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Christian Right Books Tout Claim David Wilkerson Prophesied Covid-19 Pandemic in 1986

A book blurb:

God, Trump, and COVID-19

This book is a timely follow up to God, Trump and the 2020 Election that reveals insider information about China, the virus, and the ever-increasing stakes of the upcoming election. It will answer the question for the Christian believers (and seekers) of where God is in all this? It provides an unreported 1986 prophecy by the late David Wilkerson about a plague coming that would shut down the government as well as churches and bars, including shaking New York City as it’s never been shaken. Wilkerson said this plague would force believers into radical prayer that will spark an awakening–something echoed by Christian leaders and prophets.

Just as the economy was booming and Donald Trump was fixing long-term problems and beating back attacks from his opponents, a brand-new virus shakes up everything including the outcome of this election. The author has inside information about what happened in China early in the pandemic and what went wrong. He even documents (day by day in the appendix) what happened and how Donald Trump has led the nation in this time of crisis.

The author is Christian media mogul Stephen Strang, and a copy of his God, Trump and the 2020 Election was waved around by Trump at Davos, as I noted here.

Strang has already published some supposed “insider information about China” in columns for Charisma News – he is particularly reliant on the Christian Right activist Frank Amedia (blogged here), who claims to be in contact with Christians in China. Amedia says that Chinese Christians are experiencing miraculous healings, and he promotes as fact the theory that the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab. He has also provided Strang with the false information that Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first identified the new illness, was a Christian (unsourced, but probably based on a fake deathbed testimony that was doing the rounds a few weeks ago).

The supposed prophecy attributed to David Wilkerson, meanwhile, has only recently come to light via the “End Times” Christian Zionist evangelist Mike Evans. Assuming it is genuinely based on something that Wilkerson actually said, the context is obviously AIDS, which was hitting New York badly in the mid-1980s. As I noted previously, Wilkerson was always predicting calamities, and he would certainly have imagined a downward spiral rather than the development of effective treatments. Supposed prophecies, whether from the Bible or elsewhere, should always be understood in relation to the times in which they appear.

In 1973, Wilkerson published The Vision, straplined as “A terrifying prophecy of Doomsday that is starting to happen now!” He died in an unprophesied car crash 38 years later, and his New York Times obit noted that just a month before his death he was promising that “an earth-shattering calamity is about to happen”, with “riots and fires in cities worldwide”.

However, Strang has competition – Evans (who in 2017 presented an award to Trump) has a book of his own covering the same ground, titled A Great Awakening is Coming. According to the blurb:

In 1986 David Wilkerson gave Mike Evans an incredible prophecy: “I see a plague coming on the world, and the bars and churches and government will shut down. The plague will hit New York City and shake it like it has never been shaken. The plague is going to force prayerless Believers into radical prayer and into their Bibles, and repentance will be the cry from the man of God in the pulpit. And out of it will come a third Great Awakening that will sweep America and the world.” In A Great Awakening Is Coming, Dr. Evans shares how God is working to stir revival in the hearts of people during a time of struggle. Sharing Scripture, inspirational stories, and accounts of awakening throughout history, he offers hope that the Lord has not left us, but is preparing us for a coming Great Awakening.

Apparently an advert for the book has appeared on Fox News.

The phrase “Great Awakening” here is most likely a reference to a new period of Christian revivalism, akin to the “Great Awakenings” of the past, although I wouldn’t discount the possibility that there is also subtle pitch towards enthusiasts of the millennial “QAnon” or “Q” conspiracy theory, who look forward to a “Great Awakening” in which elites and opponents of Trump will be exposed as child-killing Satanist paedophiles and put to death.

For some reason, works of popular prophecy that relate to some current crisis tend to appear behind the curve rather than ahead of it; from 2016 I recall a book entitled Ebola and the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Mail on Sunday Sensationalises on Chinese Remdesivir Patent

From the Mail on Sunday:

China tried to patent potential coronavirus drug Remsvidir the DAY AFTER Beijing confirmed virus was transmissable between humans

China filed a patent for a drug seen as one of the best potential weapons against coronavirus the day after it confirmed human transmission of the disease.

The revelation that it moved so fast fuels concerns about a cover-up of the pandemic when it erupted in Wuhan last year, and suggests that China’s understanding of the virus was far advanced from the impression given by its public stance.

…The application was made by Wuhan Institute of Virology, the top-secret bio-laboratory at the centre of concerns about a possible leak of the disease from its research on bats, and the country’s Military Medicine Institute.

The move was described as ‘provocative’ by one website specialising in clinical research.

Gilead, the California-based developer of the drug, says it filed its own global applications for Remdesivir’s use against coronavirus four years ago.

Articles suggestive of intrigue and cover-up at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are now a weekly staple of the Mail on Sunday – the pieces are mostly by the paper’s political editor, Glen Owen, rather than a science or health hack, and as such it is reasonable to suppose that his material derives from private political briefings. I looked at previous examples here and here, and found them to be sensationalist and overly reliant on dubiously sourced second-hand American reports. This latest effort comes with what appears to be an exclusive quote provided by Tom Tugendhat MP, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and one wonders to what extent Tugendhat’s staffers may have assisted in providing Owen with the overall story.

