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Thu 6 May 2021

Robin Simcox’s connections to anti-Muslim conspiracy theories raise concerns across the Atlantic

The Government that brought you the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities’ report – which effectively claimed to find no evidence of institutional racism in the UK – has just awarded a top counter-extremism post to a man with alarming ties to far-right networks promoting anti-Semitism, racism, white nationalism and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. A range of experts, including a former senior State Department official under John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, have spoken out against these theories.

  • The new Lead Commissioner for the UK Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) recently spoke at an American anti-immigrant hate group that regularly circulated anti-Semitic, white nationalist materials. 
  • He also promoted racist conspiracy theorists, including a proponent of the ‘Great Replacement’ ideology which inspired recent far-right terror attacks, Byline Times can exclusively reveal. 
  • The new Government appointee even has close ties to a senior Trump administration official with a history of promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. A former advisor to then US Secretary of State John Kerry (currently US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate in the Biden administration) has now spoken out about the danger of falsely equating British Muslim community organisations with the Muslim Brotherhood. 
  • The Home Office, however, has doubled down – refusing to condemn the appointee’s shocking affiliations and endorsements, while insisting on his “wealth of expertise”.

Robin Simcox, former Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation – a right-wing think-tank in Washington DC which had close ties to the Trump administration – was appointed to the post of interim Lead Commissioner by Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday 31 March for an initial six-month period. His job is “to advise on how to tackle extremism in all its forms, including on the future role of the commission and on how government could further harness innovative thinking within the academic and think-tank sector on tackling extremism.”

As a long term research fellow at the influential Henry Jackson Society think tank, Simcox was brought into the organisation along with then associate director, Douglas Murray, and worked alongside Raheem Kassam, who went on to be the editor of Breitbart London, and one of the closest associates of Steve Bannon, campaign manager for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.

But Simcox has a long track record of working closely with organisations and individuals which have promoted far-right extremism. He did not respond to questions about his affiliations, and the Commission declined to comment.


Speaking to the Heart of the White Nationalist Anti-immigrant Movement

In November 2019, Simcox spoke at a panel event organised by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a far-right Washington DC think-tank founded by the late eugenicist and white supremacist John Tanton.

The CIS is a Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) designated “hate group” due to “its repeated circulation of white nationalist and antisemitic writers in its weekly newsletter” over a ten year period, as well as its hiring of discredited ‘race scientist’ Jason Richwine who believes that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than “native whites”.

“It is mind-boggling that the UK Government would appoint a man to head its Commission for Countering Extremism who interacts with hardline anti-immigrant organisations and apparently promotes completely discredited claims about the supposed infiltration of Muslim institutions by radical Islamists”

Mark Potok, former senior leader at the SPLC for 20 years, now Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right

The SPLC – a civil rights law firm which tracks extremist groups in the US – found that the CIS had published and disseminated over 2,000 articles promoting white nationalist extremism, including over 1,700 from the alt-right platform VDARE consisting of anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic commentary as well as Holocaust denial. VDARE is well-known for its support for white nationalism and scientific racism. Other anti-Semitic materials distributed by the CIS included articles by white supremacist Holocaust denier John Friend, a piece describing Jews as “predators” published by what the ADL calls a “virulently anti-Semitic website, Rense.com”, an article by William Regnery who founded the anti-Semitic journal The Occidental Quarterly, as well as pieces by prominent anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald who believes Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.

The CIS has a long history of anti-Semitism according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which documents how in 2013, CIS fellow David North appeared on the anti-Semitic radio show of John Friend. The previous year, CIS circulated an article to its members by Virgina Abernathy who serves on The Occidental Quarterly’s editorial board; and in May 2012, CIS legal analyst Jon Feere provided quotes for the American Free Press, a conspiracy-oriented anti-Semitic newspaper run by long-time anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, Willis Carto.

The panel event addressed by Simcox was to discuss a new report published by the CIS promoting the idea of a link between refugees and Islamist terrorism. The event was hosted and chaired by CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, who has contributed articles to Tanton’s racist journal, The Social Contract (TSC), which regularly publishes white nationalist literature and is edited by gay-bashing white supremacist Wayne Lutton.

