BBC Broadcasts Carl Beech Documentary

A documentary on the BBC iplayer:

The Unbelievable Story of Carl Beech

Directed by critically acclaimed film-maker Vanessa Engle, this documentary tells the jaw-dropping story of Carl Beech, a former nurse from Gloucester who claimed he had been sexually abused by a group of prominent men in the 1970s and 80s.

The scandal becomes front-page news in 2014 when Beech, better known by his pseudonym Nick, goes public with his incredible allegations, triggering a £2 million police investigation. The film features exclusive interviews with many of the people most closely involved.

The hour-long documentary, which went out last night on BBC 2, primarily takes a “human interest” approach, and although some of the interview material and photos are interesting and occasionally poignant the overall result was superficial and unsatisfying; the subject really needs extensive forensic treatment via a multi-part series if it is to be unpacked and analysed properly. Interviewees include, among others, Beech’s ex-wife Dawn Beech, Lord Bramall’s son Nicolas Bramall, Leon Brittan’s widow Diana Brittan, Exaro‘s Mark Conrad and Sir Richard Henriques, who produced a scathing review of the police following the collapse of Operation Midland, the “VIP abuse and murder” investigation that Beech’s cruel hoax set into motion.

There is also input from Joan Harborne, the ex-wife of Beech’s deceased step-father Raymond Beech, and their daughter Heather, who would have been Carl Beech’s step-sister (Beech was born Carl Gass, but took his step-father’s surname). Ray Beech was the first person whom Carl Beech accused of “historic” sex abuse, and Dawn Beech believes that this allegation at least was genuine. However, Harborne and Heather are adamant that this is not the case, and a PA journalist named Tom Wilkinson adds that Carl had employed a private investigator to find out whether Ray Beech was still alive before he first went to police in 2012 – indicating that he made efforts to ensure Ray was no longer around to defend himself before he made his first allegations. (1)

The documentary was reported in the media ahead of broadcast, and an item in The Times (2) includes one particularly striking detail:

[Mark] Conrad talks about the long period of depression he went through when Beech was found to be a liar. “I know that some of the police who were fooled have had breakdowns as well,” Engle says.

Conrad wrote the first articles that appeared in the Sunday People about Carl Beech (now deleted), who was at that time known in the media as “Nick”, and he is keen to stress Beech’s apparent credibility when asked about whether he was taken for a fool. Conrad and Exaro, the news agency he worked for, get an easy ride here, although Conrad’s self-pitying “depression” claim appears not have made the final cut. Conrad is not asked, for instance, why the Exaro Twitter account denounced doubters as “paedophiles” and “spooks”, or why the the site chose to keep readers in ignorance of the most extravagant elements of Beech’s account (such as an “attempted castration” allegation involving Harvey Proctor and Edward Heath). I discussed some of Conrad’s Tweets following Beech’s conviction here; perhaps the best therapy for his depression would be a round of apologies to those whom Exaro defamed.

The documentary is also notable for who is not featured. Carl Beech’s mother Charmain Beech did not contribute and is not mentioned by name, and Exaro‘s Mark Watts declined to participate. On Twitter, Watts explains his refusal in his usual way, which is to make conspiratorial insinuations of bad faith:

When Vanessa Engle approached me last year about BBC2 documentary on Carl Beech, due to air tonight, I said that the BBC could not be trusted on the subject given its own #VIPaedophile scandal, so I declined to take part [Link].

Other key figures who helped lift the lid a bit on the scandal of Britain’s #VIPaedophiles told me that they had said much the same to Vanessa Engle. Anyone with a genuine interest in truth realised that it would be foolish to participate in such a BBC documentary. [Link] …Engle told me that executive producer of the documentary on Carl Beech was Mike Radford. But she did not mention the other exec producer… The one who had produced a Panorama on #VIPaedophile claims after its editor said that it should adopt an anti-victim agenda [Link]

This “other exec producer” whom Watts for some reason declines to name is Alistair Jackson. The Panorama documentary he is referring to is discussed in the programme – it went out in October 2015 and Exaro launched extensive attacks on its makers’ personal integrity ahead of broadcast, which I logged at the time here. Watts has more recently put forward an argument that Beech’s conviction for perverting the course of justice is “unsafe”, for reasons I have unpicked here. Watts’s disdain for the BBC is hard to take from someone who used to have a show on the Iranian propaganda channel Press TV.

Meanwhile, there have also been criticisms that the documentary played down the involvement of Tom Watson MP, who infamously amplified Beech’s claim that Leon Brittan was “as close to evil as a human being could get” (I discussed the context for this here). Watson is mentioned only in passing, and the Daily Mail alleges that he was only included at all because “furious victims” had complained about his absence from the story, leading to a last-minute re-edit.

One aspect of the fiasco that deserves further consideration is the role of the media more broadly. A Joshi Herrmann noted in the Evening Post in March:

It’s also popular to blame Exaro News, the website that… sold [Beech’s] story to The Sunday People, ignoring how much the Westminster paedophile story was spread by news organisations like the BBC, LBC, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail.

Engle’s documentary includes a clip of Beech’s allegations featuring as the lead story on the BBC News; as the journalist Anne McElvoy now notes on Twitter, “we have not yet heard a full BBC explanation of how unsubstantiated claims could lead news bulletins and who thinks they were responsible”. If you’re wondering why placards reading “Westminster pedos are protected” were present at Saturday’s “soft-QAnon” “Save the Children” protests, this sort of thing is part of the explanation.

