In Part 1 we explored the reasons why the basis for the BBC’s “Marianna in Conspiracyland” podcast series is fundamentally flawed. Spring claims that her intention is to investigate “the people at the core of the conspiracy theory movement.”
Not only is there no such thing a “conspiracy theory movement” nor is their any plausible definition of a “conspiracy theorist.”
“Conspiracy theorist” is just a state propagandist’s label for someone who holds an anti-Establishment opinion that questions power and is sceptical of authority. You can read more about the history of how that “label” came into being here.
The alleged “conspiracy theory research,” that “hypothesises” about the purported existence of a psychological phenomenon called “conspiracy thinking” is abject, junk science. Much firmer, more epistemologically sound, empirical political science reveals that Western “representative democracies” are “biased pluralists” political systems corrupted by an “economic-elite.”
An anti-Establishment opinion (AEO) that questions power, which Spring and others call “conspiracy theory,” is actually based upon proven political science derived from observable reality. There is no reason for us to accept Marianna Spring’s lexicon because it is not based upon observable reality.
Therefore, as we unpick “Marianna in Conspiracyland,” wherever possible will use appropriate terminology, instead of inaccurate propaganda labels. It is not “conspiracy theory,” it is anti-Establishment opinion (AEO).
Our focus is always upon the evidence. For us to accept Marianna’s or the BBC’s–or any other’s–claims we must be convinced by the evidence.
Our initial position is scepticism. Not just because this is the logical starting point when evaluating any assertions, but also because, as discussed in the introduction and Part 1, there are many additional reasons to be sceptical of both the BBC and Marianna Spring.
In episode 1—Entering Conspiracyland—Marianna goes to the Devon market town of Totnes. She tells us that she is investigating the anti-Establishment opinion (AEO) “movement” which has “infected towns across the UK.” She likens people who question power to a disease. Thereby, dehumanising and “othering” them.
I am investigating the [AEO] media here in Britain and the radicalisation that appears to come with it. It’s followers [people who question power] hold a range of different beliefs, which many would never act on. But there are others whose views seem to be becoming more radical.
Up to this point, Marianna hasn’t presented any evidence to support her claims. She alleges that exercising the democratic right to question power leads to radicalisation. Spring effectively tells the BBC audience people are becoming extremists because they read an AEO newspaper.
The academic literature on the radicalisation process is not definitive but, such as it is, it thoroughly undermines Marianna’s claims. Currently, radicalisation is thought to occur through a complex interplay of sociological, political, cultural and psychological factors. The general consensus is that these can be broadly considered “push, pull and personal” factors.
Australian scholars at Deakin University published the 3 P’s of Radicalisation in 2018. They collated and reviewed all the available literature on the radicalisation process to ascertain if it potentially led to violent extremism. Ultimately, the sociologists concluded:
The consumption of propaganda, narratives or political grievances do not operate by themselves but rather have effect within specific social settings. [. . .] The lack of rigorous methods in the field also leaves unanswered the questions about the causal relations between the factors. [. . .] There is no definitive answer to the question whether the adoption of an extreme ideology precedes engagement in violence.[Vergani & Barton et al. 2018]
“Push factors” are the structural factors, such as state repression, relative deprivation, poverty and injustice that propel people towards resentment, particularly resentment of the government or related institutions. “Pull factors” are the things which make extremism seem attractive, such as ideology, propaganda, group belonging, group benefits and other incentives. “Personal factors” are individual characteristics that make a person more, or less, susceptible to ‘Pull’ or ‘Push’. These include psychological disorders, personality traits, traumatic life experiences and so on.
Certainly AEO media could, to an extremely limited degree, contribute toward a small minority adopting more extreme political views. Marianna correctly identifies this minimal “Pull” risk.
That said, there is little evidence to support the idea that extreme political opinions, in isolation, lead to any violent or dangerous behaviour. The research demonstrates that simply providing media content to people, regardless of the opinions expressed, is nowhere near sufficient to “radicalise” anyone.
For example, in 2016 the BBC broadcast the views of al-Qaeda’s Director of Foreign Media Relations, Mostafa Mahamed. It highlighted what an effective fighting force the proscribed terrorist group had become under their re-branded name of Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS). The BBC said that the terrorists were “quite moderate” and added:
We think it is important to understand all the players in the [Syrian] conflict at the moment. Even if, as in this case, they are considered terrorists[.]
