David Koch, Spiked logo and Mark Lynas

As green-hating mag’s dark money gets exposed, Lynas starts vigorous virtue signalling

The Guardian recently published an article by George Monbiot – "How US billionaires are fuelling the hard-right cause in Britain" – exposing how Spiked magazine’s US funding arm received $300,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation.

On the face of it Spiked might seem an unlikely recipient of the covert largesse of a right-wing oil and chemicals billionaire. After all, this online magazine is the derivative of a Trotskyist sect known as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). But bizarrely Koch’s libertarian opposition to government oversight of industry, and especially environmental regulation, actually accords with the anti-environmental free-market ideology that eventually emerged out of the now defunct RCP, with its supporters even comparing environmentalists to Nazis. That’s why Spiked is full of articles promoting GMOs, attacking organic farming, and denying climate change, as well as railing against “the green elite” and “the environmentalist enemy within”.

When George Monbiot's Koch/Spiked exposé got tweeted, it attracted an immediate response from Mark Lynas: “When I was editor of the Student newspaper in 1993 the university RCP tried to publish a denial of Serbian genocide in Bosnia. I refused to allow it. No surprise that RCP derivative Spiked is now a fake populist far-right mouthpiece.” And when someone suggested Spiked was only attracting criticism because of its stance on issues like GM, Lynas retorted: “Nonsense. I'm pro-GM and I still loathe Spiked”.

Mark Lynas tweet 12-12-2018

It’s good to know that just because the RCP/Spiked crew are as avidly pro-GM as he is, Lynas is still keen to keep his distance from the kind of people who whitewash genocide.

And that being so, one wonders whether Lynas expressed that same loathing to the director of the Science Media Centre, Fiona Fox, another former RCP-er, when he sat next to her on a panel last year. Given his strong concerns over the RCP’s vile propaganda over Bosnia, one might have thought he wouldn’t have wanted to share a platform with the person most associated with the group’s equally vile whitewashing of the Rwandan genocide. 

Fiona Fox’s article on Rwanda in Living Marxism – the RCP journal that was later called just ‘LM’ – led African Rights to complain: “Not only do you make an apologia for the genocide – the first to appear in print in a widely sold English language publication – but go so far as to question its very reality. This is not only an affront to the truth, in defiance of the fundamentals of humanity, but deeply offensive to the survivors of the third indisputable genocide of this century.”

One also wonders, given his loathing of Spiked, how Lynas managed to hold his nose when he sat on the Advisory Council of Sense About Science with Sir Colin Berry, who has not only written for Spiked, and spoken at its events, but is even a shareholder in the company that owns it.

But then if Lynas really objected to Berry’s Spiked connections, he wouldn’t have gone anywhere near Sense About Science in the first place, given that its director Tracey Brown is also, like Fiona Fox, part of what’s been dubbed the “LM network” that centres on Spiked, as is its former deputy director, Ellen Raphael, not to mention its long-time trustee, Michael Fitzpatrick. Even the domain name for the Sense About Science website was registered by Rob Lyons, the web master for Spiked, and previously its deputy editor as well as one of its most prolific contributors. Needless to say, Brown, Raphael, and Fitzpatrick have also all written for the magazine Lynas tells us he loathes.

And how ever did Lynas steel himself to put in an appearance at the Battle of Ideas? It’s well known that the Battle/Academy/Institute of Ideas are all offshoots of the RCP/LM network. Its “convenor” is Claire Fox, who is even better known than her sister Fiona for her RCP/LM connections. In fact, the Institute of Ideas and Spiked are so joined at the hip that they operated for years out of the same premises. The Battle of Ideas is a project of the Institute, and its website was registered by… you guessed it, Spiked’s former deputy editor, Rob Lyons. It is reckoned that at Battle of Ideas debates, “all of the sessions' chairs, around half of the speakers and most of those selected by the chair to contribute from the floor are LM associates”.

And how did Lynas fail to stop Novo magazine from publishing his speech in which he famously apologised for having previously opposed GM? That must have been an oversight because Novo is the German sister publication of Spiked. Novo features him on its website as one of its authors and helpfully includes a link to his book The God Species, which a review in Spiked says contains “much to agree with”.

Novo’s founder, incidentally, is Thomas Deichmann, who was also its editor-in-chief and publisher for many years. It was Deichmann’s effective whitewashing of the Trnopolje concentration camp, where Bosnian Muslims were beaten, tortured, raped and killed, that got Spiked’s predecessor LM sued out of existence. Deichmann even appeared in The Hague as a defence witness for Duško Tadić who, despite his testimony, was convicted of crimes against humanity. Having failed to defend Serb atrocities, Novo's founder subsequently reinvented himself as an outspoken defender of all things GM.