The credits were accompanied by a pop song apparently called “Would I Lie to You?”, and the general verdict on Twitter is that this was in poor taste. Another odd decision of Engle was to ask interviewees to read extracts from Beech’s writings, including his comically execrable poetry. Henriques declined the invitation.

Footnotes

(1) Other interviewees include Mike Pierce, who was inspired by Beech to create a sentimental exhibition called “Wall of Silence” (previously discussed here); Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist who had dealings with Beech (discussed here); the criminologist Richard Hoskins (I noted his criticisms previously here); Bernice Andrews, a psychologist who was belatedly asked to assess Beech’s claims as Operation Midland floundered; and Anna-Lisa Andersson, Beech’s oblivious neighbour while he was on the run in Sweden (“my intuition said he was a good man, honest man who wanted to do his best”).

(2) The Times article also includes the following:

…after an 18-month investigation that cost £2.5 million and put huge stress on the accused men — Proctor lost his job and home — not a single arrest had been made. The allegations were completely fabricated. Last year Beech, who had been awarded more than £20,000 in compensation for non-existent injuries suffered in the alleged abuse, was tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison for offences including fraud and perverting the course of justice.

This gives the impression that Beech received compensation relating to Operation Midland, when in fact it resulted from his first complaint, made to Wiltshire Police in 2012. The point is clearer in the documentary, and it is significant: Beech originally accused Raymond Beech, Jimmy Savile and an unnamed “group”, and it is reasonable to assume that he mentioned Savile because he had correctly surmised that claims involving Savile would be subject to inadequate scrutiny and due diligence. This suggests a problem that is far more systemic than the fiasco of Operation Midland, as I noted here.

A Note on “Save the Children” Protests

From NBC News:

…On Saturday, more than 200 “Save the Children” events are scheduled to take place across the country, organized by a constellation of individuals and newly formed groups, according to an NBC News analysis of Facebook events.

…QAnon spent years on the fringes of the internet, with the theory evolving and often growing less specific. What was originally a conspiracy theory that centered on an anonymous internet poster has now become something of a catchall for a variety of beliefs about a hidden group of child abusers in positions of power.

…One group that formed in July, “Freedom for the Children,” has organized more than 60 rallies in 26 states and Canada, according to their website, where they accept donations. Until Wednesday, personal Facebook profiles for co-founders Bhairavi Shera and Tara Nicole seen by NBC News contained posts with conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, the coronavirus and QAnon’s precursor, pizzagate. By Thursday, Shera’s personal profile had been either removed or deleted, and Nicole deleted or made previous posts private.

According to the BBC’s Shayan Sardarizadeh, there was a crowd of 500 in London, and on Facebook he found footage from “Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newport, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Birmingham, Aberdeen and Dundee”. A video here shows that the London contingent eventually made its way to Buckingham Palace, where the crowd chanted “paedophiles” through the gate – to the delight of Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Guiffre, who Tweeted her thanks in response. One of the banners visible here reads “Westminster pedos are protected”, a reference to the various conspiracy theories that were heavily promoted in the tabloid press between 2014 and 2016, and which remain current despite the critical assessment of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the the conviction of the hoaxer Carl Beech.

Meanwhile, an Australian reporter named Cameron Wilson notes that events were “scheduled for Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne”. He adds:

It’s complicated because Save Our Children isn’t a creation of QANon supporters, but they’re co-opting the movement (which is a lot more palatable than their usual “Satanic elite cabal” schtick)

A series of clips from a protest in Hollywood, uploaded by Left Coast Right Watch, can be viewed on Twitter starting here.

Some New Age activists apparently regard Donald Trump as a “light worker“, which dovetails with the central QAnon belief that Trump is about to expose VIP paedophiles and Satanists by announcing mass arrests of opponents and members of “the elite”. But to the dismay of veteran QAnon enthusiasts, many of the weekend’s protesters appear to have little interest in Trump and his populist nationalism; as one writes (screenshot here):

This shit was not organized by any Q outlet that we were aware of.  Just popped out of thin air?  These are not Q people. Zero red white and blue patriots in the crowd. Don’t fall for it!  They all  look like libtards ffs

As assessed by one Twitter user:

the tl;dr version is that QAnon used #SaveTheChildren to try to trick a bunch of new people into their ranks and redpill them into Trump supporters

they’re angry at the CA protests cause the lefties they roped in still hate Trump

The shift to phrases like “Save Our Children” or “Save the Children” started as a way to get around social media action against QAnon hashtags, but beyond being a handy logo is “Q” even needed any more for substantive content? The mass arrests have been continually postponed; Trump has now indicated that he knows little about the movement; he has sent well-wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell; and at this moment his re-election is far from certain.

The roots of the weekend’s protests are broader and deeper than QAnon, and perhaps it is more likely that the energy of QAnon will be assimilated into it rather than that QAnon will co-opt it.

UPDATE: In addition to the above, there was also a UK protest in Nottingham – the self-proclaimed “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger was in attendance and has put online a video, where he is shown talking to Louise Dickens and other activists. This particular event was billed as a “veterans’ march”, and at one point Wedger speaks with someone in military uniform. Another video of the event, apparently uploaded by Tommy Robinson’s “TR News”, shows at least one “Q” placard, along with banners alluding to “grooming” allegations and one stating “Children’s Lives Matter”.

