AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL ORGANISERS, ATTENDEES, OBJECTORS AND SUPPORTERS OF THE AWAKENING CONFERENCE

19th November 2021

Recently a petition requesting that the Town Council should not allow the Awakening Conference to take place in the Civic Hall which they administer arrived in my email. After researching a number of the speakers I felt sufficiently concerned to add my name to the petition.
I was not alone. As well as the petition, I know that the council phonelines were being overwhelmed by complaints and that some people had spoken with the police. However, in this letter I speak only for myself.

It was not a comfortable decision to sign and I felt conflicted about my belief in free speech. The consequence of the objections and subsequent cancellation of the venue booking has upset a lot of people who felt, understandably, that their right to free speech was being censored. To be clear, the petition asked that the Civic Hall should not be used, not that there should be any blanket ban on the conference happening anywhere else.

However, it has increased polarisation in an already polarising field. Some people have been spat at and pushed in the street for their objection and some have been vilified on social media. Or another way of looking at this is that some of the shadow has been brought to light.

Now, having spoken with two of the organisers and hearing their concerns, I decided to write this letter. I do not wish to amplify division and regret that this has been the consequence. But I do not withdraw my deep concerns and I would like to outline some of them here.

I know some of the organisers and many of those who will attend and I know that they are people of good heart. Many are my friends. And that is why I am writing this letter.

Speakers

A few of the speakers on the list were deeply troubling for me. Here’s who and why.

Patrick Henningsen
Browsing his 21stCenturyWire website I listened to him interview a holocaust revisionist, someone who was happy to assert that no one was gassed in the Nazi concentration camps. This view went unchallenged and, in fact, encouraged. Let’s be clear: the holocaust which saw the extermination of 6 million Jews and huge numbers of Roma, LGBQ, disabled and others offensive to the regime is one of the most thoroughly researched atrocities in mankind’s history.
It’s not the only place you will find provocative material about Jewish people. There is plenty in the unregulated forums on UK Column if you choose to go there, another site which Patrick Henningsen writes for.  I include a link to the interview here so you can make up your own mind.

If you are interested in researching the holocaust yourself you can find extensive original source material here and here

And if you are interested more generally in anti-semitism, here is a useful report from Hope not Hate who are passionate about combatting hatred of all kinds in our world

The government has handled the pandemic badly in my view and has rightfully lost a degree of trust.

More personally, whilst researching this, I was visited by the memory of my one time Hebrew teacher, Shoshana, a kind and humble woman whose wrist still bore the tattoo from her time in Auschwitz. We’ve been there before and we know what happens when we do not challenge the demonizing of a people wherever and in whatever form it raises its head.

Agenda 21 and Agenda 30. These theories are promoted by Sandi Adams primarily, by Henningsen and Gareth Icke and perhaps by others who I have not had time to research. They are also entrenched viewpoints within the conference organisers.

If you are already minded that way there’s probably not much I can say that will change your mind. However, if you are interested in finding out about the original Agenda 21 from which the theory takes its name, I invite you to read the original document and decide for yourself whether it is an agenda which should disturb us. It was published at the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a non-binding agreement which those of us active in environmental work at the time celebrated. It’s a bit of a dry read. Here it is

If you would rather read one person’s report who searched this document for evidence of the Agenda 21’s conspiracy theory’s claims you can do so here

Why am I bothered that people representing these worldviews are being given a platform at the conference? Because these theories are created and driven by ultraconservative groups and by the fossil fuel industry, picked up and amplified by some members of the Republican Party in the USA and further amplified by a whole host of people such as Sandi Adams. They serve a deep right wing agenda.

You don’t have to take my word for it. I’ve bothered to do the work and invite you to do the same. If you would like to research this yourself please check out the American Policy Center, John Birch Society, the Conservative Political Action Committee and Americans for Prosperity all of whom were early players in initiating this theory. They created the Agenda 21 theory specifically to drive opposition to renewable energy, immigration, climate change science, environmental regulation, affordable healthcare and whatever else offended their deep conservatism or threatened their privilege.

