Tuesday, 3 May 2016

LABOUR, CORBYN AND ANTI-SEMITISM

The Labour Party's inquiry into Antisemitism was a whitewash and did not satisfy critics.

That is because the problem of the Left is not Antisemitism but fanaticism and an inability to listen. Anyone who has seen this faction at close quarters (as I have for many years) knows how much it is driven by hatred. It has to have a demon. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the failure of social democracy the Left has been forced into negativity, taking its Antis - Anti-Americanism, Anti-Imperialism, and anti-Zionism - to passionate extremes.

So it's no accident that anti-Zionists compare Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany. The factual questions as to whether Israel practices apartheid or genocide are less important than making Israel the Left's current demon.

The issue of Antisemitism and its relation to anti-Zionism is complex, and any proper inquiry would have to deal with it thoroughly.  It would have to analyse Antisemitism and its relationship to anti-Zionism.

  • Does Antisemitism entail contempt for the Jews conceived as a race, or might it also be the opposite, the denial that Jews are an ethnic group or a nation? 
  • Since 80% of the population of Israel are Jews and the overwhelming majority of Jews in the diaspora feel that Israel is part of their Jewish identity, and since the restoration of Jews to the land of Israel is a part of the Jewish religion, is anti-Zionism anti-Jewish? 
  • Is the idea that Israel should no longer exist as a Jewish state, and that the Jews of the Middle East should live as a minority under Arabs who hate them, a form of Antisemitism? 
  • Is Labour pandering to the Antisemitism of Muslim voters? 
  • Has the Left inherited the ambivalence in Jewish emancipation, in which universalist principles made the removal of civil disabilities conditional on the abandonment of Jewish identity
  • Even if anti-Zionism and Antisemitism are not the same thing, how much anti-Zionism expresses itself as Antisemitism ("Jews to the gas!" "Bombs over Tel Aviv!"), how many anti-Zionists are also Antisemites and how many Antisemites are also anti-Zionists?

The Labour Party inquiry did not deal with these questions. It fudged the overlap of Antisemitism with anti-Zionism and found that there have been a few instances of Antisemitism in the party and that they should be dealt with more firmly in the future. The deeper question of the natural intolerance of the Left, its essential illiberalism and its tendency to extremism, was not touched on at all.

The Left is bound to be anti-Semitic because it defines racism as prejudice plus power.  Thus, by definition, people with power cannot be victims of racism and, since Jews have power in Israel, Antisemitism is not racism. Only Blacks can be victims of racism and Whites are oppressors. It is legitimate to hate oppressors and since Jews are White it is legitimate to hate them. The few tactless outbursts of explicit Antisemitism on Labour's Left are not an aberration but an expression of this Anti-Racist ideology. Ken Livingstone says it explicitly and when Jeremy Corbyn says that Labour stands full square against racism and Antisemitism he has his fingers crossed behind his back.

This mind-set means Antisemitism in Labour cannot be tackled by the Left. Len McClusky, the leader of the powerful trades union Unite and a cheer leader for Corbyn, moved on to the attack by saying that accusations of Antisemitism were just a ploy by the Right to get rid of Corbyn. McClusky is a more effective leader than Corbyn and he is bound to fight Corbyn's corner; but he is more right than he knows: this problem does require the removal of Corbyn and the Left from the leadership of the Labour Party.

Friday, 15 January 2016

NUCLEAR WINTER AND THE KGB

I discovered this article on Wikipedia, about an attempt to smear the anti-nuclear movement. I reproduce it in full. If you'd like to follow up the references, they're here.


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Claims about the KGB's supposed influence on the development of the nuclear winter hypothesis has been put on several Wikipedia pages.  The claim originates in a book by journalist Pete Earley about the Russian defector and double agent Sergei Tretyakov.  Tretyakov is the source of the claim. Here is a critical account.

Tretyakov's claim


Treyakov says that "nuclear winter" was a malicious invention of the KGB, involving faked data and a campaign of disinformation designed to mislead Western scientists. The entire programme of research into nuclear winter is supposed to have come about only because Western scientists were deceived by the KGB. The operation was supposedly carried out at the bidding of Yuri Andropov, at that time the head of the KGB. Tretyakov was not involved and says he was told about it by an unidentified former KGB official  and that he researched it at the Red Banner Institute, the Russian spy school. He does not say when the disinformation campaign took place but from the context it seems that it occurred some time between 1979 and 1982.

The alleged KGB research

Tretyakov says that the KGB started the campaign by commissioning two fraudulent scientific papers about the cooling of the atmosphere after dust storms - one allegedly by physicist Kirill Kondratyev, the other (which Earley calls "the Andropov doomsday report") allegedly by physicist Georgii Golitsyn and mathematicians Nikita Moiseyev and Vladimir Alexandrov. Tretyakov does not give the titles of the papers and says that they were never published because the KGB believed that Western scientists would think them "ridiculous".  Instead, they disseminated their contents by "covert active measures".

Paper 1: Kondratyev

Tretyakov says that Konratyev's allegedly fake research was about the cooling effect of dust storms in the Karakum desert. Earley comments that "Konrayev's [sic] dramatic discovery was not the result of painstaking research, but the first step in a carefully orchestrated KGB propaganda campaign."

Kondratyev was an internationally respected member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences  and his work in the Karakum desert was in fact part of the Complex Atmospheric Energetic Experiment (CAENEX) project, which he had been working on between 1970 and 1975, outside of Tretyakov's time frame of 1979-82. Far from being part of a "carefully orchestrated KGB propaganda campaign", CAENEX was a joint Soviet/American exchange program between the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S.S.R. Hydrometeorological Service. A paper identical in content to the one that Tretyakov describes was published by Colorado State University in 1976 (outside Tretyakov's time frame) and was co-authored by Kondratyev with an American scientist, R.M.Welch: Kondratyev, et. al., Comparison between the measured and calculated spectral characteristics of shortwave radiation in the free atmosphere over the desert (1976). No-one other than Tretyakov has ever suggested it was fraudulent, written at the bidding of the KGB, "ridiculous" or unpublished.

