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UFO Author Police and Crime Commissioner Appoints Ted Heath Investigator as Adviser

From The Times:

The former chief constable who led the inquiry into alleged abuse by Sir Edward Heath and who later resigned over allegations of serious misconduct is being paid to advise an elected police and crime commissioner.

Mike Veale, who headed forces in Wiltshire and Cleveland, has been given a contract with Rupert Matthews, who runs the Leicestershire force.

…He was appointed by Matthews, a former MEP, on the recommendation of Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire. Bridgen regularly publicly defended Veale during the inquiry into Heath.

As well as being a former MEP, Matthews is the author of works such as UFOs: A History of Alien Activity from Sightings to Abductions to Global Threat and Roswell: Uncovering the Secrets of Area 51 and the Fatal UFO Crash.

As chief constable of Wiltshire Police, Veale infamously squandered £1.4 million in the futile pursuit of child sex abuse allegations against Heath, who had died a decade beforehand. Dramatic leaks to the Mail on Sunday‘s political correspondent Simon Walters claimed that Veale was “120 per cent convinced” that Heath was guilty, although the final report turned out to be a damp squib. Veale denied leaking to the media, although as soon as the report was out he gave interviews to Walters and also to Mark Watts, a journalist heavily invested in the claims of Carl Beech.

A bizarre coda was that Veale was soon afterwards found to have lied about the circumstances in which his work mobile phone had been destroyed, although he was cleared of an anonymous allegation that “he had collaborated with a Conservative MP to leak the details and covered his tracks by destroying his phone”. The IOPC accepted Veale’s account that he had accidentally destroyed the phone in a moment of annoyance while playing golf, and had lied to avoid “media attention”. By coincidence, the phone had come to grief a day after the Mail on Sunday had run a story with the headline “Police: If Ted Heath was alive today we’d quiz him under caution on child abuse claims” – a sensationalisation of routine police procedure with the intention of implying “no smoke without fire”.

Veale failed upwards by then becoming chief constable of Cleveland Police, but as noted by The Times he “later resigned over allegations of serious misconduct”. According to an update at the end of the article, the IOPC has passed a report to Cleveland’s PCC, but says it is “not in a position” to share its findings. Veale’s supporters within the conspiracy theory milieu claim that the Cleveland allegations are the revenge of the establishment; certainly, it’s possible that Veale was ousted improperly, but if so then the context is more likely to be local corruption (Veale was the third Chief Constable of Cleveland Police since Sean Price was dismissed for misconduct in 2012).

It’s not quite clear why Andrew Bridgen, who has no connection with Wiltshire, was such an enthusiast for the Heath investigation – however, he has also written in support of old allegations against Greville Janner in Leicestershire, and it may be that he saw the Heath case as being the some kind of thing. His writings on Janner in turn form part of his campaign against Keith Vaz, who has been accused of having “protected” Janner.

The regular rent-a-quote MP also has links with the conspiracy milieu: earlier this year he was criticised after giving an interview to none other than Anna Brees, and her former associate Jon Wedger previously claimed in 2018 that Bridgen had “made contact” with him.

Jon Wedger Puffed in New MailOnline Article

From journalist James Fielding at MailOnline:

A former Kray henchman and Britain’s one-time most wanted armed robber have joined forces with an ex-detective to coax youngsters away from crime.

Chris Lambrianou, one of Ronnie and Reggie Kray’s most feared gang members, has teamed up with Terry Ellis, who spent nearly nine years in jail after a spate of multi-million pound heists, and retired Metropolitan Police officer Jon Wedger.

This is Fielding’s second article about Lambrianou for MailOnline, following a 2018 piece about how Lambrianou had found Jesus while in prison. That earlier article also referred to Wedger, mentioning that Lambrianou had “joined forces with former Metropolitan Police detective John Wedger [sic] to organise a sponsored canal walk from London to Manchester to raise funds” for a different charity. Both articles are liberally decorated with file photos of the elderly Lambrianou socialising with ancient London gangsters at mob-related funerals, even though he has renounced his former activities and criticised the mythologising of the Kray twins.

