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Mon 30 November 2020
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The links between an opaque think tank, the Conservative Government and major figures in the Trump campaign can be revealed in this first part of a special Byline Times investigation

The Ear of the Prime Minister

As the United States heads to the polls to re-elect or remove President Donald Trump, the impact of his presidency on the UK and its Government has been profound. One of the connections between the Boris Johnson administration and the network surrounding Trump appears to be the longstanding UK organisation, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). 

Co-founded in London by Dr Alan Mendoza with a number of other academics and policy wonks in 2005, the HJS has direct access to some of the most powerful people on both sides of the political spectrum in the United States and the UK. 

Named after the late American politician and neoconservative figurehead Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, the HJS now functions as a highly secretive think tank and lobbying group which has flouted parliamentary transparency rules while paying benefits and expenses to top Conservative MPs including the Home Secretary Priti Patel, who previously sat on the HJS’ Political Council; and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, a founding member of the HJS who served as a director as recently as 2017.

A sense of the HJS’ little-known influence at the highest levels of government can be gleaned from its apparent role in foreign policy decisions. In June, Boris Johnson announced the merging of the Department for International Development with the Foreign Office – a policy which had first been proposed by the HJS in February 2019, in a report co-authored by Conservative MP Bob Seely and James Rogers, director of the HJS’ Global Britain Programme. Boris Johnson spoke at the report’s launch event and lauded its recommendations alongside the host, Dr Alan Mendoza

Boris Johnson speaking on Britain and global aid at the Henry Jackson Society in the Palace of Westminster on 11 February 2019. Seated behind (left to right) are James Rogers, Bob Seely MP and Dr Alan Mendoza. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to nearly 200 British NGOs and a group of cross-party British MPs, by aligning UK aid with “diplomatic priorities”, the merger threatens to undermine support for the world’s poorest people, while generating unnecessary cost and disruption.

Another example of the HJS’s influence can be seen in the promotion of David Frost, Johnson’s EU advisor and chief Brexit negotiator, to the even more powerful post of National Security Advisor. Mendoza praised the appointment which, according to the Guardian, was enabled because of Frost’s “political links through right-wing think tanks such as Open Europe and the Henry Jackson Society”.

There is also the HJS’ apparent role in the Government’s volteface on China. In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Government of jeopardising a longstanding US-UK intelligence agreement by allowing Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to become part of the UK’s 5G network. 

On 21 July, Pompeo visited the UK for the second time this year during a diplomatic round trip to Europe and headed for a private meeting hosted by the HJS with Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The closed-door meeting, organised by Mendoza, was regarding the US and UK’s newfound agreement on stepping up actions to isolate China.

A masked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Dr Alan Mendoza. Photo: PA Images

The Breitbart Connection

A few weeks before Pompeo’s visit to the UK in July, the HJS – which has refused to disclose its major donors – published a report calling for China to pay compensation for the COVID-19 pandemic. Its author, Matthew Henderson, director of the HJS’ Asia Studies Centre, was interviewed about the report on a radio podcast show, Breitbart News Tonight

This was not the first time that members of the HJS had appeared on Breitbart. In 2017, Mendoza took part in the Breitbart News Daily discussing the Westminster terrorist attacks. 

From 2012 to 2018, Breitbart – a so-called ‘Alt-right’ platform –was run by the former Goldman Sachs investment banker and film producer Steve Bannon, and backed by billionaire hedge fund owner Robert Mercer. Around the same time, both men co-founded Cambridge Analytica – the now defunct data mining and campaigning company which misappropriated the Facebook profiles of up to 75 million people to help influence both the election of Trump and (as Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix originally claimed) the EU Referendum.

Breitbart and Bannon have an unsavoury reputation in the US. He has himself described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right”; while Breitbart’s former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro accused the platform of “pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness”. A cache of leaked emails and documents published by Buzzfeed suggested that Breitbart was working with the “the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right… fuelling and being fuelled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrums”. 

When Trump appointed Bannon to the post of chief strategist in the White House shortly after his 2016 victory, the international Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, strongly condemned the decision, with its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt saying that “it is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house”.

In 2019, then Labour MP Mary Creagh wrote to House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to complain about how Parliament was effectively “funding hate” by placing adverts in Breitbart. She described the platform as an “extremist, far-right, white supremacist fake news website”, functioning as “a home to misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, racism and wild conspiracy theories”. The House of Commons authorities decided to pause the adverts.

In contrast, the HJS continued to engage with Breitbart, with regular coverage of its reports all the way through to 2020. Most of this was undertaken by two British Breitbart reporters – Liam Deacon, who is now Nigel Farage’s chief press officer at the Brexit Party; and Jack Montgomery, who is also deputy head of communications for the Leave.EU campaign founded by UKIP donor Arron Banks.

