Evangelical Leadership and Donald Trump: Faith No More

Reuters reports:

Leaders of religious conservative groups largely stood behind Donald Trump on Saturday, the day after vulgar sexual comments he made about women surfaced online.

…Most evangelical leaders did not condemn Trump, and instead pointed to an urgent need to prevent Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency, reshaping the Supreme Court and implementing liberal policies.

Similar ground has been covered by Buzzfeedthe Washington Post and TPM.

At the risk of providing superfluous commentary, it should always be emphasized that Trump did not just make “vulgar sexual comments about women” – he made vulgar comments in which he boasted about sexual assaults and attempting to have sex with a married woman. It is remarkable that while Republicans such as John McCain and Condoleezza Rice are keeping faith with their principles by repudiating Trump’s candidature, evangelical leaders who are supposed to “trust always in God” appear willing to make any compromise in return for worldly political influence.

At the neo-Pentecostal end of the Christian Right, there is a particular problem in that the movement’s leaders have announced that God has “anointed” Trump, and that he is the “prophesised President”. These leaders have heard directly from an omniscient being, which means that there is no room for them to re-assess their position based on new information, even if they wanted to.

However, as Reuters indicates, other evangelicals who could step back are instead choosing to double down, despite some formal criticism of Trump’s comments – and they are not just re-affirming their support through gritted teeth.

Perhaps the most shameless cant has come from James Dobson, who famously described Trump as a “baby Christian” – an odd formulation meant to flatter evangelicals that Trump is one of them while not requiring Trump to actually do anything to demonstrate his newly (and conveniently) found faith.

As others have noted, in 1998 Dobson moralized at length about Bill Clinton’s sexual behaviour – yet now his only comment is an oblique rebuke to those who regard Trump with disgust (including, presumably, those women who have been on the receiving end of his attentions):

The need to focus on political expediency rather than principle is also being emphasised by Franklin Graham. Graham has said that he is not endorsing either candidate, but this is just his way of avoiding taking ownership of where he obviously stands. In 2012, it was recently reported, Trump’s foundation donated $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the following year, Trump appeared in a group photo taken to celebrate Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, alongside Sarah Palin and Rupert Murdoch, among others.

Graham started the past week by opining that “nobody gives a rip about Donald J. Trump’s taxes”, and adding that tax money was being used for “for things like gender reassignment and hormone therapy for military personnel” anyway (an echo of Trump’s own defence, that money paid in taxes is “squandered”); there’s thus a nice symmetry that by the end of the week he was minimising “crude comments… made more than 11 years ago”, which he immediately contrasted with “the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton”.

How allowing a man of Trump’s coarseness to occupy the USA’s highest office will make America more godly is difficult to envisage; and Russell Moore, of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is of the view that “the damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ’80s TV evangelist scandals.”

(For continuing information and analysis of the intersection between Trump and evangelicalism, I particularly recommend following @sarahposner and @JonathanMerritt; Sarah’s Twitter thread starting here is a must-read.)

Donald Trump: The Charismatic Anointing

In 2005, Time magazine listed publisher Stephen Strang as one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America”, observing that

the former journalist, 54, has been a Bush favorite ever since his homegrown Christian publishing house, Strang Communications, released The Faith of George W. Bush, the first spiritual biography of the President, in 2003… Strang’s lead publication, Charisma, chronicles the fast-growing charismatic movement and has become powerful enough to wrangle a Bush interview last year.

These days, Strang Publications is known simply as Charisma Media. Charisma, according to a statement, “is read by more than 200,000 monthly, with four million unique online visitors per month.”

Strang originally endorsed Ted Cruz for next president, but Charisma is now officially – and enthusiastically – behind Donald Trump. As Strang himself writes:

The election was one of the topics I discussed Monday with Jim Bakker when I was a guest on his program. We talked about the October issue of Charisma, in which I endorse Trump for president and included powerful articles by Pastor Jim Garlow and Lance Wallnau that we’ve featured online.

Strang also took aim at “so-called evangelicals who are liberal and support Clinton in spite of her policies and beliefs that run counter to what we believe”.

Strang’s article was written in the wake of a “call to prayer” to support Trump ahead of Monday’s debate with Hillary Clinton; Right Wing Watch has the details:

On Sunday evening, Charisma posted an article calling for “urgent prayer” for Donald Trump for Monday night’s debate. The article said that former Trump adviser Frank Amedia had received a revelation from God and “began making phone calls to drum up support for the Kingdom Wide Prayer Watch.” Among those who got involved were Cindy Jacobs, Rick Joyner, Mario Bramnick, Lance Wallnau and Paula White.

Trump is on the focus of the October issue of Charisma magazine, whose cover story is Lance Wallnau’s tale about how God told him that He is raising up Donald Trump like the biblical King Cyrus. This week Strang posted a two-part podcast interviewing Wallnau about Trump’s “anointing” as a “prophetic” instrument of God’s purposes.

Of course, the “Kingdom Wide Prayer Watch” was not just a call for God to intervene – it was also political theatre, designed to impress on American readers that it is their crucial religious duty to vote for Trump, whose personal failings have been spun by James Dobson as the stumblings of a “baby Christian” who has only recently come to accept Jesus. Within the neo-Pentecostal and charismatic movement, leaders often claim to receive clear instructions about God’s purposes, and as such to disagree with someone like Rick Joyner on politics amounts to going against God.

