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.

Some Notes on the Roy Moore Allegation

The Religion News Service gets a quote from Jerry Falwell Jnr on the allegation that Roy Moore molested a 14-year-old girl in 1979, when he was 32 years old:

“It comes down to a question who is more credible in the eyes of the voters — the candidate or the accuser”…

“The same thing happened to President Trump a few weeks before his election last year except it was several women making allegations,” Falwell told RNS in an email. “He denied that any of them were true and the American people believed him and elected him the 45th president of the United States.”

In a follow-up email, Falwell noted Moore’s denial of the allegations, saying: “And I believe the judge is telling the truth.”

The story was broken by the Washington Post a few days ago, although the conservative website Breitbart got wind of it in advance and attempted a preemptive rebuttal. It is claimed that Moore had a relationship with the girl, and that she reluctantly engaged in sexual touching that she wanted “over with” as soon as possible.

General principles

Most of us know at least one or two people whose word we would trust if they either made an allegation or denied an allegation made against them. We accept their testimony because of our personal knowledge of their character, which serves as subjective evidence. Extrapolating from this, we may also be inclined to trust the word of a public figure, if he or she is someone whom we like or respect. However, the key word here is “subjective”  – Falwell is confident that the accuser is either lying or mistaken, but this has no objective value for the rest of us.

Does this mean, then, that we must believe Moore’s accuser? For some, belief in an alleged victim’s testimony is a moral imperative. It takes bravery to disclose a traumatic and perhaps stigmatising experience, especially when the perpetrator is a popular or powerful figure. To express scepticism or agnosticism may further harm someone who has already suffered, and discourage others from talking about similar experiences. Falwell’s assertion that Trump was elected because “the American people” believed his denials to be truthful seems to be deliberately calculated to marginalise and humiliate the women who say that Trump enacted on them his private predatory boasts.

But in cases where there are reasonable doubts, it goes against natural justice to simply pretend that they don’t exist. I’ve received criticisms on social media over blog posts in which I have pointed out the problems with allegations of child sex abuse that have been made against Edward Heath and other public figures in the UK – however, as far as I have seen no-one has disputed the facts I have assembled or identified flaws in my reasoning.

It seems to me that each case should be taken on its own merits, and that we need to bear in mind the limitations to reaching a full understanding when all we have to go on are media reports. In law, someone who is accused is innocent until proven guilty, but we also understand that someone may be a suspect, and that there may be a credible case to answer. That case to answer may in due course be either proven or debunked – but in some cases innocence or guilt will never be comprehensively established.

The case of Roy Moore

In the case of Moore, three other women say that he “pursued” them when they were between 16 and 18 years old and he was in his thirties. Moore appears to have confirmed this by telling Sean Hannity that he did “not generally” date teenagers when he was that age, which implies that it did happen sometimes; as such, criticisms that these particular three women may have had a political motivation to damage Moore through false claims lose their relevance.  A former deputy district attorney named Teresa Jones further claims that it was “common knowledge” that Moore “dated high school girls” at that time.

The New York Post describes the women’s claims as referring to “inappropriate relationships”; certainly, many people would regard with suspicion a grown man who seeks out very young dating partners, as being either an ephebophile or as someone who wants to dominate in a relationship by using their greater worldly experience. This context does not prove that Moore engineered a liaison with a 14-year-old, but it does make the story more plausible.

The Washington Post also has testimony that appears to confirm that Corfman’s claim is not new or opportunistic:

Two of Corfman’s childhood friends say she told them at the time that she was seeing an older man, and one says Corfman identified the man as Moore. [Nancy] Wells says her daughter told her about the encounter more than a decade later, as Moore was becoming more prominent as a local judge.

Since publication, a man named Mike Ortiz has also come forward to say that he dated Corfman “around 2009”, and that she told him the same story at the time.

Moore and his supporters (and there do not appear to be any vocal sceptics who are not supporters) have raised various points in response. Moore has been a public figure for a long time – how could such an allegation not have come to light before now? The suggestion is that this a political hit-job, orchestrated either by the Democrats or by “Establishment” Republicans opposed to Moore. However, one of the reporters on the story, Beth Reinhard, has told CNN that they found the story independently:

We didn’t have any contact with the Democratic Party while we were reporting the story, and this story did not fall into our laps or our inbox. A Washington Post reporter was in Alabama doing some reporting on Roy Moore’s supporters when these rumors were emerging that he had had relationships with teenage girls. Two of us spent weeks in Alabama pursuing these leads that we got, and as we say in the story, none of the women were eager to go public. They were all off the record when we first spoke to them, and it took multiple interviews before they agreed to speak publicly because in the end they felt like they needed to do it. But they did not seek out this attention.

