Donald Trump’s “God Whisperer” Paula White Defends Herself From “Heresy” Allegations

From CBN:

President-elect Donald Trump’s longtime religious adviser, Paula White, is firing back at critics who have called her a heretic and questioned her personal finances and romantic history.

…Her critics include conservative blogger Erick Erickson, who this week published a video of White in which she denies that Jesus Christ is the only begotten son of God, calling Him instead the firstborn of creation.

…Also this week, Westminster Seminary California theologian Michael Horton published an op-ed in The Washington Post, calling out White for promoting the “prosperity gospel” and saying that she believes that “Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt.”

…In her statement White denies the accusations, saying she believes in the Trinity and “in the exclusivity and divinity of Jesus Christ, His saving grace and substitutionary atonement made available to all by His death on the cross.”  She disputes the “prosperity gospel” claim noting, “I also reject any theology that doesn’t affirm or acknowledge the entirety of scriptural teaching about God’s presence and blessing in suffering as much as in times of prosperity.”

White also gave an interview on CNN, prompting a rare reference on CNN’s website to the Nicene Creed.

It should be noted that White has had little formal theological education – instead, she learnt her craft on the job as the young wife of a pastor who was himself a pastor’s son, and the motivational emphasis in her teaching reflects her early experiences of dealing with family dysfunction and sexual abuse. She describes herself as a “Messed-up Mississippi Girl”, and I doubt that any heterodox statement from her reflects a deeply considered position on Christology. White has backtracked on unorthodox religious ideas in the past: in 2012 she disavowed “Rabbi” Ralph Messner, after allowing Messner to wrap her in a Torah scroll in a bizarre on-stage ritual.

The Prosperity Gospel appears predatory and is easy to mock (case in point: “Televangelist Paula White Hawks ‘Resurrection Life’ for $1,144 ‘Seed'”), but there are also practical and genuinely pastoral aspects to motivational Christian preaching that cannot be reduced to its worst elements. An abstract for a chapter on White by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere in their 2009 book Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace gives a fair assessment:

…Paula White strategically integrates her message and ministry into mainstream American religious culture and crafts a model of the emotionally healthy Christian who is honest about her shortcomings… Her message infuses an emphasis on God’s transforming power with the raw and honest faith of postmodern confessional culture. As the “Oprah Winfrey” of the evangelical world, White finesses dialogues with celebrity experts about self-actualization and the nitty-gritty, day-to-day realities of life. By integrating religion with American longings for youth, beauty, health, and sexual fulfillment, she offers an empowering and self-therapeutic brand of Christianity that teaches people how to become physically fit, mentally tough, and biblically literate, while trusting in the promises of God for dramatic change in life

White converted to Christianity in 1984, aged 18 and living in Baltimore. A 2005 profile in Charisma has some details, explaining that she converted “while living with a boyfriend”:

White eventually found a church home in the city, and when the janitor at her church quit, her pastor–T.L. Lowery, of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)–asked White to clean the church nursery. Lowery noticed her commitment to that job and asked her to teach the 2- and 3-year-olds, and later the 4- and 5-year-olds.

White says she must have studied 80 hours a week just to make sure her lesson plans were doctrinally correct and on a level the children could understand.

She was working at the Church of God headquarters in Baltimore when she met Randy, a divorcé, who was an associate pastor at a small church in the area. The two were married two years later against the advice of a few church members who said Paula wasn’t “ministry material.”

Lowery was a celebrated Pentescostal pastor who died a year ago, after 71 years in ministry; in 2015 his 70th anniversary was noted by the likes of T.D. Jakes and John Hagee. Randy, meanwhile, was the son of Franklin White, who pastored the Damascus Church of God (Damascus being the name of a town in Maryland).

However, a 2012 magazine profile in Orlando by Mark Pinsky (former religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times) has a slightly different version of the origin story, in which it is suggested that Randy White was not in fact divorced when he met Paula – who was herself married, too:

Another transfer [in her step-father’s work], this one to the National Naval Medical Center in Washington, D.C., brought the family to suburban Maryland, where Paula, at 18, had a child out of wedlock and married the father, a young musician. She joined the Damascus Church of God and got saved. The experience had an odd effect. She soon left her first husband and took off for Tampa with the congregation’s associate pastor, Randy White, who left his wife and three young children. The couple married and eventually bought a vacant warehouse and set it up as a church. Its predominantly African-American congregation grew at a phenomenal rate through the late 1990s and early 2000s, at one point claiming 23,000 members.

