Today
Thu 21 October 2021

Nafeez Ahmed reports on how an official counter-extremism advisor is on the pay-roll of funders behind far-right hate groups

In this exclusive two-part investigation, Byline Times reveals that the Government’s independent agency on countering extremism has ties to the “hateful extremism” it rightly condemns in its most recent report, including alt-right activists and sympathisers of the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory.

Byline Times uncovers how the agency’s former head of research previously worked for a lobbying group backed by the American far-right’s major sponsors in philanthropy; and its published research on ‘mainstreaming Islamism’ which cites anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists advocating the white genocide theory, as well as organisations linked to prominent US hate groups.


In late February, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) published its landmark report calling for new legislation to combat what it called “hateful extremism”.

This includes, it said, people disseminating material to “intentionally stir up racial or religious hatred as long as the material avoids being threatening, abusive or insulting in its content”. As an example, it pointed out how “a fascist extremist organisation” might circulate pamphlets which “promote false claims about a ‘white genocide’ intended to stir up hatred against a racial or religious group, but which are not threatening, abusive, or insulting”.

The recognition that hateful extremism is spreading within the boundaries of the law is a crucial step forward. However, the Commission’s assumption that extremism is the province of fringe minorities, rather than a growing challenge threatening some of our most cherished institutions, overlooks how “fascist extremist organisations” are not the primary culprits. 

Increasingly, the loudest amplifiers of hateful extremism are – as happened under Donald Trump’s administration in the US – major organs of society: Government agencies, respected think-tanks, influential newspapers and media commentators who receive extensive mainstream access and have increasingly become conduits for far-right tropes. 

Some of these have close connections to the Commission itself and its intimate ties to networks complicit in hateful extremism reveal its own dangerous blind-spots. 

Those blind-spots help explain why the CCE has failed to grasp that the most alarming feature of alt-right ideology is how many of its core concepts have become ever more normalised in public and political discourse through respected mainstream voices.


Working with a ‘Racist’ Organisation

The Henry Jackson Society is a British conservative lobbying group sponsored by the financial backers of the US far-right – including several anti-Muslim hate groups. The same group has also advocated a ‘Muslim ban’ on immigration to Europe and worked closely with the anti-black movement in America, along with other hate groups. 

The author of the CCE’s latest report on hateful extremism, Sir Mark Rowley, has links to this group.

A former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, Rowley was the national lead on counter-terror policing from 2014 to 2018. In February 2017, he met with two representatives of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) – senior research fellow Hannah Stuart; and chief operations officer Katie Parrett – at his office in New Scotland Yard. Rowley had also endorsed Stuart’s report for the HSJ on Islamist terrorism. 

Stuart joined the HSJ in 2011 from the Centre for Social Cohesion under the tutelage of Douglas Murray, who became the HJS’ associate director that year. 

She would go on to join the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange, where she was seconded to the Commission as its new head of research. In that capacity, she led the Commission’s flagship extremism report to the Home Secretary from 2017 to 2018. 

According to two of the HJS’ founders, Matthew Jamison and Marko Attilo Hoare, it was in 2011 that the organisation turned into a “far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation” dominated by “right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views”.

That is no surprise. Before, during and after his HJS tenure, Douglas Murray has spent nearly the past two decades articulating the key ingredients of the white genocide conspiracy theory – claiming, for instance, that Muslim immigration to Europe is a “demographic time-bomb”, while lamenting how the “startling rise in Muslim infants” is abolishing “white Britons” who are being forced to accept “the loss of their country”. 

In 2015, under his HJS directorship, Murray appeared to endorse anti-Semitic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s implementation of a ‘Muslim ban’, in conversation with notorious Barack Obama Muslim ‘birther’ conspiracy theorist and hate-monger Frank Gaffney. Three months later, Gaffney was cited by the Trump campaign when it first announced its plans for a ‘Muslim ban’. 

The same year that Murray and Stuart joined the HJS, Murray attended the Restoration Weekend – an annual alt-right gathering hosted by the David Horowitz Freedom Centre. Murray would attend this annual conference several more times during his tenure at the HJS. In November 2017, he and the HJS’ executive director Dr Alan Mendoza spoke alongside an all-star cast of racists, misogynists and anti-Semites. 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, David Horowitz is a key far-right hate figure who acts as “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements”. Earlier that year, Mendoza had platformed Horowitz on his YouTube show, where the latter described the American Muslims Students Association as an Islamist terror front-group for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

During this time, the now Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was a director at the Henry Jackson Society.

A spokesperson for the Commission for Countering Extremism did not dispute Rowley and Stuart’s links to an organisation described by its own founders as “far-right” and “racist”. But it insisted that they were still well-qualified for their Government roles:

“Sir Mark Rowley was the national lead for UK counter-terrorism policing between 2014-18, where he helped prevent 27 Islamist and extreme right-wing plots. His commitment and public duty to our country in countering terrorism and extremism is exemplary and we are proud he led our legal review.

