Marianna Spring has persistently misattributed a range of beliefs and values to the people she labels conspiracy theorists. She has falsely claimed that a conspiracy theory movement exists and has deceived her audience throughout Cosnpiracyland.
The narratives she has presented to her BBC audience are riddled with inconsistencies and factual errors. Spring has not presented any evidence to support her numerous allegations and accusations. She has routinely ignored evidence without justification and has offered risible supposed “facts” to support, what is clearly, propaganda.
Spring dismisses all the evidence cited by those she lambastes, simply by slapping the “conspiracy theorist” label on them. Her audience has been consistently directed away from the evidence and invited to accept propaganda based upon nothing but a slew of logical fallacies, disinformation and Marianna’s apparent claim that she, and the BBC she represents, should be “trusted” without question.
In 2018, when Spring was 22, Marianna reportedly sent her CV to Natalia Antelava, the editor-in-chief of US-based news site Coda Story. Anteleva checked Spring’s claimed work history and discovered that Spring had lied. Spring has not denied the reports.
Other legacy media (LM) outlets have covered the revelations pointing out that we all do stupid things when we are young. While this is true, by the age of 22 we are expected to be responsible adults and not many of us would lie on a CV presented for a job application.
What is most striking about Anteleva’s account is Marianna’s apparent reaction when her deceit was discovered. In an audacious emailed response to Anteleva, Spring maintained that she was a “brilliant reporter.” In her rejection email to Spring, Anteleva wrote:
Telling me you are a brilliant reporter who exercises integrity and honesty when you have literally demonstrated the opposite was a terrible idea.
We have already discussed the strange aspects of, and omissions and contradictions in, Marianna’s reported personal and professional history. These give rise to reasonable suspicion that Spring is some sort of media asset for the public-private intelligence industrial complex.
We might expect propaganda assets to apply for “media” roles linked to suspected intelligence operations. Just as Marianna Spring did when she tried to join Coda Story which has received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
NED was created as a result of Presidential Directive 77 which tasked the Special Planning Group, within the U.S National Security Council, to deliver “public diplomacy activities,”—diplomatic code for propaganda. The NED continues to fund various media operations, via its system of “grants,” like the one it gave to Coda Story in 2019, in order for US intelligence agencies to seed “narratives” into the LM surreptitiously.
The co-founder of the NED was Allen Weinstein who acted as the inaugural NED chairman. Speaking to the New York Times in 1991 he said:
A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA
While Coda Story received its NED grant a few months after Spring tried to become one of its Moscow based stringers, that both the NED and Spring viewed Coda Story as a valuable “news” outlet covering Russian politics is notable. There is nothing concrete to prove that Spring is an intelligence linked propaganda asset. Nonetheless, a willingness to lie, combined with an evident lack of any genuine sense of guilt, is certainly a desirable attribute for a paid propagandist.
Just a couple of days prior to the publication of Marianna’s CV story, Guardian columnist Zoe William reported that Marianna was the victim of abuse and slander. Williams, who once implored the British public to stop calling Tony Blair a war criminal because it meant that the UK left was “unable to celebrate his achievements,” apparently believed every claim Spring made during Conspiracyland.
Describing anyone who dares to question the epistemic authorities, of which she is a part, as “cranks,” Williams simply took Spring at her word. Which seems unwise to say the least.
For some unfathomable reason, Zoe Williams opined that “Conspiracyland is vivid and thorough.” She described the ordinary men and women that Spring has misrepresented throughout Conspiracyland as people who “harbour violent fantasies about seeing their adversaries hang” and people who are “enmeshed in the tropes of the far right.”
The evidence Williams offered, to support her unhinged vitriol, was Conspiracyland. In other words, Williams had nothing, other than an evidence-free BBC propaganda podcast, to substantiate any of her own spurious allegations about so-called conspiracy theorists. Her glowing testimony for Spring, the evident liar, came at just the right time.
Williams cited a Sunday Times report, published a month earlier, to support her claim that “of all the online abuse directed at the BBC and its staff, 80 per cent is aimed at [Marianna Spring].” However, if we read the referenced Sunday Times article, once again, we find the evidence for William’s claim is nonsense.