White’s first husband, glossed over by Charisma in 2005, was named Dean Knight.

Pinsky goes on to chronicle how the Whites’ church brought them great personal wealth – and controversy:

While Randy led the growth of the Tampa congregation, his wife concentrated on building a nationally recognized, television-based brand known simply as Paula.

…Before the couple amicably divorced in 2007, their extravagances included private jets, luxury vehicles, a condo in Trump Park Avenue and another costing $3.5 million in Trump Tower on New York’s 5th Avenue, and a $2 million family home fronting Tampa Bay.

…Paula, in 2007, gave Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas a black Bentley convertible for his 50th birthday. Paula credits Jakes, pastor of the black megachurch The Potter’s House, with catapulting her career to stardom when he invited her to speak at an African-American women’s conference in 2000.

…The Whites’ lavish spending caught the attention of the IRS in 2004, and later a U.S. senator, who, in 2007, launched a congressional investigation into the financial dealings of six churches led by televangelists, including [the Whites’] Without Walls.

The senator was Charles Grassley, and I discussed his investigation at the time. The Whites’ church eventually fell into bankruptcy; there was also a scandal in 2010 involving Benny Hinn,

when the National Enquirer reported that they had a three-day “sexy Rome tryst” in a five-star hotel. The story ran with two photos showing Hinn and White leaving a hotel and strolling in Rome, holding hands. Both White, who was divorced, and Hinn, who had recently separated from his wife, denied they were romantically involved.

Hinn later confessed that the relationship had been “inappropriate”. This prompted the Christian media mogul Stephen Strang to sue Hinn, on the grounds that Hinn had “violated a morality clause” in a book contract.

More recently, White has become known as “Donald Trump’s God whisperer”; the two have been in contact for years, since Trump saw her on Christian television, and along with Kenneth Copeland she was among the televangelists and pastors who laid hands on Trump at a religious anointing ceremony in September 2015 (indeed, she was closest to him, literally at his right hand). White’s claim that Trump had recently become a Christian was cited by the evangelical Christian Right activist James Dobson, who came up with the formulation “baby Christian” as a rationalision for why Christians should support Trump without expecting much evidence of a new-found godliness (Dobson even went to so far as to invoke the principle of forgiveness to shrug off claims that Trump had committed sexual assaults).

One of White’s sternest conservative evangelical critics is Russell Moore, who claimed in June that “Paula White is a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe.” That’s a point of view, but it gives the false impression that White is some sort of obscure para-Christian outlier. Instead, she is deeply embedded in broader evangelical networks.

In a more recent profile, Pinsky notes that

Although Politico magazine described her as Trump’s “God whisperer,” White has thus far shown no interest in power or political influence, no desire to set social policy or pick future Supreme Court justices.

What she does care about is flash, and her long-standing personal connection to the president-elect.

When it comes to Trump’s inauguration I would personally be more worried about another pastor who has been invited to offer up prayers: a bitter Christian Right ideologue who expects to enjoy worldly influence under a man he helped to elect while not taking full ownership of his position with an explicit endorsement. I refer, of course, to a clashing cymbal by the name of Franklin Graham.

April 2016: The Big Issue Runs Fanboy Interview with David Icke

Despite hand-wringing over the normalisation of the “Alt-Right” and the influence of its disinformation (“fake news”) on public discourse, there seems to be less concern over the way that the ludicrous figure of David Icke has increasingly been positioned as some kind of reasonable commentator, or even as a prescient figure.

One piece of evidence for this that has recently come to my attention is a fanboy interview with Icke in The Big Issue by the comic-book author Mark Millar, which appeared back in April. Here’s an extract from the interviewer’s introduction and commentary:

What if everything you know is a lie? Suppose 13 families control the planet and our Presidents and Prime Ministers serve them instead of us? What if the BBC is an Orwellian Ministry of Information and filters news on behalf of the Establishment that appoints them? Could national treasure Jimmy Savile really be a monster involved in child-trafficking and Satanic ritual abuse with some of the most famous faces in Britain, including the ex-Prime Minister who signed us into the European Union?