Byline Times spoke to Mark Potok, a former senior leader at the SPLC for 20 years and now Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) which hosted Simcox’s predecessor, former Lead Commissioner Sara Khan, at a major conference in 2019.

“No person who takes the demonising propaganda from the CIS seriously should have anything to do with counter-extremism work. The reality is that the CIS is part of a right-wing extremist set of institutions organised by a racist activist to oppose immigration in virtually all instances,” said Potok.

While the group poses as an impartial and scholarly analyst of immigration, he said, “It is neither. In fact, while the CIS has produced an enormous amount of ‘studies’ relating to immigration, the bottom line is that the organisation has never found any aspect at all of immigration that is positive. The reality is that the CIS is a key part of a set of organisations set up by John Tanton, a racist and eugencist who almost single-handedly built the American anti-immigration movement around a core of rancid white nationalism.”

The CIS was founded by John Tanton in 1985 as a project of his Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Tanton was a supporter of what he called “passive eugenics”.

From 1984 to 1995, Tanton’s FAIR received funding from the Pioneer Fund, a neo-Nazi eugenics foundation founded in 1937 to support research into “white intellectual superiority” and “race betterment.” Tanton also raised funds for CIS over two decades and was integrally involved in establishing its structure and direction, including Krikorian’s appointment, with numerous interlinkages between CIS and TSC staff. CIS researcher Jason Richwine heavily cited racist Pioneer Fund-backed scientists in his controversial PhD dissertation on race and IQ.


Promoting a ‘Great Replacement’ Theorist

If Robin Simcox’s participation in a CIS event wasn’t enough, his own direct endorsement of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories raises further urgent questions.

In a 2017 report for the Heritage Foundation where he was Margaret Thatcher Fellow, titled The Trump Administration Must Investigate the Muslim Brotherhood’s U.S. Activities, Simcox cites as authoritative sources various organisations and networks that promote discredited racist conspiracy theories. Most prominent among them is Dr Lorenzo Vidino, whom Simcox cites to support the idea that an American Muslim civil society group, the Council for American and Islamic Relations (CAIR), is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Yet according to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, Vidino is an American academic with direct ties to far-right hate groups in the US who advocates the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory – the view that ‘native’ white populations are being replaced by non-white immigrants. In 2005, when asked if Europeans were witnessing “the end of Europe” by FrontPage magazine (the far-right publication of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black activist David Horowitz), Dr Vidino said: “Europe as we knew it 30 years ago is long gone. Demography doesn’t lie: in a couple of decades non-ethnic Europeans will represent the majority of the population in many European cities and a large percentage of them will be Muslim.” 

Vidino’s anti-Muslim conspiracy theories have been repeatedly cited by blogger ‘Fjordman’, the pseudonym of Norwegian ‘Great Replacement’ theorist Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, whose online writings were cited 114 times by convicted far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people in 2011. ‘Fjordman’ cited Vidino’s writing as proof that the Muslim Brotherhood was “infiltrating” Europe. ‘Fjordman’ has repeated these conspiracy theories while citing Vidino on the Gates of Vienna blog (described as a ‘far-right anti-Muslim paramilitary manual’ by British MPs) and Jihad Watch, the far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy blog run by Robert Spencer (also cited dozens of times by Breivik).

Yet Vidino is a surprisingly influential voice in British Government thinking. Previously Byline Times exposed how his anti-Muslim conspiracy theories had heavily influenced a research project supervised by John Bew, Boris Johnson’s top foreign policy aide in No. 10 Downing Street, as well as research on British Muslim communities published by the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism – where Simcox is now acting Lead Commissioner. In 2014, Vidino had been commissioned by the Home Office to produce a paper for the UK Government’s review into the Muslim Brotherhood ordered by then Prime Minister David Cameron. According to a former high-ranking UAE judge, Vidino’s affiliations with the UAE’s al-Mesbah Studies and Research Centre (MSRC) raises questions about his impartiality given the UAE’s designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. Separately, Vidino has been accused of censorship on behalf of the Saudi and UAE governments via his extremism programme at George Washington University (including censoring an article on the death of Jamal Khashoggi).