Corfman’s character has also come under scrutiny, with Newsmax‘s James Hirsen stating that she “has had three divorces, filed for bankruptcy three times, and has been charged with multiple misdemeanors”. These are not, though, things she has sought to hide, nor are they self-evidently relevant. The “misdemeanors” relate to selling beer to a minor and driving a boat without lights, both of which indicate negligence rather than dishonesty or wanton disregard for the law (assuming she simply misjudged the age of the beer-buying minor). Hirsen also states that “Moore’s FB page” indicates that she “has claimed several pastors at various churches made sexual advances at her”. Such a pattern may be grounds for caution – although this claim is so far unsubstantiated.

A bit of cultural context

Those who express scepticism about an allegation are sometimes accused of adopting a bad-faith position to assist a perpetrator. Often, the word “apologist” is bandied about, deliberately conflating scepticism with justification for an offence. In Moore’s case, however, some of his defenders have actually taken the view that Corfman’s claim, even if true, is no reason for censure. Thus an Alabama official named Jim Ziegler has now achieved fame for comments provided to the Washington Examiner:

“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler said choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

“There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here” Ziegler concluded. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

This is extraordinary, and I can’t imagine Moore being thankful for such “assistance”. Ziegler has here inadvertently shone a light on a segment of US Evangelicalim in which early marriage is encouraged, particularly for girls. An article in the Los Angeles Times by a home-school policy analyst named Kathryn Brightbill outlines this wider context (links in original):

One popular courtship story that was told and retold in home-school circles during the 1990s was that of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman, who turned their history into a successful career promoting young marriage. Most audiences, however, didn’t realize just how young the Chapmans had in mind until the site Homeschoolers Anonymous and the blogger Libby Anne revealed that Matthew was 27 and Maranatha was 15 when they married.

…As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work.

In retrospect, I understand what the speaker was really describing: Adult men selecting and grooming girls who were too young to have life experience. Another word for that is “predation.”

In July, it was reported that there had been “more than 200,000 children married in US over the last 15 years”. Back in February, I noted a source on how child marriage related to age of consent laws in California in the mid-1990s:

Over a two year period, social workers [in Orange County] persuaded fifteen teenage girls (some as young as 13) to marry the men who impregnated them (some as old as 30) in order to escape the legal consequences of their sexual activity. In each case, the marriage was authorized by a juvenile court judge. These girls, deemed too young to choose sex, were nevertheless judged mature enough to choose marriage.

According to the author here (1), this demonstrates that the law was seen primarily as a device to prevent welfare dependency. Certainly, there doesn’t seem to be any underlying philosophy of child protection and informed consent.

UPDATE: As noted by Axios and then Raw Story, Breitbart has now run stories that attempt to discredit Corfman and the other women featured in the Washington Post article.

As regards Corfman, Breitbart‘s Aaron Klein (this guy) has spoken with her mother Nancy Wells by phone, and found an supposed discrepancy as to whether Corfman had a phone in her bedroom at the time of her alleged association with Moore:

Corfman clearly claimed she spoke to Moore on what she said was “her phone in her bedroom” on at least one of those occasions. The Post did not specify whether the second or third alleged calls purportedly took place on a bedroom phone.

Wells, Corfman’s mother, was asked by Breitbart News: “Back then did she have her own phone in her room or something?”

“No,” she replied matter-of-factly. “But the phone in the house could get through to her easily.”

We don’t know if Corfman specifically said “my phone”, or if the Washington Post simply assumed it was “her” phone from her account of taking calls in her bedroom. Either way, though, the difference between Corfman having a phone in her room or trailing the house phone into her room from somewhere else seems to be very slim grounds on which to build a case.

Wells also told Klein that the Washington Post “worked to convince her daughter to give an interview about the allegations against Moore”. Klein believes this is important because it indicates “activist behavior” by the Washington Post, but it seems to me that all he has done here is to  provide further confirmation of Beth Reinhard’s account of how the story was found.