…. Savile is probably the most reviled figure in the corporation’s shaky history. The police are investigating hundreds of leads against some of the most famous politicians of the last generation. Former PM Sir Edward Heath has been investigated by eight different police forces for crimes against children.

…His ideas are a lot for people to process but when you look at the papers over the past couple of years it’s striking how much of what he was mocked for is suddenly front-page news.

At first glance the interview could be dismissed as light-hearted fare – Icke’s claims get reported because the man has entertainment value, and people can make up their own minds without needing to be spoon-fed what to think. Like the astrology column, this is simply an item of “weird news” that no-one is expected to take seriously.

However, Millar is in earnest: his Twitter feed shows a long-standing enthusiasm for Icke (e.g. “LOVE David. Been reading the books since 97.”) and he confirmed in an exchange with Christopher Hallquist in January 2015 that he is not being ironic about it. According to Hallquist, Millar’s work includes plot elements that relate to Icke’s ideas; on the science fiction element of Icke’s beliefs, Millar’s (ambiguous) view is that Icke’s “alien theories no more weird to me than anything else that happens in the food chain”. The Big Issue was either unaware of this background or did not consider it relevant when it chose to publish his interview with Icke. (1)

Of course, Millar is correct that “much of what [Icke] was mocked for is suddenly front-page news”, but much of the material is simply a testament to degenerating media standards rather than a vindication of Icke – and let alone a corroboration of his claims. On Heath, sensational allegations that were reported in 2015 simply do not hold up to scrutiny (as I discussed here), and what we know of the ongoing police investigation seems to be highly problematic (see here and here). The  way that some people who claim to be exposing the truth about a wicked establishment so readily resort to citing the interest of “police forces” as evidence of guilt is quite remarkable.

On Savile, most of the posthumous allegations against him relate to opportunistic attacks: the source for the claim that he was involved in “Satanic ritual abuse” derives from Valerie Sinason, a therapist who is a believer in Satanic conspiracies, and who says she was told of Savile’s involvement some years ago by a patient. It is unfortunate that Sinason did not go public with this information immediately after Savile’s death, rather than waiting until other allegations were first broadcast a year later. And in any case, claims that Icke “exposed” Savile have been exaggerated, as I discussed here.

Millar’s interview also touches on the more fantastical elements of Icke’s claims:

His basic thesis is that just as demodex folliculorum are a parasite on human skin invisible to the naked eye, an unseen consciousness feeds on human emotion outside our spectrum of light. The Christians called them demons, the Arabs called them Djinn and the ancient Aztecs sacrificed human beings to them in industrial numbers in return for power.

This, Icke tells me, is still going on both in our country and every capital city in the world. “The Presidents and Prime Ministers and all the world’s Royals are interbred,” he explains. “You can trace their bloodlines all the way back into the ancient world. It’s the same families doing exactly the same things, worshipping these same entities to maintain power. YOU might not believe what they believe in but by God THEY certainly do.”

This suggests a spiritual belief rather than a science-fiction fantasy. Why is Millar coy about referring directly to “shape-shifting reptiles”, which is how Icke refers to the physical form of these “demons”?

And why was Icke not challenged directly on what he means by “bloodlines”? In 2015, Icke posted to Twitter an image that shows the Queen and Lord Rothschild with large Stars of David stamped on their foreheads, flanking the Prime Minister of Israel, who is depicted as a puppeteer controlling ISIS, the Syrian conflict, and the 2013 Paris attackers. Icke has occasionally lamented that he has been falsely accused of being anti-Semitic, but it is a dereliction of journalistic duty to publish Icke’s statements without challenging him on this kind of material.

Footnote

(1) As part of his defence of Icke, Millar also cited allegations of child sex-abuse and murder against politicians which at the time were being promoted by the website Exaro News, with some assistance from the Sunday People newspaper. According to Millar, the story was being suppressed by the BBC and other outlets, out of collusion with the powerful. The main allegations here eventually unfolded as the Operation Midland fiasco.

WND Column Falsely Claims “Elite” Child Sex Abuse Allegations are Being Suppressed

One of the more unpleasant columnists at WND – the conservative website that was Donald Trump’s go-to information source during his birther period – is Bradlee Dean, a “sovereign citizen” known primarily for his doomed attempt to sue Rachel Maddow for $50 million and his Sandy Hook trutherism. Dean is also a “heavy metal preacher” (endorsed by Michele Bachmann), and he has a visceral disgust for homosexuality, described as “sodomy”.