Once again, there is less here than meets the eye. In particular, the “revelation” is nearly three months old; the headline “China lab seeks patent on use of Gilead’s coronavirus treatment” appeared above a Reuters story on 5 February, based on a statement from the supposedly “top-secret” research facility:

The Wuhan Institute of Virology of the China Academy of Sciences, based in the city where the outbreak is believed to have originated, said in a statement on Tuesday [4 February] it applied to patent the use of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by Gilead (GILD.O), to treat the virus.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week reported a coronavirus patient in the United States was found to show an improvement after taking Remdesivir, which is also used to treat infectious diseases such as Ebola.

…The Wuhan-based laboratory said in its statement that the patent application was filed on Jan. 21.

This article appeared a day after the publication of a short letter by researchers from Wuhan in Cell Research (a subdivision of Nature) titled “Remdesivir and chloroquine effectively inhibit the recently emerged novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in vitro”. The letter had been received by the journal on 25 January.

Some weeks later, in mid-March, the story was picked up by TrialSiteNews, a website specialising in medical trials. According to the article:

On January 21, it was reported that China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences filed a patent for commercial use of remdesivir in China. Also involved is the Military Medicine Institute of that nation. They sought to secure this patent “out of national interest” and noted they were not interested in enforcement should foreign pharma companies seek to collaborate in China to stop the pandemic. An IP attorney based in Shanghai, China observed that the Wuhan Institute of Virology would be wise to secure approval from the drug’s maker and owner—Gilead…. It could be deemed a provocative move for the local Wuhan institute to attempt to patent the Gilead drug without working with them. 

That last sentence puts the word “provocative” as quoted by Owen into a cautionary rather than condemnatory context. Although the article states that “it was reported” on 21 January, it is likely that this actually refers to the report in early February about the 21 January filing.

Owen further explains:

The contagious nature of the virus was confirmed by President Xi Jinping on January 20. Leaked documents have shown that even after officials knew they faced an epidemic, they delayed warning the public for six days.

This again, though, is old news – the documents confirming a “six-day delay” formed the basis for an Associated Press story on 15 April. According to the agency:

The documents show that the head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, laid out a grim assessment of the situation in a confidential Jan. 14 teleconference with provincial health officials.

…The National Health Commission distributed a 63-page set of instructions to provincial health officials, obtained by the AP. The instructions, marked “not to be publicly disclosed,” ordered health officials nationwide to identify suspected cases, hospitals to open fever clinics, and doctors and nurses to don protective gear.

Clearly, the decision not to inform the public and the international community at this time is open to criticism, but the above does at least show that officials were preparing for increasing numbers of cases.

But what is the significance of all this as regards the patent? A “new-type coronavirus” was identified as the cause of “the viral pneumonia” in Wuhan on 9 January. This means that the coronavirus was publicly acknowledged as a public health threat at that time, even though there was a delay before the government warned of a pandemic. As such, there is no need to propose a “far advanced” understanding of the virus to explain a heightened interest in remdesivir, which was already known as a potential treatment for infection by coronaviruses. A patent application at this earlier date would not have been any more notable or controversial, and as such it is unlikely that there was a delay due to secrecy.

There are plenty of legitimate grounds on which to censure the Chinese authorities. We do not need over-hyped speculation and insinuation, nor do we need articles that gratuitously imply that Chinese scientists working in good faith to counter the spread of disease are somehow up to no good.

The Sun Defends “Chinese Virus” as Term for Coronavirus

From an editorial at the Sun:

WHAT else is China lying about?

Its official Wuhan death toll has been raised by 50 per cent.

…The World Health Organisation swallowed every line and worked as Beijing’s PR agents.

Meanwhile lefties here scream “racist” at anyone calling this horrific, ruinous disease — let loose in China, covered up by China, killing thousands in China — the “Chinese virus”.

It is hard to be lectured about “Beijing’s PR agents” by the flagship tabloid of a media conglomerate that infamously attempted to censor Chris Patten’s book about his time as governor of Hong Kong for the benefit of Rupert Murdoch’s then-business strategy (abandoned in 2013). However, here I am more concerned with the paper’s expression of support for Trump’s sporadic efforts to establish “Chinese virus” as the common name for Covid-19.

This strikes me as a bad idea, for several fairly obvious reasons that I will nevertheless list.

First, the word “coronavirus” was unusual enough to enter the language as the popular name for the pathogen and the illness. This is less than ideal, as it is a generic name for a whole class of viruses, but that’s also the case with “Chinese virus”. The scientific term “Covid-19” is perfectly serviceable term for anyone who wishes to be more precise, whether referring to the illness itself or to the pathogen SARS-CoV-2 as “the Covid-19 coronavirus”. The term “Wuhan virus” might have caught on naturally, but it didn’t. There were of course early reports that referred to “the Chinese coronavirus”, but that was as a general descriptor before we had a proper name.

