague, talking in general terms about the “hypocrisy” of Moore critics and stating “I don’t know” in relation to the women’s accounts. Graham also said that he was “praying” for Moore – prayer here being public political theatre rather than private piety.

However, some prominent evangelical women took a different view: to its credit, CBN ran a fair piece under the headline “Evangelical Women Speak Out Against Roy Moore”, which noted comments from Beth Moore and Kay Warren, and drew attention to a Washington Post op-ed by Nancy French.

Moore’s campaign also introduced the nation and the world to several figures who spoke in the media on Moore’s behalf, but not necessarily to his advantage. Janet Porter, a veteran Christian Right activist from Ohio (previously blogged here) caused some offence by referring to an interviewer’s pregnancy in relation to Jones’s views on abortion (which she exaggerated) (1), while “evangelist and attorney” Trenton Garmon ineptly attempted to lighten the mood during an interview with Don Lemon by making merry over Lemon’s surname.

This, however, was just Garmon’s warm up, and a couple of days later he offered a defence of Moore’s alleged past dating practices which was widely described as “bizarre”. As Business Insider reported:

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Velshi and Ruhle”… host Stephanie Ruhle asked Garmon why Moore would need permission if the women he dated were not underage.

“Culturally speaking, I would say there’s differences,” Garmon said. “I looked up Ali’s background, there — wow, that’s awesome that you have got such a diverse background. It’s really cool to read through that.”

Ali Velshi is from Canada, although his family heritage is Asian-Kenyan.

Then, on the eve of the election, we were introduced to another Moore spokesperson, this time a former county commissioner named Ted Crockett. In a much-remarked interview with Jake Tapper, Crockett struggled to explain Moore’s views on homosexuality (specifically, what legal punishment Moore envisions), and he insisted that United States law means that only Christians who swear on the Bible can hold public office. When corrected on this point, Crockett was silent and literally slack-jawed for several seconds until Tapper did him a favour by wrapping things up. Garmon and Crockett’s amateurish incompetence was an extraordinary spectacle – was this really be best talent Moore had at his disposal? And if so, what does that say about Alabama more generally?

The campaign was not just an all-American affair, though: in September, none other than Nigel Farage took part in an event alongside Steve Bannon and Phil Robertson. Taking his lead from Breitbart (which is currently sourly noting a “Uniparty Victory” in Alabama), Moore described Farage on Twitter as “Brexit leader”

Footnote

(1) Porter was also criticised by Nancy French, who recalled an encounter from a decade ago. Given the ephemeral nature of Twitter, I’ll quote her thread in full:

Janet Porter, Roy Moore’s spokesperson, has been in the news for being – well – horrible. But I just realized I once ran into her… and remember it 10 years later. /1

The year was 2007. We walked into the @FRCAction’s so-called ‘Values Voter’ conference as ‘Evangelicals for Mitt,’ a grassroots organization that discussed the faith issue as it pertained to @MittRomney. /2 We wanted conservatives to rally around Mitt – even though our religions didn’t precisely line up – because he represented conservative values well (and other reasons). /3 The mostly evangelical crowd was frosty to us. Baptist preacher @GovMikeHuckabee slyly mocked Romney in his speech, ‘it’s important the language of Zion is a mother tongue [of the next GOP nominee], and not a recently acquired second language.’ /4 The crowd went wild. I went in expecting the sweet Christian ladies at church. But the Values Voters was full of mean, vitriolic people. Especially since we were advocating for a Mormon. /5

Huckabee advocates handed out fliers: ‘Do Not Compromise Your Values, with ‘your’ crossed out and replaced by ‘God’s.’ See, they had ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ (that just a few years later would have them shilling for a thrice married playboy @realDonaldTrump.) /6 Which brings me to the worst thing that happened at the VV conference. Romney won the straw poll (our little grassroots group had out-organized the other candidates’ teams) and the attendees were furious. /7 One lady – a Huckabee supporter, natch – stopped me on an elevator. ‘You should really support a Christian candidate.’ I began my normal speech about faith’s proper role in politics… /8 She cut me off by berating me, ending it with ‘Well, I can tell you just don’t love America.’ My husband @DavidAFrench was just days away from being deployed to Iraq, and I was very very emotional about him leaving me and our two children. /9 I was so angry I froze as she chastised me. ‘But my husband’s going to Iraq’ I said.