Footnote

(1) Kate Sutherland (2003), “From Jailbird to Jailbait: Age of Consent Law and the Construction of Teenage Sexualities“, William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 9 (3): 313-349.

A Note on the Distribution of Pamela Geller’s New Book

Anti-Islam polemicist Pamela Geller is upset with Barnes & Noble:

Eureka! @BNBuzz displays FATWA! Can you find the FATWA? No, seriously, can you find the one sole copy? Sheesh.  (photo thanks Mr. Smith)

The Tweet is accompanied with a photo of a Barnes & Noble bookcase on which the spine of her new memoir FATWA: Hunted in America appears on the fourth shelf, sandwiched between multiple copies of two other titles also categorised as “Domestic Affairs”. Supporters are also grumbling that the book is not apparent in book shops.

One wonders what kind of distribution network the book has. FATWA is the second title to be published by Dangerous Books, which was created by MILO Worldwide of Boca Raton, Florida to publish Milo Yiannopolis’s book Dangerous after Simon & Schuster extricated itself from a book deal in the wake of comments that came to light in February. Geller says that “Milo was the only one who would publish my book”; in contrast, her 2006 opus The Post-American Presidency was published by Threshold Editions, the same Simon & Schuster imprint that dumped Yiannopolis.

However, the Dangerous Books website consists of nothing more than an advert for Dangerous and a newsletter sign-up feature; there’s no direct contact address or staff – nor is there any mention of Geller’s book. Meanwhile, the Dangerous Books Twitter account seems to be a half-hearted effort, with around 350 followers and just a couple of hundred Tweets – only two of which relate to Geller and her book, and one of these is a dud link to Yiannopolis’s website.

Is there a connection between this lack of activity and the fact that Yiannopolis has very recently lost funding from Robert Mercer, who now says that he regrets ever having supported him? And might this have anything to do with the book’s minimal presence in bookshops?

A Short Note on Twitter and the Media

From technology news website Recode:

But new data show that many news publications — including established outfits like the Post, the Miami Herald (owned by McClatchy), Buzzfeed and even Vox, as well as controversial alt-right hubs like InfoWars — were duped into citing… nefarious tweets in their coverage, perhaps unwittingly amplifying the reach of Russian propaganda in the process.

The Post was one of the most prominent news organizations to include the bogus, misleading tweets in their stories. On at least eight occasions since early 2016, the paper cited Twitter accounts that since have been pegged as Kremlin-sponsored trolls, according to an analysis by Recode with the aid of Meltwater, a media-intelligence firm.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast is among a number of sites highlighting one particular example: that of “Jenna Abrams”:

Jenna Abrams had a lot of enemies on Twitter, but she was a very good friend to viral content writers across the world.

Her opinions about everything from manspreading on the subway to Rachel Dolezal to ballistic missiles still linger on news sites all over the web.

One website devoted an entire article to Abrams’ tweet about Kim Kardashian’s clothes. The story was titled “This Tweeter’s PERFECT Response to Kim K’s Naked Selfie Will Crack You Up.”…

Those same users who followed @Jenn_Abrams for her perfect Kim Kardashian jokes would be blasted with her shoddily punctuated ideas on slavery and segregation just one month later.

It now appears that Abrams was the creation of a Russian “troll farm”, much like the pro-Brexit “David Jones” Twitter account exposed by The Times in August.

These revelations are all in the public interest, but the focus on Russian conspiracies risks overlooking a broader story about how easy it is to manipulate the media with attention-seeking online behaviour and outright fakery. The Daily Beast‘s reference to “viral content writers” implies a frivolous sub-genre of entertainment journalism, when it seems to me that opinion quotes from random Twitter users (or even celebrities) are now regularly peppered through news stories for no particularly good reason – despite the fact that most people do not have Twitter accounts, and that the range of those who do is unlikely to reflect society as a whole.

Opinion quotes from Twitter figure prominently in stories for several reasons: journalists themselves use the platform, and so conclude it must be important; harvesting quotes is easier than actively seeking out interview subjects or authoritative statements; highlighting particular comments may allow a media source to editorialise by proxy or to give the impression that there is a consensus on an issue (in British tabloids, this consensus may be that the public is “outraged” about something or other); and drawing attention to a “controversial” comment is easy clickbait, even without a celebrity name attached it it.

