Some Notes on the Rebel Media Meltdown

As has been widely reported, Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media is currently beset with several crises – correspondents have been fired and political allies in Canada are backing away; and a former employee in the UK, Caolan Robertson, alleges financial impropriety and the spiking of a story relating to UKIP.

In the UK, Levant’s operation has perhaps been most significant for reviving the activist career of Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), the former head of the English Defence League. Robinson remains part of The Rebelstating that he is “grateful to @ezralevant for giving us the opportunity to mainstream our message & looking forward to red pilling Britain with their help”.

As a Rebel correspondent, Robinson has made provocative appearances outside courts, during which he has goaded defendants and witnesses (antics that ended up with him appearing in court himself); he has also been driven around the country to doorstep critics, including my friend Tim Fenton (although, oddly, Robinson didn’t seem to know much about him and kept calling him “Paul”, an unused first name) and the Quilliam Foundation. Levant and The Rebel have supported Robinson as a campaigner on various issues, such as “Justice for Chelsey” (which has included a Rebel-branded billboard in Sunderland) and fundraising for a disabled former soldier.

Media commentary on The Rebel is extensive, and does not need rehashing here – particularly useful is long-read at the National Post by Michael Warnica.

However, I will note some particular details of interest:

A UKIP Story Spiked?

– Caolan Robertson says in a video that he uncovered evidence that UKIP was attempting to “screw over” a leadership candidate, not named but obviously Anne Marie Waters. One would have thought that Levant would have been enthused by Waters’s candidacy, but according to Robertson he had a different priority – wooing Nigel Farage. Here’s my transcript of what Robertson says in a video (from 2 min 57 sec):

It was completely damning that I uncovered at UKIP. Basically caught the party commiting what looked like electoral fraud, and we had proof. But Ezra, he didn’t want to know… We actually accused us of campaigning for the candidate that the party was trying to screw over.

[Levant] openly talked about his plans for Nigel Farage to join the Rebel before, even trying to get him out to dinner with us all, hoping to form some kind of alliance. That problem with this story? Farage had openly been critical of the candidate in question, and so a national story disappeared over night. Paul Joseph Watson was also invited to this dinner by the way, in what seemed like another attempt to hire him right out under from Alex Jones. Obviously, he never showed to that dinner.”

That last sentence heavily implies that there was an actual dinner that Farage attended, although that’s not quite clear from the preceding.

Fundraising under False Pretences?

Robertson also alleges that donations were asked for even when funding targets were reached.

Robinson has posted a short video response, in which he doesn’t criticise Caolan Robertson but does assert that all funding has been spent on the purposes advertised. He also says that The Rebel in the UK is “running on negative equity”.

Levant Blackmailed?

In response, Levant alleges that Robertson and his partner George Llewelyn-John (who was employed as a cameraman) had attempted to “blackmail” him:

They threatened to release footage they claimed to have taken of Tommy Robinson confessing that he punched a guy at Ascot, in self defence. They said they had Tommy Robinson on tape confessing to that, and if we didn’t pay them thousands of pounds, they’d rat out Tommy — whether it was to the police or to a UK tabloid that would just love that video footage.

This is an odd claim. Everyone knows that Robinson punched someone at Ascot in June – a video captured by a third party appeared widely in the media at the time, and Levant even includes some of it in his own video. And Robertson’s “self defence” explanation was actually published by The Rebel. So what exactly would they be threatening to release?

Some other points of interest, beyond the UK:

The Middle East Forum Education Fund

Press Progress has drawn attention to (or “revealed”) the fact that Levant is listed on the website of the Middle East Forum as having received a donation from the Middle East Forum Education Fund (MEFEF). It appears to have been made to Levant personally, and no date is given. Press Progress notes that his name was added to the site in 2015, which corresponds to the start of The Rebel, although it looks like he was added alongside a lot of other names as a general revamp of the MEFEF webpage.

The Role of Hamish Marshall

Warnica draws attention to the significance of Hamish Marshall in fundraising:

At the root of that success is a business structure that looks more like a political campaign than a traditional media outlet. And the architect of that system is a man with deep ties in Canada’s mainstream conservative movement.

The Rebel uses political organizing software—a platform called NationBuilder—to organize and monetize its audience. (It also sells access to its email list.) The man who implemented that system is Hamish Marshall.

A longtime member of The Rebel board, Marshall is also the person most responsible for making Andrew Scheer the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He’s now running Brian Jean’s campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.

Scheer granted The Rebel interviews, although he now says he will not do so again until the “editorial directions” change.

Kory Teneycke

According to Canadaland, Levant attempted to smooth Robertson’s exit by sending over his friend Kory Teneycke, “former director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper”.