Unimpressed, this venomous lady kept yelling at me as she got back into the elevator and the doors closed. I could hear her yelling as the doors closed. /10 You’ve probably guessed the unhinged-lady-on-the-elevator-who-yelled-at-a-soldier’s-wife-for-not-loving-America was Janet Porter. /11 Stands to reason. In the twisted worldview of modern Values Voters – you can’t vote for a Mormon, but you can shill for a credibly accused pedophile. /12

I didn’t have the voice or emotional strength to stand up to that woman on that day, but I’ll say it loudly now: God’s Values include excusing pedophilia and overlooking sexual sin, @GovMikeHuckabee, @RealDonaldTrump, and Janet Porter. /13 Here’s a quote about children from a book Values Voters say they read: ‘It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.’ Luke 17:2 /end

Recreation of Statue Destroyed by ISIS Denounced by Jewish and Christian Extremists

From the website of the Dubai Future Foundation:

The UAE has officially inaugurated the Digital Archaeology Exhibition “The Spirit in the Stone” in the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. The pioneering initiative saw the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) partner up with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations and the Institute of Digital Archaeology at the University of Oxford.

The project seeks to preserve the cultural heritage and archaeological sites of the region – especially those threatened with destruction or vandalism – by documenting them and then replicating them using 3D-printing technology. At the inauguration event, the Foundation unveiled a newly created, with 3D technology, replica of the rare Statue of Athena, which joins the replica of Palmyra’s historic Arch of Triumph, the gateway to the ancient Syrian city that was destroyed by ISIS terrorists.

Nothing can adequately replace the original antiquities destroyed by the Islamic fundamentalists, but this takes us as far as we can in safeguarding and curating the memory of what has been irrevocably lost. It’s also an encouraging sign that Muslim governments are committed to the historical preservation of the region’s pre-Islamic heritage.

However, not everyone is happy – but the complaints are coming in from Jewish and Christian extremists rather than Islamic militants. A religious website called Breaking News Israel reports:

Rabbi Elad Dokow, the head rabbi and lecturer at Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology, was not surprised that the United Nations would feature a display of pagan symbols.

“There is currently an unmistakeable rise of paganism and idol worship in the world, more than any other religion, and it is naive to believe this display is disconnected from this phenomenon,” Rabbi Dokow told Breaking Israel News. “Paganism creates the ability for each man to create his own truth, as opposed to Judaism and Christianity, which state that there is an objective truth man must abide by. The UN, like paganism, is a place of subjective reality created by a vote.”

The article also tells us that:

It is also believed that the Greek goddess Athena was based on the earlier Mesopotamian goddess Ashera and was later incorporated into early Islam as al-Lāt, worshipped in Saudi Arabia as the consort of Allah mentioned in the Koran. This would be consistent with the statue’s history at the site in Palmyra, which was used as a temple by the Mesopotamians, Romans, and Muslims in succession.

This is garbled. The notion that Athena must be “based on” a Mesopotamian goddess presumably derives from the out-dated assumption that we should look to historical information in the Bible for the origins of ancient religious phenomena – in fact, however, it would be more accurate to state that Athena and Ashera have a common derivation in a Cretan-Mycenaean goddess whose name is preserved on linear B tablets from Knossos as “a-ta-na- po-ti-na-ja”.

The second sentence is obviously meant to mock Islam by alluding to the “Satanic Verses” – a story in which Muhammad is said have been deceived by Satan into describing Lat (or Allat, “the Goddess”) and two other goddesses as “exalted”. However, this supposed message was quickly repudiated by Muhammad, so to say that Lat was “incorporated” into Islam is mischievous (although from the Bible it appears that Ashera was an ordinary part of Israelite religion until the goddess was purged from Israelite theology). Allat-Athena, as venerated at Palmyra, is a late combination. To suggest that the UAE project is motivated by “idol worship”, and that this is somehow derived from an element within Islam, is an absurdity.

Meanwhile, denunciations by Christian fundamentalists have been assembled by the conspiracy website WND, including a quote from WND editor Joseph Farah:

“Most people today don’t realize how much of a hold ancient pagan beliefs, practices and images still have on their lives,” said Joseph Farah, author of “The Restitution of All Things: Israel, Christians and the End of the Age.” “In fact, pagan values and traditions have never left us. Even Jews and Christians are impacted by them. And they are not innocent because the gods of paganism are actually demons, according to the Bible. It’s not something to be played with.

“The question confronting us right now is: Why would the United Nations be involved in resurrecting these occult images and icons of the past? Do they not understand what this represents – the false gods of child sacrifice and all kinds of abominations and perversions?”

Various self-styled “prophecy experts” and pastors concur: the article goes on to quote the likes of Jonathan Cahn (who famously predicted an economic crash for September 2015), Carl Gallups (a depraved Sandy Hook Truther who has explicitly mocked a grieving parent), Bill Cloud (blogged here) and WND‘s Joe Kovacs. According to Gallups:

“The Bible warns us that in the days before the return of Christ, there would be an unprecedented demonic outpouring,” Gallups told WND. “We are the first generation to live in the days of instantaneous communication and information technologies connecting the entire globe. The demonic have a stage like never before. And now the ‘gods’ are parading out their images, manipulating and using human agents to do so. The ‘gods are behind the ‘thrones’ of earthly powers. Satan is furious, he knows his time is short, as Revelation 12 says.”

