• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

    Previously at:
    blogs.salon.com/0003494
    barthsnotes.wordpress.com

    Email me
    (Non-commercial only)

  • Archives

  • Twitter

  • Supporting

  • Recent comments

Mike Flynn Apparently Sceptical of QAnon, Shares Article by Far-Right Radio Host Hal Turner

“2020 election fraud” lawyer Lin Wood has published evidence that appears to show that General Mike Flynn is privately sceptical of QAnon, and that he has disseminated a sanguinary article by far-right radio host Hal Turner.

First, there is audio of a phone call, in which we apparently hear Flynn claiming that QAnon was a created by “the CIA”. He adds:

There’s actually a very interesting article today out that was sent to me, I’ll send it to you, about how the QAnon movement has failed and all that.

Flynn texted or DMed Wood the next day with the details:

Here is article about Q. I have always believe it is a set up and a disinformation campaign to make people look like a bunch of kooks. [Link follows]

The url incorporated Hal Turner’s name, and it led to a post written by him titled “‘QAnon’ Proves It Has Been a Complete Fraud for an Entire Year, makes total fools of Trump Supporters on . . . Election Day”. The title here referred specifically to the group that had gathered in Dealey Plaza to await the return of John F. Kennedy Jnr (and perhaps also of JFK himself), but Turner also attacked the movement more generally. His complaint was that QAnon’s constant failed promises “is what happens when people are too cowardly to stand up, pick up guns, and go kill the people who stole the election”, and he continued by opining on the need for a “mass slaughter”.

The article has since been removed from Turner’s website, although a couple of photos and the headline remain. The original can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

Perhaps Flynn was simply negligent – stuff gets forwarded to him and he passes it around without reading it properly. But Turner is notorious, the post was quite short, and the piece made enough of an impression that Flynn talked about it and made the effort to return to it so that he could forward it to someone else. At the very least, we must wonder about Flynn’s information streams that someone like Turner comes to his attention within hours of posting something.

Wood was recently denounced by his former client Kyle Rittenhouse, and his attacks on Flynn and others appear to have been provoked by the failure of erstwhile allies to come to his defence. As well as highlighting his scepticism of QAnon (the Hal Turner angle in itself doesn’t seem to be of interest), Wood is also bringing renewed attention to the bizarre incident in September when Flynn persuaded a crowd of evangelicals to recite a distinctive prayer that was found to have occult/esoteric provenance.

(var. General Michael Flynn)

Richard Land Denounces “Let’s Go Brandon” Chant at John Hagee’s Church

Stern words from Richard Land, President Emeritus of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC:

The phrase “Let’s Go Brandon”, a euphemism for an obscene anti- Biden rant should be abhorrent to all Americans regardless of their political affiliation. And for this vulgar chant to be proclaimed in a church is blasphemous.

The phrase is a well-known as a stand in for “Fuck Joe Biden”, and it was used as a chant at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio during the latest Clay ClarkReAwaken America” rally. The church has now issued a statement claiming that this was an outside hire and that it does not endorse the views expressed, but this won’t wash: John Hagee’s face appears on a poster advertising the rally, and as noted by the San Antonio Current his son Matt Hagee spoke at the event. Here’s how Clark introduced him:

We would not be able to host this event here if we didn’t have a senior pastor that had critical thinking skills, a senior pastor who believed in the Bible, the Constitution, and that the statistically manipulated fake pandemic could not cause the suspension of the First Amendment. So ladies and gentlemen please welcome the host and the lead pastor of this church, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Pastor Matt Hageeeeeeee…

Matt Hagee then himself addressed the crowd:

I want to tell each and every one of you who are here how proud I am of the individual decision that you have made today… By being today you have made the conscious decision to live in your faith rather than die in your fear… God bless you, have a wonderful day, welcome to Cornerstone Church.

Given this context, it is likely that the audience included many regular Cornerstone worshippers. The church only felt the need to distance itself from the event after the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant – which was led from the stage by Clark himself – went viral.

The event was the sixth “ReAwaken America” rally organised by Clark, who was previously better known as a business coach. Their purpose is to embed Trumpism and QAnon-adjacent conspiracy discourses within American evangelicalism (pastors get 50% off the price of attendance, according to the poster), and I discussed a previous rally in Colorado here. Mike Flynn was once against the headline speaker, but for the first time the San Antonio rally also included Alex Jones, just hours before Jones was found by a court to be liable for the vile lies he had previously spread about the Sandy Hook families and their murdered children.

Flynn also brought media attention to the rally with a call for “one religion” in the USA. Richard Land also rejects this:

Gen. Flynn’s statement, “If we are going to have one nation under God…we have to have one religion,one nation under God, and one religion under God” is ——unChristian,unAmerican, and unBaptistic! Has the General never read the First Amendment?

