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)

Satanic Ritual Abuse and a Conspiracy Podcast: Some Notes on Some Connections

From the webpage of a lesser-known conspiracy podcast called Freedom Talk Radio:

Wilfred Wong has 24 years experience as a Campaigner on Satanist Ritual Abuse and Child Sex Abuse…

Ironically, while the Government has recognised Satanism officially, it has not recognised the Satanist ritual abuse (SRA) in which many of them are involved.

Some Members of Parliament and some officials with influence over police and public bodies are involved in SRA. Abusive Satanists seek power and seek to transform society. They are nothing like the “ordinary” people who engage in child abuse, because those ordinary abusers do not seek power.

The Satanic element is, as it were, an extra element on top of the abuse of children, one which gives it a perverse religious significance.

Geoffrey Dickens reported that children were being Satanically abused and murdered in the 1980s.

Wong, a non-practising barrister, was formerly a researcher and parliamentary officer for the Christian human rights organisation the Jubilee Campaign, working for David Alton MP; Damian Thompson noted Wong’s interest in the subject of SRA in 2002, under the headline “The people who believe that Satanists might eat your baby”.

More recently, Wong has announced the existence of a “Coalition Against Satanist Ritual Abuse”, founded in 2014; he wrote a piece on the subject for the English Churchman (blogged here), and in September he attended a conference on “Satanic Ritual & Extreme Abuse” in London, alongside the likes of Rainer Kurz (author of “The Satanist Cult of Ted Heath”) and Sandra Fecht. Although an evangelical Christian, he appears to have no problem associating with a “New Agey” conspiracy milieu, in which  participants claim to have extrasensory powers and to have received mystical guidance and such.

Wong does not just believe that SRA may be going on somewhere: he claims that the Hollie Greig abuse allegations relate to SRA; he endorses claims about a supposed baby-eating cult operating out of Hampstead; and he apparently believes (incorrectly) that Wiltshire Police’s Operation Conifer has confirmed that Edward Heath and other politicians were SRA perpetrators. As evidence, he points to the existence of sceptical websites: why would such sites exist if the claims were false?

Freedom Talk Radio is run by a certain Andy Peacher (on some sites misspelt as “Andy Preacher”). Other guests on his podcasts have included Kevin Annett, a former United Church of Canada minister who has latched onto past abuses suffered by indigenous Canadians to promote the idea that Queen Elizabeth and the Pope will be put on trial in an international criminal court under his own jurisdiction; and James Fetzer, a Holocaust denier who also suggests that the Sandy Hook massacre may have been orchestrated by Mossad (a thesis Feltzer has expounded with the assistance of Iran’s Press TV).

Hoaxsted Research has further details about Peacher’s activism: in October 2016, Peacher used his show to broadcast phone calls made by Neelu Berry (another Hampstead promoter) to an NHS mental health unit demanding the release of a woman who, according to Peacher, was being held against her will for exposing “Mental Health frauds and violation of Human Rights by public servants in Yorkshire”.

Peacher, like Berry, belongs to a “freeman on the land” pseudo-legal conspiracy milieu, and so it is not surprising that he also has a particular interest in the UK’s family courts, the shortcomings of which he discusses in conspiratorial terms. He has helped to promote an organisation called Children Screaming To Be Heard, which exists to highlight alleged abuses relating to child custody decisions – it is run by a woman named Maggie Tuttle, and speakers at conferences she has organised have included Ian Josephs, a well known critic of forced adoption, and none other than Stephen Green of Christian Voice.

The Children Screaming To Be Heard website includes a number of items pasted from other sites, such as a piece by Henry Makow explaining that sex education is the work of a “Sabbatean Jewish satanic cult, the Illuminati, who are homosexual pedophiles.” There is also a tie-in book, by one Timothy Spearman, entitled 21st Century Lebensborn: Children Screaming to Be Heard; according to the blurb, the 620-page opus “examines allegations of satanic ritual abuse by the global elite internationally, who appear to be participants in a global satanic cult” (1).

Footnote

1. Spearman also believes that William Shakespeare was “the front man used by the Illuminized Freemasons working for H.M.S.S. to hide the identity of the courtier scholar, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford”. Unexpectedly, he is also the co-author of a polemical American book on Gandhi called Gandhi Under Cross Examination, which was promoted by WorldNetDaily in 2008. Spearman published it under his legal name, Tim Watson, while his co-author was a retired colonel named G.B. Singh.

