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The prominent radio presenter and activist Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of a respected British anti-extremist thinktank and a one-time government adviser, has alarmed former admirers and academics with his interest in conspiracy theories about the lockdown and voter fraud in the US election on his Twitter account.
As an LBC radio host, he regularly takes provocative stances, but now a string of controversial and potentially harmful tweets is prompting further questions.
Followers were initially alarmed when Nawaz, who set up the Quilliam Foundation in 2008, inspired by his own move away from Islamic extremism, retweeted a “fascinating thread” in November last year on how the “myth” of a killer coronavirus pandemic had been spread. Nawaz adds he has no opinion on this claim.
After the US presidential election, Nawaz tweeted a series of claims that fraud had taken place, questioning the credibility of the voting machines and reproducing some of the arguments put forward by Trump’s former legal cheerleader, Sidney Powell, whose claims proved so outlandish that she was eventually disavowed by the former president.
Following the attack on the US Capitol, Nawaz retweeted false claims that it was antifa, or anti-fascist groups, who orchestrated the raid, rather than Trump supporters.
“There seems to be a difference between the Nawaz we can hear on LBC and the one we might follow on Twitter,” said Prof Matthew Feldman, an expert in radical right ideology. “He is certainly not the most concerning by a long shot, but has been posting really mischievous stuff online since Trump’s defeat. His big following means his words have impact because of some of the things he retweets and it is quite possible he does not realise that. It is sad, as I am an admirer of much of the magnificent work he’s done recently on the treatment of the Uighurs.”
Feldman argues that while there are “pretty capacious boundaries within which you can speak freely”, the internet allows unfounded speculation to be spread at great speed.
Last week Nawaz also challenged Facebook to explain why it had marked one of his posts as false. He had drawn attention to allegations that America’s chief medical adviser to the president, Dr Anthony Fauci, had invested in the Wuhan laboratory suspected by some of leaking the virus into the human population. The wild allegations about Fauci – for which there is no evidence – were contained in a Fox News report from Steve Hilton, the British former public relations adviser to David Cameron.
Questioning this “censorship”, the radio host also wrote to Nick Clegg, the former Lib Dem leader who is now Facebook’s global communications executive. Nawaz invited Clegg on to his LBC show to explain, adding: “I know you value free speech, you’ve told me personally.” In 2015 Nawaz unsuccessfully stood for election on the Lib Dem ticket in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, eventually coming in third.
This month Nawaz also signed an open letter to the FBI and other western intelligence organisations urging them to investigate whether Covid-19 lockdowns are a “global fraud”, designed to impoverish the west by the Chinese Communist party.
On 12 January Nawaz responded to a wild conspiracy theory about US secretary of state Mike Pompeo tweeting regularly every 30 minutes as a signal to Trump supporters that there was an imminent secret plan to retain power under way.
Nawaz, who broadcasts on LBC in a lineup of other opinionated presenters from across the political spectrum that includes Nick Ferrari, Rachel Johnson, James O’Brien, Shelagh Fogarty and Eddie Mair, denies that he has been drawn into conspiracy theory rhetoric and has threatened the Observer with legal action.
LBC declined to comment on Nawaz’s position at the station.
O’Brien, who opposes conspiracy theories, was also not prepared to comment on his colleague’s broadcasts or on the station’s position, but he did say that he valued the chance his job gives him to interact with people and try to gently expose ill-informed or misleading arguments.
“I try to remember I might be the only person in the orbit of a listener who challenges these conspiracy theories and questions them about the sources. I’ve decided we have to talk to these people more, examine their positions. But it is about having the right tone,” said O’Brien. “It is lazy to see it as solely a social media problem. It is coming from inside institutions too and it is a dystopian project.”
Sunder Katwala, the director of the thinktank British Future, is one of those who has been attempting to hold Nawaz to account for spreading unproven theories and scare stories. He argued that the presenter poses more of a problem than conspiracists because of his LBC platform, the fact that he leads a counter-extremism thinktank and is also a prominent British convert from extremism. Katwala, a former general secretary of the leftwing Fabian Society, believes Nawaz’s public profile makes such references to “conspiratorial propaganda more worrying”.
“It has been alarming to witness this evolve from unusual misreadings of the US constitutional process into an interest in electoral fraud conspiracies,” said Katwala. “I cannot conceive of a benign explanation for participating in and spreading QAnon-inspired online conspiracies.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: LBC’s Maajid Nawaz’s fascination with conspiracies raises alarm | Television & radio