Mail Online has assembled images from Nottingham and an account from social media. According to their write-up:

Giant crowds ignored social-distancing guidelines as they filled Old Market Square with banners claiming ‘Antifa protect pedos’ and ‘God bless Donald Trump’.

And one man was found holding a flag promoting the Werwolf Resistance – an alleged Neo Nazi group… 

Several men are also shown bearing a banner that reads “WHITELAW – We Kneel For No One”,  presumably meant to express contempt for the Black Lives Matter “take a knee” movement.

Covid-19: Anti-Vaxxers and Conspiracy Theorists To Gather at Trafalgar Square

From an advert doing the rounds on social media:

UNITE FOR FREEDOM
Mass Protest and March
Trafalgar Square, London
Saturday 29th August 2020 at 12:00

No More Lockdowns – No Social Distancing – No Masks
No Track and Trace – No Health Passports
No Mandatory Vaccinations No “New Normal”
Restore all human rights that have been violated

Top World Class Doctors and Nurses Speaking Out with Real Truth on Covid19 against GMC constraints!

Prof Dolores Cahil, Dr Adil, Senator Dr Scott Jensen, Dr Sherri Tenpenny, Dr Andrew Kaufman, Dr Eric Nepute, Dr Mikael Norway, Kate Shemirani, Dr Kevin Corbet, Piers Corbyn

Some of those listed above were at a similar event just last week, at which speakers not only denounced the wearing of masks as a public health measure against the spread of Covid-19 but also accused the police of protecting “VIP paedophiles” and covering up the mass murder of children in Satanic rituals.

Despite being “Top World Class Doctors and Nurses”, the speakers may not all be familiar to everyone, so here’s a quick overview:

Prof Dolores Cahill (to spell her name properly) chairs the right-wing Irish Freedom Party. In June it was reported in the Irish Times that she had

been asked to resign from a leading European Union scientific committee over online claims she made about the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an hour-long interview with a popular alt-right activist on May 10th, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, Prof Dolores Cahill promised to “debunk the narrative” of the pandemic.

Lockdown and social distancing is not needed to stop the spread of the virus, she said. People who recover are then “immune for life” after 10 days and deaths and illnesses could have been prevented by extra vitamins, she claimed.

Her interviewer was one Dave Cullen, who goes by the name “Computing Forever”. Health Feedback has addressed her claims here.

Dr Adil – this is Mohammad Iqbal Adil (var. Mohammed Adil), a locum colorectal surgeon who apparently believes that the Covid-19 coronavirus cannot be detected using a nineteenth-century method for identifying microbial pathogens, and therefore its existence hasn’t been proven and any vaccine will be a “scam”. A recent online interview he conducted with the conspiracy theorist Anna Brees led to a row between Brees and David Icke protégé Richie Allen.

Dr Scott Jensen is a Minnesota State Senator who claims that Covid-19 deaths in the USA are being overhyped for financial reasons – his views where amplified by Laura Ingraham at Fox News, and were then taken up by Alex Jones. However, Jensen says he has no knowledge of Jones, and in April he was quoted as rejecting the idea that the coronavirus is being overhyped for electoral reasons. The Minnesota Reformer has more. His apparently somewhat limited scepticism, focusing on the methodology of epidemiology, is in contrast to the more extravagant claims and rhetoric of the other speakers.

Dr Sherri Tenpenny is “an American osteopath who claims that vaccines cause asthma, autism and auto-immune disorders”. In 2015 an intended tour of Australia was called off after venues cancelled on her. Her books include Saying No to Vaccines and Fowl! Bird Flu: It’s Not What You Think.

Dr Andrew Kaufman is a “natural healing consultant” who according to Reuters claims that any vaccine against Covid-19 would amount to genetic modification. He expounded on this in an interview with “independent researcher” Spiro Skouras.

Dr Eric Nepute is apparently a chiropractor, and he commends Schweppes tonic water to prevent and treat COVID-19, due to its quinine content. Snopes has a profile here.

Dr “Mikael Norway” is actually Mikael Nordfors, an enthusiast for alternative medicine who has authored a book on “Demosocracy”, described as “the new system in which liquid democracy solves the problems of corruption and slavery, where the new consciousness sets humans free from the modern society in which we do not belong.” The book “is a guide to a new world order in which the people actually decide together and live in a transhumanist garden of Eden.”

obscure; it’s possible that “Unite For Freedom” has garbled someone’s name so badly he or she cannot be identified.

Kate Shemirani goes by the name “Natual Nurse in a Toxic World”; as recently noted by the BBC:

A glance at what she posts on Facebook and Twitter reveals relentless attacks on Bill Gates, the wearing of masks and NHS staff, whom she calls criminals and liars for perpetuating the “hoax” that is the coronavirus.

But much of her content is about vaccines – this week she claimed the polio vaccine caused polio and had harmed and killed thousands.

Hope Not Hate adds:

in among the unfounded medical advice that she dispenses, Shemirani also teaches her followers about a vast, broader conspiracy: one that includes Satanic symbolism in music videos, the organised destruction of the atomic family, 9/11 as a false flag attack and large-scale sexual abuse of children by a global elite. Shemirani has also expressed her admiration for David Icke and condemned international organisations such as the United Nations and World Health Organisation as belonging to the New World Order.