Of course, opinion comments on Twitter (1) may generate stories of genuine interest, such as when a public figure expresses views that may influence a large following, or when a recognised expert gives their analysis. Indeed, users do not need credentials in order to provide insightful perspectives or witty commentary. However, it seems to me that the resource is being used lazily and without discernment. How many other “online personalities” like Jenna Abrams or supposed opinion writers are simply manipulative constructs?

The spotlight is on fake Russian trolls, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that advertisers, political parties, and simple con-artists and self-promoters are all implicated in this kind of thing.

Footnote

1. I distinguish here between “opinion” Tweets and Tweets that may be newsworthy as a primary source of information.

US Christian Right Delegation Meets Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi

Participants included General William “Jerry” Boykin

From Haaretz:

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi met on Wednesday with a group of leading evangelical Christian activists from the United States at his office in Cairo, where they discussed the fight against ISIS, the prospects for peace between Israel and the Arab world and the situation of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.

…The meeting was initiated by Joel Rosenberg, an evangelical activist and author who lives in Jerusalem. Rosenberg participated in a meeting that Sissi held earlier this year in Washington, D.C., with experts on the Middle East, leaders of Jewish organizations and former senior U.S. government officials.

…A number of the participants in the meeting on Wednesday are members of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, and Rosenberg is considered close to Vice President Mike Pence.

Rosenberg, who is of partly Jewish heritage, has formerly worked for Rush Limbaugh, Steve Forbes and Benjamin Netanyahu. In recent years he has made his name as the author of apocalyptic Christian novels such as The Ezekiel Option, “a political thriller about the threat of a Russian-Iranian alliance to destroy Israel based on the Biblical prophecies found in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39.” Here he can be heard in friendly conversation with the anti-Islam activist and conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

American participants at the meeting also included General William “Jerry” Boykin and Mike D. Evans. According to Boykin on Facebook:

The meeting tackled ways to confront terrorism. The President affirmed that it will only be achieved through collective action and the adoption by the international community of a multi-pronged strategy. All elements and parties supporting terrorist organizations will be dealt with, in order to stop providing shelter, weapons, training camps or funding. The President also stressed the importance of supporting efforts to restore stability in the region and to consolidate national institutions with their countries, in order to fill the vacuum that provides an opportunity for the growth of terrorism.

It is difficult to reconcile this with Boykin’s history of blanket condemnations of Islam, and his associations with the likes of Kamal Saleem.

Evans, meanwhile, has since issued a statement:

Please pray for Mr. el-Sisi and his team. They are courageously fighting a winner-take-all-battle against Radical Islamist terrorists. They are working to stabilize a country that was going up in flames under the hellish tyranny of the Muslim brotherhood. They are determined to rebuild a shattered economy, safeguard all Egyptians (including the nation’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians), rebuild churches destroyed or damaged during the Arab Spring, maintain the peace treaty with Israel and rebuild the U.S.-Egyptian alliance deeply damaged under President Obama.

Oddly, Evans does not ask us to pray for Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, the Egyptian lawyer currently in custody for investigating enforced disappearances in the country. Like Rosenberg, Evans is of Jewish heritage and based in Jerusalem; his works include Showdown with Nuclear Iran: Radical Islam’s Messianic Mission to Destroy Israel and Cripple the United States, which was written with the assistance of the birther Jerome Corsi.

Also present, among others, was Egyptian-American pastor Michael Youssef; his website has an account.

In September, Human Rights Watch reported that

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s regular police and National Security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has the full list, which also includes Michele Bachmann:

American evangelical attendees, according to a photo of the event, were Joel Rosenberg, an American writer who lives in Jerusalem; retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence in the second Bush administration; Family Research Council President Tony Perkins; San Diego pastor Jim Garlow; Florida pastor Mario Bramnick; Middle East commentator Michael Evans; communications executive Larry Ross; political activist Robert Vander Plaats; Campus Crusade for Christ Global Leadership Vice President Dela Adadevoh; former congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); Egyptian American Atlanta pastor Michael Youssef; and [California pastor and public affairs executive Johnnie] Moore.

Exposure Fails to Dent Success of YourNewsWire in Spreading Fake News

From Media Matters:

YourNewsWire published an article on October 29 titled “Morgan Freeman: ‘Jailing Hillary’ Best Way To ‘Restore Public Faith In Govt,'” which claimed that Freeman said “that bitch” Clinton “should be in jail for her unlawful deeds and President Trump should absolutely, absolutely make sure this happens.” 

