Labour Councillor Attempts to Mainstream “Rothschild” Conspiracy Theories

John Clarke, a Labour Party councillor in Essex and a one-time Parliamentary candidate, makes an announcement:

This followed a Tweet stating that he objects “2 Rothschild & co. against their greed, monopolistic exploitations and unchecked power”.

This is apparently Clarke’s idea of damage limitation, having shortly before manually RTed a Tweet by a neo-Nazi Twitter user who had uploaded a text image containing the following proposition:

Israel owns the Senate, the Congress and the executive branch. but … who owns Israel? The Rothschild family who has been creating almost all of the world’s money at interest for a couple hundred years. They have used usury alongside modern Israel as an imperial instrument to take over the world and all of it’s resources, including you and I… and if you have a problem with that, you’re an “anti-semite”

The image also included a Star of David and a photo of Jacob Rothschild. It was produced by Smoloko News, an American neo-Nazi and anti-Jewish conspiracy website that produces many such “meme” images, and the site’s url is included at the bottom of the the image promoted by Clarke. Clarke commended the image as “an oversimplified view of the world economy but containing a great deal of truth”, while the Twitter account that he eventually conceded “probably” anti-Semitic includes a graphic of Adolf Hitler in its avatar and describes itself by announcing “THERE WERE NO GAS CHAMBERS – HITLER WAS RIGHT 88”.

Clarke now presents himself as victim of “nutters” (here) and of “faux outrage” from “Zionists”, who “will find Antisemitisim in ANYTHING” (here). He eventually announced that he had blocked the account he had formerly advertised, acknowledging that it had posted “pro Nazi propaganda” and adding that “I regret RT’ing his/her rubbish but disagree actions were ever Antisemitic”. He also emphasised his support for Palestinian rights.

Clarke’s Tweets about being “anti-Rothschild” are worth noting as the mainstreaming of a particular conspiracy theory: that of “Rothschild Zionism”. I’m not sure where this phrase originally came from, but it is particularly associated with the rhetoric of David Icke. The term does not purport to identify a particular kind of Zionism, but rather to uncover the essential nature of Zionism. As Icke wrote in 2009:

Zionism is a political creed introduced by the House of Rothschild to advance the goals of the Illuminati families that are largely controlled by the Rothschilds. When people think of Zionism they think of Jewish people.

When they think of Israel they think of Jewish people. That’s understandable given the propaganda, but it is seriously misleading and those instant connections need to be broken if we are going to understand what’s going on here.

Zionism means Rothschild just as Israel means Rothschild. When we see the extraordinary number of Zionists in key positions around the world we are looking not at ‘manipulating Jews’, but manipulating Zionists representing the interests and demands of the Rothschilds.

…Today, Rothschild Illuminati fronts like the Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Royal Institute of International Affairs, and others, still answer to the Round Table which string-pulls and coordinates from the shadows. This is why Zionists in government are invariably connected with these Rothschild-controlled organisations.

If Clarke’s obsession with “Rothschild” is not derived from this kind of conspiracy mongering, then where has it come from? It is no secret that Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild supported early Zionist settlement in Palestine and that other members of the family have maintained support for Israel ever since – but if there is some reputable work in history or political science in which “Rothschild” provides a credible explanation for the history of modern Israel and its current place in global affairs, I’m not aware of it. And neither is Clarke, who, instead of citing such a source, can only bluster and block.

And what about the alleged “greed” of the Rothschild banking dynasty? Again, there is no evidence that this is a particular characteristic of the family that stands out within the banking or financial sector – and Jacob Rothschild is actually on record as having “sympathy” with the Occupy movement that emerged in the post-2008 banking crisis. That crisis, of course, was caused by reckless lending rather than high interest rates, which is the “usury” to which Clarke’s regrettable source refers, and the banks responsible were American investment banks (particularly Lehman Brothers) rather than the Rothschild Group (despite conspiracy theories).

I doubt very much that Clarke knows anything much about the various members of the Rothschild banking dynasty, or has undertaken any study of the financial sector and the position of the Rothschild Group within it. Perhaps, in a world of faceless multinational banking corporations, it’s easier to interpret financial trends through the imagined motivations of an old-fashioned banking dynasty – and in the case of “Rothschild”, there’s a ready store of anti-Semitic conspiracy literature to draw on, going back to the early nineteenth century (as discussed by Brian Cathcart here).

In some cases, this kind of literature gets recycled with the overt anti-Jewish element downplayed: for instance, in 1991 the US televangelist Pat Robertson published a book called The New World Order, which recycled old anti-Jewish conspiracy theories by the likes of Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins but emphasising the Illuminati and Freemasons rather than Jewish bankers. Icke, meanwhile, rants about extra-terrestrials and a “Jewish clique” rather than Jews in general. But that kind of fine distinction is functionally meaningless, given the extravagances of the theory being proposed: it is one thing to criticise Israel based on facts, but quite another to propose paranoid pseudo-explanations for human affairs that are no more than a gateway to explicit anti-Semitism. Clarke’s idiotic inability to see the obvious anti-Semitism of his source at once is a case in point.

