Donald Trump

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‘Lies and Deceit’: Top Russian Oligarch Indicted for US Criminal Sanctions Violations had Role in Russia Interference Report

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:14pm in

The indictment of Oleg Deripaska is the latest in a string of judicial decisions which lead back to Putin's interference in US elections, reports Heidi Siegmund-Cuda

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Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who made his fortune in aluminium, has been indicted by the US Justice Department for criminal sanctions violations.

The announcement follows a series of interventions by the US Government which include banning his entry into the country due to alleged ties with organised crime, investigating him for various offences including money laundering, extortion, racketeering, threatening rivals’ lives, and illegally wiretapping a Government official; and searching his homes in New York and Washington D.C.

Deripaska featured prominently in the Mueller Report due to his relationship with Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. He was sanctioned by the US in 2018 in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election and its occupation of Crimea, following the 2014 invasion. 

Three women have been indicted alongside Deripaska, including his alleged girlfriend Ekaterina Olegovna Voronina, as well as Natalia Bardakova and Olga Shriki. Shriki, a US citizen and New Jersey resident, was arrested on Thursday, according to the Justice Department.

Deripaska was sanctioned by the UK Government in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he publicly condemned. 

‘The American Way of Life’

Thursday’s indictment revealed numerous alleged crimes by Derispaska, a favoured associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The allegations included details of lavish schemes designed to ensure his girlfriend could give birth to their children in the United States in order to gain citizenship. One child is now a US citizen, but a costly attempt to pull the same scheme in 2022 failed, according to court documents.

“As today’s charges reveal, while serving the Russian state and energy sector, Oleg Deripaska sought to circumvent US sanctions through lies and deceit to cash in on and benefit from the American way of life,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

United States Attorney Merrick Garland, at the centre of Donald Trump’s criminal probe, explained how “In the wake of Russia’s unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, I promised the American people that the DOJ would hold accountable those who break our laws and threaten national security… we are keeping that promise. The Justice Department will not stop working to identify, find, and bring to justice those who evade U.S. sanctions in order to enable the Russian regime”.

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A Shady History

Deripaska has a long history of ties to the Republican Party.

Having been denied a visa to enter the US in the mid-2000s, he turned to former Senator turned lobbyist Bob Dole and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to launder his image. Dole, who died last year, has been accused of promoting a culture of sleazy lobbying that continues to plague US politics. 

Both Dole and Deripaska have ties to Paul Manafort, the man who would later become Trump’s unpaid campaign manager. 

Manafort took millions of dollars from Deripaska in the mid-2000s to promote pro-Russian interests. Later, he received $12.7 million from the pro-Russian party of Ukraine’s former President, Viktor Yanukovych.

The Mueller report found Manafort used his time on the Trump campaign to offer information to his former employer, in order “to get whole”. The Report indicated how Manafort directed associates to reach out to Deripaska, offering him briefings and internal campaign polling data. According to Mueller, Manafort owed Deripaska millions of dollars in unpaid debts. Deripaska has denied he received any polling data. 

Manafort later went to prison for money laundering, tax fraud and illegal foreign lobbying connected to his years working for Ukrainian politicians, as well as for conspiracy against the United States.

The former governor of Donetsk Oblast, Yanukovych is the man some argue Putin wants to put back into power in Ukraine. He fled to Russia following the Euromaidan revolution and was found guilty of treason by a Ukrainian court in 2019.

The close ties between Deripaska, Manafort and pro-Putin politicians in Ukraine puts the country once again at the centre of a scandal about Russian interference, aggression, and sanctions. 

Retired Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator Martin Sheil told Byline Times how “various connected American politicians including the powerful then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked to mitigate that original round of sanctions on Deripaska”.

“Not long after, Deripaska's main corporate Russian money maker Rusal invested in an aluminium plant located in McConnell's home state of Kentucky,” Sheil explained. “The folks in Kentucky were just happy to have more job creation, I am sure, and the idea of a quid for a quo might be a tad sophisticated for folks in Bourbon country, but the idea of payback might be simple enough to understand. Yet nothing came of it”.

Sheil argued that the time to act on indicting the boss-level players in the Trump/Russia interference scandal is now.

“Should the Republicans win back the Senate and the House in November then that oversight will be buried [and] nothing will come of the House 6 January Insurrection investigation,” Sheil told Byline Times

“The House will roll back Biden's historic legislation fully funding the IRS to audit and investigate the multi-millionaires who fund the Republican Party, who work so closely with the banks and the Russians and anyone else that protects their wealth and power,” he added.

Byline Times reached out to Deripaska for comment, however we received no response.

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Why the ‘Culture War’ Will Intensify Under Liz Truss

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/09/2022 - 11:10pm in

Sam Bright explores the forces propelling the escalating demonisation of ‘woke’ Britain

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Thatcherism is back, at least in theory. While Liz Truss has pledged state support to shield the most vulnerable from the cost of living crisis this winter, her economic convictions are clear, seeking a smaller state and lower taxes. “You can’t tax your way to growth,” the new Conservative Leader repeatedly claimed, during her first outing at Prime Minister’s Questions.

As has been commented on elsewhere, this marks a departure from the Boris Johnson school of economics, which preaches more active administrative measures to fund public services and suppress inequalities (notably between regions).

A key component of Johnson’s appeal to non-traditional, working class 2019 Conservative voters is therefore set to vanish. The outgoing Prime Minister was the physical realisation of the Vote Leave campaign, which was conservative on social issues (scapegoating Turkey’s non-existent membership of the EU and demonising metropolitan, liberal values), and relatively progressive on economic issues (‘£350 million a-week for the NHS’).

Truss, though she backed Remain, currently embodies the more ideological, and libertarian, wing of the Leave campaign – the low regulation, low tax, ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ model pitched by the likes of Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell.

So, Truss is wilfully and consciously dispensing with the economic formula that stacked up an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives in 2019, following on from the Tory-Brexit triumph of 2016. The new Prime Minister will need to compensate – likely turning up the dial on the party’s reactionary social policies, epitomised by the so-called ‘culture war’.

Indeed, breaking working class solidarity through the deployment of cultural ‘wedge’ issues is now one of the primary weapons of conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather than viewing Johnson as an enemy of the working class, because he’s an Old Etonian pseudo-aristocrat, he has been seen in recent years as a champion of the ‘left behind’ – due to his supposed antipathy towards ‘liberal Remainers’.

Johnson’s reputation as a cultural ally – the result of him curating an anti-establishment, socially conservative persona – was seen as more significant by many ‘Red Wall’ voters than his personal detachment from their economic circumstances.

While this has been a conservative ploy for decades – Conservative Leader Michael Howard ran an anti-immigration campaign in 2005 that included the policy of introducing an Australian-style points system, later supported by Nigel Farage and adopted by Johnson’s Government – this phenomenon has crystallised in recent political discourse through the culture war.

To understand how Truss may exploit this strategy, it’s important to understand how the culture war has functioned in recent years.

The phrase is commonly used in the media to describe a battle of ideas between two divergent groups. On the one hand are older and less well educated people who are socially conservative (likely to be more hostile to immigration, LGBTQ rights, and permissive social mores), typically rooted in small towns and rural areas. And on the other are younger graduates based in cities, who are generally more accepting of immigration and fluid identity values. 

As Maria Sobolewska and Rob Ford write in Brexitland: “Many of those who grew up in a more ethnically homogeneous, socially conservative Britain have a profoundly different view of what Britain is and ought to be than members of the youngest generations, who have grown up in a much more ethnically diverse and socially liberal country.”

However, popular debate suggests that this war is being fought equally aggressively by both groups; a form of social Darwinian warfare that has spawned from a natural ideological divide, with no clear provocateur. 

This is a distortion of reality. Although there is a small band of hyper-liberals who are attempting to rapidly and combatively erode ‘traditional’ ideas regarding borders, the family nucleus and gender identity – on occasion shutting down those who disagree – there is a much wider liberal consensus in Britain that is not so forthright nor so antagonistic about these values divides.

As the social class researcher Ellie Mae O’Hagan writes: “The hard right is successfully pushing a narrative that the division in this country is between the white working class and the ‘woke mob’”. This is despite the majority of people believing in basic, progressive facts such as that people of colour face greater barriers to success than white people, alongside popular support for policies such as gay marriage, access to safe abortions and a low salary threshold for immigrants seeking to enter the UK.

