Sussex Police Apologise but Stand by Bishop George Bell “Arrest” Statement

Peter Hitchens returns to the troubling story of the posthumous child-sex abuse allegation against the former Anglican Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, who died in 1958:

Almost every time I took the case up with neutral observers, or with media who had reported accusation as fact, they cited the police statement that they would have arrested George Bell as crucial in persuading them that there was a serious case against him.

This is so in terms of propaganda. But it simply isn’t so in law. An arrest is proof of nothing and is worthless as evidence. Alas, far too few people know this.

The police statement appeared as part of a press release by Chichester Cathedral, which I noted in October 2015. It stated:

Following a meeting between the survivor and Sussex police in 2013, it was confirmed by the police that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bishop Bell’s arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offences, followed by release on bail, further enquiries and the subsequent submission of a police report to the CPS.

Hitchens made a complaint about the police’s statement on behalf of Bell’s niece, Barbara Whitley. As one would expect, this was initially dismissed out of hand: police tend to regard complaints purely in terms of whether an officer stands accused of conduct that would warrant disciplinary censure, and if the answer is “no” then there is not much chance that a force will feel the need to justify or even explain operational decisions.

However, in this instance Hitchens managed to get a sympathetic hearing from Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner, which has now led to a qualified apology, as reported by the BBC:

In a letter to Mr Hitchens, Det Supt Jeremy Graves, head of the force’s professional standards department, said the force would apologise to Ms Whitley.

“The distress caused to Barbara Whitley is of course regrettable and I know that Katie Perkin [head of corporate communications] plans to personally write a letter of apology to her,” he wrote.

He continued: “With hindsight the matter could have been managed more sensitively but it was complicated by the fact that the release was generated by the diocese with whom we should have been working more closely.”

In other words, the police continue to maintain that it was right to announce that it would have arrested Bell were it not for the fact he is dead, even though this comment served no purpose other than to give the impression that Bell had a case to answer and – more generally alarming – that arrests are indicative of well-grounded suspicion, or perhaps even of guilt. (There’s a similar unhappy trend in which the fact of the police handing over “evidence” to the CPS is also taken to mean “no smoke without fire” – I discussed this here) They concede only that “the matter could have been managed more sensitively”.

Hitchens has published a further segment of Graves’s statement (emphases added by Hitchens):

‘My understanding’, wrote Detective Superintendent J.D. Graves,

‘is that the Diocese of Chichester notified Sussex Police that they planned to release a statement to the media. It was never our intention to be proactive (my emphasis); in other words, there was no intention to release a police statement about the alleged criminality of Bishop Bell (my emphasis). However, we were asked by the Diocese to make a statement as they had decided to make this information public and so we provided them with a statement for inclusion in their press release on the basis that once the Diocese published their statement a natural consequence would be a media request to the police for comment’.

As Hitchens adds: “Something is very wrong here.”

The allegation against Bell concerns one woman, known in the media as “Carol”, who claims to have been abused between the ages of five and nine years old in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Cathedral paid “Carol” a sum of money, and stated in October that

The settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.

The names of the investigators have not been made public, nor have the details of their findings. The media interpreted this statement as meaning that the Church accepts the allegations as “being true on the balance of probabilities”, which is a subtle but significant slide in meaning: at the end of January the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler (lead bishop on safeguarding, and discussed further here), reeled back slightly with a comment in the House of Lords (noted by Hitchens) that

In fact, if noble Lords read very carefully the statements that have been put out, they will see that there has been no declaration that we are convinced that this took place.

Specific details of the abuse allegations appeared in the media shortly afterwards.

Hitchens is not the only person to have expressed disquiet about how the “investigation” into Bell was conducted, or scepticism about its findings. In particular, the George Bell Group argues that “Carol’s” recollection of seeing Bell waiting for her on a staircase is inconsistent with the layout of the Bishop’s residence.

Hitchens also writes:

The simple principle, that nobody is guilty of a crime until he has been proven to be before an independent jury, just doesn’t apply to the dead – even as in this case when the accusation is solitary, ancient, uncorroborated and anonymous.

I think this risks going too far the other way. The “simple principle” applies to how the justice system works, but not to the process of historical inquiry. For instance, I see no reason to refrain from describing Eric Gill as a child-sex abuser or Arthur Koestler as a rapist, just because these two men were never brought before a jury. However, in those instances we can assess the evidence and testimony for ourselves – which we cannot do in the case of Bell.

The sad fact is that many allegations of abuse will never be able to be proved or disproved. Innocent men and women, whether alive or dead, will have their reputations sullied by false accusations that cannot be comprehensively debunked; and some genuine victims will never be able to substantiate their true accounts and may themselves be unfairly tarred as false accusers. One should always proceed with caution, and those in authority should avoid creating unrealistic expectations.

Police Act on Jerusalem “Christian Paedo Cult” Panic

From the Times of Israel:

Police launch an investigation into a group of Israeli Jews from the Sanhedria neighborhood of Jerusalem who allegedly misled and swindled donors in Israel and abroad by making up stories about a purported Christian cult that had kidnapped, sexually abused and forcibly converted to Christianity hundreds of Jewish children from the Haredi community…

Details are scarce, but this presumably relates to the situation that was reported last year by a writer named Menachem Kaiser in the Tablet:

In the last few weeks, I have received a startling number of calls and emails regarding an ongoing crisis in Sanhedria Murchevet, a neighborhood in north Jerusalem where many—including some prominent rabbis and communal leaders—believe that an organized ring of criminals have been abusing, raping, and torturing Jewish children and have been doing so for a number of years. There is also widespread belief that the abuse is at least partially religiously motivated—that operating in the community’s midst is a cult, a ring of men and women who are subjecting the children to ritual torture.

Kaiser cautioned against hysteria, and he noted how similar claims had arisen in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Nachlaot in 2012:

People died in the wake of what happened in Nachlaot. An 80-year-old woman was beaten with a crowbar and hospitalized, because she was believed to be a key member of a Christian missionary cult behind the abduction, torture, and rape of Jewish children. Many lives were destroyed. Children underwent corrective therapy for traumatic events that almost certainly did not happen—therapy that thereby created and reinforced that trauma.