Paper 2: Golitsyin, Moiseyev and Alexandrov

There is no record of any paper written jointly by Golitsyn, Alexandrov and Moiseyev. The "Andropov doomsday report",  which has never been produced and whose title has never been cited, is probably Tretyakov's confusion (deliberate or otherwise) of Golitsyin, Alexandrov, Moiseyev and Stenchikov's published papers.

These scientists published a number of papers that may be said to have played a part in the development of the nuclear winter scenario:

Alexandrov and Moiseyev, "Model 'klimata i global' naya ekologiya", Nature , 9 , 1981 (an exposition of climate model and global ecology)

Alexandrov, Moiseyev, et. al., Global models, the biospheric approach (1981)

Alexandrov and Stenchikov, On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war (1983)

Moiseyev, Alexandrov, et. al., Global models, the biospheric approach: Theory of the Noosphere (1983)

Alexandrov and Stenchikov, Numerical modeling of climatic consequences of nuclear war (1984)

Golitsyn, Consequences of Nuclear War for the Atmosphere (1985)

But they were all published in academic journals or presented to international conferences, so they can't be the faked reports.

In 1981, Moiseyev and Alexandrov presented a paper on global atmospheric models to a forum held in Austria.  Golitsyn's interest in global cooling following nuclear war dates from 1982, when he began to be involved in international discussions on the topic after reading articles in Ambio about the aftermath of nuclear war.  Alexandrov and Moiseyev published "On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war" in 1983.  In 1983 they published "Global models, the biospheric approach" through the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.  The key paper by Alexandrov and Stenchikov, "Numerical modeling of climatic consequences of nuclear war", was reprinted in the refereed journal USSR Computational Mathematics and and Mathematical Physics in 1984.  Although actively involved in research, Golitsyn did not publish "Consequences of Nuclear War for the Atmosphere" until 1985.

Covert active measures

Tretyakov claims that "Information from the study's key findings was distributed by KGB officers to their contacts in peace, anti-nuclear, disarmament, and environmental organisations in an effort to get these groups to publicise the propagandists' script."  There is, however, no record of any discussion about nuclear winter outside of scientific circles in the West until late 1982, when the research on nuclear winter by Carl Sagan, Richard P. Turco, O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman and J.B. Pollack  - the so-called TTAPS study - was publicised.

Sagan, an anti-nuclear campaigner, spread the findings of the TTAPS study through the news media in order to influence public debate. Earley implies that Sagan's public role, which was unusual for a scientist if it did not actually breach scientific ethics, implicates him in the alleged KGB plot. To suggest that the authors of the TTAPS study relied on forged KGB data, Earley says that at a press conference in 1983 Carl Sagan cited "the Soviet study" in support of the TTAPS research,  but Sagan could not have cited it if it had never been published and the paper he was referring to was Alexandrov and Stenchikov's On the modelling of the climatic consequences of the nuclear war,   which had been published in 1983 - that is, after the TTAPS study, so TTAPS could not have made use of it.

Allegations against Ambio

Tretyakov says that the KGB then "targeted" Ambio, a refereed academic journal that published a key article in the development of the nuclear winter scenario. He suggests that the article would not have been written without the intervention of the KGB. According to Earley, in 1982, Jeannie Peterson, an editor at Ambio, asked Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to write about the impact of nuclear blast on the atmosphere.  His article, co-authored with John Birks, was called "Twilight at Noon". By April 1982 a draft of the Crutzen and Birks paper had been presented to a meeting of the US National Academy of Sciences by Turco.   "Twilight at Noon" is mainly about particulates from large fires, nitrogen oxide, ozone depletion and the effect of nuclear twilight on agriculture. The "twilight at noon" of the title is not nuclear winter - that is to say, not a cooling of the global climate - but absence of sunlight, which they thought would reduce food production. All that Crutzen and Birks have to say about atmospheric cooling is contained in one sentence: "The normal dynamic and temperature structure of the atmosphere would therefore change considerably over a large fraction of the Northern Hemisphere, which will probably lead to important changes in land surface temperatures and wind systems."

Tretyakov does not explain in what sense Ambio was "targeted", but he implies that it commissioned articles as a result of receiving fraudulent, unpublished data that was circulated by the KGB, and that Crutzen and Birks used this data (despite the fact that, according to Tretyakov, the KGB judged it to be too ridiculous for any Western scientist to take seriously.) If Crutzen and Birks did use the data, there must be some trace of it in their paper, but there is none. Crutzen and Birks cited only data in Western publications and did not cite any work by Kondratyev, Alexandrov and Moiseyev. Nor did they make use of unattributed research or unsourced data that might conceivably be the KGB research. "Twilight at Noon" was refereed independently and if the paper made use of data for which Crutzen and Birks provided no citations - i.e., fraudulent data circulated to them by the KGB or, even more unlikely, data planted by the KGB in the peace movement and then picked up by them - one would expect the referees to have commented on it, but apparently they did not. Crutzen and Birks also acknowledge, in addition to the reading by referees, critical reading of the article in draft by another nineteen scientists. Apparently they did not notice the insertion of unreferenced data either. Tretyakov does not say which data in the article is fraudulent and neither Earley or anyone else has been able to identify it. It is hard to avoid the impression that neither Tretyakov or Earley have made a close reading of "Twilight at Noon". Earley admits that "There is no reason or evidence to suspect that Ambio, Crutzen or Birks knew the KGB were trying to instigate anti-US feeling by circulating fraudulent scientific data,"  and he concedes that Peterson acted independently.

Two of the authors in the Ambio anthology were indeed from the Soviet Union: E.I.Chazov, a senior physician and a member of the Praesidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and M.E.Vartanian, a senior psychiatrist. If the KGB wished to influence Peterson, Crutzen and Birks they would have been a good conduit. Chazov and Vartanian wrote about the effect of nuclear war on human behaviour, not on global climate, citing only Western publications. Tretyakov does not mention them, nor do Crutzen and Birks. Not only is there no evidence of Chazov and Vartanian being used to communicate faked data by Golitsyn et.al., to Crutzen and Birks in order to encourage them to write about nuclear winter, it was the Chazov and Vartanian paper in Ambio that inspired Golitsyn to start researching the topic.

