(Article by Kit Klanberg and Max Bluementhal republished from TheGrayzone.com)
Leaked documents have revealed a state-sponsored influence operation designed to undermine critics of the British government’s coronavirus policies by astroturfing a prominent founder of the BreadTube clique of “anti-fascist” YouTube influencers.
The project aims to conduct psychological profiling on British citizens dissenting against policies such as mandatory vaccination and lockdowns, then leverage the data to establish a YouTube channel that portrays these critics as dangerous “superspreaders” of “disinformation.”
Designed “to curb the influence of pseudoscience material online, with specific emphasis on Coronavirus-related ‘anti-vaxxing’ sentiment,” the operation is run by the UK’s Royal Institution, and dubbed “Challenging Pseudoscience.”
Its top patron is Charles, the Prince of Wales, next in line to the British throne, who recently hit out at supposed “conspiracy theories” surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. The organization received a substantial cash injection in 2020 from the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund earmarked for video production.
Leaked files obtained by The Grayzone indicate that the Royal Institution has enlisted the services of Valent Projects, a “social change” communications firm founded by a public relations operative previously involved in the UK Foreign Office’s campaign for violent regime change in Syria. Valent has also been sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US intelligence cut-out, for a project aimed at “investigating disinformation.”
Valent’s central role in the operation highlights the trend of information warfare specialists bringing the techniques they honed against targets like the Syrian government back home to the West, where increasingly unpopular governments confront masses of citizens ever-bristling at coronavirus restrictions.
As in Syria, where communications firms like Valent created, trained and instrumentalized media organizations to further regime change objectives, they have covertly recruited a famed British YouTube influencer to lend their carefully calculated messaging campaign an authentic flavor.
According to internal documents, Valent plans to design a “mass appeal social media campaign fronted and owned by prominent social media figure Abigail Thorn,” the founder of Philosophy Tube. Valent’s research on British citizens who reject official policy on COVID-19 “will be used to devise a campaign that utilises YouTuber Abigail Thorn’s existing platform to achieve a measurable cognitive shift in the target audience,” the files state.
Boasting over one million subscribers to her YouTube channel and more than 7000 Patreon supporters, Thorn has established a potent vehicle for any communications campaign. She is also a core member of BreadTube, an assortment of left-branded social media influencers that has attracted intense establishment interest for its purported ability “to pop YouTube’s political bubbles to create space for deradicalisation.”
While top BreadTubers are best known for employing memes and theatrical ploys to counter right-wing narratives, they have also dedicated intense energy to attacking the anti-imperialist left as “tankies” engaged in a secret “red-brown alliance” with right-wing extremists.
In his book, “BreadTube Serves Imperialism: Examining the New Brand of Internet Pseudo-Socialism,” socialist organizer Caleb Maupin likened BreadTube to the “counter-gangs” deployed by British and US intelligence to infiltrate and dismantle insurgent forces from Kenya to Southeast Asia.
BreadTube “speaks in the name of left-wing sounding ideals. In reality, it is likely serving one section of the American ruling elite and the intelligence agencies,” Maupin wrote.
The covert relationship between BreadTube’s Abigail Thorn, Valent Projects, and the Royal Institute appears to validate Maupin’s thesis.
“It does not surprise me at all to find out there is documented evidence that the British Royal Family and an intelligence contractor is bankrolling the work of Abigail Thorn,” Maupin told The Grayzone. “It lines up with everything I have observed about her and the BreadTube trend overall.”
Maupin continued, “BreadTube’s ‘socialism’ is not really socialism, it is mobilizing young liberals to keep dissident elements in line. It’s securing the rule of British and American corporations over the planet by trying to silence those who get in its way.”
Since launching Philosophy Tube in 2013, Abigail Thorn’s YouTube channel boasts over 7000 paying Patreon fans and well over one million YouTube subscribers. By probing complex philosophical and political issues in a highly accessible, engaging manner and deploying elaborate, artisanal audio and visual effects, she has emerged as a social media celebrity. A lengthy profile video produced by the BBC refers to her as “one of the most high-profile transgender figures in the UK.”
Thorn is among the most prominent figures within the loosely knit collective of YouTube influencers known as BreadTube. Inspired by the title of anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s tract, The Conquest of Bread, BreadTube advances a hyper-identitarian, imperialism-friendly interpretation of socialist politics that has earned its creators enthusiastic promotion from establishment interests.
The New York Times, for example, published a lengthy 2019 profile of a young man named Caleb Cain who supposedly “fell down the alt-right rabbit hole” on YouTube. Cain claimed he was de-radicalized through exposure to videos by Thorn and other popular BreadTubers like Natalie Wynn of Contrapoints. During the Trump era, as the Google-owned YouTube implemented a raft of stringent speech codes, it began amplifying BreadTube influencers through its algorithm.
Other popular BreadTube figures include Vaush, a video gamer from Beverly Hills, California named Ian Koshinski. Known for his superficial understanding of Marxism, crude invective against Trump supporters (“they disappear, or we all do”), female high school athletes (“sorry you fucking suck, dumb bitch”), and imprisoned journalist Julian Assange (“I want Assange to die in a CIA black site just because it would trigger all the worst people on Twitter”), the self-described “libertarian socialist” has earned the moniker “Vaush Limbaugh” from his critics.