Vlad Tepes and James Cohen

– As an aside, Warnica’s article includes evidence suggestive that the Rebel correspondent “Viktor Laszlo” is the same person who runs the anti-Islam Vlad Tepes blog, and that this person is James Cohen, former head of the Jewish wing of the English Defence League and formerly with the International Free Press Society.

21 August 2017 and the Eclipse of Reason

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, warns Americans not to enjoy next week’s solar eclipse:

For the first time in almost 100 years, a total solar eclipse will be seen from coast to coast in our nation.  People are preparing to mark this significant event with viewing parties at exclusive prime sites. The celebratory nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate.  While Belshazzar and his friends partied, they were oblivious to the impending danger.  Belshazzar wound up dead the next day, and the Babylonian empire was destroyed.

Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations. Therefore, my perspective on the upcoming phenomenon is not celebratory. While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.

One of the functions of religion is to find meaning in dramatic natural phenomena, although that’s perhaps putting it a bit strong for something as hopelessly vague as “God is signaling us about something”. I previously discussed religious responses to the eclipse and the September constellation alignment a few days ago.

Lotz (or whoever posts articles on her behalf) continues:

Please view the following video posted by Australian pastor Steve Cioccolanti.  Pastor Steve articulates the warning in a very clear, undeniable, yet undogmatic way based on his understanding of Biblical truth:

With this, we once again see Lotz acting as a gateway for mainstream evangelism into a conspiracy theory milieu.

Cioccolanti is not just an “Australian pastor” – his various video uploads includes talks such as DONALD TRUMP is God’s End-Time PresidentNephilim Among Us: Human-Animal Hybrids, Eugenics, GMOs & TranshumanismPlanet X, Meteors & the End of America?How iPhones will Destroy Australia & Usher in the Anti-Christ; STAR WARS Revealed ANTICHRIST Technology & Image of BEAST; and Benjamin NETANYAHU was Predicted by EnochThe title of his video Is the USA in the Bible? Great American Eclipse Aug 21st, 2017 a Real End Time Sign? is perhaps a clue as to why this particular eclipse is generating so much interest – the USA is of course the world’s most important country, so it must be in the Bible somewhere. Cioccolanti also has an obsession with codes and numerology, and his extravagances include the claim that he received a dream about Hillary Clinton that was then confirmed by Wikileaks.

Meanwhile, while Lotz cites “Jewish rabbis” (rather than the Bible) as general evidence that eclipses are warnings, the site Breaking News Israel (previously discussed here) has something more specific:

An esoteric prophecy written over a century ago described the solar eclipse that will traverse the entire United States next week and predicted, in shocking detail, what the astronomical event portends for the outcome of the current North Korean-US conflict.

…”The prophecy states that when a solar eclipse occurs exactly as it will next week, in the beginning of the month of Elul, kings of the East will suffer great loss,” Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, revealed of the century-old text Yalkut Moshe (“Collection of Moses”).

Written by Rabbi Moshe ben Yisrael Benyamin in Safed in 1894, the Yalkut Moshe notes that when a solar eclipse occurs at the beginning of the month of Elul, “it is an especially bad sign,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News.

…According to the rabbi, the suffering of the “kings of the East” clearly refers to “the despotic leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, and the loss he will suffer if he continues to taunt President [Donald] Trump…”

This has also been picked up by some evangelical sites. The book was published in Mukachevo (Munkatch) in Ukraine, and according to a blurb here it seems that the “collection” was gathered from Yemen and India. Hebrew readers can access the full text here; the supposed prophecy appears on page 178, listed among what seems to be a collection of isolated statements. Devoid of context, it is impossible to interpret what is meant by “kings of the East”. It should be noted, though, that Berger’s explanation of the passage seems to imply a general principle rather than a specific incidence. There’s also a Hebrew video here.

Rabbi Berger has been in the media previously for his prognostications. In January he announced that a new star that is scheduled to appear in 2022 when the light from a collision between two stars reaches earth was proof of the coming of the Messiah; the British tabloid the Daily Star unfortunately reported this in terms of the Rabbi predicting that “Jesus will return in 2022”.

Ashford Tandoori Owner Became Anti-Islam Evangelist after Discovering Muslim Staff Weren’t Extremists

From Food and Drink Guides, April 2016:

…Ian [Sleeper] took over ownership of The Singleton Tandoori [in Ashford, Kent] eighteen months ago and has gone on to create a staff-led business. It wasn’t a mere whim which led him to open a restaurant, his strong Christian faith led him to make a life-changing decision, and leave behind a career in business consultancy in order to pursue this culinary quest. It was a fork in the road that was prompted, not by a mid-life crisis, but by a spiritual revelation – the very opposite of crisis. For Ian, Singleton Tandoori was the result of a true calling from God to change his path and take on a project that would cement his faith and allow him to realise his true potential.