…According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, the fake story received more than 68,000 Facebook engagements and more than 10,000 Twitter shares. Prominent figures shared the fake story, including actor James Woods (who later deleted his tweet), PJ Media columnist Roger Kimball, and conservative blogger Instapundit (who subsequently acknowledged the story was fake), as well as multiple other fake news websites.

The YourNewsWire post is attributed to “Baxter Dmitry”, and given that the site is by now well known as a purveyor of falsehoods it is remarkable that it is still managing to pull these hoaxes off. I previously looked at a specific fake story it ran in July.

The site and its founder, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, were profiled by the London Sunday Times back in January under the headline “Mother Churns Out Stories for Master of Fake News”; the article is paywalled, although a derivative piece at The Drum covers the same ground. The London Evening Standard followed up in February, with an article that highlighted Adl-Tabatabai’s former links to David Icke:

it was a meeting with David Icke — the former BBC presenter who announced that he was the son of God on Wogan in 1990 — that he describes as “the biggest step” to what he does now.

Adl-Tabatabi was working on a pilot for a conspiracy theory show on MTV and had been tasked with duping Icke into making a fool of himself again. “He was actually a really decent guy with a few wacky ideas — and I thought, no, he doesn’t deserve this.” He tipped off Icke — who was grateful. When he was sacked from MTV, he worked for Icke for years as a web designer and producer. Icke has since turned on his amanuensis (“WHY ARE YOU FILLED WITH SUCH HATRED SEAN ADL-TABATABAI? What is your motivation? And who benefits?”) But Adl-Tabatabai remains respectful. “He’s just misinformed. That’s fine. What I liked about him was that he was fearless.”

The same article describes “Baxter Dmitry” as (link added) “a Milo Yiannopoulos fanboy whose Facebook profile is taken in front of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg”; however, the earlier Times article notes that the author’s previous profile photo was formerly stolen from a Latvian computer programmer. It remains unclear if he really exists.

Adl-Tabatabai’s “respectful” attitude to Icke is not particularly in evidence on YourNewsWire, which in one post accuses Icke of “associating” with individuals “closely connected to child abuse” – these are “Zen Gardner”, a  conspiracy theorist now viewed with suspicion because he was formerly a member of the Children of God; and Jimmy Savile, on the grounds that Icke and Savile both worked for the BBC. This is what prompted Icke’s “WHY ARE YOU FILLED WITH SUCH HATRED” outburst. Icke, with remarkable lack of self-awareness, was apparently aggrieved to be on the receiving end of a lurid and sensationalising hit-piece.

It seems that the bad blood relates to a UK online media project called The People’s Voice, in which Icke and Adl-Tabatabai were partners in 2013 and 2014, when Icke split from it. Other presenters included Richie Allen, who now runs an audio conspiracy podcast that is produced “in association with David Icke”, and Sonia Poulton, who left after arguing with Icke and Adl-Tabatabai about finances (incidentally, Poulton is the journalist referred to in this post). The project closed soon after Icke’s departure, although the name lives on as “The People’s Voice Inc” in California. Along with YourNewsWire, Adl-Tabatabai also runs a similar site called News Punch.

A number of media sources state that that the site has been described as a “proxy” for Russia by the European Union’s East StratCom Task Force, which exists to counter Russian propaganda. However, this appears to me to have been overstated. Several YourNewsWire stories feature on the Task Force’s Eu vs DisInfo website, with YourNewsWire named as the “Disinforming outlet”, but the main Task Force website states that “the Task Force does not compile any lists of persons involved in disinformation activities.” It seems that the Task Force does not research or analyse disinformation sources, but merely collects “disinformation stories that have been reported to the Task Force by its network.”

Despite this background and YourNewsWire‘s many obvious excesses, a more recent profile in The Hollywood Reporter has described it as

emerging alongside the more high-profile Breitbart as an integral player in the Trump era’s L.A. alt-media axis. Despite Google’s decision to cut off YNW’s ad revenue and fact-checking site Snopes’ relentless efforts to debunk its incendiary reports, its founders are more energized than ever, as [Adl-Tabatabai’s partner Sinclair] Treadway puts it, “to focus on what people aren’t focusing on — the information that the public isn’t already being told.”

(H/T Real Troll Exposure for some links)