Kaiser wrote about the earlier Nachlaot case here (the woman who was attacked was described as “70” rather than “80” in his earlier piece, following a report in Haaretz). In that instance, the police came to the view that there was a real paedophile ring in operation (albeit nothing to do with a “cult”), and arrests and convictions followed.

This time, the police appear to have taken a different view. However, I’d be surprised if the Sanhedria allegations can be reduced to a calculated scam: there are obvious parallels here with the Anglo-American “Satanic Panic” controversies of the 1980s and 1990s (recently revived in the UK in the form of false “VIP abuse” allegations), while panic over a “Christian cult” plays dovetails with ultra-Orthodox activism against Christian missionaries in Israel.

Team Trump Mainstreams Theodore Shoebat with Smear Attack on Khizr Khan and his Dead Son

From Think Progress (emphasis and link added):

An official adviser to the Trump campaign has escalated the attacks on Khizr Khan, the gold star father who was critical of Trump at the Democratic convention, baselessly accusing him of being a “Muslim Brotherhood agent.”

The adviser, Al Baldasaro, tweeted a link to an article from Shoebat.com, a fringe anti-Islam conspiracy website. The article also suggests (without any evidence) that Humayun Khan, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze, was a jihadist who joined the military to kill Americans.

That last aspect of the Shoebat post risks being overlooked and/or downplayed, hence the added bold. The post, by Theodore Shoebat opines that

In regards to his son and his sacrifice, on the other side of the coin, many were the ‘Muslim martyrs’ who joined the US military. Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed, for example, enlisted in the Special Forces of the US Army; he was a double agent for Al-Qaeda.

…These Muslim soldiers were “heroes” of course, until the snow melted later on. Is it likely that Khan’s son was killed before the snow melted? Only another type of investigation will determine that.  Does Hillary’s man ever mention how many soldiers have died because of Muslim traitors?… But soon everything we need to know will be uncovered as a Middle Eastern proverb says: the snow always melts and the sh*t under it will soon be revealed.

The claim that Khizr Khan is a “Muslim Brotherhood agent” is derived from a paper he published in 1983, in which he acknowledges the writings of Said Ramadan as a source in a footnote. The paper, entitled “Juristic Classification of Islamic Law“, appeared in the Houston Journal of International Law (volume 6, number 23).

This is all presented as something that “the media is not telling you”, and as such it is now being hyped in certain quarters in a – somewhat desperate – attempt to re-frame the narrative away from what Trump’s outburst against Khizr and Ghazala Khan reveals about Trump’s disordered personality and fragile ego (as eloquently dissected here by Robert Kagan) to how the “real” story is about how Khan is secretly some awful person.

Those on the bandwagon promoting Shoebat’s post include none other than veteran conservative Richard Viguerie, who promptly blocked me on Twitter when I remonstrated; Fox News’s Lou Dobbs, who suggests that the post reveals “questions” about Khan; and Roger Stone. Theodore Shoebat’s father Walid Shoebat has also been interviewed about the subject by Michael Savage. The post is also linked in passing by Breitbart, in an article about Khan’s past association with the international law firm Hogan Lovells (which employs more than 2,500 lawyers). These sources commend Shoebat as a source on Khan and the Muslim Brotherhood, although they avoid mentioning Shoebat’s slur against his son.

Meanwhile, although not citing Shoebat directly, Trump’s spokeswoman Katrina Pierson stated on The Kelly File that “this father apparently has been a strong proponent of Sharia law”, and that he has reportedly written “law briefs for Sharia law”. As such, according Pierson, it is not “a far fetched assumption” by Trump that Ghazala Khan had not been allowed to speak by her husband (Pierson similarly excelled on CNN, explaining that “it was under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that changed the rules of engagement that probably cost [Humayun Khan] his life” – even though Humayun Khan was killed in action in 2004, halfway through the Bush presidency).

Oddly enough, I speculated in January that Trump’s rise might herald a Shoebat revival – a few years ago now, Walid Shoebat was part of the conservative and evangelical speaker circuit, but more recently the Shoebat family business become something of a fringe operation, especially since the Shoebats decided to adopt a form of Catholic traditionalism that is viscerally anti-Protestant (Martin Luther is apparently “a spiritual Jezebel and a Balaam”, while John Wycliffe is an “evil heretic”). Theodore’s anti-gay hatred is so obessive that he recently repelled even Peter LaBarbera with his calls for gay people to be executed – with typical Shoebat crudity, LaBarbera was then denounced as a “filthy pig” and a “traitor”.

It should also be noted that although the Shoebats highlight acts of Islamist and Jihadist barbarity as evidence of the evils of Muslims, they often don’t care too much for their victims either; in particular, the Bataclan attack prompted “Don’t Pray For France, France Is A Godless Nation That Deserved To Be Attacked. France Supports Terrorists And Kills Christians, And Needs To Be Punished“. That kind of thing is probably too much for the majority of US churchgoers – but it did occur to me that Trump’s successes were revealing a cruder constituency for whom there is no stigma in appealing to the worst instincts.

UPDATE: Walid Shoebat has now followed up with a post of his own:

Hillary Is Busted: Read The Real Booklet Hillary’s Man Was Carrying For Years. It Was The Muslim Shari’ah Constitution And NOT The U.S Constitution

It includes a photo, which is also being promoted on social media:

Khan Shoebat

Obviously, with this photo Shoebat is attempting to imply that he’s spotted something odd about the back of the document that Khan held aloft at the DNC, although his post doesn’t in fact make the claim that Khan was not holding a pocket constitution (such a suggestion would in any case be unsustainable). Instead, Shoebat writes (links in original):

Khizr Muazzam Khan’s photo carrying a booklet of the U.S. Constitution made him a celebrity to millions of bleeding liberal hearts. While Khan never once wrote complementing the U.S. Constitution until Trump,  instead, in his booklet, The Sharia Explained (we copied shocking excerpts) of what the media failed to vet:  Khan’s real booklet clearly upholds Shari’ah while denouncing any other including any modern reforms to Islam. He concludes that Sharia should be “upheld in its original form” and that it has “no room for change” insisting that Muslims worldwide must be “subordinated to the Shari’ah”…

Both links in fact click through to the Houston Journal of International Law article “Juristic Classification of Islamic Law” mentioned above. It is not a “booklet”; it is not called The Sharia Explained; and it is a descriptive account of Islamic law for the benefit of a wider audience rather than a prescriptive theological treatise. The “Sharia Law” image on the left is unrelated to the paper, and has no connection with Khan.

Shoebat focuses in particular on one section (underlining here in Shoebat’s quote, although not in the original):

“The Shari’ah-was completed during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammed, in the Quran and Sunnah. This brings up an important fact which is generally overlooked, that the invariable and basic rules of Islamic Law are only those prescribed in the Shari’ah (Quran and Sunnah), which are few and limited,” Khan continues to write: “All other juridical works which have been written during more than thirteen centuries are very rich and indispensable, but they must always be subordinated to the Shari’ah and open to reconsideration by all Muslims.”

Shoebat says that this shows that it is “as clear as the sun” that Khan has a view of Islam in which “there is no room for any modernization”.

However, Shoebat here completely misrepresents his source. Khan is not saying that later juridical works must be disregarded, and the Quran and Sunnah approached fundamentalistically; rather, he’s saying that the “basic rules” are “few and limited” and that later works must be “open to reconsideration”. This in fact highlights flexibility and openness to reform.

Meanwhile, Snopes has an overview and assessment here. The short version:

No credible evidence supports the assertion that Khan is an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood.

False Allegation That Sent Retired Fire-Fighter to Prison Could Have Been Debunked “Within an Hour”

David Bryant and his wife Lynn have given an interview on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show (about 1.10 in), a few days after David Bryant’s conviction for historical child rape was overturned. As has been widely reported, Bryant had been accused of having violently raped a teenage boy over a pool table at a fire station station where he was working in the 1970s (no specific date for the incident was given – just sometime between 1976 and 1978). Bryant’s accuser, a certain Danny Day, claimed that Bryant and another firefighter (since deceased) “took turns to rape him while also having sex with each other”, and that his screams were ignored. The case and its implications for justice in the UK have been discussed in a rightly celebrated blogpost by Matthew Scott here.

After the conviction, it subsequently emerged that in recent years Day had sought medical treatment for being a “chronic liar”. However, it must be stressed that Day’s claims were debunked on the basis of evidence rather than just doubts about his character. And in the BBC interview, Lynn Bryant makes it clear that this evidence could have been gathered by the police very easily (my transcription):

We said, “well, we can prove it couldn’t have happened on a Tuesday or a Thursday, we can prove, because we’ve got the books to say there were people on the station on that day.” He [Day] said there was a pool table; there was no pool table until 1992. He said he was led out through a fire-exit door; there was no fire-exit door. So we could have proven, if they’d asked David when they questioned him more thoroughly, and just done 20 minutes’ investigation, they could have found out then that this guy was lying.

Further:

…we went to the council, within 10 minutes we had a set of the plans that showed the station not being changed until 1991 to how Mr Day had described it. The log books we already had, and we put the whole lot together in 40 minutes.

If the police had spent 40 minutes, just, you know, if we could have had the chance to tell them, they could have most probably have put a stop to the whole thing within half an hour to an hour, because we could prove it.

Lynn Bryant made a complaint to Dorset Police about the police failure to gather this evidence – but given that her husband had at this point been convicted, this went nowhere.

Evidence and testimony

The interview also mentioned the response of the Crown Prosecution Service, which was that at the time there had been “sufficient” evidence to proceed to prosecution. Lynn Bryant’s response:

…when they [the CPS] say they had evidence to prosecute that makes me angry because there was no evidence from Mr Day. He could provide no evidence.

It seems to me that this highlights a particular problem when by “evidence” is meant “complainant testimony”. When we read about a case not going forward due to “insufficient evidence”, this may give the false impression that there is at least some evidence in support of a complaint, when in fact there is no evidence other than the complaint itself. In the case of Cliff Richard, the CPS regrettably spoke of having received a “full file of evidence”, which obviously implied a substantial case to answer – when in fact there was no evidence in support of the claims against him, and good reason to disbelieve them (see below).

The media are sometimes complicit in this misundersanding of “evidence”; in August 2015, the Daily Mail ran an article about the “Westminster VIP” accuser “Nick”, in which a subheading claimed that Nick had “handed over written and video evidence”. Only buried deep in the article is it made clear that this referred to a “written account of his ordeal and three days of videotaped evidence”, rather than to anything corroborative (the paper later took a more critical perspective on Nick).

How the police investigate

Speaking on Loose Women in June, Cliff Richard said (my transcription):

This very first accuser made so many mistakes. And, remember – and this is not good for the South Yorkshire Police – but they didn’t even check until four weeks and two or three days later after they broke into my apartment. He got so much wrong. The room he said it happened in, apparently didn’t exist in 1985. Goalposts were never kept in rooms. And then he got the year wrong. He said it was 1983, and Billy Graham wasn’t there till ’85. So now I’m thinking to myself “well of course they’re going to just throw it out. This is nonsense.” They didn’t throw it out, and because of the raid, and because of the accusation, because of the BBC, I found myself smeared and named.

There are obvious parallels here with how Dorset Police handled the allegation against Bryant.

This police unwillingness to consider evidence of innocence makes more sense in the context of a 2011 academic paper by Dr Michael Naughton of the Innocence Project, titled “How the Presumption of Innocence Renders the Innocent Vulnerable to Wrongful Convictions” (Irish Journal of Legal Studies 2 (1): 40-54):

[A]nalyses of recent successful appeals demonstrate how normal and acceptable methods of police investigations fundamentally undermine the [Presumption of Innocence] at the initial and most crucial stage of the criminal justice process when information is being gathered and cases are being constructed and can lead to wrongful convictions. This is because the role of police investigations in an adversarial system is not to find evidence that suspects of crime are innocent but, rather, to treat situations that they are called to as potential crime scenes and seek evidence that incriminates suspects for alleged criminal offences to pass to the Crown Prosecution Service (C.P.S.) to supply a criminal charge.