— Properganda Live (@QuinnPetersen14) December 13, 2021
Then there is Shaun, a British BreadTuber whose recent attack on left-wing political comedian Jimmy Dore’s criticisms of government Covid restrictions contained echoes of the “Challenging Pseudoscience” project prepared for Thorn by intelligence-related outfits. Shaun’s arguments relied heavily on statements by official experts and US government bodies like the FDA and CDC. While Dore has been limited by YouTube’s sweeping speech codes, Shaun’s viral video appears to have benefited from an algorithmic boost.
“All the key signs of infiltration are there,” Caleb Maupin said of BreadTube. “Since when does US mainstream media highlight the work of Marxist revolutionaries? Why are people who seem so unfamiliar with basic elements of socialist ideology suddenly elevated to the position of respected experts by the algorithms? Why do their foreign policy views seem to line up so closely with the US State Department? I have had no doubt they were being covertly supported by powerful entities with goals other than overthrowing capitalism.”
Unlike some fellow BreadTubers, Thorn comes across as amiable and trustworthy, fostering a personal bond with her viewers and regularly publishing thank you notes to patrons, listing them each by name. These qualities have attracted support for Philosophy Tube by both public and private backers.
Thorn’s April 2021 dismantling of the politics of right-wing culture warrior Jordan Peterson has racked up almost two million views and was sponsored by Curiosity Stream, a US media streaming service. The video opens with a black screen disclosing the support provided by the company and claiming Thorn would donate her fee to the feminist campaign group, Sisters Uncut. The video is also emblazoned with YouTube’s “paid promotion” logo.
Yet no such disclaimer referring to support from the Royal Institution can be found on any of her other uploads. And that may be because the Covid campaign was intended to be covert.
The “Challenging Pseudoscience” operation designed for Thorn was launched in February 2021 by liberal science journalist Angela Saini. The author of several popular titles and a forthcoming book on “the origins of patriarchy,” she is also part of The Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s Task Force on Global Health Diplomacy.
The commission’s chief, Peter Daszak, a zoologist who serves as president of the US-based NGO known as EcoHealth Alliance, was forced to resign in June over conflict of interest issues.
In the years leading up to the outbreak of Covid-19, Daszak worked extensively on bat coronaviruses and gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. His organization received tens of millions in funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a division “[countering] weapons of mass destruction and improvised threat networks.” In December 2019, Daszak warned that coronaviruses can “get into human cells,” one can “manipulate them in the lab pretty easily,” and “you can’t vaccinate against them.”
The host of Saini’s project, the Royal Institute, was founded in 1799 by British scientists of the day “with the aim of introducing new technologies and teaching science to the general public.” Landed gentry and royalty have always occupied the Institution’s highest levels. Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, Field Marshal Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, has served as president since 1976.
The files indicate that the Royal Institution enlisted the services of Valent Projects, a communications firm “[working] with clients in the UK and all over the world to counter disinformation and strengthen the bonds between people.”
Valent was founded by Amil Khan, a former Reuters and BBC reporter who officially left journalism “to help good causes navigate the new information landscape.”
From February, Valent Projects proposed a “two-phase” project to “develop an understanding of the psychological drivers behind the generation and spread of anti-vaxxer narratives.” It planned to exploit this data “to develop and test public messaging responses.”
The findings would “inform other programming by Challenging Pseudoscience…as well as other stakeholders including the science community and concerned governments and public health bodies.”
In the campaign’s first phase, extensive online interviews were to be conducted, along with “ethnographic research” to secure “comprehensive understanding of the key online audiences driving anti-vaxxing mis/disinformation around the Coronavirus pandemic.”
Valent Projects then planned to “draw together insights” from these findings, developing “comprehensive audience profiles” – including “demographic information” – to design a “mass appeal social media campaign fronted and owned by prominent social media figure Abigail Thorn,” who runs online channel Philosophy Tube.
Valent indicated its intent to exploit Philosophy Tube’s sizable platform to “achieve a measurable cognitive shift [emphasis added] in the target audience.”
Reaching the intended viewers was forecast to be a significant task in itself, however. Valent noted most Philosophy Tube viewers are within the 18 to 35 age range, but “existing research” suggested the “most prolific consumers of pseudoscience material” were over the age of 45.
The firm felt the “best topic to address this issue is probably along the lines of ‘the thing about expertise’ [sic].” Fittingly, in August 2020 Thorn uploaded a video, “Who’s afraid of the experts?” Featuring comedian Adam Conover of the popular show, “Adam Ruins Everything,” the 45 minute-long defense of the scientific consensus on the HIV/AIDS debate is the first result in any search for the term “vaccine” on Philosophy Tube’s channel.
The leaked documents thus expose what had long suspected by critics of BreadTube: the popular social media collective has been instrumentalized by powerful interests with connections to Western intelligence agencies.
Read more at: TheGrayzone.com