Baden-Powell was a remarkable but flawed man who not only founded a global youth movement, but demonstrated homophobia at a time when homosexuality was illegal, and was an active member of the colonial forces at a time when our entire economy ran on exploiting foreign peoples and resources. Society has evolved since his time, as has the Scouting movement he founded. There is a debate to be had, and it is necessary. It is also necessary that any debate be had on a fair and equal footing based on all of the facts and with the benefit of perspective.
I am wholly supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a cursory search of my Twitter feed will demonstrate that if you are any doubt about my motives here. (I mention this only because of the current prevalence of people making false arguments for modern Nazis. I do not care for Nazis or even ‘mere racists’, and take significant risks to expose their lies and reach out to people who might be taken in by them.)
I’ve been a member of the Scouting movement for over 10 years in Britain as a leader (after an equal amount of time in the movement as a young person in Australia). When I talk to Scouts about where Scouting came from, I teach the entire history because the Siege of Mafeking, how it was conducted, and the fame for Baden-Powell that followed, is all central to understanding the DNA of Scouting. I do not gloss over due criticism, and if anything I have been ‘having this debate’ long before anyone insisted that we have it.
I’ve also been a political activist, blogger and campaigner for nearly 20 years.
I have always put my name to my campaigns. Further, I am diligent about accuracy and honesty and do not go after people’s reputations – alive or dead – without putting my name to it and risking my own reputation.
Because of an earlier background in DJing at public events, I am also highly conscious of my liabilities as an organiser of any event or action, and this ties in with my general concern for other humans: I would be mortified if any of my campaigns had caused widespread misinformation or – worse – put anyone in danger.
All of the following people played a key role in spreading disinformation and misinformation resulting in a needless panic that led to dozens of people travelling and gathering unnecessarily in a pandemic to protect a statue that was never under threat. In fact, the feeling against removal of the statue is so strong that a thousands-strong petition for it to stay has emerged in the last week.
So how did we get here?
Well, that’s the other thing I happen to do a lot of: teaching people how false stories like this explode into the media and later congeal into apocrypha that is all-too-readily accepted as fact. So let’s get on it, and name names. Where possible.
I wish I could bring you the name of someone who takes ultimate responsibility for the websites stoptrump.org.uk and the extension campaign toppletheracists.org, but they don’t provide one, and further, they refuse to answer any questions about those aspects of their site that clearly amount to a call to action to remove one statue or another (elsewhere they use alternative text on their site to explain that they are instead calling for ‘debate’, which completely ignores those aspects of their site that give an entirely different impression).
The site is titled ‘Topple the Racists’ which twins a clear call to action with an obvious allegation, and there was a big headline banner on every page for every statue listed (that they have since quietly changed without admitting fault) that at the time carried an even clearer call to action twinned with an even worse allegation: “Take down statues and monuments in the UK that celebrate slavery and racism”
Further, the allegations made on the site against a series of historical figures are ‘crowdsourced’ and carry no stamp of accuracy or authority. It was evidently not until after this Poole farrago kicked off that the site was changed to tone down that heading and acknowledge where their ‘evidence’ came from.
The allegations against Baden-Powell flat-out call him a ‘Nazi sympathiser’ and offer as their only evidence a link to the generic page for Baden-Powell on Wikipedia, which of course made no such case.
The case can be made that in 1937 a foolish old man feeling directionless and powerless in a retirement he wasn’t entirely happy about sought to use the energy of youth groups to work toward better understanding between nations: the same thing that happens every day in Scouting today. He was a damn fool to try to reason with Hitler (or Mussolini) on any level, but then, so was Gandhi.
Scouting was made illegal in Nazi Germany, and for the short time that Scouting and the Hitler Youth existed side by side, the groups fought. Scouts in Poland formed an active resistance when Nazi Germany invaded and sacrificed their lives doing so. You would have to be ignorant of every aspect of this history and extremely careless about reputations to make misleading statements like BP was ‘associated with the Hitler Youth movement’ (as the Telegraph did this weekend).