Naughton is here highlighting a general systemic problem with the justice system, and on Twitter his view is cynical:

Whole system about manufacturing convictions &/or protecting against their overturn [1]… I used to think it was broken and could be fixed but now think it works exactly as it is intended [2].

Back in October, Paul Gambaccini, who was investigated as part of Operation Yewtree, reportedly observed in conversation with Chris Jefferies that “younger cops are interested in justice… senior ones interested in results”.

The trend towards believing complainants

Bryant’s accuser stated that he had been inspired to come forward following the publicity around Jimmy Savile. As Dominic Lawson notes in the Daily Mail:

add another one to the thousands — and I mean thousands — of claims encouraged by the police, who declared after the Savile revelations that they would henceforth ‘believe’ anyone who came forward with claims of ‘historic abuse’.

Lawson’s article refers to “the never-ending farce of this sex abuse witch-hunt”.

However, although the police response to Savile is certainly an important factor here, I think the problem goes deeper than just the “Savile factor”. I refer here to Richard Webster’s 2005 opus The Secret of Bryn Estyn (page 311) where he observes that trials may begin with a “recital of repulsive sexual detail”, and that

In view of the manner in which child sexual abuse is now construed not merely as a crime, but as an unspeakable evil, any defendant exposed to such an ordeal is liable to find that by the end of the prosecution opening he or she has been effectively demonised in the minds of the jury. And although a potent mythology maintains that judges themselves are immune to the effects of such prejudice, there is no evidence that this in fact the case. The reality in all too many cases is that, by the time the prosecution opening has been completed, both the jury and judge may have been caught up in a current of prejudice so powerful that they are swept together towards a guilty verdict without being able properly to assess the evidence which is presented to them.

Although I cannot currently locate the reference (it’s a very long book), I recall that Webster also included an anecdote in which a care worker who had been acquitted of physical abuse was afterwards told by a juror that had the allegations been of a sexual nature, the jury would have sent him to prison. This indicates that jurors consider the prospect of mistakenly allowing a child sex abuser to to go free with greater horror than of mistakenly finding an innocent man guilty of sexual abuse, and that this affects their decision-making.

The character of the accuser

Why did Danny Day make his false accusation? One reason he was eventually caught out was because he went on to tell a lie about nearly having been part of the 1984 Olympic boxing team. He made this claim as part of a bid to gain further compensation, and this suggests a financial motive. However, perhaps he was simply an attention seeker; it is also possible that he is deluded, perhaps following some sort of “recovered memory” therapy. We can, though, draw inferences from a couple of elements of the story.

First, Day originally put a letter through the Bryants’ letterbox, in which he said that he intended to go to the police and to the media, but that it would be in David Bryant’s interests to have “a chat” with him. He included a mobile number for this purpose. We must regard with scepticism a supposed victim holding the threat of a police complaint over someone unless they comply with instructions, and the police ought to have treated the letter as suggestive that Day’s subsequent complaint had been made in bad faith.

Second, following Bryant’s first appeal, which was refused, Day made a statement:

“He’s in the place he should be in. He keeps on trying but he’s been in court with me three times, and three times he’s lost.”

Matthew Scott correctly characterises this comment as being of a “gloating” nature, and it suggests to me an attitude inconsistent with being a genuine victim.

Online Harassment by Conservative Party Activists: A Decade of Mishandled Complaints

From Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads:

For more than a decade I’ve been publishing warnings about the dark places social media will take us when politicians do not take threatening behaviour seriously, deliberately turn a blind eye to it from their own supporters when it suits them, and/or even engage in it themselves.

… this is not a party or political problem, but a widespread, long-standing and worsening problem that will only get better when people in authority finally grasp the nettle and take responsibility rather than see bullying as something to be played down when it happens in your own ranks, and capitalised on when it appears to originate from the opposition.

Tim goes on to write about his own experience of being on the receiving end of online harassment after drawing attention to politically motivated social-media bullying by activists within the Conservative Party. This is of some particular interest to me: in 2009, Tim also uncovered evidence about bogus terror-related stories being fed to tabloid newspapers, which crossed over with one of this blog’s concerns. My own related observations on the subject meant that I found myself being targeted by some of the same malign elements that he found himself up against.

Tim’s post explains  how this all began, and then details one facet of what has followed since. There is much more that could be said, but the strand highlighted by Tim’s post is the most topical thread to the story given current concerns and allegations about bullying and political activism in the UK.

In short, and with some complementary details:

1. In 2006, Tim discovered that two activists associated with Anne Milton MP had created an anonymous blog that maliciously accused a local Liberal Democrat in her Guildford constituency of being a paedophile. Tim brought this to the attention to Jonathan Lord MP, who was heading a local election campaign involving these same activists. Lord did have a quiet word with them, but he declined to formally censure them or investigate their behaviour. I discussed this here.

2. In 2009, Tim and I met a third Conservative party activist with links to Milton, who claimed to have some background information about the fake “terror” stories being placed in newspapers. However, it turned out that this man had a grudge against former associates, and he went too far with his antics when he claimed to have “found” a document with details about Tim’s home address. Police traced this document back to this man, who then claimed that he had been working to “expose” us all along.

He also boasted that Milton wanted Tim “downed”, and he then embarked what has ever since been an sporadic harassment campaign. He began by posting a childishly abusive song about Tim to YouTube, complete with piano accompaniment (since removed, although a copy has been saved), and he has continued with a long line of sockpuppet blogs and Twitter feeds (several of which have since been suspended for abuse). We also have multiple testimony and evidence that his campaign has included paedo-smears.

3. Tim adds: “Throughout this affair, people have been targeted with fabricated evidence causing them needless concerns for their safety. One of these people is Nadine Dorries”. That evidence included a bogus image that purposed to show packaging for anti-psychotic medication supposedly retrieved from Tim’s dustbin, as well as false and distorted information in a poison pen letter sent via a third party in 2013.

4. In 2012, Tim wrote to an influential local Conservative about the matter, a member of the House of Lords. A paedophile smear appeared on Wikipedia the very next day. Obviously, it is not suggested that the person Tim had written to was responsible for this – but clearly, the email was complacently forwarded by this person to someone who was malicious.