In an effort to cleave moderate conservatives away from this body of sane liberal opinion, however, culture warriors on the right exaggerate the influence of hyper-liberals – portraying this as the dominant progressive faction. This is aided by the detached information bubble inhabited by social conservatives – many of whom are older and therefore more reliant on right-wing newspapers and susceptible to online distortions. Nigel Farage instructively claimed, for example, that Brexit and Trump would not have happened without Facebook. 

These separate information spheres are mirrored in the physical geography of liberals and conservatives, with the two groups increasingly clustering in different parts of the country.

“White voters with low education levels move less often, and are becoming concentrated in more ethnically homogeneous and less economically successful rural and small-town areas,” write Sobolewska and Ford in Brexitland.

“These trends magnify identity conflicts by increasing social segregation and reducing the level of contact and common experience between people on either side of the identity politics divide.”

The ‘culture war’ thus more accurately describes a political conflict manufactured by the right to distort and exploit real but otherwise neither excessive nor aggressive differences of opinion between social liberals and conservatives.

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Grievance Politics

Reflecting the tempo of modern politics, this culture war is trans-Atlantic – waged by the likes of Ted Cruz, a multi-millionaire Republican who spends his time lamenting “west coast liberals” and their brand of ‘cancel culture’, in an attempt to distract from the corporate greed of America’s actual elites, who fund his brand of libertarian politics. 

As Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic about the culture war frenzy stoked by ‘MAGA’ (i.e. pro-Trump) Republicans: “They will tell you that they are for ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom,’ but these are merely code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments.

“What makes this situation worse is that there is no remedy for it. When people are driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalised sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything.”

In other words, there can be no victory for the ‘silent majority’ in the culture war. Rather, they are stuck on a never-ending ferris-wheel of ever-intensifying grievances built to serve reactionary political campaigns.

This hyperbole reached its zenith at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Texas, where Farage brandished one of the primary scapegoats of American conservative politics: critical race theory – an academic discipline that explores how institutionalised racism operates in society. 

“This terrible virus, worse than anywhere else in the world,” Farage bellowed. “This is a Marxist attempt to break Western civilization! A Marxist attempt to destroy everything we are.”

Reverberations of this debate have consequently been felt in the UK, with culture war commentators on the right caught in a state of frenzy about attempts in some academic institutions to examine the negative impacts of the British Empire, and to teach a form of history that accommodates more non-white perspectives.

Hence, the UK’s so-called ‘strictest headmistress’, head of the Social Mobility Commission Katharine Birbalsingh, used GB News to suggest that Shakespeare may be ‘cancelled’ in UK schools for being a “dead white man”. The Times followed this lead last month, lamenting the supposed mass censorship of classical texts by universities – claiming that lecturers fear that these books may offend students. This story was given front-page coverage by the Murdoch-owned publication, despite it finding only two examples of books having been removed from university courses across the UK. 

This epitomises the culture war strategy: exaggerate well-meaning liberal reforms – or cherry-pick an isolated example of liberal overreach – to argue that the country is being infected with crazed, gender-fluid (Labour voting) woke warriors, and can only be saved by sensible (Conservative voting) traditionalists.

As culture warrior Toby Young recently wrote: there is “nothing so liberal about” the progressive movement. “Instead, it has far more in common with the hysterical witch-hunting of the Middle Ages.”

This hyperbole is defended with the nebulous threat of ‘what next?’ – a watershed theory implying that legitimate reforms benefitting minority groups should be snuffed out, as they may fuel vague, future incursions into individual ‘freedoms’.

As a result, even without the political imperatives facing Truss, it was always likely that her culture war rhetoric would further inflame – propelled by the constant need for new grievances to animate animosity towards the imagined extremism of progressives.

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The question is merely what form this will take. If the Conservative leadership contest set the temperature of future policy, it seems likely that Truss will continue to defend – and even extend – the UK’s Rwanda asylum deportation policy, which is currently being challenged in court.

Judicial reform itself is also on the cards, with “activist lawyers” another longstanding target of the anti-woke brigade – potentially materialising through the UK’s departure from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This idea has been vocally supported by Suella Braverman, appointed as the new Home Secretary by Truss.

Yet more acrimony over gender identity and trans rights likewise seems inevitable – alongside a push to ‘de-wokeify’ the public sector, with Truss promising to scrap diversity and inclusion jobs in the civil service.

But, ultimately, it’s difficult to know how the new Prime Minister will deploy her imagination to further intensify this forever-war against liberal Britain. She may well borrow from Farage, who acts as the bridge between the populist-right in America and Britain – absorbing the talking points that emanate from Fox News and unloading them on domestic airwaves through GB News.

Farage’s relationship with American populism is symbiotic. The politician-turned-broadcaster is credited with introducing the culture war to MAGA Republicans through Brexit and the targeting of Rust Belt voters with anti-immigration, anti-expert, anti-establishment sentiments. “Brexit and the Trump election are inextricably linked,” former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon has said. 

But, now that the populist alliance has been forged, Farage is readily importing political tools back from America. Like the manufacturing of a car, Farage provided the raw materials and is now taking shipment of the finished product. Liz Truss may well decide to loan one of these vehicles.

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American Dark Money, the Mercers and the Conservative Party: A Network of Influence 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

A special investigation by Nafeez Ahmed exposes the transatlantic connections between an extremist US pro-Trump lobby and organisations influencing Liz Truss' Conservative Cabinet

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Two powerful Conservative Party pressure groups with extensive financial ties to Liz Truss’ Cabinet have institutional and funding links to the pro-Trump Mercer Family Foundation, Byline Times can reveal.

Robert and Rebekah Mercer are the billionaire philanthropists credited with being among Donald Trump’s biggest financial backers. They have funded a range of far-right groups in America – including white supremacists and supporters of the January 6 Capitol attack. Renowned Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt has described them as among “the chief financiers of the fascist movement”.

In a special investigation, Byline Times has found that six of Liz Truss’ Cabinet appointments have funding ties to Conservative organisations connected to the Mercer lobby. While two of her formal advisors, and two independent advisors involved in shaping ‘Trussonomics’, come from these groups.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Health and Social Care Secretary, the Chancellor, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Northern Ireland Minister, the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary, and the Leader of the House – and the Prime Minister herself – all have institutional and financial links to the controversial Mercer lobby.

Anti-Abortion

Liz Truss’ Cabinet appears to be ideologically aligned with some of the most controversial themes of far-right activism in the US, including women’s rights.

The parliamentary register of interests reveals that Thérèse Coffey, now Deputy Prime Minister and Health and Social Care Secretary – who is well-known for her anti-abortion stance – received a number of donations from one of the largest anti-abortion lobbies in the UK, which openly supported the US Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of Roe versus Wade.

A total of £20,040.14 was donated to Coffey by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales to fund interns in her parliamentary office from 2017 to 2019. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, it released a statement praising the judgment as the result of “the prayers, dedicated work and commitment of those who seek to protect women who are pregnant and the unborn child”. In its list of ‘further resources’, the statement linked to the UK branch of Rachel’s Vineyard – a US anti-abortion movement which organises hundreds of retreats each year and has played a central role in campaigning against Roe versus Wade in Republican circles for more than a decade.

The Supreme Court’s decision was a direct legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, who stacked the court with Republican appointees and declared his “great honour” at having made the overturning of Roe versus Wade possible. His donors, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, have funded notable anti-abortion Republican political action committees.

Since taking office, Coffey has claimed that she is “not planning to make any Government changes” to abortion laws.

However her former special advisor – who is now advising Prime Minister Liz Truss on health – previously worked at a Conservative think tank that received funding from the Mercer lobby. Several other Truss ministerial appointees have more well-known links to pro-Trump networks. 

In 2017, Jacob Rees-Mogg – Truss’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary – met with far-right ideologue and former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon in America to discuss how conservative movements can win in the US and UK. Bannon was recently convicted of contempt of US Congress.

Byline Times can reveal how Bannon’s involvement with the UK Conservative Party began much earlier – due to the same Mercer lobby – which not only seems to have had some influence over the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, but also the new Truss Cabinet.

The connections between the Mercer Family Foundation and the UK Conservative Party. Diagram: Nicholaus Hall The Cherish Freedom Foundation

Last December, Steve Baker – now Truss’ Northern Ireland Minister – became chair of Conservative Way Forward (CWF), a think tank founded by Margaret Thatcher in 1991. The organisation claims that, since 1997, every leadership candidate its members have favoured has been successfully elected prime minister.

Baker’s colleague at CWF – the organisation’s long-time executive director and vice-chairman for around a decade – is Paul Simon Osborn. Although Osborn’s affiliation has not been mentioned on CWF’s website since last December, company records seen by Byline Times confirm that he remains a director of CWF.