It seems likely that Fielding’s line to Lambrianou came through Wedger – Fielding previously wrote about Wedger for the Daily Express, in the wake of several articles promoting the conspiracy theorist Bill Maloney, a close associate of Wedger who seems to have disappeared from public view. Maloney’s contacts led to stories by Fielding with headlines such as “Female MP abused boy in care” – this was during the middle of the last decade, when just about any story alleging “VIP abuse” could make it into tabloid newspapers on the coattails of the Carl Beech circus.

Which brings us back to Wedger: MailOnline readers are not informed by Fielding that Wedger is a prominent figure within the UK conspiracy theory milieu, with a particular focus on child sex abuse and Satanic Ritual Abuse, – associates include the likes of Jeanette Archer and, previously, Anna Brees. Wedger runs a “Jon Wedger Foundation” that sells merchandise promoting his image (1), and in one of his videos he has scoffed at the idea that he should be financially accountable, arguing that it up to anyone who thinks funds are being misused to prove their case rather than for him to be transparent. Louise Dickens (granddaughter of the late Geoffrey Dickens) at one point was working with Wedger but she has now split from him, raising numerous concerns.

Fielding’s new article has further details about the new project:

The three of them help run Changing Lives, a charity which strives to divert young people away from crime by mentoring them and working with them to find work.

So far the project has helped a number of former criminals, including teenagers involved with knife gangs, a hardened bank robber and prolific prostitute, to go straight.

Based at the Pillar of Fire Ministries in Dagenham, Essex, the charity is a stone’s throw from the East End manor that Lambrianou helped the Krays run with an iron fist.

The “prolific prostitute” is described as someone who had been trafficked from Nigeria, and given this context the description of her as a “criminal” rather than a victim is troubling framing, although she is quoted as being grateful for their help. Pillar of Fire Ministries is a Black-majority church, led by Pastor Patrick Nnadi; Lambrianou previously had an association with the now-disbanded Jesus Army.

Terry Ellis was profiled by the Guardian in 2018. He was interviewed by Wedger for a podcast back in September – Ellis described him on Twitter as “the ex-police man who exposed police corruption and the cover up of child abuse”, which is also Wedger’s self-description.

Footnote

1. Here’s an image of James Zikic sporting an “I stand with Jon Wedger” t-shirt at Speakers’ Corner in London. Zikic provides security services to high-profile conspiracy theory promoters, including David Icke.

A Note on the Media and the Wuhan “Lab-Origin” Theory

From Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post:

The source of the coronavirus that has left more than 3 million people dead around the world remains a mystery. But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence.

…a lack of transparency by China and renewed attention to the activities of the Wuhan lab have led some scientists to say they were too quick to discount a possible link at first.

Kessler’s article has been received with glee by strong proponents of the “lab-origin” theory of Covid-19, with Fox News reacting with an article headlined “Ted Cruz mocks Washington Post as ‘clowns’ after fact-check declares Wuhan lab leak theory ‘suddenly’ credible”.

More generally, a Substack post by Michael Tracey headlined “As New Evidence Emerges For COVID “Lab-Leak” Theory, Journalists Who Screamed “Conspiracy” Humiliate Themselves” is proving popular, although Kessler’s WaPo colleague Aaron Blake has a more measured perspective:

It has become evident that some corners of the mainstream media overcorrected when it came to one particular theory from Trump and his allies: that the coronavirus emanated from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, rather than naturally.

It’s also true that many criticisms of the coverage are overwrought and that Trump’s and his allies’ claims invited and deserved skepticism.

Blake notes that the Trump administration “leaned into” the lab-leak theory “hard” while declining to provide evidence.

He could have gone further: public discussion was positively corrupted by bad actors such as Steve Bannon, who produced an alleged whistleblower who claimed that the chimeric nature of the coronavirus was self-evident, but was being covered up by scientists in cahoots with China (she was heavily promoted on Fox via Tucker Carlson). In the UK, articles sensationally promoting – rather than fairly evaluating – specific lab-origin claims were prominent in the Mail on Sunday (which took credit for Trump being asked about the subject at a press conference) and the Daily Telegraph, which wheeled out  former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove to give the subject the aura and authority of “intelligence”, even though he has no more knowledge of the subject than the rest of us (Dearlove recently went on to provide similar commentary to LBC).