Westminster Sexual Harassment Allegations Based on “Secret List”: What Could Go Wrong?

From the Sun, earlier this week:

CABINET Ministers have been named by furious female staff in a secret list of sex-pest MPs to avoid at Westminster.

They are among politicians listed in a WhatsApp group set to spark a fresh scandal in Parliament.

…Sources say the first MP could be exposed by the weekend and one said resignations are “anticipated”.

The url indicates that the article headline originally referred to “Pervert Politicians”, although this has now been softened to “Sex-Pest MPs”. One allegation, that an MP “demand[ed] that staff buy sex toys as gifts” has now been confirmed as referring to International Trade Minister Mark Garnier, who apparently sent his female assistant into a Soho sex shop to purchase two vibrators while he waited outside. His explanation is that this was “high jinx” after a Christmas lunch, but even if his assistant was agreeable at the time due to the flow of alcohol it all seems unexpectedly prurient and uncircumspect behaviour for a politician in his fifties.

The nature of working in Parliament is such that making complaints about sexual harassment may be problematic – MPs are individual employers, and if an allegation falls short of a criminal case, where should a complaint be lodged? It is not usually in the interest of whips or party functionaries to damage the prospects of the party’s MPs, and even the Speaker of the House Commons has been known to make decisions based on self-interest rather than principle. I wrote here about how the Conservative Party has mishandled complaints about online bullying, sometimes acting with an attitude of contempt, although I doubt the other parties are any better.

As such, those on the receiving end of harassment may well feel isolated, and concerned for the well-being of colleagues. In such circumstances, discreet warnings and information-sharing may be a reasonable strategy. However, there’s also a need for some caution. A secret group where allegations are exchanged and built on is a recipe for injustice – human nature being what it is, it is likely that malicious gossip and second-hand rumour are mixed in with what may well be genuine complaints. Most obviously, someone who has been told that such-and-such a person is lecherous may be more likely to interpret behaviour as lechery when they come into contact with this person. Thus multiple complaints that appear to establish a pattern of behaviour may in fact arise out of preconceptions and collusion. The very fact that someone decided to leak the group’s messages to the Sun is a cause for concern.

This new sense that sexual harassment in Parliament is an urgent problem may be well grounded, but it is also a gift to self-publicists and opportunists: thus for some reason the charge is being led by John Mann, a Labour MP with a history of boasting about having dossiers and list of names. Previously, Mann had a particular interest in historical allegations of “VIP child sex abuse”: when Harvey Proctor’s home was raided by police in early 2015, Mann promised that this would be “the first of many” such police actions, when it eventually turned out that the police had been led a dance by a fantasist/hoaxer. Mann also claimed to have found a “Dickens dossier” containing “19 names”, and he pronounced as “credible” allegations of ritual sexual abuse in woodland involving a Liberal Democrat MP – another matter that was eventually dropped by police.

Mann had nothing to say when the woodland complaint was closed last month – but it was true to form when he took to Twitter a few days ago to announce that he would “be naming a Labour MP who behaved appalling towards a young woman to the chief whip and leader”.

Excursus

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has run a very similar story about the BBC, headlined “Mishal Husain and Victoria Derbyshire among top BBC women exposing ‘sex pests'” and again referring to a “secret group”. However, Husain has now issued a statement describing the story as

an inaccurate portrayal of conversaions women at the BBC have been having since the pay gaps were identified in July… It is is wrong to portray it as being focused on sexual harassment or targeting individuals.

Priest Says He Felt “Pushed Back” During Mandalay Bay Resort “Blessing”

From Newsweek:

Chicago Reverend Clete Kiley felt something push him back as he stepped into the eerie hallway leading to the room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where Stephen Paddock fired off rounds of bullets—killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds who were enjoying a concert.

…Kiley was praying with a few hundred staff members and consoling them as they cried when the hotel manager approached him. She asked the priest if he would perform a blessing because the FBI had just released Paddock’s room back to the hotel.

…When the priest reached the hallway of the 32nd floor, he noticed a temporary door blocking the hallway. As he opened the door, he said he instantly felt something indescribable.

“I felt like I was being pushed back, like don’t come in here,” he said. “On the inside, I’m going, ‘Oh no, you have to go.'”

