The Daily Mail Publishes Sex Scandal Hit Piece about Snopes

From the Guardian:

On Wednesday evening, Mail Online published a lengthy investigation into fact-checking site Snopes containing salacious details gleaned from legal battles between its recently divorced cofounders.

The claims, mainly about the sexual history and preferences of Snopes employees, but also allegations of financial misbehaviour by its founder, David Mikkelson, which he disputes, are titillating but not Earth shattering.

Noting that the site has been named as third-party fact-checker that will be used by Facebook, the article adds:

…The purpose of the article appears to be to sow doubt about measures to deal with, or at least mitigate, the impact of fake news and falsehoods on social media, long before they have even got off the ground.

The Mail, of course, has skin in this game… It has come under Snopes’ microscope enough times to be called in July “Britain’s highly unreliable Daily Mail” by a Snopes writer who just happens to be named in the Mail story.

Thus the Mail article is not just about sowing doubt – it is a typical Mail revenge attack on a critic, and perhaps a warning to others.

There have of course been previous attacks on Snopes – for the most part, general complaints about the site-owners’ reported liberalism, but sometimes taking issue with a particular post (a few months ago Louise Mensch objected to a Snopes post disputing claims of torture and mutilation in an article on Heat Street about the Bataclan massacre). There is even a critical meme on the subject, which for some reason mocks the Mikkelsons for owning a cat.

However, the simple fact is that the site enjoys a reputation for truthfulness and accuracy because it has earned it. Nowhere does Snopes demand that we simply trust the site’s judgement – instead, it provides judicious quotes from relevant sources, which anyone can then check for themselves.

The Mail‘s article is bylined to Alana Goodman, an American journalist also with the Washington Free Beacon and formerly with Commentary and Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center (the last of which is discussed by ConWebWatch in relation to “fake news” here). Much of her recent output has consisted of critical articles about the Clintons and their circle – most notably a piece on Hillary Clinton’s representation of Thomas Alfred Taylor in 1975, discussed by Snopes here.

Data Researchers Find “Methodological Errors” In Hope Not Hate Report on Tweets Supporting Murder of Jo Cox

From the website of Evolution AI, a London-based data science consultancy:

In a report published by the Hope Not Hate campaign last Monday, researchers Dr Imran Awan and Dr Irene Zempi describe widespread celebration of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox on the Twitter website during the months of June and July of 2016.

The findings of the report do not appear to stand up to fact-checking… We could find evidence of less than seventy tweets in support of Jo Cox’s murder. This implies that the claims are inflated by a factor of around one thousand.

…The Hope Not Hate report, Jo Cox ‘deserved to die’: Cyber Hate Speech Unleashed on Twitter, seems to be a conflation of two analyses, one concerning brexit-related tweets and another concerning tweets about Jo Cox. It is not carefully written and it is often not clear which data set is being referred to. Our analysis suggests that the 50,000 tweet claim belongs to tweets about ‘brexit’ while a vastly smaller dataset is actually about Jo Cox…

Although it seems that there are severe methodological errors in the Hope Not Hate report, we do not suggest that the authors have been deliberately misleading. We have informed the authors that we cannot reproduce their results and have asked them to share their dataset or clarify their methods. They told us they are currently unable to do so.

Cox’s murderer was convicted last month. There is, of course, a natural tendency for any campaign against a social evil to exaggerate the extent of it – not necessarily cynically, to raise funds or gain influence, but also perhaps due to confirmation bias or the perceptual effect of dealing with the issue on a daily basis (I recently noted similar problems with statistics and claims being bandied about by an anti-stalking organisation). There may be a temptation to rationalize this, saying “well, it’s better that people worry too much than not enough”, but as the Evolution AI authors note,

This study risks normalizing extremely rare viewpoints and representing them as more common and more acceptable than they truly are. This will have precisely the opposite effect to that intended. In general, ‘fake news’ in respected media sources acts to decrease public trust and should not go unchallenged.

Evolution AI’s work is discussed further and expanded by The Economist, which adds the detail that

When The Economist asked the [Hope Not Hate] authors for help, they declined to share their data with us, citing death threats they said they had received since the report’s release. 

The Hope Not Hate authors referred to these threats on the day of their report’s publication; Zempi wrote on Twitter that

Sorry to say that both @ImranELSS & I have received death threats because of our new study on #Cyber #HateSpeech BUT we will not be silenced

Given this commendably robust attitude, it seems very odd that the authors should now be intimidated from producing the crucial data that would reassure the public of their study’s integrity. It is not at all clear why doing so would constitute a greater or renewed threat to their personal safety; and Awan has reportedly been a target of the far-right for the past two years anyway, since publishing a report on online Islamophobia.

To compound the problem, the specific claim that 50,000 Tweets celebated Cox’s death or praised her killer comes from a  Hope Not Hate press release rather than the report itself. Hope Not Hate has acknowledged that this was an error, but the story has has been pulled from the Guardian, which now carries a notice that

This article has been removed. It was based on a press release from anti-racism campaigners Hope Not Hate which it admits contained incorrect information.

UPDATE: It has now come to my attention that the report authors made a further statement two days ago:

This was a qualitative study (analysis of a snapshot of views) rather than a quantitative study, which ’number crunches’ data to produce an empirical analysis.

…One of the themes we identified in our sample was the claim that Jo Cox had ‘deserved to die’ because she supposedly supported so-called ‘rape gangs’, and had been a ‘traitor’ who ‘got what she deserved’.

As far as the second part of our report highlights, looking at cyber hate responses to Brexit, we pointed out that experiences of xenophobic hostility led to communities feeling a sense of fear, insecurity and vulnerability. We also noted how social media was used to report offline incidents of hate.