…Working with a team of Muslim staff, Ian has joined two cultures together, showing huge respect and consideration for both cultures and beliefs. During my thoroughly enjoyable evening spent at Singleton Tandoori, I had the chance to chat to various members of his staff and I was warmed by their generosity of spirit towards their employer, their interest in the teachings of the Bible and their appreciation of the healing power of united prayer.

…I am sure that this is only the beginning of this story…

And now at last we have the next instalment, from Premier Christian Radio today, based on a press release from Christian Concern:

A street preacher from Kent who was arrested after displaying a placard which read ‘Love Muslims, Hate Islam. Time For The Truth’ will not face any charges.

Prosecutors have informed Ian Sleeper, who was arrested outside Southwark Cathedral on 23rd June 2017, that he will face no further action.

…Mr Sleeper started displaying his placard in January 2017 after he became concerned Muslim staff at his Indian takeaway did not properly understand Islam.

In the wake of the Westminster Bridge terror attack, he switched his location from BBC Broadcasting House to Southwark Cathedral.

If Sleeper’s thought processes here are obscure, the full press release sent out by email has Sleeper’s more extended explanation:

“After reading the Qur’an and observing the behaviour of my Muslim staff, it became clear that they were not practising much of their religion’s teachings. I found this curious, and, after chatting to them about their belief, I realised this was due to their ignorance of the Quranic verses. They simply do not know what their religion teaches.”

He continued, “Their ignorance is almost on a par with the wider public’s, where the horrors and gross gender inequalities of Islam are not apparent to most people”.

…He continued: “My hope is for the world to rid itself of Islam but I feel this can be best done by creating awareness among people of Islamic truth, and I wanted to initiate a shared national conversation about Islam. Society needs to kick political correctness into the long grass and be unafraid to criticise Islam. It was political correctness and an abuse of my rights under the law that got me detained in a police cell for 13 hours”.

So, in summary: Sleeper was surprised that his Muslim staff did not conform to his view of Islam based on his reading of the Quran. After attempting to explain to them their own religion, and why they should be aware of its “horrors”, he then decided that a “national conversion about Islam” was required (presumably Sleeper doesn’t consume much media), and that he was the man to initiate it, by taking a placard to BBC Broadcasting House and then to Southwark Cathedral.

We must draw our own conclusions as to whether Sleeper continues to be guided by “spiritual revelations”, or if the “mid-life crisis” has finally arrived.

Excursus

On a more serious note, police in the UK keep arresting annoying but harmless street evangelists, only for subsequent legal actions to fail. Perhaps it’s the easiest way to maintain public order, and given the reality of jihadists at large in London police might have decided to detain Sleeper for his own protection. But officers need to act within the law, and this seems to be an area where police ought to be more accountable in the use and abuse of their powers.

US Christian Right Group Boasts of Influence in Kenya Election

A press release from the American Pastors Network:

Last week’s election in Kenya proved to be a statement on the power that Christian voters can have on the outcome of the direction of their nation…

APN President Sam Rohrer said the American Pastors Network provided encouragement to members of the Kenyan Pastors Network leading up to the election, praying for them and helping them to mobilize Christian voters.

“Leading up to this election and still today,” Rohrer said, “the freedom of Kenyans, Kenyan pastors and the ability to freely preach the Gospel is currently under threat. Had Uhuru Kenyatta not been elected, Islamic, pro-abortion, pro-LGBT and anti-Christian policies would have advanced. Our Kenyan brothers and sisters, and especially our fellow pastors, asked for fervent prayers before and during the election—that the right man would be elected, that the opposition would concede and that violence would not erupt as in other elections. We continue to pray for these matters, as the coming days and weeks will be crucial for Kenya to be able to move forward under a man of God and other leaders who desire to model the country after the founding documents of the United States of America.”

Rohrer added that a U.S.-based APN volunteer who was on the ground in Kenya helped to create and execute several initiatives to encourage values-based voting last week. Kenyatta, feeling the effects of these efforts, led a public prayer before the election, thanking Christians and pastors for their commitment and stating that he would give God the glory if victorious, according to reports from the APN volunteer.

“Pastors there are praying in faith that God will raise them up as a nation to be the leader to all of Africa, that the relationship with the U.S. can be strengthened and that God would enable APN to assist in the final establishment of a Kenyan Pastors Network in order to train leaders and teach pastors the biblical principles needed in both church and government,” Rohrer added. “The involvement of APN in Kenya is similar to work we’ve been blessed and honored to do in Ukraine, where pastors and government leaders are yearning to bring biblical and American constitutional principles to the country.”

