Guest post By Jonas Spooner & JB Stubbings
October 03, 2014, Los Angeles: A trembling Sam Harris sits head in hands in an otherwise empty and dark CBS changing room. His carefully crafted and hugely profitable brand was in peril. He had just been accused of racism on national television by Ben Affleck. Nobody was going to pay $35,000 for a racist to speak. It was time to react.
Dialling down on the nativism wasn’t an option. Sam knew it was part of his appeal. Yes, he could (and did) secretly scrub his website for his calls to “ethnically-profile” Muslims but he could only conceal so much. His rancid conspiracy theories of impending “ominous demographic trends”, of “barbarians (Muslim immigrants) at the gates” and “sensible speaking fascists” were a part of the public record. Sam knew he needed more to ride this storm and preserve his brand. If only he could throw money at this problem to make it go away! But maybe he could? Inspired by the IDF’s use of Palestinian human-shields in their latest onslaught of Gaza only months before, Sam committed to purchasing the loyalties of Muslims and ex Muslims alike to act as his attack dogs. How could he be racist if some of his best friends were brown?
While the above is fiction, it is consistent with the facts – facts which provide fertile ground for a Harris-esque “thought experiment”.
Sam Harris’ familial background isn’t academia, it isn’t even reality. It’s the superficial world of Hollywood where the Harris family are royalty. In the Harris family mansion Emmys sit beside Oscars on the mantelpiece. His mother Susan Harris is a legendary sitcom producer and creator of the Golden Girls, his father Berkley Harris was a Hollywood actor and his step-father Paul Junger-Witt is a successful movie producer. Harris was born into the gated-communities of white privilege. White supremacism and entitlement is his natural environment.
Samuel Harris: The Wandering Hippy Dropout With His Mother’s Blank Cheques
The silver-screen provided a silver-spoon for the young Harris and he greedily grabbed it with both hands. His screenwriter mother couldn’t have created a more stereotypical spoiled brat character for her sitcom Mama’s Boy than Samuel. Aged 19, Harris began experimenting with drugs and dropped out of college to jet around the world to meditate for an incredible eleven years – All of this was financed by his mother whom he dedicated his first book The End of Faith to in a act of gratitude.
He began writing it the day after 9/11 – The day history begins for people like Harris. It was originally rejected by fifteen publishers before Norton decided to cash-in on the emerging anti-Islam market as Americans were in mourning and demanding answers. The true motive for the attacks didn’t support the propaganda being pushed by the establishment media and the neoconservatives in the Bush administration who were lying their nation into an illegal war. Christopher Hitchens had found himself at the service of Bill Kristol and had begun regurgitating Dick Cheney’s lies about Al Qaeda in Iraq and yellowcake in Prague and was cultivating a receptive yet naive liberal audience.
The misled liberals had found their simplistic answers through Hitchens’ disinformation: ‘Muslims hate us for our freedoms’. Harris was to add a layer of misinformation onto the Bush-era war propaganda: ‘Muslims hate us for our freedoms because their evil God told them to’.
Decades of western imperialist provocations in the Muslim world had been erased. All geopolitical and sociopolitical context was stripped away in the dual Washington-Media’s narrative. The half a million Iraqi children murdered by US sanctions was now not simply ‘worth it” but their lives had been erased from the pages of history. What remained was the war propaganda which scapegoated Islam. Emerging now was the birth-pangs of ‘liberal’ Islamophobia which was to typify the emerging ‘new atheist’ movement. It would soon become socially acceptable to demonise and dehumanise Muslims (exclusively) provided you’ve dressed it up as “criticising ideas”. The antisemitism and McCartyism of old was being dusted down and recast as Islamophobia. The first seeds of the anti-Muslim-centric Alt-Right and Trumpism were being laid and Sam Harris was a “gateway”.
The End of Faith was a commercial success but realistically didn’t qualify Harris to dine at atheism’s top table in 2008 as one quarter of the “Four Horsemen” – Yet the Hollywood scion got pushed to the front of the queue. The other three ‘Horsemen” Hitchens, Dennett and Dawkins had all achieved successes in their respective fields over decades. Harris had a philosophy diploma, had published just two books and hadn’t even obtained his PhD yet. But Sam was working on this.