Flynn’s vision of the “one religion” is somewhat vague – we might assume that he simply means a plurality of Christian strands, but at a different event in Nebraska last month he infamously read out a prayer that was later found to be based on a prayer that appears in a work by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, which she claimed to have received from esoteric “Ascended Masters”. The previous ReAwaken America rally in Colorado also included Seth Holehouse, a Falon Gong adherent and reporter for Epoch Times, and Christiane Northrup, a New Agey “wellness” guru. Given that John Hagee’s own conspiracy teachings encompass a belief that in the last days the Anti-Christ will introduce a syncretic “false religion”, you might think he would be wary of Flynn’s motives and proposal.

John Hagee also presents himself as a fervent ally of Jews and the state of Israel, and it’s not clear how Judaism fits into Flynn’s vision. The issue is often fudged via the term “Judaeo-Christian”, the belief being that the two religions are essentially two branches of the same thing but that Jews can’t see it yet – thus there is no need for evangelicals to risk offending Jews by trying to convert them. Another aspect of this perspective is evangelical Judaic cosplay and appropriation (e.g. here and here), often under the guidance of “Hebrew Roots” teachers. John Hagee sometimes appears wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, and the ReAwaken America rally at his church also featured a shofar.

Media Profiles Anti-Vaxxer Targeting TV Presenters

Michael Chaves also linked to “Satanic Ritual Abuse” protestor Lydia Lowe

From The Times, a few days ago:

A former paramedic who was sacked after a patient accused him of stealing £800 is the ringleader of an anti-vaccination movement that protested at the home of Jeremy Vine.

In 2005 Michael Manoel Chaves and Mohammed Ali, a colleague, were dismissed by the London Ambulance Service, but were later acquitted of theft by a jury.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate says that Chaves is the leader of Learn Something New Today, a group which believes that Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, is a murderer, vaccinations will kill children and Joe Biden is not human.

Michael Chaves also features in today’s Daily Mail, although the bylined “Daily Mail Investigations Team” managed to confuse Chaves filming someone doorstepping Vine’s home with Chaves himself. The person filmed by Chaves was delivering a nonsensical pseudo-legal “notice of liability”.

The targeting of television presenters at home seems to be an extension of recent protests in central London at media offices (blogged here and here). On 2 October Chaves was present at a protest at the Kent home of TV doctor Hillary Jones – Chaves can be seen here standing next to a man with a megaphone who delivered a threatening message (“We will come for every single one of you. We will remain lawful as long as we can”).

However, the media reports have failed to notice overlap between Chaves and activists involved with the resurgent “Satanic Ritual Abuse” protest crowd that blocked Tower Bridge in August (for reasons that included demonstrating support for convicted child kidnapper Wilfred Wong). In particular, Chaves can be seen here posing with Lydia Lowe as Lowe holds up a copy of the Evening Standard headlining Sajid Javid’s attack on anti-vaxx protests at schools.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s (perhaps erstwhile) associate Jeanne Archer was recently seen protesting outside Windsor Castle, alleging that the royal family “are not even human” and torture children in Satanic rituals and then drink their adrenochrome. As ever, her group included her security escort James Zikic.

 

Mike Flynn Gets Evangelical Crowd to Recite Adapted Elizabeth Clare Prophet Prayer

(H/T: Jim Stewartson and Karen Piper)

Last month, former US General Mike Flynn addressed a crowd at an evangelical Christian Right conference called “Opening the Heavens 2021“. The event was organised by Pastors Hank and Brenda Kunneman of Lord of Hosts Church and One Voice Ministries in Omaha, Nebraska, although it was held over the river at a nearby conference centre in Council Bluffs, Iowa; other speakers included Gene Bailey, Tony Saurez, Kent Christmas, Mario Murillo, Lance Wallnau and Samuel Rodriguez. The first night was streamed via the Victory Channel, a network created by the prosperity evangelist Kenneth Copeland, with the rest streamed by Kunneman’s church.

Flynn ended his speech with a strangely distinctive prayer, which was repeated verbatim by those in attendance and in all likelihood by many of those watching the videostream:

We are your instrument of those sevenfold rays and all your archangels, all of them. We will not retreat, we will not retreat. We will stand our ground. We will not fear to speak. We will be the instrument of your will, whatever it is. In your name and the name of your legions. We are freeborn, and we shall remain freeborn. And we shall not be enslaved by any foe within and without, so help me God.

This has been identified as a modified version of a prayer that appears in the work of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a religious teacher whose main influences were Theosophy and the I AM Movement. In the 1980s, she famously advised followers to move to Montana to escape an imminent nuclear apocalypse. Prophet died in 2009, but her Church Universal and Triumphant – inevitably dubbed a “doomsday cult” by the media – still has some followers and offshoots, and the groups and ideas she drew from also remain current.