The nuclear winter hypothesis was developed in the West

Tretyakov's story about an "Andropov doomsday report" pre-1982 is contradicted by the CIA, who have said that there was no Soviet research on nuclear winter until 1983. They identify Alexandrov as the leading scientist in this field and say he was directed to shift his research to climatology in 1976, was sent to the US in 1978 to develop a computer program compatible with Soviet computers and in 1983, after the findings of the so-called TTAPS study were known, was directed to work on nuclear winter, "probably by Yevgeniy Velikhov, a vice president of the Academy of Sciences". According to the CIA, "Velikhov's interest in Nuclear Winter stems from his participation in international scientific forums and his responsibilities as director of the Soviet effort to develop supercomputers. He probably learned of Nuclear Winter at one of the numerous international conferences he attended and recognized its potential to contribute both to the Soviet knowledge of computer science and to influence international public opinion on the nuclear 'arms race'."  Tretyakov does not ackowledge the importance of international conferences in disseminating scientific knowledge and the degree to which Soviet interest in nuclear winter developed from Soviet-American collaboration.

According to Starley L. Thompson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, the nuclear winter model was developed in the United States in the early 1970s.  In the early 1980s, Western modeling of the atmosphere after a nuclear exchange was ahead of Soviet achievements, which Turco described as "weak" and "primitive".  US scientists had been publishing reports on similar topics since the 1950s - e.g. S.Glasstone in 1957, R.U.Ayers in 1965, E.S.Batten in 1966 and 1974, J.Hampson in 1974 and the US National Research Council in 1975. In Earley's time frame of 1979-82, work on the role of aerosols in the climate system was already underway in the West.  Work on the effects of nuclear war had been initiated by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences journal, Ambio in 1980, and the United States National Research Council had set up a study panel on the dust effects of a large exchange of nuclear warheads in December 1981.  In 1985, Leon Gouré (a critic of the nuclear winter hypothesis) argued that the Soviet Union was promoting the nuclear winter hypothesis in order to demoralise the West, but, from an analysis of Soviet publications, he found that Soviet scientists had made no independent contribution to the study of nuclear winter and had uncritically taken worst-case scenarios from Crutzen and Birks, TTAPS and other Western sources.

Tretyakov claims only that the KGB influenced the Crutzen and Birks paper, but that was not the only Western research on nuclear winter, and his claim that the KGB initiated research in the West means that it must have "targeted" not only the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences but also the US National Research Council and the US National Academy of Sciences. The lack of evidence and the assertion that influence was exerted via the peace movement makes this unlikely. The evidence points in the opposite direction: Soviet propaganda about nuclear winter was based on Western research.

Tretyakov's story is vague and uncorroborated

Tretyakov's claim that the nuclear winter hypothesis was a KGB fraud is often repeated along with claims that the peace movement of the 1980s was backed by Russia. Tretyakov himself says that the Soviet Peace Committee, a Soviet government organization, funded and organized demonstrations in Europe against US bases.  Investigations into these claims have been inconclusive  and the judgment of the CIA and MI5 is that the KGB probably did not influence Western peace movements, but whether the claims are true or not, they have no bearing on the origins of the nuclear winter theory.

Tretyakov goes well beyond the reasonable and demonstrable claim that the Soviet Union promoted the nuclear winter scenario and the more doubtful claim that it promoted peace demonstrations in the West to say that the nuclear winter hypothesis was fabricated by the KGB. There is enough in his story that is true for it to be credible to people who are not familiar with the subject: Crutzen and Birks did write a key paper in Ambio; there was a Western campaign against Pershing missiles at the same time; Kondratyev did write about dust and climate in the Karakum desert; Alexandrov did produce a mathematical model; Golitsyn did write a key paper; Sagan was in touch with Golitsyn and Alexandrov and he did promote the nuclear winter hypothesis. But none of these facts, alone or together, are evidence of a KGB plot.

Much of the story is vague:
  • an absence of of dates and names,
  • no sources or documents cited,
  • no citation of any of the discussions in the peace and environmental movement about nuclear winter that are supposed to have taken place before before 1982,
  • no explanation about how these supposed discussions influenced Crutzen and Birks's researches into particulates from large fires,
  • no information whatever about the way in which Ambio was "targeted",
  • no identification of the allegedly fraudulent data in the Crutzen and Birks paper.
Most of the work leading up to the nuclear winter hypothesis was initiated in the West, mainly in the United States, and dates from the 1960s and 1970s. Kondratyev's work on dust storms was part of a joint US-Soviet project and was published in a refereed journal in the West in 1976. The key Russian research on nuclear winter by Golitsyin, Alexandrov and Stenchikov was started after the publication of the relevant edition of Ambio, and it was also published in refereed journals. The Crutzen and Birks paper in Ambio cites only research published in the West. At the time that the key TTAPS paper on nuclear winter was written, Soviet work on the topic lagged behind that in the West and Soviet interest in nuclear winter developed from their reading of Western papers, attendance at international conferences and a degree of Soviet-American scientific collaboration.

Motives

Tretkavov is wrong about the sequence of events leading to the development of the nuclear winter scenario, wrong about the work of Kondratyev, Golitsyin, Moiseyev and Alexandrov and wrong about Crutzen and Birks. He is the only source for the story and it has never been corroborated. It is impossible to investigate because Tretyakov does not give any sources.

There are several possible explanations for its inclusion in Tretyakov's narrative:

  • First, it could be true, but there is no evidence that it is. The supposedly bogus research cannot be identified apart from the Kondratyev paper, which was openly published and which no-one other than Tretyakov has said is bogus. There was no reference to any such research either in peace movement discussions, in Ambio or in anything Sagan wrote or said. If this KGB disinformation ever existed, it seems to have vanished without trace. The probability is that it never existed.

  • Second, it could have been made up by the CIA, who fed Tretyakov to Earley, in order to discredit the peace movement. This is unlikely for two reasons. One, by the time the story broke in 2008, nuclear winter was old hat, the Cold War was over and the peace movement of the early 1980s was no longer important. Two, the CIA, in a paper published under FoI, are now known to contradict Tretyakov and to say that Soviet research into nuclear winter did not start until 1983.

