The dangerous Mr Ansar
Have you heard of Mohammed 'Mo' Ansar? If you're British, you almost certainly have, as in the past four years he has become a regular fixture on radio and television shows in the UK. His niche is as a 'social and political commentator' discussing Islam and Muslim life in Britain, and as such he has appeared on the BBC, Channel 4, Sky News, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, PressTV (the latter two are propaganda networks of authoritarian regimes) and many other channels. He is most often featured speaking out against the demonisation of Islam and Muslims and calling for more calm and tolerance.
Well, that's for the good, surely? A measured, moderate voice in the public sphere is to be applauded.
Except Mo Ansar is far from moderate. He has some very immoderate views indeed, and is a devious charlatan to boot. With no serious base of expertise to draw on, he has created a media profile for himself built on sycophancy, evasion and deception. He has smeared perceived rivals, inflamed tensions and promoted extremist views repeatedly. He is also a conspiracy theorist, a 9/11 'Truther' who has quoted a Holocaust-denying website to claim Jesus was not a Jew, and who believes Hitler was part-Jewish and Muslims lived in America 500 years before Columbus and Europeans arrived. He claims to have worked for LGBT rights for 15 years, but thinks homosexuality is a sin. He may seem like a buffoon at times, but his ruthless pursuit of more airtime has been toxic.
The rise of this narcissistic, faux-pious conman as the media's go-to Muslim pundit is a bizarre one. It has been almost entirely fuelled by his online presence. Before he had 22,000 followers on Twitter and had befriended the likes of Russell Brand, he was a financial consultant for Lloyds/TSB in Winchester. In 2006, he sued his employer over a staff loan he had been asked to repay in 1999. Ansar claimed the bank's request for him to repay the loan was an act of discrimination. He represented himself in court but lost, and his case was dismissed again on appeal. He was judged to have 'manipulated circumstances for his own benefit'.
At some point after this, Mo Ansar reinvented himself as a 'moderate' commentator on Muslim affairs. He seems to have joined Twitter as '@moansar' on March 1 2009, but no record of that early incarnation survives. A year later, he emerged again on the same account, tweeting: 'Open for business'. He immediately set about that business, sending his pithy views to figures in the media in a bid to attract attention. Before long he had become a fixture on Twitter, on friendly terms with Times columnist David Aaronovitch and many others, but as his profile grew he was also subject to increasing abuse on the platform, including racist abuse. Ansar reported some of this to the police, but he also tried to use it to drum up further media appearances:
The shamelessly opportunistic use of the discrimination against him to further his career brings to mind that 2006 judgement: once again, Mo Ansar was manipulating circumstances for his own benefit. By now, he was a prolific Twitter user, discussing issues related to Islam and Muslims, often vehemently, with others. He was also using his representation of himself in his employment tribunal to claim he was a 'lawyer' and 'legal advocate', tweeting about himself in these terms to many people and even claiming that Lord Justice Leveson had previously condoned bribery to him. After polite but determined questioning from legal journalist David Allen Green this week, Ansar finally admitted this is not the case (having first suggested the questions constituted harrassment).
In December 2011, another Twitter account appeared: '@moansar2’. The account's tweets have since been deleted, but it looks to have initially been a back-up account, as the user was not just called '@moansar2’, with 'Ansar’ as the account's main name, but the account's description read:
'If I'm on this account, either there's a problem with the other one, or by some oddity, I've hit the daily tweet limit.'
Ansar is an avid Twitter user, with over 100,000 tweets at the time of writing, and he often argues contentious issues about Islam with aggressive users. He looks likely to have set up the @moansar2 account precisely because he went over his daily tweet limit, meaning he couldn't continue this argument (his side of which he has since deleted). It seems clear that he continued the discussion with that user as @moansar2, which is also supported by the timing of the tweets - @moansar2 tweeted the user in question just a few minutes after @moansar stopped doing so.