This means that Hope Not Hate apparently misrepresented the study as being a calculation of the amount of online hate that was directed at Cox after her death, rather than as being a qualitative study of the various rhetorical strategies that were deployed by those posting hateful Tweets. However, as The Economist notes, the authors were happy enough to endorse misleading media reports that followed the publication. A commentator on the Hope Not Hate website also complains that requests for clarifications on Twitter were met with the “block” button.

Further, the report very clearly makes quantitative claims. For example, in the executive summary we read that:

This study examined over 53,000 tweets between June 2016 and July 2016, following the murder of British MP Jo Cox and the EU Referendum vote.

…A key theme that emerged on Twitter was the depiction of Thomas Mair as a ‘hero’ for murdering Cox. Individuals had tagged pictures in their tweets praising Mair for killing Jo Cox, using the hashtag #HeroMair

Currently, there is just one Twitter result that uses this hashtag (leaving aside a few new ones pointing out this fact), and this particular item is cited in the report. A Google Search brings up evidence of a second example from June, from an account that has since been suspended, but even allowing for suspensions and deletions one would expect a few more examples to be left over on Twitter or preserved on Google search results. One might also have expected a few responses from people referring to the existence of the hashtag in order to express their disgust with it – but there is nothing. Yet the executive summary implies there were many, and one media report (in the Daily Star) interprets this to mean that “the hashtag #HeroMair trended on Twitter for a short time” – a detail I would expect someone to have noticed at the time.

Gordon Anglesea: Some Notes on 1994 and 2016

From the BBC, last month:

A former North Wales Police chief jailed for sexually abusing two teen boys has lodged an appeal against his convictions, it has been confirmed.

Gordon Anglesea, 79, was handed a 12 year sentence after being convicted at Mold Crown Court in October.

The jury found the retired superintendent guilty of three indecent assaults on one boy and indecently assaulting another, both in the 1980s.

Another report added the detail that his legal team from the trial had agreed to assist without charge.

However, there not now be any appeal: Anglesea was taken ill a few days ago, and has now died of natural causes. Anglesea did not appear to be frail in recent television footage, and there was no mention in the media of any mortal illness (although he was known to be diabetic); it therefore seems reasonable to suppose that, despite the impassivity he displayed when being led away in handcuffs, the strain of recent events took a fatal toll on his health.

For those thoroughly convinced of Anglesea’s guilt, his demise means that his victims will not be put through a further ordeal, in which their testimony would this time be considered not by “12 good mean and women and true”, but by three judges (aka “the Establishment”). However, for those who remain unsure, there must be regret and unease that an opportunity for the matter to re-considered in further detail has now been lost.

One should of course be circumspect when expressing doubt about a jury’s decision; unlike those in attendance at a trial, most of us must make do with media articles (subject to reporting restrictions in the case of sex crimes involving living complainants), and expressing even mild scepticism risks adding to the distress of genuine victims.

In the case of Anglesea, though, the details of his 1994 libel action, in which he won payouts from four media organisations, give pause for thought. This is despite a recent comment on social media from Francis Wheen, who attended on behalf of his employer, Private Eye magazine:

In 1994 I watched Gordon Anglesea smirking in court and thought: that man is lying, but he knows he can pull rank and get away with it. He presumed that no jury would believe the word of damaged, abused young men against that of a police superintendent – moreover one who paraded his wife in court at every opportunity, Archer-style, as if to say “I can’t be a paedophile, I’m a married man.” It has taken 22 years for another jury to explode that presumption.

But anyone who has read Richard Webster’s account of the libel trial in The Secret of Bryn Estyn will know that it is not as simple as this. The three accusers who appeared for the defence offered inconsistent and contradictory accounts, including impossible dates; and one had even demanded a payment from Private Eye before he would agree to give evidence. And if we’re going to bring Anglesea’s wife into it, why not explain her significance properly? Anglesea had previously sent his future wife love-letters, at a time when he had been married to someone else; these were produced (or should we say “paraded”?) by the defence as evidence of his dishonesty, but they actually revealed that at the time he was supposedly anally raping boys at the children’s home of Bryn Estyn he was passionately fixated on an adult woman. (1)

Webster’s book also gives an account of how the original allegations had been elicited by a journalist, Dean Nelson, in circumstances that were less than optimal and not to Nelson’s credit. And a few years after Webster’s book was published, the same accuser who had demanded the payment from Private Eye triggered the disastrous Newsnight segment on Bryn Estyn that led to Lord McAlpine being falsely accused of child-sex abuse on social media (alas, this cautionary tale of a rush to judgment over “VIP abuse” allegations alas had little lasting impact, and was prelude to what became the Operation Midland fiasco).

Given all this, it is not enough simply to assert that Anglesea’s guilt was self-evident in 1994 and that the jury had been improperly impressed by his respectability in contrast to that of his accusers. And even if he did enjoy an unfair presumption of credibility in 1994, why should that mean that juries are more balanced now? Is it not just as likely that revelations and allegations about historical sex abuse involving public figures and “VIPs” might also have had an influence on jury decision-making?

Of course, this does not mean that Anglesea  suffered a miscarriage of justice – his recent criminal trial brought to light troubling  inconsistencies with his account in 1994, and even Webster acknowledged that in 1994 Anglesea had probably downplayed his association with the former deputy head of Bryn Estyn, Peter Howarth, who had himself been convicted of abuse. The difficulties outlined above may not be insuperable, but at the moment there appears to be an unwarranted assumption that Anglesea’s 1994 testimony – and by extension, Webster’s account – has been debunked by the 2016 outcome.

On the other hand, though, journalists who previously cited and commended Webster (who died in 2011) haven’t had much to say on the subject since Anglesea’s conviction. It seems to me that his account is a subject that now deserves some further treatment.

UPDATE (10 January 2017): Anglesea’s funeral has now been held. According to The Leader:

A CREMATORIUM was packed for the funeral of Gordon Anglesea, the retired police superintendent jailed for 12 years in November for historical sex offences against two boys at Wrexham.