I noted the APN’s efforts in Ukraine in 2015 – this was several months after Rohrer had travelled to the country in the company of the pseudo-historian David Barton.

The APN says that it exists

to establish a dynamic network of Biblically faithful pastors and citizen leaders who are committed to the Truth, who believe in the Authority of Scripture, who boldly preach the whole counsel of God with a disciplined application of a Biblical World-view to public policy, and who are building a permanent infrastructure of Biblically faithful pastors and lay leaders.

As noted by Right Wing Watch in over the past year, Rohrer believes that “lack of respect” towards Trump is heralding the rise of the anti-Christ, and last August he and APN board member Gary Dull concurred that God does not want women (i.e. Hillary Clinton) to lead nations. The APN also has a radio show, Stand in the Gap, which provides a platform for anti-Muslim opportunists such as John Guandolo, who used an appearance in June to excuse the attack on Finsbury Park Mosque in London and to denounce the mayor of London as “a suit-wearing jihadi”.

Dull is also quoted in the press release, warning that “there has been a movement among government officials in Kenya to vet pastors concerning their ability to lead churches”, and that “many pastors” believe the proposal is “an effort to reduce the preaching of the Gospel”. In fact, the proposed regulations are aimed at fake pastors; Christianity Today discussed the issue in May 2016, noting that

One [preacher] recently told churchgoers that their money would double if they transferred half of theirs to his bank account. Another used potassium permanganate to turn water red, claiming it was blood coming from the feet of AIDS victims he had washed and then healed.

T.B. Joshua: Also Big in Paraguay

Back in June I noted Nigerian “Prophet” T.B. Joshua’s recent visit to Ecuador, where he received a Commendation of Honour from Quito government dignitaries. Joshua has now followed up with a trip to Paraguay, where was similarly honoured. Reports Afriques writes:

Nigerian televangelist, Prophet T.B Joshua has been awarded the National Order of the Communion Merit by the Paraguayan government.

The honour which is the country’s highest national honour was awarded to T.B Joshua earlier this week making him the first non-citizen to be awarded such a prestigious award by the Paraguayan government.

Joshua’s media handlers have produced a video, which starts with a short interview with Del Pilar Medina de Paredes, Secretary General of the Parliament:

I’m very excited and I can see a lot of expectation in the people from Paraguay because they are waiting for a spiritual transformation through the coming of this messenger from Chris. All of us are waiting for that spiritual transformation… We want to receive him very well; we want to be healed and as a member of parliament I appreciate his coming. We are a privileged nation to have him visit our country. His visit will also contribute to the National Police.

The video goes on to show Joshua being personally received by General Commissioner of Police William Gimenez and Commissioner of Police Jose Félix Vega, who were similarly effusive.

The parliamentary award was given by an MP named Bernardo Villalba, despite an objection from Avanza Pais MP that the honour should be reserved for citizens; there was also a note of scepticism from Asunción councillor Pepa Kostianovsky, who noted that “there are lots of prophets everywhere” and pointed out that Paraguay is a secular state.

Some background to the visit is provided by the newspaper HOY (TODAY), which explains that Joshua’s visit – which includes a “Crusade” – has been organised by the Iglesia Catedral Alabanza:

Un grupo de miembros de la denominada “Iglesia Catedral Alabanza”, cuyo líder es el pastor Bernardo Bobadilla, son los precursores de la venida del nigeriano Temitope Balogun Joshua, más conocido como T. B. Joshua, quien visita nuestro país. Serán dos funciones las que protagonizará el “profeta”, en el estadio de los Defensores del Chaco, mañana 11 y el sábado 12 de agosto.

El equipo incluye a otros miembros de la iglesia Jorge Checo, Carlos Miguel Alfaro Duarte, Floria Maricel Mena Cubilla, Santiago Ávalos además de Miriam de Bobadilla, quien según su perfil de Facebook, es “pastora” de Catedral Alabanza.

Sin embargo, los más activos en el comité de bienvenida de T. B. Joshua son el diputado Bernardo “Lalo” Villalba, quien promovió la distinción de la Orden del Mérito Comuneros para el “profeta”, además del autodenominado líder de la Asociación de Defensa al Consumidor (Asucop), Juan Vera, quien está vinculado a organizaciones conocidas por ser “pro familia”.