She has also promoted 5G conspiricism, in conversation with Mark Steele.

Dr Kevin P. Corbett (to correct another speaker’s name) runs “KPC Research and Consultancy”. He has an MSc in Nursing and a PhD in Social Sciences, and like Adil he takes the view that there is no scientific proof for the existence of the virus. His website alleges “The Covid Nazification of the National Health Service”.

Piers Corbyn of course is the brother of the former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. His foray into the science of pandemics is of a piece with his long-standing views on climate change.

The advert for the protest also includes some banner logos at the base. These are for “Stop New Normal”, the “Free People Alliance”, “Keep Britain Free”, “Save Our Rights UK”, “Collective Action Against Bill Gates” and “StandUpX”.

UPDATE (26 August): David Icke has now confirmed that he will also be speaking at the event

“Did [Insert Name Here] Infect Boris Johnson?”: Mail on Sunday Milks Old Theme With New Speculation

From Glen Owen at the Mail on Sunday:

Did Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist henchman Seumas Milne infect Boris Johnson AND Dominic Cummings with coronavirus during Downing Street visit?

The Mail on Sunday has established that on the evening of March 16 – during the last days of his party leadership – Mr Corbyn visited Mr Johnson at No 10 with his most senior adviser, former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne.

Joining them in Mr Johnson’s cramped study, as they discussed the Government’s response to the epidemic and whether there should be a lockdown, was the Prime Minister’s aide [shurely “henchman”?], Dominic Cummings.

A few days after the meeting, Mr Milne developed a fever and a loss of taste and smell – symptoms of coronavirus – and went into self-isolation.

…A Downing Street source said it was ‘unclear how the Prime Minister had been infected’ and Mr Johnson ‘was not pointing the finger at Seumas’.

…A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment.

Well, of course the “Downing Street spokesman declined to comment” – what was there to add, given that the “Downing Street source” had already provided a quote and, we may suspect, further background details?  The Johnson–Corbyn meeting on 16 Match is a matter of public record (Daily Telegraph: “Boris Johnson meets with Jeremy Corbyn. A Labour Party spokesperson confirms that Mr Corbyn will be meeting with the Prime Minister this evening”), and the presence of Milne and Cummings can be taken as a given.

The Mail on Sunday article also makes passing references to Nadine Dorries and Michel Barnier as other possible sources of Johnson’s infection – and some readers may remember that the latter was the focus of an earlier version of the same story published back on 28 March, also co-written by Owen:

Did Michel Barnier infect Boris Johnson? The EU’s Brexit negotiator could be Downing Street’s ‘Patient Zero’ after Brussels meeting

…The Mail on Sunday has traced connections between those known to have the virus in an attempt to identify Downing Street’s possible ‘Patient Zero’ – the first person in a community to become infected.

And suspicion has fallen on a meeting in Brussels on March 5 between Mr Barnier and David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, which opened the first round of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Both articles are incredibly stupid: we know that Johnson was sloppy when it came to taking precautions against infection (3 March: “I was at a hospital where there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody”), and his work and private life brought him into contact with dozens of people on a daily basis. The public figures identified by the Mail on Sunday as having met Johnson at official meetings in March represent just the tip of an iceberg of contacts. Dorries also features in the March article, but there’s no sign of Corbyn or Milne.

Perhaps the stories are not meant to be taken very seriously, but such a clownish parody of contact tracing risks misleading the public about how the virus spreads. And if I were a health or science hack at the paper I would be incredibly irritated to see the deputy political editor blundering so far outside of his lane. But it’s par for the course – as I’ve noted previously, over the past few months Owen has penned numerous articles promoting claims that Covid-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, often including sensationalising distortions (e.g. here and here). It is possible that Owen’s articles even played a role in Donald Trump’s decision to defund coronavirus research, as I discussed here.

It is reasonable to assume that all Owen’s Covid-themed stories have relied heavily on “Downing Street sources”. But the return to the subject of who infected Johnson at this moment in time – apparently just to take a gratuitous pop at Corbyn and Milne – seems particularly egregious. Perhaps the headline’s reference to whether Milne was also the source of Dominic Cummings’s infection is meant to distract us from the question of whom Cummings may have infected when he travelled to Durham and visited Barnard Castle. Whatever the reason, though, this goes beyond client journalism, into the realm of gimp journalism.

Covid-19 and Satanic Ritual Abuse: Conspiracy Viruses Converge in UK

On 8 August, a crowd gathered in Hammersmith in London to express opposition to the wearing of masks as a public health measure against the spread of Covid-19. Banners included the slogans “The Mask Is Stupid”, “Stop Nazification of UK”, and “#Stop New Normal”, and the event was graced by presence of Piers Corbyn, the infamous crank brother of Jeremy Corbyn. The speakers included Louise Dickens, who elicited cheers when she claimed her grandfather Geoffrey had exposed a “VIP paedophile ring in Parliament back in the 1980s”, and Jeanette Archer, whose discourse was concerned with Satanic Ritual Abuse (including the Hampstead hoax) and adrenochrome harvesting. A video of their speeches can be viewed here; both were well received, although at one point Archer was interrupted when the crowd started shouting at someone off-screen who was wearing a mask. (1)

Louise Dickens is the granddaughter of the late Geoffrey Dickens MP, a buffoonish figure who in the 1980s supposedly compiled elusive “Dickens dossiers” of VIP child sex abuse allegations, and who by the end of the decade was also endorsing lurid SRA allegations (including a bogus evangelical “Satanic survivor” memoir by one Audrey Harper). Louise Dickens sees herself as continuing her grandfather’s work, interest in which was revived by the sensational false allegations of Carl Beech.