The BBC made a good point. Understanding different views is essential. Perhaps even more-so “if” those views advocate appalling levels of terrorist violence. No one can challenge these genuinely dangerous opinions if they don’t know what they are.
Obviously, giving a platform to terrorists on national television might contribute, in some small way, toward individual viewers adopting “extremist” views.
Absent the “Push” and “Personal” factors, however, there is no evidence that simply reporting opinions, “even if” they are from a terrorist group like JFS, presents any kind of appreciable “radicalisation” risk. Media content is just one, relatively innocuous facet of a much more convoluted radicalisation process. The BBC was presumably aware of this when it broadcast the terrorists’ opinions.
As far as anyone knows, “radicalisation” does not “appear” to result simply from people consuming media reports, as Marianna alleges. It is unclear, at this stage of “Entering Conspiracyland” why Marianna thinks that it does. She appears to be trying to construct a demonstrably false association between AEO news media and extreme “radicalisation.” Her claims are not supported by the evidence.
Marianna notes that the people she accuses “hold a range of different beliefs.” As we discussed in Part 1, this is because there is no identifiable group with a unifying ideology that can legitimately be labelled a “conspiracy theory movement.”
Marvelling at the distinctive character of Totnes, Marianna tells us:
The conspiracy theory movement [a loose association of people with AEOs who question power] that boomed during the pandemic has taken hold in the town. And a motivated minority continue to hand out a mysterious [AEO] newspaper called the Light.
What does “taken hold” mean? It means to gain control, or to influence a person. There are approximately 10,000 residents in Totnes. In all likelihood around 9500 of them have access to a TV, and the BBC, in their homes. That is pretty comprehensive media coverage.
Is Marianna suggesting that the Light newspaper has “taken hold” in Totnes to the extent that the BBC has “taken hold”? She doesn’t clarify this point.
We need to be very mindful of language used to deceive. It is a common propaganda technique.
Used as an adjective, “mysterious” means:
Difficult or impossible to understand, explain, or identify. [. . .] strange or secret
The Light newspaper is published and distributed monthly by volunteers, led in the UK by Darren Nesbit (Smith). Its website FAQ reports that it was founded in September 2020 in response to concerns that the UK press/media was failing to question power during the pseudopandemic.
The Light unashamedly promotes anti-Establishment opinion (AEO):
[The mainstream media are] failing to hold governments, corporations and individuals to account by exposing their corruption, lies and crimes, they are actively involved in helping the fraud and operations being perpetrated against the unsuspecting general public. The Light is a new monthly publication which will put that right.
It is perhaps worth reiterating that political science describes this reality as the biased pluralism of an economic-elite. This does not mean that every institution or corporation is complicit in “corruption, lies and crimes.” The Light does not claim that all are. But to suggest that none are, as Marianna and the BBC appear to contend, is patently false.
The Light explains how it is funded:
A mixture of subscriptions, advertising and generous donations. One of our major sources is activists’ advance ordering copies to distribute in their local area.
Unlike the BBC the Light does not ask its readers to “trust” it. It actively encourages its readers to think critically:
Trust yourself! Please research our stories and make up your own mind as to their veracity.
Its latest publication carries well written and clearly comprehensible stories on topics ranging from regulatory failures over vaccine safety, the lack of scientific evidence for the efficacy of face masks, the apparent lack of AEO among modern rock bands, environmental concerns and homeschooling advice.
In short, there is absolutely nothing “mysterious” about the Light newspaper. It’s openly stated purpose is to challenge the Establishment. Marianna Spring added an unnecessary and wholly inaccurate adjective to describe it. She was misleading the BBC audience.
Marianna then interviews Peter Shearn co-editor of the Totnes Pulse (TP). The TP is a local community magazine which is currently only available online. The ambition is to establish a funding model—almost identical to the Light’s—in order to produce a print version.
Introducing Peter’s concerns about the Light, Marianna acknowledges that the Light looks professional and is well presented. She adds that it contains “a lot of disinformation” and “alludes to sinister cabals of powerful people who are purposefully trying to control you and do you harm.”