  • Third, it could have been put together by Tretyakov to ingratiate himself with the CIA. In view of the above, this is also unlikely. Tretyakov was a highly valued and well-paid defector and had no need to impress the CIA by making anything up.

  • The fourth possibility is that the story began as empty boasting by an ex-colleague of Tretyakov's, that Tretyakov or his informant muddled the Soviet research on climatic modelling, dust storms and the aftermath of nuclear war and sexed up his account for Earley, and that Earley accepted it as a good story without critical examination. This is the only credible explanation. Tretyakov says he was told the story by an ex-KGB agent and that he read about the operation in the Red Banner Institute.  It would be interesting to see what documents he read in the Red Banner Institute but he does not identify them and he is now dead. Until they are produced one can only conclude that the story was a fabrication.

Finally, it is important to note that most of Earley's account doesn't come from Tretyakov at all and isn't about the supposed KGB fraud. It's about Carl Sagan, whom Earley singles out for special attack, quoting only critics of the nuclear winter hypothesis and not the scientists who support it. Most of Earley's account is lifted from "The Scandal of Nuclear Winter" by Brad Sparks (National Review, November 15, 1985), and "The Melting of "Nuclear Winter" by Russell Seitz (Wall Street Journal, December 12, 1986).

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Monday, 3 December 2012

THE MYTH OF THE WITCH'S FOOT: HOW THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY CREATED A HOAX ABOUT THE PEACE SIGN

The peace sign (above) is so widespread that it's easy to forget that someone designed it once. The designer was Gerald Holtom, who made it for the British anti-nuclear group, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958. It spread rapidly and was adopted by peace groups all over the world. By end of the 1960s it was universal, crossing national and cultural boundaries.

But there are strange rumors about it. They say it's not a peace sign at all, that it's got something to do with with Communism, Satanism, the Nazis and the Illuminati. All over the web you will find it stated as fact that the peace sign is "really" a Satanic symbol, "really" a badge of the anti-Christ, "really" a broken cross, "really" a Nazi symbol, or a crow's foot or a witch's foot - everything, in  fact, but a peace symbol.

Where do these rumors come from?  After all, the fact that Gerald Holtom designed it for the CND is well established. So are any of the rumors true?  More to the point, who started them, and why?

In this blog I show how the idea of a satanic meaning of the peace symbol was a hoax created and carefully spread by a group of ultra-conservative Christians. The prime mover was David E. Gumaer, a right-wing, anti-Semitic extremist. His accomplices were Billy James Hargis, an evangelical preacher, Marjorie Jensen, a housewife, and Scott Stanley, editor of American Opinion magazine. They were all members of the John Birch Society, which worked energetically on promoting the hoax between 1968 and 1971. Their work was so effective that it now circulates as internet junk.

What you will read here is the first complete account of how the hoax was created, the people behind it a dissection of all the falsehoods it contains.

Billy James Hargis

Billy James Hargis
By the late 1960s, with the USA deeply involved in the Vietnam War, and active protests for withdrawal at home, the peace sign became controversial. It was worn by hippies, opponents of the Vietnam War, draft dodgers and even by troops in Vietnam. Officials banned it from schools and other public places and there was anger over its superimposition on the American flag. It became a flash point between doves and hawks, between youth and the older generation.

At that point the John Birch Society published an attack on the peace symbol in its June 1970 issue of American Opinion, calling the symbol the witch's foot or crow's foot. That article, Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs, has been identified as the source of all these ideas about Communist and Nazi origins, anti-Christian meanings, witch's foot and crow's foot. But it was not the first such article.

On 8 May 1968 the Pasadena Star-News printed a reader's question innocently asking, "What does the 'peace' symbol mean? That is, what is the significance of the design? I've asked people and tried to look it up in reference books in the library, but I've had no success whatsoever."' The newspaper replied: "Some very similar symbols go back hundreds years, but the peace symbol you see so often today was originated by Bertrand Russell 10 years ago. It is now frequently used to symbolize opposition to all forms of warfare, but its original, meaning was 'complete nuclear disarmament'. The outer circle, therefore, symbolises the whole world and the interior design is a combination of the semaphore signals for D (a vertical line) and N (an inverted 'V'). In the past, a very similar inverted cross was known to represent Peter hanging upside down on the cross. When that symbol was placed on the door, it was a sign to persecuted Christians that there would be church services in that home."

This was a  mixture of fact and speculation. Betrand Russell, the famous philosopher and peace activist, then 96 years old, was one of the founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but he didn't design the peace symbol. The connection with St Peter is conjecture without foundation. This question and answer appears to have sown the seed of ideas about the broken cross and the witch's foot. Pasadena, as we will see, was the center and the well-spring of the hoax.

The start of the hoax in Free Enterprise magazine, by Billy James Hargis

Two months later an obscure newsletter, Free Enterprise, published an article (above) that called the peace symbol the Broken Cross of the anti-Christ spread by godless Communists. Free Enterprise was the organ of "We the People!" an ultra-conservative organisation led by Billy James Hargis. Hargis was a Christian fundamentalist who believed that world events were part of a cosmic struggle between Christ and Satan, in which the United States were on the side of Christ and the Communists on the side of Satan. Hargis, a member of the John Birch Society, believed that "The entire left-wing movement is of the devil." (Billy James Hargis, The Real Extremists:Far Left,The Christian Crusade, 1964) He was a successful propagandist and his conspiracy theories had a lasting influence on the Christian right. He was probably the author of this article and, if so, was the first person to say the peace symbol was the broken cross of the anti-Christ.

Marjorie Jensen

Later in 1968, Hargis's ideas were taken up by another member of the John Birch Society, Marjorie Jensen of Pasadena. Jensen was a middle class housewife who ran the Network of Patriotic Letter Writers from her home. The Network engaged in canvassing, phone calling, and letter writing. In 1968, it put out a pamphlet called Their Peace Sign that contained all of Hargis's myths about the broken cross and  added a new theme, the witch's foot. This combination proved to be a great success and the theme of the witch's foot was to run through every subsequent version of the myth.

