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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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.

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

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”