Second, during a pandemic clear messaging is particularly important. Attempting to impose a new popular name at this point may lead to needless confusion.

Third, “Chinese virus” is an ideological top-down attempt to manipulate common usage for political reasons. Trump of course wants every reference to coronavirus to be a reminder of the Chinese government’s undoubted corruption and failure, but this is to distract from his own failings rather than as a matter of principle. Trump has even gone so far as to reject the news that many cases in the USA arrived via Europe rather than directly from China, falsely suggesting that this is “fake news” concocted by the New York Times to win favour from China after the paper’s journalists were expelled (or “thrown out of China like dogs”, in Trump’s own formulation).

And fourth, of course, there is the risk that “Chinese virus” will needlessly stigmatise East Asians living in the west. This point can be made without the need to “scream ‘racist'”. Other locations that have given their names to diseases are hardly comparable: Ebola and Lyme are nouns rather than ethnic/national adjectives, and they refer to circumscribed places that are otherwise barely known. “Spanish flu” is the most famous example of a national adjective being used to identify an illness, but that was a hundred years ago and the name was not adopted as a self-consciously polemical device against Spain.

The Sun‘s question “What else is China lying about?” refers to the “lab escape” theory of the origin of the virus, which I have discussed in relation to the Mail on Sunday here.

Mail on Sunday Continues to Push Wuhan Lab Theory

The latest from Mail on Sunday politics hack Glen Owen on the Wuhan Institute of Virology:

‘I’ve seen better seals on my fridge!’ Shocking photos from inside Wuhan lab show broken seal on unit which stores 1,500 virus strains – including the bat coronavirus behind the deadly pandemic

Pictures from inside Wuhan’s secretive Institute of Virology show a broken seal on the door of one of the refrigerators used to hold 1,500 different strains of virus – including the bat coronavirus which has jumped to humans with such devastating effect.

The pictures, first released by the state-owned China Daily newspaper in 2018, were published on Twitter last month, before being deleted. One comment attached read: ‘I have seen better seals on my refrigerator in my kitchen.’

This is slightly garbled – as the text itself notes, the photos were published in 2018, not “last month”. A screenshot provided by the MoS shows that the images appeared in a China DailyTweet dated 28 May 2018, and it was this Tweet (“Take a look at the largest #virus bank in Asia! Wuhan Institute of Virology in Central China’s Hubei province preserves more than 1,500 different strains of virus”) that was deleted, apparently last month after various Twitter users drew attention to it (e.g. here). The Tweet was also noted by a site called IndiaGlitz on 24 March 2020.

The Tweet did not include a link to a story, but the photos remain online on the website of the Wuhan lab itself, on a page dated 4 June 2018 (other uploads on the site show that this is the correct reading of 04-06-18, rather than 6 April). Do they actually show a faulty door seal, and if so, how significant is it? The apparent seal is on the back of a small door within a larger refrigeration unit that has a bigger external door. It’s difficult to interpret, but rather than ask an expert for comment Owen gives us the assessment of one @JohnPollizzi (“Knight Philosopher Scholar Magician… Crypto believer”), whose 10 March 2020 Tweet in response to the China Daily Tweet provides the mocking headline quote.

The story is the latest in an ongoing series by Owen in which the Mail on Sunday, most likely at the direction of Downing Street briefings, has pointed the finger at the Wuhan lab. In this latest installment, Owen takes credit for Trump being asked about the issue during the week:

Last week, this newspaper also disclosed that the institute had undertaken corona-virus experiments on bats captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.

Sequencing of the Covid-19 genome has traced it to the bats found only in those caves.

Our revelations led to Donald Trump being quizzed at a press conference last week about the leak theory, to which the President replied: ‘We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation.’

I discussed this earlier story the time – the claim about the genome is dubious, and Owen conflated experiments on coronaviruses taken from swabs in Yunnan with experiments on actual bats. The “disclosure” was a reference to material that was already in the public domain in English, and Owen bulked the piece out with wild speculation about researchers selling lab animals to food markets derived from American news sites.

The new article follows the same pattern. Owen thus relies on “sources who had been briefed on intelligence” who have spoken to Fox News, and who apparently believe that “patient zero” was (wait for it…) “an intern at the lab”, and he tells us that

one political source said that there was ‘growing scientific curiosity’ over the symptoms of a marked loss of taste and smell in many victims of Covid-19. 

‘This might – only might – indicate a level of human interference,’ the source said.

Of course, the lab should be not be discounted as a possible source for the virus; in particular, the Washington Post recently reported that diplomatic cables had previously raised concerns about safety at the lab. But such heavy reliance on anonymous claims that are impossible to assess or hold anyone accountable for is less than satisfactory.

Health Minister’s Tweet “Caused Confusion” Over Lockdown

From ITV News:

Bedfordshire MP and Health minister Nadine Dorries has been embroiled in a Twitter spat with senior journalists over her comments on when lockdown might end.