The No-Go Zone Idiot

Other sources cited by Simcox include Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), and several other articles which rely heavily on an anti-Muslim narrative created by Emerson and organisations closely linked with him. The IPT has falsely claimed, for example, that 80% of American mosques are ruled by extremists.

Emerson – who rose to global notoriety after David Cameron described him as “an idiot” for depicting Birmingham as a no-go zone for non-Muslims – is identified by the Center for American Progress (CAP) as an “Islamophobia misinformation expert” with “a history of fabricating evidence that perpetuates conspiracies of radical Islam infiltrating America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.” 

Documents obtained by The Intercept under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Simcox was a “frequent confidant” of Katharine Gorka

Emerson’s IPT, where Vidino was previously an analyst from 2002 to 2007, misleadingly cherry-picks from an alleged internal Muslim Brotherhood document in an attempt to prove that organisations like the Muslim Students Association (MSA) are front groups for a covert Islamist strategy to subvert American society through ‘Shari’ah Law’. The document lists the MSA and other US Muslim groups as among “our organisations and the organisations of our friends”.

Yet the same document confirms that the Brotherhood does not actually control any of these groups by stating: “Imagine if t they [sic] all march according to one plan.” The document itself indicates, then, that this was merely an “imagined” fantasy rather than an active reality. Another document goes on to describe the Brotherhood’s aspiration for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) as “a nucleus for the Islamic Movement in North America”, but simultaneously concedes that “the Ikhwan’s leadership and direction of it [ISNA] started to gradually decrease due to their scarce presence in it.”

Analysing these documents, Saeed Khan – a senior lecturer in Islamic and Middle East history at Wayne State University – concludes that “the very documents supposedly proving a successful Islamist conspiracy confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged presence in various American Muslim civil society networks was dramatically declining.”

Other experts have dismissed the documents cited by Emerson as the wild-eyed ramblings of a single Brotherhood member rather than official strategy memoranda. Referring to the main 20-year old document widely-cited by far-right groups, Professor Nathan Brown – former director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University – points out: “Nobody has ever produced any evidence that the document was more than something produced by the daydream of one enthusiast.” 

Yet Simcox quotes other sources tracing back to Emerson’s claims. In particular, he relies on a 2008 report by the Hudson Institute which refers to the same Brotherhood corpus, this time cited by the ‘Nefa Foundation’. The Charity & Security Network reports that the latter is little more than an extension of Emerson’s network.

Simcox goes on to claim that these documents were used in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial by federal prosecutors to list several American Muslim civil society groups as unindicted co-conspirators. What Simcox doesn’t mention is that over 200 American Muslim groups were wrongly labelled in this way, a move “derided at the time by legal experts as contrary to Justice Department policy and in violation of the groups’ constitutional rights,” according to reporter Sarah Posner. “Eventually, the court ruled, on the motion of three of the groups, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), that publicly identifying them as ‘unindicted co-conspirators’ did violate their Fifth Amendment rights” as there was no legitimate interest in the Government doing so. 

Professor Peter Mandaville of George Mason University, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Islamist movements and a former State Department senior advisor on religion and global affairs under Secretary of State John Kerry, told Byline Times: “Anti-Muslim networks on the US political right ignorantly or willfully misrepresent connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and major American Muslim organisations in order to create a false narrative of Islamist infiltration and subversion. While it is certainly true that figures associated with Islamism played a prominent role in the founding of organisations such as the MSA and ISNA in the 60s-80s, these groups long ago became broad-based, mainstream spaces serving the full spectrum of American Muslim life—including many in the community ardently opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Potok of the Center for the Analysis of the Radical Right similarly said: “Theories about supposed infiltration of Muslim organisations by the Muslim Brotherhood are routinely aired by conspiracy-mongering Muslim-hating organisations. They are almost certainly without any merit at all.”