Jeanette Archer, meanwhile, claims to be the survivor of a Satanic cult based in Surrey, and to have witnessed industrial-scale child sacrifice that she alleges has been covered up by the police. According to the most recent issue of Private Eye magazine (1528, p. 41), Archer made a complaint to police in 2012, following the ITV Jimmy Savile documentary, and her claims were investigated by Surrey Police and the Metropolitan Police over the two years that followed.

The Eye further notes that Archer was interviewed for a video by former police officer turned conspiracy theorist Jon Wedger in May, and then by Shaun Attwood, “a prolific conspiracist YouTuber with more than half a million subscribers to his channel”. Wedger of course is also a close associate of Anna Brees, another conspiracy promoter who recently announced that she is providing Louise Dickens with media training. A while ago, Brees and Wedger persuaded a man named Mike Tarraga to revise his memoir of a troubled childhood to include a sex abuse allegation against former prime minister Edward Heath; this raised the profile of all three individuals, although Tarraga has recently fallen out with Wedger and expressed some scepticism about Wedger’s SRA claims.

Brees has also been active in promoting Covid-19 conspiracism through interviews, and a few days ago she spoke with a colo-rectal surgeon named Dr Mohammad Iqbal Adil (2) who has been suspended by the General Medical Council for making videos in which he denounces the coronavirus as a “scam”. Adil is of the view that Covid-19 cannot exist because it does not fulfil “Koch’s postulates”, a method for identifying bacterial pathogens that was developed in the 1880s, before viruses were even discovered. Unsurprisingly, Adil’s suspension has been interpreted by the conspiracy milieu as evidence that his claim must be true; he has also been interviewed by David Icke protégé Richie Allen, who it appears does not appreciate his media rival. Allen denounced Brees on Twitter both for uploading an extract of her interview allegedly without Adil’s permission, and for admitting she was too afraid to upload the whole thing in case she loses a social media channel. Richie even went so far as to publish direct messages he had received from Brees appealing to him to back off. (3)

Further anti-mask protests have been taking place today: in Birmingham, a “huge crowd” came to hear and applaud Piers Corbyn, Adil and Gareth Icke, son of David Icke, among others. (4)

Footnotes

(1) The event was organised by a group called “UK United for Freedom“, and Hammersmith was one of several locations where protests were planned for that day. Attendees were asked to make an opening statement in unison, saying that “We no longer recognise Boris Johnson as our PM, or recognise the authority over us of the British government. We declare a unilateral declaration of independence right now and free ourselves of this corrupt government.” This may suggest some sort of “Sovereign Citizen” ideology. The video was uploaded by someone using the name “Majór Singh”.

(2) Var. Mohammed Adil, Mohammad Adil.

(3) Allen redacted his screenshot to obscure other Twitter users who have been in private contact with him. However, he made a poor job of it, and one of his correspondents can be identified as James Delingpole, a writer who at one time was hired by Steve Bannon to work on Breitbart UK.

(4) This event was organised by a group called StandupX. According to reports on social media, the line-up included “Dr Mohammed Adil, Piers Corbyn, Gareth Icke, Jason Liosatos, Kevin Corbett, Andrew Johnson, Mark Devlin”.

A Media Note on the “Forever Family Force”

From Mail Online:

‘A paramilitary-style force marching in the streets’: Hundreds of protesters from coalition of groups branded ‘terrifying’ by Nigel Farage as they walk through London – with one confronting officers yelling ‘F*** the police’

Former MEP Nigel Farage blasted today’s Afrikan Emancipation Day march through London, describing the event as ‘divisive’ as protesters dressed in paramilitary-style clothing took part in the event.

…The coalition of action groups – led by Stop The Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide and the Afrikan Emancipation Day reparations march committee – took the drastic action to ‘make themselves heard’ in a bid for reparations from the UK government.

…Among the groups of people marching were one group, dressed in black and equipped with what appeared to be anti-stab vests. One protester was wearing a balaclava, while another, angrily confronted police officers telling them to f*** off.

It doesn’t seem that the Mail journalist was present: most the article is made up from agency photos, a bland police statement (“The gatherings today have been largely peaceful”), some details from social media videos, and material cribbed from the Press Association without credit (e.g. a quote from “Antoinette Harrison, who lives in nearby Clapham” and who “attended the event to march with her cousin and her cousin’s children”). Presumably it was decided that Nigel Farage was a familiar name who would hook Mail readers and generate a sense of controversy and alarm, which is why the story starts so lazily with his fulminations as expressed on Twitter. The event took place in Brixton, so it’s a stretch to call it “a march through London”.

Photos show that the group in anti-stab vests were present under the corporate name “FF Force”. This group also calls itself “Forever Family Force” or “Forever Family Fund” – an enigmatic website for the group with little content but containing links to some social media platforms was registered last month, and a company called “Forever Family Ltd” was registered the next day. Certainly, the group made for some striking imagery, but although the Mail headline virtually conflates them with all of the protesters it’s not clear how representative they were of the event as a whole. There are images from the event where they are not visible.