The notion, that Spring receives 80 per cent of all online abuse directed at BBC journalists, is based upon the BBC’s own purported system for monitoring online social media traffic. Apparently, the BBC has some software that “detects correspondence containing physical threats, cyberbullying, violent language, negative sentiment and doxxing.”
The BBC supposedly escalates the most serious abuse it “detects” for further “investigation.” Although, presumably, none of it crosses the criminal threshold because, to date, there hasn’t been one single police investigation into any of them.
Neither the BBC, Zoe Williams, The Sunday Times nor Marianna Spring have disclosed what this supposed software is. There were no cited data dumps, no reference to any corresponding reports or even mention of the software by name in any of this “journalism.” The “80 per cent” claim is just that: a BBC claim.
We know that the BBC operates an undisclosed number of troll accounts on social media. So how, or if, the BBC ruled out its own “bots” from making the alleged threats is a factor just as vague as the rest of the associated claims. We also know that the BBC previously used the Google AI tool called Perspective with disastrous results.
In November 2022, having investigated online abuse supposedly directed toward politicians, the BBC reported:
The BBC’s Shared Data Unit used Perspective, a tool that uses artificial intelligence to spot toxic comments online. [. . .] Machine learning algorithms allow researchers and journalists to measure a phenomenon at a scale which would otherwise not be feasible with other methods.
The BBC’s so-called findings, using Perspective, were abject junk. Perspective is incapable of understanding either context or nuance, it doesn’t have a sense of humour and is mindless data harvesting software that simply counts the number of trigger words the BBC chose to program it with. Inevitably, it produced whatever rubbish the BBC wanted to find.
When questioned about its use of the software, the trustworthy BBC reportedly redacted a full six pages of the accompanying technical documentation, retrospectively corrected blatant data errors and removed important methodological explanations entirely. Dr Liam McLoughlin, observing that the BBC’s data analysis using Perspective was “fundamentally methodologically wrong,” said:
What these journalists have done is taken a system that’s not fit for purpose and decided it fits their needs perfectly when it clearly doesn’t.
While we can’t be certain what software the BBC used to supposedly nail down the abuse allegedly received by Spring, and while we can’t know how much of that reported abuse emanated from the BBC’s own fake online trolling accounts, it seems highly likely that BBC “investigative journalists” used Perspective. Which perhaps explains why none of the LM journalists reporting the BBC claims mentioned the “software” by name.
The BBC’s, Spring’s, William’s, the Guardian’s and the Sunday Times’ claims about the abuse received by Spring are so speculative they are tantamount to meaningless. All we have are anecdotes about the abuse posted to Spring. She probably does get some, for which there is no excuse, but the scale and severity claimed is not supported by anything substantive.
Consequently, it is with a huge degree of scepticism that we approach Episode Six – Marianna Spring in Conspiracyland: German Conspiracyland. This focuses upon the story told by Jörg Reichel, a regional manager of the German Journalists’ Union—dju in ver.di (DJV).
Spring reported Reichel’s allegation that he was attacked by elements connected with the German Querdenker (lateral thinkers) movement. As usual, Spring stuck the “conspiracy theorist” label on the Querdenker movement. Her audience was invited to accept this labelling, replete with all of its groundless connotations, for no reason other than Spring’s questionable assertion.
We were told that Reichel alleged many other such attacks against journalists, and that he also claimed people associated the Querdenker movement were responsible for those too. Spring offered no evidence to substantiate these allegations.
Spring then claimed that “attacks” against journalists in Germany have “risen sharply since the pandemic.” This was disinformation from Spring. The apparent intention was to insinuate that the Querdenker movement were responsible.
The actual report, referenced in passing by Spring, stated that 320 “politically motivated media attacks” were reported in 2022. In total, 46 were violent, meaning 274 were not violent. What a non-violent “politically motivated media attack” at a protest entails is hard to say. Perhaps some heckling or rude hand gestures? The “analysis” supposedly informing these reports, just like Springs alleged online abuse claims, was produced by the LM itself.
The LM report of the LM reports also noted a “steady rise since 2018,” not the sharp increase “since the pandemic” falsely claimed by Spring. Of the 46 allegedly violent attacks in 2022, 15 were reportedly perpetrated by people allegedly linked to the Querdenker movement. It was also reported that of all “attacks” on journalists over the last 4 years “one-fifth had direct ties to coronavirus protests.” This 20% had reportedly increased to 33% “since the pandemic.”