Osborn has longstanding ties with Steve Bannon and the Mercers. 

Since 2011, Osborn has been a director and vice-president of an obscure Virginia-based non-profit organisation called the Cherish Freedom Foundation, which received extensive funding from the Mercer Family Foundation. US Government Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings seen by Byline Times show that it received $655,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation between 2013 and 2016.

Byline Times can also reveal that the Cherish Freedom Foundation provided a grant to top Conservative think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, in 2019 – just months before the General Election. 

The CPS was co-founded in 1974 by Thatcher and has been described by watchdog Transparify as one of the least transparent think tanks in the world, due to its refusal to identify its donors. 

US Government Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings show that, on 3 September 2019, the Cherish Freedom Foundation donated $60,000 as a grant to the CPS.

The 2019 Conservative Manifesto was authored by two CPS staffers – Rachel Wolf, who sits on CPS’ board, and CPS director Robert Colvile. The manifesto reflected a raft of CPS policies on tax, housing, welfare and business. It took up recommendations generated from its work with then Home Secretary Priti Patel, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and One Nation Conservative Caucus chair Damian Green. The manifesto contained, according to the CPS itself, “a range of policies advocated by the CPS”.

This funding has never before been declared, raising the question of whether it was lawful under the UK’s election finance rules.

Byline Times’ investigation has identified, for the first time, a financial connection between one of the Conservative Party’s most influential think tanks and the Mercer network – a connection that raises urgent questions about potential ideological influence on the premierships of both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

After 2019, Liz Truss gave speeches at the CPS and played a key role in bringing it into the heart of Government decision-making. As International Trade Secretary, she appointed Tom Clougherty, the CPS’ head of tax, to the Government’s Freeports Advisory Panel; as well as Colvile as an expert on the Government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group.

Now as Prime Minister, Truss’ plan for freeports, which suspend business rates and regulation, are straight from a CPS report published in 2019. Similarly, her plan to eliminate green levies from energy bills also came from the CPS.

In fact, the CPS had a direct hand in Truss’ leadership campaign, with its communications manager, Lauren Maher, seconded to Truss’ campaign team as its senior press officer. Truss’ new health advisor, Caroline Elsom, was also a senior researcher at the CPS. 

Robert Colvile told Byline Times that “to the best of my knowledge we have not taken money from or had dealings with the Mercer family, either directly or indirectly”.

However, he did not deny that the CPS received funding from the Cherish Freedom Foundation or provide a response to the foundation’s funding from the Mercer family. He did not explain what the CPS did with the money it received from the Foundation.

“As for my work on the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, it was undertaken in a personal, voluntary and unpaid capacity, and I took a leave of absence from the CPS for the relevant period,” he added. He said nothing about CPS Board member Rachel Wolf's role in also co-authoring the Tory manifesto.

Meanwhile, Cherish Freedom Foundation’s president is Terence Blaney, founder of Griffin Law in the UK. Throughout the 2010s, Osborn and Blaney organised a series of transatlantic gatherings between American right-wing activists and British conservatives under the mantle of the Young Britons Foundation (YBF), which Blaney described as a “Conservative madrasa”.

Blaney’s former law firm – he resigned as a director last year – shares the same registered office address as the YBF and Emerdata Ltd – the company set up to acquire all of the assets of the Mercer-funded data analytics company, Cambridge Analytica, accused of promoting disinformation on Facebook on behalf of the Trump and Brexit campaigns.

In 2013, through the Cherish Freedom Foundation, Osborn convened a YBF event at Churchill College, Cambridge University hosting Bannon with soon-to-be Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassim. Bannon would later tell journalist Peter Geoghegan that this was the year he began frequently visiting the UK and meeting YBF members.

‘Trussonomics’ and Climate Denial

The CPS appears to have had a more direct financial connection to Liz Truss’ leadership campaign.

The parliamentary register of interests reveals that, on 2 August, Truss received £25,000 from CPS chairman, the billionaire City financier, Lord Michael Spencer.

Lord Spencer, who also chairs the Conservative Party Foundation, became chairman of the CPS in 2020, the year after it received a grant from the Cherish Freedom Foundation.

Archived deleted webpages for Conservative Way Forward, dated October 2021, show that Lord Spencer is also a CWF patron. He is therefore connected to both Conservative pressure groups linked to the Mercer lobby.

Two other major Truss appointees are tied to this lobby through Lord Spencer. In April, Lord Spencer’s company, IPGL Ltd, paid £5,000 to Brandon Lewis, Truss’ now Justice Secretary. Lord Spencer also previously gave Truss’ Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, £7,500 in 2019.

These connections throw further light on how fossil fuel interests overlap with the influence of the Mercer lobby.

Lord Spencer has built his fortune investing in spread betting finance, biometric authentication, data analytics, hedge funds, among other sectors. But last year it emerged that IPGL held a 40% stake in Cluff Energy Africa, which has prospects for oil in west Africa.

While the CPS’ influence on the Truss campaign has been quite direct, the Mercer lobby’s influence has extended across the Truss Cabinet through the CWF group chaired by Steve Baker, Northern Ireland Minister. The result has been a deregulatory economic agenda which appears to serve the interests of climate deniers.

Nadhim Zawahi, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and Minister for Equalities – as well as Home Secretary Suella Braverman – participated in CWF’s relaunch last December.

Both Zawahi and Braverman endorsed its publication ‘A Charter for Tax Cuts’ by Julian Jessop, former chief economist at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Although Jessop was not officially part of the Truss team, he is among several economists “closest to the Truss campaign”, according to the Spectator. CPS business researcher Gerard Lyons is also among this group.

In July, Suella Braverman received £10,000 from First Corporate Consultants, founded by British entrepreneur Terence Mordaunt, whose net worth is more than £380 million. Mordaunt is a major Conservative Party donor, and the thirteenth biggest donor to the Brexit campaign. From 2019 to 2021, Mordaunt was chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a notorious climate denial lobby group funded by fossil fuel interests where CWF chair Steve Baker is also a trustee.

Mordaunt is directly connected to the Mercer lobby – like Lord Michael Spencer, he is a patron of Conservative Way Forward.

Mordaunt connects another Truss appointee to the Mercer lobby. Penny Mordaunt, Truss’ Leader of the House of Commons, received £20,000 from First Corporate Consultants between 2019 and 2021.

Britannia Unchained

The pattern of funding uncovered by this investigation demonstrates the extent to which Conservative policy, and Liz Truss’ Cabinet and ideology, appear to have come under the influence of the Mercer lobby. 

The links between the Prime Minister, her ministers, and two Conservative pressure groups with ties to Mercer funding also raise deep questions about how the US far-right could be seeking to shape UK Government policy.

Despite this, Downing Street and the Conservative Party did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment. This newspaper also received no response from Conservative Way Forward and Paul Simon Osborne.

Robert and Rebekah Mercer’s funding of far-right and libertarian causes is motivated by the goal of destroying the liberal state. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too,” Steve Bannon once famously said. “I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

The UK’s new Prime Minister and Chancellor co-authored Britannia Unchained in 2012, which railed against the “legacy of a bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation”. Among its proposals were slashing workers’ rights to give employers greater scope to fire people, eliminating minimum wage obligations for small businesses, and cutting public spending while essentially liberating corporations from every rule in the name of prosperity.

The book may provide some explanation as to why the Mercer lobby would seek to radicalise British conservativism – to fundamentally change the state as we know it, in order to pave the way for extreme right-wing shock therapy. 

To what extent is this an ideology which the current Prime Minister and her Cabinet could seek to put into practice now they have the power to do so? 

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On the Frontline of Exposing the Truth About Russia and Brexit 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/08/2022 - 10:54pm in

Four years ago, Tom Mutch thought he had the ‘scoop of the century’ blowing open Russia’s involvement in Brexit. Now, after the UK has left the European Union and Putin wages genocidal war in Ukraine, he wonders whether we are any closer to knowing the truth 

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“As I told my friend Boris Johnson, it’s you and I that are always being blamed for this,” the Russian Ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, said as he turned to me and smiled. It was a mischievous answer to my question on whether Russia had been involved in campaigning for Brexit.

The charming and sharp-suited senior Russian diplomat had just given quite a speech at the Oxford Union. It was May 2018 and he had been invited to promote the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Instead, he used his perch to deny Russia’s involvement in the ills of the world, issuing denial after denial.

No, Russia was not involved in the war in Ukraine. Nor had it interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election. He repeated conspiracy theories about the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury and said he “couldn’t know” whether the head of the Chechen republic Ramzan Kadyrov was right about there being no gay people in that part of Russia.