5. In 2015, Tim raised the 2006 concern via a channel that brought his email to the attention of Grant Shapps in his then-capacity as Conservative Party Chair. Tim has in the past – and indeed still is – extremely critical of Shapps’ former business practices, and it is not a great surprise that Shapps mishandled the complaint. Indeed, Shapps leaked it to hostile parties, who made merry over it. This is of some relevance to the wider and urgent question about how bullying allegations are dealt with within the party – as I noted in October, it appears that “Complaining to CCHQ about Bullying Risks Escalating Attacks“.*

Tim suggests that there is a need for (1) “A wholly independent investigation into the handling of bullying complaints by all parties going back at least 10 years”; (2) “A report detailing what measures might be taken to improve current protocols for all parties and how they are followed”; and (3) “A specific option that should be considered is the creation of an independent body to cover all parties and handle all initial complaints of harassment, bullying, abuse and similar behaviour.” That seems to be a reasonable and non-partisan way forward.

Footnote
*There is evidence that Shapps also initially saw Tim as a handy scapegoat for the “contribsxWikipedia mystery, until the Liberal Democrat activism of the Wikipedia editor who first noted contribsx came to light and the whole business became hopelessly but conveniently muddled.

Jim Bakker and the David Ickeization of Christianity

Just how important is Jim Bakker to American Christianity today? He now belongs to an older generation of televangelists, and despite having had a bit of a comeback in recent years, he remains a diminished figure compared to his status before the sex and financial scandal of 1987 and his subsequent imprisonment.

However, his Jim Bakker Show continues to be a favoured platform for evangelical “names”, such as the bestselling “End Times” author Jonathan Cahn, Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin, and Rick Joyner, who now controls the land on which Bakker’s doomed Heritage USA project was built. Upcoming guests include Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter), the anti-Islam activist Brigitte Gabriel, and Steve Strang, who heads the neo-Pentecostal Charisma media empire. Strang’s Charisma News often carries articles derived from the Jim Bakker Show. Bakker also has links with Joseph Farah of WND, and in 2014 Farah, Bakker, and Cahn led WND tour of the Holy Land.

The pre-1987 Bakker and his then-wife Tammy Faye were kitschy and to an outsider’s eye somewhat risible, but it should be remembered that Bakker fell out with Jimmy Swaggart over Swaggart’s anti-Catholicism. It’s also easy to mock Prosperity Gospel teachings, but the glamour of the Bakkers’ lifestyle was also aspirational and motivational; those of us who have not experienced the poverty and lack of dignity that many of  the Bakkers’ older viewers may have remembered from childhood ought to bear that in mind before sneering. We will probably never know if Jim Bakker’s sexual liaison with Jessica Hahn was consensual or, as she alleges, was a rape, but overall it seems to me that the semi-sympathetic portrayal of Bakker by Kevin Spacey in the 1990 film Fall for Grace is a reasonable interpretation. Spacey’s Bakker is self-entitled and negligent in his financial stewardship, but not a predator or a con-man.

After prison, Bakker wrote a book entitled I Was Wrong, in which he repudiated the Prosperity Gospel. However, he also started emphasizing the End Times: in 1998 he published Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse, in which he warned that the millennium bug (Y2K) may well “be a highly plausible explanation for what the Bible refers to as the black horse of famine and economic chaos”, and in recent years he has started claiming to have received visions from God about imminent disaster. In this, he certainly does appear to be predatory: notoriously, Bakker now hawks overpriced survival products, particularly grim long-life foodstuffs optimistically packaged with names such as a “30-Day Fiesta Bucket”.

Bakker’s self-serving fear-mongering also includes inviting conspiracy theorists onto his show as guests. Thus Charisma News now reports:

Vatican Built on Bones of Giants in Pre-Noah Age

The Vatican was built on the bones of giants and other artifacts that date to the days before Noah, author Timothy Alberino tells Jim Bakker.

But, “This isn’t a Catholic thing,” Alberino says. “This is the institution of Rome, the Holy See.”

Most Catholics have no idea what lurks beneath the surface of the Vatican, Bakker’s panelists say.

“Hidden away in the vaults and the archives … we discovered proof … that in fact—and this isn’t just some sort of conspiracy theory, it is the truth—that the Vatican has had access to hidden artifacts, especially artifacts relating to the reality of the world before the flood of Noah that they have confiscated and hidden away or covered up,” Alberino says.

This absurdity follows a recent appearance on the same show by Thomas Horn, a conspiracist whose projects include Exo-Vaticana: Petrus Romanus, Project L.U.C.I.F.E.R. and the Vatican’s Astonishing Plan for the Arrival of an Alien Savior (taglines include “The Role of Petrus Romanus for the coming Alien Serpent-Savior”).

Pentecostalism has a strong sense of the other-worldly, and its emphasis on spiritual forces sometimes means a readiness to accept claims about “occult” and Satanic conspiracies. Sometimes, pop-culture science-fiction elements may be incorporated, such as the idea that UFOs are visions of demons. However, the extravagance of the conspiracy theories now being promoted by Bakker are closer to the realms of David Icke’s imaginings than the exhortations of old-time religion or even the old conspiracy theories that were dusted off and made less overtly anti-semitic by Bakker’s old employer Pat Robertson in 1991.

Alberino, as quoted above, distinguishes Catholics from “the institution of Rome”, but it’s clear that his scheme boils down to anti-Catholicism. How else can one reasonably interpret a sensationalist DVD created by Alberino and an associate named Steve Quayle, called The Unholy See: The Vatican Knows all the Secrets, which shows a figure in a black cowl flanked by images of an alien being, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and an Illuminati symbol? If Catholics are not bad people, it’s only because they don’t know about the Satanic nature of their leadership, it seems.

Other videos on YouTube include Alberino discussing the “Illuminati Infiltration of Christianity” with Fritz Springmeier, or talking with a certain Leo Lyon Zagami about a book called Confessions of an Illuminati, Volume I: The Whole Truth About the Illuminati and the New World Order (see Swallowing the Camel here for more on Zagami’s claims and those of other bogus “Illuminati defectors”).