The question I ask is whose agenda does this theory serve. Who could possibly feel threatened by greater environmental regulation and protection and by any move to bring care of the planet into our collective decision making processes? It’s a rhetorical question.
Gareth Icke
Gareth Icke promotes the Agenda21/30 theory and gives a leg up to any theory about climate change which contradicts the established scientific consensus. Here’s my view on climate change denial:

What is happening to our beautiful planet breaks my heart on a daily basis. Sometimes the grief is so strong I am overwhelmed. For most of my adult life I have, in one way or another, been active in environmental movements as well as the hands on work of growing food. I am grateful to live in one of the most beautiful places in England, a gratitude tinged by the intense pain of knowing that across the earth species are going extinct at a phenomenal rate, that climatic changes are already devastating vast ecosystems, that there is an immense and growing tide of refugees who can no longer live in their own homelands.

At least three of the speakers at the conference promote a climate change denialist position on their outlets. It’s a position that should have become untenable years ago but it is still alive and kicking. Those not in full denial are shifting their arguments towards the unaffordability of action and peddling myths about how addressing the pressing issue of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is cover for damaging ordinary people’s lives and establishing totalitarian world control by a cabal of malevolent powers. Into the mix is thrown a good dose of people bashing, an attempt to demonise and discredit those who are on the frontline in calling for action. Any calls for a “new green deal” are framed as communist plots.

Reading this kind of ill-informed material is deeply distressing. But worse, it does harm. Because if you want to sabotage genuine attempts to deal with our existential crisis you have to come from an evidenced scientific understanding. We have that evidence, by the bucketful. The misinformation and distraction created by those who promote climate change denial or try to minimise its seriousness only serves those who want to resist taking action and condemns every living creature on the planet to a bleaker future.

Where does this information come from? This is where “follow the money” yields results. Climate denial and obscuration has been funded by the fossil fuel industry for years. You won’t see Exxon or Shell’s logo on a climate sceptical Youtube video but the fossil fuel industry and ultra conservative organisations have funded this misinformation for years. So have other groups such as the meat industry. Those who promote these views are doing their bidding. If you interested in this you can check out this link

So when I see these speakers on the invited list to the conference I have a WTF moment. How can I trust or respect someone who is directly attempting to misdirect and undermine efforts to address climate change? How can I respect someone who promotes holocaust denial? I can’t. And I fear for those who are exposed to their dangerous views, fear that we are unwittingly preparing the ground for fascism to grow.

Fascism

How does fascism take hold? Here, in my view, are some essential strategies: convince people that any media critical of your cause are untrustworthy and peddling fake news, find a bete noir who you can blame for your country’s problems, attempt to rewrite history and undermine experts and science at every opportunity. We don’t have to look far to see examples. Donald Trump was a master of this. Or we could look at Stalin or Hitler.

However, this same strategy is not limited to governments. Conspiracy theories gain traction in precisely the same way. And the more they gain traction the more people get hurt: attacks on journalists, doctors, nurses and scientists are increasing and recently some of this is directly perpetuated by people because of their beliefs about vaccination or their involvement in certain conspiracy theories. Whatever our views on vaccination, the NHS is not the enemy and attacking it only plays into the hands of those who want to dismantle and privatise it.

We have to be vigilant and questioning, something which I suspect we can all agree on. So when I see people on the stage who, in my view, are associated with or promoting the kind of mindset which fascism needs in order to thrive, I am alarmed. And I want you to be too.