Another report published by Hoy describes Joshua as “el falso profeta que fascina a políticos” and overviews various controversies, while a third refers to Vera’s claims that Joshua can cure HIV and homosexuality. Vera also rejected claims that Joshua is a “witch”, presumably referring to allegations that he mixes Christianity with African traditional religion (some neo-Pentecostal pastors shun him for allegedly unorthodox teachings, although he was supported by the late Bill Subritzky and by C. S. Upthegrove, an elderly evangelist who was formerly associated with A. A. Allen).

Back in Nigeria, Joshua’s visit was heralded by Timi Frank, Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress party. As quoted in Leadership:

Frank said Paraguay’s honour on TB Joshua was not just for the man of God but “will definitely strengthen bilateral relationship between Nigeria government and Paraguay.”

US Eclipse and September Constellation Alignment Cited as “End Times” Evidence

The once-staid broadsheet newspaper the Daily Telegraph poses an alarming question:

Will the 2017 solar eclipse cause a secret planet called ‘Nibiru’ to destroy Earth next month?

…David Meade, author of ‘Planet X – The 2017 Arrival’, asserts the planet Nibiru (also known as Planet X) will crash into our own on 23 September 2017.

…33 days after the US’ total solar eclipse – on the 23 September – the stars will align just as the book of Revelation says they will before the world ends. This, Meade points out, “is indeed an amazing omen and a frightful sign.”

Revelation’s chapter 12 depicts a “great sign”: that a “woman clothed with the sun, with the Moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” will “give birth”.

On September 23, Meade says, the Moon will appear at the feet of the constellation Virgo (a virgin woman). At the head of Virgo there will be 12 stars, the nine stars of Leo and the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars.

The quotes from Meade are as “Meade told The Daily Star earlier this month”; the Daily Star previously publicised Meade’s views in January, and then again the day before the Telegraph article, with “more evidence… shared exclusively with Daily Star Online”.

This is typical August “silly season” fodder. Meade is an obscure figure, although according to the bio-blurb for his self-published Kindle book Planet X – The 2017 Arrival, he has “worked at a high level in the Government as well as with several Fortune 1000 Companies in Research”. He also has a website, where he expounds his theory in more detail (dates concerning the modern state of Israel feature) and advertises another book, The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving EMP Attacks, Solar Flares and Grid Failures.

However, while Meade is an outlier and the “Planet X” claims are extravagant, he’s not the only one to see the Great American Eclipse and the astronomical alignment of 23 September as having special spiritual significance. The context here is a nineteenth-century idea that can be summed up in the title of Joseph Seiss’s book The Gospel in the Stars (1882), in which the Greek zodiac was interpreted as a pagan corruption of symbolism in the skies that is more properly understood in relation to the Bible. Perhaps the highest-profile current exponent of this idea is Pastor Mark Biltz, who in 2010 came to the attention of WND with claims about Arcturus for which he cited a different nineteenth-century work, E.W. Bullinger’s The Witness of the Stars (1893), as I blogged at the time.

Two years previously, Biltz had first argued that the blood moon tetrad of 2015 would have spiritual significance, and as the date approached WND Books produced Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs, complete with a foreword by WND editor Joseph Farah. Biltz keeps his “decoding” conveniently vague, telling WND in a new article that “I do not predict the future as much as I like to analyze the past”. The Blood Moons and the astronomical events of this year do not mean that we can predict a calamity for a particular day; they are only supportive evidence that “we are definitely in the times of the Messiah”. Thus (links in the original):

“God declared in the last days Jerusalem would become a cup of trembling for all nations, which is exactly what is happening… Israel becoming a nation in a day was a fulfillment of end-times prophecy. Jerusalem being restored to Jewish hands in 1967 was a fulfillment of end-times prophecy. The Balfour declaration in 1917 and the first Zionist congress in 1897 are all signs the end times are closing in.

“The total lunar eclipses in 2014/2015 on Passover and Sukkot were signs Messiah is at the door. The solar eclipse this August is a sign as well as the sign in the stars at the end of September. So yes, we have been in the last of the last days since 1897…”

The End Times having started 120 years ago provides a bit of leeway for future projections. One of those links takes us to an earlier quote:

“We have had signs involving the four blood moons on the biblical feasts of Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015,” he said. “We have had and will have significant signs with the sun having total solar eclipses on March 20 of 2015, the first day of Nisan beginning the calendar year. Then we will have a solar eclipse this August 21 of 2017 which is at the time of the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of repentance. A month later, there will be additional signs in the stars during the 10 days of awe, with the constellation Virgo being ‘crowned’ with 12 stars from the constellation Leo for the first time.”

1 Elul corresponds with 23 August in 2017, although Hebrew dates begin with sundown the night before, meaning that 1 Elul also corresponds with the evening of 22 August. Thus the evening of 21 August and daytime of 22 August are actually the last day of the month of Av, but this is commemorated as Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the month of Elul.

