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Cabinet Minister Against Islamophobia Definition Addresses ‘Dark Money’ Lobbying Group Tied to Extremist Organisations

As the Government drops its commitment to introduce an official definition of anti-Muslim hate, Nafeez Ahmed reveals the network of influence surrounding two key officials

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters/Alamy

Cabinet Minister Against Islamophobia Definition Addresses ‘Dark Money’ Lobbying Group Tied to Extremist Organisations

As the Government drops its commitment to introduce an official definition of anti-Muslim hate, Nafeez Ahmed reveals the network of influence surrounding two key officials

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Two Government officials – Communities Secretary Michael Gove and the Independent reviewer of the Prevent strategy William Shawcross – addressed a profit-making lobbying group in September, the directors and shareholders of which are tied to racist, anti-Muslim and antisemitic pro-Trump hate groups in both the UK and US.

This week, the Government decided to stop working on an official definition of Islamophobia – something it committed to three years ago. Byline Times’ investigation suggests that this decision is the result of pressure from a lobbying group linked to US far-right ‘dark money’ bound up with the Republican Party.

On 6 September, Gove – who was appointed Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary last month – spoke at an event organised by the Counter Extremism Group (CEG), a think tank founded by Robin Simcox and Hannah Stuart. He was joined by William Shawcross, who is in charge of reviewing the Government’s controversial strategy to prevent violent extremism.

During the event, Gove opposed the idea of creating a “precise definition” of Islamophobia which could be used “to police what people can say in order to penalise them for it”.

He and Shawcross also dismissed outright as “drivel” the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia – one which has been adopted by the Labour Party, the Mayor of London, as well as several unions, universities and local authorities. Though by no means the perfect definition, even the Government agreed in 2019 that it should “build on” the definition.

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But the CEG is not the non-partisan think tank it styles itself to be. In reality, it is an opaque lobbying group that refuses to disclose the sources of its funding, with ties to well-known ‘alt-right’ extremist hate groups.

It is run as a profit-making business through a private limited company – Counter Extremism Network Ltd – which was founded in January 2020 by its initial director Robin Simcox.

Last April, Simcox resigned from his directorship of the firm and replaced himself with Hannah Stuart, who is now the company’s sole director. But company records seen by Byline Times reveal that Simcox remains the person “with significant control” over the company, holding more than 75% of shares and voting rights, as well as the right to appoint or remove directors.

Since last March, Simcox also simultaneously served on the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism. He was appointed its commissioner by former Home Secretary Priti Patel last July.

Ties to Extremists

Last year, a special investigation by Byline Times exposed Robin Simcox’s wide-ranging ties to far-right, pro-Trump US networks which promote antisemitism, racism, white nationalism and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. 

In 2019, for instance, Simcox spoke at the US-based Center for Immigration Studies, which has regularly circulated antisemitic, white nationalist materials over a 10-year period – including articles by noted Holocaust deniers and eugenicists. It has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a civil rights law firm tracking extremist groups in America.

Simcox had also cited and promoted anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists and theories in his own writing for the Heritage Foundation, a pro-Trump think tank in Washington D.C..

Among those Simcox has quoted are Lorenzo Vidino, a proponent of the far-right ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory which baselessly posits that white populations are being replaced by mass immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Steve Emerson, who notoriously claimed that Birmingham is a “no-go-zone” for non-Muslims, is another.

Simcox has also cited Zudhi Jasser, who sits on the board of The Clarion Project – which once declared that “deporting millions of Muslims maybe necessary” from Europe.

Both Simcox and his colleague at the CEG, Hannah Stuart, were previously long-time researchers at the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a right-wing think tank with ties to a range of alt-right organisations in the US.

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Byline Times has previously revealed that, during Stuart’s tenure at the HJS, the organisation was funded by the American far-right’s major sponsors in philanthropy.

HJS’ funders, analysis of US tax filings showed, are behind groups like Turning Point USA – accused of harbouring racism and white supremacism; the David Horowitz Freedom Centre – “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements” according to the SPLC; and the Middle East Forum which sponsored British far-right extremist and convicted fraudster Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as ‘Tommy Robinson’).

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

Both Michael Gove and William Shawcross have been directors at the Henry Jackson Society. Gove in 2017 and Shawcross in 2012.

Conflicts of Interest

Company records show that the CEG received £706,489 from unidentified “creditors” in 2022. The accounts filed in January this year also state that “other creditors include £701,436… in respect of grants received where attached conditions hadn’t yet been fulfilled at the reporting date”.

The CEG did not respond to a request for comment regarding the sources of its funding.

However, among its five staff members is Thomas Joscelyn, an ‘adjunct senior advisor’ to the organisation. He is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neoconservative Washington D.C.-based think tank set up by former Republican National Committee communications director Clifford May.

According to former State Department advisor James Carsden, the FDD played a key role during the Trump administration – working closely with then National Security Advisor John Bolton – in promoting a militaristic policy towards Iran and the Middle East.

Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a think tank linked to Trump megadonor Rebekah Mercer that has repeatedly promoted the Great Replacement theory.

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‘Dark money’ refers to funds donated legally to politically-active, non-profit organisations which are not required by law to disclose their donors. In this case, however, the CEG is a profit-making limited company and, as a shareholder, Robin Simcox is entitled to profits from this ‘dark money’ funding.

This raises the question of conflicts of interest. Simcox is an “independent” advisor to the Home Office on counter-extremism – but he is also the financial beneficiary of at least nearly a million pounds in ‘dark money’ funding through the CEG, where he potentially profits from the impact of his own counter-extremism advice.

His organisation’s hosting of Gove and Shawcross at an event funded by this ‘dark money’ raises further questions about the influence of this on its advice to the Government. It also raises questions about the integrity of Simcox’s own advice to the Home Office.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We remain committed to a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of religious prejudice. The Government will outline next steps in due course.”

The Commission for Countering Extremism refused to comment and suggested that questions about Robin Simcox’s recruitment be directed to the Home Office.

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