There is some irony in seeing Christian fundamentalists in the USA superstitiously denouncing the activities of historians and art restorers as the work of the devil while an authoritarian middle-eastern state sponsors what is actually a commendable and enlightened educational project in the public interest.

I previously blogged on the reconstructed “Triumphal Arch” here. That project provoked similar responses, while an earlier plan to recreate the arch from Palmyra’s Temple of Baal prompted warnings that its erection in New York would create a Ghostbusters-style trans-dimensional portal.

London Times Probes Grenfell Tower “Jewish Sacrifice” Conspiracy Theorist

From the London Times:

A leading proponent of the conspiracy theory that the 9/11 terror attack was faked by Jews has gained a prominent role as a Grenfell Tower volunteer.

Tahra Ahmed has claimed that the tower victims were “burnt alive in a Jewish sacrifice”.

Attending a town hall protest two days after the fire, she told reporters there that the fire was a “holocaust”. She has previously described Hitler’s massacre of Jews as the “holohoax”.

Ms Ahmed, 47, was an activist at the protest about the fire and has been running a volunteer network to help those affected by the tragedy.

The article goes on to note other examples of Ahmed’s anti-Semitism, such as her view expressed on Facebook that “Hitler and the Germans were the victims of the Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany”.

Unfortunately, the piece does not properly describe the extent of her “network”. The article is one of several by Dominic Kennedy published in the paper today that contrasts the support group Grenfell United with other groups, the latter depicted as unreasonable militants out to “hijack” and “exploit” the issue through exaggerated claims and rhetoric. Among those mentioned is Ishmahil Blagrove of Justice4Grenfell, a long-time activist who we are told somewhat cryptically “has published work by an anti-Obama conspiracy theorist”. The Russian news channel RT also gets a mention, for attempting to “foment ‘class war’ in Britain” by misreporting on Grenfell (it’s not clear why “class war” is in quote marks – an anomaly that RT has seized on in its response).

Ahmed previously featured in reporting in June, when she was quoted as part of a protest at Kensington Town Hall:

Tahra Ahmed, who was involved in organising the protest, branded the tower fire a ‘holocaust’. The former Metropolitan Police worker admitted she was ‘hoping the protest doesn’t get worse’ after repeatedly being forced to intervene to stop violence against police throughout the evening.

However, there isn’t much else online about her Grenfell activism, and so it may be that she is something of an outlier and that her “network” is small. Presumably she is not part of Justice4Grenfell, or else Kennedy would have mentioned it. I previously blogged on Grenfell Tower conspiricism here.

Ahmed is, though, of interest as someone with long-standing links on the “conspiricist left”. In 2014 she appeared on The Richie Allen Show, a conspiracy podcast (see here) produced in association with David Icke, to talk about a project called “the re-set” (the lower-case is deliberate). Her associate in this project is Ray Savage, a former police officer and conspiracy theorist who later participated in at least one anti-“Satanic Ritual Abuse” protest outside a church in Hampstead. The “re-set” supposedly refers to a constitutional “re-set” provision within Britain’s laws – a pseudo-legal concept akin to “Freeman of the Land” and “Sovereign Citizen” fantasies. The website can be seen here, although an archived version is a bit more informative.

The year before that, Ahmed organized a “Truth Movement” conference in London called “Seek Speak Spread Truth”, with “Gilad Atzmon, Ken O’Keefe, Alan Hart, Les Visible, Kevin Schot, Nahida Exiled, David Messenger, and Gill Kaffash”. The event caught the notice of the Community Security Trust.

A bit of Googling also reveals an association with Tony Farrell, a 9/11 and 7/7 Truther who claims to have had a career in the police, and with a woman who refers to herself as “Charles Seven” – this latter person describes 7/7 as

a media mafia ritualistc satanic witch hunt vendetta to psychologically torture, terrify and paralyse me into not bringing my evidence to court exposing conspiracy to defraud and murder by way of widespread racketeering of trillions using stolen intellectual property and other highly sinister activities from 2003 onwards.

These links are revealed in emails by Ahmed published by Mark Windows, an actor and director who was a presenter at the The People’s Voice, a media project of David Icke and Sean Adl-Tabatabai (previously blogged here). Windows alleges that his scepticism of “Seven’s” claims led to him being defamed on a now-defunct conspiracy website called called Syncrenicity, run by a certain Tony Kilvert and owned by one Keir Argent. Windows claims that “Seven” arrived at The People’s Voice in the company of Ahmed and Savage to make their case to Icke.

