Maajid Nawaz Threatens Libel Actions Over Claim He Spreads Conspiracy Theories

At the end of the year, Maajid Nawaz issued a warning to anyone taking his name in vain on social media:

A reminder to those on here who have today overstepped the mark & smeared me already.

I’m watching.

My Guradian US action took this to 5-0 [Link]

After action against Bastani it’s now 6-0 [Link]

I don’t do fail —> [Link]

The links refer to financial settlements and media apologies that Nawaz has previously received over misrepresentations about his past and his present activism. Aaron Bastani had incorrectly described him as being a former terrorist rather than a former Islamist, and others had mischaracterised his current activism against Islamism as “Islamophobia”. Most famously, the SPLC’s insurers paid a substantial sum to the Quilliam Foundation after Nawaz was incorrectly included in a report entitled A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. The matter is discussed in the Atlantic here.

More recently, however, Nawaz has come under criticism for his social media commentary on the Covid pandemic and on the likelihood of Donald Trump overturning the election result. On the latter, Nawaz began in November from the reasonable enough position that liberals ought not to dismiss allegations of fraud or irregularities out of hand, and that they should be mindful of legal and constitutional pathways when results are disputed. However, in the days and weeks that followed he increasingly chose to amplify bad actors and articles containing misinformation, including a dud statistical pseudo-analysis which he only repudiated when it was pointed out him that his source was an anti-Semite (a bit awkward given that Nawaz was about to receive a “Beacon of Light” award from the pro-Israel group StandWithUs UK). Nawaz also dabbled in his own speculations, claiming that Diane Feinstein’s husband invests in Dominion and that this is important because a Feinstein “staffer” (actually her driver) had been exposed as a Chinese spy (in 2013).

Nawaz provided no counter-balance when legal challenges to the election result crashed and burned, or when pro-Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood began making extravagant crackpot assertions. Instead, he warned  that “some people are about to be hit by the constructed reality they’ve been living in since election day” as it became clear that some members of Congress intended to object to the results on 6 January. Even now, he hasn’t explicitly given up on the idea that a report from the Director of National Intelligence on the possibility of foreign interference in the election might give Trump the authority to “act unilaterally”.

Polite disagreement from other Twitter users  has been met with blocks, although for some reason he tolerated extensive critical commentary from Sunder Katwala before finally blocking him on 6 January. Many of Katwala’s Tweets on the subject were threaded and can be seen starting starting here.

This then, was the context for Nawaz bringing his December Tweet to the attention of the actor Eddie Marsan after Marsan described him as “a self publicising shock jock promoting dangerous conspiracy theories”, in response to a similar view expressed by Adam Wagner. Thus was after Nawaz Tweeted that “reports on protestors who stormed Capitol Hill being Antifa infiltrators are becoming impossible to ignore”, based on Laura Ingraham’s amplification of a false story in the Washington Times about how this had been established by a facial recognition company.

Nawaz responded by sending him an RT of the Tweet quoted at the start of this post, adding:

Logged & captured.

PS: I do advise you strongly to delete this libellous tweet, apologise & retract. I have a year ahead of me to keep watching.

I’m no stranger to these dark fields.

And I assure you of my patience.

Marsan responded with a somewhat sarcastic apology, which Nawaz chose to take at face value. However, the legal threat has been met with disgust and derision from various quarters (as rounded up by Tim at Zelo Street here). One Twitter user repeated the claim and tagged Mark Lewis, Nawaz’s go-to lawyer but also someone who represents some of Marsan’s acting friends.

Having followed Nawaz’s output on and off over the years, I generally considered him to be a serious person writing and speaking in good faith. I didn’t agree with some of his positions or activities (such as his heralded “deradicalisation” of Tommy Robinson, which has not turned out well), but I was happy to debunk disinformation that was targeted against him (e.g. here and here). However, he always struck me as somewhat self-righteous and as careless in his some of his media-derived claims, and his complaints about being targeted with threats did not always convince. His trigger-happy recourse to libel threats on Twitter has been problematic before: in 2018, for instance, he threatened to sue Jonathan Portes for having inferred that Nawaz’s exhortation to people to read an article by Douglas Murray meant that he agreed with it. I am no longer of the view that his positive contributions outweigh the negative aspects to his position as a public figure.