…Kiley could sense the evil in the room and what had happened there, he said.

Only the most hardened rationalist would be able to attend such a scene on their own and be able to say truthfully that they did not feel uneasy. A formal ceremony that recognises the very real emotional power of such sites may help to put some people at ease, to dispel some of the negative “atmosphere” that they evoke in the human imagination, and to dampen down the notoriety that in some comparable cases (e.g. Jeffrey Dahmer) has necessitated demolition – hardly a practical solution in this instance. The room will probably be a headache for the owners for years to come, with many guests (and staff) wanting to shun the area and the ghoulishly minded seeking it out.

Kiley told Newsweek that staff “felt relieved” after the blessing. It should be noted that although the prayer he used, “St. Michael, the Archangel”, is associated with exorcism, his visit to the room was not a formal exorcism and the word does not appear in the article. However, although this suggests a desire to avoid sensationalism, it seems to me that his account may work against this: rather than making the space mundane again he has instead helped to build a legend that the hotel is a place where tangible supernatural forces may be encountered.

Kiley – who seems to be an intelligent man – experienced what he expected to experience. Would he have felt the same sensations at a location where something similarly terrible had occurred, but that he hadn’t known about? Verifiable reports of such a phenomenon are thin on the ground.

Las Vegas Conspiracy Theories Lead to Threats

From the Guardian:

Braden Matejka survived a bullet to the head in the Las Vegas massacre. Then, the death threats started coming.

…”There are all these families dealing with likely the most horrific thing they’ll ever experience, and they are also met with hate and anger and are being attacked online about being a part of some conspiracy,” said Taylor Matejka, Braden’s brother, who shared with the Guardian dozens of screenshots of the abuse. “It’s madness. I can’t imagine the thought process of these people. Do they know that we are actual people?”

…Taylor said he tried to respond to the conspiracy theorists, but nothing seemed to work: “I’d be happy to talk to these people, but it seems there’s no reasoning. A really sad part of this is that a lot of these people think they’re fighting the good fight and exposing truth.”

The article in particular draws attention to how Las Vegas conspiracy theories are “flourishing” on YouTube, as was noted on Mashable earlier this month.

It’s not surprising that there is “no reasoning” with those targeting the Las Vegas survivors –  Matejka’s tormentors are almost certainly a mix of nihilistic and cynical trolls who either know they are promoting lies or don’t give a toss either way, and idiotic followers who find in such views an easy way to feel intellectually and morally superior. For those who have genuinely invested in the conspiracy theory, backing down would require an unacceptable loss of self-image – particularly if they have to admit not just to credulity, but to behaviour that anyone can see is both malicious and cowardly.

A follow-up article at Newsweek notes Alex Jones’s Sandy Hook trutherism as some wider context – his claim that the massacre was a hoax is so ingrained now that virtually all the comments under a story about Adam Lanza that appeared on the conservative news website WND yesterday expressed contempt for the bereaved and scepticism that the dead children had ever existed (although given the strong evangelical component at WND, its likely that these readers were influenced not only by Jones, but also by Pastor Carl Gallups).

Jones and his ilk have certainly created an environment in which this kind of abuse after high-profile tragedies now seems unexceptional, although in the case of Las Vegas high-profile conspiracy-mongering has focused on the motive and identity of the perpetrator. As noted by Media Matters:

Jones has offered numerous contradictory claims about the gunman’s background, including that Paddock was a left-wing extremist who attended anti-Trump rallies, a patsy, “an Islamist,” and a spy who “got set up and double crossed.” Jones also claimed that there were multiple gunmen and in one scenario suggested that Paddock was “a patsy taken up there and killed,” allowing the real perpetrators to escape

Jones’s UK sidekick Paul Joseph Watson has also promoted the idea of a cover-up, although a short video extracted from one of their shows highlights Watson looking bored and giving a non-committal reply as Jones expounds on an “antifa literature in the hotel room” conspiracy.

More recently, those asserting a cover-up have honed in on the security guard Jesus Campos, suggesting something sinister in the fact that he travelled to Mexico a few days after the shooting and then returned to the USA. The fact that his whereabouts were unknown to journalists for a short period led to claims that he was “missing”, but the mundane explanation has simply provoked further questions. Those hyping the supposed anomaly include Tucker Carlson, prompting Salon to observe that his segment on the subject

was rank of paranoia and further demonstrated Carlson’s ability to target a person of color in a story about the evils of old white men. 

