FACT-CHECK: Reviewing Allegations of anti-Semitism against Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka

Amid a string of damning reports, several US senators, [1],[2],[3] a number of Jewish organizations,[4],[5] and human rights groups[6] have recently called for an investigation into Sebastian Gorka’s ties to an anti-Semitic extremist group, and for him to step down as one of President Trump’s key national security advisors.

At a May 7 conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post, Gorka forcefully denied these allegations[7]—but questions remain, including whether or not Gorka will be leaving his position[8],[9],[10] due to the damaging effect these accusations have had on the Trump administration’s already controversy-laden first 100 days.[11] Gorka, and Trump staff have denied rumors that Gorka is being asked to leave the White House,[12],[13] calling them “very fake news.”[14]

Unfortunately, as other “unpresidented” Trump moves dominate this week’s news cycle,[15] Gorka’s potential anti-Semitic leanings may be obscured and forgotten.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: Reviewing Allegations of anti-Semitism against Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka”

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Who are the Christian Transhumanists?

Historically, the relationship between science and religion has been rather rocky—to put it delicately. With two millennia of clashes to hark back to, die-hard naturalists and devout theists seem to (for the most part) avoid each other’s company, viewing the two basic philosophies as fundamentally incompatible.

Yet as each side’s collective historical trauma fades more with each new generation, and with the rise of 21st-century-America’s unique cultural landscape, rigidity on both sides may be giving way to a willingness for dialogue, even marriage. An emerging pattern of philosophical syncretism between traditionally scientific and religious disciplines testifies to an increasing shift toward acceptance of scientific thought within religious institutions and, for some, the deification of technological advancement in the “Information Age.”

The Christian Transhumanist movement embraces both sides of this long historical divide.[1] It fuses America’s most deeply-rooted religious tradition and a distinctly modern movement. Superficially, these two philosophies appear at odds, and members of each routinely express negative attitudes toward their counterparts on the other side. And yet, Christian Transhumanism retains more than just a small, fringe following.

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FACT-CHECK: Is Zoroastrianism a Monotheistic Religion?

To commemorate the Zoroastrian holiday of Khordad Sal, World Religions News recently resurrected a December 2015 article meant as a primer for the little- known Iranian religion, which has had a big syncretistic impact on the development of successive religious traditions in the region,[1] including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[2] The piece, titled, “What do you know about the world’s oldest monotheistic religion?” lists “10 Facts About Zoroastrianism,” the first being, “Zoroastrians believe in only one God, which is Ahura Mazda.”[3]

This triggered an old memory from an early World Religions class, when I was told that Zoroastrians were considered dualists—not monotheists. I recall learning that, similar to Manichaeism, Zoroastrian cosmology consists of two equally balanced deities, holding the universe together in perfect polar opposition. Or at least that’s what I think I remember.

However, in researching this claim, I discovered both understandings to be insufficient representations of the true complexity of Zoroastrianism. My quest to categorize Zoroastrian belief introduced me to the long history of this at-least two and a half millennia year old tradition[4] and its at-times frustratingly abstruse belief system. This question also led me to investigate how broader criticisms of the “World Religions Paradigm” may be represented by this particular problem.

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: Is Zoroastrianism a Monotheistic Religion?”

FACT-CHECK: Five Untruths About Sikhism

Earlier this month, a Sikh-American man named Deep Rai was shot in the Seattle suburb of Kent by a masked assailant, who told Rai to “go back to your own country” before firing a bullet that barely missed his heart.[1] Sadly, as of writing, the gunman remains at large[2] and Mr. Rai is still recovering from his injuries,[3] but the incident serves as a harrowing reminder that Sikhs are also leading targets of racist, xenophobic violence in this country.[4]

Jasjit Singh, Assistant Director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund attributes anti-Sikh sentiments to people simply “not knowing who we are.”[5] As a religious minority that is inherently on display yet attracts little public interest into their beliefs and traditions beyond the highly visible turban, there many widespread, harmful misconceptions about Sikhs. Below I have highlighted just a few of the most basic myths affecting the Sikh community.

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EXTRA: A Comprehensive List of Alex Jones’ InfoWars Mentioning Satan and the Illuminati in the Same Article

While researching the intimate connection some conspiracists perceive between Lucifer and the Illuminati, I found Alex Jones’ InfoWars to be an excellent primary source of relevant examples of this belief in action. As of writing, InfoWars.com is receiving approximately 40 million views per month,[1] and like it or not, InfoWars is creeping into the mainstream. Whether or not it is the cause or effect of these conspiracies propagating throughout the United States, InfoWars’ recent articles are in many ways the embodiment of contemporary American culture. Thus, I have compiled a list of 18 articles explicitly mentioning both Satan and the Illuminati, in order to demonstrate this unique and troubling belief’s central place in the current age.