Again, this wasn’t because there had been any “sharp rise.” It was because there couldn’t have been any alleged attacks supposedly linked to the coronavirus protests before said protests began. The “rise” was a statistical quirk dependent upon when you started measuring the data. In addition, all of these LM claim about attacks on journalists are extremely dubious.
For example, Reichel had previously stated that 43 journalists were attacked at just one Querdenker demonstration in Leipzig in November 2020. This is 28 more Querdenker “attacks” than supposedly occurred throughout the whole of 2022. This assumes that Reichel was talking about violent attacks. If he wasn’t, then Reichel’s comprehension of the word “attack” is seemingly unique to him—perhaps to Spring too—and differs markedly from what the rest of us consider the word “attack” to mean in the context of street protests.
According to Reichel, the 2020 Leipzig demo alone accounted for more “attacks” than Spring cited for the whole of 2022, but she said the 2022 figures represented a “sharp rise.” If Reichel’s 2020 claims were true, the number of alleged 2022 “attacks” had actually decreased significantly since 2020. It was all very confusing.
Despite the impression Spring relayed to her audience, if the reports of the reports can be believed, they also indicate that the majority of so-called “attacks,” in whatever form they allegedly took, had nothing to do with the Querdenker movement. Some supposedly did, but how many, when and where and who was actually responsible was left mindbogglingly unclear. Spring mentioned none of the ambiguity that so clearly undermined her Conspiracyland report.
The broader increase in alleged attacks on journalists suggests a possible wider societal problem and potentially the general loss of “trust” between the German people and the German LM. If anything, the report of the reports, if they are credible—which seems unlikely—potentially show that the Querdenker movement exemplified the Germans’ growing disillusionment. But Marianna wasn’t interested in exploring any of this.
So who are these alleged violent extremists? The German LM reports that the supposedly violent Querdenker movement is unusual because, for a violent group of anti-state thugs, they are primarily composed of older, middle class Germans:
Less than 10% are younger than 30, and the average age is almost 50. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed have at least a high school diploma, more than half of them have finished their university education, and 67% consider themselves to be middle class.
Spring’s therefore suggested that “older people seem to be increasingly inspired by disinformation.” As Jorge Reichel ventured in Conspiracyland:
We have a long culture of violence [in] demonstrations. The new thing is that these, more or less, elderly people, fifty-plus, from the middle class, are going in the street and fighting against the political system, fighting against the press and that’s a new thing.
To be clear: Spring claims that, as a result of all the conspiracy theory lies they’ve swallowed, gangs of middle aged German university lectures, engineers and doctors fight with the police and beat up journalists because they hate Germany. At this point, you may be tempted to think I am making all this stuff up. As ridiculous as it is, Spring seriously attempted to spin some sort of cohesive narrative out of this self-contradictory drivel.
What can be said is that some German state authorities considered angry dentists to be so dangerous to German democracy that they decided to officially unleash the intelligence agencies on their “movement” in December 2020. Officials from the German state of Baden-Württemberg said that the Querdenker movement had been “infiltrated by extremists.” By the spring of 2021 this counter-extremism surveillance of the Querdenker movement had extended across Germany.
At the start of every Conspiracyland episode, Spring’s recorded introduction states that the alleged conspiracy theory “movement” led to “a coup attempt foiled in Germany.” You would imagine that this episode, focused on Germany, would be the one where Marianna Spring would have provided the evidence to back up that claim. Nope! Nothing in Episode Six.
So surely, Spring reveals her evidence in Episode 7 – Marianna Spring In Conspiracyland: After An Attempted Coup?
Episode 7 of Conspiracyland mainly reported the opinions of the lawyer and activist Markus. He formerly wrote articles for the German independent newspaper Demokratischer Widerstand (Democratic Resistance). This German paper, like the Light in the UK, is popular with people who hold anti-Establishment opinions. This includes many who joined the Querdenker movement protests.
Spring noted that Demokratischer Widerstand referred to the UK’s Light newspaper as its “partner paper” on its Telegram Channel. Spring also reported comments made by the editor of the Light, Darren Nesbit, who said the two editorial teams talk to each other occasionally. Therefore, she told her audience that “everything seems to inhabit the same universe.” She added that Markus told her how these “conspiracy theory papers connect, from the UK to Germany.”