Meanwhile, scientific voices who argue for continuing scepticism risk being overlooked. On Twitter, a thread by Nsikan Akpan (former science editor at National Geographic) argues that there is evidence against the “lab-origins” theory and for the “natural origins” theory; his interpretation is backed by a data scientist with a biology background here and expanded on here.

UPDATE: See also “The Lab Leak Theory Doesn’t Hold Up” by Justin Ling for Foreign Policy.

Exposed by Hoaxtead: High-Profile Satanic Ritual Abuse Accuser’s Story Based on Impossible Dates

From Hoaxtead:

Jeanette Archer… has run into the problem which ultimately faces just about anyone who attempts to construct elaborate stories of Satanic ritual abuse out of thin air: sooner or later, the details will come back to bite you.

In this case, the most relevant detail is that her paternal grandfather, whom she claims headed a Satanic cult and abused her from an early age, died in 1955, twelve years before she was born. The blog author dispenses with the possibility that Archer was instead referring to a step-grandfather, since “her mother didn’t remarry until Jeanette was 13”. This was when she acquired the “Archer” surname, meaning that her paternal family history was obscured.

Archer has achieved some prominence as a supposed “Satanic Ritual Abuse survivor” – supporters have included Jon Wedger, Shaun Attwood and Louise Dickens (Dickens has since fallen out with her), and last year she hitched her awful disclosures to a Covid conspiracy protest in Hammersmith, where she was applauded by Piers Corbyn. More recently, she was filmed ranting through a megaphone outside Downing Street about Boris Johnson murdering children and drinking their blood for the adrenochrome. This was again at a Covid conspiracy protest, and she appeared to enjoy the support of the crowd. (1)

It should be noted that Archer has not confined her claims to the conspiracy milieu – back in 2012 she made a complaint to Surrey Police, who then wasted some time dealing with her allegations. As noted by Hoaxtead, they apparently determined that her grandfather had never had a driving licence, but it seems they overlooked her impossible dates.

In the Hoaxtead comments, criminologist Richard Hoskins has some further details (link added):

As for Jeanette, Surrey police asked me to investigate a massive historic SRA claim about 10 years ago. I did all my due diligence but when I discovered that the allegator (new word which I rather like) was able to find all her blocked memories from, wait for it, Michelle Remembers my blood ran cold. I phoned the Chief Super and told him that by all means he could go and dig up the wells to find the buried baby bodies etc. but that he was almost certainly wasting precious police time. I told them she was a fake. To give them their due, they paid attention. Unlike dear old Mike Veale and Wiltshire police.

 

Footnote

1. In an earlier postHoaxtead also notes that Archer was accompanied at the protest by a large bearded bodyguard, identified as one James Zikic. As described by Hoaxtead, Zikic is a former mixed martial arts fighter who has also provided security to Wedger and to David Icke, as well as to the Turkish evangelist Hatun Tash. Apparently he used to work with Usman Raja, a cage-fighting coach who also runs a de-radicalisation programme; Raja responded to the Hoaxtead post by saying he was “genuinely sad to see him go so far astray”.

Hoaxtead also draws attention to other members of Jeanette Archer’s security detail: Dan Young, “who seems fascinated with guns and pseudo-military paraphernalia”, and self-described “occult researcher” Jay Fernandez, shown “clad in surveillance LARPing gear, and toting what looks like a firearm”.

A Note on Douglas Murray’s Attack on Byline Times

Commentator and author Douglas Murray takes aim at Byline Times on Twitter:

When the ‘executive editor’ of conspiracy theory website ‘Byline Times’ lied about me he had to pay thousands of pounds in costs and compensation + publish an apology. I hope everybody else defamed by his garbage site takes similar action. [1]

Conspiracy-theory website ‘Byline Times’ just quietly amended another article. One of their ‘journalists’ manipulated quotes from a former State Department official to pretend he’d said something he hadn’t. They then built a story from this. Who funds such disinformation? [2]