Sadly, the organisation ‘UK Stop Trump’ cared more about publicity than accuracy throughout, and only ever made excuses for themselves. They did not apologise for any role they played in this needless panic, and instead quietly edited their mistakes away.
We may have similar goals, but we appear to have very different principles.
An activist in Poole and former Labour Party PPC, Corrie Drew was determined to go one better than the unknown authors of ‘Topple the Racists’, and declared that Baden-Powell was ‘enthusiastic about Hitler’ and further claimed this was supported by ‘documentation’.
The screen capture she used in her opening tweet resulted in a 1-2-3 combo of (1) ‘Topple The Racists’, (2) ‘Take down statues and monuments in the UK that celebrate slavery and racism’, and (3) the name and location of Baden-Powell’s statue in Poole.
No-one should be surprised that anyone reading this screen capture might conclude that someone was calling for this specific statue to be removed.
Keeping in mind that the only ‘documentation’ Drew published in a separate tweet at the time was an opinion piece discredited for cherry-picking evidence and quoting Baden-Powell vastly out of context, I asked Corrie Drew for the documentation she used to support her statement.
In short: Baden-Powell is accused of describing Mein Kampf as a ‘wonderful book’. In The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Telegraph every ‘journalist’ repeated this quote, not realising or caring that it had been shortened to change its apparent meaning: “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.”
However, the quote in full clearly calls Hitler out as a hypocrite, and in any case people who were genuinely enthuisiastic about Hitler bought his book long before he invaded Poland and enthused about it publicly, rather than in private diaries.
The full quote, that did not appear in any newspaper that I am aware of, goes like this: “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc. – and ideals which Hitler does not practice himself.” I have chosen to illustrate the true meaning of this passage with a meme to aid those who struggle with historical context and basic comprehension.
Personally, I can relate, because I’ve been quoted wildly out of context by The Sun and the Daily Mail myself.
So, knowing all of this, I asked Corrie Drew what she based her allegations on and where I might find the documentation she referenced. First, she ignored me, then she asked me why out of all the BLM campaigners in the world I was ‘picking on her’, then she said she didn’t have “unlimited time to respond to things online,” then she invited me to ‘search in Google’ for the evidence, before, with a final flourish, she claimed that she would be reporting me to police for daring to ask.
Corrie Drew also took the time to deny several things I did not accuse her of, repeatedly refusing to engage with my questions about what she had published.
As in many interviews she enjoyed after courting this publicity, Corrie Drew refused to back up any of the allegations she made and instead waffled about the merit of debates and moaned about how people were being unfair to her. Despite earlier tweets declaring that she had “spent time researching this” she offered no indication that she had ‘researched’ beyond a single opinion piece and on multiple occasions invited myself and others to ‘do our own research’. Anybody seasoned in politics knows what this indicates, but in case you are not aware, if you make a definitive statement, the onus is on you to back it up, not the person who hears it or reads it. Inviting people to do their own research indicates that you have nothing to back up what you said other than your own prejudice.
Corrie Drew also denied courting publicity on the grounds that (a) the press contacted her after her publicity stunt, and (b) she allegedly turned down some of the many interview opportunities that resulted.
Crucially, Drew further stated that it was not her fault that people came away with certain impressions about what she had said, and further alleged that unnamed parties had ‘overreacted’ to it.
I took all of this as a sign of intellectual dishonesty based on fear of consequences, and in case you are in any doubt, here is Corrie Drew badgering BCP Council leader Vikki Slade on Twitter and Facebook for her ‘under-reaction’, re-publishing and reiterating her allegation that Baden-Powell was ‘enthusiastic about Hitler’ and ignoring a call to remove the statue that she now denies she ever made at all.
Despite what she may claim now, Corrie Drew’s tweets included multiple calls to remove the statue, and here you can clearly see that she went on to berate a council member when they did not respond immediately and accordingly or react strongly enough to what she had claimed.