Former police, Rotary and Methodist church colleagues were among the congregation…

Anglesea had denied the offences and his family, from Old Colwyn, have a burning sense of injustice.

A son who gave a eulogy during the service said they “believed in him to the end”.

Footnote

(1) Private Eye’s editor Ian Hislop also made a statement, which was published in issue 1430 (p. 7):

During the libel trial Anglesea said that he had never assaulted any teenage boys. We now know that this was a lie, that he was indeed a paedophile, that in truth he had no reputation to defend and that he should never have sued anyone on this basis…

This appears to create a bit of distance between the the general principle that Anglesea was an abuser, as determined by the jury in 2016, and the specific allegations of 1994. However, Hislop goes on to commend the three 1994 accusers as truthful:

I can’t help thinking of the witnesses who came forward to assist our case at the time, one of whom later committed suicide telling his wife that he never got over “not being believed”.

The same page goes on to note that that Anglesea’s legal team had been funded (“bankrolled”) by the police union, the Police Federation, adding

An unnamed source from his defence team has already told local media that… an appeal is planned. The Eye asked the federation if it would be willing to keep spending members’ money on defending a convicted paedophile, but it refused to comment on individual funding decisions.

In fact, the union eventually decided not to fund the appeal, which was why Anglesea’s legal team then agreed to represent him for free. But the question to the federation as expressed in the above seems to me to have been loaded. The plain meaning is not “Do you think an appeal here may have merit?” or “What is your policy on members who have been convicted but maintain they are innocent?”; instead, the question is obviously “How on earth can you give money to such a disgusting person?”. A sudden and self-interested moral objection to the principle of appeals does not seem to me to be in accordance with the magazine’s best traditions.

Jonathan Cahn and Joseph Farah in Israel, with Signs Following

From WND:

God makes his presence known in the land of Israel – even to this day, and even in the midst of WND’s annual Israel tour.

Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, who led the recently completed tour, witnessed a remarkable sign while he was in the Holy Land with tour participants.

…”On our last day, we were standing on the roof of the Upper Room where, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. I was doing a special anointing with oil of the people on the tour while we worshiped, and I prayed for an outpouring from heaven. While I was praying for that outpouring, people began noticing that something striking was taking place over our heads. The heavens were opening up and an outpouring of light was manifesting above us.”

…The [Messianic] rabbi… claimed it wasn’t the first time he has encountered a divine sign while leading the WND Israel tour.

One year he was at the Jaffa shore, speaking about St. Peter’s vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven, when a large sheet appeared in the sky.

Another time, Cahn was in the wilderness at night, thinking about the fire on Mount Sinai, when lights started appearing on a distant desert mountain. On another occasion, he was in the desert talking about the pillar in the wilderness when a pillar of dust appeared.

It’s perhaps inevitable that Cahn – who found fame with a bestselling paperback that purports to reveal and explain biblical “mysteries” previously overlooked by everyone else – would now be claiming to be the locus of extraordinary supernatural phenomena. Coincidentally, the Russian Orthodox Church recently issued a statement denying claims that “trumpeting angels” had appeared during the restoration of the Holy Sepulchre (or Anastasis, to use the preferred Orthodox term); perhaps the divine beings were already engaged elsewhere, putting on a show for a group of US evangelical tourists led by by Cahn and WND’s birther editor, Joseph Farah.

Cahn also linked the these various signs to the story of a dust storm that had appeared at the Golan Heights at the start of December; this had occurred just a few days after a skirmish between Israeli troops and some ISIS fighters (who came off worse, with four dead), and thus it has been suggested that it was a miracle to protect Israel from ISIS. The account made its way into evangelical news sources, and from there into British tabloids. For some reason, though, none of these reports note that “Golan” may be derived from the Arabic word ajwal, an area exposed to dusty winds, or that such storms are quite common; nor do they explain how they know that the storm came at a moment when ISIS planned a second attack. Stories of the “hand of God” intervening for the benefit of the IDF come around quite frequently – I looked at a previous example here.

The tour (I blogged on a previous WND tour here – for some reason Jim Bakker wasn’t around this year) also included a visit to the Temple Mount, as reported by WND and Charisma News.  Alas, the WND party was told to leave the site by the Islamic authorities (waqf); according to Cahn, this was because he had told the group about the Jewish Temple, and this was found to be offensive due to the pseudo-historical official line (which has emerged only in recent decades) that there was never such a structure on what is now a Muslim holy site.

However, it seems likely that Cahn did misinform his audience; here’s his own supposed historical background:

“The Temple Mount is the most sacred site in the Bible and to Jewish people. But centuries after the destruction of the Temple, the Muslims invaded the land, took the Temple Mount, and built on it the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Among other things, these were acts of defiance, as if to say to the Jewish people, and believers in the Bible, there will never be a Temple again,” Cahn told me.

“Spiritually we know that the powers of darkness will always seek to stop and preempt the purposes of God. So it is written in Ezekiel that the enemy says to Israel, your high places are our possession,” he continued. “The highest of high places in Israel is the Temple Mount and it remains in the possession of Israel’s enemies.”

This heightens the sense of inevitable conflict with the unnecessary claim that the Islamic structures are some kind of provocation. And it also glosses over the fact that the site had been left undeveloped during centuries of Christian rule, in order to emphasise Jesus’s prophecy that the site would be made desolate.

When Jerusalem came under Muslim control, the Jewish Temple had been gone for centuries; Judaism had developed a theology in which the Temple’s restoration would not be possible until God intervened; and the idea of a new Temple made no sense without a Jewish state, or at least large numbers of Jews willing to provide a constant supply of animals to be killed (incidentally, the fact that the Temple was basically a slaughterhouse is just one reason why the idea of such a restoration in modern Jerusalem is preposterous).