I had collared him for a short interview. “Tell me, why would Russia want to cause such a mess?” he asked me with an expression of bafflement on his face. 

He could not have known then, but I had a particularly good answer to that question. For I possessed evidence that Yakovenko may have been personally involved in what could have been one of the biggest boons for Russian foreign policy of all time. 

Having spent the past months in bunkers and trenches watching Putin’s armed forces trying to annihilate Ukraine, I thought about the Russian Ambassador’s waspish charm – and its incredibly ominous undertones. 

Bad Boys of Brexit I had worked with journalist Isabel Oakeshott as a researcher on The Bad Boys of Brexit, the book she had ghost-written for Arron Banks – an outspoken businessman and donor to the far-right UK Independence Party, which had pushed David Cameron into calling a referendum on the EU. Banks had given around £8 million to fund Nigel Farage and his campaign for Britain to quit Europe. Being a Brexit supporter, I had little problem with this at the time.

In the book, Banks described his campaign to take on the British establishment with a ragtag team of fringe politicians and social media whizzes. With money from his insurance companies, combined with some pluck, gusto and well-placed Twitter trolling, Banks credited himself for pulling off one of the biggest upsets in British political history.

It was a tale that would take him to the top of Trump Tower, where he and his team were photographed next to a grinning President-Elect Donald Trump. Banks would later claim a little credit for this other great electoral shock.

But in the year after the book was published, Banks had come under serious scrutiny from both journalists and regulatory agencies around the source of his funding. 

Reports – which Banks contested – suggested that his businesses were losing money and he could not have afforded his donations. Oakeshott and I had heard from a security services source that spooks were probing whether Banks had serious business interests in Russia and if this was connected to his Brexit largesse. 

In late 2017, I was sitting with my family in Australia when I got a call from Oakeshott. Could I check the records we retained from our time working on the Bad Boys of Brexit and find if there was any truth to the allegations? I agreed. What I found deeply concerned both of us. 

The documents revealed many undisclosed meetings between Banks’ Leave.EU campaign team and officials based in the Russian Embassy in London. Rather than the ‘single boozy lunch’ the group had claimed in our book, it had held around a dozen meetings.

Several of these were with a Russian spook they described as “the KGB’s man in London”. They included a series of lunches with the Russian Ambassador, who had offered Banks and his business associates significant investments in Russian state-controlled gold and diamond firms. They had also met to discuss the Brexit campaign and frequently traded messages of friendship and mutual support. One example was an email sent during a public dispute between Russia and the UK over the Syrian refugee crisis. “Suggest we send a note of support to the Russian Ambassador,” Banks wrote. 

Isabel and I had already become uncomfortable with his attacks on journalists investigating him. He had shared a meme depicting Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr being beaten in a mock-up of a scene from the comedy film Airplane. He said she “wouldn’t be so lippy in Russia!”. Other emails detailed his plans to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on the BBC Newsnight team investigating his finances. This was “personal stuff, things like girlfriends, if he’s in debt”. 

Nothing we uncovered proved any illegality. Putting out false press statements or ‘leading journalists up the garden path’ is not a crime. Nor is meeting representatives of foreign governments or considering investment proposals. Banks was a businessman, after all, with significant legitimate investments in commodities including diamonds.

But it was clear that the Russians were trying to cultivate important UK political figures to increase their influence. 

The announcement of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election showed how high the stakes were – especially as I was aware how intricately connected the two transatlantic campaigns of Brexit and Trump were. 

Other documents showed Banks and Wigmore were offered a meeting with both Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, and that a Trump foreign policy advisor had asked them for an introduction to members from the German far-right AfD party.

The team behind the book drafted a public statement, saying that Oakeshott was concerned that Banks could be working as an “agent of influence for the Russian state” and that she “cannot stand by while Banks publicly lies about his connections” to hostile foreign powers. Unfortunately, she did. 

Oakeshott, and her publisher Michael Ashcroft, decided to instead hold the material for an upcoming book about UK defence. I accepted this, but was never that comfortable with it. As time went on, revelations about Cambridge Analytica and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal increased my concerns that this material needed to come out. 

I began speaking with journalists from other organisations about the documents, including Byline Times’ co-founder, Peter Jukes. He shared a draft with the Observer, which published it and all hell broke loose. The story was on the front pages of newspapers, the lead item on CNN and the UK Government called for an investigation into Banks’ finances. Senior opposition politicians were claiming that Brexit needed to be stopped until these allegations could be investigated. 

A few months later, the National Crime Agency would announce a criminal probe into Banks, based on reasonable suspicion that he “was not the true source of his funding for the Leave.EU campaign”. Further investigations would show that one of Banks’ business partners had filed court documents claiming that the money he had raised from Russians to expand his diamond mines in a South Africa business had been diverted to fund Banks’ Leave EU referendum campaign. 

It seemed like the scoop of the century – the smoking gun connecting Trump, Brexit and Russia.

A Drink with Mr Banks The NCA closed its investigation with no charges. Boris Johnson suppressed a report by a parliamentary committee into Russian interference ahead of the 2019 General Election, which he won by claiming to ‘Get Brexit Done’. On 31 January 2020, the UK officially left the EU. 

Shortly afterwards, the pandemic struck and – by an odd twist of fate – Arron Banks and I both ended up being stuck in Auckland. I asked if he would be willing to meet. To my surprise, he agreed. 

Sitting in a small restaurant in the quiet suburb of Mt Eden, he looked a picture of health. Trim, well-dressed and beaming with energy. The restless politico was keeping himself busy with projects in the Antipodes and said he had just lunched with the populist New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. He toasted me with his glass of pinot noir. It was his fourth or so bottle of wine by about 2pm. 

“A few games of squash, a couple of glasses of wine, and I feel the best I have in years,” he said. “After what we went through, I needed a break!” Banks explained that, after the publication of his correspondence with the Russian Embassy in London, a Sunday Times reporter had called to tell him “I can’t believe it, we’ve never, in all my time at the paper, devoted the first six whole pages to a single report”.

He said “we were on the front page of The New York Times, the Washington Post” and “we had who knows how many hit pieces on us from Newsnight and Channel 4”. He explained how he had suffered heavily at the hand of the ‘fake news’ press; a slight smirk betraying how he somewhat enjoyed the notoriety. 

We had met just once before, at an election night party on the eve of Trump’s victory. Held at London’s exclusive Devonshire Club, I had listened to Banks’ close associate and press guru Andy Wigmore explain just how deep those transatlantic connections went.

He reckoned Trump could pull off a similar upset to Brexit. Leave.EU, he explained, had assisted the Trump campaign to design a strategy for targeting white working-class voters in the ‘rust belt’ states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. This, he told me, was based on data and experience derived from Nigel Farage’s bus tour around similarly deprived communities in the north of England.

Banks said something similar in an email to a friend that December – “we have been in the US helping the Trump campaign for the last few months”. He also boasted “close relationships with three of the most senior figures in the incoming administration” – Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Jeff Sessions.

It appeared his connections were taken seriously by figures in the UK. Steve Hilton, David Cameron's former advisor and advocate for ‘positive populism’, reached out to Banks to request a mobile number for Bannon. Wigmore even passed his contacts in the Russian Embassy a telephone number for the Trump transition team.

I asked Banks if this account was accurate. “Yes,” he said, before backtracking and claiming that Wigmore had slightly oversold it. “What we did do was help Trump deliver his message better,” he told me. “Before we got there, he was reading these dull, pre-written speeches. Nigel got him to ditch the teleprompter, improvise more and liven things up.”

Then, as the talk flowed, he let slip the thing that surprised me most. “You know the lads from the National Crime Agency – like most of the police – are very working-class,” he said. “They made it clear to me they were backers of Brexit.” I could not know exactly what he meant by this, but I had long harboured my own suspicions that the NCA’s investigation had lacked rigour. 

Failures to Investigate The National Crime Agency’s headquarters is a series of squat, grey, concrete rectangles built across a small courtyard in south London. Investigators working on ‘Operation Centile’, as the probe was known, had requested an interview with me and I had agreed to cooperate. In a cold, clammy basement two stories below ground, I walked them through the disturbing connections I had found. 

“We are very interested in all of this,” one of the officers told me gravely. Their subsequent actions would not bear this out.

They gave me a cable to transfer my records from my laptop to one of their computers. The transfer completed and I left. 