In terms of supposed “sinister cabals” Marianna appears to be ‘alluding’ to the biased pluralism of an economic-elite. The Light has good reason to report on it. The accuracy of its reporting is entirely dependent upon evidence it cites to substantiate its opinion, as does Marianna’s assertion that the Light contains “a lot of disinformation.”
We then hear Peter read some selected text from articles published in the Light. Peter correctly reports that the Light considers 9/11 to be a “conspiracy.” He continues to read a Light article and, in reference to the so-called pandemic, Peter scoffs when he relays:
They also gamed out the whole scenario with Event 201 in October 2019.
Marianna comments that this represents “another language” that she calls a “conspiracy lexicon.” This is presumably intended to reinforce her groundless description of the Light as “mysterious.” Her reporting paints a vivid picture but the lack of evidence to this point means that it cannot be described as investigative journalism.
Peter continues to read the Light article and comments on its impact upon him:
“We have the SPARS 2025 document from 2017″… you see, I’ve lost the will to live. It’s, it’s hard to read.
Peter’s quotations from the Light article reveals plain English referencing publicly available documents and public domain information. Marianna’s assertion that this constitutes a “conspiracy lexicon” is dumbfounding.
The official account of 9/11 evidently is not true. The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the fact.
For example, the BBC has yet to offer any kind of plausible explanation regarding how its reporter, Jane Standley, knew that WTC7 would collapse more than 20 minutes before it did. The best peer-reviewed scientific evidence to date shows that the official explanation of the collapse, eventually offered by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)–which isn’t peer reviewed–is wrong.
This makes the BBC’s apparent clairvoyance even harder to explain. The WTC7 narrative, that the BBC broadcast prior to its collapse, was entirely in keeping with NIST’s incorrect explanation given more than 7 years later. Predicting an alleged terrorist related event in detail, before it happens, is one thing, but accurately predicting a subsequent incorrect explanation of that event 7 years before it is published is something else.
If we are to believe the BBC, Reuters gave Standley the wrong information that just so happened to precisely match a future incorrect explanation for a building’s complete structural failure that no one, at the time, had any reason to think would happen. How this is possible genuinely is a ‘mystery.’ The BBC claimed that it “lost” all of the relevant footage and doesn’t have anything further to add.
Event 201 was a tabletop exercise, convened by Johns Hopkins University in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It simulated, with unerring accuracy, what might happen in a future “global-pandemic.” The simulated global pandemic unfolded exactly as modelled within days of the exercise concluding.
The SPARS 2025 document was published in 2017 by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. It also modelled a global pandemic which the so-called Covid-19 pandemic later mimicked in exquisite detail.
Everything that Peter read from the Light article was based upon factually accurate information. This does not mean that the conclusions drawn from that information were correct. That is not how investigative journalism works. As the Light points out, it is up to Peter to “research” the information provided by the Light and make up his own mind.
Peter’s difficulty in accepting the information is perhaps understandable. It is certainly contrary to everything the BBC offers as opinion. Peter may be among those who thinks he needs to “trust” whatever the BBC tells him. Hence his cognitive dissonance when confronted with contradictory factual information.
Unfortunately for Peter, the facts reported by the Light were neither “conspiracy theory lexicon” nor “disinformation,” despite the disingenuous insinuations of the BBC’s “specialists disinformation reporter.” It may be hard for Peter to read but that does not make it “disinformation.”
If Peter follows the Light’s advice and researches 9/11, Event 201 or SPARS 2025, he may not like what he finds. That is no reason to reject the evidence out of hand, especially if you haven’t even looked at it.
To this point in “Entering Conspiracyland” Marianna still hasn’t offered any evidence to support her allegations. She has not demonstrated that the Light consists of “a lot of disinformation,” or, indeed, any disinformation at all.
Marianna Spring then reports how the Light is distributed, its growing number of activists, the size of the Telegram social media channels formed by people who support and are trying to distribute the Light, and so-on. What she describes sounds like a grass-roots movement of people with AEOs who believe that asking questions of power is important.
In the next segment, Marianna alleges that the anecdotes of the former mayor of Totnes, Ben, and the former deputy mayor, Georgina, somehow constitutes evidence of the effect of the Light newspaper on the whole town of Totnes. Ben alleges that people influenced by the Light have committed a number of offences against his person. The most serious being attempted murder.