Prophet’s version of the prayer appears in a book called Maitreya on the Image of God: A Study in Christhood by the Great Initiator Book II, which is also Volume 27 in a series called “Pearls of Wisdom: Teachings of the Ascended Masters”. The book appears to have been assembled from pamphlets called “Pearls of Wisdom”, this one being Volume 27 Number 48A. Here is her version:

I AM the instrument of those sevenfold rays and archangels!
And I will not retreat. I will take my stand
I will not fear to speak.
And I will be the instrument of God’s will, whatever it is
Here I AM, so help me, God!
In the name of Archangel Michael and his legions,
I AM freeborn and I shall remain freeborn!
And I shall not be enslaved by any foe within and without!

A note explains that “This dictation by Archangel Michael was delivered by the Messenger of the Great White Brotherhood Elizabeth Clare Prophet on Tuesday, July 3, 1984”. It was subsequently included in a pdf compilation titled Prayers, Meditation and Dynamic Decrees for Personal and World Transformation.

Why on earth would Flynn use such a text? He was asked about it in an interview, and gave a non-explanation:

I carry with me a prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, who I am named after.

…That prayer that I gave, I woke up that morning prior to going on to support the Victory Channel and Hank Kunneman…. So I got up that morning and I felt that when I finish my talk I want to finish with a prayer and I was thinking about what should I say, and I carry with me this little card and on this card is the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. So I basically gave a rendition of that prayer, and that’s really what this whole thing is about.

So all these people who talk about turning to whatever… people need to stop overthinking what everybody is saying and listen to what is happening around us.

A lecture on “overthinking” is hard to take from someone who is so prominent within the US conspiracy theory milieu and speaker circuit.

For some reason, Flynn doesn’t tell us how he came to have this card in the first place, nor does he address the issue of its esoteric/occult provenance or its modification. Most Christians would regard a prayer derived from Prophet as inappropriate, and evangelicals – particularly at the neo-Pentecostal end – would normally recoil in horror at the “demonic” connotations of reciting such a text. Yet there is no sign that Kunneman or any other prominent evangelical figure has a problem with what Flynn did, and the only one to have spoken out so far against Flynn’s “seven rays” reference is the fringe anti-Semite pastor Rick Wiles.

Satanic Ritual Abuse Fanatic Wilfred Wong Sentenced Over Child Kidnap

Wong “realises he should never have accepted” claims made by accomplice

Court hears reference from MP who previously worked with Wong

Father of child still “trolled” by Wong’s supporters

The North Wales Chronicle reports from the court sentencing of Wilfred Wong and his accomplices, following their convictions for child kidnap:

Nicholas Williams, for Wong, said his client had been on a a “rescue mission”.

Wong had worked in human rights for 30 years and Mr Williams read out a reference on behalf of Sir Edward Leigh MP which stated Wong had done “good work” writing letters from victims to be sent to ambassadors.

He said: “Mr Wong’s motivation was not to cause harm to this child but to prevent harm.

“Mr Wong’s motives were good albeit misguided and misplaced. But his actions were not good because they crossed that line into criminality.”

Wong, 56, was fed “misinformation” by Anke Hill about alleged abuse.

Mr Williams said: “This fed into Mr Wong’s already established beliefs of the prolific nature of SRA (Satanic Ritual Abuse).

Wong thought a kidnap plot using a knife “was the lesser of two evils”.

“But he realises he should never have accepted everything she (Anke Hill) was telling him.”

The reference to “Wong’s motivation” seems to be Williams’s own mitigation argument rather than part of Leigh’s statement, although the distinction is not quite clearly made. By “victims”, Leigh presumably means persecuted Christians, rather than supposed “victims” of SRA; more on this below.

Wong’s apparent repudiation of Hill will be welcome to the father of the kidnapped child, who told the court that he continues to suffer “malicious online trolling by friends of Wilfred Wong and his Satanic ritual abuse agenda”. Hill had previously made a false report about him to the authorities, and the court heard she had “also offered to pay someone £10,000 to have him killed”. Even now, Wong has radicalised supporters who describe him as “wrongfully convicted”,

However, Wong’s change of heart is difficult take seriously – previously, there hasn’t been a single “Satanic Ritual Abuse” allegation in the land that he hasn’t enthusiastically taken up, and his admission is completely at odds with his court testimony, which was that he just happened to be in a car with some people when to his surprise they decided to kidnap a child. It is typical, though, of a man who continues to blame others for his predicament. Hill probably did tell Wong things that he wanted to hear, but he chose not to do any due diligence and there is no doubt that he orchestrated the kidnap plot, during which he waved a knife at a woman.