In the 2015 General Election, Clarke stood for Labour in the consistency of Witham in Essex. He came in third, just behind the UKIP candidate and far behind the Conservative winner, Priti Patel. During the campaign, Clarke made a number of statements about Patel that she regarded as offensive, and for which he apologised after she complained to Ed Milliband. However, he now takes the view that further references to his behaviour during the campaign are evidence that he “hit a nerve” with his claims about her. He also suggests that Patel’s supporters “are behind the Antisemitic lies about me”, based on Oliver Kamm (who has usually voted Labour in elections) raising the subject.

It should be noted that Clarke bills himself as a “retired lecturer”, and his Twitter name indicates that he must be entering his 57th year. In other words, this is not some young activist who doesn’t know much apart from what they find on the internet: this is a man old enough and educated enough to know much better.

UPDATE: In fairness, I’ll note that Clarke did fire off a hostile Tweet at Icke in 2014, after Icke linked to a Daily Mail article about how activists in the Paedophile Information Exchange had associated with Labour Party figures in the 1980s through the National Council for Civil Liberties. Clarke’s view was this was a “conspiracy ‘theory'” that could be dismissed because of the very fact that it had appeared in the Daily Mail.

However, Clarke also believes that “Right wing press attack powerless victims of historic sexual abuse; often taking side of powerful men”; he made that statement in October 2015, at a time when an actual conspiracy theory about politicians and organised paedophilia was falling apart after months of sensationalising coverage.

End-Times Paperback From Birther Pastor who Mocked Sandy Hook Parents as “Actors”

A book advert from WND:

When the Lion Roars: Understanding the Implications of Ancient Prophecies for Our Time

by Carl Gallups

Product Description

The return of Israel. Increased turmoil in the Middle East. China and Russia’s presence in the Fertile Crescent. The exponentially increasing technological explosion. The rise of the Sodom and Gomorrah spirit. These are just a few prophetic fulfillments occurring in our day that point to significant biblical times to come. The Bible is 100 percent accurate in regards to the ancient prophecies—and ours is the first generation to see them converging.

In itself, this is an unexceptional addition to the tottering pile of evangelical paperbacks that have been sold over many decades on the promise that “ours is the first generation” to see ancient Biblical prophecies converging. Most famous, of course, was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, and Gallups appears to have adopted a similar breezy style (one chapter is entitled “Pass the Turkey, Please”, just as Lindsey used desperate puns such as “Sheik to Sheik” and “Russia is A Gog”). Gallups’s book is simply more of the same racket, although it’s worth noting because of the exceptional toxicity of its author and the endorsements it has received.

I’ve been aware of Gallups – pastor of the Hickory Hammock Baptist Church of Milton, Florida – ever since he published a video in which he argued that the Jesus had named the Anti-Christ as “Barack Obama”. Gallups eventually backed down from that, claiming that the “leftist media” been unable to appreciate a piece of “political satire”. More recently, he published a book through WND called The Rabbi Who Found Messiah, which claimed that an elderly Israeli Kabbalist had accepted Jesus as the Messiah shortly before his death in 2005, and that this had End Times significance. He is also known for his birtherism and association with Mike Zullo – it was on Gallups’s radio show that it was first announced that Sheriff Joe Arpaio intended to give a final press conference in December about Obama’s birth certificate.

However, Gallups is most notorious as a sometime Sandy Hook Truther. This achieved wider attention when Gallups led prayers at a Trump campaign rally in January 2016. The Daily Telegraph has the details:

An evangelical pastor who led prayers at a Donald Trump campaign rally has been accused of being a Sandy Hook “truther” who claimed that the school massacre never happened and that the parents of the child victims were “Hollywood actors”.

.It has emerged that on his radio show Freedom Friday earlier this year, Rev Gallups suggested that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school, where Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six staff members in 2012, were a hoax.

…”[David Wheeler] played the part of a grieving father with a woman standing beside him, crying, slinging snot,” said Rev Gallups on the show that aired in February.

“This guy, he and his so-called wife, are standing up there and they’re grieving, and ‘my child, my child, this and that, we gotta get take the guns.’ … This dude is a Hollywood actor, his so-called wife is a Hollywood actor.”

The Trump campaign’s website listed Gallups among a number of Florida “community leaders” whose endorsement it had been “a great honor” for Trump to have received; the page is still live, although after the Sandy Hook comments came to wider attention the campaign’s attitude changed to “I know not the man”. Under pressure, Gallups claimed that he had never endorsed his guest’s view, and uploaded a radio extract titled “Carl Gallups Says Sandy Hook Never Happened? NOPE! Sorry Media Matters!”. However, the original audio is available here. Whatever Gallups’s overarching Sandy Hook theory may be, it is completely unambiguous that he referred to two recently bereaved parents with contemptuous mockery based on a ludicrous conspiracy theory, and that in doing so he degraded the memory of a murdered six-year-old boy, Benjamin Wheeler. Surely such a person should be beyond the pale?

Apparently not. The cover for his new book comes with an endorsement from Joel Richardson, author of The Islamic Antichrist (“Carl Gallup’s prophetic detective work will stoke the fire of urgency and expectancy”), while the first pages feature praise from Pat Boone (“you will become increasingly convinced that we are living in the most profoundly prophetic days since Jesus Christ first walked the earth in the flesh”), Herman Bailey (a televangelist), Mike LeMay (a radio evangelist); and Messianic Rabbi Zev Porat, who uses Gallups’s Rabbi Who Found Messiah book to evangelise Jews in Israel.

The website advertising the book also has blurbs from Zach Drew, who is Jim Bakker’s co-host; Cheryl Chumley (author of another WND title, The Devil in DC: Winning Back the Country from the Beast in Washington); Thomas Horn (who blends Christian fundamentalism with David Icke-style science-fiction conspiracy theories); Richard Syrett (“host of the Conspiracy Show and guest host of Coast To Coast AM“); Laurie Cardoza Moore (of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, a Christian Zionist outfit); Grace Vuoto (“editor of Politics and Culture at World Tribune”; Pastor Mark Biltz (originator of the now-outdated “Blood Moons” End-Times theory); and Gregg Jackson (“bestselling author of Conservative Comebacks To Liberal Lies“).

There’s also a Foreword by WND’s CEO, Joseph Farah. Farah is most famous as the man who guided Trump’s birtherism, but he also represents a link between general conservatism and various Christian Right strands. More recently, Farah has produced his own theological opusThe Restitution Of All Things: Israel, Christians, And The End Of The Age, described as “a primer on the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith”. This does not just mean understanding the historical Jesus in his historical context, or a better appreciation of the Hebrew Bible; rather, it is a specific movement that seeks to purge Christianity of “paganism” and appropriate Jewish cultural elements – hence Farah often prefers to write of “Jesus-Yeshua” rather than just “Jesus”. The book also stresses the idea of Jesus’s thousand year rule over the earth as a literal proposition, during which he will “reign with His faithful friends – true believers like you and me”.

Farah’s own book comes with a cover blurb by Biltz, a log-rolling endorsement from Gallups, and a further endorsement from Bill Cloud, who has also been promoted by the WND website.

Channel 4 Reveals “Sadomasochistic Cult” Allegedly Linked to Elite Evangelical Anglican Camp Holiday

This one is being reported widely; from Channel 4 News:

Police have today launched an investigation into claims that teenage boys from Britain’s leading public schools were violently beaten, in what’s been described as a “sadomasochistic cult” run by a lawyer with links to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Operation Cubic, run by Hampshire Police, will examine allegations uncovered by Channel 4 News that John Smyth QC stripped and brutally lashed 22 young men he had groomed at the Christian youth camps he ran.

Archbishop Justin Welby, who worked at the camps managed by The Iwerne Trust [1], and was once a colleague of Mr Smyth, issued an “unreserved and unequivocal” apology on behalf of the Church of England, admitting it had “failed terribly”.

(For non-British readers: public schools here mean posh private schools) The alleged beatings – so severe that some alleged victims were forced to wear adult nappies due to bleeding – did not occur at the camps themselves. Instead, it is claimed that they took place in  Smyth’s garden shed, after the boys had come under Smyth’s influence. Many of the alleged victims were originally associated with Winchester College, and one, allegedly pursued by Smyth to university, attempted suicide rather than submit to a beating for his 21st birthday.

Smyth (pronounced “John Smythe”) was famous as the “go-to barrister” for “clean up TV” campaigner Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers and Listeners Association, and he represented her in several campaigning legal actions, most famously against Gay News in 1977, for publishing a poem “about a homosexual centurion’s love for Christ at the Crucifixion” (the paper was convicted of the archaic offence of “blasphemous libel”), and against the National Theatre in 1980, for staging a play that featured a homosexual rape scene (although he fell ill before the trial and the case was unsuccessful). As “John J. Smyth QC” he also wrote letters to The Times arguing for controls on video recordings and other subjects (he is also referred to in some sources by his full name and title of John Jackson Smyth QC).

Smyth appears to have had a particular obsession with homosexuality – his website (since deleted, but available on the Internet Archive) includes booklets such as Why Choose Heterosexuality?, Homosexuality and Political Correctness: The Great Media Deception, and The Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality.

Unlike some other historical abuse claims, in this instance we have a very clear paper trail which shows that the Iwerne Trust compiled a report on Smyth in 1982, which was passed to the police by the Titus Trust in 2014 after it took over the Iwerne Trust’s work. Smyth did not challenge the report, but instead left the UK for Zimbabwe in 1984, where he worked for a mission group called Africa Enterprise for two years and then ran similar camps under the name of the Zambesi Trust from 1986. In 1997, he was charged with culpable homicide over the death of Guide Nyachuru, a boy who drowned at one of his camps in December 1992, and of having injured several other boys in April 1993 [2]. However, the case collapsed due to legal irregularities, after which he relocated to South Africa. There, Smyth became Director of the Christian Lawyers’ Association of South Africa, in which capacity he opposed civil unions, and later became Honorary Director of the Justice Alliance of South Africa (which has also deleted its website).

The Iwerne Holidays were founded in the 1930s, and they have been instrumental in promoting evangelicalism within the Anglican Church. Here’s some background from From Controversy to Co-Existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England 1914-1980, by Randle Manwaring and published by the Cambridge University Press in 1985 (pp. 57-58):

For a long time there had been Scripture Union Camps but, as the work of its sister organisation, the C.S.S.M. [Children’s Special Service Mission], expanded, so the latter flowered into what were called Varsities and Public School Camps… These took many forms… but one the most far-sighted and far-reaching enterprises was led by the Rev. E. J. H. Nash, who, at the age of thirty-three, gave up his work as chaplain of Wrekin College (a Maryrs Memorial Trust School) to work full-time for C.S.S.M. and S.U. Immediately, he organised camps at Clayesmore School, Iwerne Minster, Dorset, which continue to this day, the mantle of Elijah having fallen on the Rev. David Fletcher. The keynotes of Iwerne were always very simple bible teaching and pastoral care through strongly developed friendships at all levels. Attendance was by invitation only and limited to boys at major public schools, at least boarding schools. The unofficial, sotto voce, slogan of the ‘Bash Camps’ (Bash being the very affectionate name given to E. J. H. Nash) was ‘key boys from key schools’ and, whilst this strategy of creating a patrician, elitist Christian society was criticised by many, the results were most remarkable…

Many influential figures in British Anglican evangelicalism were associated with the camps over the years, including John Stott and Bishop Michael Green.

Fletcher was in charge when the report on Smyth was compiled (he “declined to comment to Channel 4”); and Smyth’s alleged flagellomania gives an unfortunate new connotation to the name “Bash Camps”, even though it is claimed that the alleged abuse took place away from the camps themselves. An assessment from a 1969 work (The Evangelicals, by John King) has been included in Nash’s Wikipedia entry, and it provides some clue as to how the culture of the camps may have facilitated Smyth’s alleged predations in the decade that followed:

Controversy is eschewed by “Bash campers”; it is held to be noisy and undignified – and potentially damaging. As a result many issues which ought to be faced are quietly avoided. Any practical decisions that must be made are taken discreetly by the leadership and passed down the line. The loyalty of the rank and file is such that decisions are respected; any who question are liable to find themselves outside the pale… It does not give a place to the process of argument, consultation and independent thought which are essential to any genuine co-operation, inside the church or outside it.

There are two details from yesterday’s media report that may perhaps have been overlooked:

1. In 2012 the media moralist Anne Atkins published an article in the Daily Mail headlined “‘I haven’t handed over a sex offender to the police – because I was told in confidence’: A leading agony aunt makes an explosive confession”. The article was mainly about Atkins’s knowledge about sex abuse by a man she named as “Peter”, but near the end she wrote about another individual:

Years ago, when I was still a child, we had a family friend who was an eminent lawyer, with considerable influence in a well-known public school. He used to invite boys to his house for Bible study. And then encourage them to confess their sins. If they admitted masturbation, for instance, he would strip and beat them, in a shed where no other adults were allowed.

When word of this got out, the parents understandably wanted to protect their sons; the school wanted to protect its reputation.

Instead of facing trial, he was allowed to leave the country quietly .??.??. and continue the same practices abroad, where eventually he punished a boy so severely that he died. Again, I understand there was no trial.

Friends of ours recently went to stay with him and his family, still living respectably in another country. ‘How are they?’ I asked.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Atkins has now confirmed that this part of her article pertained to Smyth – although her claim that the boy died due being “punished” rather than accidentally due to drowning has not been substantiated.

Channel 4 News specifies that according to the old report on Smyth “the abuse was violent but not sexual”, but extra details in the South Africa Mail & Guardian state that Smyth is alleged to kissed his victims’ backs and necks after beatings. He is also alleged to have had an enthusiasm for showering with boys while in Africa.

2. The 1982 report has not been published, but the Channel 4 News report includes a couple of screenshots. These show that a second person was also involved in administering beatings:

J and S saw this as a ‘ministry’ from God. But the ‘ministry’ of discipline in this sense, was secret, self-appointed and never approved by other Christian leaders (cf. Acts xiii.1-2). and of course unknown in lists of ministries (cf. Ephesians iv.ll, etc.)

The knowledge of other people’s sins, and ‘power’ over them through their humiliation, nakedness and beating, is exceedingly bad for the operators.

Note the plural “operators”; “J” is John Smyth – but who is “S”?

There are similarities here with the Anglican Bishop Peter Ball, who in 2015 was convicted of misconduct in a public office for similar practices involving “humiliation, nakedness and beating” in the 1980s and 1990s. It seems that the Anglo-Catholic Ball and the Evangelical Smyth might have a couple of things in common.

UPDATE 1 (3 February): Anne Atkins has now published an article in the Telegraph, titled “Inside the Sexual Apartheid of John Smyth’s Summer Camps”. Although the camps were for boys, it appears that in some cases their sisters could also attend as “helpers”, although “confined to the kitchen”:

I was discreetly steered away from volunteering for a helicopter trip advertised over breakfast; told off for stopping to chat to a young man I was introduced to destined for the same Oxford college; then for agreeing to play tennis with my brother (he was not); and finally for talking to some boys who lay down near us at the swimming pool. It was the last straw: it was politely suggested I should leave, as I didn’t fit in….My husband – not eligible because not public-school-educated, but with his clergy world heavily influenced by it – has boasted ever since that I am the only person to have been sent down from one of its camps.

UPDATE 2 (3 February): Channel 4 News has now broadcast a follow-up segment about Smyth’s activity in Zimbabwe and how the Titus Trust dealt with the matter when it took over the Iwerne Trust in 2014. Once again, there’s an interesting screenshot of a document, this time of some legal advice that has some background about how Smyth was dealt with at the time:

The trustees at the time did warn other organisations in the UK about the character of John Smyth in an attempt to ensure that he could not continue to work with young persons in same capacity. The Headmaster of Winchester College was immediately notified. The trustees subsequently ensured that the Lawyers Christian Fellowship was made aware so that he was prevented from speaking at one of their meetings and various other organisation were contacted. Preventative actions were therefore taken but there was not a full disclosure… At a later date the trustees responded to a request for information from Zimbabwe and ensured that church leaders warned their congregations about John Smyth.

UPDATE 3 (4 February): The Telegraph has published a follow-up article, which notes that the allegations appeared in a 1989 book by John Thorn, a former headmaster of Winchester College, titled The Road to Winchester. Here’s the quote:

I was told the extraordinary news that the neighbouring barrister had gained such personal control over a few of the senior boys in the group, and had kept it after they left the school, that he was claiming to direct their burgeoning relationship with girls and was, with their consent, punishing them physically when they confessed to him they had sinned.

The World of Conservative Evangelism was reft in twain. Absurd and baseless rumours were circulated that he was an unhinged tyrant, the embodiment of Satan. He must be banished. And – quietly but efficiently – he was.

He left the Winchester district and then the United Kingdom. He departed for Africa with his family and, by me, has not been heard of since.

This minimising spin immediately brings to mind the dismissive way that allegations against Peter Ball were dealt with in Eric Kemp’s memoir.

It does not appear that Smyth was named in the book (I haven’t been able to see the original), but according the Telegraph Smyth then circulated a confidential release to church leaders in Zimbabwe in which he admitted to an “aberration of judgment” due to a dependency on sleeping pills. Oddly, however, it seems that he never felt the need to make amends to those who had suffered at the receiving end of this “aberration”.

So – punishment dished out to boys and young men for having normal sexual feelings; but a feeble excuse for his own predatory sadism.

UPDATE 4 (5 February): BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme has a segment on the story. Anne Atkins criticized some reports that this is a “Church of England scandal” (it should be noted that the Iwerne camps were not official Anglican events), while Andrew Graystone, who advised the Titus Trust about the matter in 2014, suggested that while Smyth’s alleged activities were not a part of evangelicalism, they were a “corruption” of evangelicalism that may have drawn on ideas about the need to suffer for Christ just as Christ had suffered for humanity, and about the status of children as unformed adults. Graystone also said that he had become aware of a “second abuser” since the Channel 4 broadcast, and that he would be naming this person to police – presumably this is a reference to the person named as “S” in the 1982 report.

UPDATE 5 (5 February): The Telegraph has published a July 1993 letter that Smyth sent to the “parents of new campers” in which he explained his regime. He said that he wanted “a relaxed family atmosphere”, but that “with so many high-spirited boys we need some form of sanction. I never cane the boys, but I do whack them with a table tennis bat when necessary.” He also said that it was normal for leaders to shower with the boys and for campers to swim naked in the camp pool.

UPDATE 6 (5 February): The South Africa Times Live has reported that the chair of the Justice Alliance, Msizi Cele has said Smyth has been “asked to step down” and that “I don’t think it will be possible for [him] to come back”. A member of the board, Stephen van Rhyn, also confirmed that Smyth has no association with his Jubilee Community Church in Observatory‚ Cape Town. According to the South Africa Sunday Times, Smyth actually had a leadership position with Church-on-Main in Wynberg, Cape Town; the pastor, Andrew Thomson, has said that Smyth has “agreed to step down”.

UPDATE 7 (5 February): The Telegraph has some details on Smyth’s assistant named as “S” in the 1982 report – he was a teenage boy who was allegedly “forced” to join in the beatings, and although he may also now be reported to the police, “the boys he beat are said to regard him as a victim of Mr Smyth, rather than an accomplice”.

The same paper also has an account by the man who had attempted suicide, published anonymously. The author writes that he met Smyth through Winchester College’s Christian Forum, and that he suffered beatings for five years. On the beatings themselves:

At 30 [lashes], he stopped and embraced me from behind, leaning against my back, nuzzling his face against my neck and whispering how proud he was of me.