Media Continues Campaign of Attacks on Stop Funding Hate

The Times reports:

They claim to be taking on hatred by persuading companies to pull advertisements from certain newspapers, but online posts by supporters of the Stop Funding Hate campaign betray the venom it attracts.

…Among those who post regularly about the campaign is one who tweets under the name @westlake1972. He repeatedly calls anyone he deems to be right-wing a “c***”, using the insult against Nick Robinson and John Humphrys, the Radio 4 Today hosts, and Jonathan Dimbleby, the television presenter. Another regular supporter, @speedyned, ruminates whether to “kill” his or her in-laws for reading “Mail and Express” and Gary Cook called Mr [Boris] Johnson a “horrible, vile, f***ing racist C***” for saying that Barack Obama was a “part-Kenyan president”.

Stop Funding Hate highlights examples of what it considers to be hateful rhetoric in newspapers, and asks supporters to politely raise their concerns with advertisers. In recent weeks the stationery store Paperchase and Pizza Hut have both apologised for running promotions with the Daily Mail and the Sun.

@westlake1972 has 788 followers on Twitter, and no public profile; @speedyned appears to have deleted his Tweets and purged all his followers, but there is no residual evidence that he or she ever interacted with anyone else. I have not been able to trace Gary Cook, so cannot confirm whether his objection to Johnson was indeed because Johnson had referred to Obama’s ancestry, or because Johnson had inferred from this that Obama must be anti-British. @westlake1972 frequently uses “Tory cunt” as an insult, but his vagina monologues also include Jeremy Corbyn (“I think Corbyn is a cunt”) and Tony Benn (“narcissistic cunt”).

The trollish trio unearthed by The Times and thus now preserved in the UK’s paper of record are presented as evidence – to quote the headline – of the “Online Venom of Campaigners against Hatred”. The headline at least agrees that the campaign’s target is indeed “hatred”, although this implication was probably unintentional.

The Times article is just the latest media attack on Stop Funding Hate: two weeks ago, the Daily Mail‘s hatchet man Guy Adams wrote a two-page spread in which he trawled through Tweets by people who had RTed Stop Funding Hate, and like The Times today he found a few “gotchas” – I wrote about this at the time. Then, a few days ago, the Foreign Secretary put his name to a Sun op-ed complaining that the campaign is attacking “the very basis of our democracy”.

However, despite Boris Johnson’s fulminations, there was no explanation as to why exactly, if I have a choice between spending my money with Business A, which has a connection with an enterprise that does not accord with my values, and spending it with Business B, which does not have such a connection, I should not prefer the latter. As Jo Maugham put it: “Denying an editorial line has commercial consequences is like denying gravity exists. And arguing about whether this fact is desirable is like arguing whether the fact of gravity is desirable.”

The Times article also claims that “scores of other [Stop Funding Hate] supporters have used often violent imagery”, but there is no systematic analysis and the term “scores” is vague. Presumably “scores” signifies that there are not so many that we can say say “hundreds” – which is of some significance given that the campaign has 84,400 followers on Twitter and 240,000 on Facebook. Thousands of supporters who have not expressed “online venom” is of course a non-story.

The article continues:

After Sarah Baxter, deputy editor of The Sunday Times, challenged [Stop Funding Hate’s Richard Wilson] on Newsnight, she claimed she was attacked on Twitter by his supporters, who called her “vermin”.

I could find just one example of this – and once again, it is from @westlake1972. There are, though, plenty of abusive comments about Stop Funding Hate, as the article acknowledges in passing:

Inevitably on the internet, trolls take on trolls, and many opposing the Stop Funding Hate campaign have attacked its supporters with reams of racist tweets.

This is a token attempt to be even-handed, but the approach is not comparable. Stop Funding Hate is apparently discredited because some specific people who support its aims have a history of online incivility; yet tabloid supporters abusing the campaign are simply the manifestation of a culture of trolling and are not of any broader significance.

The article also blends in some commentary:

However, the volume of Stop Funding Hate critics on social media suggests that Paperchase and Pizza Hut did not make savvy business decisions by apologising. For every Stop Funding Hate tweet there are several more who vow to stop buying the products specifically because the company has capitulated to bullying.

Those who have “vow[ed] to stop buying the products” are presumably good consumer activists. However, this barely disguised pitch (warning?) to advertisers is an over-simplification.  It looks to me that Paperchase identified a reputational risk, and decided to act. That risk cannot be calculated simply by totting up numbers on social media – instead, the values of target consumers (and perhaps also of members of staff) have to be taken into account. Advertisers tend to flee association with objectionable content on instinct when it appears that controversy is brewing (as was demonstrated by a case in the summer involving Land Rover and Barbour).

And where exactly was the “bullying”? If Paperchase had been “bullied” into apologising for its promotion with the Daily Mail, the article would surely have displayed abusive comments aimed at the company, instead of random nasty comments from non-entities about media figures.