In his latest column for the website, Dean presents the recent National Geographic cover story about a transgender child as evidence of a media conspiracy to promote paeodophilia. In support of this thesis (although I struggle to see the connection), Dean alleges that media documentaries that purport to expose “elite” paedophile rings are being suppressed:

America, they are simply trying to normalize the crimes through desensitization.

“60 Minutes” in Australia did an expose of a “Worldwide Pedophile Network,” where the politicians were being exposed for their crimes against children (Romans 1:24). Reporters also interviewed an individual who was advocating the normalization of sexual consent of adults with children. The report on YouTube has been conveniently scrubbed.

In America, this has been exposed over and over again only to be blacked out by a media that are bought and paid for. This is to the demise of America as we know it.

…”Conspiracy of Silence” is a documentary that exposed a network of religious leaders and Washington politicians who flew children to Washington, D.C., for orgies. Many children suffered the indignity of wearing nothing but their underwear and a number displayed on a piece of cardboard hanging from their necks when being auctioned off to foreigners in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Toronto, Canada.

At the last minute, before airing, unknown congressmen threatened the TV Cable industry with restrictive legislation if this documentary was aired.

Almost immediately, unknown persons, who ordered all copies destroyed, purchased the rights to the documentary. A copy of this videotape was furnished anonymously to former Nebraska state senator and attorney John De Camp [sic – should be John DeCamp], who made it available to retired FBI Agent Ted L. Gunderson.

One wonders why the media is not simply paid not make such programmes in the first place, rather than paid to suppress them after they are made – especially given the conspirators’ inability to keep them off YouTube.

The 60 Minutes documentary was titled “Spies, Lords and Predators”; despite Dean’s claim, it can be easily found on YouTube, and viewers in Australia can access the it via Channel 9’s on demand service. The documentary was broadcast in 2015, and was concerned with British allegations of a VIP paedophile ring involving Westminster politicians. The then Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith assured viewers that “there is very compelling evidence that very senior people engaged in terrible acts and were then protected by the establishment”, but much of the material has dated badly with the collapse of Operation Midland and revelations about “Darren”, an alleged survivor who features heavily in the documentary.

The “individual who was advocating the normalization of sexual consent of adults with children” was Tom O’Carroll, the former chair of the Paedophile Information Exchange and a convicted sex offender – he attempted to justify the idea that children as young as ten can give consent, but he did not have anything to say about the allegations being discussed in the programme and his “boy love” notions, while rightly received with scepticism and disgust, did not connect coherently with the sadism, torture and child murder that are central to the sensationalism of the “Westminster” claims.

“Conspiracy of Silence”, meanwhile, was a British documentary produced by Tim Tate for ITV’s First Tuesday strand through a deal with the Discovery Channel more than twenty years ago. Tate is the author of true crime books; some of his work is valuable (I was impressed when I saw him speak in 2015 on the subject of the Yorkshire Ripper), but he also promotes stories of Satanic Ritual Abuse. His 1991 book Children for the Devil: Ritual Abuse and Satanic Crime was pulped following a libel action, although it recently resurfaced in relation due to material relating to allegations of Satanism against politicians (discussed here).

There is an account by Tate on how he came to make the documentary on a website called Spotlight on Abuse:

…I was in the edit suite when the director, Nick Gray (an award-winning film-maker) walked in and told me Discovery was pulling the programme. He was furious.

The only explanation we ever got from Discovery was that – and I quote – “we seem to have gotten into an investigative area inconsistent with the Discovery mission statement”. No mention of the initial enthusiasm for the film (It’s got politics, it’s got pedophilia).

A deal was cut with Yorkshire Television by which Discovery picked up the tab for the film – approximately $250,000 – and handed the rights to it back to Yorkshire on the strict proviso that no mention was ever to be made of Discovery’s previous involvement. Since the film had been in Discovery’s published schedule, this seemed absurd…

Yorkshire Television never sold the rights to the film to any other broadcaster -hardly surprising given its entirely US-centric content.

No mention here of “unknown persons” buying the documentary in order to destroy it, as alleged by Dean – and once again, it can be found easily on YouTube.