Ms Dorries, has sought to clarify her suggestion that the “full lockdown” to tackle coronavirus could only be lifted once a vaccine was developed by insisting there could still be relaxation of the social-distancing.

Her comments – which caused confusion – appeared to suggest that restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 could be in place for well over a year.

Dorries had stated that “There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine”, adding in the same Tweet that “Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy”. As a celebrity politician, Dorries’s social media outpourings are regularly featured in the media by hacks looking for something easy to write up, although controversies are usually trivialised as “spats”.

In this instance, Piers Morgan highlighted Dorries’s Tweet as an “Astonishing break from other Govt statements”. Dorries called this a “ridiculous interpretation”, and the argument put forward by her supporters is that the second sentence modifies the meaning of the first sentence rather than explicates it:  thus, “adapt society” and “strike a balance” mean strategies to gradually relax full lockdown, rather than strategies to maintain full lockdown over a long period. Journalists who failed to grasp this intended meaning and instead focused on her plain meaning by quoting her are thus engaged in misreporting or sensationalism.

This avoidable confusion falls far short of the essential “clear messaging” that is needed from the government at such a time. Had Dorries written “fully ‘exit’ lockdown” rather than “‘exit’ full lockdown” there would have been no controversy, but the minister airily dismissed a suggestion from the journalist Kay Burley that she had misspoken. Dorries then followed up by RTing the Sun journalist Tom Newton Dunn (this guy), whose view was that “Restrictions of varying sorts are likely to remain for many months, and she’s the only person in Govt who has the courage to say it publicly.” One wonders what Dorries’s colleagues (Matt Hancock in particular) will make of her endorsement of such an assessment, which pertains not just to her but to them.

This is not the first recent Tweet from Dorries to generate an adverse reaction. Her comment that “the country can breathe again” after the Prime Minister passed through his health crisis was seen as infelicitous at a time when hundreds are dying of a respiratory disease, and she has recently taken to amplifying posts by Paul Staines (“Guido Fawkes”) focusing on the political views of particular health professionals who have been interviewed by the BBC about the crisis.

One of these posts, concerning a male nurse raising concerns about PPE shortages, was a typically crude Staines hit-piece, and it was of questionable judgement for a health minister to have promoted it (the nurse concerned of course was then the object of a Twitter pile-on). It should also be noted that despite Staines’s “anti-establishment” pose, some material that he publishes is actually provided to him by Conservative politicians, including Dorries. One particularly obvious example from a few years ago was when Dorries attempted to smear an online critic who was off work for medical reasons as a benefits cheat.

Mail on Sunday Sensationalises on Wuhan Lab Claims

From yesterday’s Mail on Sunday:

Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday show the Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments on mammals captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan – funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.

Sequencing of the Covid-19 genome has traced it to bats found in Yunnan’s caves.

It comes after this newspaper revealed last week that Ministers here now fear that the pandemic could have been caused by a virus leaking from the institute.

Last week’s article was headlined “Did the Virus Leak from a Research Lab in Wuhan?”, and quoted a unnamed COBRA meeting attendee as saying that the theory “is not discounted”. The article went on to rehash material that had appeared in American sources in February, presented as if new. It thus quoted “biosecurity expert Professor Richard Ebright, of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology, New Jersey”, who said that the virus “could easily” have escaped, and cited “unverified local reports that workers at the institute became infected after being sprayed by blood”. It also stated that

A study by the South China University of Technology concluded that Covid-19 ‘probably’ originated in the Centre for Disease Control – although shortly after its publication, the research paper was removed from a social networking site for scientists and researchers.

Both Mail on Sunday articles are by Glen Owen, who is the paper’s political editor rather than a hack with expertise in science or health. As such, the articles are primarily political messaging to the general public as conveyed via a compliant journalist. That does not mean that they might not convey true and relevant information, but in this instance Owen’s sensationalism is misleading, even though he avoids the more egregious”bioweapon” speculation seen elsewhere. (1)

The South China University of Technology paper is discussed by Alex Kasprack at Snopes here (links in original):

This paper, such as it is, merely highlights the close distance between the seafood market and the labs and falsely claimed to have identified instances in which viral agents had escaped from Wuhan biological laboratories in the past. With those two elements, half of them factual, the authors come to the sweeping conclusion that “somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus,” and “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” While SARS viruses have escaped from a Beijing lab on at least four occasions, no such event has been documented in Wuhan.

Moving on to this week’s instalment, the “documents obtained by the Mail on Sunday” are actually two open-access academic articles that various people have been Tweeting about for a while:

Results of the research were published in November 2017 under the heading: ‘Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus.’

The exercise was summarised as: ‘Bats in a cave in Yunnan, China were captured and sampled for coronaviruses used for lab experiments.

‘All sampling procedures were performed by veterinarians with approval from the Animal Ethics Committee of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

‘Bat samplings were conducted ten times from April 2011 to October 2015 at different seasons in their natural habitat at a single location (cave) in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. Bats were trapped and faecal swab samples were collected’

It should be noted that despite the Mail on Sunday headline “Wuhan Lab was Performing Coronavirus Experiments on Bats”, the above states that the experiments were actually performed on coronavirues. There is no indication (and no reason to suppose) that the bats themselves were transported to Wuhan after the swab samples had been obtained (2). Owen’s scoop here amounts to “research lab investigating coronaviruses published research about coronaviruses”.

As for the second academic article:

Another study, published in April 2018, was titled ‘fatal swine acute diarrhoea syndrome caused by an HKU2-related coronavirus of bat origin’ and described the research as such: ‘Following a 2016 bat-related coronavirus outbreak on Chinese pig farms, bats were captured in a cave and samples were taken.

Experimenters grew the virus in a lab and injected it into three-day-old piglets. Intestinal samples from sick piglets were ground up and fed to other piglets as well.’

This is again the sort of research that one might expect, but Owen attempts to link it to the “leak” theory via a couple of quotes from commentators:

…Last night, Anthony Bellotti, president of the US pressure group White Coat Waste, condemned his government for spending tax dollars in China, adding: ‘Animals infected with viruses or otherwise sickened and abused in Chinese labs reportedly may be sold to wet markets for consumption once experiments are done.’

US Congressman Matt Gaetz said: ‘I’m disgusted to learn that for years the US government has been funding dangerous and cruel animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute, which may have contributed to the global spread of coronavirus, and research at other labs in China that have virtually no oversight from US authorities.’

These American quotes are lifted without attribution from an article that appeared a few days ago in the Washington Examiner (3). Bellotti is a Republican strategist who frames animal experimentation as government “waste”, and the Examiner article attempts to back up his assertion by referring to a February op-ed in the New York Post by the activist Steven Mosher:

And then there is this little-known fact: Some Chinese researchers are in the habit of selling their laboratory animals to street vendors after they have finished experimenting on them.

You heard me right.

Instead of properly disposing of infected animals by cremation, as the law requires, they sell them on the side to make a little extra cash. Or, in some cases, a lot of extra cash. One Beijing researcher, now in jail, made a million dollars selling his monkeys and rats on the live animal market, where they eventually wound up in someone’s stomach.

Who was this “researcher”? At what kind of institute did he work? What is the basis for extrapolating from one criminal incident to the claim that this is a “habit” among Chinese researchers? We can imagine a corrupt scientist using grant money to purchase animals that are then sold on, but it is also reasonable to suppose that Mosher is being deliberately vague here because a more detailed account would not support this argument. Yet it forms the basis of the Examiner headline “Taxpayer-Funded Animal Experiments tied to Chinese ‘Wet Markets’ and Wuhan Laboratory” that one way or another later came to Owen’s attention at the Mail on Sunday – even though Owen’s argument also incorporates “doubt” about the presence of the virus at the market.

But what about the claim that “sequencing of the Covid-19 genome has traced it to bats found in Yunnan’s caves”? An article by Matt Ridley for the Wall Street Journal (and also posted to his own website) explains the sources more clearly, and notes:

…analysis shows that the most recent common ancestor of the human virus and the RaTG13 virus [i.e. the virus as found in a specific bat specimen sampled in Yunnan] lived at least 40 years ago. So it is unlikely that the cave in Yunnan (a thousand miles from Wuhan) is where the first infection happened or that the culprit bat was taken from that cave to Wuhan to be eaten or experimented on.

Rather, it is probable that somewhere much closer to Wuhan, there is another colony of bats carrying the same kind of virus. Unless other evidence emerges, it thus looks like a horrible coincidence that China’s Institute of Virology, a high-security laboratory where human cells were being experimentally infected with bat viruses, happens to be in Wuhan, the origin of today’s pandemic.

More generally, one wonders why there appears to be so much investment in the “lab escape” theory. We know that the Chinese government is horribly culpable for covering up the initial rise of the virus, but that remains the case however the virus first emerged. Perhaps the idea that the virus is the result of scientists making conscious decisions is in a strange way reassuring, in that it suggests that humans remain the masters of their own destiny. The downside, though, is the potential vilification of Chinese scientists working in good faith (despite their corrupt political masters) to track and prevent disease.

Notes

1. The week before Owen’s first article, the Mail on Sunday splashed on the claim that “Mr Johnson has been warned by scientific advisers that China’s officially declared statistics on the number of cases of coronavirus could be ‘downplayed by a factor of 15 to 40 times'”. Again, this is science journalism via political leak. Who are these “advisers”, and what was their methodology? The story is not implausible, but if politicians believe it is in the public interest for us to know about it, they should provide us with all the details.

The same issue also carried an absurd piece (in retrospect, also in bad taste) headlined “Did Michel Barnier infect Boris Johnson?”, in which Owen and co-authors tried their hand at amateur contact tracing.

2. The institute does appear to have handled live bats for some research, though. A 2017 paper by researchers there includes the detail that

A total of 450 bats of eight different species were captured in Longquan city and Wenzhou city, Zhejiang Province in the spring of 2011 (Figure 1 and Table 1). Similarly, 155 bats representing eight species were captured in Hubei Province in the spring of 2012.