However, Strang is not just playing on readers’ religious sentiments – Charisma also publishes rather more worldly anti-Clinton articles, of a sort more likely to be found on WND or Gateway Pundit. Here’s RWW again:

This week Bob Eschliman wrote that Clinton’s much celebrated shimmy after Trump said he had a better temperament to be president was in fact evidence of “medical episode”—Eschliman laughably mischaracterized Clinton’s mocking “whew, OK” as a “Howard Dean yell” and described her shimmy as troubling a “shudder” and “tremors.”

Eschliman is also flacking right-wing conspiracy theories that Clinton “cheated” during the early national security forum and Monday night’s debate by wearing a hidden ear piece that she could have used to get instructions from her campaign team.

That latter story was also picked up by WND, which credited Charisma (1). I wrote about Eschliman’s anti-Clinton polemics not long ago – Eschliman was previously employed by the Newton Daily News, but he was fired over his personal blog, on which he railed against the “Gaystapo”. Eschliman alleged that his termination was religious discrimination, and with the assistance of the Liberty Foundation he reached a confidential settlement last year.

Charisma also promotes the work of a certain Michael Snyder, an Alex Jones-style “economic collapse” conspiracy theorist who accuses politicians of worshipping Satan in Illuminati rituals and warns of demons entering our world through “portals” created by scientists or archaeologists (2). Snyder has diagnosed Clinton as suffering from ailments that range from tongue cancer to Parkinson’s Disease, and he suggests that she may even be dead by the time the election arrives.

All published by a site that presents itself as “the most trusted source for credible news and insight from a charismatic perspective”.

Footnotes

(1) There is particular overlap between Charisma and WND in the person of “End Times” prognosticator Jonathan Cahn. Cahn’s best-selling Harbinger was published by Charisma Media, and Strang believes that the book came into being due to the direct intervention of God, who engineered a chance meeting between Cahn and a friend of his. WND meanwhile published a tie-in DVD called The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment. WND also recently published an article complaining that the New York Times is not giving Cahn his due on its bestseller lists, although the article was mysteriously deleted after a few days. Cahn and WND CEO Joseph Farah (Trump’s go-to birther) have also led WND-branded tours of the Holy Land, in one instance in collaboration with Jim Bakker.

(2) This is more evidence of what I called “The David Ickeization of Christianity” in relation to Jim Bakker in July. Bakker these days heavily promotes conspiracy theories, which are often then publicized on Charisma.

Jonathan Cahn Denounces Archaeological Reconstruction in New York

From the Institute of Digital Archaeology:

Thanks to everyone who attended the unveiling of our reconstruction of Palmyra’s Triumphal Arch at Manhattan’s City Hall Park on September 19th. As NYC Mayor William de Blasio said on the occasion: “This is a powerful act of solidarity with all those hurt and lost in the war in Syria. We welcome the Arch to New York City, where New Yokers and visitors can see this historic work of art. Together, we will demonstrate our collective resolve to protect our common heritage and humanity”…

However, End Times “prophet” and bestselling apocalyptic paperback author Jonathan Cahn has a different view:

The idea that anything linked to an ancient Canaanite god would be erected in America would seem unthinkable. But just as it was with the nine ancient harbingers of judgment, so it has now taken place – the Sign of Baal has manifested on American soil.

It took place on a rainy Monday afternoon, Sept. 19, 2016. It happened in the city of the harbingers of judgment – New York City. No one who erected it or who unveiled it had any idea what they were doing – just as with the harbingers – but they did it anyway.

…Before the moment of unveiling, a live band began playing Middle Eastern music. As one listened to the drumbeat, one could imagine similar music being played as worshipers ascended the ancient Temple of Baal.

The Triumphal Arch was infamously destroyed by ISIS in 2015, along with Palmyra’s Roman-era Temple of Baal; the city’s antiquities scholar, Khaled al-Asaad, was publicly beheaded.

The IDA had originally planned to erect a copy of the gateway to the temple itself, but at some point changed to the Triumphal Arch – probably because recreating this arch would require less material, and the original was rather more elegant and distinctive than the gateway (which in fact just about survived the demolition anyway). However, the Triumphal Arch was on Palmyra’s main thoroughfare leading towards the Temple, and so in Cahn’s opportunistic demonology it amounts to pretty much the same thing.

Cahn is not the only Christian fundamentalist to share ISIS’s disgust at pagan history – he also writes that:

Among the dignitaries and media gathered were a handful of God’s people, a man with a shirt bearing witness to Jesus, another carrying a cross with the inscription Jeremiah 1:5 and still others silently bearing witness.

One of those, a certain Robert Boatwright, was funded by a church in Florida after God told him to protest. Interviewed by Charisma News, Boatwright argued that Baal worship was characterised by the sacrifice of infants, and that the reconstructed arch was thus akin to “a reconstructed gate to Auschwitz”. (1)

Charisma also regularly gives a platform to a fringe conspiracy theorist named Michael Snyder, who warned in March that the reconstructed gateway might open “gateways and portals that are extremely dangerous and that we simply do not understand”; Snyder subsequently credited “alternative media” for the change from the gateway to the Triumphal Arch.

Cahn’s warning is vaguer than that of Snyder, whose inspiration – despite being published by a neo-Pentecostal website – is primarily science-fiction. In contrast, Cahn trades on his Jewish heritage to present himself as having special insight into esoteric “Hebrew mysteries“. Thus he purports to see a hidden pattern in events since 9/11 that show how the USA is repeating the history of ancient Israel as recorded in the Bible (signs of this are his “harbingers”).