The background here is what has come to be known as “the Franklin allegations”. The New York Times reported in 1990:

The rumors about child sex abuse, drug trafficking and other offenses began to circulate in late 1988 shortly after the failure of the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, which was headed by Lawrence E. King Jr., a former vice chairman of the National Black Republican Council, an affiliate of the Republican Party, who has entertained generously at Republican national conventions. He has been indicted on charges of embezzling money from the credit union, which closed in November 1988, but a Federal magistrate has ruled that he is not mentally competent to stand trial at this time.

The rumors gained further attention last year after a former State Senator, John De Camp, wrote a memorandum naming five prominent individuals as ”central figures” in the state’s investigation.

The grand jury exonerated the five, saying, ”We found no credible evidence of child sexual abuse, interstate transportaion of minors, drug trafficking or participation in a pornography ring.”

…[T]wo witnesses who were charged with perjury were a young man and a young woman who had said they were victims of abuse when they were teen-agers. They were indicted after two other witnesses, who had supported their accounts, recanted. The two who were indicted are now serving jail terms for unrelated offenses. They were identified as Alisha Owen [sic – should be Alisha Owens], 21 years old, and Paul A. Bonacci, 22.

In Tate’s interpretation, Owens was sent to prison “for naming her alleged abuser in court”. The story continued to develop, incorporating the disappearance of a newspaper delivery boy named Johnny Gosch in 1982 and claims of ritualized sex abuse and murder at the Bohemian Grove (as discussed by DeCamp in conversation with Alex Jones in 2004 here), as well as CIA arms deals. An article by Blake Hunt for Medium published in June has some useful context and background.

(H/T ConWebWatch)

BBC Documentary on Steven Anderson and Ruben Israel

Somewhat belatedly, I’ve managed to get around to watching America’s Hate Preachers, a BBC Three documentary by Hannah Livingston that was uploaded to the BBC iPlayer in October and is still available.

The programme focuses on Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church and Ruben Israel of the Official Street Preachers – there were few surprises, although the cameras show both men in their domestic settings and the Street Preachers preparing for a typical “confrontational evangelism” protest.

In the case of Anderson, it is very clear that his perspective on homosexuality is not one of “hate the sin but love the sinner”: Anderson’s advice for gay people us that they should kill themselves, and when asked what he would like to say to someone who left a threatening message on his answer-phone, his answer is “enjoy Aids”. Livingston also references Anderson’s Holocaust denial, and Anderson tells her about why he believes 9/11 was an inside job. Anderson is shown in full flow at a preachers’ conference at the Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, pastored by Roger Jimenez. Jimenez is a notorious figure in his own right, having celebrated the Orlando nightclub massacre, and the event drew protests. Apparently, Anderson is planning to open three new churches.

The Official Street Preachers, meanwhile, are shown haranguing passers-by on Hollywood Boulevard about the evils of homosexuality and Islam (those enjoying a quiet drink nearby aren’t spared, either), holding a protest outside a Phoenix Pride event, and counter-protesting near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The fire-and-brimstone rhetoric is also crude, with Israel’s associates bantering rather than preaching, denouncing “nasty cocksuckers”, and waving around a packet of bacon as a supposed prophylactic against Muslims.

Unlike Anderson, the Official Street Preachers at least have a concept that those they hate may be saved, if their evangelism brings about “the fear of the Lord”. Interestingly, members of the group claim that they don’t sin, rather than that they try not to sin, and are sorry when they do – this claim to perfection would be considered heterodox by most Christians.

The Official Street Preachers are known for their many banners – a variety of fonts are used, although Old Town (the font used in old Wild West “Wanted” posters) seems to be a favourite. Ruben has an extensive collection stashed in his garage – he shows off one against Islam and another against “Rebellious Jezebels” (“one you don’t see very often”), explaining that “I can make any banner, any size, and have it sent to me instantly. And have your name on it, and your picture.”

The Official Street Preachers have featured on this blog previously (in return for which I feature on their website) – in 2009 they abused worshippers at a mosque in Tampa while en route to evangelising a Super Bowl event, and in 2012 they showed up at the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn with a pig’s head on a pole. This provocation caused some disruption, which was written up on conservative media as Muslims attacking a group of harmless Christian evangelists.