Along with his wife and Jai Lakshman, Harris established The Reason Project (later renamed Project Reason). The Hollywood spring-board was in full effect as Project Reason took up a Los Angeles office in the same building as mother Susan Harris and her business partner Wayne Rogers of M*A*S’*H fame. In 2009 he was to be the beneficiary of Director Robert Zemeckis’s generosity with Project Reason receiving $5,000 from the Oscar winners foundation. Zemeckis and Harris step-father Paul Junger-Witt are close – They sit on the same Advisory Boards, attend movie premieres together and curiously along with Susan Harris shared a $28,000-a-plate table at an Obama fundraiser prior to the Project Reason grant.
Regarding Harris’ PhD, online blog site ‘The Rhizzone’ acutely observes that:
“Sam had no history in neuroscience and he had never conducted an experiment in his life. It’s hard to imagine the UCLA neuroscience department accepting his PhD proposal”.
Further research at Shadowtolight documents how Harris’ maligned thesis project in 2009 was partially funded through Harris’ nonprofit, while tax forms confirm Project Reason ‘donated’ $10,000 to UCLA Board of Regents around this time. Coincidentally or not, Junger-Witt’s non-profit, the Environmental Defense Fund, also donated $40,000 to the UCLA Board of Regents that very same year. Coincidence? Hollywood money undoubtedly played a supporting role in Harris’ life, from funding his PhD to helping him purchase further credibility. Something to consider when Harris next castigates the Muslim world for it’s lack of academic successes.
Losing My Religion
Harris is to many the fearless hero, a white knight riding the horse of science and ‘reason’, slaying all religions in his wake, regardless of his unhealthy and agenda-exposing focus on Islam. Project Reason’s mission statement encapsulates this very theme:
“Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world”
However, over the years, militant atheist Harris himself is listed as the secretary/treasurer for the Hanuman Foundation, another Non-Profit whose tax documents list it’s purpose as “Religious publishing activities; Other religious activities”. Further digging into Hanuman show that the Chairman is the same Jai Lakshman who is the trustee for Project Reason. Hanuman is a bizarre, mystical type foundation with it’s roots in hinduism and other spiritual leanings. The name Hanuman is based on “a divine monkey” as wikipedia elaborates;
Hanuman (/ˈhʌnʊˌmɑːn/; IAST: Hanumān) is a divine monkey and an ardent devotee of Rama. He is one of the central figures in the various versions of the epic Ramayana found in Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia…Hanuman is the son of Anjana and Kesari and is also son of the wind-god Pawan, who according to several stories, played a role in his birth…Beyond being a popular deity in Hinduism, Hanuman is also found in Jainism and Buddhism.
Hanuman’s founder, Ram Dass appears to have had quite the influence on the younger, hippy/drop-out version of Harris. Dass was also obsessed with psychedelics and LSD, even writing books about them. Dass “considered himself an atheist and did not profess any religion during his early life”, describing himself as “inured to religion. I didn’t have one whiff of God until I took psychedelics.” For Harris it appears, drugs had the opposite effect. These strange links appear to contradict the zero sum game Harris plays with his dismissal of the religions of others.
Not only has Harris engaged and enveloped himself in his own forms of religion, Project Reason has used it’s atheist donor-solicited funds to financially support those pushing their own anti-secular agenda. In perhaps his most brazen act of agenda-exposing behaviour, Harris facilitated a $10,000 donation from Project Reason to Israeli intelligence-linked MEMRI, in 2014. Besides specialising in crafting its own propaganda, the pro-Israel organisation, as the Guardian reported, has it’s own vested interests::
Evidence from Memri’s website also casts doubt on its non-partisan status. Besides supporting liberal democracy, civil society, and the free market, the institute also emphasises “the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel”.
“IT’S GROSS, IT’S RACIST”
In fact, 2014 was a crucial period in the timeline of Harris’ public relations juggernaut. He made the best of a potentially career-defining situation whilst demonstrating true insight into the inner workings of the media and public opinion. It was a an exhibition of PR 101, undoubtedly assisted by his first hand experience of Hollywood politics and the power of the chequebook.
In early 2014, Sam Harris via Project Reason made a very wise investment, donating $10,000 to EXMNA. EXMNA or Ex Muslims of North America, are an organisation whose self described objectives are to “aim to reduce discrimination faced by those who leave Islam, advocate for acceptance of religious dissent, and promote secular values.”
In terms of Non-Profit Organisations, EXMNA is relatively small fry. Especially pre-2014. It did not have to complete tax filings or publicly release any financial data prior to 2014, as it’s stated annual income was ‘less than 25k’. Since crossing paths with Harris, funnily enough, IRS records show that EXMNA’s income has increased to ‘less than 50k’. It’s founders include Sarah Haider and Muhammad Syed, who up until this point, were relative unknowns. In 2014, EXMNA must have almost doubled their annual income by accepting Project Reason’s grant – would a time come when they felt the need to pay it back?