Similar noises have been made by Milo Yiannopoulos, speaking on the Australian Fox News. Yiannopoulos claimed that there was a “lack of curiosity in the media” because Paddock was white, and like Carlson he sees something sinister in Campos’s trip to Mexico. Yiannopoulos – who previously flirted with Pizzagate conspiracy-mongering – added the suggestion that Campos had been “briefed” before his media appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s show Ellen, and that it had been arranged because DeGeneres has “a relationship with the hotel chain”.

No, a Mathematics Education Professor Did Not Attack “Algebraic and Geometry Skills”

From Campus Reform:

A math education professor at the University of Illinois argued in a newly published book that algebraic and geometry skills perpetuate “unearned privilege” among whites.

Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Illinois, made the claim in a new anthology for math teachers, arguing that teachers must be aware of the “politics that mathematics brings” in society.

“On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,” Gutierrez argued.

Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Further, she also worries that evaluations of math skills can perpetuate discrimination against minorities, especially if they do worse than their white counterparts.

“If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,” she says, adding that there are so many minorities who “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

The report is now receiving wider attention in the media, and social media is awash with outrage and grievance. The impression is that Gutiérrez is denouncing mathematical knowledge and skills as inherently racist because of European origins, and that they should be proscribed to make

An easy “gotcha” and and easy headline, but as is often the case with these sort of things there is less interest in the overall context of a supposedly controversial quote, which is instead placed alongside a distorting and polemical extrapolation. Gutiérrez’s chapter, titled “Political Conocimiento for Teaching Mathematics: Why Teachers Need It and How to Develop It”, can be viewed in full on Google Books, as part of a book called Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods. The passage that has generated controversy appears in context on page 17.

In fact, her chapter makes no direct reference to geometry or algebra, and she does not argue that having mathematical skills amount to “unearned privilege”. Here’s a more extensive quote from the same material – in particular, note the Campus Reform excision from the last paragraph, and the fact that the website substituted Gutiérrez’s reference to “people” with “minorities” (again, a word that does not appear in her chapter):

School mathematics curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans. Perhaps more importantly, mathematics operated with unearned privilege in society, just like Whiteness.

…We treat mathematics as if it is a natural reflection of the universe… mathematics is viewed as a version of the world that is proper, separate from humans, where no emotions or agenda take place…

Currently, mathematics operates as a proxy for intelligence. Society perpetuates the myth that there are some people who are good at mathematics and some who are not… When we combine the belief that mathematics operates with no values, no judgments, no agenda, with the idea that it properly confers intelligence and importance in society, it can impact on how one thinks of oneself…

So many people are walking around in society who have experienced trauma, microagressions from participating in math classrooms where the idea of being a successful person, being an intelligent person, is removing oneself from the context, not involving emotions, not involving the body, and being judged by whether one can reason abstractly.

Clearly, this is a general reflection on the status of mathematics – and mathematicians – in society, and it is a contribution to a discussion on mathematics in sociopolitical context and in relation to pedagogical approaches that has been ongoing for some time. Campus Reform, however, have instead suggested an attack on mathematical skills, presumably to make her look unreasonable and foolish, and perhaps because of the opportunity to promote resentment among anyone who uses a set-square and protractor in their daily work.

The point here is not that Gutiérrez’s perspective is not open to criticism or debate, but that it deserves better than crude misrepresentation in the service of an outrage-driven culture war. The above seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable argument, and increasing awareness of the non-European contribution to mathematics would bring welcome balance.

This last point has in fact been addressed since the 1990s (perhaps earlier). In 1993 Oxford University Press published Multicultural Mathematics; according to the blurb:

The history of mathematics is one of creation and discovery in many parts of the world, and yet few people realize that Pythagoras’ Theorem was known to the Babylonians a thousand years before the Greeks. Similarly, Pascal’s Triangle of 1645 was actually used in practical ways much earlier in China. Indeed, there is a rich field of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian mathematics that is often ignored in the teaching of the subject. Mathematics, then, is an international language and field of study that knows no barriers between race, culture, or creed.

This may be “triggering” news for campus witch-hunters on the right, but pointing it out is not an attack on “algebraic and geometry skills”.