Even the Bible gets a science-fiction re-interpretation, with Alberino discussing how Cain was “the first born hybrid son of the devil” and how there are “serpentseed links to the Sons of God”. This is completely bizarre and heterodox, and when considered alongside Springmeier’s claims about Illuminati “bloodlines”, alarm bells ought to be going off. The idea that a particular genetic ancestry is somehow the secret key to understanding world trends or events has an obvious endpoint: that some people – or perhaps a specific group of people – are less human than the rest of us.

This conspiracy milieu is something I’ve noted before, and Bakker is not the only figure linking this kind of material to Christian religious beliefs. Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural is another example, and there’s also Chuck Missler, whose Koinonia House “Christian Think Tank” includes Joseph FarahErgun Caner,  Jerome CorsiAlan Keyes, and Tim LaHaye. At the moment, conspiracy talk about “what lurks beneath the surface of the Vatican” seems marginal and exotic – but the impression given when someone like Anne Graham Lotz sits on a sofa that has just been vacated by someone like Thomas Horn is that crackpot ideas about “alien serpent-saviors” and such may headed for the evangelical mainstream.

This is the David Ickeization of Christianity.

Some Notes on Milo Yiannopoulos

Much – indeed, probably too much – has been written in recent days about the journalist and self-described “comedy character” and narcissist Milo Yiannopoulos, now banned from Twitter following allegations that he incited racist abuse against Leslie Jones, a black American Hollywood comedian and actress currently starring in the remake of Ghostbusters. Along with this particular controversy, attention has also focused on his role as a leading presence in the “Alt Right” at the recent Republican National Convention, where he arranged a “Gays for Trump” party that was addressed  by the anti-Islam and birther conspiracist Pamela Geller and the Dutch politican Geert Wilders.

Dozens of articles and commentary pieces have appeared, arguing over whether Twitter acted rightly to remove an abusive presence from its service or did so because it is biased against conservatives. There have also been pieces debating the merits or otherwise of  Yiannopoulos’s various provocations (at Spiked, Tom Slater refers to “sociopathic wind-up merchants”), as well as general backgrounders in various languages: “Qui est Milo Yiannopoulos, journaliste pro-Trump banni de Twitter ?”, asks Le Monde, while the Dutch Vrij Nederland has a piece on “Milo Yiannopoulos: de ‘ultieme troll’ op wiens feestje Wilders sprak”. Among the best of the crop is a first-person account by the left-wing journalist Laurie Penny of attending the RNC in Yiannopoulos’s company – in her words, “a story about how trolls took the wheel of the clown car of modern politics” and about “the insider traders of the attention economy”.

Given this feeding frenzy, there seems little to add other than to note that this has been a particularly weird career trajectory for a son of Chatham (Kent, UK) whose journalistic break was with the Catholic Herald, and that his rise to international prominence is a depressing example of how the sheer force of narcissistic personality in an entertainment culture can make questions of honesty and integrity apparently irrelevant. However, there are few points that, although not new, may be worth highlighting:

(1) Yiannopoulos’s “provocation” antics formerly included using the name “Milo Wagner”, at which time he dropped “is he being serious or not?” hints of Third Reich adulation. Screenshots and commentary were presented in early 2013 on The Blog that Peter Wrote (since deleted but archived here). It seems to me that this ought to be problematic for Geller and Wilders.

(2) The focus on whether Yiannopoulos was responsible for crude racist abuse sent to Leslie Jones by others has overshadowed his specific strategy of engaging in personal destruction through intrusion, misrepresentation, and outright fabrication. An article by Leigh Alexander (who opposes the Twitter ban for making Yiannopoulos a “martyr”) has the background:

Trying to make it look as if the target deserves abuse is a classic far-right tactic Yiannopoulos has been instrumental in helping create – the mobs dig into a target’s personal life, family relationships, old online profiles and more to find any snippet of information, however stripped of context, that could isolate the target and prohibit sympathy. For example, when a writer I had worked with was critical of Yiannopoulos and his “movement”, they responded by digging up childhood chat logs they could use to make her look as though she were a pedophile. Their goal was not to express themselves through speech; their goal was to remove her support network and to get her employers to distance themselves from her.

This is a key distinction. In the case of Jones, Yiannopoulos disseminated fake tweet screencaps purporting to be from the actress wherein she expressed antisemitic views, for the purpose of rationalizing further racist abuse from his followers.

The screenshots included a bogus Tweet that had a “delete” option at its base, which proved that it had been made by someone who was logged into the fake account that was being screenshotted. It appears likely that Yiannopoulos was himself the creator of this impersonator sockpuppet account.

(3) Several years ago, Yiannopoulos established an online media presence through a start-up called The Kernel. It did not end well, as Charles Arthur reported in the Guardian at the end of 2012:

London startup blog the Kernel is to close after its parent company Sentinel Media could not satisfy bailiffs’ demands for payment of £16,853…

One contributor won an industrial tribunal; further:

In emails seen by MediaGuardian, Yiannopoulos threatened to publish what he claimed were embarrassing details and photographs of one contributor who sought repayment, and said “I can’t ignore the fact that the majority of damage to The Kernel can be traced back to you and your childish, capricious behaviour”.

Further details were published by Max Dunbar.

Yiannopoulos apparently claimed that payment would soon be forthcoming due to a family inheritance. Arthur’s probing here led to a threat of violence from a Twitter account which identified itself as being run by Yiannopoulos’s father (it was also confirmed as such by Yiannopoulos himself, although whether this is true is anyone’s guess). Just three Tweets were posted, confirming the inheritance and adding “I wish i could meet Mr. Arthur I’d like to shake hands with his windpipe but i am not sure he would enjoy the meeting as much as i would.”

Point 1 above relates specifically to Yiannopoulos; points 2 and 3, however, are of interest because they encapsulate a wider online malaise that goes beyond just “a classic far-right tactic”. A media project crumbles amid financial scandal and threats against those owed money, yet personal stock continues to rise. Threats of violence are made, but fail to generate interest or censure. A supposed journalist fabricates screenshot evidence, yet his main outlet – in this case Breitbart, where Yiannopoulos is technology editor – does not fear losing credibility, and indeed revels in his antics. There’s a lot of it about.