According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, Jensen's' pamphlet said the peace sign was common in the middle ages and was called the crow's foot or witch's foot. The pamphlet said "it was a symbol of the devil, with the cross reversed and broken." (Arizona Republic, January 13, 1969) Much of the pamphlet is copied word for word from Hargis's article, including his comments about Communists in the garment industry. An article about the pamphlet also appeared in Jensen's local paper, the Pasadena Star-News on 24 October 1968.

Jensen said her source for the witch's foot was The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch (1876-1934). Koch was a German typographer who collected old signs from carvings and manuscripts. His book, originally published in German in 1923, came out in English in 1955 and was instantly popular with artists and designers.

No sooner were Jensen's ideas published than people began to question them. Arizona Republic quoted the Rev. Charles Seller, Presbyterian chaplain at Arizona State University, who said with more reason than Jensen that the peace sign "'was first used by persons demonstrating for peace in England in the late 1940s. That was the group led by Bertrand Russell.' Mr. Seller said the design comes from the semaphore signs for N and D meaning 'nuclear disarmament.' In semaphore, the sign for N is both arms down in an inverted V and the sign for D is one arm straight up and the other straight, down."

Curious readers went to The Book of Signs themselves to look for the peace symbol but were puzzled when they couldn't find it. On October 21, 1969, the Star-News printed a letter from Mrs V. W. Danville, who had checked The Book of Signs at her public library and found it said nothing about the peace sign. (I will say more about the book later and how Jensen lied about it.) The paper replied that that was because the peace symbol was designed not in the late 1940s but in 1958. They had consulted the American Friends Service Committee, who passed on a history of the peace sign from Peggy Duff, ex-general secretary of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. "The man who designed for the first Aldermaston March at Easter 1958," they wrote, was Gerald Holton [sic] an elderly designer in Twickenham, a London suburb." Holtom's symbol, they said, was based on the semaphore symbols for N and D representing nuclear disarmament; "the circle represented the unborn child and the broken cross the death of man again bringing the nuclear angle."

Spread through the US press

Throughout 1969, members of the John Birch Society placed articles and letters in American newspapers across the country about the broken cross and the anti-Christ. The Beaver County Times published a letter on 21 November 1969, headed '"Peace Symbol" Perversion of Christian Cross', from Grace Maire, which said, "The 'peace cross' has been adopted by many youth organisations on orders from the Communist party. Many American are familiar with this symbol but are not aware of its history. In fact, its origins reach back to the Middle Ages, when it was embraced by Satanists as their symbol. In the Dark Ages, it was known as the 'Witch's Foot'. It was never associated with 'peace'. The Christian Cross is inverted, its crossbar 'arms' are 'broken' downwards, signifying Satan's contempt for Christian concepts." This claim was repeated word for word in other publications, indicating that it came from a single source, probably the John Birch Society.

Beaver County Times, 21 November 1969

The Patriotic Letter Writers were joined by the Gospel Tract Society who published Peace Symbol: The Mark of the Traitor in similar terms. By May 1970 the Christian Century newspaper felt obliged to write an editorial saying, "people who don't like peace also don't like the peace symbol. That's the conclusion we have come to after months of reading explanations of the symbol's significance. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, atheists, liberals and fundamentalists who are antiwar wear it emblazoned on buttons or dangling from chains around their necks, while superhawk and rightist devise their own theories concerning what it represents." (13 May 1970. Quoted in "Peace Symbol 'Explanations' Touch Off A War Of Words", Ann Arbour News, 15 November 1971)

David E. Gumaer
In June 1970, the conspiracy theory moved up a notch. The John Birch Society published Peace Symbols: The Truth About Those Strange Designs in its national journal American Opinion, repeating and elaborating the ideas of Billy James Hargis and Marjorie Jensen. It was written by one of their staffers, David E.Gumaer.

Gumaer's article is remarkable for its detail, its breadth and the range of his sources. Its theories are bizarre (Gumaer had a preoccupation with witchcraft and Satanism), but it has the apparatus of an academic text. Gumaer had obviously done great deal of research, building Hargis's and Jensen's brief articles into an apparently authoritative account. But the article is tendentious and muddled and  it uses "proof by intimidation", browbeating readers with citations of learned and obscure books that they have never heard of and that they can't contest. Some of the books prove not to say what Gumaer says they say, some of them are made up and some of his evidence is actually forged.

Gumaer, who has a police record for battery, tax evasion and trespass, was described by the FBI as “a right-wing, anti-Semitic extremist”  when they observed his John Birch Society speaking tour of 1970-71. His speeches “were generally of an alarmist nature, intended to arouse the wrath of conservative America.” By 1985 he had gone beyond pamphleteering and making speeches and was described as "armed and dangerous" by the FBI’s domestic terrorism unit.

In Peace Symbols Gumaer wrote that "Far from being a modern design, the symbol which [Bertrand] Russell adopted as the Communists' insignia for peace dates back many centuries in the history of anti-Christian activity." According to Gumaer, the peace sign was a Satanic symbol adapted by the Roman Emperor Nero from the cross of St Peter, then carried by the troops of Titus in the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD and by the Saracens invading Spain in the 8th century. He gives the sign many names: Nero cross, sign of the broken Jew, broken cross, witch's foot, crow's foot, Drudenfuss, the man dies and the Todesrune. His article includes a drawing of the Devil, supposedly done in the 16th-century, in which "the eyes of the demon are exactly like the peace symbol being promoted by the Reds." According to Gumaer, the sign was used by both Communists and Nazis,who, in the John Birch Society ideology, are indistinguishable. In fact, according to Gumaer, the peace sign is everything but a peace sign."I admit that this business is weird,' wrote Gumaer."But it does explain the comments in the Establishment press about a resurgence of satanism, and the proliferation of black magic shops in areas where leftist students and radicals gather. The revolutionaries are pushing this business like there's no tomorrow. And those peace symbols are a part of it. They are symbols of the anti-Christ!"

Gumaer makes much of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was supposed to have made the peace sign. Russell, he said, was an atheist and a Communist. Russell was indeed an atheist. He had flirted with communism in the 1920s but by the time of the H-bomb he was an anti-communist. Although was a leading member of CND, he had nothing to do with the design of the peace symbol. The idea that he did is faintly ridiculous - he was so impractical that he could hardly make a cup of tea.