As an evangelical, Wong has been obsessing over Satanic Ritual Abuse for years, and more recently he has been fêted by the “alternative media” crowd, appearing in interviews with the likes of Jon Wedger, Shaun Attwood and UK Column’s Brian Gerrish. Edward Leigh’s intervention, in contrast, highlights Wong’s establishment connections. Old details archived on the website of the House of Commons lists him as “Researcher and Parliamentary Officer, Jubilee Campaign”. This is a high profile and respected lobby group that campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians and on issues of child protection around the world; its founder, Danny Smith, worked closely with Lord Alton in establishing the organisation, and in 2005 Alton told parliament that

Jubilee Campaign is the secretariat of the All-Party Group on Street Children. I particularly commend the work of its administrator, Mr Wilfred Wong, the human rights lawyer.

Wong authored written evidence submitted by the campaign to parliament on matters relating to the plight of Iraqi Christians following the fall of Saddam Hussein and to minorities in Burma, and he has links with Chaldo-Assyrian organisations as well as a children’s charity in Egypt. In 2011, Leigh echoed Alton’s earlier comment with his own reference to Wong in Parliament:

I pay tribute to Mr Wilfred Wong, who for 20 years has helped MPs to raise the plight of persecuted Christians in numerous letters to the Foreign Office. 

This focus does not mean that Wong’s obsession with SRA was just some private eccentricity unrelated to his work in Parliament; way back in 2002 Alton actually chaired a meeting on the subject organised by Wong. As the Daily Telegraph reported:

RITUAL satanic abuse is back. Yesterday, a private meeting at Westminster, chaired by Lord Alton, discussed assaults on children by hooded, chanting Satanists. “You may be aware,” the organisers said, “that, for several years, there have been reports of the ritual abuse of children and in some cases ritual murder. The rituals reportedly often involve the Black Mass and the wearing of robes. Adult survivors of ritual abuse are divulging important evidence regarding the large scale of this problem in the UK.”

One of the organisers, Wilfred Wong, an evangelical Christian, is campaigning for ritual abuse to be made a specific crime, so that the Satanists – responsible for “hundreds, if not thousands” of sexual assaults and murders – can be brought to justice. “But so far little has been done,” he says plaintively.

Tellingly, unlike Edward Leigh, Alton has not to my knowledge made any public comment about Wong’s conviction.

Note on sentencing

It was originally announced that Wong had been sentenced to 22 years in prison, although it later transpired that this actually meant 17 years plus 5 years on licence. One of his accomplices, a therapist named Janet Stevenson (blogged here), was similarly said to have received 20 years, which meant 15 years plus 5 years on licence. Hill got 14.5 years. Of the other defendants, Stevenson’s husband Edward Stevenson got 8 years, Jane Going-Hill got 4.5 years and Karen Ellis-Petley 4 years. Going-Hill’s partner, a retired psychiatric nurse named Robert Frith, took his own life while in prison on remand, and one defendant, Karren Sawford, was acquitted.

Their ages as given last November were as follows: Anke Hill, 51; Jane Going-Hill, 59; Robert Frith, 65; Edward Stevenson, 68; Janet Stevenson, 66; and Wilfred Wong, 55.

Trumpist Anti-Vax Christian Right Conspiracy Tour Reaches Colorado

From the Guardian, earlier this month:

Top loyalists to Donald Trump, who frequently push lies about election fraud, have joined forces with conservative doctors touting unproven Covid cures and vaccine skepticism, and like-minded evangelical ministers at a series of events across the US this summer.

The conservative “ReAwaken America” tour – featuring ex-general Michael Flynn and top Donald Trump loyalist donors – has held events in Florida, Michigan and other states.

…While the tour has touted Flynn’s key role, a Tulsa Oklahoma media figure and Christian entrepreneur named Clay Clark has been instrumental in orchestrating the gatherings – also dubbed “health and freedom” conferences – using his “ThriveTime” podcast and radio show and Charisma News coverage.

I previously noted Clark in December, when he interviewed Lin Wood on his podcast; Charisma News, meanwhile, is a website controlled by the neo-Pentecostal media conglomerate Charisma Media. Charisma’s CEO Stephen Strang is among the “ReAwaken America” speakers – he was recently profiled in the New York Times, and back in 2005 he was one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America“. His own books include God and Donald Trump, which Trump himself brandished at Davos a few years ago, and a recent effort called God and Cancel Culture, which comes with a foreword by Mike Lindell.  Charisma News is billed on some materials the “sponsor” of the ReAwakening America rallies.