Continue reading “EXTRA: A Comprehensive List of Alex Jones’ InfoWars Mentioning Satan and the Illuminati in the Same Article”

The Layperson’s Guide to Lucifer, the First Illuminatus

For many who believe in a global clandestine cabal as nefarious and elaborate as the Illuminati scheme to destroy religion and establish a one-world government,[1] the conspiracy’s level of malevolence naturally implies an even fouler origin: the Devil himself.

The Illuminati conspiracy theory is possibly the most well known and widely adapted of its kind. Consciously and unconsciously, centuries of Illuminati paranoia has rooted itself deep into the American psyche, producing a robust myriad of modern iterations ranging from notorious conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ rants against the “globalist agenda,”[2] to CBN founder and doomsday preacher Pat Robertson’s predictions of an imminent Satanic “New World Order,”[3] as well as a never-ending list of alleged celebrity memberships—not to mention an extensive pop culture resume.[4]

George Johnson—in his still disturbingly relevant classic, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics—describes a pervasive Illuminati legend developed through decades of folklore, which has influenced American right-wing conspiracy theories across all political and religious factions.[5] For a certain subtype of conspiracists, this omnipotent organization has roots in the Christian tradition’s conception of pure evil; the Illuminati’s ambitions to simultaneously secularize the planet while concentrating all power in the hands of an international elite is a clear sign that only the ultimate supernatural villain could be behind the wheel, sending humanity on a collision course to straight to hell.

As is a common practice among conspiracy theorists (and arguably all human beings), the desire to uncover secret patterns that may apply a sense of order to our seemingly chaotic existence leads to leaps of logic, which in turn often blend together otherwise independent, even contradictory ideas. The Illuminati legend is the perfect example of this phenomenon; its diverse adaptations have brought together religious fundamentalists and ardent atheists under a common belief: the Illuminati threat is powerful and unmistakably evil.

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FACT-CHECK: Violence Against Non-Muslims in the Qur’an (Sura 5:33)

Anti-Muslim activist and co-founder of the English Defense League (EDL),[1] Tommy Robinson (a pseudonym), reacted to a Qur’anic verse quoted last Sunday during an Academy Awards acceptance speech. The verse was largely overshadowed by two other notable wins, with Mahershala Ali and Iran’s “The Salesman” winning for best supporting actor and best foreign film respectively, which both drew Muslim issues into last Sunday’s awards show spotlight.

In a video published Friday by Rebel Media, Robinson slams “Hollywood elites” for constantly “ramming Islamic scripture down our throats” while unwittingly “calling for their own execution.” Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon,[2] left the EDL in 2013 and has since become involved in PEGIDA UK,[3] the British iteration of Germany’s nationalist movement that aims to counter what it views as the “Islamization” of Europe.[4]

The chapter (sura) was quoted by Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “White Helmets”: a film chronicling the treacherous lives of the famous troop of volunteer rescue workers of the same name, who chase explosions throughout warn-torn Syria to provide medical services to blast victims. The film won an Oscar for best documentary short. Receiving the award, von Einsiedel recited a statement from Raed Saleh, founder of the White Helmets,

“We are so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Qur’an: to save one life is to save all of humanity. We have saved more than 82,000 Syrian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”[5]

To most rational people, Saleh’s statement reads as to a call to peace. Yet, in his response, Robinson dismisses the statement as a nothing more than a liberal deception to mischaracterize Islam. Despite the White Helmets’ acts of immense charity in the face of unimaginable horror, and Robinson’s history of anything but,[6] he still felt morally justified in his condemnation of Islam’s sacred text in this context. In his discussion of the “real meaning” of Saleh’s verse, Robinson also felt comfortable serving in the role of expert in the Arabic words “Taqiya” and “Kitman” and correctly interpreting the Qur’an—1,400 years of Islamic scholarship notwithstanding.

While the subsequent sura at the center of Robinson’s response is indeed violent and disturbing, his application of the verse—as evidence that Saleh’s “to save one life” is really a message of war against the infidel West—is unsupported, corrupted by his determination to find no moral nuance in Islam and to view all Muslims as fundamentalists, who unlike the majority of Christians and Jews, are compelled to follow every word of their most sacred text.

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Dissident magician: An interview with Michael M. Hughes

In light of recent accusations of Satanism, black magic, and all kinds of evil intentions directed against those who participated in last Friday’s mass ritual to “bind” Donald Trump, I contacted Michael M. Hughes—the organizer of the February 24th event and de facto public face of magical resistance—and invited him to set the record straight. Hughes shared his thoughts on religious freedoms, future relations with the Christian right, the political power of witchcraft and art, Judeo-Christian roots of magic, and the benefits of “self-exorcism,” adding moral complexity to this heavily polarizing event.

