Did “Anonymous” troll the Guardian with a fake op-ed?

Yesterday I posted about a very bizarre column in the Guardian in which a supposed Regressive Leftist, who didn’t give his name, groveled and apologized after he was nearly sucked into the malestrom of “racism”—i.e., criticism of Islam—by reading “alt-right” people like Sam Harris. It was an over-the-top piece, and you can read it by clicking the screenshot below:


Many people suspected that the piece was a joke on the part of the Guardian. I don’t believe that, for the paper has no history of publishing such stuff, and it cuts too close to the Guardian‘s Regressive Left (RL) bone. On the other hand, it could have been a Sokal-style hoax, with some person fooling the Guardian into publishing a column that was, in essence, a mockery of the RL. That is more likely, and in fact one person, a well known prankster called “Godfrey Elfwick” (known for his mockery of the Regressive Left and social justice warriors), has confessed to doing it. Many believe him. Here, for instance, is Elfwick’s confession and comments by, among others, Maajid Nawaz (go here to see the whole thread):


While I saw the piece as genuine as well as ridiculous, other Sam Harris haters thought it was great:



After some people questioned “Elfwick”‘s authorship, he sent a screenshot of his computer purporting to show that he wrote the piece on October 31, before it was published:


So was the whole thing a scam? Certainly in the sense that if Elfwick or some other hoaxer wrote the piece, they fooled the Guardian.  But screenshots like the one above can be faked, and I’m still not sure the piece is a hoax, although it seems more likely.But surely the Guardian could have at least checked on the author, in which case they’d find that Godfrey Elfwick (for they surely knew his name, or else some other name they could have checked) was a well known troll.

Other people are already firmly convinced that Elfwick scammed the Guardian.  I’m reserving judgment, for on the Guardian website there’s still no note that it was a hoax, and the piece is still up.

Regardless, what is clear is that if it was a hoax, it was perpetrated not by the Guardian but by an author like “Elfwick,” and second, if it was produced by a troll, the Guardian found the over-the-top RL confessional so to their liking that they bought it lock, stock and barrel.

h/t: Orli


  1. moleatthecounter
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    It is fascinating… I side with the hoax idea actually.

    And I do wonder though, if it IS a hoax that the G would admit they were taken in? I doubt that!

    • Todd Morgan
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      THey’ll probably double down and say whether or not the specific account is true, the story is ‘true’ in general.

      • Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Already done! Greenwald said that “the dynamic [the piece] describes is accurate”.


        • Todd Morgan
          Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          wow. I was joking. pitiful

      • Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        That’s what happened with the Sokal hoax. The publishers claimed that, whatever Sokal’s intent, the article was still valid.

    • Graham Head
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      The Guardian has a readers editor. Who is no doubt investigating this.

    • steve oberski
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Poe’s Law is operative here – it is hard to tell parodies of fundamentalism from the real thing.

      • Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Maybe. But if it is real, it is pathetic. If it is satire, it is a masterpiece.

  2. GBJames
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink


  3. Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    As I commented on the other thread, we still have no *convincing* evidence that Elfwick wrote it. Note that the date on the supposed original is 31/10/2016 which is before Trump’s election win, mentioned in the article.

    More damningly, it is dated before the two Abi Wilkinson articles that Elfwick claims inspired him. He started writing it before its inspiration was written? Well, maybe he meant he was inspired by that sort of thing, but it looks more like a clumsy error in the faking process.

    All he has to do is tell the Guardian and they should confirm it on the article. At the very least he should be able to show some correspondence? But he hasn’t.

    I still think the original *is* a hoax, mind you. It’s far too daft not to be.

    • Posted December 1, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      If the author really wanted to be able to prove they wrote it, they could have tweeted a hash of the article before it was published.

      Perhaps they don’t want to, perhaps they just didn’t think ahead?

  4. Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I think your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. The Guardian liked it so much they bought it lock stock and barrel.
    Highly amusing.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Yeah, they got so excited they couldn’t be bothered to fact check – same with Greenwald; he’s so rabidly frothing at the mouth to wound Sam Harris, he bought the whole thing was a big “A-ha!”. Give me break – “radicalized” by Sam Harris.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted November 30, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Exactly! Sam Harris a “gateway drug.” For goodness sake. This was one of my reasons for saying in the last thread that I thought it was a hoax played on the Guardian as well as her readers.

  5. Todd Morgan
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if Godfrey wrote it. But I hope he did. it’s delicious.

  6. Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    At the very least, Elfwick did a “reverse hoax” prank, by making a genuinely meant article look ridiculous by pretending it was a hoax, which he can do, since he is famous as a prankster.