Russia: Imperial Family “Ritual Murder” Claim Raises Anti-Semitism Fears

From TASS, a couple of days ago:

After the investigation into the Russian Tsarist family’s murder was resumed, more than 30 forensic tests have been commissioned, Colonel of Justice Marina Molodtsova said addressing a conference in Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery, dubbed The Tsarist Family’s Murder Case: New Examinations and Files. A Debate.

…In order to receive answers to these questions, a number of molecular-genetic tests have been commissioned, which are still underway. Besides, “since the investigation was resumed, more than 20 witnesses have been questioned, and the places where the remains were found have been examined. In addition, a psychological and historical test will be conducted to find out if it could have been a ritual killing,” Molodtsove added.

The phrase “ritual killing” here has an obvious particular resonance, as explained by Interfax in an interview with Boruch Gorin of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia:

“Myths about the existence of ritual murder have connections to very different cults and religions,” but when the matter concerns Russia’s history, the history of the imperial family’s last days, and the “Beilis case,” which was tried several years before, this looks like “an absolutely Judaeophobic myth, which was used as part of anti-Semitic propaganda for several decades,” and this is precisely why Jews treat it with great concern, he said.

…When someone said that the killing of the imperial family was a ritual murder, “honest people making such accusations did not hide what they meant: Yurovsky, a Jew, acting on instructions from another Jew, Sverdlov, performed a Kabbalistic rite in the presence of eight other people, because this takes ten people,” he said.

The case of Menahem Mendel Beilis, who was the target of a blood libel in Kiev in 1911, is outlined here.

Gorin previously spoke against claims that the Tsar and his family had been killed in a “ritual murder” earlier this month, after an arson attack on a Jewish community centre in Moscow. In particular, he referred to comments made by Natalia Poklonskaya in March; as noted by the Times of Israel:

“They murdered the entire royal family, they killed the children in front of their father, they killed the mother in front of the children. This is a crime, a frightening ritual murder,” declared a deputy of the Russian State Duma (Russia’s lower legislative house) Natalia Poklonskaya on television this year. “Many people are afraid to talk about it — but everyone understands that it happened. It is evil.”

Poklonskaya does not here say anything about Jews, but this idea of people being “afraid” brings to mind a 1990s composition by the orthodox priest Alexander Shargunov, which I noted some time ago:

Even if many will become silent out of fear of the Jews about the murder of the Royal passion-bearers, the rocks will cry out.

News that a “ritual murder” explanation for the royal deaths is being taken seriously in Russia has now gone global, via the Associated Press. In particular, the AP report notes comments from Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, who heads the Sretensky Monastery and who is known to be close to Putin (according to  long Financial Times profile in January 2013, Tikhon is rumoured to have “ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather”):

The bishop elaborated on his statement Tuesday, telling the state RIA Novosti news agency that the “Bolsheviks and their allies engaged in the most unexpected and diverse ritual symbolism.” He claimed that “quite a few people involved in the execution — in Moscow or Yekaterinburg — saw the killing of the deposed Russian emperor as a special ritual of revenge” and added that Yakov Yurovsky, the organizer of the execution who was Jewish, later boasted about his “sacral historic mission.”

Further, as noted in Mail Online:

He put forward as evidence the claim that a bullet was assigned to each royal but the majority of the bullets hit the tsar because ‘everybody wanted to be part of the regicide’ and ‘it was a special ritual for many’.

Yurovsky’s own account can be read in English translation here. He states that “each man had one person to shoot”, but that after he had shot and killed the Tsar, the shooting that followed was “disorganized”. It is difficult to see how the men failing to follow their orders properly could be described as a “ritual” – indeed, it indicates the exact opposite. The source for the “sacral historic mission” quote is not apparent so far as I can see, but if it is genuine it is obvious that the word “sacral” is being used loosely and metaphorically.

The massacre, as is well-known, was a botch, with the Tsar’s family and servants surviving the initial shooting spree and then being dispatched by bullets to the head or by bayonet. It seems that the guards did indeed all want “to be part of the regicide” (of killing the children, less so), but how does the idea of “ritual symbolism” make that easier to understand? Like most conspiracy theories, it solves no problem and answers no question about the events it purports to explain. It is superfluous.

Some Notes on Mail Online‘s Oxford Circus “Lorry on the Pavement” Error

From Mail Online (since deleted):

Hundreds have been evacuated from Oxford Circus tube station amid reports of gunshots.

Armed police have arrived on scene after a gunman was reported to have fired shots.

Witnesses at the scene described seeing a lorry on the pavement surrounded by police as if it had ‘ploughed’ into pedestrians.

Next to the lorry, the pavement was said to be covered in blood.

… Dan Smallbone said on Twitter: ‘There is a lorry stopped on the pavement in Oxford street, police all around it and blood on the floor, it’s definitely the aftermath of something maybe just a crash but nothing on the news.’

Fortunately, social media users quickly noticed that Smallbone’s Tweet in fact dated from 14 November, and thus had nothing to do with last night’s panic; Buzzfeed notes that it apparently referred to a mundane accident involving a window cleaner. Mail Online then deleted the above from its developing coverage, along with associated Tweets.

Shades here of the Daily Mail‘s infamous “Amanda Knox looked stunned after she dramatically lost her prison appeal” article from 2011 – the pressure to be first with the news resulting in a serious error that could have been avoided with just a few minutes spent double-checking and casting an editorial eye over the copy. Is this pressure part of the media landscape, or is it specific to the culture of Mail titles? Some other sources spoke prematurely of an “attack” or a “shooting”, but this “lorry” story is particularly egregious.

In this instance, the error was made worse by the presentation. The word “ploughed” appeared in quote marks, even though it does not appear in Smallbone’s Tweet. Where did it come from, then? This, and the plural “witnesses”, heavily implied multiple sources – when in fact there were none.

The reference to Smallbone’s Tweet was simply an error; but suppose some mischief-maker or attention-seeker had decided to concoct something? It does not do to refer to unconfirmed reports as “witnesses at the scene described…”, and there ought to be some circumspection about publicising anything unconfirmed when it comes to incidents where spreading false information may cause distress or inflame a situation.

The Daily Mail vs Stop Funding Hate

Press Gazette reports:

The Daily Mail has described as “deeply worrying” a decision by cards and stationery retailer Paperchase to no longer run promotions in the newspaper following a backlash on social media.

A spokesperson for the Daily Mail… said: “It is it is deeply worrying that Paperchase should have allowed itself to be bullied into apologising – on the back of a derisory 250 facebook comments and 150 direct tweets – to internet trolls orchestrated by a small group of hard left Corbynist individuals seeking to suppress legitimate debate and impose their views on the media.

“Has the company considered what message they are sending to the four million people who read the Daily Mail on Saturday, many of whom will be their customers?

“It is one of the fundamental principles of free and fearless journalism that editorial decisions are not dictated by advertisers or commercial partners, and we are sure anyone who values freedom of expression will be as appalled as we are by Stop Funding Hate’s attempts to threaten the Mail and other newspapers.”

Paperchase probably made its apology for commercial reasons, although it is possible that the firm took a closer look at the Daily Mail‘s content and genuinely decided that the paper is incompatible with its corporate values. Inevitably, some individuals have taken to social media to express their intention to boycott Paperchase for having repudiated its promotion – presumably, that sort of consumer pressure is not “trolling”.

Stop Funding Hate is headed by Richard Wilson – I first became aware of him in 2005, when he wrote a letter to the Guardian about a massacre committed by an extremist Hutu group in Burundi the year before – the same group had murdered his sister in 2000, and this perhaps explains his particular aversion to hateful rhetoric and his concerns about where it may lead.

Since then I’ve been in direct contact with him once or twice, and I’ve followed his output on social media. I don’t recall seeing anything that would indicate that he’s a “hard left Corbynist”, and there is nothing specifically “Corbynist” about the inspiration or methods of Stop Funding Hate. However, I have formed a strong impression that Richard is consistently polite and to the point – as was in evidence when he appeared on Newsnight a couple of days ago, opposite Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times.

Where is the “trolling” that Richard has supposedly “orchestrated”? I’m sure that the Daily Mail would have published examples of uncivil or harassing social media postings that may have influenced Paperchase, if any existed – no matter how trivial or distant from the campaign group. The antics of “Twitter trolls” are a journalistic staple, but one gets the impression that exposing genuine cases of anti-social online behaviour in the public interest is less of a priority than using the term simply to stigmatise unwelcome criticism.

The relationship between publishing/journalism and the commercial imperative has always been problematic – but the bottom line is that if I have a choice between spending money with Business A, which has a connection with an enterprise that does not accord with my values, and spending money with Business B, which does not have such a connection, why would I not prefer the latter, all other variables being equal? The consumer logic is inescapable, and has more force than the abstract question of whether negative consumer feedback to advertisers is “illiberal” (as argued by the Press Gazette‘s editor Dominic Ponsford). As Richard put it in December:

The philosopher Voltaire has been paraphrased as saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. He never said “I will defend to the death your right to get advertising revenue”.

The Daily MailDaily Express and The Sun are free to print whatever they like within the law. We too have a right to speak out. And if the press refuses to act in the public interest, then we as the public are entitled to exercise our rights, and make our voices heard.

…Companies like Lego, John Lewis and the Co-op are entitled to choose where they advertise. And the public has a right to speak out and seek to influence those choices – whether the newspapers like it or not.

Incidentally, for what it’s worth I’m not among those who respond with a knee-jerk and dismissive disgust whenever the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday are mentioned. The Mail titles carry a lot of useful and/or entertaining material, and I’ve used their combined website as a source of information on this blog many times – indeed, on a couple of occasions I’ve even fed information to the one of the titles that has then appeared in stories. Most of the journalists are just trying to earn a living, and I’ve always resisted suggestions that I shouldn’t link to the site, or that I should use a service like Freezepage to avoid giving the site traffic.

However, the two papers are guilty of publishing stories in which journalistic integrity is subordinate to the editorial line or some other interest, and in some cases the resulting output is vicious and unfair. I strongly suspect that by the weekend we will see a highly intrusive article about Richard Wilson’s personal circumstances, in which readers are encouraged to regard him with contempt and to resent the financial value of his home (gratuitous references to property prices is a Mail speciality). Such articles serve the purposes of revenge and intimidation rather than the public interest, and it is this material, rather than criticism of the paper’s shortcomings, that insults the “four million people who read the Daily Mail on Saturday”.

UPDATE (25 November): Guy Adams attacks

As might have been predicted, the Daily Mail‘s top hatchet man Guy Adams has been tasked with bashing out a 3000-word diatribe on the evils of Stop Funding Hate, for the enlightenment of the paper’s “four million” Saturday readership.

Adams’s hit-pieces often have long scene-setting lead-ins, the supposed news value of which is not explained until the reader has waded through several hundred words. The tone is outraged and disgusted – it is difficult to read Adams without hearing the voice of Chris Morris in character as Ted Maul in Brass Eye.

In this instance, Adams begins with a lengthy discussion of one Sheila Sullivan, an overwrought Corbyn supporter who apparently uses Twitter to write insultingly about Conservative politicians and to promote conspiracy websites that blame “the Rothschilds” for conflict in Syria (I previously discussed “Rothschild” conspiracy thinking on the left here). What does she have to do with Stop Funding Hate or Richard Wilson? Nothing – her connection is simply that she has RTed a few @stopfundinghate Tweets to her 73 followers (built up since 2012). Adams describes her as a “self-appointed activist” for the group.

The article then goes on to present a few other “gotchas” harvested from random Twitter users who have dared to express support for the campaign. He writes:

[M]any of those who targeted Paperchase have used the internet on other occasions to troll politicians, journalists, celebrities and other public figures — while also spreading vile slurs about political groups they despise.

Obviously, his article is not a systematic survey, and he is only interested in examples that support his thesis. Adams’s “exposé” appears to be the remarkable discovery that people on the political left tend to dislike the Daily Mail, and that some of them are uncivil. But even Adams is obliged to admit that

Stop Funding Hate insist its campaign is ‘all about polite and friendly customer engagement’ and, to be fair, the social media messages sent on its behalf to advertisers are usually reasonable in tone.

Presumably this is included as a sop to regulators.

But if Stop Funding Hate is culpable because someone with unsavoury views agrees with its aims, what should we make of the sort of material posted by readers that so often appears under Daily Mail articles?

CPS Drops “Hoax Calls” Case Against VIP Sex Abuse Accuser

From the Daily Telegraph, April:

A ‘fantasist’ who accused Lord Brittan of child sex abuse sparking a 12-month police investigation is now being prosecuted over false claims he was kidnapped and shot at.

The man was charged after making a series of hoax emergency phone calls to police alleging he was under attack on at least three different occasions from gun-toting gangs.

The accused, known as ‘Darren’ but whose real name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, had previously claimed he had witnessed two murders committed by a VIP paedophile ring, prompting a police inquiry.

A Telegraph investigation in September 2015 showed how Darren was a deeply troubled witness, who had been jailed for two years in the 1990s for making hoax bomb calls and threats to neighbours. A judge accused him of telling “some pretty whopping lies” while Darren also falsely confessed to the murder of a prostitute in the midst of a high profile police manhunt.

I discussed Darren in relation to VIP abuse claims in 2015. It is troubling that the above article states as established fact that Darren made “a series of hoax emergency phone calls”, when this was an allegation due to be tested in court, and that a previous conviction is referred to, despite the possible prejudicial effect this may have (although this background was already in the public domain).

But we can now set aside any concerns about sub judice, as the matter will not be going to court after all. Darren has now issued a statement explaining that

The false charge against me, which was downgraded from making hoax claims to wasting police time, has rightly been dropped. I have been subject to a terrifying ordeal of being attacked, stalked and threatened by individuals determined to get even with me for telling the truth about the sexual abuse I suffered as a child.

Mark Watts, formerly of Exaro News, says that he has “seen the CPS letter, which makes clear that it was dropping case because of lack of evidence”.

Watts has noted several instances this year in which the CPS has declined to pursue prosecutions, and in September he cautioned that “CPS decision not to charge three suspects in Operation Ruffle does not mean that allegations are either true or false”. However, in the case of Darren, a comparable CPS decision is presented by Watts as a vindication:

‘Darren’ was arrested in February. Then charged for making hoax claims. Media branded him a “fantasist”. Trial was due to start on Monday. But CPS has just DROPPED the charge. Lack of evidence.

Watts also suggests that there is an “establishment strategy” to discredit allegations of VIP abuse, clearly implying that this is the explanation for the proposed prosecution of Darren.

Darren made several allegations relating to child sex abuse and murder that were investigated in 2015. The Sunday Times reported at the time:

Darren… claimed to have fallen into the hands of the VIP paedophile ring at the age of 15 when he undertook work experience at Thornham Magna estate in Suffolk.

At the time, he said, the known paedophile Peter Righton was renting a house on the estate after his conviction for possessing child pornography in 1992.

He claimed Righton was involved in the killing of a man in his thirties on the estate and that he knew of a girl who had died during a VIP paedophile party at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Westminster where Righton took him on a number of occasions in 1993.

But Suffolk police have investigated all the claims and found no evidence to support his account. In fact, police sources say Darren had never come into contact with Righton or worked at the estate when Righton lived there.

That last paragraph makes it clear that one of Darren’s claims is not just “unsubstantiated”, but has actually been rejected as false. Darren also accused Harvey Proctor and Leon Brittan, although he eventually retracted his allegation against Proctor and an email emerged in which he specifically denied the claim against Brittan. He explained that he had been pressured to make allegations by Exaro, but that Watts had not been involved in this.

On social media, the most popular interpretation of the CPS decision is that it proves that Darren is not a fantasist, and that therefore his earlier 2015 claims (which formed no part of the case against him) must be true after all.

T.B. Joshua Denies, then Embraces, Zimbabwe Prophecy Claim

Nigerian pastor T.B. Joshua, on Facebook earlier this week:

ATTENTION ZIMBABWE!!!

Our attention has been drawn to a misleading article published on the front page of Zimbabwe’s ‘NewsDay’ newspaper on Monday 13th November 2017 stating that Prophet T.B. Joshua prophesied last week about unrest and civil war in a Southern African country.

This report is COMPLETELY FALSE. Any regular viewer of Emmanuel TV will know that no such prophecy was given during last week’s service at The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) on Sunday 5th November 2017.

Do not sit somewhere, hear this or that and come to a hasty conclusion. God requires that we find out the truth from Him first and hold fast to that which is true, as the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Count Prophet T.B. Joshua out of the politics of hatred.

According to the  NewsDay article:

TB Joshua, in an address to his followers at his Scoan church last Sunday predicted turmoil and civil war in an unnamed Southern African country.

He said God had shown him that there were plans in the unnamed country to either kidnap or kill the President, Deputy President or the First Lady of that country.

“Their (military) interest is to get rid of a President there, they will not tire, but their aim is to get rid of a President in that region in Southern Africa. I said it in January that a President will be kidnaped, Southern Africa people will remember if they are not going to misquote me, this time… I am saying a military, they are interested in embarrassing a President, that they kill him or kidnap him,” TB Joshua said at his service last Sunday.

Joshua added: “They are still on in that plan to kidnap either President or Vice-President of that nation or First Lady of that nation.”

The date was wrong, but it turns out that Joshua had indeed made such comments, in late August 2014. Joshua has now deleted the above Facebook post (and a couple of Tweets saying the same thing), and he has instead posted the following:

On Sunday 31st August 2014, Prophet T.B. Joshua gave a prophecy concerning military intervention in a Southern African country.

“They are still on in that plan to kidnap either the President or Vice President of that nation or the First Lady of that nation.”

We pray for God’s peace in the nation of Zimbabwe in these moments of tension and transition.

The post clicks through to a video uploaded by Joshua’s Emmanuel TV, billed as “TB JOSHUA PROPHECY ON ZIMBABWE MILITARY COUP!”

Joshua made his 2014 comments about “a Southern African country” one day after Tom Thabane, the then Prime Minister of Lesotho, said that a coup was underway against him. Alas, the ungodly may suspect that this was the true inspiration for his comments.

One wonders why Joshua was initially so reluctant to take credit for the “prophecy”. In 2012 his prediction about an “old African president” falling ill was not well-received by Zimbabwe’s rulers, and police in Harare were shown a video called TB Joshua’s Evil Doings Finally Revealed. Nigeria is a long way from Zimbabwe, but Joshua perhaps didn’t want to antagonise further.