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FACT-CHECK: The Evil Origins of the Witches’ Mass Ritual to #bindtrump

At the stroke of midnight (EST) on February 24, 2017, an untold myriad of self-described witches, magical folk, and ordinary malcontent Americans gathered for a global political protest event, which aimed to apply a tradition of ritualistic magic to “bind” the president “and all those who abet him”[1] until Trump is removed from the Oval Office. The organizer calls for the ritual to be repeated on all successive Waning Crescent Moon nights (including March 26th, April 24th, May 23rd, June 21st, July 21st, and August 19th).[2]

In the days and hours leading up to the Trump-binding event, the ritual gained significant media attention,[3] celebrity endorsements,[4] and exploded in popularity on social media websites like Twitter (with #bindtrump and #magicresistance trending) and Facebook (which has grown to 11,650 “likes” at time of writing).[5] Participants shared their videos and anecdotes of the midnight spellbinding, which included a varied array of expressions, from brief individual recitations to gaggles of robed witches performing elaborate ceremonies.[6]

This strategy seamed to mean something different to each participant; for some, it was simply an artistic manifestation of the anti-Trump movement, representing a creative technique for demonstrating their dissatisfaction and amassing public awareness for their cause; however for others, the ritual held actual supernatural power to affect the current political landscape. The guidelines of the ritual were first made public on February 19th by Michael Hughes, who described it as a plan that had already been brewing for some time in certain circles and which allegedly originated with a “member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous.”[7] He also added,

“I make no claims about its efficacy, and several people have noted it can be viewed as more of a mass art/consciousness-raising project (similar to the 1967 exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon), than an actual magical working. But many are clearly taking it very seriously.”[8]

As expected, the event sparked considerable blowback from many within the Christian right,[9] igniting an old culture war and bringing witchcraft back into the forefront of modern American discourse.[10] Evangelical Christian supporters of President Trump reportedly gathered to pray as a way to “counteract the spell.”[11] Led by theo-conservative activist groups, Christian Nationalist Alliance (CNA)[12] and Intercessors for America (IFA),[13] the nation-wide call to prayer condemns the “magical attack on believers and servants of God” as a Satanically-inspired act of “blasphemy” against the Christian god,[14] initiated by “those who have covenants with evil.”[15]

These responses highlight an intensifying demonization of members of the anti-Trump movement and those who belong to culturally obscure religious/spiritual organizations. The religiously-charged condemnation of this event is born out of a long standing tradition of ignorance and intolerance toward the magical community and its pop-culture manifestations, but the association with the political left has added new fuel to the fire.

This post will analyze accusations of Satanism and immorality aimed against the organizers of the magical ritual to bind Trump and practitioners of magic/witchcraft in general. It will then briefly explore the multifaceted religious origins of this unique form of magical ritualism, which borrows most distinctively from the religious/spiritual traditions of Wicca, Neopaganism, and Occultism, as well as folk religions and shamanism. However the ritual also has roots in the mystical elements of more “established” religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, which is likely a major point of resentment for its critics within the Christian right, which overwhelmingly support Trump,[16],[17] actively advocate socially conservative positions,[18] and often follow strict Protestant fundamentalism.[19],[20]

Continue reading “FACT-CHECK: The Evil Origins of the Witches’ Mass Ritual to #bindtrump”

FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog

Donald Trump’s most recent public gaff at a rally in Melbourne, Florida has generated a chain reaction among his “friendly reporters.”[1] Among those anti-“MSM” publications viewed as a favorite of the president’s is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), demonstrated by Trump choosing a CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody as one of only two—both conservative leaning news outlets—to be called on during the February 15th Netanyahu press conference.[2]

Trump’s Sweden comments were meant to grant justification for his anti-refugee, anti-immigrant positions. Instead, his blunder drew negative attention to the ban’s dubious legal foundation, and the deeply engrained xenophobic prejudices underlying the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies. The president stated,

“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”[3]

These comments drew immediate criticism from former Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who wrote on Twitter, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”[4] The Swedish Embassy in Washington later contacted the White House asking for clarification on Trump’s remarks, and one Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Catarina Axelsson told the Associated Press that she was unaware of an “terror-linked major incidents.”[5] The reaction from the Swedish government prompted Trump to state on Twitter that his comment “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”[6]

Today, CBN’s Dale Hurd and Gary Lane discussed the president’s controversial Sweden comments on air, staunchly defending Trump’s statements. Hurd argues that Sweden, which likes “to think of itself as a Humanitarian superpower,” has “brought in all of these refugees, and it’s a mess” and that crime has “become a regular occurrence in Sweden.”[7] Lane followed with a report from a blog that goes by the name “Muslim Statistics,”[8] which claims, “est 77% of rapes [in Sweden] committed by 2% Muslim male population.”[9],[10]

This blog is explicitly and unapologetically anti-Muslim. It reposts statistics from reputable sources such as the Pew Research Center, with misleading headlines beside gory photos of beheadings meant to manufacture fear of Muslims as violent jihadist rapists, which are utterly inimical to Western ideals.[11] However the blog also includes “reports” based on skewed data and all out fabrications. This Sweden report is one example. Below I will highlight the faults in this report, and comment on the reckless reporting of CBN, which not only cited this malicious lie on television, but reproduced it on an online article[12] as the only counterexample to a Washington Post article that reported a decline in the average crime rate in Sweden in recent years, including for lethal violence and sexual assaults.[13]

Continue reading “FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog”