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.

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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]

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EXTRA: Ancient Judea and Samaria explained

After reviewing my original post on Jewish settler ideology, I don’t think I adequately addressed the critical question, what is ancient Judea and Samaria? And furthermore, what is the biblically based claim to its divine bestowal upon the Jewish people? I hope this brief history lesson will suffice. Further, I hope the biblical passages quoted below will provide some insight into how easily violent settler ideologies can draw upon scripture to justify their point of view.

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Fact-Checking the Netanyahu/Trump Press Conference and an Explanation of the Jewish Settler Movement’s claim to ‘Judea and Samaria’

This morning’s joint press conference between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump was packed with a mix of salient foreign policy revelations[1] and awkward jokes about Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.[2] It marked a clear departure from the often turbulent,[3] yet hardly obstructing[4] and exceedingly financially generous[5] Obama-era relationship with Israel’s hard right head of state. Although Trump has recently moved to moderate his earlier statements supporting Jewish settlement construction,[6] the already well-formed personal friendship between the two leaders and their alignment on various political issues—including national security strategy, Iran, the “unfair” UN,[7] as well as a fondness for walls—suggests the bond between the US and Israel may be stronger than ever.[8]

This is good news for Netanyahu’s far-right friends within the Jewish settler movement, a growing[9] group of largely Israeli and Israeli-Americans living on illegal[10] towns and rogue outposts in the West Bank,[11] an area captured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967 and which has remained under military occupation for almost 50 years.[12] Today it is home to approximately 3 million Palestinians,[13] 550,000 Jewish settlers,[14] and an unknown number of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers stationed at military checkpoints and watchtowers sprinkled throughout the territory, including within settlement blocks, where they serve as guards.[15]

The language one uses to describe this disputed area is highly informative of their political, even religious leanings. For instance, for many Palestinians residing in the cities and villages west of the Jordan River (and in the Gaza Strip), this land is “Palestine,” their promised share of the larger historic Palestine that will one day be part of a two-state solution. For moderates respecting the neutral definition of the area as a still-to-be-determined not-yet-quite-a-county, the term “West Bank” is considered most PC, although its etymological objectivity is debated. Some instead prefer “Occupied West Bank” or “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” However, for hardcore Zionists holding to the belief that all of Israel—including the area west of the “Green Line”—is the God-given gift to the Jews, this land is “Judea and Samaria,” reclaiming its biblical name and hoping for its ultimate official annexation by the state of Israel. This term is also used in an official capacity by the government of Israel.

Pertinent to a discussion of Netanyahu’s remarks during his first press conference with our Dear Leader is some background information on the settlers’ biblically-based claim to “Judea and Samaria.” After all, Mr. Netanyahu evoked this notion while responding to a question on whether or not there was room for the two-state solution in a Trump-brokered peace process, stating,

“Jews are called Jews because they are from Judea. This is our ancestral homeland. Jews are not foreign colonists in Judea.”[16]

It’s clear from the start that fact-checking this claim will not provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to its validity; that just isn’t possible with such deeply-rooted religious convictions that are based on ancient historical evidence. I hope that this post will instead draw attention to some of the divisive rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, informed through the context of the religious ideological foundation of Israel’s settler movement, a dominating force placing enormous pressure on the leadership bodies of both the Israel[17] and the US.[18]

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OPINION: President Donald Trump, False-Messiah in Chief, Harbinger of the End Times

The rise of Donald J. Trump has been attributed to a variety of identity-driven frustrations spilling out of the dark depths of the American political right,[1],[2] but Trump’s loyal supporters did not always include the heavy-hitting Republican demographic bloc of white Christian Evangelicals, estimated to make up one-third to half of the party’s active voters.[3],[4] As Trump’s political prospects steadily increased, and while many Evangelicals grew fatigued from his unrelenting vituperation of their preferred candidate, Ted Cruz,[5] they grew to embrace Trump’s message,[6] and later the man himself, voting overwhelmingly for him and now-Vice President Mike Pence in the general election.[7]

Two days ago I witnessed President Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s speech was disturbingly nationalistic, hostile, and devoid of historical perspective. The crowd’s ecstatic response to his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism”[8] certainly caught my attention as the line garnering the loudest applause. But today, that is not what haunts me most. Rather, I keep returning to the comment made by (noted Islamophobe)[9] Rev. Franklin Graham directly after Trump’s speech. The reverend said, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”[10]

Graham’s statement suggests divine intervention, or at least approval, at Trump’s ascent to power, a common theme applied to both Democratic and Republican presidents throughout history. George W. Bush was also thought by many to be directly anointed by the Lord and was said to have embraced the grandiose attribute dangerously in his role as Commander and Chief of the US military, employing a “messianic militarism” internationally.[11],[12] Not unrelated, Barack Obama was commonly believed to be the Antichrist[13],[14] (by approximately 20% of registered Republicans, according to one poll),[15] but so was Ronald Wilson Reagan, whose three six-letter names was thought to be a sign of the beast.[16]

So which will it be for Donald Trump: good or evil? I imagine that among many Christians strongly adhering to some form of End Times theology, he will embody one archetype or the other, conveniently conforming to a pattern of events corresponding to whichever prophetic fantasy the believer already prefers. For me, Trump is at once definitely human in his dopey egotism and yet frighteningly threatening—not the second coming of Christ by any means, but nonetheless just as suited to bring about a catastrophic apocalypse.

A quick disclaimer before I begin: this post is not meant to serve as a fact-check to any one’s religious or spiritual beliefs. I consider that practice—trying to argue for one religion over another, or the existence of the divine—to be needlessly anti-social and entirely futile. This piece will not meet typical standards. Instead, it is meant as an illustration of the absurdity of absolute, fundamentalist beliefs in general. These beliefs, not based in facts but reinforced through a biased approach to interpreting significant events, can make us intransigently hateful, with the added severity of the perception of some sort of moral, divine mandate encouraging us to fight on. Furthermore, as we must now confront the reality that Trump’s fascist-style campaign promises and anti-media attitude will now be the official voice of the White House, it is more important than ever to recognize the absurdity and danger of idolizing our political leaders. And of course, it’s always fun to heckle DJT.

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