Sources for the construction of Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa are late, but the thesis that they were built specifically to stop the Jews re-building the Temple has been plucked out of thin air. The site is sacred to Muslims as the supposed location of Abraham’s sacrifice, and because of the story that Muhammad had ascended to heaven from the spot during a “Night Journey”. There is no need for any further explanation for why the present structures were built.

But all was not lost – according to Farah:

The next day, the tour convened on the Temple steps as had been originally planned in the itinerary, Cahn ascended the steps, reciting the Psalms of Ascent, and then proclaimed the site was the Temple Mount and God’s purposes for that mount would be fulfilled. Then from the top of the steps, with a prayer shawl over his head, he sang the Aaronic Blessing (from Numbers 6).  Above him, through the windows of the Al Aqsa mosque, Muslims began shouting him down. And in the middle of the ancient Hebrew blessing, loudspeakers began blasting Islamic chants for the call to prayer.

Some “Pizzagate” Notes

From CNN:

A suspect arrested Sunday with an assault rifle at a Washington, DC pizzeria admitted he had come to investigate an online conspiracy theory, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said Sunday evening in a statement.

…”During a post arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate’ (a fictitious online conspiracy theory),” the police department said in a statement.

“Pizza Gate” is a name given to the online false news stories begun last month that charged the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and its owner were involved in a child sex operation. The owner has vehemently denied the charges, but they continued to proliferate online…

The report comes not long after the conspiracy was covered by the BBC:

In early November, as Wikileaks steadily released piles of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, one contact caught the attention of prankster sites and people on the paranoid fringes.

James Alefantis is the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington. He’s also a big Democratic Party supporter and raised money for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was once in a relationship with David Brock, an influential liberal operative.

Alefantis – who’s never met Clinton – appeared in the Podesta emails in connection with the fundraisers.

…Despite the complete lack of physical evidence or victim testimony, there are reasons why the hardcore conspiracy theorists are particularly sensitive to allegations of child sex abuse.

It’s known, for instance that Bill Clinton and Donald Trump flew on the private plane of convicted child abuser Jeffery Epstein

I discussed Podesta emails in the days before the US election – Wikileaks did not just release the emails, but editorialised to encourage readers to believe that Tony Podesta’s association with a performance artist was evidence that the brothers were involved in bizarre occultic ritual activity. The online mob needed little encouragement: scars on John Podesta’s hands from an operation for Dupuytren contracture were interpreted as ritual wounds; and a photo of Podesta with a drawing of a fish on his hand to advertise the environmental protection of oceans was obviously “really” a reference to Osiris.

Alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich (1) then made the link to Epstein, while also drawing attention to diplomatic efforts on behalf of Laura Silsby, an incompetent and dubious “rescuer” of Haitian orphans who fell foul of the law when she attempted to remove orphans to the Dominican Republic. Can it be proven that the plan wasn’t to bring these children to Epstein? Meanwhile, other conspiracy theorists began looking for code words in John Podesta’s emails: thus a “hotdog” is in fact a “boy”, “cheese” refers to a “little girl”, and – perhaps most significantly for what has now followed – “pizza” refers to “girl”. This list has been passed around widely.

Meanwhile, a similar story linking Clinton to “sex crime with children” was published by a site called True Pundit, which falsely claimed that evidence had been discovered on Huma Abedin’s laptop. That story was promoted online by General Michael Flynn, a former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and now Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser. Flynn’s son has now waded into the fray, opining that “Until #pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to  forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.” Currently, Flynn Jnr is also promoting statements by one Jack Posobiec that the Washington suspect, Edgar Maddison Welch, is a “false flag”, based on the fact that he appeared in a film in 2009 and is therefore an actor.

A couple of British conspiracies are also now being brought into the mix: one item of fake news shows supposed police e-fits of the Podestas as suspects in the Madeleine McCann case (at least that gets Clement Freud off the hook), and the BBC News article on “Pizzagate” has been dismissed as misinformation from Jimmy Savile’s protectors. There is little point arguing with these sorts of conspiracy theorists, since they know as well as anyone that the links they claim to have discovered are either absurdly tenuous or downright fraudulent. Conspiracy theories offer a satisfying sense of superiority, while foul denunciations against individuals perceived as belonging to the “elite” make the accuser feel empowered. And some of the players are simply cynics, dumping fake news into the public sphere for political reasons – debunkers can be ignored, or the mob turned against them as needed. Those instincts are now endorsed by the man who is set to take the highest political office in the USA next month.

The BBC also highlights another element to the story: an unexpected Turkish dimension, as described by the Daily Dot:

In the last week, all Turkish pro-government papers, including mainstream publications like Sabah, A Haber, Yeni Şafak, Akşam and Star, ran similar stories about the PizzaGate, using the very same images and claims from a (now banned) subreddit to convince their readers on how serious and deep-rooted the scandal was. Columnists penned articles that the PizzaGate is a part of the globalist conspiracy against Turkey, and one article even remarked that the “Teenage” in pizza-eating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles now makes sense as a pedophilia reference after PizzaGate.

…Timing of PizzaGate was significant in that it initially blurred the public debate abound the actual child abuse problem in Turkey. Back in March, when a real child abuse scandal was revealed at the government-linked Ensar Foundation, the perpetrator received a heavy jail sentence, but the government was spared from an investigation by a diluting the issue in the Parliament. This week, Erdogan’s party brought an even more controversial draft bill that would give amnesty to child abusers if they marry their victims.

UPDATE: A further report in the Washington Post explains that nearby businesses have also been assimilated into the conspiracy theory and are now facing threats of violence. These include another pizza restaurant, supposedly involved in child pornography because of a heart logo on its website (actually a fundraiser for a children’s research hospital), and a bookshop.