The most recent tour event has been taking place in Colorado – choice extracts have been uploaded to Twitter by a sceptical commentator named Jim Stewartson in threads that start here and here. As expected, it’s a grotesque spectacle of alarming crowd manipulation, vicious conspiracy rhetoric and ludicrous religious theatre, as well as explicit shout-outs to QAnon. Many of the cast are well-known – Greg Locke, “demon sperm lady” Dr Stella Emmanuel, Mike Flynn himself – but the roster also includes many others: a Rhema prosperity evangelist working in Kenya named Vidar Ligard; a pastor named Todd Coconato (“Jesus would not take the vaccine”… “this is the End Time harvest”); one Kevin Jenkins, of the Urban Global Health Alliance (“everybody hug each other tight… I’m watching”); Cindy Chafian from Moms for America; and a Polish Canadian street preacher named Artur Pawlowski. Despite the Christian Right vibe, though, the event was ecumenical enough to include Seth Holehouse, a Falon Gong adherent and reporter for Epoch Times (“we’re living under a fake government… we’ve got fake currency… a fake pandemic”), and Christiane Northrup, a New Agey “wellness” guru who apparently called the CDC a “Covid Death Cult” (1). Speakers at previous tour events in Florida and Michigan have included Sidney Powell and – keeping the British end up – disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield.

The stage is notable for a backdrop featuring the images of Mike Flynn, Mike Lindell, Sidney Powell and others, with variations according to location. There’s also a big banner promoting a book by Clay Clark called Fear Unmasked (Amazon has a photo of Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota posing with a copy). A new edition of the book, Fear Unmasked 2.0 (“more resources to kill the spirit of fear and giving YOU an action plan to save America”), has a different cover: a sinister montage featuring George Soros, Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, Neil Ferguson, Rupert Murdoch (?) and for some reason Jeffrey Epstein.

Footnote

1. Northrup’s book A Mom’s Guide to the COVID Shot is published by Clay Clark’s Thrive Edutainment imprint. According to publicity materials, the author “shares the truth about what is in the COVID-19 vaccine and the effects it is having on those who have received it”. Northrup is notable in that in 2013 she was apparently one of Reader’s Digest’s “100 Most Trusted People in America”, and in 2016 “she was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a group of leaders who are using their voices and talent to awaken humanity”. She’s also on the Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine “Spiritual 100 List” as one of their 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.

Some Notes on the Media and Wuhan “Lab-Leak” Claims

From the Daily Mail, last week:

Rand Paul says Fauci LIED to Congress by insisting US never funded gain-of-function research at Wuhan lab after newly unearthed grant proposal reveals how scientists studied bat coronavirus with American money

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been accused of lying to Congress by claiming the US did not fund gain-of-function research after newly unearthed documents regarding the grant proposal a study at the Wuhan lab blamed for creating COVID were made public for the first time.

The files were obtained by The Intercept as part of an FOI request to drill down the possible root of COVID and whether the US had any role in it.

…Nowhere in the report are the words gain-of-function used to describe the project.

The only mention of it is the NIH’s addition that ‘no funds are provided and no funds can be used to support gain-of-function research’.

Framing the story via an allegation by a politician is less of a risky investment, but it also shows a certain lack of confidence in the claims; and the NIH quote specifically ruling out gain-of-function research is something of an anti-climax. Oddly, the quote was not even mentioned by the original Intercept article, although it refers a different part of the same document:

The bat coronavirus grant provided EcoHealth Alliance with a total of $3.1 million, including $599,000 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used in part to identify and alter bat coronaviruses likely to infect humans. Even before the pandemic, many scientists were concerned about the potential dangers associated with such experiments. The grant proposal acknowledges some of those dangers: “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.”

“Alter” here hints at “gain of function”, but of course the word has wider meanings. But why does the article follow “the potential dangers associated with such experiments” with a quote about the (well-known) potential dangers of harvesting samples in the wild? It’s a non-sequitur, and so weird that it undermines confidence in the authors.

The article also refers to “900 pages of information”, a rhetorical strategy that implies a mass of pertinent evidence rather than a few points that may be relevant to the discussion here and there. I expressed some frustration about this on social media to Richard Ebright, one of the more high-profile “lab-leak” proponents, and was  surprised to get a personal response, which was that I was a “troll” and “stupid“. Despite this irascibility, however, Ebright also kindly directed me to the Intercept‘s follow up article, a more discursive discussion with a range of views as to what “gain of function” actually entails (1).

Claims about “gain of function” at Wuhan seem to me to be compensatory for the failure to establish firm evidence of human manipulation in samples of SARS-CoV-2. This is also why lab-leak proponents have positioned themselves having overcome a “cover-up”. Thus the Daily Telegraph last month, reporting on a Channel 4 documentary:

Scientists created false narrative over suspected Covid leak from Wuhan lab, say experts

Last February, a group of 27 scientists, including Sir Jeremy Farrar, president of the Wellcome Trust, wrote a letter in The Lancet stating: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.”

However, it later emerged that one of the key people behind the letter was Peter Daszak, who had worked closely with Wuhan scientists researching Sars-related coronaviruses in bats. An addendum to The Lancet letter setting out his links to the Chinese lab was not published until June this year.