Commenting on Robin Simcox’s urging of the Trump administration to ramp up investigations of Brotherhood activities in the US, Professor Nathan Brown told Byline Times:

“He is careful in the way that he argues for specific policies to seem respectful of the law and the nuances. But if implemented, these policies would have led officials to embroil themselves in religious and political issues in a manner that would likely have been clumsy, counterproductive, and intimidating for many pious Muslims pursuing activities that represent no security challenge and that need no official United States response.”

Another questionable source cited by Simcox is Zuhdi Jasser, connected to three major groups which operate as part of an “Islamophobia hub” according to anti-racism watchdog Hope Not Hate whose CEO sat on the Commission’s Expert Group. Among them is the anti-Muslim hate group The Clarion Project where Jasser sits on the advisory board, which has published material claiming that “deporting millions of Muslims maybe necessary” from Europe. 

In 2014, Jasser demonised Muslim communities wholesale when he claimed that “The bigger threat is the quiet majority” of American Muslims “that hates America, that doesn’t feel a bond to this country, would be horrified if their kids became military officers, and don’t feel an affinity for America.” The following year Jasser endorsed the infamous bogus poll run by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, cited by the Trump campaign to launch its ‘Muslim ban’ policy.


Trump Ties

Simcox had direct connections to anti-Muslim segments of the Trump administration. 

Documents obtained by The Intercept under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Simcox was a “frequent confidant” of Katharine Gorka, a former senior policy advisor in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security with a track record of anti-Muslim animus. Simcox also “frequently shared his published works with Gorka’s official government email address.” 

A contributor to Breitbart News during its heyday under Steve Bannon, Gorka has a history of promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, and worked on several Trump administration CVE (countering violent extremism) programmes facing increasing allegations of anti-Muslim bias. Breitbart News has been noted for its publication of “blatant anti-Semitic propaganda” by Tablet magazine.

Katharine Gorka would go on to join Simcox at the Heritage Foundation. She is also the wife of Sebastian Gorka, formerly a top Trump counterterrorism advisor, who lost his job shortly after revelations of his public support for and membership of several Nazi-allied anti-Semitic groups in Hungary.

The UK Government’s new Lead Commissioner on countering extremism is therefore plugged into some of the most entrenched white nationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim networks in the US. 

Mandaville, who had also served as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helping to shape the US response to the Arab Spring, explained that Simcox’s recommendations, if applied in the UK, “could potentially create similarly false equivalences between the historical origins of British Muslim organisations and contemporary global Islamist strategy. For example, when it was first established in the early 1970s the Islamic Foundation in Leicester was undeniably linked to the Jama’at-i Islami in Pakistan. But to view it today as a gateway for South Asian Islamist infiltration into Britain would be ridiculous. The same holds for groups such as FOSIS – originally founded by some of the same people who subsequently set up the MSA in America – and the MCB.”

It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that Simcox’s appointment is not about offering the Government balanced strategic policy ideas. 

“It is mind-boggling that the UK Government would appoint a man to head its Commission for Countering Extremism who interacts with hardline anti-immigrant organisations and apparently promotes completely discredited claims about the supposed infiltration of Muslim institutions by radical Islamists,” said CARR’s Potok. “It is impossible to see how Robin Simcox could offer the government any kind of balanced, impartial information or strategic policy ideas.”

In contrast, a Home Office spokesperson did not dispute Byline Times’ reporting, but defended the appointment while refusing to disassociate from the far-right ideologies shared by Simcox’s affiliations: “Robin Simcox was appointed as interim Lead Commissioner, due to his wealth of expertise in the area of extremism, having worked at a senior level for organisations including the Counter Extremism Group. The role of interim commissioner is independent of Government but all individuals appointed to roles like this are carefully vetted.”

Experts, however, disagreed – implying instead that the appointment threatens to import the same far-right extremist ideology that animated the Trump regime into the corridors of power in Whitehall.

The US State Department declined to comment.

This article was amended on 14/04/21 to correctly portray former U.S. State Department official Peter Mandaville’s position. He has not directly commented or expressed any view on the appointment of Robin Simcox but rather offered an expert comment on the nature of anti-Muslim Brotherhood activism in the United States and the potential effects of its export to the United Kingdom.

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