Murray’s ire was prompted by an article by Nafeez Ahmed criticising the UK government’s appointment of Robin Simcox as Lead Commissioner on Countering Extremism. Ahmed notes that Simcox has a number of controversial associations, including having spoken at the Center for Immigration Studies and while at the Heritage Center having promoted “Dr Lorenzo Vidino”, described as a “Great Replacement” proponent “whom Simcox cites to support the idea that American Muslim civil society groups are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood”. The rhetoric is a bit over-heated for my taste, with the terms “far-right” and “hate group” scattered throughout, but Murray – whose association with Simcox goes back to the Centre for Social Cohesion more than ten years ago – and other critics (1) fail to demonstrate substantive flaws.

Thus Murray’s Tweets instead promote a narrative that appears calculated to discredit Byline more generally. However, his unwillingness to go into detail is telling.

As regards his first Tweet, this relates to a Tweet by Byline‘s editor, Peter Jukes (who I have met a few times). His apology appeared in 2019:

On 29 April 2019 I tweeted a copy of a Byline article about the rise of violence in the far right. The accompanying tweet mentioned Douglas Murray and may have suggested that he was trying to foment violence. That is not my view and not what I intended to say [1]

I would like to apologise to Mr Murray for my careless tweet and the distress it caused him [2]

In response to Murray dredging the incident up, Peter now adds:

Two years ago, in a poorly worded late night tweet I meant to to say Murray’s work was used by the far right.

Further:

Nobody had complained for over a month yet the tweet had been strangely boosted. Legal complaint was by letter not email. Given the strange circumstances, I decided to pay the legal fees and not let it drag down the other 300 writers on Byline Times, who’d nothing to do with it

This falls somewhat short of the implication of Murray’s first Tweet, which is that Byline had published an article about him containing untrue factual claims rather than that Peter in a personal capacity had published a Tweet that had appeared to have inferred a malign motive unfairly. The matter was settled out of court by Peter rather than by Byline after Murray brought the libel lawyer Mark Lewis into it. It’s not clear how the Tweet came to Murray’s attention in the first place, especially after a gap, but it may be that someone with a grudge against Peter tipped him off.

The second Murray Tweet, meanwhile, refers to corrections that appear on two of Ahmed’s articles (the main one and a follow-up) relating to Peter Mandaville:

This article was amended on 13/04/21 to correctly portray former U.S. State Department official Peter Mandaville’s position. He has not directly commented or expressed any view on the appointment of Robin Simcox but rather offered an expert comment on the nature of anti-Muslim Brotherhood activism in the United States and the potential effects of its export to the United Kingdom.

A published correction in my view is not consistent with Murray’s phrase “quietly amended”, which implies an attempt to withdraw a claim without anyone noticing, and the date shows that it was published several days before Murray said it had “just” happened. Further, neither story is “built” from a view attributed to Mandaville.

Footnote

1. Ahmed’s main Byline article was described as an “Islamist smear campaign” by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who prevailed upon the historian Simon Schama to a delete a Tweet promoting it. However, Schama also clarified to Ahmed that “I… have neither said, nor for a minute think, you’re an Islamist”.

Some Notes on Jan Hieronimko, The Polish Journalist Who Acted in Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

A while ago I was watching the Carl Dreyer film Vampyr (1932), and I was intrigued by the participation of a man billed as Jan Hieronimko, who played an evil village doctor who assists the vampire but comes to a floury end suffocated in a mill. This was Hieronimko’s only acting credit, having been spotted for the role by Dreyer’s casting assistant, reportedly on the Paris metro. According to the Eureka! Blu-Ray commentary by Tony Rayns, Hieronimko was an academic, but there aren’t many details about him online beyond his dates on the IMDB: born in Warsaw 1863, died Paris 1942. Now, after a bit of Googling and running some passages of Polish through Google Translate, I have some extra information.

First, Hieronimko’s birth name was apparently Hieronim Kohn, although there two alternative spellings, of Hieronim Kon and Hieronim Cohn. Hieronimko was a nom de plume he used as a journalist, which then formed the basis for Jan Hieronimko as his proper name. However, by the time he died he was using the name Jérôme Hieronimko – “Jérôme” of course being the Francophone version of Hieronymus.