A further article published in Nature Medicine also claimed there was no evidence to suggest that the virus had been manipulated. But scientists told filmmakers it was wrong to draw such conclusions based on the available evidence.

David Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, who advises the US government on biological threats and risks, said: “I was a little perplexed and a little bit upset with five very good scientists, some of whom I know well, who I thought stepped way out beyond what they should have been saying, based on the data available to all of us.”

Richard Ebright, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, added: “These were not scientific papers, they did not present scientific evidence, they did not analyse and support scientific data, they were presenting opinion, they did not belong in scientific journals.

“A small group of scientists, aided by journalists, established and enforced a false narrative that science showed Sars-Cov-2 was a natural zoonotic spillover and a further false narrative that this was the scientific consensus.”

Both the letter and the short article were published in the correspondence sections of their respective journals, which undermines Ebright’s complaint – of course they “present opinion”, that’s what that part of an academic journal is for.

The Lancet letter appeared during a period in which conspiracy theories were rife – a PolitiFact page from a month before lists all kinds of wild claims, including far-reaching “bioweapon” allegations that were being promoted by Steve Bannon and Miles Guo. Given this context, it was perfectly reasonable to refer to “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin”. When Bannon and Guo went on to produce a supposed whistleblower named Li-Meng Yan, she was all over the media with extraordinary claims that the chimerical nature of the virus was blatantly obvious and that the only reason other scientists weren’t saying so was because of the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (2). If more nuanced “lab-leak” or “infected scientist” theories (not all of which require a non-natural virus) weren’t gaining traction, I suggest that this kind of sensationalist material was the reason, rather than the media being overawed and cowed by a letter in the Lancet. Lab-leak claims were promoted in particular by the UK Mail on Sunday during the months that followed the Lancet letter. (3)

There have also been attempts to personally discredit the Lancet letter writers, the suggestion being that they failed to disclose their own links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This formed the basis for an attack piece that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Friday (syndicated to Yahoo! News here), which has now been followed up with a piece in the Daily Mail. The articles do not reveal anything not already in the public domain and some of the linkages are tenuous or by second-degree. The Lancet letter includes a reference to “our colleagues on the frontline”, which wouldn’t have been included had the authors been attempting to give a false impression of personal distance. A mountain range is being made out of molehills.

The new Telegraph article also includes exultant commentary from two scientists the newspaper has promoted previously:

Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St Georges, University of London, and Norwegian scientist Birger Sorensen, who struggled to have work published showing a link between the virus and Wuhan research, said there had been an “extreme cover-up”.

Commenting on the discovery that so many of the signatories were linked to China, they said: “This article is the first to show beyond reasonable doubt that our entire area of virus research has been contaminated politically. We bear the scars to show it.”

The “struggle” here appears to mean the usual peer review process, and no evidence is provided that well-grounded arguments were excluded unfairly. And I’m wary of a lecture on “political contamination” from a former UKIP candidate.

The Telegraph‘s previous article on Dalgleish and Sorensen emerged out of a Telegraph podcast involving Richard Dearlove, the retired former head of MI6. Dearlove was impressed by their work, and his endorsement has given “lab leak” claims the mystique of intelligence, even though he doesn’t know anything more about it than the general public. The authority of intelligence agencies also forms the basis for a new book by an Australian journalist named Sharri Markson, entitled What Really Happened In Wuhan. Speaking recently to Maajid Nawaz on LBC, Markson said that she had spoken to people who had seen “top secret” intelligence:

“I’ve interviewed President Trump, I’ve interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, twice over the past six months, I’ve interviewed John Ratcliffe, who was the director of national intelligence in the United States, along with many others including Sir Richard Dearlove… who was the head of British intelligence, and all of these people… give it very high probability that it leaked from a lab.”

Back in May, however, it was reported that Markson’s

exclusive about a “chilling” document produced by Chinese military scientists is based on a discredited 2015 book containing conspiracy theories about biological warfare which is freely available on the internet.

The book itself is out later this month from HarperCollins (4).

Notes

1. I got off lightly with Ebright – someone else who made a similar point to me got “shit-for-brains idiot” in reply. In fairness, though, variations of this stock insult are also deployed liberally by Ebright against anti-vaxxers and the likes of Sebastian Gorka.

2. Yan has since fallen out with Guo, a development that doesn’t appear to have caught much media interest.

3. In August 2021, Peter Embarek, Head of the WHO Mission to Wuhan, told a Danish interviewer that a Chinese scientist being infected while harvesting samples in the field is a “likely hypothesis” for the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Even though this was just a casual comment provided months after the WHO’s report, the The Times mispresented it as the organisation’s new official position, with the sensational headline “First Covid carrier probably Chinese scientist, says WHO”. The paper also used a file photo of Embarek holding up a scientific diagram, thus falsely giving the impression that he was presenting new findings rather than speaking informally. Of course, the headline on its own also implies the possibility of a lab-leak, although Embarek’s opinion is that this is “unlikely” (downscaled from the WHO report’s “highly unlikely”).