One odd detail in the documentary shows Ruben on the cover of LDS Living magazine. The Official Street Preachers also protest Mormon events, but the story here is that Israel has been befriended by a Mormon named Bryan Hall. The relationship features in a Utah-made documentary called US and THEM: Religious Rivalry in America.

Chris Fay and “Darren” Confirmed as IPCC Complainants Against DCI Paul Settle

From Robert Mendick at the Daily Telegraph:

The senior detective who warned against a “baseless witch hunt” of VIPs over false sex abuse allegations remains under official investigation after being reported to the police watchdog by a convicted fraudster and a fantasist.

…One of the men can be named today as Chris Fay, who was sentenced to a year in jail for fraud for his part in a scam in which pensioners were conned out of alomost £300,000. The other, a fantasist who falsely claimed he had witnessed the murders of children and a young man with Down’s syndrome by a paedophile gang, was also jailed for making hoax bomb calls.

…The IPCC said in an email to The Daily Telegraph that “both members of the public allege the improper disclosure to the press of people’s personal and sensitive details by a senior Metropolitan Police Service officer”.

For some reason, the article is only available via PressReader, although the Daily Mail has produced a derivative piece that covers the same ground. It follows an earlier Telegraph article from October, which confirmed that one of the complainants was the bomb hoaxer – a man given the name “Darren” by the media, for legal reasons. “Darren’s” past was the subject of an article by Mendick in September 2015, so the reporter ought to be in a good position to know whether his complaint to the IPCC about a supposed leak has validity.

The detective under investigation is Paul Settle – last month, Settle gave a remarkable interview in a private capacity in which he said he had been “frozen out and isolated by senior officers” after Tom Watson MP criticised his decision that Leon Brittan had no case to answer following an investigation into a rape allegation.

The IPCC investigation was first revealed by Exaro in January, although Settle wasn’t named:

IPCC probes Panorama source over leaking of CSA survivors’ IDs

…The Independent Complaints Commission (IPCC) will itself carry out the investigation into the senior detective over allegations that he passed to Panorama and newspapers confidential details of witnesses who made allegations to Scotland Year of child sex abuse (CSA) by VIPs.

…The Met fears that the officer embarked on an attempt to sabotage several of its investigations launched since 2012 into alleged sexual abuse by MPs and other prominent men.

…The Met said in a statement: “In September 2015, the directorate of professional standards received a public complaint regarding the improper disclosure of information to the media. In October (1), a second complaint was received.”

The supposed motive was also emphasized by Exaro‘s Mark Watts on Twitter:

IPCC set to ask senior cop: did you use Panorama, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph to help you sabotage Met CSA investigations into VIPs?

I blogged on the newspaper articles and BBC Panorama episode at the time. This IPCC question as formulated by Watts verges on “have you stopped beating your wife?” – Settle’s guilt is presumed, the only uncertainty being whether media outlets were accomplices in his “sabotage”.

It seems that BBC did have some access to the investigation into “Darren’s” claims; a September 2105 BBC News article has the detail that

‘Darren’ told police he had been abused by a range of people in the county, but also by senior politicians in London – at the Dolphin Square apartment complex.

However, two sources have told the BBC that when questioned by detectives, ‘Darren’ said he was uncertain of the identities of these politicians and as a result the police decided they could not investigate.

However, this does not mean that Settle therefore leaked Darren’s identity or personal details: in the summer of 2015 “Darren” had been interviewed for an Australian 60 Minutes documentary called “Spies, Lords and Predators”, meaning that his identity would have been known to media professionals already. Further, as Gojam noted in the Needle in September, Darren had also previously “attended an event where lots of journalists were and then appeared on BBC News on camera with his real name underneath.” Thus the investigative articles that Exaro found so objectionable are perfectly explicable without any “leak”.

Gojam’s September post also identified “Darren” and Fay as the IPCC complainants, despite the Telegraph‘s assertion that Fay is only being “named today”. I had missed this, and so had continued to assume that the IPCC complaints in fact pertained to “Nick”, who had made the most sensational allegations of child murder and rape against politicians and other VIPs.