Around a week later, they called again. The transfer had failed midway and corrupted the files and they wanted me to upload the material to a cloud-based system and give them a link to open it. I did so and then they changed their minds again, saying they were worried about the chain of custody of the evidence if they opened the link. They wanted me to transfer all the material to a hard drive, travel to the Peruvian capital of Lima (I’d been travelling in South America at the time) and hand this drive into the British Embassy in the city. Despairing, I made it clear if they wanted, they could come and get it.

They never contacted me again. 

When the NCA released a letter outlining its findings, there was no mention of any investigation of Banks’ links to the Russian state. The Electoral Commission, which had initially referred the case to London’s top cops, took the extraordinary step of publicly criticising the judgment for “allowing foreign money into British elections”. 

The NCA claimed it had interviewed Banks and examined material from his business records in the Isle of Man, where his companies are based. The Isle of Man is regarded as a tax haven and has some of the world’s most secretive banking laws. I spoke with a senior source working for its financial regulatory agency who told me that its financial crime team had spent significant time preparing to deal with a request from the NCA to probe Banks’ dealings. This request had never arrived and the NCA did not probe Banks’ confidential financial records, according to this source.  

There were hints that people at the agency knew more than it had let on. 

Shortly before it publicly cleared Banks, a security source told the Daily Mail that “Cabinet ministers joining Boris Johnson's Government in July were warned by security officials to steer clear of insurance tycoon Banks and his associates… they were gently told they risked huge embarrassment if charges are brought and they were still meeting”. The article went on to say that the NCA investigation was “still live” and that “sources say its scope has widened”. Another report claimed that former Prime Minister Theresa May had blocked a security services probe into Banks’ activities as it had been too politically sensitive.

As Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian interference in the UK showed, the Government and the security services had made no effort to investigate potential Russian influence on the Brexit vote.

Alexander Yakavencho. Photo: PA/Alamy Ashes In Oxford in 2018, before he left, Alexander Yakovenko motioned for me to come closer. “Do you want to know the secret about Brexit?” he whispered.

After an ominous pause, he cracked a smirk and exclaimed: “We really just don’t care!” He broke into a peal of laughter and turned to the group of students huddled around. “That’s all from me today!” he said, giving a wave. A moment later, he was whisked away. 

The same week I met Yakovenko, I also attended a talk at the Institute for Statecraft, a think tank in central London but supposedly a haunt for members of the intelligence community. Brexit inevitably came up.

An audience member asked: “Will the British public change their minds on Brexit, once it is publicly revealed how deeply the Russians could have been involved?” After everything I have done to expose the links, I know the answer – no, it didn’t change a thing.

Banks sued Carole Cadwalladr in a court case that dragged on for nearly three years when she said he had lied about his connections with the Russian Government. 

The judge in the case concluded that “the four meetings… were probably not the full extent of Mr Banks’ meetings with Russian officials” and that the reason Banks gave for claiming and then denying his trip to Moscow “was not credible”.

Around the same time this judgment was handed down, I was standing beside a platoon of Ukrainian soldiers watching Russian rockets smash into the fields just a few hundred metres in front of us. Melodic birdsong mixed with the whistle and crash of the shells landing all around us. I was in Donetsk on the frontline of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Though the truth behind the Russian state’s involvement in Brexit seems murkier than ever, we now know the depths of evil that Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy has been aiming towards. No longer is the Kremlin content with meddling in democratic elections – it is now engaged in a full-on war intended to annihilate its democratic and sovereign neighbour.

As I hear the rumble of artillery outside my windows, I finally see what was lurking behind the ambassador’s mask of jovial charm. And that’s the story of my whole ‘scoop of the century’: what I had thought were diamonds, turned out to be ashes.

Byline Times has repeatedly contacted Arron Banks on a variety of issues raised in this article, meeting with no response or one of curt dismissiveness

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PODCAST: Dr. Bandy Lee Saw It Coming – The Violence Foretold in Donald Trump’s Election

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/08/2022 - 4:28am in

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Donald Trump

Our democracy has been eroding in tandem with the rise in inequality, says Dr. Lee. The Trump presidency is not really about Donald Trump the individual. He is an expression of the national state of mind. Continue reading

The post PODCAST: Dr. Bandy Lee Saw It Coming – The Violence Foretold in Donald Trump’s Election appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Where is Britain’s Liz Cheney?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/08/2022 - 7:42pm in

Alexandra Hall Hall explores the worrying trajectories of the US Republicans and the UK's Conservative Party

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I was very sad to hear of the defeat of Congresswoman Liz Cheney in her bid to be re-selected as the Republican candidate for Wyoming to the US House of Representatives.

I had got to know her quite well on a personal basis when I worked for her from early 2003 to mid-2004 in the US State Department, where I happened to be assigned on secondment from the Foreign Office. She was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Middle East Bureau, where I was embedded for one year, as an advisor in the section promoting democracy in the Middle East.

She turned out to be quite different in person from the hawkish caricature painted by her detractors, particularly those who strongly disliked her father, Vice President Dick Cheney. I didn’t necessarily agree with her brand of conservative politics, but I found her to be a good person to work for. She was hard-working and professional, and always kind and supportive to me. 

Above all, I found her to be a good listener – particularly when she was engaging with civil society activists and human rights defenders in the Middle East. She listened intently and patiently to their remarks, and conveyed real sympathy for the challenges they faced. She was also surprisingly humble in her manner (again, given the more brash reputation of her father), and ready to acknowledge the limitations of US power and occasional failings.     

When I ran into her again last year at a think tank event, despite being the guest of honour, she made time to come over and chat to me and reminisce about our work together. She remained warm and friendly, but there was a new steeliness and determination in her manner, no doubt forged by her experiences over the past two years.

Cheney seems to represent a dying breed of politicians willing to put principle and loyalty to their constitution and country before their own personal interests or party.

The main reason she lost her primary competition to a candidate backed by Donald Trump is because, for the past 20 months, she has stood out – almost alone among Republican members of Congress – in strongly condemning Trump’s unpresidential behaviour in office, his claims that the 2020 Presidential Election was 'stolen', and his incitement of the mob which attacked Congress on January 6 2021.

Cheney was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote in favour of impeaching the former president. She is one of only 2 Republicans serving on the House select committee investigating the circumstances of the attack on Congress.

She has paid a heavy price for her alleged 'disloyalty' to the Republican Party – the loss of her seat in Congress; potentially the end of her political career; a torrent of abuse from supporters of Donald Trump; and so many violent threats to her and her family that she was not even able to campaign openly in Wyoming, but could only attend small, private events, many not advertised in advance.

In her remarks conceding defeat, she again made clear her determination to prevent Donald Trump ever becoming president again, because of the danger he presents, in her view, to American democracy. To that end, she has not ruled out speculation that she may even mount a presidential campaign next year – not with any realistic prospect of winning herself, but in the hope that she can peel off enough votes from Trump if he decides to run again. The aim being to prevent him either from becoming the Republican Party’s nominee or defeating whoever the Democrat candidate is. She has also warned of the dangers of allowing a “personality cult” to take hold in the Republicans. 

Listening to Liz Cheney's comments, I could not help but be struck by the parallels between what is happening in the Republican Party in the US, and the Conservative Party in the UK.

Transatlantic Parallels

Just as Donald Trump has tried to mould the Republicans in his image, so in the UK, a dangerous personality cult seems to be growing around Boris Johnson – as exemplified by the attempts of some Conservative Party members to allow him to compete in the ongoing leadership campaign to replace him. 

Whereas just a few short weeks ago it was hard to find many Conservatives publicly willing to defend him, now there is increasing talk of him having been unfairly ousted.

Newspapers like the Daily Mail have claimed he was “cast out” by a party “in the grip of collective hysteria” under pressure from “embittered foes and ambitious rivals”. The hashtag #bringbackboris is trending on Twitter. Johnson himself argued in populist fashion, before finally agreeing to step down, that he had some sort of special mandate from the people – despite the fact that the UK is a parliamentary, not a presidential, system. 

This growing cult of personality around Johnson is one of the reasons Liz Truss appears to be the frontrunner to replace him – because she is perceived to have been more loyal to Johnson by staying on in the Cabinet and repeatedly defending him in public.

She has also pitched herself as the natural successor to Johnson, who will defend most strongly the Brexit which he allegedly 'delivered' – despite the fact that she actually originally campaigned to remain in the EU. By contrast, Rishi Sunak is portrayed by many of his critics as having stabbed Johnson in the back, and of being softer on Brexit than Truss – despite having actually campaigned during the referendum in favour of leaving the EU. 