Cahn’s God appears to be little more than an impersonal supernatural force whose behaviour can be predicted according to cyclical patterns and manipulated – for good or ill – through human actions, even when those actions are performed obliviously. Thus those who attended the unveiling were indeed worshipping Baal, even though they “had any idea what they were doing”, and God will respond in the same way as on 9/11 – by allowing disaster to strike.

The reconstructed arch was previously displayed in London’s Trafalgar Square without fuss.

Note

(1)  In fact, evidence of child sacrifice in ancient Ugaritic culture is scant – despite Biblical polemics – and it is doubtful that it ever occurred at the structure in Palmyra, which was built much later, during the classical period.

Dollar to Collapse After the Return of Jesus – Shocking Proof 100%

end-times

July:

A YouTube video uploaded by the End Times Prophecies asking ‘Why The World Will End Surely on 29 July 2016? Shocking Facts’ has racked up more than five million views, however Armageddon News referenced in the video deny this is the correct date.

September:

Why The Dollar Will Collapse 100% on 27 September 2016? [MUST SEE]:

This collapse will be global and it will bring down not only the dollar but all other fiat currencies,as they are fundamentally no different. The collapse of currencies will lead to the collapse of ALL paper assets. The repercussions to this will have incredible results worldwide and each economists contend that The dollar collapse And The economic collapse will be on 27 September 2016

October:

Why The World Will End Surely on 31 October 2016 ? Shocking Facts

If you want to know When Will Be The End Times , the End Of The World , end of days, End of humanity and who is the Antichrist , you’re in the right place by reading Daniel. In fact the recorded prophecies tell the history of mankind from the days of the great Babylonian Empire. All the evidence tells us that the end of the world ,end of days and the end of time on 31 October 2016.

December:

The Dollar Will Collapse 100% on December 31, 2016 -Last Warning To America

The dollar collapse will be the single largest event in human history. This will be the first event that will touch every single living person in the world. All human activity is controlled by money. Our wealth,our work,our food,our government,even our relationships are affected by money.And sure The Dollar Collapse And The Economic Collapse Will Be on December 31, 2016 .

The first link above is to a Daily Telegraph article; the following three links click through to YouTube videos that, although uploaded by different users, are examples of a number that appear to be related: there’s a similar font, a computer generated narrator, a semi-literate blurb with poor punctuation, and a list of keywords that are separated by commas but not spaces. Other headlines include “END TIMES 100% PROOF – AUGUST 2016” and “100% Proof September 27, 2016 Dollar Collapse”.

One of the videos was recently brought to my attention by someone who left a comment, and it seems that whoever is making them is trying to generate interest by falsely claiming that someone has predicted the particular date: those so used range from “End Times” fundamentalists such as Jonathan Cahn and Walid Shoebat through to Nostradamus, Peter Shiff, Ron Paul, Alex Jones, Anonymous or even (of all people) Nathanael Kapner.

The work of mischief-makers? Satirists? Or an actual religious group?

WND Removes Article Complaining About How New York Times Bestseller Lists Treat End-Times Author Jonathan Cahn

For some reason, WND has scrubbed an article complaining that End-Times prognosticator Jonathan Cahn has been unfairly neglected by the New York Times bestseller lists. The article was headlined “N.Y. Times shafts best-selling Christian author – again!”, and unusually for WND it did not include any byline.

Perhaps the author had second thoughts about the title after the likely etymology of “shaft” in the sense of “treat cruelly and unfairly” was brought to his or her attention (“overtones of sodomy”, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary), but that could have been amended without removing the whole piece.

Cahn himself did not contribute to the article – he “declined to be quoted”, according to its author, which is itself a bit odd: WND has heavily promoted Cahn and his work, including producing tie-in products, and he will be very soon be leading WND‘s third Israel tour alongside WND editor (and Donald Trump’s birther guru) Joseph Farah. Perhaps he (or his publisher, an imprint of Steve Strang’s Charisma House) didn’t want to risk antagonizing the New York Times, but he could have provided something vague and innocuous.

The article itself concerns Cahn’s new Book of Mysteries, which “consists of 365 stories of short revelations a fictional seeker of biblical wisdom receives on a spiritual one-year journey”. The NYT apparently is not clear whether it is a work of fiction or non-fiction, or a devotional, and so it is not appearing on the fiction list. In contrast, Publishers’ Weekly and the Wall Street Journal have both included it on their fiction lists.

Farah himself is quoted in the article:

Farah’s publishing company, WND Books, has produced the highest percentage of New York Times bestsellers of any publisher in the world over the last 15 years. About 10 percent of WND Books releases over that time period have made the grade.

“I’ve been studying the list for decades,” says Farah. “I worked with Hal Lindsey when the New York Times discovered his book sold more than any other book in the decade of the 1970s. I worked with other best-selling authors as a collaborator through the 1990s. And in 2001, I launched WND Books. So that’s nearly 40 years of experience with the New York Times best-sellers list.”

The problems started for the New York Times calculations when they didn’t measure sales in Christian bookstores, he says.

Farah is correct about Hal Lindsey, whose cold-war End Times The Late Great Planet Earth (famously described by James Barr as “a farrago of nonsense”) was indeed the USA’s best-selling book of the 1970s.

Works published by WND Books include a 2003 polemic entitled Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted, and, more recentlyWhere’s the Birth Certificate?: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President.

New Call for False “VIP Sex Abuse” Accuser “Nick” To Be Prosecuted

(expanded)

From the Telegraph:

The Metropolitan Police faced fresh questions over the aborted VIP paedophile inquiry last night after “preposterous” evidence from its chief witness was made public.