Now I can hear Lynas’s defenders saying: “But hang on, Mark probably didn’t know that Novo was Spiked’s sister site, that Sense About Science was awash with their people, that the Battle of Ideas was a front of theirs, that Fiona Fox was a genocide denier…”

But there’s a problem with that argument, and the problem is George Monbiot.

Nobody has done more to expose this cultish political network than Monbiot. His dark money exposé is only the latest of many pieces he’s written over the last two decades about their personnel and activities. He’s also been widely quoted, referenced, interviewed, and otherwise drawn on, in other published pieces about them. As a result, a Google search on Monbiot + “Living Marxism” generates over 2000 results.

What’s that to do with Lynas? Well, Monbiot and Lynas have long been friends. An article in The Observer is one of several that describe Monbiot as one of the “close friends” who felt betrayed by Lynas’s remarkable about-face on a range of environmental issues.

So given that Lynas has been aware of the RCP since the early nineties, it seems almost inconceivable that he hasn’t read articles like Monbiot’s Invasion of the Entryists, which identifies Fiona Fox as both part of the RCP/LM network and a genocide denier, the Institute of Ideas as a direct RCP/LM derivative – like Spiked, and Sense About Science as having the kind of prolific RCP/LM connections detailed above.

Of course, however knowingly he has cooperated with those he supposedly loathes, Lynas would doubtless maintain that while the LM network’s avid support for GM crops comes out of its libertarian opposition to restrictions on science, technology and business, his change of heart on GM crops was, by contrast, a triumph of science over ideology.

But was it really? Not according to what Lynas confided in a talk he gave at Imperial College, where he admitted the technological approaches he now advocated were not based on science so much as  “my own politics and my own subjective judgements”. These, he told his audience, had become more “pragmatic”.

The nature of that pragmatism can be seen in what he told a Guardian journalist a year earlier, in 2011: “Is the green movement a left-wing, anti-capitalist movement? Mark Lynas believes it is, and that those who style themselves as greens should be marginalised and allowed to die off so that they can be replaced by a new breed of market-friendly environmentalists like him.”

And surely it is only ideology that can account for the bogus claims Lynas has used to attack the green movement. For instance, in 2010 Lynas fronted a Channel 4 documentary with Stewart Brand, What the Green Movement Got Wrong. Among other things, the programme promoted a claim in Brand's book that the environmental movement had obtained a global ban on DDT, leading to the deaths of millions from malaria. In the studio discussion that followed, George Monbiot pointed out that this was actually a myth circulated by corporate lobbyists to discredit environmentalists.

And this wasn’t the only bogus claim in the programme. It also implied children in Zambia had starved to death because of Zambia’s refusal of GM food aid from the US. Lynas has also promoted this idea elsewhere, even claiming that “thousands died” because of the opposition to GM encouraged by green groups. But according to Charles Mushitu of the Zambian Red Cross, “We didn't record a single death arising out of hunger.” Claims to the contrary were put in circulation by corporate lobbyists and are entirely without foundation.

Lynas has also claimed that environmental groups like Greenpeace have inflicted enormous harm by challenging GM golden rice. And he has even previously attributed tens of thousands of children's deaths to such NGO opposition, but this too is a complete myth.

Why mention all this? Because these portrayals of environmentalists as eco-imperialists responsible for killing large numbers of people in the developing world are precisely the kind of ideologically-driven myths that Spiked and its associates are notorious for promoting. In other words, as well as denying real atrocities they have a taste – like Lynas – for promoting fake ones. Just search on the Spiked website for “DDT”, “Zambia” or “golden rice”.

And Lynas is still at it. He has just been exposed for pulling a similar stunt in Tanzania, involving a series of deceptive tweets that have been slammed for exploiting African farmers’ images without their permission to promote GM maize as the solution to a production problem they don’t have – Tanzania actually has a surplus of maize, which is non-GMO. As part of this, he suggests that the farmers in question are in a dire predicament, when they aren’t, and that it is all the fault of green groups.

So it turns out that despite some very real differences between them – most obviously over climate change – both Lynas and Spiked are in the well-established business of attacking green groups with fact-free ideologically-driven myths.

All of which leaves Mark Lynas’s anti-Spiked tweets looking like a highly deceptive form of virtue signalling, aimed at distancing himself from a group of people who have often been his bedfellows, and some of whose disreputable tactics he himself employs.

Report: Jonathan Matthews

Image of David Koch by Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Image of Mark Lynas by zooterkin via Wikipedia Commons cc-by-sa-2.0