At the fringes of our community lurks QAnon. At marches for Freedom it is not uncommon to see “Q” flags or merchandise and I expect we will see some at the Freedom march. And it has its adherents in Totnes too. If anyone thinks this is not sinister and cause for concern, please check out QAnon’s origins and central tenets. QAnon’s core story is a direct replica of a Nazi cult. And remember it was QAnon’s rallying cry to storm the Capitol and begin the (Great) Awakening that resulted in people dying. Here is an article about QAnon’s origins

or a thoughtful article from the Guardian

Experience has shown us that groups with darker intent will often try to piggy back or infiltrate groups where they think their own ideas might find traction. Witness flags of St George or QAnon symbols on show at Freedom marches for example and the way the far right are magnetised to the fringes of these movements. So I want to name that this can happen on the lovely streets of Totnes as it can anywhere else. Have march organisers briefed their helpers for this possibility? And is anyone prepared to call it out when they see it?

Vaccination

Yes, I haven’t got to the vaccine question yet. The government has handled the pandemic badly in my view and has rightfully lost a degree of trust. I watch, like most people, how it is accrui

Online Meme that manages to include nearly every conspiracy available

ng more powers and am wary of this. I see mandatory vaccination or anyone losing their job because they choose not to be vaccinated as an unethical and dangerous idea as do our health worker unions. I also find profiteering by pharmaceutical companies deeply repulsive and I feel it is morally wrong for the rich nations to fail to share the vaccination programme equally with the whole world.

And I understand “vaccine hesitancy”. Of course we should be concerned about what we put into our bodies. I have worked for over thirty years as a holistic health professional, have written books on nutrition and have taught worldwide. Taking care of our health and our planet has been at the heart of my work for most of my working life. In the case of the Covid vaccine I am vaccinated. This has surprised some of my friends but it’s a balance of risks question for me. I weighed it up and that’s the way I went. I also respect anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated.

Balancing the risks of vaccination against its benefits is difficult. No vaccine is without risks and VAERS reporting for the flu vaccine yields similar results. I think it’s a nuanced and challenging issue, one in which we have to balance our own risk with risk to the collective and navigate the difficult terrain of assessing the information we have available. The risks from vaccination may be very small but every adverse reaction or death is a human life, as is every injury or death from covid. I welcome more debate and more investigation and this is something the conference may contribute towards. And, to be clear, this is not the ground of my concerns regarding the conference.

So for me I do not judge anyone who declines vaccination but there is a nagging “but” lurking. That “but” is to do with ensuring that we have access to good quality information and make up our minds from that well informed basis. There is no one speaking at the conference who can balance the field and speak knowledgably in favour of vaccination and so far as I know no factchecking process is being put in place by the organisers. So what I would ask of speakers at the conference – and this may already be the case – is that references are provided for important assertions so that people can go home and follow these up for themselves.

In Conclusion

The division within my own community is painful. So how can we listen to one another? Because without conversation we are in deep trouble.

Just to state the obvious: conspiracies happen, the world is in many ways in a dangerous state, governments do not always act well, fascism is on the rise, many people make profit in ways that feel ethically wrong, the pharmaceutical industry hasn’t covered itself in glory over the years, corruption and hidden agendas exist, our trust in authority and experts has been undermined and so on. The challenge is to make sense of it from a grounded place.

I don’t have the answers, of course. But I do know that we are deeply obligated to research and evidence whatever position we take and must do our best to be discerning when it comes to processing information. It’s hard work but the damage done by perpetuating misrepresentations of fact is huge, muddying the waters for everyone. At worst this puts people at risk and leads to violence and hatred and a divided people.

So my concern, in a nutshell, is that legitimate questioning of the vaccination programme is being gatecrashed by people with other agendas and the debate gets contaminated. I am raising my head above the parapet to say to the community I care deeply about “be careful”. I live here and am invested in the health and happiness of this community. I want us to stand together unified by our love, tolerant of difference and more interested in our common ground than what divides us. Above all I wish for all of us discernment in making sense of these challenging times.

Daverick Leggett has lived in Totnes and Dartington for almost thirty years. Working as a Qigong teacher and teaching Chinese medicine nutrition and is a published author. Running camps on Dartmoor he is actively involved in community food growing and ecological land management. He is also a poet with two published volumes. Throughout his life he has been active in the environmental movement, “green” politics and more recently Extinction Rebellion.