Some of Hieronimko’s journalism can be found in scans of old Polish-language newspapers. He was a correspondent for Robotnik, but he also contributed to other papers, one of which introduces him as having relocated to Paris in 1905 and joined a university faculty. A genealogy website has uploaded his funeral notification, which describes him as follows:

Homme de Lettres
Président de l’Assistance aux Prisonniers Polonais en France
Commandeur de l’Ordre de Polonia Restituta
Officier de la Légion d’Honneur

He died on 26 June, which was the month in which Paris’s Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star prior to deportation, although perhaps Hieronimko’s “Kohn” origins were unknown to the Nazi occupiers. He was buried in Montmorency cemetery. He discussed his work with Polish prisoners here in 1937.

More details about Hieronimko are apparently available in Volume 3 of a reference work called Słownik biograficzny działaczy polskiego ruchu robotniczego (Biographic Dictionary of Activists in the Polish Labour Movement), in an entry by Alicja Pacholczykowa. However, as noted by article in the journal Przegląd polonijny (Volume 27 2001), Pacholczykowa confused Dreyer with Julien Duvivier and was under the impression that the film was called Professeur Vampire. Google Books Snippet view provides only glimpses of these sources, otherwise I would provide fuller references.

A further interesting detail from the funeral notice is that Hieronimko’s son-in-law was named André Capagorry. This is the name of a post-war colonial administrator in French Africa, who was the last governor of Réunion (where he died in retirement in 1981). Apparently he had a Polish wife, so it is likely that this is the same person (1). Unfortunately, his wife is unidentified other than as “Mme Capagorry”, although a 1958 notice in Bulletin officiel des annonces civiles et commerciales (again via Google Books) refers to

Nomination , en qualité de gérante , de ‘ Mme CAPAGORRY , née STANKIEWICZ ( Jeanne – Angèle )

Perhaps this is someone else, but two Polish Madame Capagorrys seems unlikely. Presumably she switched “Kohn” for “Stankiewicz” for survival reasons, just as her father had adopted a form of his given name as his new surname.

There was a Hieronim Cohn Publishing House in Warsaw in the 1890s and 1900s, specialising in Yiddish translations into Polish. I haven’t been able to discover if this was also associated with Hieronimko.

Footnote

1. In French Congo, the couple owned a lowland gorilla named Mo Koundje, also known as Mok, who was eventually sold to London Zoo and whose taxidermy mount is now in Leeds.

Quilliam Foundation Closes

An announcement from Maajid Nawaz:

Due to the hardship of maintaining a non-profit during Covid lockdowns, we took the tough decision to close Quilliam down for good. This was finalised today. A huge thank you to all those who supported us over the years. We are now looking forward to a new post-covid future

The Quilliam Foundation website and social media presences have been removed, and Nawaz has also deleted his archive of Tweets, even though his Twitter feed is his personal account. Consequently, anyone wanting to review his commentary on the 2020 US election will have to be content with quotes preserved elsewhere.

Despite Quilliam’s former prominence – its reports formed the basis for public discussions on topics relating to Islamic extremism and “grooming gangs”, and it famously facilitated Tommy Robinson’s departure from the English Defence League – its closure has not received much media attention, with only the critical Middle East Eye writing it up so far. However, the journalist Medhi Hasan noted its passing on Twitter, and raised a couple of questions:

Question 1: where did the 3 million dollars or so that the SPLC in 2018 paid Quilliam and Nawaz go?

Question 2: why has Nawaz deleted all his tweets including his recent series of tweets and retweets flirting with QAnon-style, pro-Trump election conspiracies?

The payout, which was actually from the SPLC”s insurers, was a settlement in relation to a libel action after the SPLC described Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist”. According to the SPLC statement, dated June 2018. it had agreed to make amends by paying “$3.375 million to Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam to fund their work to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and extremism”.