Perhaps I should have realised that Exaro was being coy out of self-interest – there would be no reason not specify a complaint from “Nick”, whose past is respectable, whereas Fay and Darren are both highly problematic individuals. But what kind of journalism would characterise references to Fay’s past criminality as “sabotage” rather than important information in the public interest? Fay’s 2011 conviction had been reported nationally at the time; the only mystery is why it took the media so long to re-discover it after he re-emerged in 2014 with an alleged list of VIP abusers who had supposedly made their way to the Elm Guest House in the 1980s. Again, no “leak” is required.

Footnote

(1) The October 2016 Telegraph article gives December 2015 as the date for the second complaint, rather than October 2015.

Andrew Bolt Rejects “Bizarre Claim” He Forced Journalist Out of Job for Reporting on Cardinal Pell

From the blog of conservative Australian commentator Andrew Bolt:

The media witch hunt against George Pell has just taken a strange new twist with a series of tweets by a former Herald Sun journalist that have been picked up by The Guardian.

The bizarre claim: that I somehow got the journalist dumped for her reporting on Pell.

The journalist, named Lucie Morris-Marr, was the author of an alliterative front page splash that appeared in February, titled “Police Probe Pell“. The article revealed that Victoria police were investigating allegations that Pell had abused children between 1978 and 2001, and that the investigation had been ongoing for a year. Bolt, who had previously defended Pell against criticisms that he had covered up clerical sex abuse, wrote a critical response in the same paper:

LAST week I called the witch hunt against Cardinal George Pell vicious and shameful. I thought it could not possibly get worse.

On Saturday, it did.

Now the campaign to destroy Pell has become sinister as well, after it was joined by — in my view — elements of Victoria Police.

…It seems to me a scandalous injustice and abuse of state power to leak information that the leaker must have known any newspaper would feel compelled to report, if not endorse.

[It] comes just days before the cardinal will instead give evidence by video link from Rome to again answer accusations that he covered up abuse by some priests.

…I cannot say these latest claims are false. The police must investigate.

…But here is what I do know. A man is innocent until proven guilty.

…And here is one more thing I know. This leak stinks.

This column was in turn reported in the UK Guardian, under the headline “Andrew Bolt lashes out at Herald Sun reporter over George Pell story”:

Bolt, who calls himself a friend of the Vatican official, labelled Lucie Morris-Marr’s report that police were investigating allegations of sexual abuse by Pell a week before he was due to appear before the royal commission a vicious and shameful smear which was part of a “sinister” campaign to destroy the cardinal.

…But Morris-Marr, a senior writer on the Herald Sun, defended her story, saying it was not the result of leaks or a smear campaign but grew out of an old-fashioned investigation.

It seems to me that Bolt may have erred in assuming that the claim must have come via a police leak, but it’s difficult to see how his column amounted to “lashing out” against Morris-Marr. He does not name her anywhere, he doesn’t criticise the way the story was written up or the decision to publish, and he explicitly states that “any newspaper would feel compelled to report”. His criticism is squarely aimed that the police.

At the time, Morris-Marr responded by dismissing Bolt as “Pell’s mate”, but she has now revealed that she also made an internal complaint against Bolt the next day: “On Feb 22 2016 I made an HR complaint Bolt had breached several @newscorp codes of conduct.”  In a later Tweet, she explained that in her view Bolt’s column had risked her sources by prompting the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission to probe the alleged leak, and for that reason he should be sacked from the paper. Further: “During drinks on night of Pell story @theHeraldSun my bosses said perm contract was in editor’s office.This was later denied after Bolt row.” She describes herself as having “lost job after being poisoned by… own scoop”.

Bolt denies any involvement in what he describes as a “conspiracy theory”, or of even knowing that a complaint had been made against him:

I did not know Lucie had left the paper until months later. I did not know she was on a one-year contract or was in any negotiations to renew it. I did not know she had left on bad terms. I did not know she had made any HR complaint… She had her say on Pell in the paper, I had mine, and as far as I know that was the end of that.

Morris-Marr also alleges that Bolt wrote in defence of Pell because the Herald Sun‘s owner, Rupert Murdoch, had previously publicly praised Pell. Thus she currently finds herself being celebrated as someone whose journalistic career has suffered because she stood up to Bolt and Murdoch to reveal allegations of sex abuse against a powerful individual.

Given the way that the Murdoch empire has been known to operate, such a narrative has a superficial attraction. Also, Andrew Bolt seems to be a somewhat unsympathetic figure, from what else I’ve seen of his polemical output. But in this instance it looks to me that confirmation bias is leading well-wishers astray with an allegation that lacks basic coherence.