Every claim about the Nero cross, the witch's foot, the broken cross and the like can be traced directly to the American Opinion article. I have spent a long time researching this and I have not found a single document referring to the Nero Cross before 1970 or the peace sign as a "witch's foot" before 1968. It was in that period that the Birchers launched their hoax.

Those claims have been repeated like Chinese whispers and their origins are forgotten. Nearly everything Hargis, Jensen and Gumaer said was nonsense, but sheer repetition has persuaded some people that it must be true, illustrating the adage that a lie can travel half way round the world before truth has put its shoes on.

From 1968 to 1971 the John Birch Society actively pushed the story. According to Scott Stanley, American Opinion had about 50,000 subscribers, but two months after Gumaer's article came out they had about 200,000 requests for reprints. (New York Times, 2 August 1970) The Birchers then promoted their hoax in the press, using front organisations and individual supporters.

An advert by the "Concerned Americans Information Service" appeared in the Bridgeport Post on 15 June 1970, asking,

WHICH WAY AMERICA?
CHRIST WORSHIP - OR - THE WITCH'S FOOT - SATAN WORSHIP

"On your right" it said, "is the very well known so called 'peace' symbol. Many Americans are very familiar with it. But what most of them do not know, is that it was called the Witch's foot in the middle ages, and it is a common symbol of the Devil, and Satan Worship, with the cross reversed and broken. … To this very day the inverted broken cross – (identical to the socialists' 'peace' symbol) – is known in Germany as 'todesrune', or death rune. Not only was it ordered by Hitler's National socialists that it must appear on German death notices, but it was part of the official inscription prescribed for the gravestones of Nazi officers of the dread SS."


Advert in the Bridgeport Post (15 June 1969) and the Bridgeport Telegram (26 June 1969)

Through the activities of John Birch Society members the hoax found its way into letters pages across the country. Dayton Carr wrote to the Grant County Press (Petersburg, West Virginia) on June 17, 1970 about the peace symbol. "Lord Russell was an active anti-christ and … both he and his wife were members of the Fabians Society, a secret fellowship of wealthy Marxists bound to work for ultimate victory of International socialism. … As an anti christian, Lord Russell was thoroughly familiar with classical symbology who definitely knew, what he was doing by choosing a classical anti-christ design long ago associated with Satanism. … The Encyclopaedia Britannica states 'the origin of the Nero Cross should be known to all Christian and was designed for Nero, a Pagan Emperor of Rome, not for love and brotherhood, but in pianistic hatred and derision for those who loved their God and Saviour Jesus Christ'". This illiterate gibberish was cobbled together from American Opinion without acknowledgement and, needless to say, the quotation is not from Encyclopedia Britannica, which says nothing of the kind, but from the John Birch Society.

Gumaer invents a Nazi connection

Gumaer was at pains to prove that the peace sign was used by the Nazis and that the peace movement took it from them. It was quite a smart move to smear peaceniks by associating them with the Nazis - but it was a total fabrication.

Gumaer cites a book called the Handbuch der Heroldkunst, by Bernard Koerner, written in 1923, which is supposed to show that the peace sign is in reality a black magic death rune. I have not seen a copy of the book and so I can't say what is in it, but it is a book about heraldry, and on Gumaer's record I suspect it shows nothing of the kind. I challenge anyone to show the peace sign in it.

Handbuch der Heroldkunst.Where is the peace sign?

Gumaer  genuinely believed in the reality of occult powers and that symbols could call them up. But runes are just letters in the old German alphabet and have no more power than the letters A, B and C. A few 20th century Germans invented an occult meaning for them. Koerner was one of them, Karl Maria Wiligut and Guido von List were others. Koerner and von List were members of the Nazi party, Wiligut and von List and were unbalanced into the bargain. The trio's writings persuaded Himmler to adopt the runes for use in Nazi Germany. The "death rune" was simply a fantasy by mentally disturbed Nazis and any serious linguist will tell you it has no connection with real ancient German runes.

Be that as it may, the John Birch Society deliberately spread a rumor about the supposed Nazi origins of the peace sign and how it was really the so-called "death rune". They placed the smear in the newsletter of the National Republican Congressional Committee.  On its question page (28 September 1970) "A.H." of Chicago asked if it was true that Adolf Hitler had used the peace symbol. "True" replied the editor, showing a Nazi poster of 1942 with a rune symbol in a wreath, looking rather like the peace sign. This anonymous A.H. of Chicago, who in an obvious joke chose initials that stood for "Adolf Hitler", was clearly a well-briefed member of the John Birch Society.

The rumor was promoted by fringe publications and it now circulates as internet junk. Hard on the heels of the John Birch Society article came Wehrmacht Divisional Signs, showing the peace sign as Wehrmacht symbol. It is just a drawing. There is no photo of this symbol in use and the book cites no source. The author, Theodor Hartmann, is unknown apart from this publication and is probably a pseudonym.The publisher, Almark, was based over a dry cleaner's shop in north London, produced a few books on military history and then disappeared.

Wehrmacht Divisional Signs, by Theodor Hartman (1970). You can draw anything you like.
Sceptical reactions

In August 1970, Linda Green reported in the New York Times that an American Legion group had distributed a pamphlet saying, "'The Communists have infiltrated the garment industry and you find the broken cross embroidered on packets and other garments for the casual American to wear.' It also contained a statement from Michael Wurmbrand, identified only as 'formerly of Rumania,' that the peace symbol 'was called the "witch's foot" in the Middle Ages, and it was a common symbol of the devil, with the cross reversed and broken.'" Like other journalists, Linda Green tried to find out the source of these claims and she spoke to Elvin Laudeman, an American Legion commander, who acknowledged that his group had prepared the flyer and distributed it around the country. "'We're just trying to get some of this stuff out of the bag about Communist inspired organizations,' Mr. Laudeman said. He said the information had come from 'mailings,' but that he did not know the specific origin of any of the ideas." The so-called "mailings" were a cyclostyled pamphlet (see below) that was being distributed at fundamentalist churches by members of the John Birch Society.


The John Birch Society promote the hoax in a pamphlet.  This one was distributed in South Dakota.