Then, in late September 2014, Harris’ good Hollywood friend and fellow Project Reason board member Bill Maher, found himself with his pant’s down thanks to a CNN demolition job by academic and author, Reza Aslan. Aslan called Maher out on his bigotry and corrected several misconceptions of Islam spewed forth by Maher on his chat show, Real Time. This CNN interview clip of Aslan went viral on Youtube and social media, gaining millions of views whilst leaving Maher red-faced and exposed for his superficial understanding of Islam. ‘New atheist’ podcasts, websites and chat shows were left reeling from the globally accessible take down of one of their ringleaders, and in typical fashion resorted to aggressive smear tactics and personal attacks against Aslan. Aslan was public enemy number one. Enter EXMNA.
Following Aslan’s embarrassment of Maher, the newly Sam Harris sponsored Haider and Syed wrote an online reply to Aslan’s comments, highlighting what they saw were factual errors in Aslan’s statements on that CNN clip. EXMNA, or perhaps more specifically, Haider and Syed, became overnight sensations with the Atheist fundamentalists as their post was devoured by the online mob, hungry for a point of reference to counter Aslan’s arguments. The cult popularity of EXMNA within inner ‘New Atheist’ circles was well and truly on the rise and in particular, Haider was on her path to becoming Harris’ new “hero”. Haider and Syed had surely repaid the ‘faith’ that Project Reason had shown in them, while needless to say Haider and Syed made no such post critiquing Maher’s views.
Maher’s own image however, was still in need of a much more public rebuttal to Aslan’s comments, and so he reverted to Harris, who he knew he could count on to eloquently justify his bigotry. A week later then, and Harris appeared on Real Time, spouting his now infamous “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” comment, amongst all his usual talking points. Yet before Maher had a chance to bask in his redemption, another, much more famous guest on the show stole the limelight. Ben Affleck, condemned Harris’ comments in the now infamous spat as “Gross” and “Racist”. Even though this was not the first time the label ‘racist’ had been thrown at Harris, it was no doubt a hammer blow for a man who understood the PR influence that Affleck’s comments could have on his carefully constructed public image. Affleck was a household name thus, regardless if he was wrong or right, an amount of this mud was bound to stick. What Harris would do next, could determine just how much.
Real Time’s clip of the Maher/Harris/Affleck confrontation was perhaps even more popular than Aslan’s CNN segment. Social media and Youtube were having a field day. Haider and Syed at this point, who were still being interviewed by various websites for their post on Aslan, were now asked to comment on this latest drama. During an interview with The Humanist Hour Podcast on October 15th, Haider and Syed both critiqued what they saw as Affleck’s reflexive dismissals and when asked whether they agreed with Harris’ “Mother lode of bad ideas” quote, both became squirmish and refused to condemn him for it.
The media was having a field day with the Real Time segment and Harris’ was now haemorrhaging credibility thanks to Affleck. He needed further reinforcements. Haider’s profile was on the rise and Harris more than understood the steadying influence that having Muslims and Ex Muslims on his side could provide to brand Harris. Relying on the ‘I’m friends with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’ routine was getting old and so Harris once again reverted to his default tactic of buying his way out of trouble. Less than a month later, Harris sent $20,000 to The Quilliam Foundation, a British organisation run by a new friend of his, a British Muslim he had been having some correspondence with by the name of Maajid Nawaz.
Harris and Nawaz would go on to consummate their coming together in the form of a book. Not your typical book, rather it was a published version of correspondence between the two, printed, bound and made available for a very reasonable price, of course. Such enlightening discussions are not available for free – they aren’t aimed at everybody. (No doubt this is the same result Harris was hoping to have with Noam Chomsky in 2015, when he first wrote to him hoping to have a similar ‘discussion’. Unfortunately Chomsky, who was not beholden to further publicity, slammed Harris’ ideas of making personal conversations public as a “strange form of exhibitionism”. I think we can guess what Chomsky would have said about going a step further and putting a price on it). But it is of course exhibitionism, which is the very lifeblood of ‘Hollywood Harris’, and thus it yields no surprise that this book is now morphing into a feature-length documentary film (featuring Hirsi Ali, of course), to be coming soon to all ‘strange’ and ‘exhibitionist’ cinemas near you. By the end of 2014, Harris was secure in the trenches, huddled in with a real life ‘Muslim Reformer’ on one side of him and EXMNA on the other. Harris had successfully doubled down on his tactic of purchasing his own army of PR credibility, helping to shield him from any future criticism.