UPDATE 2: One person who saw the possibility of cashing in was none other than Milo Yiannopoulos, who promised a talk on “Pizzagate: The Deep Dish on Democrats and Pedophilia”. It’s not known if he intended to endorse the conspiracy theory or just use it as a springboard for a rant on something else, although he did previously promote the “Spirit Cooking” story.

Speaking to his audience at Miami University,  Yiannopoulos began by saying: “sadly when I announced I was going to be speaking about Pizzagate this evening, I got a number of phone calls with Washington D.C. area codes saying ‘not yet’.” Thus Yiannopoulos hints that he has inside information, and gives the impression that he is in communication with important people who also have extra information, which will be revealed in due course. These are the games of a self-promoting sociopath.

Excurcus

One irony in all this is that paintings by a British female artist known as Kim Noble (not to be confused with the British male artist and comedian of the same name) have somehow become mixed into the conspiracy. Noble is a schizophrenic who paints in a variety of styles, which she says relate to her different personalities, including one called “Ria Pratt”. As Ria Pratt, she has painted a number of impressionistic images of ritual sexual abuse against children, which she claims to have suffered as a child. These images have apparently been recognised as artistically noteworthy, and some are available to view on the Saatchi Art website.

It has been suggested that she also provided some artwork for the pizza restaurant, and that this is thus evidence that somehow supports the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. The implication seems to be that her paintings celebrate abuse, when in fact they are are the anguished images of someone who believes herself to be a victim, and who wishes to expose the horror of it all. It may be relevant here that Noble has spent a long time in therapy under Valerie Sinason, the UK’s leading proponent of the belief that therapy can recover memories of ritual sexual abuse. Sinason claims that two patients had disclosed to her in the 1990s that Jimmy Savile was a ritual abuser, although for some reason she did not mention this until other posthumous allegations against Savile appeared in the media.

Footnote

(1) Cernovich complains bitterly that he is not alt-right, and that claims to the contrary are “fake news”. However, in October wrote on Twitter (in a Tweet since deleted but which still comes up as a Google search result) that “I went from libertarian to alt-right after realizing tolerance only went one way and diversity is code for white genocide”.

Andy Woodward: Some Notes on Timing and a “Stalker” Allegation

(amended – H/T Bandini in the comments)

From the Guardian:

It began with the former footballer Andy Woodward bravely stepping out of the shadows to describe to the Guardian the sexual abuse he endured as a young player. Two weeks on it has spiralled into a scandal engulfing clubs and communities across the UK.

By Friday, 18 police forces were investigating leads from at least 350 alleged victims, the NSPCC children’s charity was processing almost 1,000 reports to a hotline and one of the world’s most famous clubs, Chelsea, was facing questions about whether it had tried to hush up abuse allegations.

Woodward’s abuser was convicted of child sex offences against him and others some years ago (many of the reports do not make clear that Woodward was one of the complainants at that time). However, there is now a new police investigation, and as such there are legal restrictions on discussing the matter further in the UK.

By waiving his right to anonymity, Woodward had to overcome a sense of humiliation and shame that often overwhelms and silences victims of sexual crime. It is also reasonable to suppose that being a male victim of a male predator within a masculine environment made disclosure particularly difficult – as demonstrated by boorish comments from the darts commentator Eric Bristow, who responded by mocking footballers as “wimps” for not subjecting abusers to vigilante punishments (in a subsequent interview with Piers Morgan, Bristow managed to explain – despite constant hectoring from Morgan whenever he attempted to speak – that he had wanted to encourage victims to come forward sooner, although he later made an apology and deleted some Tweets).

However, there are a couple of aspects to the new publicity around Woodward that require a bit of critical scrutiny beyond merely referring to Woodward’s “bravery”. First, reports have mentioned in passing that Woodward was very recently dismissed from his position as a police officer with the Lancashire Constabulary “for having a relationship with the adult sister of a crime victim”. Thus Woodward had a particular motive for speaking out at this time – instant redemption from professional disgrace. Yet no-one in the media, so far as I can see, has asked him about the connection between the two events, which occurred just a week apart.

Second, Woodward entered into a bizarre Twitter exchange with the libertarian barrister Barbara Hewson, after Barbara challenged the idea that being the victim of sexual crime means that one’s life is inevitably “ruined”. Obviously, this was a provocative and controversial interjection into the discussion. She did not address Woodward directly, but her comment was brought to his attention by self-styled “CSA campaigners”, some of whom are quite reckless in their embrace of conspiracy theories and vicious in their pursuit of those facing allegations or those deemed to be insufficiently credulous.

Woodward’s response was to announce “@BarbaraHewson complete troll and stalker. Police are dealing with it”. It seems to me troubling that a high-profile figure can make such a confident boast of police action with nothing to substantiate it. Perhaps Woodward was genuinely upset and Tweeted while angry – but he has not withdrawn his claim.

Genuine victims deserve sympathy and support – but that does not mean that they become saints who can do no wrong. In this instance, Woodward attempted to use his new public status to bully someone into silence over a view he disagrees with. By his own account, he is also interacting with police with that purpose in mind. Although from what I know of Barbara I wouldn’t fancy his chances very much, this is not something that should pass unchallenged.

Scottish Esotericist Who Claimed Maitreya Appeared in Kenya in 1988 Has Died

Here’s one I missed from a few weeks ago – an obituary in the Daily Telegraph:

Benjamin Creme, who has died aged 93, was a Scottish painter, esotericist and author who spent much of his life as an evangelist for the coming of a “new world teacher”, whom Creme called Maitreya.