4. Markson’s choice of publisher shows how the world has changed over the years. Way back in 1998 Rupert Murdoch told the company not to publish a book about China by Chris Patten, as he feared it might damage his prospects of doing business in the country.

High-Profile Victims of “Police Corruption, Incompetence and Malpractice” Join Forces

From Stephen Wright in the Daily Mail:

A landmark panel of victims of police corruption, incompetence and malpractice today call for the head of Cressida Dick.

In a bombshell open letter to Boris Johnson, they said the disaster-prone Met commissioner should not be handed a two-year contract extension as expected.

Led by Stephen Lawrence’s trailblazing mother, Baroness Lawrence, and Lady Brittan, widow of Tory home secretary Leon Brittan, the signatories all give Dame Cressida a resounding vote of no confidence.

They also demand an overhaul of the Met’s senior team, ‘urgent and long overdue’ reform of the police complaints system and a shake-up of the ‘unfit for purpose’ Independent Office for Police Conduct.

…The group of seven influential figures includes the son of D-Day hero Lord Bramall, BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, the brother of axe murder victim Daniel Morgan, Edward Heath’s biographer Michael McManus and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor.

The group was brought together by the paper, and the article includes an extraordinary group photograph that encapsulate the two most serious aspects of police malpractice: persecution of the innocent, and failure to bring the guilty to account.

Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor were famously victimised when the Metropolitan Police declared that outlandish claims by the false accuser Carl Beech were “credible and true” – Beech also accused the late Edward Heath, which explains McManus’s participation. Paul Gambaccini, meanwhile, was one of several innocent celebrities caught up in Operation Yewtree – I previously discussed a 2015 event where he appeared alongside the innocent one-time murder suspect Christopher Jefferies, in a post where I specifically highlighted the relevance of their experiences for the Harvey Proctor case.

Police failings as regards the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Daniel Morgan of course go back to the 1990s and 1980s, but Doreen Lawrence has argued that there are still lines of enquiry to be pursued and Alastair Morgan has had to overcome one police obstruction after another.

I expect that some people who are sympathetic to the cause will be put off simply by the fact that the group has been brought together by the Daily Mail. Indeed, some of those who attended the meeting might have had misgivings. Early reports (not by Wright) during Operation Midland were credulous and sensationalising, and the Mail‘s sister paper the Mail on Sunday ran several articles uncritically amplifying Wiltshire Police’s ludicrous probe into Heath – the editor at the time was Geordie Greig, who now edits the Mail. The Mail has also run at least one story co-authored by a freelancer who is close to one of the Daniel Morgan murder suspects. In contrast, the Mail has been supportive of Doreen Lawrence for many years, in 1997 famously denouncing her son’s killers by name and daring them to sue for libel.

As the former associate Guardian editor Michael White noted in May, “We all reach our own compromises on media”. I’m frequently appalled by how stories are framed by Mail titles, but dud articles have to be pulled apart on an individual basis. A blanket dismissal that says “it’s in the Daily Mail, it can’t be true” is simply inadequate given the resources at the paper’s disposal. Stephen Wright appears to be doing a sterling job holding the Metropolitan Police to account, and anyone who is offered such a huge platform would be ill-advised to turn it down just because the paper is not to their taste.

There are, though, a couple of points I would add:

1. Although the campaigners are focused on the Metropolitan Police, the issues arising are of relevance to the public across the country. McManus refers to Wiltshire Police’s Operation Conifer, and Gambaccini’s experiences are comparable to those of Cliff Richard, who was persecuted by South Yorkshire Police. Bad practice is likely to be pervasive.

2. It should be remembered that for every high profile botched case involving the most serious crimes and allegations we can assume dozens of lesser cases, often with more ambiguous outcomes where journalists may be less inclined to take up the cause.

London: Third Week of Targeted Protests By Anti-Vaxxers Dressed in Black

From BBC News:

Four officers have been injured during clashes with anti-vaccine protesters in central London, the Met Police said.

…Demonstrators tried to storm the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) headquarters in central London. Protesters then moved to South Kensington.

…The protest comes after journalists working for ITN were trapped in their offices when a group of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters forced their way into the broadcaster’s London headquarters on 23 August.

That followed an incident two week before when a crowd thought to be made up of anti-vaccine protesters tried to gain access to the BBC’s old headquarters in White City, west London.