The group’s presence may have been amplified due to the fact that the wider event was not a march, although it has been in previous years. According to the LBC write-up:

The group that organises the event each year – the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee – claims this year’s march will be different, calling it a ‘Rebellion Groundings’ instead of a march.

…Esther Stanford-Xosei, spokesperson for the Committee, wrote in a blog: “This year will be different. We are instead organising the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations Rebellion Groundings, which will take the form of a Brixton Road lock-down.

However, FF Force was part of a march in Brixton to the event, rather than as part of it. A caption from a photography agency (Alamy Live News) carried by the Telegraph makes this clear, stating that “Black Lives Matter march from Clapham Common (led by Iman, the Forever Family Force and the Slow Boys, on motorbikes) to join the Stop the Maangamizi: Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations Rebellion.” The Mail, though, shortens this to “The march was led by Iman, the Forever Family Force and the Slow Boys, on motorbikes as it made its way through Brixton”. Read alongside the Mail headline, this gives the impression that the event as whole was march, and that FF Force had a leadership role. (1)

The event was also noted by the Sun, which stated:

This afternoon, hundreds of people joined a demonstration in Brixton’s Windrush Square and Max Roach Park.

A short distance away, another group observed speeches before a three-minute silence was held to mark Afrikan Emancipation Day.

It’s not clear who this other group is; my instinct is that this is a reference to FF Force, but as with the Mail article the overall write-up and photos present the group as characteristic of the event as a whole.

UPDATE: The information vacuum on social media has naturally inspired all kinds of confident speculation on social media. Thus on Twitter, it variously claimed that the group is either Black supremacist or identitarian, or has been created to enforce Shariah law. It is also suggested its look might be modelled on a Black American militia called the NFAC (Not Fucking Around Coalition). There is also aggrieved commentary that the police have not acted against the group while far-right white organisations face suppression.

UPDATE 2: The Times has profiled the group:

The director of Forever Family, which was incorporated on June 20, is Khari McKenzie, 28, a rapper who preforms under the stage name Raspect… Mr McKenzie has also been a member of G.A.N.G, a group that would respond to incidents of gang violence by going to the area dressed in stab vests and using a loudhailer to encourage residents to come out on to the street to “reclaim the space” for the community.

The article adds that the group

posted a video on Instagram stating that its purpose was to “mobilise, organise and centralise community initiatives.

“We are forever family united in building a self-sufficient and stable community.

“We value the safety of our senior and junior generation. Their voices will be the motivation in what we stand for.”

We’re also told that neither McKenzie nor Rachelle Emanuel, who is the Forever Family secretary, “responded to a request for comment”.

Footnote

1. It’s not clear who or what “Iman” is here, but I doubt that it’s a reference to the famous fashion model of that name who is David Bowie’s widow.

Some Notes On “Cancel Culture”

Toby Young’s Free Speech Union pronounces on Wiley, a musician now primarily famous for conspiratorial anti-semitic rhetoric on social media:

Wiley’s comments on Twitter and Instagram were clearly anti-Semitic. However, he should be given the chance to listen to the opposing view, retract his comments and apologise. Everyone makes mistakes.

It is disproportionate for a person to lose their career merely for expressing an opinion, however unsavoury and offensive.

The FSU opinion was embedded in a graphic Tweeted by Young and also expressed on the FSU Facebook page and Twitter feed. However, the statement has now been deleted, as far as I can see without explanation.

Perhaps the above remains the FSU view, but they don’t wish to say so publicly anymore for some reason; or perhaps they have changed their mind and now believe that Wiley does indeed deserve to lose his career as a result of his opinions after all. Most likely, though, is that the FSU realised that the statement amounted to an incoherent cop-out: if Wiley ought not lose his career as a point of principle, why then does he need to “retract his comments and apologise”? The real sentiment appears to be that “It is disproportionate for a person to lose their career merely for refusing to apologise for an obnoxious opinion”.

The FSU was created by Young after he was obliged in 2018 to step down from a role with the Office for Students, the higher education regulator, following controversy over a history of coarse comments and trolling on Twitter. Young’s pensées (now mostly deleted) included lascivious observations about breasts and a joke about having his “dick” up a woman’s “arse”, and he also replied to a random member of the public who had said that she was upset by a television scene of poverty in Africa with a joke suggesting that he was using the same material for masturbatory purposes.

Since that time, Young has been on a crusade against a trend that has now been crystallised under the term “cancel culture”, a phrase that supposedly indicates a particular brand of progressive intolerance but which actually denotes a perennial phenomenon that has now been democratised by social media. Consequential censure over (alleged) behaviour or opinions is hardly new; the mass media have been doing it since the cancelling of Roscoe Arbuckle (perhaps earlier). The difference now is that newspapers are no longer the gatekeepers, although they retain some control over how social media expressions of outrage are framed. Thus depending on the target, some social media censure will be amplified as being popular expressions of righteous anger and moral disgust, while others will be derided as the effusions of “vile trolls” (who themselves deserve to be exposed and cancelled).

As such, I’m not convinced there is “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate”, as claimed by the authors of the famous recent letter published by Harper’s. Rather, there’s a new set of media platforms open to all within a context of heightened consumer choice and leverage, as well as the easy availability online of private personal information. The issue, then, is structural, with social media and the internet providing new opportunities for a wider range of bad-faith actors to weaponise the self-righteousness of crowds. At the same time, though, other bad-faith actors, some of whom have profited from an online outrage economy, would like nothing more than to stigmatise accountability as totalitarian “cancelling”.