The “crowning” of Virgo with “12 stars” from Leo (or 9 stars from Leo plus three planets, which is presumably what Biltz meant to say) is not in fact a unique occurrence; I claim no expertise in astronomy, so in this I defer to a professional astronomer, Christopher Graney, who writes that “this basic arrangement happened before — in September 1827, in September 1483, in September 1293, and in September 1056”.

It should also be noted that the link to the Book of Revelation is something of a stretch. According to the text of Revelation 12: 1-6:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.  The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

If the first “great sign” that “appeared in heaven” is the constellation of 23 September (the “birth” supposedly indicated by the position of Jupiter – a point also addressed by Graney), where does that leave the second sign? There’s a whole symbolic drama here, not just an image of a woman giving birth. There is no reason to suppose that the author was referring to astronomical observations at all, although his obscure symbolism allows for all kinds of interpretations. Also, it’s not even clear that the “woman” is supposed to be Mary the mother of Jesus, even though this identification forms an element of the interest in Virgo (2).

Interestingly, the sceptics in this instance include the fundamentalist Creationists of Answers in Genesis.

Footnotes

(1) Biltz’s belief in the importance of the Hebrew calendar for Christians is further expounded in his book God’s Day Timer: The Believer’s Guide to Divine Appointments, published by WND Books last year. It comes with endorsements from Joel Richardson, promoter of the “Islamic Antichrist” theory, and from Carl Gallups, the pro-Trump pastor notorious for mocking bereaved Sandy Hook parents as actors.

(2) Some Catholics have also been drawn into this interpretation; a piece at Life Site News links the phenomenon to the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy and the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima.

Ben Garrison and Mike Cernovich Step Back from “Rothschild Puppet-Master” Image

A detail from an Atlantic article about Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster:

The provocative right-wing blogger and activist Mike Cernovich has launched a sustained attack on McMaster, including setting up a website called McMasterLeaks.com. When it launched, the main page displayed a large cartoon of the Rothschilds controlling a George Soros puppet, which in turn controlled puppets representing McMaster and former CIA director David Petraeus. (The hand labeled “Rothschilds” has since been relabeled “Saudis.” Cernovich told me he changed it because complaints about the cartoon’s anti-Semitism are “not a hill to die on,” and “if everybody wants to complain, then fine—I’ll just put the Saudis at the top.”)

The cartoon was drawn by alt-right favourite Ben Garrison, and it looks like Garrison himself provided the amended version – a nice example of the cynical flexibility and insincerity of those for whom promoting conspiracy theories is primarily a means to public influence rather than an end in itself (also previously seen in Cernovich’s “Pizzagate” claims).

Cernovich’s conspiracy theory that “Rothschilds” improperly wield secret power has previously focused on Hilary Clinton’s association with Lynn Forester de Rothschild. The two women have been friends for a long time, and some old informal email exchanges were published by Wikileaks last year. Cernovich was among those who suggested (here and here) that these innocuous messages were a revelation that showed how Clinton is personally subservient to Lynn Forester de Rothschild, and by extension to the Rothschild banking family.

Of course, it could be argued that to say that the Rothschilds control American politics does not mean that Jews in general have improper influence. But this doesn’t wash. Unsurprisingly, Hilary Clinton has personal and professional links with many powerful establishment figures – why focus on the one whose surname is Rothschild, other than that the name is already associated with conspiracy theories that have an explicit anti-Semitic provenance?

Further, there zero evidence that “Rothschilds” have played any part in decisions made by either McMaster or Petraeus, and there is no explanatory value in proposing such a suggestion. The aim is purely to make us resent a particular Jewish banking family as an exemplar of hidden forces that supposedly explain unfairness in the world.

I made similar observations a few months ago, when I discussed the use of the phrase “Rothschild Zionism” on the conspiracy-theorist left.

(H/T @YAppelbaum)

A Late Note on Chris Atkins and Tax Fraud

An HM Revenue and Customs press release from early last month:

An accountant, two film producers and an independent financial advisor, who were jailed with three others for more than 36 years for committing a £2.2 million tax fraud, have been ordered to pay back more than £2 million of their criminal profits.

…Film producers Christopher Walsh Atkins, 41, from London, and Christina Slater, 38, from Leamington Spa, have been ordered to pay back more than £201,000 or face another two years in prison…

[Terence Sefton] Potter set up two partnerships that were sold to the wealthy investors. One produced a film called ‘Starsuckers’, the other was a project to develop a package to be made into a film by others called ‘Mercedes the Movie’. The partnership declared the losses in its tax return and so did the investors, which would have allowed them to recoup up to £40,000 in tax relief from HMRC, for every £20,000 they had invested. However, as the scheme was illegal their claim for tax relief was false. The claims were supported by false documents produced by Potter.