In January, Nawaz referred to this incident, and to others where he had secured settlements and media apologies over mischaracterisations, as a warning to critics that “I don’t do fail” when it comes to protecting his reputation. This, though, did not deter the Observer, which at the end of the month ran an article titled “LBC’s Maajid Nawaz’s fascination with conspiracies raises alarm”. Nawaz declared the article to be “targeted harassment”, although legal action has not been forthcoming. The reference in the headline to LBC rather than to Quilliam shows that Nawaz is now primarily a talk radio celebrity, and as such he may have outgrown the need for a think-tank vehicle.

The question about money is also pertinent to a tribunal case brought by a former employee, who was told in March 2019 that Quilliam “was unable to pay her as it had run out of funds”. The employee was awarded several months of unpaid wages, and her eventual redundancy was ruled to have been “procedurally unfair”. Think tanks of course tend to employ individuals who have an ideological affinity with their aims, and employee commitment to the cause can be taken advantage of – I am aware of a similar situation with a different “anti-Islamist” group that occurred a few years ago.

A Note on the Daily Mail, Colin Stagg, Operation Midland and the Metropolitan Police

From the Daily Mail, a week ago:

Colin Stagg is now 57, greying and portlier than when he hit the headlines in the early 1990s, but there is no mistaking his features as he heads to his local Tesco Express for his checkout shift.

He was the innocent loner targeted in a police honey trap involving a blonde undercover officer whose mission was to get him to ‘confess’ to a murder he did not commit.

Mr Stagg never admitted killing Rachel Nickell, 23 – stabbed 49 times in front of her young son Alex on Wimbledon Common in July 1992 – and there was no worthwhile evidence against him, but police still charged him with her murder.

…For now, friends say he is simply getting on with his life after being the victim of one of Scotland Yard’s most disgraceful investigations in which – as in the more recent shambolic VIP child abuse inquiry Operation Midland – the presumption of innocence was not adhered to by police.

Stagg’s current circumstances are deemed newsworthy due to an upcoming Channel 4 drama about the case. The reference to Operation Midland, though, links the the story to the paper’s ongoing series of articles about fall-out from the Carl Beech fiasco.

In recent weeks the paper has returned to claims that Operation Midland search warrants were obtained unlawfully by the Met by misleading a judge, and it has highlighted that two unnamed false accusers who hitched their wagon to Beech’s star at a time when the Met had declared his allegations to be “credible and true” have not faced any action against them (an outcome that is currently being investigated by Merseyside Police). There has also been a piece on “bombshell emails” detailing how Cressida Dick, who currently heads the Met (although that may change very soon after last night’s incident on Clapham Common), “was shielded by her colleagues”, and an article denouncing the appointment of former Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe (now Lord Hogan-Howe) “to carry out an external review of a major police database blunder.”

However, the description of what happened to Colin Stagg as being “of one of Scotland Yard’s most disgraceful investigations” comes over as somewhat unreflective given how tabloids including the Mail persecuted him after his trial collapsed in 1994 – an outcome that was less than an exoneration until the actual killer was identified several years later. Here’s Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer in 2006:

The worst of it was that the police and media persuaded the family of Rachel Nickell that the crucial difference between Stagg and [Myra] Hindley was that Stagg had got away with murder. The News of the World ran lipsmacking pieces on how the ‘weirdo’ demanded ‘bizarre sex’ with his ‘terrified’ girlfriend yards from where Rachel Nickell was murdered. The Daily Mail quoted Andre Hanscombe, father of her son, saying he was ’99 per cent certain’ that Stagg was guilty and the government should remove the double jeopardy law so he could be tried again. It also ran a serialisation of a self-justificatory book by the officer in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Keith Pedder, headlined ‘How British Justice Betrayed Rachel’s Son’.

All the harassment and the tub-thumping, the misleading of Rachel Nickell’s family and the denigration by the judge was in vain; a vast exercise in distraction left the real killer free to commit other crimes.

Cohen’s article is headlined “With police and tabloids in cahoots, Colin Stagg became a sacrificial lamb”. That cosiness apparently came to an end when the Metropolitan Police began investigating tabloid phone-hacking; thus the Mail‘s right-wing polemicist Richard Littlejohn, reacting to the paper’s recent articles on Operation Midland, last month linked the case to “the Gestapo tactics the Old Bill used against journalists accused of phone-hacking and paying public servants for information” (1).