I never felt or saw him have an erection and he never touched me sexually, although he, too, was often naked and groaning in spiritual ecstasy while doing the beating. He did the same thing, pretty much every time.

It was not the conventional sexual abuse that people might imagine; it was something more complex. It often crossed my mind that in his upbringing in a religious sect, he was repeating an experience from his own childhood.

On Iwerne more generally, he adds:

By 1980, and two years before my beatings stopped, I had become very uncomfortable at Iwerne Minster. My “antennae” for predators had become quite well developed through my school days and, to my mind, Iwerne Minster was an “unsafe” place. A holiday camp for boys but also, potentially, one for predators. 

The writer suffered greatly in the years that followed, and at one time even contemplated arranging a meeting with Smyth in order to kill him.

UPDATE 8 (6 February): The Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, has made a statement saying that he was subjected to a beating by Smyth and has now been in contact with police.

UPDATE 9 (7 February): Channel 4 News has now pursued Smyth to South Africa, where he predictably declined to face the journalist Cathy Newman. Newman did, however, speak to Herbert Ushewokunze Jnr, who was the prosecutor in the 1997 case in Zimbabwe. Ushewokunze says that a private phone call he had made to a relative, in which he had stated that Smyth would be convicted, had been recorded and that this had been used as evidence of his supposed bias. Ushewokunze made the point that even if he deserved a “rap on the knuckles”, there was no reason why another prosecutor couldn’t have taken over the case – yet Smyth was instead allowed to leave the country.

The same segment says that concerns about Smith were raised in Zimbabwe as early as 1986, and there is a screenshot of a document that relates that at a camp in 1991 Smyth forbade underwear and enforced the rule through corporal punishment (“administered either to the naked buttocks or to buttocks covered with a pair of shorts only”). He would also “stand, in the nude, in the vicinity of, or just inside” the shower area, handing the boys soap and shampoo, and one evening he “[led] the boys in prayers whilst he was naked”.

UPDATE 10 (9 February): Matthew Scott, aka Barristerblogger, has a post on the subject, in which he describes his own time as a pupil at Winchester College and his impressions of the Christian Forum, which was regarded by non-members as

as a clique occupying the ground somewhere between ridiculous and unpleasant. There was of course something of an overlap with the more mainstream Christianity in the school, but to those on the outside the Forum members seemed inclined towards self-righteousness and sanctimony, and it did not help that they operated in partial secrecy.

Matthew reports that there was some animosity between the Christian Forum and his father, a teacher at the school and a “quietly religious but very tolerant man who loathed the Christian Forum both for its evangelical theology and because he didn’t much like many its members.” Matthew also describes the headmaster, John Thorn, as “a good and wise man”.

Matthew further notes that the Channel 4 screenshot of the 1982 report includes the criticism that the practice of beatings “is very akin to the Roman Catholic system of confession nnd penance”. As Matthew puts it: “Smyth and his fellow operator were being criticised not just for the beatings themselves, but also because the beatings appeared to be a flirtation with Popery.”

UPDATE 11 (9 February): According to the Guardian, the Church-on-Main told Channel 4 News that it became aware of the allegations against Smyth in September, when it received a phone call from a camp attendee in Zimbabwe. Smyth told the pastor that he had been the victim of “malicious rumours” in Zimbabwe, and that “there was nothing in his past in the UK that we needed to know about.” However, he and his wife were removed from leadership on 2 December, due to “unresolved issues and concerns.” There were also complaints of “heavy-handed” leadership, and the statement claims that

Smyth made a practice of meeting young men at a local sports club for a game of squash, which was “followed by a shower in a common shower, then lunch over which we were told [Smyth] would make generally unsolicited enquiries about the young men’s experience of pornography, masturbation and other sexual matters.”

Smyth was “offering his advice regarding sexual matters that left the person feeling uncomfortable,” the church added.

This seems to me to tend towards sensationalism: presumably the “common shower” is normal at the gym, so here I begin to wonder whether evidence of inappropriate behaviour is being imposed on events in retrospect.

UPDATE 12 (10 February): The Telegraph reports that Smyth has been financially supported for many years by a charitable foundation in the UK also called the Zambesi Trust. The money has continued to flow to Smyth despsite Smyth’s move to South Africa – which apparently was in 2001, four years after the 1997 court case. According to the report:

The most recent trust accounts appear to show direct funding of around £12,000 per annum from the Zambesi Trust to John Smyth, until 2001. Thereafter around £6,000 per annum up until as recently as February 5, 2017. 

That funding as now ended in the wake of the Channel 4 News report. However, the charitable trust’s chair – Jamie Colman, heir to the Colman’s mustard empire and a London solicitor – already knew of the allegations and had flown to Zimbabwe to meet complainants’ parents in 1993. According to the article:

Minutes of the meeting show that he accepted that Mr Smyth had beaten boys with a wooden bat, showered with them, and encouraged them to swim naked.

The documents, now disputed by Mr Colman, record him saying that “the beatings and nudity were justified in the context of a weak church; Zambesi Ministries was aimed at portraying Christianity as a rugged, manly religion”.

He also told the parents that Zimbabwean authorities had “a different attitude towards beatings” to British police, and tried to persuade them not to involve lawyers, citing passages from the Bible indicating that “complaints against a Christian should be addressed within the Church”.

The Charity Commission is now “probing” the trust, while the Solicitors Regulation Authority is looking into Colman.

UPDATE 13 (12 February): The Sunday Times reports that John Thorn regrets not having referred Smyth to the police at the time, and that he “felt to blame for acting ‘too slowly’ before he banned John Smyth QC, 75, from entering the school or contacting its pupils.”


1. The village of Iwerne Minster is misspelt in some reports – the BBC thus has “the Irwerne Trust” and some other sites “the Irwene Trust”.

2. These details are from a legal document relating to his application for the case against him to be dismissed (Smyth v Ushewokunze and Anor – ZLR 544 w). The document can be seen in the 1997 edition of The Zimbabwe Law Reports and in Suid-Afrikaanse Hofverslae, Volume 3, both of which are available on Snippet view on Google Books. The text states:

The applicant, who ran several youth camps in Zimbabwe, was charged with culpable homicide as the result of the drowning of a 16-year-old boy at one of the camps in December 1992. He was in addition charged with five counts of crimen injuria arising from his alleged conduct at the same camp during April 1993. The applicant was arrested on 15 September 1997 and taken to a magistrate for initial remand.

…In 1984 he gave up legal practice and came to Zimbabwe with his family on a temporary immigration permit to do Christian teachings. For the initial two years he devoted himself to a mission organisation known as Africa Enterprise. Then, in 1986, he founded Zambesi Ministries, a body whose primary objective is to work in conjunction with High Schools throughout the country and establish camps for pupils during the school holidays. These camps are known as Zambesi Holidays. The first such camp was held in August 1986 at Lake Chivero. Since that time the applicant has directed camps for Grade 7 to Form 6 pupils every school holiday, with the venue changing after a few years to Ruzawi School, in Marondera, and more recently, to Zambesi Ministries’ own centre on Cotter Farm, ten kilometres from Marondera. The camps are normally attended by about ninety boy-campers and thirty leaders, usually senior pupils who have exhibited strong leadership qualities.

Jesus the Refugee: Fox and Breitbart versus the Bible

From Fox News:

Rev. Al Sharpton has faced backlash on social media for his Sunday tweet saying Jesus was a refugee.

…There’s one problem though: Sharpton’s tweet is not exactly accurate, at least according to the Bible.

Raw Story relates the associated video segment, originally broadcast on Fox and Friends:

“Well, that’s not exactly accurate,” co-host Steve Doocy claimed.

“Well, according to the Bible, it’s really not,” agreed Carley Shimkus, who then read tweets claiming the holy family was just traveling to pay taxes.

“Who gave (Sharpton) his gift certificate to be a reverend?” co-host Brian Kilmeade said. 

The co-hosts’ mockery seemed to imply that to associate Jesus with the category of “refugee” is self-evidently weird and inappropriate.* Oddly, despite Fox News being a favourite media source for conservatives, this bizarre dismissal of one of the most famous stories in the Bible appears to have elicited little complaint from the target audience, although many liberal sites picked up on the error very quickly (e.g. Wonkette: “All Right, ‘Fox & Friends’ Idiots, Time For A F*cking Bible Lesson”).

The distortion appears to derive from a story that appeared on Breitbart (“the closest thing to a state-owned media entity” under the Trump administration, according to Fortune) on 26 December. The article, by one Victoria Friedman, was written following a Christmas Day sermon by an Austrian bishop, Aegidius Zsifkovics, who is known for his advocacy on behalf of refugees:

Nestled in a boat for a crib with a barbed-wire Christmas star, the infant Jesus was given a “contemporary face” by an Austrian Catholic bishop who claimed that “Jesus 2016 is a refugee in a boat”.

Broadcast live on Christmas Day via television to the German-speaking world, Catholic diocesan bishop Aegidius Zsifkovics of St. Martin’s Cathedral, Eisenstadt, Austria, compared the “scandal” of the migrant crisis to the Christmas story, alluding to the Virgin Mary as a pregnant migrant.

“For how can it be that a pregnant woman has to go on a strenuous journey? … It is precisely this scandal that is happening every day on our planet a thousand times, which makes the Christmas story more relevant than the evening news. For in the centre of Christianity stands the refugee child Jesus.”

Last year during the height of the migrant crisis, head of the worldwide Anglican communion Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also said that “Jesus … was himself a refugee.”

However, the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph were not migrating to a different continent for better opportunities or fleeing war, but were returning home for a government-mandated census (Luke 2:1-7).

Readers then added comments linking censuses to taxation policies, which is where the further “traveling to pay taxes” distortion that appeared on Fox has come from.

I find it difficult to believe that the author of the above knew enough about the Bible to find the passage from Luke, but was unaware of the story told as in the Gospel of Matthew, which relates that before returning to Nazareth, the Holy Family first had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15):

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity...

This is not just some obscure footnote: Herod’s “Massacre of the Innocents” is proverbial, while “the Flight into Egypt” is a perennial theme in Western art. Matthew’s account is imaginative, written to compare the infant Jesus with the infant Moses – but historicity is hardly the point: the story expresses something very deep about the values that are meant to be at the heart of Christianity.

Was the Breitbart author truly ignorant of Matthew, or was the article a deliberate attempt to manipulate an audience that likes to think of itself as Christian but that doesn’t know much about the Bible beyond a clutch of self-serving proof-texts? The reference to Mary as a “pregnant migrant” in Zsifkovics’s sermon of course refers to the journey to Bethlehem before Jesus was born (which Friedman confusing calls “returning home”, rather than travelling to the home of Joseph’s ancestors), but the official church website makes explicit that his comments and the boat-crib also pertained to Jesus travelling to Egypt as a baby:

Diese Darstellung gebe der Krippe ein aktuelles Gesicht, so Bischof Zsifkovics. Die Heilige Familie sei nach Ägypten geflohen, um dem von Herodes angeordneten Kindermord zu entgehen. “Jesus 2016 ist auf einem Flüchtlingsboot unterwegs. Die Weihnachtsgeschichte ist vor 2.000 Jahren dort entstanden, von woher heute so viele Menschen zu uns kommen.”

The post is headlined “Jesus 2016 ist auf einem Flüchtlingsboot unterwegs”, and it is same article that Breitbart links to as its source, albeit at a different site (now paywalled, but confirmed by Google Cache).

Fox’s Steve Doocy is supposedly something of a Bible enthusiast, and in 2015 he invited an Oklahoma State Senator onto Fox & Friends to advocate for Bible classes in schools. Perhaps Doocy ought to attend one himself.

* On Twitter, the proposition that Jesus was a refugee has elicited incredulity and disgust, along with crude abuse aimed at Sharpton. One hazards that this is because of a new stigma around the very concept of “refugee”. Case in point:

Call For Fox News To Delete Misleading Tweet on Quebec Shooting Shows Problem of “Zombie News”

From the Independent:

Fox News has deleted a “false and misleading” tweet that claimed the suspect in the Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, following a call from the office of the Canadian Prime Minister for the network to remove the post.

…Early reports of the shooting suggested two men had been arrested following, one of whom was of Moroccan origin, though the man was found to have been a witness and later released by police without charge.

The Fox News Tweet stated “Suspect in Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, reports show”, and clicked through to a story which has since been updated to reflect later developments. It has since been established that sole suspect now in custody is a white man who holds far-right and anti-Islam views; if it is true that the killer shouted “Allahu Akbar”, as “witnesses” reportedly claim, it seems reasonable to conclude that this was done in mockery of those he was in the process of murdering. In any case, the mosque would have been an unlikely (incoherent, even) target for a Jihadi, even allowing for sectarianism.

The continuing existence of the Fox Tweet until just now raises an issue similar to that fake news: something we may call “zombie news”, the persistence of old and inaccurate reports that nevertheless continue to float around on the internet like ordure that refuses to flush away. Fox had of course issued later Tweets that had superseded the original, but thanks to Re-Tweets the earlier version was still being re-published. Anyone who clicked on the link would have seen the later developments – but headlines are often consumed without generating click-throughs.

The general problem, it seems to me, is likely to be exacerbated by urls embedded in social media, which cause headlines to appear but not their dates, meaning that a debunked and discredited media report can continue to circulate if it remains live on the source’s website.

Outdated information can also be weaponized into fake news. Type “Mohamed Khadir” into Twitter, and as of 1 February results continue to show new Tweets identifying him as a Quebec gunman – despite the fact that his innocence has been established beyond reasonable doubt. In particular, such Tweets direct readers to Pamela Geller’s site, where the virulent anti-Islam activist continues to host a 30 January article headlined “Quebec mosque shooters identified as Moroccan Muslim Mohamed Khadir and Alexandre Bissonnette”, and in which she boasts that “As I predicted last night, the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim, as is generally the case in these circumstances.” Of course, the Fox News item was never such a wild extrapolation as Geller’s article is, but like Fox she was working with what was thought to be the case at the time, rather than making up a story from whole cloth.

Geller doesn’t have any general principle against amending her site – in 2012, she deleted a claim that Barack Obama wears a Muslim ring after the story was debunked. In that instance, she knew that the story made her look foolish – but perhaps this time she’s calculated that there is more to be gained by continuing to spread a lie. After all, Alex Jones is continuing to assert that Khadir is guilty, just as in 2013 Glenn Beck accused an innocent Saudi student injured at the Boston bombings of having been the mastermind (Beck eventually settled a libel action).

Geller’s sidekick Robert Spencer is little better – he also deletes (but does not correct) untrue stories when it suits him (e.g. here and here), but in this instance the original headline remains on his Jihad Watch website: “Quebec mosque mass murderers: Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed Khadir”. Underneath the dateline is now a churlish note conceding that “Now police say that Bissonnette is the sole suspect.”

Both articles are continuing to be spread on social media, and I doubt either of them loses any sleep over the falsehood.