Corrie Drew’s behaviour was the main if not sole cause for councillor Vikki Slade concluding that there was a threat to the statue of Baden-Powell, and there is no question that what Drew published called for the removal of that statue on grounds she cannot substantiate with any argument based on actual research/documentation.
To be clear: any threat to the statue, perceived or otherwise, was driven mainly if not only by the careless and reckless rhetoric of Corrie Drew, and those components that she presented as fact and later defended as mere ‘thoughts’ and opinions that others should ‘do more research on’.
I could tell you now that Corrie Drew is a serial [pick a subject] offender and invite you to research it, and I would not be doing her any favours. Quite the opposite.
Calls to action like Drew’s can sometimes lead to angry mobs, Corrie Drew clearly wasn’t going to back down, and by sheer coincidence, Vikki Slade had only just survived a massive challenge to her authority at the time in the form of a no-confidence vote.
Vikki Slade clearly sought to protect the public and the statue from harm, but the main mistake she made was involving police in her narrative. Instead of bearing the weight of the decision herself, Vikki Slade repeatedly gave the impression that she was taking this action on the specific advice of Dorset Police.
I have little doubt that Vikki Slade reported Corrie Drew’s publications and perhaps even some associated behaviour to police (Slade also complained of abusive calls, for example), but Dorset Police have issued very clear statements that they issued no such advice and the dreaded ‘target list’ of statues referenced was merely a description of the ‘ToppleTheRacists.org’ website.
When asked about this, Vikki Slade first claimed that she had “made plenty of comment already” and then said she was “not making any further comment,” but the fact is that someone from council made a false and misleading claim about a decision to remove the statue being made on the advice of police, and no-one is taking responsibility for that.
You might be thinking that this would be the kind of thing the local newspaper would pick up on.
You would be wrong.
Josh Wright bills himself as a ‘Local Democracy Reporter for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole’, he is the source for the published claim that Dorset Police issued advice about the statue.
The ‘I’m now told’ source is someone at the local council offices that Josh refuses to identify on the grounds that he does not ‘single out individuals’ and does not wish to ‘start a witch hunt against an employee of the council who was doing their job’ because he as a local reporter needs good relationships with these same people going forward.
Josh Wright’s ‘journalism’ will help you to understand why so little news appears in local newspapers, and his behaviour demonstrates to me that his priority was publicity for himself and the newspaper, rather than for any standards or accuracy.
And like Corrie, and Vikki, and the unknown authors of ‘ToppleTheRacists.org’, after it all blew up, Josh took far more care with his own reputation than he did with Baden-Powell’s.
The website and campaign for @UKStopTrump is run by person(s) unknown, and I do not trust them to be diligent about accuracy or have any due care for honesty or public safety.
Mistakes made by Vikki Slade and Josh Wright resulted in an unreliable and reckless activist being amplified to an absurd degree, but there is no question about the significance of Drew’s actions and later duplicity.
People travelled needlessly in a pandemic because they felt the need to protect a statue that was only ever ‘under threat’ because one person over-egged this pudding and refused to back down and listen to reason.
Corries Drew’s initial publications evidently called for the removal of Baden-Powell’s statue on a false prospectus. Instead of standing by it, Drew now seeks to argue her innocence with a further false prospectus. Several of these arguments seek to defame me personally.
I will leave Corrie Drew with the final word. Make of it what you will.
“I don’t believe it was my tweet which caused the council to act at all. There were many others discussing it. I have merely been picked out because of my previous political role. We all have Google & can look through the different reports on BP as I have done. ” – Corrie Drew
[This is an article about what happened in Poole and how we arrived at the point where a needless panic happened. Valiant attempts were made to reach all parties for comment, put these points to them, and hear their argument. Comments submitted to this site seeking to make Corrie Drew’s arguments for her after the fact with wild allegations about BP/others will not be published. If Drew wishes to write out a report based on her alleged research, I would be delighted to respond to that in an article relevant to her arguments, and invite comment, no problem.]