I wrote more about the investigation into Stagg here.

Note

1. Journalistic hostility to the Met, though, did not inhibit the paper’s hatchet-man Guy Adams from in 2019 referring online to former Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Mike Veale as “carrot-cruncher”, shortly after an ITV dramatization of the Levi Bellfield case revealed that “carrot” is an derisive nickname used within the Metropolitan Police to refer to officers from other forces.

Mail Online Amplifies Abusive Tweet

When is a “vile troll” not a “vile troll”? The Daily Mail website (which also incorporates the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online) yields around 2,000 Google search results for the phrase (singular and plural); there are also many more related stories on the site that don’t use the exact expression. Examples of trolling deemed worthy of condemnatory news coverage range from taunting messages that wish individuals harm or express glee over some personal tragedy, through to more mundane kinds of hurtful abuse.

Yet “vile trolls” have their uses, one of which is to editorialise by proxy. In such cases, trolls are actually the authentic pox populi, merely expressing strong opinions about members of elite who need to be taken down a peg or two. A recent example of this appears in a MailOnline piece, under the headline

British viewers call on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to lose Duke and Duchess rank for being ‘disrespectful’ to the Queen during bombshell Oprah interview – but Americans praise couple’s ‘honesty and bravery’

The article takes the form of a social media round-up, and is heavy with screenshots. Like all such articles, the material chosen for display is selective, and this exhibit in particular from Twitter caught my eye:

What a bitch. Hope her and Harry lose their Duke and Duchess titles. She’s got no class and doesn’t deserve to be associated with our Royal family. Meghan’s half sister was right in her pre-wedding interviews.

The word “bitch” is blanked out by the Mail, but the reading is obvious. Despite this, though, the designation “troll” does not appear anywhere – he’s apparently just a “British viewer”.

Why amplify such an individual? The account concerned is anonymous; it has 500 followers, and most of its previous Tweets and RTs consist of lewd comments about female celebrities (including one about the Duchess of Cambridge). It cannot seriously be claimed that such a gratuitous comment needed to be included for reasons of even-handedness.

The Oprah interview included a voiceover segment where Winfrey referred to “constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls”; presumably this is what prompted Ian Murray of the Society of Editors to complain that

It is… unreasonable for the Duke and Duchess to conflate the legitimate coverage provided by the edited and regulated UK media with the wild west of social media.

Yet the “edited and regulated UK media” appears to be very comfortable using “wild west of social media” as a polemical resource.

New York Magazine Describes False Memory as “A Defense for Sex Offenders”

A bad-faith headline from New York Magazine:

The Memory War Jennifer Freyd accused her father of sexual abuse. Her parents’ attempt to discredit her created a defense for countless sex offenders.

Peter Freyd was accused by his daughter after she apparently remembered childhood sex abuse as an adult during a therapeutic encounter. Peter and his wife Pamela Freyd then famously created the False Memory Syndrome Foundation to advocate for memory research, focusing on the phenomenon of supposed “recovered memory”. Advocates for the veracity of recovered memories have celebrated the closure of the FMSF, as I discussed a year ago here in relation to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

Since the 1970s, memory research has given us a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the uncertainties of human memory, and some of this knowledge has relevance to legal proceedings. Of course, evidence that memory is malleable may be useful for guilty defendants looking to explain away victim or witness testimony (a point so banal it is barely worth stating), but it can be vital in preventing miscarriages of justice. Although focusing mostly on the Freyds, the article, by Katie Heaney, also discusses the work of Elizabeth Loftus:

Perhaps no one alive has been harder on memory’s reputation than Loftus. In 1974, the Department of Transportation awarded Loftus — then a newly minted Ph.D. in psychology — a grant to study memory distortion among eyewitnesses of car accidents. That same year, she used her findings to assist a public defender in a murder trial; the defendant got off, and Loftus has had no shortage of work as an expert witness ever since.