This as stated earlier, was a successful tactic from Harris. He was able to somewhat restore his public image, with regards to criticising Islam, by referring to more ‘credible’ voices on the matter such as EXMNA or Quilliam/Nawaz, who were now on the Harris gravy train and happy to oblige. Harris has a lot invested in Haider’s loyalty especially, with Project Reason matching fundraising donations totaling up to $30,000 to EXMNA in 2015/2016. This pattern of Harris throwing his money at whomever he believes will boost and defend his image can be traced back further than 2014, however.
The Price of Loyalty
Public tax filings show in 2013, Harris’ Project Reason donated $10,000 to the AHA Foundation, an organisation set up by none other than Ayaan “Islam must be defeated” Hirsi Ali. Ali is an ex-muslim, she has her own backstory of escaping oppression in her homeland, had a public profile that at this time was on the rise and she was even referred to as the potential fifth horseman/horsewoman of the apocalypse. Needless to say, she fitted the bill for Harris. Like Nawaz, Ali enjoys a mutually beneficial arrangement with Harris which consists of boosting her own image (and her foundation’s bank account) in exchange for acting as the barrier to accusations of racism/white supremacism/chauvinism directed his way.
Hirsi Ali is a lost cause, firmly embedded within the Neoconservative Lobby. She considers fascist junta leader Sisi a “reformer” and racist war criminal Netanyahu a “man of peace”. Her AHA Foundation was set up with a mysterious $425,000 gift from an anonymous donor – which she promptly staffed with war-hungry neocons and Zionists. She has little-to-no interest in “reforming” Islam. Her preference is to “crush” it. The Islamophobic terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Breivik understood this well and he worshipped Hirsi Ali. From Breivik’s manifesto:
Because of her background she has made criticism of Islam acceptable to people who would otherwise find it difficult to digest the arguments she presents…She is an invaluable asset to the fight against global Jihad and as worthy of the Prize as any other living person
Similarly, between 2011 and 2013, Harris via Project Reason donated a total of fifteen thousand dollars to the Inârah Institute for Research on Early Islamic History, a German non-profit organisation supported by Saarland University. The Inârah institute is heavily entwined with anti-islam authors and scholars such as Ibn Warraq, who is named as one of the trustees. Like Ali, Warraq was raised as a practicing Muslim, and uses these experiences to claim superior insight into the inner workings of Islam. Warraq’s Wiki cites:
Fred Donner, a professor in Near Eastern studies, notes his lack of specialist training in Arabic studies, citing “inconsistent handling of Arabic materials,” and unoriginal arguments, and “heavy-handed favoritism” towards revisionist theories and “the compiler’s [i.e. Ibn Warraq’s] agenda, which is not scholarship, but anti-Islamic polemic.”
Warraq has been involved with the Robert Spencer run, Pamela Geller funded anti-Islamic hate group, Jihad Watch, which welcomed him with open arms onto their board in 2006 and have continued to promote his work ever since. As well as using Harris’ funding to help promote his views, Warraq has also been provided a platform from Harris via his podcast, ‘Waking Up’. Warraq’s works have been a source of inspiration for another of Breivik’s idols, the online blogger and anti-islamic, hate-preaching (“Islam, and all those who practice it, must be totally and physically removed from the entire Western world”) Fjordman, who Breivik cited 110 times in his own manifesto.
As good a job as Ali et al do in forming the inner ring of public-relations security around the seemingly unflappable Harris, he has since increased his annual spending on defence even further. Harris has acquired his very own pack of online/social media guard dogs, frothing at the mouth and ready to pounce on any whisper of criticism of their moral/spiritual leader. Through his Patreon (website for harnessing the donations of fans and other ‘artists’) account, Harris has (financially) ‘supported’ fellow ‘New Atheist’ fanatics, helping reinforce the bonds of ideological alliance with additional, financial ones. Brand Harris, it appears, is now offering online banking. Harris-supported ‘Patreons’ include:
Stephen Knight (aka Godless Spellchecker) – Perhaps the most relentless and loyal Knight at the round table of Lord Harris, Godless Spellchecker has been one of Harris’ longest lasting defenders and social media lap dogs. (Clueless?) Spellchecker uses his blog site to rush to the defence of his Patreon saint Harris and attack anybody who criticises him. The list of articles he has written condemning anybody who dares speak ill of his idol/sugar-daddy appears almost endless: Examples can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and also here.