…A summary of the allegations Nick made against Lord Janner, who he claimed was part of the VIP ring, have been made public by the  deceased peer’s family. They describe the supposed evidence as “preposterous”.

…The evidence shows how vague Nick’s claims were and reveals how he only named Lord Janner after  being shown his photograph by a journalist working for Exaro, a news website that has been widely discredited for its role in promoting Nick’s false claims. Exaro has since been shut down by its owner.

Daniel Janner QC said in a statement last night “…I believe that Nick should be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice.”

Nick’s account of Janner was published by Exaro in April 2015:

An abuse survivor, known as “Nick” to protect his identity [see footnote below – RB], said that Janner sexually assaulted him at several unidentified venues in London between 1979 and 1982. Asked how Janner abused him. Nick said: “Everything, including rape.”

The Met’s operation [Operation Midland – RB] has been running in parallel with a police investigation in Leicestershire into allegations that Janner had sexually abused boys at children’s homes in the county.

…Nick said that, as a boy, he did not know Janner’s identity. He identified Janner as one of his abusers in June [2014] after seeing the Labour peer’s picture in a newspaper.

If the Telegraph article is correct, then, Nick saw “the Labour peer’s picture in a newspaper” because Exaro showed it to him. That puts a rather different light on Nick’s identification.

Nick originally made a police complaint in 2012 that he had been sexually abused by his late step-father in the 1970s and 1980s. He was advised that given that the step-father was now deceased, nothing could be done, at which point Nick added that his step-father had handed him around to members of a gang, apparently at a military base but also at other locations.

After allegations against the late Jimmy Savile appeared in the mainstream media, Nick then claimed that he had also been abused by Savile at paedophile orgies. Nick also went on to accuse various politicians, recycling old allegations that had been floating around on the internet for years. The provenance for some of these old claims was not encouraging: we know that in the 1980s anti-Semitic elements in the security services had smeared Leon Brittan, and that a “dossier” of allegations had been prepared by a faction within the right-wing Monday Club to use against internal opponents. Some claims had been published in the 1990s by Scallywag, a scurrilous gossip magazine that had also carried false allegations against Lord McAlpine.

On the other hand, though, some claims have been extrapolated from known facts: in the 1970s it was discovered that the diplomat and MI5 operative Peter Hayman was a member of the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange; in 1987, the MP Harvey Proctor was convicted of gross indecency for sex with male prostitutes who were under the age of 21, in circumstances that involved “spanking” (he was convicted even though he had specifically asked them their ages, and they had told him they were 21); and in 1991 Greville Janner was accused of child sex abuse in Leicester during the Frank Beck trial. Other allegations have since been made against Janner.

Nick brought all these strands together into a unified narrative of “VIP sex abuse” that was gothic in its extravagance: he claimed to have suffered not just sex abuse, but to have been subjected to bizarre and ritualistic forms of torture, and even to have witnessed child murders at the hands of politicians. He also said that a school-friend had been run down by a car in front of him in Kingston-on-Thames, as a warning.

In August 2015, Harvey Proctor gave a press conference in which he revealed that one allegation against him was that he had attempted to castrate Nick at an orgy, but that another orgiast had intervened: none other than former Prime Minister Ted Heath. This detail was so preposterous that it was hard to believe that the police had taken such a claim at face value – and we can only conclude that Exaro had not published it because the site knew that it seriously undermined Nick’s credibility. Then came a Panorama investigation which revealed that there were no records or memories to corroborate the story of the boy being run over in Kingston-on-Thames.

Nick’s allegations caused great harm to innocent people and great expense to the Metropolitan Police, who ended their investigation in March. Proctor, who had been living quietly since the events of 1987, had to resign from his job and he left the country to escape the mob; Lord Bramall, the former head of the British Army, endured a police raid while caring for his wife, who was in the last stages of dementia; and the claims also angered the relatives of Maurice Oldfield, the former head of MI6. Nick’s step-father’s relatives have also protested that Nick’s allegations are untrue, and Nick’s ex-wife has described him as “a fantasist trying to cash in”

Allegations against Janner are currently a strand of the Government’s inquiry into child abuse, as I recently discussed here. However, Nick’s claims will not be considered. Exaro wrote in relation to police investigation into Janner:

Leicestershire Police was aware of Nick’s allegations, but did not include them with Operation Enamel, which already had a lot of witness testimony.

The idea that Nick was excluded because he was surplus to requirements does not convince. We now know that Leicestershire Police took a statement from the historian Gavin Littaur, who says that Janner made a gay pass at him when he was young adult – a claim that is rather more tangential than the sensational allegation that Janner was involved with organised child-sex abuse in London. It seems to me more likely that Leicestershire Police and the inquiry are ignoring Nick because his unique and fantastical claims muddy the water.

Should Nick be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice? By his own account, he has been under the care a therapist, and it seems to me that he may have been subjected to the same kinds of “recovered memory” techniques that were used on Carol Felstead, with tragic consequences.

However, there is one detail that suggests Nick has been deliberately deceptive. In February, it was reported in the Guardian that

Nick correctly described the interior of a military premises in southern England, where he claimed abuse had taken place. The details he provided were not publicly available, and the premises itself is not open to the public, making it likely he had been there at some stage, police concluded.

The problem here is that Nick used to post details about his alleged abuse and its effects on his later life on a blog, which he took down as his claims came under increasing media scrutiny. That blog included an account of having visited the military premises as a tourist during an open day in 2013. As I wrote in February,  it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that Nick impressed the police with a childhood memory of a non-public location that he had actually visited just a year or so before. The very reasonable suspicion that follows from this is that Nick is not just a fantasist, but an actual hoaxer.

Footnote

Nick’s identity is protected by law; the publication of some personal details and a very poor attempt at pixellation by the Daily Mail led to the paper being fined in May.

Exaro alleged that Nick’s name was leaked by the police to Panorama, and it reported in October that

Police are investigating a senior detective who is a confidential source for BBC1’s Panorama over the leaking of secret identities of complainants in abuse cases.

This implies that the the police accept that a leak has indeed occurred, although it seems more accurate to say that the police are investigating an allegation of a leak. However, Nick appeared in silhouette in a documentary about Jimmy Savile before he made contact with Exaro, and so it seems likely that his name is generally known among media professionals. Also, writings by Nick formerly available on the internet have meant that he has to some extent outed himself.

Romancing the High Priest’s Breastplate Stone

From the Daily Mail:

A small onyx stone believed to have been worn in the sacred breastplate of the High Priest of Jerusalem may have been found after being missing for more than 1,000 years.

…The owner claims the stone was given to a distant ancestor as a reward from the High Priest in 1189 and has been passed from generation to generation of the family since.

By “found after being missing for 1,000 years”, the paper in fact means “has been noticed again after it appeared on South African television some years ago” – indeed, the article comes with the clip embedded. The South African clip was uploaded to Youtube in 2015, and the uploader says that it dates to 1991; there is no reason to doubt that this is correct.

The article is a rewrite of a piece that appeared recently in Breaking Israel News, a Jewish website that caters for Jewish and Christian enthusiasts for stories that supposedly indicate that the “End Times” are just around the corner (I discussed the site recently here). In this instance, BIN believes that the stone has “the power of prophecy and it may play an important role in returning the Priestly Caste to serve in the Temple.” It appears that the author phoned up a couple of people who examined the stone in the past as a hook on which to present it as news.

Here’s the Bible’s description of the stone in context, from Exodus 28

Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of skilled hands… It is to be square—a span long and a span wide—and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes… Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord.

Later tradition suggests that the gems would answer questions by lighting up, and that the names of the 12 tribes were engraved on them by means of a mysterious object or creature that served as stylus, called the “shamir”.

The stone discussed by BIN appears to have two ancient Hebrew letters burnt into it (a bet and a kaph), although the 1991 report also states that the stone is “surrounded by controversy” and that the letters could in fact be a “quirk of nature”. The alleged “letters” are spidery and, if man-made, are crudely rendered (see screenshot of sketch from the video below). However, if there was a public controversy in 1991, the details have not made their way online so far as I can see.

BIN also gives the backstory to its current ownership by a family in South Africa:

According to the Auret family tradition, the ancestor, named Croiz Arneet deTarn Auret, received the stone from “the High Priest” in gratitude for his part in freeing Jerusalem around 1189. The custodianship of the stone was passed on in the Auret family through the male line until the nineteenth century. That tradition was broken when Abraham Auret passed away in 1889, bequeathing the stone to his daughter, Christina Elizabeth.

After her marriage to William James Hurst, the stone left the Auret name, and has been passed on from mother to daughter ever since. Meticulously recorded family trees and genealogical reports corroborate the story.

This is all rather dubious – there was no “High Priest” in Jerusalem in 1189, which was more than a thousand years after the destruction of the second temple, and the city was not “freed” in that year, either. Jerusalem was under Crusader control from 1099 to 1187, and then again from 1229 to 1244, but the Latins initially massacred Jews in the city – the idea of a local Jewish figure greeting a Knight Templar (as the article describes the ancestor) as some sort of liberator is both ludicrous and grotesque.

Of course, it could be that a Crusader was given (or found) the stone in different circumstances, and that the “High Priest” aspect of the story is a garbled recollection, but there are further difficulties.

First, the name “Croiz Arneet deTarn Auret” does not appear to be known to historians (and I’ve checked some possible variants, such as “Croix Arneet de Tarn Auret”), and it should be noted that it is unclear whether the “meticulously recorded family trees and genealogical reports” refer to this supposed ancient lineage or the later Auret/Hurst association. Unless Abraham Auret can be linked to some great aristocratic family (and if he can be, why doesn’t the article do it?), the idea that he could trace his ancestry back to someone in the twelfth century is incredible, let alone that an object might have been passed down father-to-son with an account of its provenance.

Second, the story just takes us back to the twelfth century CE. The Paleo-Hebrew “letters”, if genuine, would mean the stone was fashioned during the First Temple period, which ended violently in 587 BCE – BIN, citing the late Professor Moshe Sharon from the University of Witwatersrand, suggests the script indicates it is “from the year 1000 BCE, give or take 200-300 years”. How would the stone’s history have been preserved privately between 587 BCE and 1189 CE? This is fanciful in the extreme.

priest-breastplate-stone

Robert Spencer Denounces Walid Shoebat and Son for “Sensationalistic Unreliability” and “Dishonesty”

From Robert Spencer at FrontPage:

THEODORE SHOEBAT JOINS THE JIHAD, SAYS ‘PAMELA GELLER IS WORTHY OF DEATH

…Theodore Shoebat runs the website Shoebat.com, which many take as a reliable source for news of jihad activity that the mainstream media does not deign to report. Shoebat.com, however, has a reputation for sensationalistic unreliability: to take one notorious example, it posted a photo of a young German woman holding a sign reading, “Will Trade Racists For Rapists.”… the sign was photoshopped. The original read, “Will Trade Racists for Refugees.” Shoebat.com never acknowledged this or retracted its original post.

Theodore Shoebat is the son of Walid Shoebat, who styles himself an ex-Muslim and reformed jihadist. Walid Shoebat, who certainly has demonstrated a broad knowledge of Islam and the jihad threat, has been challenged repeatedly, most notably on CNN [see here and here – RB], to substantiate his claims about his past. Several years ago I myself gave him a chance to answer all the charges against his veracity in a video interview; in purporting to do so, Walid Shoebat talked for a long time, said very little of substance, and left the principal charges of his own dishonesty unanswered. In personal exchanges more recently, I was struck by his dishonesty again.

And now this. In a video posted last Thursday, Theodore Shoebat says: “Pamela Geller is worthy of death.” Her crime? Appearing at a “Gays for Trump” event along with gay activist Milo Yiannopoulos [see here – RB] at the Republican National Convention in July. For that, says the learned Shoebat the younger, “In Biblical law, in the government of Christendom, she is worthy of death.”

The Shoebat operation has always been crude and hateful, but it has become increasingly so in recent months. At some point the father and son adopted a form of Roman Catholic traditionalism, burning bridges with evangelicals.

However, although I must confess that I visit Spencer’s and Geller’s websites only sporadically, I am not aware that either of them has ever in the past warned readers about Shoebat’s “dishonesty” or of the “sensationalistic unreliabaility” of Shoebat.com. In 2010, Spencer appeared alongside Shoebat and Kamal Saleem at an unofficial Fort Hood shooting memorial event, and Geller has supported Shoebat in disputes with Daniel Pipes* and Mosab Hassan Yousef (more on the latter here).

In July and August, Spencer wrote several posts critical posts about the bereaved father Khizr Khan, yet he did not feel any need to address sensationalistic misrepresentations produced by the Shoebats that were then heavily promoted by Team Trump. Of course, one is not obliged to write about everything, but Spencer writes about these things for a living and Shoebat’s false claims loomed large in the conservative media narrative of a story that Spencer was addressing.

There has been some conservative discontent with the Shoebats over the past year: last September, WND complained that Walid Shoebat had made a “smear attack” against End-Times author Jonathan Cahn, while the Messianic Jewish commentator Michael Brown tackled Theodore’s anti-gay hatred in February; but it seems that it has taken personally offensive comments about Spencer’s closest ally for him to feel that Shoebat’s honesty was a subject he ought to address.

It is hard to take Spencer pontificating on the need to retract and acknowledge errors – I’ve seen him quietly scrub blog posts (which is not the same as making a retraction), and there was no rebuke when Geller posted, and then scrubbed, the totally bogus claim that Obama wears a Muslim ring (although Spencer was himself slightly more cautious on the subject).

Also, since Spencer now feels the need to discuss Shoebat’s dishonesty, when is he going to have anything to say about Kamal Saleem? Spencer did not just appear with him in 2010 – he interviewed him in 2013, and, unlike Shoebat, Saleem remains a significant presence on the conservative “counter-jihad” speaker circuit, working closely with General W. Jerry Boykin.

Shoebat’s ex-terrorist claim is actually rather modest, based on supposedly having planted a bomb on behalf of the PLO in the 1970s. The story is at least plausible, although his framing of this as “jihad” is retrospective and it is not much of a basis on which to claim expertise on Islam and the evils of Muslims. In contrast, Saleem’s claims are extravagant and nonsensical. The only difference, it seems, is that Saleem hasn’t said anything nasty about Geller.

Footnote

* This was a few years after Pipes had endorsed Shoebat’s backstory, stating that “Walid Shoebat took the time to visit me in my office today and to show me proofs that his life story is a true one. I accept that it is.”

Charisma News Dishonest on Physicians and Hillary Clinton’s Health

From Charisma News:

Poll: 71 Percent of Doctors Say Hillary’s Health Issues Are Serious

Hillary Clinton’s health concerns are “serious” and could be potentially disqualifying, more than 70 percent of doctors surveyed in a recent poll said.

A new poll conducted on behalf of a a non-partisan professional association of physicians in all types of practices and specialties may perhaps put the “conspiracy theory” explanation for Hillary Clinton’s overall health to rest.

The survey conducted among members of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that advocates for private-practice physicians, found that 71 percent of respondents believe the Democratic presidential nominee’s health issues are “serious.” Not only that, but that those health issues—if more was known about them—could be disqualifying for the position of president of the United States.”

The article goes on to refer to Clinton’s documented past concussion and thrombosis, although we’re not told whether the doctors also gave credence to claims that Clinton joking around with journalists was actually an epileptic fit; that a photo of her being assisted on steps is evidence of secret fragility; that a video captured evidence of tongue cancer (caused by the arts of Sappho, according to some sites); and that a coughing fit denoted Parkinson’s Disease. The reason why such claims are being seized on by conservative activists was recently discussed by Michelle Goldberg at Slate.

The Charisma article, by one Bob Eschliman, is mostly a churned-over press release, although two details are his own: that the AAPS is “non-partisan” and that the poll puts “to rest” claims that stories about Clinton’s health are conspiracy theories. This confirms that Eschliman is dishonest rather than lazy: to call the AAPS “non-partisan” without also noting that it is a fringe right-libertarian alternative to the American Medical Association can only be deliberately misleading. As Mother Jones noted in a 2009 profile of “The Tea Party’s Favorite Doctors“:

Think Glenn Beck with an MD. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming”—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.

There was renewed interest the following year, when the Courier-Journal noted Rand Paul’s association with the group. One AAPS member, Dr Jane Orient, has opined on Clinton’s health for Breitbart; in 2014, Dr Orient published a book via the birther website WND on how to survive the Ebola epidemic, warning that infected West Africans were “streaming” into the USA via the southern border.

Returning to the poll itself, the AAPS describes it as having been an “informal internet poll”. The results page does not include any methodical information, or any details about the respondents.

Charisma News is an outlet of the Evangelical/Pentecostal Charisma media empire, headed by Stephen Strang. The site is undiscerning in the anti-Clinton material it publishes, and last month it published a claim by a conspiracy theorist named Michael Snyder that the Democratic candidate may even have expired by November. This reckless disregard for truthful discourse in the quest to get Trump elected is a symptom of a general debauchment of the Christian Right.

The article’s author, Bob Eschliman, was himself previously in the news when he was fired from his job at the Newton Daily News over his personal blog, on which he railed against the “Gaystapo”. Eschliman alleged that his termination was religious discrimination, and with the assistance of the Liberty Foundation he reached a confidential settlement last year. Judging from the quality of the above, the Newton Daily News can regard that as money well spent.

UPDATE: The above was written shortly before Clinton’s faint at the 9/11 memorial event; as expected, this has now been seized on as evidence that conspiricists were right all along. At WND, Trump’s birther-guru Joseph Farah writes:

In the blink of an eye Sunday, the attitude about Hillary Clinton’s health among the nation’s “mainstream” media went from dismissing them as nutty “conspiracy theories” to genuine concern, if not panic.

A series of uncontrollable coughing fits during public speeches didn’t do it.

Compelling video of apparent, inexplicable seizures didn’t do it.

The opinion of nationally recognized medical authorities didn’t do it.

Presumably these “nationally recognized medical authorities” are the AAPS, unfairly dismissed just because they promoted the claim that Obama uses hand gestures to hypnotise Jews.

One of the advantages of being a conspiracy theorist or demagogue is that one can make all kinds of wild extrapolations, often in bad faith, and then in due course cherrypick particular details that are found to have coincided with reality. Those who take a more reasonably cautious approach to the evidence at any given time will always be at a disadvantage.

And in any case, it remains untrue that “71 percent of doctors” have confirmed that Clinton has a “serious” and “potentially disqualifying” health condition.

IPSO’s Whitewash of a Hatchet Job on Byline – and Andrew Gilligan’s Mysterious “Source”

Background
Explaining Byline
Funding Byline
The conspiracy website 4th Media
VIP abuse claims
The investor’s non-son and Gilligan’s mysterious “source”

It is disappointing, although not a great surprise, that the supposed press regulator IPSO has decreed that there was nothing amiss with the Telegraph‘s highly misleading attack article by Andrew Gilligan about the website Byline.com (discussed previously here). The ruling is so perverse that it even endorses the Telegraph‘s right to publish an inaccurate and misleading claim that the paper itself had withdrawn.

Background

To recap, Gilligan’s article, headlined “The truth about John Whittingdale, the prostitute and the ‘cover-up'”, was written shortly after Byline broke the story of the friendship between the then-Minister for Culture, John Whittingdale, and a sex worker. It was suggested that elements in the media had known the story, but had chosen not to publish it because they would rather keep it in reserve as leverage over a minister whose brief included press regulation.

Gilligan claimed that the site was funded by an Asian billionaire who wrote articles for an “anti-Western conspiracy” website, and that one of the site’s founders was the son of an investor. Gilligan also suggested that the site was misleading in claiming that stories on the site were crowdfunded, that funding was also provided by Hacked Off, particularly via Max Moseley, and that the site promotes “Westminster VIP paedophile” conspiracy theories.

An overview of IPSO’s failings can be seen here from Tim Fenton, although I’d like to draw attention to a few points in particular.

Explaining Byline

Byline is a platform that allows journalists to pitch their stories to the public, who may then choose to crowdfund investigations that they find interesting. Byline takes a percentage of the funds raised. A number of established journalists have either written for the site or been involved with the project in other ways. As with any other media outlet, it’s as good as its writers, and there will be particular individuals and projects that are not to the taste of all readers.

Gilligan’s animosity towards the site is bizarre given the possibilities it offers to journalists in the current media climate. Here’s the view of veteran journalist David Rose, who has no association with the site:

Perhaps Gilligan would have had second thoughts had he known that he was about to be made redundant (although he has since found a new position at The Sunday Times).

Naturally, initial tech investors were needed to establish the site as a credible presence, but they did not have any control over (or even interest in) the site’s editorial content and they are no longer actively associated with the site anyway. One of the founders of the site shares the same surname as one of the tech investors, but contrary to Gilligan’s reporting they are not related (more on this point below).

Funding Byline

According to IPSO:

The Committee did not accept the rigid distinction that the complainant sought to draw between funding for the site’s infrastructure and funding for the content. It did not therefore consider that it was misleading to characterise funding provided to individual journalists to provide specific content for Byline.com as funding for the site. It was not therefore misleading for the article to report that the notable donor had “funded” the site, nor that the complainant has claimed that the site was “crowdfunded”. The article had not suggested that details of the site’s funders were hidden, rather it sought to criticise the complainant for claiming the source of the funding was “crowdsourcing” where in fact the site also received money from wealthy donors.