Without evidencing this alleged “connection,” Markus reportedly said:
That’s normal. You are doing the same job, and if you have a newspaper in Great Britain, and you have one in Germany, then, normally at one time, you see each other and you talk to each other.
While people talking to each other doesn’t usually demonstrate a “connection,” doing so, as Markus highlighted, is completely normal. For example, in 2020 the BBC formed the Trusted News Initiative (TNI) partnership with a number of other LM and “Big Tech” corporations:
The Trusted News Initiative is a partnership, founded by the BBC, that includes organisations from around the globe including; AP, AFP, BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Financial Times, Information Futures Lab, Google/YouTube, The Hindu, The Nation Media Group, Meta, Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Twitter, The Washington Post, Kompas – Indonesia, Dawn – Pakistan, Indian Express, NDTV – India, ABC – Australia, SBS – Australia, NHK – Japan.
The BBC uncritically reported allegations that Elon Musk’s ‘X’—formerly Twitter—spreads disinformation. BBC correspondents have reported that “hate speech” thrives on ‘X.’ Similarly, the BBC reported that many of its other “partners,” such as Meta—formerly Facebook—and Google are also guilty of spreading disinformation and hate speech.
Using Spring’s analogy, we could claim that the BBC “seems to inhabit the same universe” as its claimed disinformation and hate speech spreading TNI “partners.”
Spring alleged that the German paper promoted the Reichsbürger group that was said to be behind the alleged, foiled “coup attempt.” This claim was based upon Markus’ report that Demokratischer Widerstand had prominently displayed the flag of the German Second Reich—Imperial Germany (1871 – 1918)—on one of its newsletters. The flag is poplar with the Reichsbürger group which therefore proves, according to Spring, that Demokratischer Widerstand supports the Reichsbürger group. The “Imperial Flag” is not associated with the German Nazi Third Reich (1933 – 1945).
The BBC has prominently displayed the flag of the proscribed terrorist group ISIS in numerous reports. If we use the same logical fallacy as Spring, this must mean that the BBC supports ISIS.
According to the UK Guardian:
[The Reichsbürger] number about 21,000 in Germany, according to the BfV domestic intelligence agency, and about 5% of them – about 1,150 – are estimated to be right wing extremists. In 2021 the BfV attributed about 1,011 extremist crimes to them.
Spring tried to tenuously link Demokratischer Widerstand to the Reichsbürger group, who were said to be behind the alleged foiled German coup attempt. By extension, she further alleged that the so-called coup attempt was connected to the Querdenker movement. This was solely based on the fact that many in the Querdenker movement also read Demokratischer Widerstand.
Stretching the plausibility envelope even further, Spring inferred that the alleged coup attempt was, therefore, supported, or at least condoned, by the Light newspaper in the UK. All because, according to Spring, “everything” is part of the “same Universe.” This is the composition fallacy Spring habitually relies upon in her propaganda.
As previously mentioned, German state authorities reported in 2020 that the Querdenker movement had been “infiltrated by extremists.” Those alleged extremists were most conspicuously reported to be a small fringe within the Reichsbürger group. Among this tiny group, 25 were arrested for their supposed involvement in the potential coup attempt.
Spring reported claims that Demokratischer Widerstand reporters and one of its donors met with some of the suspected Reichsbürger insurrectionists. What they discussed wasn’t mentioned. It could have been an interview for all we know.
Spring interviewed a number of people for her Conspiracyland podcast series and met with Darren Nesbit, editor of the Light. If we pursue her Conspiracyland composition fallacy arguments, then presumably, as a journalists, her meeting with Nesbit demonstrated that she wholeheartedly agrees with and promotes everything Nesbit says.
It was at this point that Spring revealed the totality of evidence she has to substantiate her persistent claim that the international “conspiracy theory network” she imagines somehow instigated a foiled coup attempt in Germany. Following some audio of a BBC news broadcast about the 25 arrests, Spring informed her Conspiracyland audience:
At the time members said they were prepared to kill to install a new leader in Germany and prosecutors said the group was extremely dangerous. And it doesn’t stop there. Multiple sources have also told me how the paper [Demokratischer Widerstand] promotes far right groups. That includes far right group Freie Sachsen and the chairperson of the National Democratic Party (NPD) which has been described as a far right, neo-Nazi political party.