Liz Cheney was defeated by a candidate hitching her fortunes to that of Donald Trump and his legacy. And, in similar fashion, far from representing a decisive break from Johnson, the campaign to succeed him appears to be favouring the candidate trying most to ride in on his coattails. 

And just as the Conservative Party is in danger of emulating the Republicans’ thrall around the persona of one man, so the party is also in danger of emulating the Republicans' denial of the damage Trump caused. Where his supporters continue to spout 'the Big Lie', so Johnson’s supporters continue to spout the big lie that Brexit has been a great success – despite substantial (and in Brexit’s case, growing) evidence to the contrary.    

Cheney has argued that Trump’s lies and actions were so damaging that they amounted to an attack on the very integrity of America’s institutions and democracy. Some might argue that I am making a ludicrous comparison by suggesting Boris Johnson presented anything remotely as dangerous to UK democracy.

And yet, where Trump encouraged his supporters to attack Congress, so Johnson unlawfully acted to prorogue Parliament. Where Trump heaped abuse on journalists who criticised him, judges who ruled against him, staff who tried to constrain his worst impulses; so under Johnson we have seen the BBC attacked as biased, judges and lawyers labelled 'enemies of the people' and civil servants accused of being part of a “deep state” determined to thwart government policy. 

Imagine if, as America has been able to establish a committee to investigate the January 6 attack on Congress, an equivalent committee of investigation was established in the UK to investigate the circumstances around the 2016 EU Referendum and its implementation.

Where the US commission has produced powerful imagery of Trump egging on his supporters, I believe it would be easy for an equivalent commission in the UK to expose the gaps between what Brexit supporters claimed leaving the EU would achieve, and what has in fact resulted. 

Where the US commission has shown the powerful testimony of staff who worked for Trump exposing his wild behaviour behind the scenes, perhaps a British commission could finally compel all the civil servants who worked behind the scenes in No 10 to report honestly on how policy-making has happened there.

At some stage, just as America needs to reckon with the truth over what happened on January 6, the UK needs to have an honest reckoning over the implementation of Brexit. 

Fighting for Truth

However, what I find most sad about Liz Cheney’s lonely stance is that she has been abandoned – not just by diehard supporters of Donald Trump, but even by many of those who privately  agree with her criticisms of him but have chosen to put party loyalty before country.

A politician from Wyoming who has known her from childhood was recently quoted as saying “I’ve known her since she was eight years old, she’s never changed a lick”, describing her as a person with integrity, and saying he no longer recognises the party which he joined. 

Cheney’s problem seems to be that, where she has stayed constant to her principles, many in her party have shown themselves increasingly willing to abandon them for political expediency.  There appears to be no one like her in the UK's Conservative Party.

Liz Truss’ numerous U-turns and policy shifts over her career are in stark contrast to Liz Cheney’s steadfastness. Where Liz Cheney has chosen to speak out to expose Trump’s flaws, too many in the Conservative Party have kept their heads down and even now remain reluctant to criticise Boris Johnson’s many failings.

Where Liz Cheney has not been afraid to criticise those policies of Trump which go way beyond traditional Republican orthodoxy, very few Conservative MPs have dared to challenge the existing Tory orthodoxy around Brexit. Where Liz Cheney was prepared to stay on and fight, even at the cost of losing her own seat, too many Conservative MPs have either chosen to give in or retire from politics altogether. 

Liz Cheney has been a brave, principled, but very lonely voice in the Republican Party.  Of the 10 House Republicans, including Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol insurrection, only two remain candidates for re-election. The others have bowed out or, like Cheney, have been defeated by Trump-backed challengers.

But at least Cheney has continued to provide an opposition. And as long as she still fights, she gives hope to those in the Republican Party who are equally appalled by its trajectory in recent years and long for a return to decency, honesty and loyalty to the constitution. 

Where is the British Liz Cheney? 

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat with more than 30 years experience, with postings in Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Bogota and Tbilisi. She resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 because she felt unable to represent the Government’s position on Brexit with integrity

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Werleman’s Worldview: The New Age of Political Violence in America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/08/2022 - 8:22pm in

The reaction of Donald Trump, Republican politicians and right-wing commentators to the FBI's recent raid on the former president's Florida home signals a crisis for the US, says CJ Werleman

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One week after the FBI executed a search warrant on Donald Trump’s residence in Florida, the former US President appeared on Fox News to deliver a thinly-veiled threat against the US Department of Justice.

“People are so angry at what is taking place,” he warned. “The temperature has to be brought down.”

Trump made the statements amid a surge of threats against the country’s top law enforcement agency. Reading between the lines, he was suggesting that the same violent forces that attacked the US Capitol 18 month ago could turn their attention to the Federal Government should the Department of Justice continue to investigate him, along with his family and cronies.

Welcome to the new age of political violence in America.

While Trump has broken too many established political norms to count, he has firmly entrenched one – the normalisation of violence as a tool to achieve political ends.

He has been connected to more than 50 violent attacks across the country, according to a report by ABC News, and his campaign rallies have always been an “incubation ground for violence”, where he peppers threats against his political opponents with threats of physical harm.

We can no longer view the January 6 attacks as an isolated incident, but as the opening salvo of a protracted right-wing insurgency against the United States.

Last week, a Trump supporter and former US Navy veteran was killed when he tried to attack the Cincinnati FBI office. On Monday, a Trump diehard was arrested for threatening to “slaughter” federal agents, whom he called “police state scum”.

On Friday, a mob of heavily-armed Trump supporters protested outside the FBI’s office in Phoenix, Arizona, with some holding signs reading: "Honour your oath: Arrest all traitors.” That same day, both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned their respective law enforcement officials that threats are being made “primarily online and across multiple platforms, including social media sites, web forums, video sharing platforms, and image boards”, according to CBS News.

These pro-Trump loyalists are only playing out what Trump and influential right-wing media personalities are pushing online and into conservative media outlets.

On the day the FBI executed its search warrant at Trump’s Mar-A-Largo resort, calls for civil war were overt and widespread – not only from fringe figures on the right but also from elected Republican law-makers.

“These are the types of things that happen in countries during civil war,” tweeted Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon called the FBI the “Gestapo”, while declaring “we’re at war!” 

Florida Governor Rick DeSantis, who is widely considered a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, referred to the US Federal Government as an illegitimate or foreign “regime” that’s being “weaponised” against its “political adversaries”. 

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland via Twitter, warning him to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar” because Republicans will come for him if they retake the House of Representations in the November midterm elections. This is the highest-ranking Republican in Congress defying his constitutional oath in order to protect Trump – no matter the evidence against him. This is the promise of political war against all perceived and imagined enemies of the former president.

When the Attorney General called Trump out to make the warrant public, Trump released it to right-wing media outlet Breitbart without redacting the names of the FBI agents who executed the search warrant – which served no other purpose other than “opening them up to threats and harassment”, observes former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. This is exactly what happened after their identities were revealed.

Details of the FBI agents are now circulating among pro-Trump social media accounts, with many vowing acts of violent retribution against them and their families.

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The US is now faced with an increasingly grim reality – that millions of Americans are now willing to threaten violence, and even kill and die, for a failed president. A failed president who faces the very real prospect of prison time for espionage, mishandling classified material, inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and seditious conspiracy.

But it doesn’t matter to Trump loyalists whether he’s charged with a crime. Neither the law or democratic institutions hold much importance to those who are willing to take up arms or support violence against the former president’s enemies. Because “he has done things for such people that no one else could do,” observes Tom Nichols in The Atlantic. “He has made their lives interesting. He has made them feel important.”

“He has taken their itching frustrations about the unfairness of life and created a morality play around them and cast himself as the central character," Nichols writes. "Trump, to his supporters, is the avenging angel who is going to lay waste to the ‘elites’, the smarty-pantses and do-gooders, the godless and the smug, the satisfied and the comfortable.”

Civil war, at least in the abstract, is exactly what they want – and many Americans believe they will get it, according to a recent poll conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School, which found that one-third of surveyed Americans aged 16 to 30 expect there to be ‘a civil war’ within their lifetimes, with roughly 25% believing at least one US state will secede from the Union.

The only thing that might hold the Union together is for the law to finally catch up with the man who has already done so much to tear it apart: Donald J. Trump.

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Pluralism versus Populism – The Battle Rages On

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 10:33pm in

In his editorial from the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times, Peter Jukes explores the big new political battle shaping the world

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With the assassination of the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike in Kabul, this July marked the end of an era. Al-Zawahiri was killed 21 years after he helped plan the attacks on the US Pentagon and World Trade Centre, and 11 years after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was shot dead in a US raid in Pakistan. Combined with the US retreat from Afghanistan last year, the period defined by 9/11 and the global ‘War on Terror’ appears to be coming to a close. What has replaced it?