Though Bannon left the White House a week after the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August 2017 and resumed his position as executive chairman at Breitbart, he stood down in early 2018. 

A couple of months later, Bannon told a rally of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front: “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honour. Because every day, we get stronger and they get weaker.”

Despite such remarks, the HJS’s executive director Dr Alan Mendoza appeared in May on Bannon’s new radio podcast show, War Room: Pandemic, co-hosted with a former HJS employee, Raheem Kassam. 

Kassam cut his teeth as a director of the HJS’ Students Rights project – criticised by the Institute of Race Relations for facilitating far-right extremism against Muslims on campus. In December 2013, while Kassam was an associate fellow at the HJS, he shared the stage with Bannon at a conference of the Young Britons Foundation – described as a ‘conservative madrassa’ – at Churchill College, Cambridge. Kassam was shortly after recruited by Bannon to head up Breitbart London.

“You guys are amazing,” enthused Bannon at the close of his War Room: Pandemic podcast with Mendoza, congratulating him personally on the HJS’ work. “Scoop Jackson was a great American patriot and believed in the alliance and believed in the Judaeo-Christian West. You guys should be very proud that you’re carrying on his work everyday, Dr Alan Mendoza.” 


Gatestone and ‘The Great White Death’

Steve Bannon and Breitbart are not the only links between the HJS and right-wing thinkers and donors in the orbit of Donald Trump. There are also long-established links with another organisation, the Gatestone Institute, founded by right-wing philanthropist Nina Rosenwald. 

Although officially established in 2012, Gatestone began operating as early as 2008, which is when Mendoza published an article for it. Rosenwald, donated $10,000 to the HJS via her private foundation and, that same year, the author Douglas Murray joined the HJS as its associate director. Murray was subsequently awarded the title of Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone. By the end of 2019, he had written 163 articles for the organisation.

The Mercer Family Foundation donated $250,000 to Gatestone from 2014 to 2016, the year Trump was elected. The following year in April, Rebekah Mercer joined Gatestone’s Board of Governors and Bannon spoke at a Gatestone luncheon. When Mercer’s involvement was picked up by the press, all details of the Board were expunged from the Gatestone website.

Gatestone has falsely claimed that, since 2001, London had seen 500 churches close and 423 new mosques open – citing this as evidence of the Islamisation of the capita. In fact, between 2005 and 2012, 700 churches had opened.

It has also published a series of viral articles widely shared by the German far-right and neo-Nazi-linked party, the Alternative for Germany, claiming that the German Government had seized empty houses to give them to “hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East”. The story was a complete fabrication

Another article, titled ‘The Great White Death’, articulated the fundamentals of the ‘white genocide’ theory and claimed that “the white population of Europe faces extinction” due to the astronomical “birth rate” of “migrants” and “Muslims” across the continent. The white population was “very efficiently wiping itself out of existence” through abortions “even before the massive influx of Muslim migrants,” it said.

During this period, the HJS’ Douglas Murray continued to write for Gatestone, while Michael Gove was a HJS director. 

The Henry Jackson society denies that it is Islamophobic and says that it has Muslim staff members.

In 2017, Matthew Jamison, a founding director and former associate director, said it had become a “far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation”; while a founder member, Marko Attilo Hoare, said in 2012 that the organisation had become dominated by “right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views”.


The Looming Problem for Boris Johnson

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee for the looming US Presidential Election, has described Boris Johnson as the “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump. If Biden wins – as seems increasingly likely – any connections to Trump’s more extreme right-wing donors and backers, particularly the Mercers and Bannon, could be problematic for the UK Government. 

The Prime Minister’s relationship with Bannon is particularly fraught. As Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson first met Bannon in January 2017 in New York. A month later, British Foreign Office officials would invite Cambridge Analytica to brief them on how the use of data in the US Presidential Election could be applied for UK diplomatic and foreign policy interests. 

According to the Daily Mirror, Johnson and Bannon remained close and regularly exchanged messages. In 2019, video footage was leaked in which Bannon claimed to have advised Johnson on his resignation speech as Foreign Secretary – a claim strongly denied by the now Prime Minister. 

Since then, there have been no reported meetings between Johnson and Bannon, but through the Government’s closeness to the HJS – and this organisation’s connections to Bannon and the US platforms funded by the Mercers – perhaps he doesn’t need to consult with him directly.

This is all the more significant in light of revelations, to be reported in Part 2, that while in receipt of UK Government funding, the HJS appears to have influenced one of the key right-wing figures who inspired one of Donald Trump’s most controversial policies – the ‘Muslim ban’.

Byline Times contacted the Henry Jackson Society, Dr Alan Mendoza, Douglas Murray, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office for comment but has not received any replies.


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