Recent media reports have referred to “605 bats”.

3. Gaetz, of course, is infamous as the congressman who recently wore a gas mask on the House floor, apparently as some kind of joke about coronavirus. It’s not clear to what extent Gaetz has a general objection to animal experiments; certainly, the research at Wuhan is no more “dangerous and cruel” than research undertaken at comparable institutions in other countries, including the USA. For instance, live mice were infected with the bat virus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016 (this in turn has now become a focus of speculation, with the risible Chanel Rion of OAN [One America News Network] citing a certain “Greg Rubini” as a source. Little is known about Rubini other than that he controls a Twitter account and supports the QAnon conspiracy theory, He uses a photo of Keir Duella from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey as his Twitter profile image, and Rion mistook this for his actual likeness).

Media Criticised In Wake of Cardinal Pell Acquittal

At Sky News Australia, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt reads a list compiled by Gerard Henderson of media figures the two men argue were among those prominent in a “pile-on” against Cardinal George Pell ahead of the recent quashing of his child abuse conviction:

Philip Adams of the ABC; Richard Ackland of the Sunday Paper; Paul Bongiorno of the Sunday Paper (disgraceful); Barrie Cassidy (I’ve just mentioned); Sarah Ferguson (you [i.e. Henderson] just mentioned); Peter FitzSimons of Nine Newspapers (Peter, hang your head in shame, mate); Ray Hadley of 2GB who called me “creepy” for defending George Pell (Ray, I expect an apology tomorrow); Derryn Hinch (disgusting); Fran Kelly of the ABC; David Marr; Louise Milligan; Tim Minchin (Tim, not everything’s a song for you, mate. Not everything’s a highlight. Your song slamming Pell was a disgrace); Lucie Morris-Marr, formerly of the Herald Sun, (I’m glad that she’s no longer there); Leigh Sales of the ABC; Tim Soutphommasane, former National Discrimination Commissioner; and Jack Waterford for the Canberra Times.

Bolt was one of a number of commentators who pointed out various implausibilities and difficulties in the case against Pell; counter-arguments ranged from the complacent suggestion that we can never know as much as a jury, through to the malicious assertion that anyone who thinks that Pell might be innocent is in fact approving of the sex crime of which he was accused. The general consensus among liberal-minded people who might in other contexts be critical of the police and willing in principle to entertain the possibility of a miscarriage of justice (e.g. a member of a minority accused of terrorism) is that Pell is certainly guilty despite the High Court outcome and that those who are doubtful or sceptical are wicked.

Thus we have the odd situation that it has been largely left to conservatives to critique the conduct of Victoria Police. Here’s what Bolt wrote a year ago:

The suspicion must be that the jury, like many Australians, had its opinion of Pell poisoned by decades of venomous media attacks, including false claims that he abused other children, offered hush money to a victim of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, and sheltered other paedophiles.

Sadly, Victoria Police helped to destroy his reputation. Graham Ashton, now chief commissioner, falsely told a parliamentary inquiry that the Melbourne Catholic diocese under Pell had not referred any victims of paedophile priests to the police, and falsely claimed that victims compensated under a scheme set up by Pell had to sign confidentiality causes.

Then, with Pell vilified, police set up an inquiry into sexual abuse by him without having had a single complaint. It instead advertised for accusers, and after years of publicity about the compensation the church was paying.

In the same column, Bolt also noted that Lucie Morris-Marr had reported on details of a private phone call between Pell and Monsignor Charles Portelli; Bolt infers (while noting Morris-Marr’s denial) that Pell’s phone may habe been bugged by police and the details leaked to the media. Why should this be of interest and concern only to conservatives? (1)

Meanwhile, the media figures criticised by Bolt and Henderson appear to have chosen to double-down rather than reflect. David Marr wrote a piece for the UK Guardian in which he warned of a “storm of rage from the cardinal’s supporters”, which seems more like a projection of the “rage” long-directed against sceptics, while Lucie Morris-Marr has announced on Twitter that she has “filed a complaint against Gerard Henderson to the Australian Press Council”, apparently for alleged “bullying”. This echoes Morris-Marr’s previous strategy against Bolt, which I discussed in 2016 here. (2)

Excursus

Commentary on the Pell case is extensive. However, I would like to draw particular attention to a piece that appeared in the UK Catholic Herald last year, by my friend Catherine Lafferty. Catherine’s piece is particularly useful as it places what happened into a broader international context:

…In 2016 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship 60 Minutes programme aired a documentary about the cardinal. It featured British anti-abuse activist Peter Saunders, then a member of the Vatican’s advisory commission on sexual abuse, saying that Pell was a sociopath. What viewers weren’t told was that Saunders heads an organisation that holds eccentric beliefs about Satanic Ritual Abuse and so-called recovered memory.