People need to take seriously the importance of looking into an allegation critically before they decide whether or how to amplify it. And they should ask themselves whether their keenness to denounce someone as part of a popular “pile on” is matched by a willingness to take a less easy stand against a false allegation. They should also maintain a sense of proportionality, particularly when a non-celebrity faces censure; progressives perhaps more than anyone ought to be wary of creating a climate in which bosses police their employees’ social media output. There should be natural scepticism and caution when gratuitous personal intrusion is involved, or when the person leading the charge appears to be exulting in their power to inflict personal destruction. These, I think, are the “moral attitudes” that are required for a reasonable way forward.

Celebrities Drop Libel Action Two Months After Media Report They Had Won “First Round”

From the Evening Standard:

TV stars Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman have dropped a High Court libel claim against a barrister over a Twitter post and agreed to pay some of her legal costs… Jane Heybroek was sued after she retweeted a link to a blog in January last year.

…The law firm representing Countdown star Ms Riley and actress Ms Oberman said in a statement: “Tracy Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley chose not to proceed further after the Judge had determined that the opinion expressed was capable of being defamatory, in circumstances where Jayne Heybroek claimed that she had promptly deleted her Tweet.

“Their libel insurers did not see any advantage in pursuing a case over the liability of a retweet that was deleted so quickly and therefore paid a very modest sum.

“Regrettably the defamatory tweeter lives in South America and has no visible assets. There are bigger fish to fry, in the pursuit of those who choose to maintain a serious libel.”

Heybroek’s legal bill was apparently £65,000, so is unlikely to have been covered by the “very modest sum”.

The law firm was Patron Law, and Oberman and Riley were represented by Mark Lewis. Lewis had previously told the media that he was preparing “legal action against up to 70 individuals for tweets relating to [Oberman and Riley’s] campaign against antisemitism”, and with this context in mind some social media users inferred that Heybroek must have RTed anti-semitic content. However, the complaint was actually about Heybroek having RTed a link to a webpage that contained scathing and accusatory commentary about Oberman and Riley’s online interactions with a third party, including allegations about their intentions and the supposed consequences of their actions.

Heybroek, who is a Buddhist (“self-confessed”, as oddly described by Mail Online), denies any anti-semitic motivation, and such a claim was not part of the case. It is of course possible to criticise how someone is allegedly conducting a campaign against some social evil without therefore being in sympathy with that evil.

The judge’s determination “that the opinion expressed was capable of being defamatory” was reported in May under the headline “Rachel Riley and Tracy-Ann Oberman win first round of High Court libel battle”. This gave the misleading impression that their case had been shown to be self-evidently strong and was now proceeding towards near-certain victory. However, Heybroek was quoted as saying that she was “satisfied with the outcome of this hearing as it has removed some of the more hyperbolic contentions being made”, which is hardly consistent with such a headline. The “win” simply meant that that the hearing had found the case was not so trivial that it should be thrown out without a trial, but that was never a likely prospect. Legal Futures reported in more detail at the time, and the full ruling can be read here.

It is not clear from the statement quoted by the Evening Standard why the extent of “the liability of a retweet that was deleted so quickly” was not determined by the libel insurers earlier than now.

As it happens, I have seen Mark Lewis in person a couple of times. One occasion was in a pub called Penderel’s Oak in Holborn, London, on 16 May 2013, at a party organised by the Libel Reform Campaign to celebrate the passing of the Defamation Act 2013. The event marked the success of what they described as a four-year campaign “to reform the repressive, centuries-old libel laws”. Lewis had defended a cardiologist named Dr Peter Wilmshurst in a case brought by a US medical device company.

Lewis also represents now John Ware, as discussed here.

(Some links above H/T Tim at Zelo Street)

A Note on “48 Hours of Silence”

From the BBC News, on Monday morning:

A 48-hour boycott of Twitter by some of its users, protesting at the platform’s alleged lack of action on anti-Semitism has begun.

It was triggered by the actions of grime music artist Wiley, who shared several posts on Twitter on Friday.

Some of the tweets were deleted, but Twitter was criticised for taking time to act and leaving some tweets up.

…Those taking part in the boycott include MPs David Lammy and Rosena Allin-Khan, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, actor Jason Isaacs, broadcasters Rachel Riley and Maajid Nawaz, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and entrepreneur Lord Sugar.

Ordinary users of the platform were also exhorted to participate in the “48 hours of silence”. As far as I can see, no-one chose to actually deactivate their account for the duration.

I doubt that anyone much would notice or care whether or not I’m Tweeting, and I had some misgivings about this particular form of protest. However, some users I respect were participating, and I’m in general agreement that Twitter ought to do more to remove hateful content, and so I decided to go along with the effort by declining to Tweet – although I did keep an eye on what was being posted.

As a one-off, I hope the protest has some impact, although a boycott that has an end date before demands are met is obviously no more than a symbolic gesture. It is not, though, an exercise I would be inclined to repeat. The fact is that Twitter is now the global public square, and if good faith users absent themselves, then bad actors (including elements in the mainstream media) will fill the vacuum with trash (of course, some bad actors also took part in the boycott for show, but that’s always the case with any issue). The only weapon against most of this is the circulation and amplification of good information.