…He first came to international attention in 1982, when he took out a series of full-page advertisements in newspapers in Europe and America and staged a press conference in Los Angeles proclaiming the arrival of  Maitreya who, according to Creme, had left his abode in the Himalayas in a “self-created” human body and flown from Pakistan in a jumbo jet to London, where he was working as a night porter in a hospital.

maitreya-kenyaCreme was head of a Theosophical group called Share International, and he was most famous for promoting the claim that Maitreya had appeared at a prayer meeting in Nairobi in 1988, where he had been identified as Jesus. Photographs of a mysterious Arab- or Indian-looking figure (right) became a familiar sight in Share International’s advertising in newspapers and New Age magazines and in newsagents’ windows.

The story has its origins with an article that appeared in the Kenya Times, the content of which is summarised on Share International’s website:

About 6,000 worshippers at Muslim Village, Kawangware, Nairobi, believe they saw Jesus Christ, in broad daylight last week.

The scene was at the Church of Bethlehem, where Mary Sinaida Akatsa conducts miracle prayers, praying for the sick, the blind, cripples, mad people, and the barren.

…She announced that God had spoken to her and told her to “await a miracle because a very important guest would be coming to give her a very vital message.”

Five minutes later, she asked those who were singing to stop as the messenger had arrived. “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus of Nazareth!” went the loud whispers from the crowd as they raised up their hands in divine welcome.

…It took the crowd nearly 20 minutes to recover after the man left the meeting in a car belonging to a Mr Gurnam Singh, who offered to give him a lift. But it will probably take Mr Singh his lifetime to recover from the shock he got two minutes later. On reaching the bus terminus, the man informed Mr Singh to stop the car. On getting out, he walked a few paces beside the road and simply vanished into thin air.

The UPI produced a follow-up piece, which explained that the original article had been headlined “Did Jesus Christ come to Nairobi?” and that there had been speculation that the appearance had been arranged because of large crowds at a Reinhardt Bonnke rally nearby. It adds that according to Singh, the man had “asked to be dropped at the no. 56 bus stop ‘to alight and head for heaven'”. A later report suggests that rather than vanishing “into thin air”, the man had “vanished into the crowd” at the bus stop.

The UPI also noted that the Kenya Times happened “to be conducting a big circulation drive under the tutelage of a team of British tabloid experts”, and Akatsa has more recently claimed that she had been misrepresented:

A few years [before 1988], Prophetess Mary Akatsa, founder of the Jerusalem Church of Christ had prophesied that the Messiah would drop by her church.

Mary Sinaida Dorcas Akatsa now denies she brought Jesus Christ to Nairobi. She says the Indian looking man with long beards had “only came for prayers.”

“But my enemies used his presence to spread rumours and make me look bad in the eyes of the public,” says Prophetess Akatsa, who rose to prominence in the 1980s and 90s through her prayers and healing to the sick and disabled.

So far as I am aware, the “Indian looking man” has never been identified. The appropriation of the story by an occult group based in the UK and USA (California, inevitably) is a particularly striking example of how religious ideas are spread and their meaning transformed. And the interest was reciprocated, with some fundamentalist Christians in turn incorporating Creme’s claims into their own beliefs about the coming of the anti-Christ.

Ironically, Creme’s death came just a few weeks ahead of reports that a bearded Australian backpacker named Daniel Christos is exciting similar interest in Kenya; according to Mpasho,

social media was awash with news that Jesus was spotted on the streets of Nairobi walking barefoot. Kenyans went ahead to take selfies with the heavily bearded man who resembled Jesus (at least according to the movies we’ve watched about the son of God) and the whole nation couldn’t stop talking about him.

UPDATE: In the comments, Alex reminds me of how an academic named Raj Patel became the focus of attention for Creme’s followers in 2010. I wrote about it at the time.

Women Accuse Billy Graham’s Grandson Tullian Tchividjian of Narcissistic Spiritual Abuse

(H/T some links via the Christian Post)

A website called Spiritual Sounding Board is in the process of publishing an account by a woman named Rachel of her affair with Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor grandson of Billy Graham. Three parts have so far appeared (here, here and here); her story also complements posts by Nate Sparks, a blogger (here and here), which relate accounts by other women who have interacted with Tchividjian.

It is well known that Tchividjian – who has just re-married after divorce – had had an affair with a member of his congregation while he was a pastor at Coral Ridge in Florida, although it wasn’t made clear at the time that the woman involved was also married. He stepped down from a subsequent position at Willow Creek earlier this year, after details of another earlier affair (which Coral Ridge had covered up) came to light.

However, the new material, written with some insight into issues around manipulative behaviour and narcissism, lifts the lid on what appears to be a case of a systematic spiritual abuser. Of course, not every detail can be corroborated, but the accounts offer a very plausible explanation for how the Tchividjian scandals arose, and there is some tangible evidence in the form of an invoice and cheque, as well as screenshots of text messages apparently sent by Tchividjian in which he asked another woman (Lisa) to attack critics on his behalf.

From these, we can see that Rachel paid $11,130 to South Florida Private Investigators Inc, and that Tchividjian paid her this amount some time later. According to Rachel, the firm was hired at Tchividjian’s behest to investigate his now ex-wife, in the hope of finding evidence of an affair. She also says that the cheque only arrived after she publicly accused him owing the debt.

Meanwhile, the screenshots (on Sparks’s blog) include one in which Tchividjian describes Julie Anne Smith, who runs the Spiritual Sounding Board website, as a “bitch” whom he asks Lisa to “get”. The texts also express extreme hostility towards his brother Boz Tchividjian, with Tullian describing him as a “snake” and a  “douche”, and asking Lisa to “pray that he dies” (this last followed by a smiley). It is perhaps relevant here that Boz Tchividjian is known for his efforts to combat and expose sex abuse within Protestant churches (Boz formed the basis for a longform article by Kathryn Joyce that appeared in the American Prospect in 2014).

Rachel also includes some broader observations:

This story is a very public example of pastoral sexual abuse – something unfortunately prevalent in the church. It is also a case study in how our ways of doing church often promote someone with a narcissistic personality and cocoon him in a position that only feeds his pathology.