Thus Max Mosley joining in the crowdfunding of a story makes him a millionaire donor. Presumably, if we discover that Max Mosley has ever bought a copy of the Daily Telegraph, then it would not be misleading to describe him as being one of the Telegraph‘s “funders”. It should be noted that the Daily Mail amended its own follow-up article on this particular point.

On the issue of whether details were “hidden”, I refer back to the headline. Any article which is headlined “The truth about…” obviously frames the information that follows as a revelation that is unwelcome to its subject.

The conspiracy website 4th Media

IPSO:

In circumstances where the founder’s work appeared regularly on the named site, the newspaper was entitled to report that he “wrote” for the site. In the absence of a direct complaint from the founder, the Committee was unable to establish whether or not he had consented to publication.

This refers to Eric Li, who was actually one of the investors rather than a founder. Li has written articles for mainstream publications such as Foreign Affairs, and several of his pieces have been pirated by a crank conspiracy website called 4th Media, which rips off content from a vast number of media sources – including the Daily Telegraph. The Committee could easily have asked the Telegraph whether they had themselves consented to publication on the site, and then drawn the obvious inference from the negative answer. That would have been a sufficient investigation.

Further, it’s not clear why biographical claims about a living individual apparently belong to a special category, so that there no way to assess a significant inaccuracy other than via “direct complaint” from the person named. Why should this be the case? The evidence that 4th Media is a pirate site is overwhelming. For instance, articles by Peter Hitchens appear on the same site, but it’s obvious that they have been lifted from elsewhere without needing his testimonial.

There is also an element of the ruling here that is particularly obtuse: Gilligan’s article was silently amended from “Mr Li wrote regularly for The 4th Media” to “Articles by Mr Li are published on 4th Media”. Not even the Telegraph now maintains that that Li “wrote” for the site, yet IPSO here approves the original wording! This is really going the extra mile.

It is also significant how IPSO shifts ground away from the complaint itself and onto a new issue: that of whether Li “consented to publication”. This is not a subject that is explored in Gilligan’s article, and “consent” is a hopelessly broad term in this context that could range from collusion through to reluctant acquiescence.

When it is said that “articles by Mr Li are published on 4th Media”, the plain meaning is that he writes for the site, not that he may or may not have consented to his work appearing on the site. IPSO says it cannot “establish whether or not he had consented to publication”, yet apparently there is no onus on Gilligan to even to acknowledge this very important qualifier in his article. How can this not be a significant distortion?

(A footnote: the false claim about the link to 4th Media was repeated and elaborated by the smear-site Guido Fawkes. Staines or one of his cronies highlighted articles on the site that refer to “Jewish bankers” and such, in order to characterize Li as a contributor to an “anti-Semitic conspiracy website”.)

VIP abuse claims

IPSO:

The newspaper had provided examples of articles published by Byline.com, supporting the theory that there was a “Westminster sex abuse” ring, and at least three journalists who had written for the site also had profiles at Exaro. It was not therefore misleading for the article to report that the site had “promoted and defended” the sex abuse theory, and that it shared a number of journalists with Exaro.

The fact that Exaro and Byline have “shared journalists” is not in dispute, although Gilligan gives it a misleadingly sinister air. It would be more accurate to say that Exaro and Byline have both published material by various journalists, who in some instances have been the same individuals. Exaro‘s Mark Watts apparently at one time contributed to the Sunday Telegraph, so we may equally say that Exaro and the Telegraph share journalists.

The articles said to support “the theory that there was a ‘Westminster sex abuse’ ring” presumably relate to contributions to Byline made by David Hencke. But these were merely commentary pieces about a live police investigation, and Hencke specifically stated that “nobody knows the full extent of the allegations and whether they are true”. I think that Hencke is in general hopelessly credulous on the subject of “Westminster VIP abuse” (a subject I have written critically about at some length), but this is similar to what Gilligan himself wrote on the subject in 2014.

If the purpose of Byline.com were to promote VIP abuse conspiracies, Peter Jukes would hardly have invited David Rose to contribute, given Rose’s well-known scepticism about conspiracy theories in general and this one in particular.

The investor’s non-son and Gilligan’s mysterious “source”

IPSO:

The majority of information in the article had come from sources in the public domain. The journalist had been told by a source close to Byline.com that Jae-woong Lee and Seung-yoon Lee were related. He trusted that the source was in a position to know this information, and so had not verified the claim with the site…

The claim that one of the site’s funders was the father of the site’s founder was inaccurate, and the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer of correction. However, this was a brief reference which was not central to the story, and did not affect the overall thrust of the piece. It was not therefore a significant inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1.

The error is “not significant”, even though the detail appears in the context of an article presented as an exposé, and despite the fact that any reader would infer this information to be highly relevant to the investor’s influence over the site.

This detail of “a source close to Byline.com” is worth pondering further. Gilligan’s article contains no mention of any sources, and any reader can see that it was cobbled together from internet searches. The claim about the two Lees being father and son is the only detail not cherrypicked from public information. I had assumed this was a simple error made by Gilligan, but apparently there was more to it.

No-one “close to Byline” would have made such an error. Gilligan was therefore dealing with someone who was not in fact “close to Byline”, and this person gave him false information. Perhaps they were simply mistaken, but clearly this was someone with a hostile agenda against Byline. When a malicious person spreads false information, it seems reasonable to assume that they are doing so deliberately; and either way, the upshot is that Gilligan was gulled into publishing false information that the source certainly hoped would be damaging. IPSO shrugs this off as insignificant.

The existence of this “source” also raises the issue of how much of the rest of the material in Gilligan’s article was simply handed to him on a plate by someone with an agenda – and very probably a grudge.