Footnote

As is well-known, Yiannopoulos’s legal name is (or was) Milo Hanrahan. A longer and more difficult surname combined with a short and less common first name has had the effect that he is now often referred to as just “Milo”, and that the name “Milo” is currently synonymous almost exclusively with him. It is worth the effort to avoid colluding with this kind of thing.

The Daily Express and the Illuminati

Sunny Illuminati

(Sunny’s Tweet here)

From the Daily Express:

Does hand sign made by Merkel, May and now Juncker prove there is a secret EU illuminati?

SPECULATION is mounting there is a secret society within the EU after senior figures were snapped making the same masonic-style hand signal.

By JON AUSTIN

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker was the latest EU bigwig to be photographed “giving the code” after he was snapped with his hands in the rhombus shape – known as a Merkel Diamond…

It comes after new British Prime Minster Theresa May was pictured separately making the same hand gesture earlier this month.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has been snapped so many times making the shape, which involves pressing the thumbs and index fingers together to create a diamond, that her name was added to its official description…

Other famous faces including Gordon Brown, the Duchess of Cornwall and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have also been spotted making the ‘Merkel diamond’.

The article cites “conspiracy theory website illuminatiRex” and “the conspiracy theory forum run by David Icke”, and is filed under the paper’s “Weird” section. It is fair to say that the paper has run the story primarily for entertainment value, and that readers are not expected to take the claim very seriously.

However, as I noted just recently in a post about claims that CERN had “opened a portal” to a demonic realm, material from the Express does feed conspiracy theorising, as well as just reflecting it. In the CERN example, an Express article was used as a source for an piece published by Charisma News, which belongs to an American evangelical media empire.

Other “Illuminati” articles run by the Express include “Inside Bilderberg: Leaders and elites meet in ‘illuminati’ style to decide New World Order” (also by Austin); “Chillingly accurate 200-year-old letter predicts WW3 and final battle against Islam” (by Selina Sykes, relaying Albert Pike’s views on the subject); “EXCLUSIVE: ‘Secret plan to inject us ALL with ID chips through vaccination programme‘” (Austin again – “Mr Parkes, who also works as a driving instructor, said the Illuminati were about to start their twisted chipping programme in the new year”); and “REVEALED: Inside the 5 secret societies that REALLY control the world…” (by Sykes – “Rumours say the entertainment and music industry have been infiltrated by Illuminati members who are using the media to brainwash the masses).

Meanwhile, “lifestyle and travel” correspondent Felicity Thistlewaite has chipped in with “CHERYL FERGISON, famous for playing Heather Trott in EastEnders, has accused Katie Hopkins of being an Illuminati member.”

Jon Austin covers “science, nature and the paranormal” for the paper. Recent pieces include “Moment ‘Nasa cover up’ caught on film as ‘buildings on the moon’ discovered“; “Second UFO researcher dies fuelling claims of ‘Men in Black’ murder spree“; and “SHOCK CLAIM: ‘World will END’ when poles flip and mega earthquake strikes ON JULY 29“.

UPDATE: The story has been picked up by the Daily Mail, which writes of “a bizarre internet conspiracy theory”; this article in turn has received a link from the US conservative website WND, a few of whose commentators have taken the proposition seriously:

Hmm….Bilderbergers…etc…They all want a “One world Government”…

Can the Bible be anymore accurate people?????

Read Your Bible!!

…and you will know why we don’t want Hillary in Office..and Obama ruling the World!

***

and we have another terror attack in Germany….. thanks merkelmuslim….

***

If you truly want to understand the nature of the Satanic Conspiracy we are facing, read your Bible and join the John Birch Society. JBS has been educating Americans about this threat for 50 years. The Word of God has been doing it for thousands of years. Don’t worry though, God laughs at their plans and He tells us so in His Word.

***

That is such an unnatural (uncomfortable) position to put one’s hands in, makes you wonder why anyone would do that except for a specific reason (or formerly broken hands?)

Exhibition Notice at Welsh Assembly Hints at “VIP Paedophile” Claims

From the website of the National Assembly for Wales (emphasis added):

Calendar Event
EXHIBITION: Wall of Silence
Date: Monday 27 June 2016 to Sunday 3 July 2016

Location: Pierhead Main Hall

Description: The Wall of Silence is the inspiration of Carl. Carl grew up in Powys and is in recovery from child sexual abuse. He was abused by some powerful people and is now decades on seeking justice… He came up with the concept of the Wall of Silence which has seen a huge variety of photographs, poems, stories, paintings and other mediums sent to him by survivors and victims from across the UK…. The Survivors Trust Cymru has worked with Carl to bring this exhibition to Wales supporting Welsh survivors to have a voice…

An article about the display can be read on the website of the Cambrian News. The exhibition has been on tour since January; it started at Colston Hall in Bristol and subsequently travelled to City Hall in London (where it was part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Awareness Week) and to Avon and Somerset Police HQ North Somerset.

The exhibition was organised by the Southmead Project, a Bristol-based therapy service, in collaboration with RAVSCA (Raising Awareness for Victims & Survivors of Child Abuse) – which was created by Carl himself – and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). According to the Wall of Silence website: “Carl is in recovery from child sexual abuse: his story is one of extreme terror, mental turmoil, heartbreak, sadness and fear”. However, there is no specific reference there to “powerful people”.

The exhibition has certainly given a platform to individuals who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and it will have done good if it encourages genuine victims to speak out, or at least to feel less isolated.

But this vague reference to “some powerful people” is problematic, it seems to me. Of course, a powerful person can be an abuser, but so can all sorts of people. What purpose does the phrase “abused by some powerful people” serve on the Assembly website, other than to imply that this was a particular aggravating factor in Carl’s abuse? And what can we conclude from that, other than that this is a vague reference to “VIP paedophiles”?

This impression is confirmed by the distinctive drawing used to represent Carl on the Wall of Silence website: a silhouette of a hunched and brooding boy, overlaid with red hand-prints. This was the well-known avatar on Twitter of “Carl Survivor”, who Tweeted for a period as @carl_survivor and as @ravsca1. Both accounts went offline a few months ago, but some of what he had to say can still be gleaned from his interactions with others; it can quickly be established that this was the same person, and that he did indeed claim to have been the victim of VIP paedophiles – including none other than Leon Brittan.