Further (dots in original):

Tullian Tchividjian was a perfect storm to form a self-absorbed personality. He had the pressures of growing up in a “Christian Royal Family” (as he put it), his “middle child syndrome,” small stature, and years as quite an extreme prodigal … the ability to find easy promotion (beyond his qualification) in the Christian world due to his family name … genetic factors … family dysfunction. Many things contributed to Tullian evolving into who he is now. And who he is, is extremely dangerous to the body of Christ.

I do not believe Tullian can stop. He is addicted to his narcissistic supply. He pretends he is submitting to godly counselors, but he merely has “yes men” and “pocket pets”… people he can control. Once he burns bridges or gets caught in lies, he moves on to new horizons. He continually is scheming up a plan. He blocks all challenge and believes his own fantasy narrative. And he is incredibly, incredibly, charming, deceitful, and cunning. He fools even highly intelligent people and creates hierarchies of supporters, both male and female. He feeds off the attention others give him. He lies pathologically and appears totally immune to conscience.

For anyone whose path has ever crossed with that of a malignant narcissist, this is all rings very true.

As well as his church positions, Tchividjian also had his own vehicle, called the Liberate Network. This has now been dissolved, despite having relaunched in February. At that time, the rhetoric of “restoration” loomed large; as quoted by Christianity Today:

In February, Liberate’s board of directors relaunched the ministry with the “prayerful hope and expectation” that Tchividjian would rejoin it in the future.

“Today, Tullian continues an encouraging season of rest and healing,” the board wrote. “The elders of Willow Creek Church are presently overseeing a care plan for him, one involving routine worship, prayer, fellowship, study, professional counseling, and more.”

The missing word there, it seemed me, was “work”. Most people who lose their jobs due to misconduct are obliged to look for other kinds of  employment – both to pay the bills, and because it is clear that they are no longer suited to their previous work. It seemed to me to be grossly entitled that Tchividjian should instead get to enjoy a “season of rest”, perhaps at the expense of ordinary church members. This in itself was an indication of a manipulative individual, operating within a religious culture in need of reform.

“VIP Abuse” Detective who Warned of “Witch-Hunt” Speaks Out

The Daily Mail has a remarkable interview with the Metropolitan Police’s DCI Paul Settle, speaking in a personal capacity about his work investigating claims of “VIP sex abuse”:

DCI Settle had no idea of the ‘poisoned chalice’ he’d been handed after Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson raised a question in the Commons of a ‘powerful paedophile ring’ linked to a previous prime minister’s ‘senior adviser’.

Under-resourced, with just six staff to investigate more than 450 allegations that subsequently flooded in after Watson’s bombshell statement, DCI Settle says he set about the task ‘impartially and objectively’ — only to have his professionalism questioned by superiors within the force, who eventually removed him from the post altogether.

Settle has since been signed off from work with stress, and now spends much of his time “slumped on the sofa, often close to tears”:

‘One minute I was the lead investigator, and the next I was told I was off the case. I believe senior officers were frightened of Tom Watson; what he might do and how that might affect their careers.’

DCI Settle claims he was frozen out and isolated by senior officers.

‘It was like a switch had been turned off. One minute I was a trusted colleague — and the next it seemed people were looking at me with blank faces and avoiding me.’

The interview follows a report in the Telegraph from a couple of weeks ago that Settle’s wife had written to the Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, complaining about how her husband has been treated.

Tom Watson asked his question in parliament in October 2012 after allegations had been brought to his attention by a retired child protection officer named Peter McKelvie; on his website (on a page now deleted), Watson clarified that he was referring to McKelvie’s concern that “a wider investigation regarding the activities of convicted paedophile, Peter Righton was not fully investigated”.

The subsequent flurry of activity led to the conviction of Charles Napier (who admits his crimes) and two other individuals, but it also stirred up false claims and old rumours about Westminster-based “VIP paedophiles” that had previously appeared in sources such as Scallywag magazine in the 1990s. Watson was thereafter put into contact with “Nick”, who claims to have seen MPs rape and murder children, as well as “Jane”, who says that she had been raped by Leon Brittan as a young woman in 1967. McKelvie later distanced himself from a number of the more sensational “VIP” claims, although not in a way that was to his credit – as I discussed here.

During this period, Watson had a number of meetings with Settle, including one in February 2014 in which Settle explained to him why “Jane’s” complaint had been dropped in September 2013 without Brittan being interviewed. Watson appeared to accept his account, but he then wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding Jane be interviewed. The letter did not formally reach the police via the DPP until 2 June 2014, but its contents were published by Exaro on 17 May 2014.

On 19 May 2014, Settle was told that a standard police review had decided that Brittan ought to be interviewed under caution as a matter of procedure after all, even though the closing of the case in September 2013 had been based on CPS advice. The new Mail article has some background:

…as the investigation got under way, DCI Settle — who began to feel that many of the allegations his team worked round the clock to corroborate were the work of plausible ‘fantasists’ or Left-wing activists — was soon viewed as a lone voice…

‘The complainant was a troubled woman with a long history of problems, who only came forward with her allegation after Tom Watson’s question in the Commons.

‘She could not remember where the alleged attack had taken place, and there was no proof she ever met Lord Brittan,’ DCI Settle says.

‘We tracked down people she named in her statement — no mean feat after 47 years — none of whom could corroborate her account.

‘One of her friends said they’d never met Lord Brittan socially, nor was he part of their circle.

‘The woman claimed that Lord Brittan had phoned her flat asking to speak to her, but the lady who supposedly took the call denied ever having received it.

‘I consulted the Crown Prosecution Service — who reviewed the file anonymously without knowing it involved a prominent person.

‘They concurred with my decision and said no further action should be taken.