Ansar has claimed he only has one overflow account, @mo_ansar, and has implied that @moansar2 was a parody or an impersonation of some sort. But this stretches credulity to breaking point. Firstly, it is clear even from the one-sided context that there was nothing parodic about @moansar2, who was defending Islam just as seriously as @moansar had been doing a few minutes earlier. As for impersonation, it's hard to think of a motive for that, especially as Ansar would likely have noticed an impostor claiming to be him and arguing with the same person. Ansar was so keenly aware of a Twitter account parodying his platitudinous contradictions he urged others to report the account as abuse. In addition, the @moansar2 account advanced a rather unusual point in that discussion:
'Muslims do not scream death to infidels. Holy war was a phrase coined by Crusaders invading the Holy Lands.'
Two years later, @moansar argued this same point on Twitter, twice, using very similar wording:
Despite the deletion of multiple tweets, it is hard to think of a plausible explanation for this other than that @moansar2 was an account used by Mo Ansar when his main account was locked due to overtweeting in the midst of an argument.
Perhaps because it was set up for that reason, the @moansar2 account went quiet after that brief heated argument - but it would return under another guise three years later.
In November 2011, a user calling themselves 'Driller Kay' joined Youtube. Around a year later, they uploaded a video of a webcast discussion hosted by the American actor Sean Astin on Israel and Palestine, featuring Ansar. 'Driller Kay' has since uploaded over 30 more videos to the site, every one of them featuring Ansar in a media appearance. It's an extraordinary record of the man's rise from webcasts and local radio appearances to flagship national programmes such as the Today programme and Newsnight. Ansar is seemingly an expert on every subject under the sun. But when you scratch the surface, it's more like he has read up online for 15 minutes in the taxi on the way to the studio.
At around 10 minutes into this interview uploaded by 'Driller Kay’, Ansar accidentally admits he recently uploaded a 'Driller Kay' clip to Youtube before rapidly retracting it to say a friend had done it. But the clip he mentions is a recording of a private telephone conversation he had made. At the very least, 'Driller Kay’ is an exceptionally close friend of Mo Ansar's.
At around the same time as 'Driller Kay' emerged, Ansar started an online petition calling on the British government to ban the English Defence League, a far-right nationalist street-movement that was largely being coordinated online. This attracted 6,448 signatures, presumably not all of which were aliases of Mr Ansar, but it didn't persuade the government to ban the EDL.
It did, however, raise Ansar's profile. On April 1 2012, he appeared on the BBC TV programme The Big Questions, a confrontational daytime show, facing Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka 'Tommy Robinson', the EDL's leader. This seems to be the biggest media appearance Ansar had made to date, and he created a good impression. Faced with the thuggish Yaxley-Lennon, Ansar seemed calm, eloquent and moderate. Towards the end of the programme, he extended an invitation to 'Tommy', saying that if he and his family ever wanted to come around to his home for dinner, they would be welcomed.
This in turn led to a very high-profile documentary, When Tommy Met Mo. The programme aired on BBC 1 on 28 October 2013, and followed Yaxley-Lennon on his journey of disillusionment with the ideas and direction of the English Defence League, which he had co-founded. The programme showed Yaxley-Lennon visiting a mosque with Ansar, Ansar addressing an EDL rally and the two men meeting experts to discuss Islam and how its tenets applied to Britain today. The programme slowly revealed Ansar to be a very slippery customer indeed - Yaxley-Lennon said he found him personally charming, but dubbed him 'No Answer' on account of his penchant for sidestepping difficult questions. The programme showed it to be the case time and again: Ansar was adept at mouthing platitudes about the need to counter extremism, but unwilling to be drawn when questioned on specific issues. One highly revealing portion of the programme showed a meeting between Ansar and Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist Islamist who now runs a counter-extremist organisation, The Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz asked Ansar if he condemned cutting off people's hands for theft. Ansar, looking like a shifty schoolboy, condemned it, but Nawaz then asked him the following:
'If an Islamic state existed, should it chop off someone's hand for theft, if all the sharia conditions are met? Please, yes or no... I'll tell you my answer: no.'
Ansar prevaricated, saying his mind was not made up on every tenet, and Nawaz responded by calling it morally reprehensible to dodge such an easily answered question.
It was a significant moment: Yaxley-Lennon, seeing the exchange, was very impressed by Maajid Nawaz, who had just shown that he was a genuine moderate, prepared to directly counter extremist views. On October 8 2013, Yaxley-Lennon left the EDL, holding a widely reported press conference in London with Nawaz. When Tommy Met Mo had ended up as 'When Tommy Met Maajid'. Nawaz had not just received precisely the publicity Mo Ansar wanted from the programme - he had done it by demonstrating to everyone watching that Ansar was not a genuine moderate, but merely posing as one.