Green reported that these ideas had begun to worry both Christians and Jews. Israel H. Moss, of the Anti-Defamation League, said "I see this as an effort to label the entire peace movement as Communist." He said it was easy to pick out anti-Semitic inferences in the material, citing reference in the American Legion literature to the garment industry, which is generally identified with Jews. Anti-Semitism has been a theme of theme of the Bircher's campaign from the start - the "garment industry" was brought into it by Hargis, and Gumaer was a known anti-Semite.

In November 1970 Time Magazine reported the Gumaer article - "American Opinion magazine, published by John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch, compared the familiar peace symbol to an anti-Christian "broken cross" carried by the Moors when they invaded Spain in the 8th century" - and the article in the GOP Newsletter. "Some experts say the symbol was a letter in an ancient Nordic alphabet," reported Time, "Any resemblance, however, is probably coincidental. The peace design was devised in Britain for the first Ban-the-Bomb Aldermaston march in 1958. The lines inside the circle stand for 'nuclear disarmament'."

 By 1971, the controversy had become well known and several papers devoted features to it. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette had displayed a peace sign in one of its articles and was surprised by the huge response it provoked. "Response to features in The Press are not unusual," it reported," but it is rare that so much printed material from throughout the United States was sent along. The literature was interesting in that so much of it was so similar (reprints, copies, direct quotations, illustrations, etc.) and so much of it was concerned with symbolism." Much of it seemed to have been drawn from the article in American Opinion, said the Post Gazette.

The Ann Arbour News turned to the subject of the peace sign in 1971 after a uniformed county sheriff's deputy passed out cards explaining the "real" meaning of the peace symbol at a local service station. According to the deputy's card, the peace symbol is "'the Christian cross perverted, with the cross bars broken down to signify Satan's contempt for Christian principles.' The deputy's reputed source? The 'New Yorker' magazine. But librarians at the University of Michigan and Ann Arbour Public Library dispute this, and say research shows the 'New Yorker' never printed such an explanation of the peace symbol." The words on the sheriff's card are almost identical to those of Grace Maire's in the The Beaver County Times: "The Christian Cross is inverted, its crossbar 'arms' are 'broken' downwards, signifying Satan's contempt for Christian concepts," again indicating a single source for all these documents.

Ann Arbour News spoke to Mary Jo Lynch of the University of Massachusetts Library who "has done a considerable amount of research on the peace symbol over the past couple of years". Ms Lynch had written about the controversy in the RQ library journal, summer 1971.  She told Ann Arbour News what every rational person knew: "The symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom in London in 1958 for an Easter march of the campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The meaning of the symbol, according to the general secretary of the International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace in London, is twofold: 'First, it represents the semaphore letters ND, standing for nuclear disarmament. Secondly, the broken cross represents the death of man and the circle the unborn child. This is a reference to the genetic effect of nuclear weapons.'" The general secretary of the International Conference for Disarmament and Peace was Peggy Duff, who had been general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament between 1958 and 1965. On a speaking tour of the USA in 1971, she explained the meaning of the symbol. The Eugene Register-Guard reported her explanation: "It's not a dove's track; it's not a symbol for satan," she said.

Eugene Register-Guard, 12 February 1971

There were similar articles in other papers. By the end of 1971 the press was getting bored and few articles appeared from then on. But by now the hoax was an established myth, circulating underground and latterly spreading across the internet.

Gumaer's twisted logic

Gumaer claimed that the peace symbol represented "a Satanic Medieval symbol shown on Page 83 of the authoritative Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch". Most of the claims about the Satanic origins of the peace sign and the witch's foot are based on Koch's book, The Book of Signs. It's cheap and readily available. Anyone who has a copy can easily find out for themselves that in the entire book there is not a single word about Satan or Satanism.
Koch's house mark called "the Crow's foot or witch's foot"

What did Koch actually say? His book has a chapter about old house marks, which people used to label buildings at a time when few could read. "House marks," he said, "were, at first, private signs of peasant proprietors, and their use was originally confined to their holdings, all moveable property upon which was distinguished by the holdings-mark." Later "they were used as trade-marks and the marks of craftsmen and artists." No-one is quite sure what these old marks mean and the names they have been given are recent. Koch showed an anchor, a carpenter's square and a pot-hanger, and a sign like a bird's foot that he calls "The Crow's foot or witch's foot" (pictured). He does not say it is anything to do with the devil, who is not mentioned once in the book, nor that it has anything to do with the Anti-Christ, nor that it had anything more to do with religion than the anchor sign. The idea that it did is sheer invention by Jensen, spread by Gumaer.

The pentalpha. This way up it's supposed to be good, the other way up, bad

In Gumaer's hands the idea of the"witch's foot" became utterly confused. Gumaer says that the pentalpha symbol (pictured) was also called the witch's foot and that it was thought to be a protection against demons. Then he says that in Masonic literature the pentalpha turned up the other way was the sign of Satan. Then he says the peace sign is a witch's foot and the also the sign of Satan. Gumaer's twisted argument goes like this:

(1) A bit of the peace symbol looks like a medieval house mark that a modern writer calls "the witch's foot".
(2) A five-pointed star is also called "the witch's foot"
(3) Freemasons sometimes say the five-pointed star is Satanic
(4) So the peace sign is Satanic.

Using this slippery logic it's possible to prove that black is white: black is called "a color", white is called "a color", therefore black is really white.

Koch's "broken, or chevron Cross"

Right at the start of all this nonsense, way back in 1968, Hargis called the peace sign "the broken cross". Koch did indeed show a symbol he called "The broken, or chevron Cross" in his book (pictured), but funnily enough Hargis, Jensen and Gumaer never mention it. As they are so interested in the broken cross you would have thought they'd jump on it. Even though they combed through The Book of Signs to confirm their theories about the peace sign they passed over the broken cross in silence. And while the witch's foot has been reproduced thousands of times, Koch's broken cross has been totally ignored and you will search in vain for any reference to it outside The Book of Signs. Why might that be? The reason is obvious: the broken cross looks a lot like the Christian cross and nothing like the peace sign. It didn't' support their story, so they ignored it.