“Hannah Stuart was the Commission’s former head of research. Her important contribution to the Commission’s work, in particular to our landmark report ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’, included examining the scale and threat of far right extremism in Britain. Her previous reports on Islamist terrorism have been endorsed by Lord Carlile QC and Lord Anderson QC, two former independent reviewers’ of terrorism legislation.”


Alt-Right Funding Behind Commission’s Former Research Chief

Despite continuing to display her counter-extremist credentials, Hannah Stuart has never publicly distanced herself from the hateful extremism promoted by her superiors at the HJS or the groups the HJS has worked with.

While the HJS portrays itself as an independent think-tank, as Byline Times has previously reported, it is not only controlled by Republican donors who back pro-Trump politicians, it is directly funded by some of the American far-right’s major sponsors in philanthropy. 

Indeed, foundations backing the HJS in the period it employed Stuart simultaneously funded Turning Point USA – a conservative group on university campuses which has been accused of harbouring racism and white supremacism; the Investigative Project on Terrorism run by Steven Emerson, the Fox News ‘terror expert’ notoriously ridiculed by David Cameron for calling Birmingham a Muslim “no go zone”; the Clarion Project, which has produced several “anti-Muslim films” and is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as an “anti-Muslim hate group”; the David Horowitz Freedom Centre; and the Middle East Forum (MEF) run by Daniel Pipes, identified as a racist hate-monger by the Australian Jewish Council. The MEF is also one of the biggest sponsors of British far-right extremist and convicted fraudster Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as ‘Tommy Robinson’).

Today, Hannah Stuart is director of research at the Counter Extremism Group (CEG), founded by another former HJS staffer Robin Simcox.

From 2016 onwards, Simcox was Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, in charge of its counter-terrorism portfolio. The Heritage Foundation is a staunchly pro-Trump US think-tank which has hosted anti-Muslim far-right figures Frank Gaffney, Brigitte Gabriel (who leads America’s largest anti-Muslim hate group) and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Clare Lopez. According to campaign group Equity Forward, it served “as a pipeline of hate to the Trump administration, dedicating significant energy to extremist policy recommendations to deny access to abortion and birth control and to harm LGBTQ people”.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Hannah Stuart’s ability to counter ‘extremism’ appears to stop at the doors of her own employers, colleagues and associated networks. 

Byline Times contacted Stuart and Simcox through the Counter Extremism Group, but they did not reply to multiple requests for comment.


The Gatestone Connection

Other extreme right groups funded by HJS’ backers include the Gatestone Institute – a hate group and fake news publisher chaired by Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton. It has promoted the white genocide theory. 

In 2015, Gatestone began citing French intellectual Renaud Camus, whose book The Great Replacement claimed that mass immigration from the Muslim world was replacing France’s white population. Brenton Tarrant – who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019 – gave his manifesto the same name. 

Since then, Gatestone has referred explicitly to Camus’ version of the white genocide theory many times. In September 2017, for instance, it claimed that “the white population of Europe faces extinction” due to the high birth-rate of migrants and Muslims, and that the white population was also “very efficiently wiping itself out of existence” through the legalisation of birth control and abortion.

Yet, astonishingly enough, the Commission for Countering Extremism has connections to the Gatestone Institute through the HJS and the Policy Exchange, from where Hannah Stuart was seconded.

During his tenure as associate director at the HJS, Douglas Murray was simultaneously a distinguished senior fellow at Gatestone, contributing 163 articles to the far-right organisation’s website. 

Similarly, Daniel Finkelstein, who was director at Policy Exchange from 2011 to October 2015 (during which he chaired the organisation from 2011 to 2014), had also joined the board of governors of the Gatestone Institute from 2014 – while he was still a director at Policy Exchange – until he allegedly resigned from the group in February 2018. 

Finkelstein’s extensive involvement with Gatestone is evident from the parliamentary register of interests, which confirms his “speaking engagements” with Gatestone in March 2014 and October 2014 (during his directorship at Policy Exchange), November 2015, October 2016, and February 2018. Finkelstein, who hosted a Gatestone Institute event in the House of Lords, has since disavowed any knowledge of its work and played down his past role in the organisation, contradicting his previous admissions.

This means that two organisations connected to the Commission – the Henry Jackson Society and Policy Exchange – had ties to Gatestone, a far-right think-tank promoting hateful extremism. 

The outcome of such interlocking networks is that extreme ideas about minorities and Muslims, promulgated by ‘white genocide’ theorists, end up influencing the thinking of more mainstream commentators and, in this case, the very parameters of counter-extremism research by a Government agency. 

In part two of this investigation, Byline Times will reveal how this resulting institutional bias led the Commission for Countering Extremism to publish compromised research by individuals who work closely with some of these US hate groups. 

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