Dave Rubin – Rubin’s love affair with this man appears to go further than simply a pay-for-say relationship as Rubin appears to wish he actually was Harris. Idolising his Jedi Master and praying at his feet, Rubin is one of Harris’ first Twitter bodyguards when the likes of Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur criticise him. Harris not only compensates Rubin for his efforts, but has, like Ali, found a place for him in the upcoming documentary. Rubin has also repaid the favour by promoting Harris on his talk show, following in the footsteps of Maher.
Claire Lehman/Quillete – Lehman is the colleague of right-wing extremists at Rebel Media and founder and senior editor at Quillette, which is an online blogging site that will publish your views, as long as your ‘pitch’ is accepted by Lehman. Quillette’s site claims “At Quillette we respect ideas. Even dangerous ones. We feature writing from non-journalists and strive to give writers freedom to take risks and express controversial ideas” and is a self labelled “platform for free thought”. However, ironically, Quillette’s Patreon site proudly parades a review that promotes it as a site “without any Regressive Leftism”, exposing its own agenda and casting doubt on any serious freedom of opinion it claims to advocate for. Lehmann ensures that her ‘platform for free thought’ has Harris’ back. All this ‘freedom’ for Lehman’s writers coincidentally results in (at the time of writing) exclusively pro-Harris articles such as the aptly named “In defence of Sam Harris” . See also here, here, here, here, and here.
Josh Zepps – Another fairly recent, in a long line of Harris recruits. It’s still early days for Zepps, however we can still see him here, putting himself in the line of fire.
From leaving school to today, Harris has been blessed with the ability to throw money at any obstacle that comes his way. He is is only too aware of his own brand and it’s influence on his ever-expanding bank account. In a recent interview with Omer Aziz, where, ironically, Aziz accused him of acting foremost in the interest of brand Harris, Shadowtolight observes:
“At 33:40, he complains that accusations of him being racist are closing off other opportunities for him to make money, at 34:00 he clearly states that being called a bigot and racist isn’t good for his career (and his “career” is to sell books and get paid for speeches), at 38:30 he complains about the “cost” of dealing with this issue, from 38:40 to 39:30 he makes it clear accusations of racism/bigotry interfered with his ability to promote his meditation book, and at 43:15 he complains about the “reputational costs” associated with such accusations”.
Hollywood Harris and his carefully crafted image, are testament to what big money and big name contacts can help you achieve. When brand Harris was lacking in credibility, it was these factors that came to his rescue. Again, when Harris was under attack, out came the chequebook as the first line of defence. And as Harris explains, it’s the best defence money can buy:
“If racism and bigotry were my underlying motive, explain…my friendships with current and former Muslims who I do everything in my power to defend from slander and hate. People like Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Or explain the solidarity I feel with freethinkers like Sarah Haider, Ali A. Rizvi, Faisal Saeed al Mutar, Ibn Warraq, and all the other Muslim and ex-Muslim authors…If I’m a bigot, I’m one of the most confused bigots who ever lived.”
Well Sam, we have to agree with you there.
*** Author Update *** – Following the completion of this article, Harris has since announced that come September 2017, he will be withdrawing his Patreon account. Sighting the shutting down of Laura Southern’s account by the Patreon team, Harris has stated that although he believes in Patreon and what they are trying to achieve, he simply “cannot afford” the risks associated with receiving his crowdfunded income via third party regulation. If we are to take this explanation from Sam at face value, one must assume that he is doing what he does best – protecting his financial interests – and that he will continue to give financial support to those he supports via Patreon, using alternative channels. What is worth noting however, is that Patreon has recently launched a new ‘Patreon Relationship Manager’, or ‘PRM’ function, which Inc.com describes as:
The PRM is reminiscent of a simplified version of Salesforce or a similar CRM. It allows creators to take notes on conversations with different supporters, view their pledge history and lifetime pledge amounts, and segment patrons based on various attributes. “It’s this huge sortable, filterable, searchable database with all your patron information in it,” Conte explained. This offering is head-and-shoulders above the relationship management and analytics capabilities that previously existed within Patreon.”
Basically, the PRM allows Patreon users or ‘creators’ to obtain a much more detailed account of the nature and specifics of each donations. A more sophisticated money trail, if you like. Food for thought.