It seems to me that there is a odd disconnect between the sensational and specific claims made by Carl on Twitter and the the more generic way they have been presented by the “Wall of Silence”. There has also been no explanation for his sudden disappearance from social media earlier this year, despite the fact that at the time he was being lauded as a kind of inspirational role model and gaining a public profile as an advocate on the subject (although he chose to maintain his legal right to anonymity).

And now we find claims about being “abused by powerful people” appearing on a governmental website as a passing detail and without apparently attracting controversy or comment. Given the background context here, that’s a bit odd in itself.

Ultra-Orthodox Messianism in Israel Is “Exciting News” For US Evangelicals

WND reports:

Top rabbis: Unmistakable signs of Messiah coming

A conversation between two of the most distinguished rabbis in Israel indicates scholars of the Torah see unmistakable signs of the coming of the Messiah. What’s more, in the Messianic era, Christians will become a source of Torah learning, as believers in Jesus Christ rediscover the source of their beliefs in both Judaism and the Torah.

The conversation took place between Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, both of whom are regarded as leading experts in the Torah.

During the conversation, Rabbi Kanievsky reportedly predicted the imminent coming of the Messiah, before the end of the year after the Shemitah….

Rabbi Sternbuch contested the timing, and said before the Messiah will come, the Christians and the Arabs will “come to Israel.” [*] Rabbi Kanievsky added “all the non-fruit bearing trees in Israel will bear fruit,” meaning Christians will be learning Torah. Thus, the breach between Christians and Jews will be healed, as both communities turn to the study of God’s Word.

WND cites a site called Breaking Israel News, and goes on to add enthusiastic commentary from its stable of “End Times” authors: Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, of Harbinger fame; Mark Biltz, who developed the “Blood Moon Tetrad” eschatological theory; the birther activist Carl Gallups, who once argued that Jesus named Barack Obama as Satan and who wrote a book about how an ancient kabbalist living in Israel had supposedly accepted Jesus just before his death; and Bill Cloud, author of Esau Rising: Ancient Adversaries and the War for America’s Soul:

Cloud says the consequences of this kind of teaching spreading among Jews could be earth-shattering.

“This is exciting news because it demonstrates how many Christians and many Jews are recognizing that Messiah’s coming is near and how that portends a reconciliation between the two,” he said. “In my view, as Christians awaken to what they have been blind to – an obligation to keep the Torah – it will provoke our Jewish friends to see what they have been blind to – the identity of the Messiah.”

Some context for this thinking can be found in a post I wrote about links between evangelical/fundamentlist Christianity and Judaism a while back.

Breaking Israel News describes itself as offering

a fresh and Biblical perspective on the latest news from Israel and the Middle East. Our bias is not liberal or conservative – just Biblical. Breaking Israel News was started in July 2013 by Rabbi Tuly Weisz, Director of Israel365, after thousands of Jewish and Christian Zionists requested more news items and insight from Israel. Since its inception, the site has grown tremendously. Breaking Israel News is visited by over 100,000 people every day from over 100 countries around the world and averages 2.5 million page-views per month.

Ultra-orthodox rabbis ruminating about the the coming of the Messiah appears to be one of the site’s stock themes, culled from ultra-Orthodox news sources:  just over a year ago, the same site reported Kanievsky as warning people not to travel outside Israel due to the imminence of the event, while other articles include an account of how Rabbi Aharon Shtern had “revealed an astounding teaching handed down from father to son for untold generations regarding the End of Days”, which related to conflict between Russia and Turkey.

However, the information conveyed appears to be somewhat selective: for instance, the article used by WND neglects to mention that Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch is actually a leader in the anti-Zionist strand of ultra-Orthodoxy.

Other recent “prophecy” articles on the site include “End of Days Yellowstone Volcano Prophesied in Zechariah“; “Disaster Comet Nibiru Coming to Cleanse the World, Says Jewish Academic“; “Global Warming Prophesied as Punishment for Not Building Temple“; “The World is Facing the Final War of Gog and Magog Says Rabbinic Scholar“; and “Bible Codes Reflect What Brexit Wrought for Europe“(the “expert” here predictably found his code confirmation after the event, although another code-related article chances a Clinton win in November).

Tuly Weisz is an American Orthodox Rabbi who moved to Israel in 2011, and he maintains strong links with Evangelicals. He was formerly Co-Director of “Teach for Israel”, which describes itself as “an organization connecting rabbis and Christian leaders, Jews and Christians in their mutual Biblical love for Israel.”

****

* Footnote

Sternbuch is quoted:

“We have an ancient authenticated hand-written manuscript from the Rambam (a Spanish Torah authority from the twelfth century), in which he says that before the coming of the Messiah, the Christians and the Ishmaelites (Arabs) will come to Israel,” he pointed out.

The manuscript the rabbi referred to is a recent version of the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, recently published with restored sections censored by medieval Christian authorities.

Presumably this is a reference to Laws of Kings 11:4, which included a passage about Jesus. Maimonides wrote that it was “obvious” Jesus had not been the Messiah, and he said that Jesus had been “instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another beside God”. However:

All these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite [Mohammed] who came after him only served to clear the way for King Messiah prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord… Thus the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics – topics of conversation [among the inhabitants] of the far isles and many people, uncircumcized of heart or flesh. They are discussing these matters and the commandments of the Torah…

But when the true King Messiah will appear and succeed… they will forthwith recant and realize that they have inherited nothing but lies from their fathers, that their prophets and forbears led them astray.

In December, an Orthodox Rabbinic statement on Christianity, titled To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven:  Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians, cited this passage as evidence that Maimonides here “acknowledge[s] that the emergence of Christianity in human history is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.”

It is clear the passage refers to Christians and Muslims accepting the truth of Judaism, rather than actually moving to Israel. However, Breaking Israel News takes Sternbuch’s “come to Israel” quote literally, and goes on to observe increasing numbers of Christians and Muslims living in the area since 1948.