    Though I agree with others that the article could be a hoax, I don’t think the Guardian wanted to make a joke. Whoever decided to publish it, accepted it as genuine. In the end the difference is small: such opinions are stated all the time, and this kind of reasoning is such commonplace that if not Elfwick who wrote it as a hoax, someone else could have provided the piece in earnesty.

    I hope he did it though: the original Elfwick started on the Slymepit, and seeing PZ Myers pranked by him would make it extra delicious.

    • Todd morgan
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      PZ just blocked someone on twitter for believing Godfrey wrote that. At least it looks like he did.

  7. Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Elfwick has pranked the BBC, and the Guardian covered his doing so, so the Guardian is well aware of Elwfwick’s proclivities.

    • steve oberski
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Very possibly there was a clue that Elfwick was not to be taken entirely seriously in his Twitter profile, which describes him as a “Demisexual genderqueer Muslim atheist”.

      What’s not to like about Mr. Elfwick.

      And … Elfwick is pure degummed hemp fiber

  8. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I’m voting for hoax. This is the giveaway sentence: “On one occasion I even, I am ashamed to admit, very diplomatically expressed negative sentiments on Islam to my wife.”

    • Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      It certainly reads like a spoof confessional.

  9. nickswearsky
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The Guardian really should make some statement to clarify this as to whether they got scammed. The distrust of mainstream media is already high. The Guardian surely knows who wrote this. If they got punked, they need to fess up. Otherwise, confirm they know the author and vouch for the piece.

    • Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      If they are going to publish articles without paying for them they aren’t going to do even the minimum verification needed to confirm a PayPal account.

      • nickswearsky
        Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        Does anyone pay for an Op-Ed?

  10. Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    This is a second Godfrey Elfwick. The original retired sometime ago but has no problem with others adopting his persona.

    He’s the Dread Pirate Roberts of trolling.

    In a sense it doesn’t matter if it was a hoax: the fact that people find it parodic, intentionally or not, is what matters.

    • Posted November 30, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      And also the fact that the Guardian bought it stock and barrel.

  11. Posted November 30, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    It reminds me of columnist Arthur Chu’s post about needing to ‘purge’ himself of ‘dangerous unthinkable thoughts’ and ‘mindkill’ himself ‘on a regular basis’.

    It might well be a parody of that.

  12. ToddP
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Show me on this doll where Sam Harris triggered you.

  13. Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink


  14. Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Somehow when I saw the post headline, I thought of Anonymous, the hacker vigilante group with the Guy Fawkes masks. In *that* case it would be trivial, since Anonymous is just whoever asserts that they are.

  15. todd morgan
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    The guardian are confident in their source.


    • Todd Morgan
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Dammit. seems he deleted it.

  16. geckzilla
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I was looking through Elfwick’s tweet history and some other writings of his. I didn’t think it was worth wasting a lot of time on, but a cursory examination left me feeling that the Guardian article matched the peculiar writing pattern that Elfwick has. He’s a creative troll. Mostly benign, sometimes annoying, and probably has moments of brilliance if you’re willing to overlook the annoying parts. I think he is probably telling the truth.

  17. Damien
    Posted November 30, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I thought I had a rough understanding of what alt-right was. Maybe I don’t.

    Can anyone tell me if Sam Harris is usually considered alt-right ?

    In my understandings of Sam Harris and alt-right the former is not part of the latter, but maybe I had it all wrong.

    • Kopper
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      He is not, or at least he shouldn’t be considered alt-right.

      • Damien
        Posted November 30, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        Ok, thank you for that answer, I was really wondering if I had gotten it wrong there.

    • kelskye
      Posted December 1, 2016 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      I think the problem is that what the likes of Harris says can be taken as being similar to the opinions offered by those on the alt-right. Whether that’s a charitable reading of what Harris says is contentious, but it’s not hard to see why moralists would fail to distinguish between the views.

      • Posted December 1, 2016 at 4:28 am | Permalink

        Any suggestion That Sam Harris is in any way “alt-right” is either deeply mistaken or, when coming from the likes of Greenwald, deliberately mischievous.
        Sam takes a rational approach to criticising all religious faith and one that doesn’t spare the nonsenses and excesses of the US religious right (a point that’s surely an anathema to the alt-right).
        Sam is distinct from many “liberal” commentators in also taking a critical view of Islam but to criticise Islam is not to be in any sense “alt-right” especially given that the “alt-right” critique of Islam comes from another place entirely, based on ideas of innate Christian and Western superiority, not on atheism.

        • kelskye
          Posted December 1, 2016 at 4:59 am | Permalink

          The suggestion may be mistaken (or mischievous), but it’s important to understand why the mistake is made. That way, there’s at least the possibility of dialogue to remedy the mistake.

      • Posted December 1, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        “I think the problem is that what the likes of Harris says can be taken as being similar to the opinions offered by those on the alt-right.”