The Australian programme has a track record of hysterical claims. The year before it aired a breathless documentary, entitled “Spies, lords and predators”, into the so-called Westminster VIP paedophile scandal which was then convulsing the news. It promised to expose what it called “the biggest political scandal Britain has ever faced”, which it said involved “a secret network of the highest office holders in the land, past and current members of parliament, cabinet ministers, judges, diplomats, even one of the country’s top spies”…

The secretive network was then being investigated by the Metropolitan Police under “Operation Midland”, a title which like the Guilford Four, has become synonymous with scandal. Just as with Pell, the claims being investigated in Operation Midland were historic, lacked any supporting forensic evidence and should have been treated with caution not credulousness.

Catherine discussed these points further in discussion with Damian Thompson, as I noted here; this was shortly before Saunders was disgraced after it came to light that he had had an opportunistic drunken sexual encounter with a vulnerable adult in a restaurant toilet during a work-related meeting. Meanwhile, “Spies, Lords and Predators” has not fared well under scrutiny, as I discussed here.

Notes

1. Also worth noting is Rod Dreher’s speculation that Pell may have been framed by the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. While based in Rome, Pell was put in charge of reforming the Vatican bank, and Dreher notes a 2013 report stating the view of Calabrian Mafia investigator Nicola Gratteri that such banking reform “could prove a problem for the ’Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful Mafia”. Dreher says that this same mafia “control organized crime on Australia’s East Coast” and “are said to have infiltrated every part of the Australian establishment.”

2. Morris-Marr’s account of her dispute with Bolt was also carried uncritically by the UK Guardian, despite an older report in the same paper that raises questions about her journalistic ethics. The story concerned a journalist named Mark Covell who had been beaten up by police in Italy during the 2001 G8 protests; Morris-Marr, who at the time was just Lucie Morris of the Daily Mail, visited Covell in hospital the next day without disclosing that she was a journalist (he had assumed she was from the British Embassy) and later wrote up a piece falsely accusing him of “helping to mastermind” anarchist riots during the protest. As explained by Roy Greenslade in 2005:

[Covell’s lawyers] pointed to a possible breach of his privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights and a similar article of the Italian constitution, not to mention a contravention of data protection laws. Morris appeared to have breached three clauses of the editors’ code of practice, having invaded Covell’s privacy, intruded into his grief and shock, and entered a hospital bedroom, where he surely had a reasonable expectation of privacy, without permission.

Costs, damages, and a rare letter of apology followed.

A Note on 5G Coronavirus Conspiricism

A couple of Tweets from the Guardian‘s technology editor Alex Hern (2 April):

The Sovereign Citizens and the 5G Truthers are merging. Someone has emailed to say “a Notice will be hand delivered by the military police” and “reported to the World Court and Interpol and your Liberty will be removed without further notice” if I don’t reveal the truth about 5G [here]

Oh there’s a little bit of Coronavirus conspiracy in there too: “5G is lethal to humanity and all living things, it produces irreversible damage to DNA and kills any living being, as demonstrated in Wuhan Radiation [experiment]”. The square brackets are in the original. [here]

5G scaremongering has actually been a staple of “Sovereign Citizen” activism in the UK for a while (see e.g. the website of a group called the “New Chartists”). The crossover with Covid-19 conspiracism ought be to be a particularly absurd outlier, yet in the context of a national crisis it appears to have been responsible for a recent shift from people sounding off online to committing acts of arson against 5G masts.

The crossover has been addressed in a article by Ryan Broderick for Buzzfeed:

The UK’s early push into 5G cellular coverage has led to an especially active British anti-5G movement. In 2018, the Democrats and Veterans Party, an offshoot of the British far-right political party UKIP, hosted at their party conference British YouTuber and conspiracy theorist Mark Steele, whose speech on the dangers of 5G is featured regularly in conspiracy theory videos. The dangers of 5G were also a major talking point in the 2019 election for UKIP and its supporters.

Steele (who confusingly also goes by the name of Anthony Steele) also has a presence on Twitter, where he describes engineers working on the masts as “criminals working to kill children” and suggests that “anyone not covering the 5G crime is an enemy of the people”. If this is not incitement to violence, then what is?

Steele also promotes the specific 5G coronavirus  theory – indeed, he may even be its originator, as back in February he was already claiming that “WUHAN had the 5G in the Streetlights”. Some of his Tweets incorporate short to-camera videos, in which there is more of a hint of a smirk as he expounds his various claims and allegations; and when he opines that Boris Johnson “MUST HAVE BEEN STANDING TO [sic] CLOSE TO A 5G TRANSMITTER” you have to wonder whether his wild conspiracy-mongering is nihilistic and performative rather than simply delusional.

I wrote about the Democrats and Veterans Party conference here, although I didn’t note Steele’s presence specifically. Steele’s appearance was as an influencer within the UK conspiracy milieu – other speakers included UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom and Bill Etheridge, Sir WIlliam Jaffray (misspelt as “William Jaffrey”) Jon Wedger and Belinda McKenzie.