There was glee among tabloid journalists when the convictions were announced in July 2016 – the 2009 documentary Starsuckers had shown how easy it is to hoax the media with fake stories (a subject this blog has looked at a number of times), and revealed how the Press Complaints Commission was held in private contempt by journalists whose editors affected respect for the body in public. Atkins had subsequently given evidence about press ethics at the Leveson Inquiry. (1)

Atkins was sentenced to five years, while Slater received four. The judge found that Slater had been “drawn in” by Atkins, and he took account of the fact that she was a new mother. The child will leave her prison’s mother-and-baby unit in September, and a further court decision from just a few weeks ago has confirmed that there will be a period of separation from then until February 2018 at the earliest – an outcome that ought to weigh particularly heavily on Atkins’s conscience.

I have seen one defence of Atkins on social media, along the lines that he simply followed what he believed to have been legitimate financial advice by his accountants. Certainly, in recent years many wealthy individuals have followed bad financial advice about investing in film-financing schemes for tax purposes, which HMRC has successfully argued in civil court amount to tax avoidance rather than legitimate tax planning. (2)

However, Atkins’s case is not comparable. It is one thing to attempt to arrange one’s financial affairs to minimise tax liability, whether or not the attempt ultimately withstands legal scrutiny, and it is quite another to fabricate evidence. A business that produces “false documents” is engaging in dishonesty, and it is difficult to see how a sensible adult could be persuaded by an accountant that creating inflated and fake invoices does not cross the line. It should be as obvious a no-no as using false addresses or non-existent names on official documentation.

Despite the above, though, Atkins and Slater did some good work – and I hope to see more of it when they have paid their debts to society (quite literally, in this case).

Footnotes

(1) Atkins apparently referred to his appearing at Leveson as mitigating evidence of good character. The judge gave that short shift, noting that “I rather doubt had it been known what you had been up to in the previous 4 years you would have been asked to do so.” The judge also added “and I know that what you did say was at the time not accepted by some parties as accurate”, although he did not explain what he meant by this or who these “parties” were.

(2) It should be noted that civil cases around tax avoidance concern conflicting interpretations of evidence that both sides accept as truthful – unlike tax evasion, a crime in which someone lies to HMRC. The term “tax dodging” is sometimes preferred by tabloid newspapers, in order to elide this distinction. Some tabloids have in particular focused on Gary Lineker’s tax liability following an avoidance case; this appears to be revenge for Lineker expressing politically progressive views and criticising the press on social media.

UK Headlines Claim Study “Disproves” the Bible

A bit of silly season Biblical fare from some British newspapers:

Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people (Mail Online)

Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out (Daily Telegraph)*

Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon (The Independent)

The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking (Daily Express)

(*since amended)

Such stories are rarer than “X Proves the Bible” articles (such as recent coverage of the Schøyen Collection’s supposed “Tower of Babel” stele, as blogged here), but they are the flip-side of the same thing – the purpose is sensationalism rather than understanding, and a connection to the Hebrew Bible is allowed eclipse broader issues in the study of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Near East. The British newspapers appear to have picked up the story from reports in the US, although the American articles managed to avoid the crass “village atheist” tone adopted in the British headlines.

The reports all refer to an academic paper entitled “Continuity and Admixture in the Last Five Millennia of Levantine History from Ancient Canaanite and Present-Day Lebanese Genome Sequences“, recently published on open access by the The American Journal of Human Genetics. The article has 16 authors, led by Marc Haber (who has become “Marc Harber” in the Mail). The Bible is mentioned briefly twice:

…most of [the Canaanites’] history known today has been reconstructed from ancient Egyptian and Greek records, the Hebrew Bible, and archaeological excavations… Uncertainties also surround the fate of the Canaanites: the Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations. However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day.

The findings suggest that

 …people from the highly differentiated urban culture on the Levant coast and inland people with different modes of subsistence were nevertheless genetically similar, supporting previous reports that the different cultural groups who inhabited the Levant during the Bronze Age, such as the Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites, and Phoenicians, each achieved their own cultural identities but all shared a common genetic and ethnic root with Canaanites.

The paper thus supports previous research about how ancient populations in the Near East – including the Israelites – were closely related, and it notes that archaeology has already identified a problem with the Biblical accounts of the destruction of Canaanite cities.