        I wouldn’t say what he says is similar, but it’s further right on a spectrum towards what they say than what regressives say. Allow me to use an analogy to explain why many on the left demonize Sam.
        Imagine you’re an opponent of illegal drugs, you oppose them (even marijuana) for medicinal purposes, not because you neccesserilly think that’s a bad idea, but because you think that normalizes them, and can lead to legalization for recreational use, and ultimately to even more serious drugs being legalized.
        Suddenly someone very popular comes along, like Sam, supporting the use of marijuana for medicinal use, he has discussions with, and provides links to people who share his position, and in some cases go further, and want it legal for recreational use, some of those people link to other people who think all drugs should be legal, and those people might be allied with people who actually encourage the use of dangerous drugs.

        The best, or easiest way to prevent people going down that path in the first place is to demonize Sam initially. Question his motives, highlight, or take out of context quotes that make it appear he might actually want all drugs legal, or that he encourages drug use, or perhaps seem to imply he’s a drug user himself. Point out the positions of people he links to, or the people they link to.

        Obviously it’s a dishonest strategy, but in this day, and age of disinformation, and fake news it might be the best strategy. Particularly if you are convinced, as many are, that the open marketplace of ideas is broken.

        • kelskye
          Posted December 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          The similarity, it seems to me, is the focus on religion itself as the problem. The reg-left appear to side with the “no religion is intrinsically problematic” approach to dealing with terrorism, and go to great efforts to cast the problem as political. The alt-right rhetoric on Islam matches the conclusion Harris draws, which can be taken as equivalent by those fighting the bigotry and oppression directed towards Muslims in light of modern terrorism.

          Whether Harris actually supports any alt-right view is irrelevant, because we are talking about how people perceive him. Accounting of substantive similarities and/or being charitable to Harris in representing his views becomes “morally problematic”, because Harris’ positions can be taken as supporting the kind of rhetoric that bigots use.

      • Posted December 1, 2016 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

        You can hold a hundred positions that agree with the left but if you differ on one, the left considers you “alt-right” or racist or redneck or neo con or whatever. I myself have been trashed by leftists and greens -with whom I agree on essentially all their positions but when some of them went to my web site and saw my numerous (and strong) attacks on Islam, they trashed me as a right winger. This is Sam Harris fate as well. The left and even some liberals can’t imagine that the right wingers could be correct on ANYTHING, whether Islam or anything else. The left has their ten commandments and a loyalty oath; either you sign on to all of them unconditionally or you are a right winger. The left has gone after Harris with a vengeance, misquoting and distorting him and promulgating outright lies about him. On the extreme left web sites (mondoweiss, loonwatch, Democracy Now, truthgdig especially (remember Chris Hedges’vicious lies about Harris?), alternet, and all the rest of the scum lie with impunity….matched on the right of course by Front Page magazine (David Horowitz).

        • Posted December 3, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          “You can hold a hundred positions that agree with the left but if you differ on one, the left considers you “alt-right” or racist or redneck or neo con or whatever…”

          But does he talk about these other positions? Seems he’s talks about Islam ALOT.

          If you’re a believer in AGW and a huge proponent of gun rights, but only talk about the latter, don’t be surprised when people lump you in with the NRA crowd.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 1, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Sam Harris is definitely not alt-right himself. There are some from among the alt-right who find his criticisms of Islam agreeable. Some of these people apparently follow Sam on his website and social media, which may be why (assuming this much of the anonymous Guardian article is accurate) the YouTube algorithms for “suggested videos” link from Sam’s videos to those of the alt-right).

      Sam has discussed in his podcasts how bitterly disappointed these alt-right followers of his were at his harsh criticism of Donald Trump and his decision to vote for Hillary Clinton.

  18. Kisanet Beyene
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    IMO It’s a hoax and Elfwick wrote it. He can’t prove he wrote it without doxxing himself. The Guardian publishes anonymous articles only with verified ID and address of the author, so the author must have submitted under his real name and contact info. If Elfwick were to send an email from his verified address to the Guardian admitting the hoax, the Guardian would no longer be obligated to protect his anonymity, since there is no longer any reason for him to remain anonymous if the content of the article is not true (from the Guardian’s perspective).

    He could alternatively show a screenshot of an email with his real name redacted, but if the header info is sufficient to prove that he’s the author to the Guardian, then again, they would conclude it was a hoax and no longer have an obligation to preserve his anonymity.

    Given his online history, if Elfwick were to be doxxed, it would be a disaster for his personal life.

    So the probability that he not provide proof, given that his is the author, is around 100%. On the other hand, the probability that the real author not come forward, given that this is a hoax, is essentially 0. If no other author comes forward, I think it’s safe to conclude Elfwick wrote it.

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