We do not know the context of this alleged crime. If it occurred as Ben described, the driver was trying to park their vehicle when they tried to kill him by running him over. It isn’t known if the driver saw Ben prior to attempting the manoeuvre. Nor do we know what possible conversation Ben had with the driver as, Ben stated that he considered them a friend. There is no record of Ben reporting this serious crime, or any of the other crimes he alleges, to the police.
Marianna then correctly reports that “it is impossible to prove that people acted directly in response to content in the Light.” In fact, she has yet to “prove” that anyone “acted” at all. All we have are the anecdotes and opinions of Ben and Georgina.
Ben had previously offered his opinion of the Light in an edition of Devonlive, published in January 2021. He suggested that Totnes had been “targeted” by the Light and that there was a need for residents to “push back against this post-truth reality.” Although he didn’t specify what actions people should take in order to “push back.”
Devonlive is published by Reach Plc which, as Trinity Mirror, was embroiled in the UK Phone hacking scandal. The Devonlive article said that there was “anger” at the “Covid ‘anti-vax’ propaganda posted through letterboxes.” It reported a number of comments from “angered” Totnes residents.
The vast bulk of the public comment responses, published by Devonlive beneath the online version of the article, welcomed the Light newspaper. The majority were supportive of its aims and objectives.
- “This is a great paper.”
- “Glad to read that in Totnes there is still freedom of speech and that people are exercising it!”
- “I was pleased to read the Light paper where Doctors are freely able to speak without being censored.”
- “I am a resident of Totnes and when I came home and found this newspaper through my letterbox I felt pleased. I read through it and really appreciated the perspectives ordered there. I have been feeling for some time that something just doesn’t feel right about this whole so called pandemic.”
- “I have had a light paper through my letter box. I did read it. (i am sure I will get a ton of abuse here for admitting here that I have actually read it…) It was not suggested in the paper that the virus doesn’t exist. [. . .] I actually found these articles interesting. isn’t it food for thought?
These comments reflect the general tenor of the opinions expressed below the Devonlive article. There was no evidence of the “hate” Marianna Springs claims the Light elicits. Sadly there were some very worrying signs of “hate” emanating from the minority of comments opposed to the Light.
- “pure scum post rubbish through peoples if they come to my door i will let my dog chase them up the road as i follow in pursuit barking at them Take The Vaccine Save The Rave Then The World”
- “Infect this guy [the reported Light journalist] with covid and refuse him treatment, let’s see what he her writes about then”
- “While you give these people oxygen they will spread their ill educated lies. [. . .] Detain them under the mental health act, they are too dangerous to be free.
Given the comments section, if Devonlive conducted any kind of public opinion survey in Totnes it seems likely that they ignored most of them and only reported the “opinions” that fitted with, what appears to be, published disinformation. The comments do not support the claim made in the article that “a Devon town has expressed shock and disappointment after ‘fear mongering’ propaganda was posted through letterboxes.” Based on what limited evidence we have, the majority of the “town” appeared have been favourable to the Light and were pleased to receive it.
Continuing the segment with Ben and Georgina, Marianna reports that the Light contains articles and opinions expressed by “holocaust deniers” and antisemites. We will address this argument later on in our investigation but, for now, let’s just accept that many people find some of the opinions expressed in the Light deeply offensive.
Marianna reported the tensions that arose in the town when the Totnes council decided to ban a proposed conference. Listed speakers included Professor Delores Cahill (immunologist and molecular biologist), Dr Zac Cox (a founding member of the UK Medical Freedom Alliance) and Anna de Buisseret (corporate lawyer, specialising in employment law, and a business management consultant).
Marianna reports that one of the organising groups, the New World Alliance, also distributed the Light. Georgina, referencing her actions in her former capacity as deputy mayor of Totnes, tells Marianna:
I knew these people and I knew what they represented. I knew how their tactics work, so did most of the rest of our [indistinguishable] council. We were really alarmed when.. you quickly, you can’t just let those things happen. You can’t just says ‘freedom of speech’ let it happen, it’ll be fine. [Because] you know, the people involved were extremely nasty.