For at least six years, the threat to democracy seems to have come less from violent non-state actors, but from the warring elites within some of the world’s largest democracies. Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil and – of course – Trump in the US and Johnson in the UK show that the rise of authoritarian populism is no flash in the pan. 

Most of the disruption caused by this has been non-violent and has not spilled across borders. But the spike in violent far-right terrorism shows that the threats aren’t mere ‘culture wars’. And the populist Brexit project destabilised the EU just as much as Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism undermined NATO and the UN. 

The elevated threat this poses to the post-war rules-based order came into starker relief this February, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like Trump and Johnson, Putin invoked the language of ‘national sovereignty’ above international law in his justifications for the unprovoked assault – tying up his “special military operation” to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine with a wider global war on ‘cancel culture’. Some of his speeches could have been written by far-right ideologue and Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon (who claimed to have helped our outgoing Prime Minister write his).  

Though the six-month-long invasion has made Russia an international pariah, it has certainly not dented Putin’s popularity in Russia itself. In a sense, this is the ultimate success of authoritarian populism. So what is wrong with being popular? 

The problem with populism – an appeal to the majority for the sake of that appeal – is that it cannot keep its promises. One example of this mismatch between being ‘for the people’ but not actually helping them, is the higher level of Coronavirus deaths in countries led by populist authoritarians. 

Another came to me recently while watching the late 90s disaster movie Deep Impact – the precursor to the recent hit Netflix satire Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In both film scenarios, an asteroid is heading towards Earth with the potential to create an ‘extinction level event’. 

In the 1998 version, the US President – played by Morgan Freeman – co-operates with international scientists and governments across the world, to provide an active response and carefully thought-through back up plans. They don’t end up entirely diverting disaster, but a combination of collective action and individual initiative saves the planet from the worst and most people survive. 

In the 2021 remake, the US – led by a populist president played by Meryl Streep in the style of Donald Trump – panders to the media and her lazily sceptical voter base. The response is to either ignore the impending catastrophe (“don’t look up!”) or to somehow profit from it. The result is that the planet is destroyed and virtually nobody survives. 

The metaphor of climate change denial is all too clear, and the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times looks at the wider impact of the climate emergency, with a special investigation led by Nafeez Ahmed. As Nafeez points out, the rise of far-right politics is connected to the devastating impacts of climate change and its effect on migration. But, as always with populism, since it never addresses the real cause, the reaction is to blame minority groups or threatening ‘outsiders’ – migrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, terrorists.

Because populist policies are only designed to evoke outrage rather than solve problems, they provoke a spiral of ever-more disturbing narratives that soon turn against ‘insiders’ too: the ‘stab in the back’ by ‘enemies of the people’, ending in conspiracy theories about globalist ‘elites’ or an undefined ‘deep state’. 

Ultimately, this cycle of broken promise does threaten the ‘deep’ state – in other words, independent institutions, governance, and the rule of law. 

Because populism is so predicated on lies, the only way to maintain its mythic structures is to make sure reality never breaks through, and to keep a firm grip on the state so the spiralling authoritarian wrongs are never exposed. 

This is the trajectory writ large by Donald Trump’s incitement of the Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021, in which he hoped to overturn the democratic vote for Joe Biden. There is also an echo of this in Boris Johnson’s constant challenges to parliamentary and police scrutiny over his time in Number 10. Both parties – the Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in the UK – now appear more or less wedded to this rhetoric of rule-breaking and cultural polarisation of their societies through the ‘war on woke’.

For all its disturbing trends, the rise of populism does remind us – like a photographic negative – of those elements which actually have made democracies succeed throughout the 20th Century, which can be summed up in one word: pluralism.

The danger of any democracy is always the tyranny of the majority and, as was witnessed in Germany in the 1930s or can be seen in Russia today, a popular movement with the support of more than 50% of the population can decide on a trajectory of repression, censorship, imperial war, genocide and widespread destruction. 

That is because the only thing that has made democracies function in the past is the combination of popular rule with the protection of individual and minority rights, especially when it comes to free speech and assembly; and clear, fair rules about the succession of power. 

In Xi Jinping's China, in Putin’s Russia, and (almost) in Donald Trump’s America, the peaceful transfer of power has been broken, with ‘presidents for life’ equating the success of the state with their own lives and livelihoods. Britain is not exempt from this danger, as we face the third change of prime minister mid-term without a mandate from the electorate. 

Pluralism also guards us against the other knee-jerk reaction of the populists: demonisation of others to create ‘in group’-‘out group’ fears. Rising out of a fight against religious intolerance, pluralism is the only way to fight back against the sectarian divisions provoked by demagogues like Modi. 

As Hardeep Matharu explains in a profound and searching essay in these pages, the 'culture wars' seek to divide-and-rule by fixing individuals in mutually exclusive, and often mutually hostile, single identities – whereas the reality is we all have multiple, overlapping identities, and the pluralism we seek in society is actually a liberation of the pluralism and choice within us all. 

Finally, in the battle between pluralism and populism, whether metaphorical or literal, the former shows more signs of adaptiveness and strength.

In this month's print edition, Tom Mutch explains how his journey to the frontlines of the Donbas in Ukraine began with his work on Arron Banks’ book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, and an investigation into how Russia may have intervened in the EU Referendum. We’ve seen the tense, litigious and expensive battles over allegations of Russia interference dominate our courts, with high-profile legal battles against investigative journalists like Carole Cadwalladr and Catherine Belton. 

But, more than anything, this struggle is playing out in real time, measured in human cost, on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. Ever since the much smaller Ukrainian military forces managed to beat the much larger Russian Army in the siege of Kyiv, the power of pluralistic society collaborating with a wider European community of nations, has proved itself more powerful, blow by blow, than the top-down controlled dictatorial structures of Putin’s military and managed authoritarian democracy. 

The sinking of the flagship Russian Cruiser Moskva, the recapturing of the strategic Snake Island in the Black Sea, and the recent devastating explosions at the Saki Russian air force base in Crimea, show a depth of group ingenuity – not to mention collective motivation of a smaller force against a much larger one. 

With Russia having failed in its secondary objective to capture the Donetsk Oblast, Putin has moved most of his forces into a defence of Kherson –  the one large city which fell quickly during the initial invasion. This is looking increasingly like a trap, as there are only two bridges to supply his forces, and both have been badly damaged by Ukrainian rocket attacks.  

Whatever happens, the battle for Kherson will be a crucial turning point in this third phase of the war. If Putin loses and is forced to withdraw, his own domestic situation could well become precarious. And if so, for the people of Russia as much as those in Ukraine or the rest of Europe, the empty promises of populism will have been exposed once again by the wider forces of pluralism.

This article was published as an editorial in the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times. Buy your copy now

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The ‘Culture War’ Continues to Radicalise on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 11:19pm in

Sam Bright and Sian Norris track the evolution of pro-Trump, pro-Brexit ideologies in the UK and US

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The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Texas last week offered a bingo card of the issues currently engaging and enraging the right. 

Far from focusing on the pressing issues of our time – the cost of living crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the climate catastrophe – talk centred on transgender people, educational indoctrination, and how – as Nigel Farage termed it – “madrasas of Marxism” are supposedly teaching white children to hate their race. 

When the big global crises were mentioned, it was with airy dismissal. Farage told his audience that far more dangerous than Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Europe was the “fifth columns” in our own English-speaking countries infecting children with the virus of ‘wokeness’.

The conference's line-up confirmed that conservatives are now ideological rather than pragmatic – waging 'revolution' against imagined enemies, rather than concerning themselves with issues of the economy and national security. And CPAC is the forum for the 'culture war' – not least when it comes to pushing a hard-right, pro-Trump agenda.

Take the representatives in attendance from the Heritage Foundation, for instance – the radical-right think tank built on grants from the Scaife and Koch families, among others, which has poured its energy and resources into investigating flimsy allegations of ‘voter fraud – what Jane Mayer has termed the “big money behind the big lie”. 

Then there were speakers from Moms for America – a group that has been instrumental in attacking school boards in the name of liberty and freedom. It campaigns against critical race theory – the idea that racism is socially constructed and embedded in public institutions – and offers advice on how to pull children out of school (home-schooling is increasingly popular among white Christian nationalists).

Similarly, Concerned Women for America was on the bill; as were a raft of other anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ organisations and individuals. 