Where the authors erred was in their interpretation of “annihilation”. Presumably, this has come from Deuteronomy 20:

…in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

However, this is presented as an ideal instruction rather than an account of what actually happened. The concept does not preclude Canaanites surviving in territory beyond the Israelites’ control, and despite the “do not leave alive anything that breathes” command, one can imagine women and children being taken as booty rather than killed, and conflicts ending with negotiated settlements rather than fights to the death.

But this is all beside the point anyway: Deuteronomy is a late work composed for ideological reasons in the seventh century BCE, whereas earlier parts of the Bible refer to Canaanites living among the Israelites, albeit in a subordinate position. Why refer to “annihilation” while ignoring these texts, which actually support the authors’ finding of genetic continuity? The problem for Biblical literalists is the continuing existence of the Canaanite cities – not Canaanite DNA in modern populations.

Religious websites have expressed irritation with the UK reports – here’s the Christian Institute:

Media challenged over “fake news” stories claiming Bible is untrue

… A spokesman for The Christian Institute said: “These reports prove nothing except the biblical illiteracy of UK journalists and American academics.

“The Bible does not claim that the Israelites wiped out the Canaanites entirely. In fact, the Canaanites lived among the Israelite people for generations after the initial conquest of the Promised Land.

“It is disappointing that media outlets as well established as The Telegraph, The Independent and the Mail Online would publish such blatant fake news.

“Instead of this, the media should be reporting how time and time again history and science demonstrate the reliability of God’s Word.”

The Bible is probably always going to be the hook by which journalists seek to interest readers in stories that shed new light on the ancient Near East, but making everything about whether the Bible has been “disproved” (as suggested by the newspaper headlines above) or proven reliable is to put things round the wrong way. There are archaeologists who are motivated by a wish to “prove” the Bible (mostly American evangelicals or Israeli nationalists), but this an outdated approach. (1) Instead, it is more sensible to see the Bible as one source among many that – if used critically – can help us to interpret and understand other evidence that comes to light.

Footnote

(1) There are also of course outright pseudo-archaeologists, such as the late Vendyl Jones.

Youngstown, Ohio: The Trump Rally Prayer

The livestream of Donald Trump’s rally in Youngstown, Ohio is unfortunately missing the start of it, which means that the name of the person who is first shown speaking is currently unknown.

It’s a matter of some interest, as it appears that this person (presumably a pastor) was offering up the opening prayer. Here’s what the camera captured – although my transcript cannot adequately convey the speaker’s overwrought delivery as he mangles American history and speaks of Trump in near-Messianic terms:

…in Scripture that no-one’s good, not even one. No-one seeks you, and by nature we’re sinful, we’re prideful we’re self-righteous, we’re ungrateful, we’re jealous. But God we thank you so much that you sent your only Son, who’s always been, will always be, and you sent him to come into this world like a man, and he was a man, and he walked this earth. And he took all of our sins in his body, and he took the punishment in our stead.

And I thank you this truth is what our founding fathers stood on. I thank you that most of our founding fathers they were born-again Christians, they loved you immensely. I thank you in the past, Lord, where they couldn’t tell the difference between a church service and a government meeting, because they prayed and they sung hymns, because they glorified you, knowing that without you they could not fail, they could not succeed.

But Father God, today’s 2017 and we’ve thrown you out of schools, and we ask God to forgive us. Sixty million babies have been killed. Sexual immorality’s everywhere. A man’s word is no longer good. Sin runs rampant, drugs are everywhere, idolatry, poverty, division, hopelessness. God, so many people are hurting, they’re hungry, and Lord you are the only hope that we have.

And I thank you God that in the midst of being our only hope, you gave us a new president.

[Cheers from crowd]

Father God, we ask that you anoint President Donald Trump. We ask God you put your armor of protection around him. You placed him for a time like this. We ask God that you give him wisdom, supernatural wisdom. I pray God you give him that heart to seek you every day, to do the right thing in your eyes. I pray God as Solomon said, “Give me understanding, the heart to judge your people, to discern good and evil”, and I pray God you’ll anoint him and protect him in every way.

I ask God you put your armor around him Lord, because there’s much division, many people dislike him Lord. But you placed him at this time, at this hour, for this country. And we ask God that you will use him powerfully. That he will always do the right thing. I pray that he’ll always seek your counsel, I pray God that he’s in his prayer closet every day asking you God what your will is.

And I pray God that you’ll use him to lead this country to a better place. And I pray God, that we as your people, will follow you as you use President Trump. And Father we ask all this in the precious name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Our Saviour, Our king, Our judge, our only hope. Amen

[Cheers from crowd]

Commentary is probably superfluous; I previously looked at similar pro-Trump religious rhetoric here.

(H/T @ChristnNitemare here)