Most of us probably mute, block or ignore online news sources that are full of nonsense or outright offensive, and we are all aware of the (too little, too late) social media platform warnings that now appear on posts containing obvious misinformation. We may even have seen a slender glimmer of hope as repeat offenders are increasingly finding themselves banned altogether from major platforms.
But back in the offline world, we will still pick up and flick through any old newspaper being handed out in the park or street, stacked by the till, stuffed through your letterbox, or even just grab whatever is lying on the bar to read while we wait for our ale to settle.
This seems to be the approach of The Light, a self-styled “Truthpaper” that sprung up since the start of the pandemic and claims a circulation of 100,000. Started by prominent Flat Eather Darren Smith (aka Darren Nesbitt), The Light is distributed widely in the UK, from copies posted through doors in London to the pile of them I found in a vegan establishment in Lancashire.
The newspaper, for the majority of us lucky enough to have avoided reading a copy, focuses primarily on stories that claim the pandemic isn’t real, COVID-19 isn’t as bad as the flu, vaccines are dangerous, face-masks don’t work, and that the last two years has all just been a scam orchestrated by shadowy global figures bent on controlling everyone and everything as part of some sort of totalitarian masterplan. While all of this is obviously very dangerous – if people are convinced to stay unvaccinated this is a huge risk, especially to clinically vulnerable people – this is not the most surprising aspect of The Light: its politics.
At a glance, the unwary could easily mistake The Light for a gently anti-establishment independent free paper that has a natural home in bars and hippie-ish cafes. A lot of the adverts that The Light carries are for food supplements, wellness services, CBD, and healing therapies, and there are also a few articles about the benefits of a “natural” approach to health.
The non-COVID-19 content, however, leans in a direction that would typically be considered to be at the other end of the political spectrum from wellness and civil liberties, and has the potential to act as a introduction to some very unpleasant content online, run by some of the providers and organisations that The Light reprints.
Starting right from Issue 1 back in 2020, The Light was warning of creeping totalitarianism in western democracies, as they saw it exemplified by the arrest of anti-vax conspiracy theorist and Covid-denier Piers Corbyn. In the very same issue, The Light lauded Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for his democratic mandate from the 2020 election, which is a strange endorsement for a man re-elected in a vote marred by widespread claims of electoral fraud:
Even before the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus ended, a poll worker in Minsk said she was asked to sign a document summing up its result, with the vote totals left blank. Another worker who pointed out violations during the vote-counting was fired on the spot.
One swallow does not a summer make, of course. Could this report be an aberration?
In Issue 2 (front page headline: “Agenda 21: For the few, not the many”) there is a further story about their favourite
dictator democratic leader Lukashenko and his victimisation by the world elites, sitting alongside a promotional story from state-owned news agency Sputnik. Sputnik is often described as a Russian government propaganda outfit and was recently banned in the EU following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
By Issue 6 (front page headline: “Covid Shots Kill And Injure Hundreds”) an article inside encourages readers to visit Rebel News, a Canadian website that has been described as being alt-right, anti-Muslim and far-right, and whose past contributors include a white nationalist who gave an interview to the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer podcast, and a writer who founded the neo-fascist Proud Boys.
Issue 13 (front page headline: “Study shows children have 99.995% covid recovery rate”) finds The Light reprinting an article on vaccines from The Epoch Times, a newspaper and media company that has spread QAnon nonsense on YouTube and given platforms to German and French far-right politicians. This issue features a further article that can be found at Epoch Times, this time on climate change denial, and written by a fellow of the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute spends a lot of time on climate change denial these days, but older readers may recall it used to oppose tobacco regulation and question the links between smoking and cancer.
To bring us up to date, Issue 18 has a front page article headlined “The Great Deception”, which contains the line:
Our world is utterly corrupt and the result is a deteriorating quality of life for those of us who are not billionaires. We are actually encouraged to worship the oligarchs, as if excessive wealth in a world of widespread poverty is anything to be lauded.
Presumably this was penned before the current events in Ukraine – or I have a big blindspot for the articles in the mainstream media praising oligarchs of late. This edition features an article on vaccine safety from Free West Media, described as being “Right-Biased and Questionable based on the promotion of conspiracies, propaganda and the use of poor sources, and a lack of transparency” by Media Bias Fact Check. Alongside a slew of pro-Putin, anti-Zelensky articles, Free West Media also publishes a regular column by economist Paul Craig Roberts, who in his retirement took to writing articles about the WTC twin towers being brought down by controlled demolition and defending Holocaust-denier David Irving..
I have no idea whether the (obviously wrong about Covid) writers and distributors of The Light share such political views, or are even aware of their publication’s links to far-right and extreme content, but I have to hope that the bar staff, newsagents and shopkeepers who let people leave copies of The Light have no idea of the gateway to hate that they’re letting into their premises. If you spot a stack in your local shop, it may be worth asking the shopkeeper to think again.