Bogus scholarship

To back up his ideas about the crow's foot, the witch's foot and the broken cross, Gumaer refers his readers to several learned volumes. "Confirmation of this appears in such rare but authoritative volumes as the Grimorium Verum," he says, "the Grand Grimoire and in a number of manuscripts attributed to Pope Honorius, a sorcerer of some reputation in the Middle Ages. Scholars seeking further verification should look to Sword of Moses … the Clavicule of Solomon and the Malleus Maleficarum … ." All very impressive. But the use of these obscure titles that hardly anyone has ever heard of and which in 1970 were almost impossible to track down is what's called "proof by intimidation". The reader thinks Gumaer is very clever and can't argue with him Now all these books are online and we can see for ourselves that they say nothing whatever about the peace sign or the witch's foot. I've been through them and you can do so yourself.  This is what I found.


  • Grimorium Verum Written in the 18th-century. It contains characters representing demons or spirits and characters for conjuration but nothing like the crow's foot/witch's foot.
  • The Grand Grimoire Possibly written after the 18th century. It may be a translation of The Sworn Book of Honorius, a 13th-century text. The British Museum catalog entry for The Sworn Book of Honorius says it contains "Pen-drawings of angels and spirits and marginal floral ornament". There is no mention of the crow's foot/witch's foot and no drawings resembling it.
  • The Sword of Moses An apocryphal Hebrew book of magic edited by Moses Gaster in 1896 from a 13th or 14th century manuscript. It has no drawings and doesn't mention the witch's foot.
  • Clavicle of Solomon  Probably Clavis Salomonis, a book of spells attributed to King Solomon but more likely to date from the 14th or 15th century. It contains occult drawings and symbols but not the crow's foot/witch's foot.
  • Malleus Maleficarum  A treatise on the prosecution of witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman. See the scanned text of an edition of 1580 or the text in English.There are no illustrations and there is no mention of the crow's foot/witch's foot.


Gumaer knew about these volumes and knew that they were irrelevant to his theories about the peace sign but he cited them regardless.

Forgeries by the John Birch Society 

 Bogus scholarship was not enough for Gumaer. He invented a non-existent book and forged two pictures as well.

Gumaer's forgery (left), supposed to be a 16th century woodcut, and and a genuine 16th century woodcut (right)

The first forgery (above) is a drawing of Satan with eyes like the peace sign and peace signs on his wings. Gumaer says it is a woodcut by the Scottish Reformer John Knox (1514-1572) and that he found it in Symbol of the Anti-God by the Marquis de Concressault, Sovereign Grand Chancellor of the Celtic Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (Brittany Press, Nantes, 1969). The original of the woodcut is supposed to be in the Museum of Witchcraft in Bayonne. According to Gumaer, Knox said the peace sign was "the mark of the beast".

Just how rubbish can you get into a small space?  Gumaer got in a lot.  Every word of this is rubbish.
  • The picture has been drawn with a pen or brush and is not a woodcut, and certainly not a 16th century woodcut. It was probably made in the offices of American Opinion.
  • To Knox the mark of the beast included "crossing in baptism, kneeling at the Lord's table, mumbling or singing the litany" (Letter to Mrs Anna Locke, 1556), but not the peace sign.
  • There is no such book as Symbol of the Anti-God. It cannot be found in the Library of Congress, the Bibliothèque Nationale Française or the British Library either in English or French and it is Gumaer's invention.
  • There is no such order as the "Celtic Knights of the Holy Sepulchre" and no office of "Sovereign Grand Chancellor". There is a Roman Catholic body called The Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Its Grand Master in 1969 was Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, not the "Marquis de Concressault". The order in England and Wales is called the Lieutenancy of England and Wales of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre.
    • There has never been any such title as "Marquis de Concressault". John Stewart of Darnley (1380-1429), an ancestor of the Earls of Lennox, was made Lord of Concressault, but the title is extinct.
    • There is no such publisher as "Brittany Press". Les Editions Bretagne Midi publishes statistics and official documents and Editions Bretagne publishes art prints, but "Brittany Press" is an invention.
    • Bayonne is a small town in south west France.  It is richly endowed with museums - it has a Basque Museum, a Museum of Natural history and museum devoted to the painter Léon Bonnat, but no museum of witchcraft.
    Gumaer's method was to fabricate falsehoods so complex and full of incidental details that readers assume they must be true. But a little fact checking demonstrates their falsehood.


    Gumaer's forgery (left), supposed to date from the fifth century, and a genuine illustration from a chronicle written in Alexandria in the early fifth century (right)

    The second forgery (above) is a supposed "crude Fifth Century illustration" of St. Peter on a cross that looks a bit like the peace sign. There do indeed exist 5th century manuscripts containing illustrations (above right) but this looks nothing like them. Gumaer gives no source for his picture. It is certainly not a "crude Fifth Century illustration", it is a crude forgery.

    Gumaer says that the cross of St. Peter was also called the Nero cross and the "sign of the Broken Jew". When? He makes several assertions about historical uses of the  phrase "Nero cross" but doesn't provide any evidence that it was used before he put it in his article in 1970. His only citation  is a book by a 17th century witch finder Francesco Maria Guazzo, the Compendium Maleficarum. The text is available: it doesn't mention the Nero cross at all. The Nero cross was invented by Gumaer.

    Scott Stanley admits the hoax!

    Gumaer's medieval tomes said nothing about the "witch's foot". The Book of Signs said it was a house mark and had nothing to do with either Satan or the peace sign. The "death rune" was a Nazi invention and had nothing to do with the peace sign either. The "Nero cross" and the "cross of the broken Jew" were invented by Gumaer and Scott Stanley in the office of the John Birch Society in 1970.

    Stanley told Linda Green of the New York Times that the staff "had fun" with the article - which is a way of admitting that they made it up. The John Birch Society invented the whole thing, carefully spread the hoax through front organisations and fooled people who were taken in by Gumaer's fake learning and his forgeries. So much of the so-called "evidence" put forward by American Opinion is twisted, irrelevant, incorrect or false that it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that it was a fabrication designed to discredit the peace movement.

    Thanks to Ken Kolsbun for original documents. Kolsbun's book Peace: The biography of a symbol (Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4262-0294-0) tells how it was designed and how it's been used over the past fifty years.