Also, some people go on Twitter for personal support, writing or speaking about their health struggles, bereavements, or other problems, and it’s a hard thing if they are denied words of encouragement from a wider community. It also seems to me invidious that high-profile professional commentators should continue to enjoy media amplification through broadcasting and the press while ordinary people are asked to forego using the most far-reaching social media platform to talk about current affairs.

Of course, Twitter has to balance its dual role of communications infrastructure and publishing platform, and it will always be open to criticism. Not so long ago Twitter was being accused of overzealousness, and last month a number of British conservatives protested against this by establishing accounts on Parler – a rival platform that takes a rather more laissez faire attitude to hateful content as a matter of principle.

Former Sun Political Editor Still Being Challenged On Deleted “Hijacked Labour” Story

An aggrieved exchange on Twitter between former political editor at the Sun Tom Newton Dunn and Jacobin magazine’s Dawn Foster, after Newton Dunn commented on a complaint by Jess Phillips MP about a fake screenshot doing the rounds:

Newton Dunn: This wouldn’t happen if @Twitter took responsibility for its content, like broadcast, print and digital media must.

Dawn Foster: Is that why your article republishing the antisemitic and racist “Hijacked Labour” interactive was taken down?

Newton Dunn: You really don’t know what you’re talking about Dawn. Thought you knew better than to repeat untrue slurs.

Newton Dunn’s complaint was met by onlookers with howls of incredulity, with users posting screenshots of the deleted Sun article from December.

The article, headlined “Hijacked Labour: Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, was about a interactive online chart that purported to show discreditable connections between a vast number of people, including left-wing activists actually opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and weird “guilt-by-association” links that brought in the likes of the actor Matt Berry. Dawn Foster was one of those whose name was included. The links were so diffuse and random that it was useless for any kind of analysis, and anyone with a half-decent crank radar would have disregarded it after a moment’s perusal. The Sun, however, judged that it might influence the election, and so Tom Newton Dunn ran a piece about it, including a low-resolution screenshot that could not be scrutinised.

What did for the scoop was that the chart also contained annotations about a number of those featured on it, directing readers to links and further reading. Many of these were innocuous, but among them were links to the neo-Nazi Aryan Unity website and to an antisemitic conspiracy site called the Millennium Report. Suddenly realising that we could now make a similar chart of our own that would link the Sun with the far-right with just one degree of separation, the decision was taken to pull the article.

Clearly, though, the episode is not going to go away – an account of it even features prominently on Newton Dunn’s Wikipedia entry, although he’s tried to have it suppressed, calling it a “falsehood”. But without a corrective, complaining that critics don’t know what they are talking about is simply obfuscation. My advice would be for Newton Dunn to provide a full account. How did the “Hijacked Labour” website come to his attention? Was he aware that the material had just previously been hosted on a website called “Traitors’ Chart” (moved across just days before the Sun story was published, and references to it elsewhere deleted, probably to conceal a provenance trail)? And did he check out the claim that the chart was indeed the work of “ex-British intelligence officers”?

On this last point, we know that the definition was stretched: Newton Dunn presented as the spokesperson for the chart a man named Mark Bles, who was formerly in the SAS. The SAS, though, is not an intelligence agency. How did Newton Dunn confirm the credentials or even existence of Bles’s collaborators? For all we know, Bles may have been taken in by fantasists and grifters. (1)

Some time ago, the Sun ran a bogus front-page splash claiming that Alan Sugar was the target of an Islamist conspiracy; when the paper was forced to acknowledge it had been taken in by false information it ran an piece about its source, which deflected some of the blame. Something similar may be Newton Dunn’s best bet.

As well as the deletion of the Sun story, the “Hijacked Labour” website also itself deleted the chart, I believe to avoid ongoing scrutiny and perhaps legal problems. It was replaced with the following message:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for rebuilding to reflect changes in the Labour Party following the 2019 UK General Election. The Network shall be republished in the first quarter of 2020 as an open project. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have suggested more details and personalities for inclusion.

I noted this on Twitter last month, writing:

The true authors of the conspiracy chart promoted by Tom Newton-Dunn at the Sun remain in the shadows, although clues are out there. Their promise to have created an updated chart by now after withdrawing their earlier version has failed to materialise.

Days later, the website notice changed:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for now following the 2019 UK General Election and the installing of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour Party leader. The Network has now done its job, most satisfactorily. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have added to the Network by reacting to it and via tip-offs.

The timing of this amendment indicates that the website’s creators are even now keeping an eye on what is being said about them.

UPDATE: As I noted previously, the chart had one high-profile supporter in the person of Giles Udy, author of Labour and the Gulag: Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. on Twitter, Udy described the chart as “one of the most significant pieces of research I’ve seen for a while”, and the Tweet was apparently still online on 2 July, when it was referred to scathingly by Daniel Finn, a writer for Jacobin. However, Udy has since deleted it.

Footnote

(1) I made a complaint to IPSO about this; their response was that SAS members may do “covert intelligence gathering”, and therefore the headline was not misleading. They also rejected my objection to the reference to “intelligence officers” in the plural, although their reasoning was incoherent – they pretended to believe that my complaint was instead about the reference to Corbyn in the headline and so was covered by “say”.

Of course, even if ex-intelligence agents were involved, we should ask why they are “former” rather than simply assume that that their ex-jobs indicate exceptional competence and access to privileged information.