“Got off” obviously implies that a guilty defendant got away with it, but here’s the actual context of the case, as described by Loftus herself in 1975:

Last year I worked with the Seattle Public Defender’s office on a case involving a young woman who had killed her boy friend. The prosecutor called it first-degree murder, but her lawyer claimed she had acted in self-defense. What was clear was that during an argument, the defendant ran to the bedroom, grabbed a gun, and shot her boy friend six times. At the trial, a dispute arose about the time that had elapsed between the grabbing of the gun and the first shot. The defendant and her sister said two seconds, while another witness said five minutes. The exact amount of elapsed time made all the difference in the world to the defense, which insisted the killing had occurred suddenly, in fear, and without a moment’s hesitation. In the end the jury must have believed the defendant; it acquitted her. [1]

It’s not clear from this whether Loftus’s testimony was decisive, and that last sentence is slightly infelicitous in that it overstates the jury’s need for belief – perhaps the defendant was compelling, and perhaps there was other evidence in her favour, but if the case hinged on the “five minute” witness then all that was needed was that the jury should be unsure. The anecdote is a coda at the end of an article that discusses various instances of mistaken identity and misremembered details.

Heaney goes on to discuss the limitations of the famous “Lost in the Mall” false memory experiment that Loftus devised with the neuroscientist Jimmy Coan, who at that time was an undergraduate:

Coan, Loftus’s former student and now a neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Virginia, has decidedly mixed feelings about the experiment he inadvertently spearheaded. “I’m slow enough on the uptake that it took me a while to realize that the study I was doing was making people who had been sexually abused feel like I was their enemy,” he tells me. “That was completely devastating to me.” Although he has been asked to testify about false memory in countless court cases, Coan has always refused. He just doesn’t think the mall study is sufficiently relevant. In her excitement, he thinks, Loftus may have “mischaracterized” what started out as an undergraduate assignment for extra credit.

“I got five points,” Coan says. “Five points and decades of grief.”

Coan has responded to this characterisation on Facebook, in two comments:

[deep exhale]… OK. Time to clarify a couple of things about this article, and its accompanying podcast episode. First, Katie Heaney (its author) appears to have done some creative editing of our phone conversation to make it appear that I’m saying that Elizabeth Loftus’s work is unconvincing and misunderstood, when what I’m ACTUALLY talking about is my five point extra credit assignment in Beth’s class nearly 30 years ago. And things like being misquoted in the service of a shoehorned agenda is what I was referring to when I made my “decades of grief” quip. And the reason I don’t testify about all of this when asked to is that I’m not qualified to do so, not that I think the research is bad or irrelevant. [frustrated face here]

I’ve contacted Heaney seeking an explanation. Would love to get the complete recording of our conversation released.

More thoroughgoing critiques of the article have been published by Carrie Poppy on Medium, and by Julian Greaves of the Grey Faction, mentioned in passing by Heaney as the FMSF’s “online, cult-obsessed sons”. As discussed by Poppy:

Heaney also waves her hand at Grey Faction, an activist group that exposes psychological pseudoscience, because they (in her mind) are obsessive teens who are still enthralled by the Satanic Panic caused by repressed memory theory in the ’80s and ’90s. Never mind that that history is intrinsically tied to Qanon, “deep state” conspiracy theories, and the other madness the U.S. is still grappling with today.

Much of Poppy’s critique takes the form of a letter to the editor that was never published. She has also posted letters to the magazine from Loftus, from the Center for Inquiry, from Greaves and his Grey Faction associate Evan Anderson, and from Pamela Freyd herself. A response from the editor, Ted Hart, is also included, although for some reason he didn’t want it made public.

Pamela Freyd’s response includes some forensic observations about Heaney’s rhetoric:

Peter is described as “prideful” rather than “stoic.” A defendant “got off” rather than “was found innocent.” Peter and Pam were “intimate” rather than “were married.” Multiple items associated with Pam and Peter are referred to as “elite,” “wealthy” or “affluent.” Victims of therapeutic suggestion are “gullible” [according to the FMSF] rather than “vulnerable.”

I discussed an earlier attack on the concept of false memory here.

Footnote

1. Elizabeth F. Loftus, 1975. “Reconstructing Memory: The Incredible Eyewitness”, Jurimetrics Journal 15 (3): 188-193, p. 193. Available here.