Then there was Donald Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon, addressing the crowd despite his recent contempt of court conviction. Bannon has been instrumental in fuelling the culture war that defined Trump’s presidency and has since morphed the Republicans from a right-wing party into a reactionary, conspiracist campaign group. 

Back in 2019, it was reported that Farage had discussed fronting a far-right group set up by Bannon – and it is arguably Farage who has done the most in building a transatlantic bridge between the US and UK culture wars.

Over the past decade, where Farage has gone, the Conservative Party has followed.

Brexit was, in many ways, an attempt to neutralise the electoral threat of an insurgent UKIP – with populist centre-right parties absorbing the far-right and moving in an increasingly radical direction to appease its new supporters.

The results can be seen in the current Conservative Party leadership contest, in which both contenders have engaged in the culture war Farage and his US peers continue to wage.

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The Church of Brexit

In last night’s Conservative leadership hustings event, hosted by Talk TV – a right-wing broadcaster owned by Rupert Murdoch – frontrunner Liz Truss demonised journalists, suggesting they were to blame for the ousting of Boris Johnson. She even claimed that the host, Tom Newton Dunn, was parroting left-wing talking points when he asked Truss why she was ruling out extra Government help for people during the cost of living crisis. “I believe in Britain, unlike some of the media who choose to talk our country down,” she said.

This directly echoes Farage’s CPAC speech – during which he shouted at the assembled journalists: “You’re fake news! Fake news!” This anti-media rhetoric has, of course, also been a common feature of Trump’s political rallies, with journalists regularly been attacked at Trump events. 

However, as Newton Dunn pointed out to Truss, the majority of the UK's right-wing press has backed her to become Conservative Leader and Prime Minister, while amplifying the party’s culture war grievances. 

Today’s Times, for example, laments the supposed mass censorship of classical texts by universities – claiming that lecturers fear that these books may offend students. This story is given front-page coverage by the Murdoch-owned publication, despite it finding only two examples of books having been removed from university courses across the UK. 

But universities are portrayed as the vanguards of left-wing, liberal thought on both sides of the Atlantic – breeding grounds for “woke nonsense”, in the words of Rishi Sunak, which is allegedly a mortal threat to traditional cultural norms and freedom of speech. 

In the UK, as in the US, these ideological preconceptions stretch back years.

In 2020, Truss delivered a speech in which she claimed that, during her education at a comprehensive school in Leeds in the 1980s, while “we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write”.

She has faced criticism over her depictions of her old school, with several of its former pupils pointing out that it was far better administered under Labour than under the Conservatives. “We were not ‘taught about racism and sexism’ to the exclusion of the basics,” said one of Truss' former peers. “We were taught the national curriculum.”

And then, in the years-long history of the culture war, there is Brexit.

Farage’s CPAC speech spoke to what Brexit has become. No longer simply a vote on EU membership, it now appears to be a fully-formed ideology. To be 'Brexit' is to be anti-woke; anti-metropolitan; anti-expert and academia; suspicious of LGBTIQ, women and black people’s rights. It’s to be overly concerned with statues; while defending a white-centric vision of British history. It also means being constantly under attack – the plucky outsider fighting for democracy and common sense against a corrupt establishment.

It is for this reason that Liz Truss, who voted Remain, can project herself as an authentic Brexiter in the Conservative leadership contest; while Sunak – who voted Leave – is viewed with suspicion.

This is also the Trumpian mindset – the binding mentality of the transatlantic culture war. Despite being a billionaire property mogul, born into wealth, Trump has become the bastion of the ‘silent majority’ and the supposed scourge of the ‘deep state’. 

Yet, as the architects of Brexit and the 2019 Conservative victory have observed, this ideology has diverged from ordinary people's concerns. While Vote Leave and Trump once campaigned on public services – ‘£350 million a week for the NHS’ – weaving hardline social conservatism with economic populism, both are now more concerned with fighting culture wars that occupy the distant margins of public concern.

Will they both now feel the electoral consequences?

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Farage’s CPAC Speech, War and the Modern Far Right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 12:13am in

Sian Norris analyses the rhetoric of war in Nigel Farage's performance at CPAC, and explores its links to fascist theory

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There are dog whistles and then there are fog horns – and Nigel Farage’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Texas was certainly the latter. 

Dubbed a gathering of the “best and brightest leaders in the world”, the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader joined Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Republican politicians such as Ted Cruz and Matt Gaetz, Fox news alumni Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and unashamed far-right activists Steve Bannon and Jack Posobiec. 

Other speakers represented think-tanks and campaigning groups which have promoted conspiracies around voter fraud, as well as those which are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ and pro-fossil fuels. They include the Heritage Foundation, Moms for America, and Concerned Women of America, 

Oh, and Papa John. You know, the pizza guy. 

Tempting though it is to ignore the ‘bad boy of Brexit’ as he tries to break America, Farage’s speech – and his presence in Texas – tells us a lot about the direction of the modern far-right, and it's roots in fascist ideology. 

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Reds Under the Bed

However carefully he tried to hide it in the run-up and immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, Farage’s CPAC speech exposes his true far-right ideology which, in turn, exposes that his version of Brexit was always a far-right project. 

That’s not to say that everyone who voted for Brexit is on the far-right – although everyone who is far-right voted for Brexit. But no-one looking at Farage’s career now can deny how deep in the rabbit hole he is and, let’s be frank, always was. 

The speech was a bingo-card of culture war issues, from a dig at lockdown restrictions to references to transgender women competing in swimming contests. Farage defended the right to say pregnant woman, not person – women, after all, being the class of people who the host state believes are undeserving of their human rights. 

He railed against schools and universities “indoctrinating” children around issues of race and gender, claiming that educational institutions no longer taught critical thinking – when in fact conversations about white privilege, the history of empire and challenging dominant (white) views of history are, in fact, encouraging of critical thinking. 

But what stood out – and what helps to understand the direction the far-right is moving in – was  the laser focus on war. 

The speech referenced “war”; “attack”; “foot soldiers”; “fifth column” and other martial terms 10 times, with conservatives positioned as the frontline in a battle to “save Western civilisation” from enemies that are positioned as “Marxist”. 

The term no longer necessarily refers to people who follow Marxist theory, or even communists: in the far-right mind, Marxists and “cultural Marxists” represent feminists, left-wingers, anti-racists, civil rights activists such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTIQ people and Jewish people. 

According to Farage, Western civilisation is “under attack as never before”, with a “fifth column” of Marxists, left-leaning lecturers and anti-racist activists trying to “destroy our Judeo-Christian culture”. He called it a virus, but the not so subtle subtext is that this is war, and it’s one that “English-speaking countries” are suffering the “worst” effects of. Luckily, Farage has the answer: CPAC attendees are the “foot soldiers” who are “going to fight hard against this stuff, aren’t we?”

The Eternal War

War is a foundational feature of modern fascist ideology. It demands perpetual war and the destruction of reason: fascism wants to wage a permanent war against humanity, the values of the Enlightenment, and rationality. This was the philosophy of Mussolini and Hitler – now it’s the philosophy of Aleksandr Dugin in Russia, of Alain de Benoist of the European New Right, of eco-fascist thinker the late Pentti Linkola. 

According to Mark Neocleous, a politics lecturer who’s book Fascism explores the ideology that underpins the far-right, fascism “conceptualises politics and society as a realm of permanent struggle and war”. 

He continues that “there is only one war for fascism, the universal ‘war’ of which all particular wars – the world war, the race war, the war against communism – are but momentary and limited parts”. The point is permanent war.

That’s the theory – in practice the modern far-right put this into practice through discussions about Day X and “boogaloo” – codename for a relaunched civil war that will create pure ethno-states of white people. On their dischords and telegram channels they obsess over genocide, spread conspiracy theories about “white genocide” and talk about the “Jewish Question” which, they believe, only has one, horrifying and violent, answer. 

In this war, for which 6 January 2021 appeared to be a derailed dress rehearsal, the role of men is to fight on the battlefield; the role of women is to have babies to one day send to battle. 

While such conversations used to be confined to dark and dingy corners of the internet, they have become increasingly mainstream. Trump supporters on Twitter are already calling for civil war in the wake of the FBI searching his Florida home. The rhetoric and threat of war has become the currency of the modern far-right.

Farage’s foghorns are not the starting gun for civil war. He’s a man, to coin the old Punch joke about politicians, of all froth and no beer, telling the peanut-munching crowd the words they want to hear. But as the writer Paul Mason has argued, fascist ideology has begun to structure the thinking of politicians who would be categorised as far right.

This speech proved it.

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