Social media clips show that this was pretty much the same crowd at each event, dressed predominately in black and not carrying placards. As at the BBC protest (blogged here), there was at least one attendee wearing the red beret of the Parachute Regiment; another regular, described as a ringleader, is noted in a Twitter thread here. After proceeding from the MHRA building in Canary Wharf the main target in South Kensington was reportedly the Science Museum (presumably because it hosts an NHS vaccination centre), but there was also a more general melee at South Kensington tube station and at the south end of Exhibition Road.

Although the protests are primarily anti-vax (or toned down to “anti-vaccine passports” for some audiences), there are also QAnon-adjacent grievances: thus at last week’s ITN protest in Gray’s Inn Road, when the Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow was spotted entering the ITN building by a side entrance he was accosted by a protestor who called him “rat” who didn’t “speak up for the children”. Another shouted after him “Are you a paedophile, Jon?”. The BBC’s Marianna Spring recognised one of these protestors:

The man featured here at 14 minutes told our team that we should be executed for crimes against humanity. He then posted on Instagram calling me a rat.

He has appeared at these rallies a number of times promoting online conspiracies and violent rhetoric.

Noting yesterday’s MHRA protest she now adds:

Violence from protesters is escalating – and increasingly organised. Telegram channels discuss weapons and use threatening language about executions. This is a topic I’m continuing to report on in the coming months.

Vulnerable Woman Tells of “Devastation and Fury” at Exploitation by Satanic Ritual Abuse Obsessives

Private Eye magazine has a new article (Issue 1555, page 38) about Wilfred Wong and Janet Stevenson, two Satanic Ritual Abuse obsessives who are currently in prison awaiting sentencing following a delusional child “rescue” during which Wong threatened a woman with a knife. The magazine has been contacted by a woman from Brighton whose husband appeared as a witness at the trial, during which he testified that Wong had attempted to recruit him as the getaway driver:

He told the court he and his wife were church goers and his wife had been in touch with Wong via social networks, trying to understand the cause of her own childhood abuse. Wong put her in touch with Stevenson who reinforced the idea she was a victim of Satanists. This extremely vulnerable woman, who cannot be named, has been in contact with the Eye and told of her devastation and fury that she was exploited and misled by Wong and Stevenson.

I discussed this previously here. The Eye also notes that Stevenson

advertised her services on Twitter as “Catalysing positive growth and healing through coaching and counselling, Christian. Works with Trauma, DID.”… The court heard Stevenson specialised in working with “victims of satanic abuse” whom Wilfred Wong referred to her.

“DID” here refers to “dissociative identity disorder”, formerly known as “multiple personality disorder” and a contested diagnosis frequently associated by believers with ritual abuse claims. Stevenson was based in Crawley, and so would have been accessible from Brighton.

One question this raises, of course, is how many other vulnerable adults have been “exploited and misled” by Stevenson and by other counsellors and therapists obsessed with the idea that child sex abuse is evidence of secret Satanic cabals – a belief which, when accepted by the patient, in turn reinforces the therapist’s own worldview (I looked at one example here). It’s not known with what strand of Christianity Stevenson is affiliated, but it’s likely that she adheres to a form of dualism in which Christians, identified with absolute good, see themselves as engaged in spiritual warfare against absolute evil, imagined simplistically as a literal inversion of Christian belief and practices. (1)

The article also mentions Jeanette Archer, noting that earlier this year

she was charged with disobeying a court order banning publication of information which could identify the abducted child. In February she pleaded guilty at Mold magistrates’ court to breaching a direction under the Youth Justice an Criminal Evidence Act.

Archer has in recent weeks led a number of protests in London alleging widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse, including one that shut down traffic on Tower Bridge, and her increasing militancy may to some extent be a reaction to Wong’s failure and disgrace (as well as her own claims coming under scrutiny). The Tower Bridge protest began outside Freemasons’ Hall near Covent Garden, and included a speech by one Morven Fyfe, a qualified psychotherapist who cited the Tavistock Centre and the publisher Routledge as evidence that SRA claims have academic standing. Real Troll Exposure notes that Fyfe at one time held a company directorship with the Joan Coleman of Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support, whose infamous RAINS List of famous people who are or were allegedly secret Satanic abusers is one of the more influential documents in British SRA conspiricism (there is no suggestion that Fyfe has any association with Wong or Stevenson).

Note

(1) Although Stevenson is a Christian, this is not the only ideological motivator of Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy beliefs. In particular, despite the SRA panic of the 1980s in part being a conservative reaction against the rise of day-care services for working mothers, SRA claims have also been accepted by radical feminists who take the view that it is wrong on principle to express agnosticism or scepticism about even the most outlandish and inconsistent allegations. Being “in the know” as regards Satanic conspiracies also adds an extra layer of meaning and significance to the grim reality of sex abuse, and so appeals in the same way as other conspiracy theories.