Marianna adds that Georgina had made up her mind. Georgina continues to recount her actions:
I said that these are not people that we should be allowing to speak in the Civic Hall in any way whatsoever.
At no point does Marianna challenge Georgina’s woeful comprehension of what free speech is or why it is vital for us all. What is evident from “Entering Conspiracyland” is that Marianna was keen to emphasise Georgina’s anti-democratic opinions.
Precautionary limits to freedom of speech already exist. We have laws to stop people using speech to incite violence or other crimes. But there is also an important free speech principle, outlined by the English political philosopher Sir John Stuart Mill, called “the harm principle.”
The harm principle draws a clear distinction between legitimate harm and what can considered an “illegitimate” claim of alleged harm. Censorship that fails to recognise the difference is dictatorial.
In his essay “On Liberty” Mill gives the example of speech accusing a corn dealer of starving the poor by maintaining high prices. The harm principle determines that it does not matter if the written or spoken criticism adversely impacts the corn dealers business or causes the corn dealer emotional distress or offence. So important is free speech, Mill argued, that this kind of “harm” is a cost that society has to bear.
If, on the other hand, the critic addresses an angry crowd gathered, pitchforks in hand, outside the corn dealer’s house then the same accusations would place the corn dealer at immediate risk of physical harm. In this context, in keeping with Mill’s harm principle, the critics free speech can temporarily be legitimately censored.
It cannot be stressed how crucial observing the harm principle is to our society. Mill recognised that there are costs to free speech, but the tyranny that result if free speech is censored injudiciously far outweighs any harm caused by free speech itself. We are all familiar with the historical examples of the brutality that inevitably follows state suppression and censorship of free speech.
In the introduction to his essay “On Liberty,” Mill wrote:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. [. . .] The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, [. . .] so long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong; [. . .] from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals. [. . .] No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified.
Providing that our speech does not risk imminent, direct physical harm to anyone else, it should never be restricted. Even if the opinions expressed are considered vile and abhorrent by the majority, that does not warrant censorship.
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
If we hope to live our lives as free human beings, we cannot allow free speech that complies with the harm principle to be censored. The moment we accept that such limits can be imposed by anyone upon any of us then we will not be free until free speech is restored.
Georgina and her Totnes council colleagues did not appear to have any understanding either of the harm principle or the enshrined sanctity of free speech in a representative democracy. Despite the fact that many other Totnes residents clearly did.
The profound ignorance of Totnes council was exemplified by Georgina’s comments regarding two separate campaign visits to Totnes by the former YouTuber Carl Benjamin.
The whole of Totnes would have come out against him, which we did. [. . .] A year after the pandemic, the same guy [Benjamin] came back [. . .] and half the people, who previously stood up against him, were now with him. Because they had all been recruited into his way of thinking. So, nothing was more important than freedom of speech. [. . .] For me it has been a bit upsetting to have a town where hippies, who you thought were friends of yours, have crossed very quickly, with only the smallest of encouragement, over to the far-right
To suggest that free speech is only a concern for the “far-right” is a quite astonishing statement from a former elected deputy mayor. In a so-called democracy, free speech arguably “is” the most important ideal.
Georgina’s seeming inability to grasp basic democratic principles is notable. As is her apparent belief that people cannot agree and stand with someone on an important issue, like free speech, without endorsing every other opinion they hold. Diversity of opinion doesn’t appear to be something Georgina supports.
Where is Georgina getting her baleful ideas from? Is it from the BBC? In light of Marianna Spring’s concluding monologue to “Entering Conspiracyland” it seems possible.
Georgina and Ben are worried that what the “conspiracy theory” [AEO] media is doing is something akin to radicalisation. Causing a committed minority to adopt radical positions on political or social issues based on disinformation.
There is no “conspiracy theory media,” nor is there any evidence of any radicalisation linked to the Light newspaper. Spring has not provided any evidence of people adopting any radical political positions, unless you think defending free speech is “radical.”
Nor has Marianna identified any evident “disinformation.” These are just vacuous claims set within the questionable “lexicon” of Marianna Spring.
If Georgina and Ben are worried about these imagined threats, concocted by Marianna, it seems possible, if not likely, that their fears have been stoked by the BBC. Despite there being no evidence base to support any of it.
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