Steele’s anti-5G activism has also been amplified on conspiracy podcasts (hosted by e.g. Lou Collins and Richie Allen), as well as, erm… by Mail Online, which in 2018 ran an article reporting that 5G “radiation given off by state-of-the-art street lamps is wreaking havoc on the residents of Gateshead, according to local Mark Steele.” This was several months before Steele was fined for threatening councillors.

In September 2019, Steele appeared on a panel at an event titled “5G Apocalypse London“. The panel was headed by Sacha Stone, founder of a pseudo-court cosplay outfit called the International Tribunal for Natural Justice.

Some Media Notes on Farah Damji

From the Daily Mirror:

A former New York art gallery owner who made the life of a church warden “complete hell” has been sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Farah Damji, 53, was jailed for five years in 2016 for stalking the engineer after meeting him on an online dating site in October 2013.

…The businesswoman, who ran an art gallery in Manhattan in the 1990s, was convicted in February of two counts of breaching the restraining order on April 2018 and June 2018.

There now just remains the small matter of apprehending her – she has declined to make herself available to the authorities, and sentencing took place in absentia.

Damji’s scofflaw antics have provided the media with fodder for years; here’s Guy Adams writing about her in the Independent in 2006:

Damji, the socialite daughter of a prominent Asian property tycoon, has become a notorious figure in the media village. She last made headlines in October after being jailed for three-and-a-half years for using stolen credit-cards to fund her free-spending lifestyle.

As that case approached trial, she dropped another gift into the laps of headline writers by impersonating David Blunkett’s secretary and two members of the Crown Prosecution Service, in a failed bid to have the charges against her dropped.

Damji absconded that time as well, bringing her further fame as “Britain’s first on-the-run blogger”, and Adams observed that “recent coverage of her tale has been remarkably sympathetic” despite the fact that many of her frauds during this period “involved other journalists”. This was also the case even though there was evidence that Damji was not just crooked but also vicious, with a former lover (the author William Dalrymple) having called in the police.

Following her release from prison, Damji easily re-established her position as a London socialite involved with literary/media matters – the publication of her memoir Try Me in 2009 was covered by the Lifestyle section of the Evening Standard under the headline “Confessions of London’s most dangerous woman”, and the gushing profile amplified various grievances she had included in the book:

we find tales of incest, rape and kidnapping; allegations of an alcoholic father and a mother incapable of love: of pimping — Damji was once a madam for a New York “escort agency”—and of numerous sleazy, dangerous men, all named. There are drugs and drug-dealing, prison and escape and, yes, high glamour both here and in New York. How much of it we can believe isn’t clear, as Damji’s chequered past makes her a very unreliable narrator. But her version of her own life is compelling.

This media plug was published while Damji was persisting in criminal behaviour, and just a few months later she was jailed for ripping off landlords and engaging in benefit fraud. The Daily Mail covered the case at the time; due to what I assume is a technical error the article was recently re-dated from 2010 to 2020, but the original can be seen in the Internet Archive here and her age as given in the piece signals the error.

Despite being jailed for 15 months at the end of January 2010, she was (bafflingly) out in time to participate in the Stoke Newington Literary Festival in June (in conversation with Darcus Howe) and to take part in a subsequent event at a local library in August (where she appeared alongside Shaun Attwood). Perhaps inevitably, she also set herself up as a prison reform activist – the Sunday Times cast a critical eye over her attempts to monetise this with a 2011 piece headlined “Fraudster eyes Tory rehab cash“, but although her plans fell through she remained available as a rent-a-quote on prisons in the years that followed.

Frustratingly, however, despite her name continuing to appear in the Evening Standard diary column (e.g. here in 2012) there was no media interest in the fact that she was also engaging in harassment against multiple targets (I discussed one case here). She wasn’t brought to book until 2016, by which point it was at last very clear that the previous “colourful rogue” media framing was not appropriate:

The court heard that between December 19, 2013 and January 5, 2014 Dan [Damji’s legal surname], using a number of false identities, made 186 silent or hoax calls and texts to the victim’s mobile.

She also tried to plant stories in the media about the company where the man’s company.

She even sent sexually explicit texts and made silent calls to her victim’s 16-year-old son.

…Some of the more disturbing messages included threats of sexual violence against members of the victim’s family including his six-year-old daughter.

Damji continues to maintain her innocence, and alleges a widespread conspiracy against her involving her victim and the authorities. So adept is she at playing the system that even while in prison in 2017 she managed to get the UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee to upload a document to the Parliament website that amplified her version of events and tormented her victim further with incredibly vile allegations (although he wasn’t named) – this was achieved by inserting the details into what was supposedly a report on mental health services in prison, thus taking advantage of the liberal principle that serving and ex-prisoners may have some useful and valid insights into prison conditions.

Damji’s most recent conviction and sentencing were covered by Court News UK, and it is likely that the Mirror article is derived from their work. However, it is reasonable to suppose that media interest in Damji has declined, and this is likely to have been the case even without the current pandemic. That may be harder for her to bear than yet another prison sentence from which there is very little chance she will emerge either rehabilitated or subdued.