Most obviously, “Police Probe Pell” was published as a front page splash in a Murdoch title. This would not have happened had Murdoch wanted to protect Pell. Second, Bolt’s column was an opinion piece based on his interpretation of material in the public domain – it didn’t reveal anything about Morris-Marr’s sources, and as such I can’t see how her complaint to HR could be valid. It seems that Morris-Marr moved aggressively against Bolt on multiple fronts – filing a complaint, alleging bad faith on Twitter, and then liaising with the Guardian to suggest he had “lashed out” – while in contrast there is only a tenuous hypothesis linking Bolt to the paper’s failure to give Morris-Marr a permanent contract.

Tellingly, Morris-Marr has also Tweeted that

Bolt said Pell was victim of a witch hunt & I tweeted that when it comes to child abuse I’m happy to be the witch leading any hunt.

In the wake of the UK’s Operation Midland fiasco, as well as several other high-profile false accusations, going into an investigation with this attitude simply won’t do.

UPDATE: The promised new Guardian article has now been published, under the headline “News Corp reporter ‘went through hell’ after Andrew Bolt attacked her Pell story”:

Morris-Marr lodged an internal complaint regarding Bolt’s column, saying it threatened to expose her and her sources by implying she had received leaks from within Victoria police. Victoria police later referred the “leak” to Victoria’s anti-corruption commission in an attempt to find Morris-Marr’s source.

Morris-Marr’s complaint also alleged Bolt’s column breached News Corp’s editorial guidelines because he had allowed his friendship with Pell to influence his editorial position.

…Bolt exclusively interviewed Pell for Sky News about a week later, in which he declared the pair were not friends, while Morris-Marr took time off to deal with the stress of the anti-corruption commission investigation and the dispute with her colleague.

…She told her bosses she wanted “to move forward” and thought they wanted to do the same thing. “I had six weeks left on my contract. Then literally the day before my contract expired, they met with me and said there’s no money.”

This is all a bit odd. As noted above already, Bolt’s column was an opinion piece based on public information. Further, it was published on 21 February – by which time numerous media reports had reported Pell’s view that that Herald Sun article had been prompted by a police leak (“Pell has called for a public inquiry to be conducted into the Victorian police, saying the allegations were leaked to damage him”, according to the Guardian on 20 February). Bolt merely concurred with this assessment, and he made it clear that this was just his opinion (“in my view”… “almost certainly”).

It is true that Victoria Police afterwards stated that it was “concerned about media reporting alleging that police have leaked details”, but this was in response to all the articles carrying Pell’s complaint, rather than just Bolt’s opinion piece (assuming they had even noticed it). And in any case, the Herald Sun article on its own ought to have been enough for the police to be concerned about the possibility of a leak. If you’re going to write a sensational front-page scoop that reveals the existence of a police investigation involving a high-profile public figure, then surely you would expect the police to wonder how it is that you know about it? Dealing with that is part of the job.

Morris-Marr has also Tweeted further about the subject, although in a contradictory way. On the one hand, she accepts that Bolt was not told about the HR complaint. But on the other, she boasts about a meeting where she apparently called the shots by having Bolt removed:

When Bolt fuck up happened went to meeting @theHeraldSun with bosses and lawyers.As a joke I said “invite Bolt.”They did. I got him removed.

This is bizarre. Did she make the “joke” before going off work with stress, or later? And if the point of the meeting was to correct Morris-Marr’s incorrect assumption about the leak, why did she want him to be removed anyway? And why has neither of them mentioned this incident before now? Surely Bolt would have referred to such an encounter in his blog post?

It’s natural to want to sympathize with a frontline female journalist when pitted against controversalist who appears to be a bit of bruiser and an employer who we’re told did not follow through with a promise of a contract. But this particular tale of victimization fails to convince.

UPDATE 2: Morris-Marr is now boasting that she could bring “scoop after scoop on Pell” if News Corp paid her to do so. Such a boast is grandiose and reckless, and it suggests that the decision not to extend her contract was a good one.  However, despite the weakness of her case the general mood on Twitter is that she has suffered an injustice, and that Bolt’s criticisms are evidence of extraordinary personal wickedness on his part.

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.