This is the entire basis for Spring’s ad nauseam allegation. Spring does not have a scrap of evidence to back up any of it. For a start, Spring’s statement is a non sequitur.
The first clause reports the arrest of tiny group of alleged “extremists” who supposedly infiltrated a much wider national movement. The arrested individuals in no way represented the views of that much larger movement: the Querdenker.
In the second clause, which Spring deceptively linked to the first with “it doesn’t stop there,” she talked about a detached allegation that Demokratischer Widerstand promotes “far right groups.” Even if it does, and all we have to substantiate that claim are Spring’s anecdotes, that does not prove, or even evidence, that Demokratischer Widerstand had anything to do with the alleged coup attempt.
Spring then insinuates, as she has persistently throughout Conspiracyland, that a UK based paper—the Light—is somehow “connected” to the alleged German coup attempt. There is no basis for her allegation whatsoever.
A UK conspiracy theory newspaper [. . .] has links with the British far-right and a German publication connected to a failed coup attempt, the BBC can reveal.
Those alleged “links” are based upon nothing but Spring’s logical fallacies and evidence-free assertions. The BBC hasn’t “revealed” anything. Spring has manipulated unrelated reports to manufacture fictitious “links” which she then presented to her readers is if she were reporting facts. Her article was disinformation.
Spring’s introduction to every episode of Conspiracyland, claiming that some mythical conspiracy theory movement is precipitating the rise of a dangerous new form of international extremism—leading to coup attempts—is nothing but preposterous propaganda.
The German LM alleged that the Querdenker movement was linked to far right extremists from the moment they took to the streets to protest against the authoritarian COVID-19 response of the German government. Yet, when the German Federal Office for the Protection of The Constitution investigated some of the largest demonstrations, they found that attempts by extremists groups to influence the protests did not have “any recognizable resonance.”
When the Federal Office looked more broadly out how the wider Querdenker movement interacted with the extremists, the investigators discovered:
[It] did not result in any significant connectivity for the traditional right-wing extremist scene with democratic rally participants.
That is to say, the Querdenker movement’s democratic rallies were overwhelmingly composed of ordinary German citizens exercising their democratic right to protest. They were not influenced by far right extremists at all.
German domestic intelligence (BfV) announced its surveillance of the Querdenker movement following the so-called storming of the Reichstag (German Parliament building) in August 2020. But it wasn’t the Querdenker who occupied the steps outside the Reichstag. It was the unconnected Reichsburger group.
The Reichsburger’s Reichstag protest had previously been agreed the by the German Parliament which approved the protest application submitted by former NPD member Ruediger Hoffmann MdP. The German police then sent just three officers to supposedly protect the Reichstag from the prearranged “far right mob” of 400 Reichsburger protesters.
While the simultaneous, but separate, Querdenker rally was policed by more than 3,000 officers and passed without any notable incident, it was the apparent bravery of three isolated officers who fought off the neo-Nazi hoards at the entirely divorced, officially sanctioned Reichstag protest that made all the headlines. German politicians subsequently thanked the abandoned officers for their fortitude and blamed everything on the Querdenker movement that had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Every media claim, including Spring’s, that the Querdenker movement is linked to far right extremists is propaganda designed to delegitimise democratic protest. Official investigations repeatedly demonstrated that the far right elements’ attempts to infiltrate the Querdenker have been unsuccessful. Despite the assistance of amenable far right members of the Bundestag.
Spring told Natalia Antelava that, regardless of her lies, she was a “brilliant reporter.” It is not brilliant reporting to besmirch hundreds of thousands of concerned German citizens defending their democratic and unalienable rights with false allegations of links to extremist groups. Nor is is brilliant reporting to spread disinformation, deceive your audience, deny evidence or make groundless allegations without offering any credible rationale to support anything you have “reported.”
State propaganda is not brilliant reporting.
You can read more of Iain’s work at his blog IainDavis.com (Formerly InThisTogether) or on UK Column or follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his SubStack. His new book Pseudopandemic, is now available, in both in kindle and paperback, from Amazon and other sellers. Or you can claim a free copy by subscribing to his newsletter.
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