Settle gave evidence about the subject to the Home Affairs Select Committee in October 2015, as I discussed here; he went so far as to say that Brittan’s interview under caution that later followed (at Brittan’s home, during his terminal illness) had been unlawful, and to describe the investigation as a “baseless witch-hunt”

Was the 19 May decision prompted by Watson, or was it going to happen anyway? I discussed some views about this here, and the CPS says not; either way, though, it turned out that Settle’s initial decision had been correct: “Jane’s” account is not just uncorroborated, but is positively contradicted by witnesses whom she herself named. (1)

However, I do have a couple of concerns about the rhetoric. Unless “Jane” has a previous history of dishonesty or delusions, the fact that she “was a troubled woman” ought not to be relevant; vague suggestions of mental illness are not helpful, and are perhaps discriminatory.

It was also previously reported that Jane is a Labour Party activist; when the above refers to allegations from “Left-wing activists”, is this a reference to Jane, made into a plural by the journalist for sensational effect, or are there really others? It seems to me that this is problematic, for two reasons: political differences should not invalidate a complaint; and, if false complaints are being made for political reasons, then these must be simply malicious and should be prosecuted.

The new interview article also includes the detail that Settle

…was later placed under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after being accused of leaking personal information about another complainant — an accusation he fiercely denies.

This appears to confirm that Settle is the unnamed officer referenced in an Exaro article from January (no longer available due to the demise of Exaro) headlined “IPCC Probes Panorama Source over leaking of CSA survivors’ IDs”. This headline heavily implied that there had definitely been a leak that the police were probing, when in fact police were merely looking into an allegation of a leak  – a complaint most likely filed by someone at Exaro, thus generating their own exclusive.

But several of Exaro‘s supposed “VIP abuse” survivors had had their own contacts with other media professionals, and we can be sure that their names were generally known within the industry when Panorama began work on its documentary on the subject. This is particularly the case with “Nick”, who not only previously appeared on TV talking about Jimmy Savile but who at one stage had a large body of self-published writing available online.

Footnote

(1) The Daily Mail‘s current sympathy for Settle should not mean that we forget a sensationalising article it published in July 2014, which  heavily implied that the original police decision had been improper and mysterious. That article began with the claim that “Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan was only questioned over allegations he raped a student in 1967 following demands by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it has been claimed”, and added that she had “looked into the case herself after the campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson wrote to her asking that she examine the way the police handled the case”.

But that was before “campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson” became Deputy Leader of the Opposition and thus “witch-hunter Watson“, and before “Nick” had been thoroughly debunked.

Patriarch of Moscow Expresses “Respect and Gratitude” For Fidel Castro

The website of the Russian Orthodox Church carries a letter from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to Raul Castro:

Comandante Fidel was one of the most famous and outstanding state leaders of today. He gained international authority and became a legend already in his lifetime. Being flesh of the flesh of the Cuban people, he devoted all his power to make his homeland truly independent and occupy a worthy place in the world family of nations.

In the Russian Orthodox Church the name of Fidel Castro is always pronounced with respect and gratitude. With Comandante’s personal participation, a church dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God has been erected in Havana, and Fidel, in his own expression, was ‘the commissar of the construction’.

The letter has also been reported by the pro-Kremlin Interfax news agency, which adds some background:

When he was young, the comandante was keen on the ideas of revolution and socialism, but he stood for cooperation with believers in struggle for the fair society and he once said that “there are ten thousand times more coincidences between Christianity and Communism than between Christianity and Capitalism,” and “a martyr for a religious idea” is made “of the same material as the revolutionary hero.”

Those pro-religion quotes appear to have been sourced from conversations between Castro and the liberation theologian Frei Betto in 1985, more recently published in English as Fidel and Religion. This account of course glosses over historic human rights abuses under Fidel Castro – including religious persecution – and it also ignores a current upsurge in religious oppression under his brother’s rule.

Fidel Castro wrote a short article praising the Russian Orthodox Church in 2008, which can be read in English here. Castro recalled that

…After the demise of the USSR, this church was not an ally of imperialism. That’s why in 2004, when His Eminence Vladimir Mijailovich Gundiaev, Kiril Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad visited our country, I suggested building a Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in the capital of Cuba as a monument to Cuban-Russian friendship.

Gundiaev (var. Vladimir Gundjaev) is of course now that very same Patriarch Kirill who has sent condolences to his brother. Castro continued:

Tomorrow, Thursday, he [Gundiaev] will be in Venezuela talking with President Chavez. Both draw inspiration from identical ethical principles derived from the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the Gospels, a religious belief they both share. After that, he will be visiting Ecuador to talk with [Rafael] Correa, a political leader who was trained in the Liberation Theology.

…There is no reason to make the least concession to Yankee imperialism. I am under the impression that His Eminence feels the same way.

The column was the subject of caustic commentary by Christopher Hitchens, who observed that

…Fidel Castro has devoted the last 50 years to two causes: first, his own enshrinement as an immortal icon, and second, the unbending allegiance of Cuba to the Moscow line. Now, black-cowled Orthodox “metropolitans” line up to shake his hand… The ideology of Moscow doesn’t much matter as long as it is anti-American, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been Putin’s most devoted and reliable ally in his re-creation of an old-style Russian imperialism.

… Putin and Medvedev have made it clear that they want to reinstate Cuba’s role in the hemisphere, if only as a bore and nuisance for as long as its military dictatorship can be made to last. Castro’s apparent deathbed conversion to a religion with no Cuban adherents is the seal on this gruesome pact.

Talk of the “deathbed” proved to be premature, although it turned out that Castro’s ally in Venezuela was not long for this world. I noted Kirill’s similarly effusive reaction to Chavez’s death at the time.

It should be remembered that in 2007 Time magazine described the ROC as Putin’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”.