In January 2014, Maajid Nawaz was a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats. He appeared on The Big Questions, the same programme in which Ansar had got his first big break. Two men in the audience wore T-shirts with cartoons of Jesus and Mohammed saying hello to each other, a political point about how Muslims take offence at images of their prophet even if the image appears completely innocuous to non-Muslims. Some Muslims in the audience said they did indeed find the cartoon offensive, but Nawaz said he didn't. He later tweeted the image, repeating his point.
Mo Ansar seized his chance for revenge. When a petition was set up calling for Nawaz to be deselected by his party as a candidate, Ansar tweeted a link to it fifteen times, and discussed it many more online and in the media. Many condemned him for this, pointing out he was fanning the flames of extremism and could encourage death threats against Nawaz. Mo Ansar breezily condemned the death threats, but carried on campaigning against Nawaz on the cartoon issue anyway, despite being unable to say that he found it offensive himself when directly challenged by David Aaronovitch on radio and by Nawaz himself on Newsnight.
Thankfully, nothing came of those threats - but it might have done. Had anything happened, Mo Ansar would not have been solely responsible, of course, but in my view he would have been partly so. It was a malicious and potentially extremely dangerous thing to do. And he knew he was doing it.
But despite disrupting Nawaz's political ambitions, the worm had turned. Ansar's spitefulness and evasiveness when questioned politely on this and other issues had now repelled a lot of people, including LBC presenter Iain Dale. In a Twitter conversation in March 2014, Ansar started out by referring to Dr Mohammed Naseem, the chairman of a mosque in Birmigham who had made some extremely bigoted comments about homosexuality, among other things. Instead of condemning those comments, Ansar repeatedly avoided questions from Dale about it. Angry, Dale called him a 'gobby prick' and said he would not have Ansar on his show any more. Ansar responded by going to the police and claiming that Dale's tweets to him were 'anti-Muslim prejudice' or even racism.
Yes. He went to the police.
For many, this was the last straw. The email Ansar had sent the police was leaked onto Twitter, and most people made up their mind about the man. As well as Iain Dale, columnist David Aaronovitch, historian Tom Holland and TV and radio presenter (and narrator of When Tommy Met Mo) Nicky Campbell had all had enough. As well as the Nawaz and Dale affairs, Ansar had gone after each of these men, too, with his charge that Holland was 'fuelling the thought leaders of the far right' with his Channel 4 documentary on Islam strikingly similar to what he had done to Maajid Nawaz. But there's only so much space I can devote to this man's malfeasance. This article barely skims the surface of it.
Due to all this, Ansar was now on the back foot in the court of public opinion, and particularly the court he had emerged from and thrived in, Twitter. He decided to hit back in a deeply unpleasant way. He used a sockpuppet: a false online identity to defend himself and attack others.
He went back to the old '@moansar2’ account and changed its name to '@The_Truthteller'. The avatar was a still from the film The Matrix Revolutions, Neo as 'The One'. The name on the account was 'Ansar'. Here is a screenshot:
If you use Twitter, this should be fairly clear. But if not, the first tweet you see, from '@ZionistWit', is someone debating Islam with '@moansar2’ on December 1 2011. The answer below was made on the same day from the '@moansar2’ account but because of the later name-change it has been cached by Google as by '@The_Truthteller’. '@ZionistWit’ has also changed their name, as they were '@Flood2171656’ at the time of the conversation, and that is confirmed here. Note that the account name of '@The_Truthteller’ says 'Ansar'.
It's hard to see how this could be anyone but Mo Ansar. The account had his name on it twice: '@moansar2’ and 'Ansar', and argued as him, in his style, for no apparent undeclared purpose and without Mo Ansar objecting.
On March 25 2014, Ansar resurrected this account, removing the 'Ansar' element to the identity altogether. Now it was '@The_Truthteller', with the name 'The Truthteller'. And he went to work. His first tweet was to a Vine made by 'Driller Kay' of his appearance on Newsnight, titled 'Mo Ansar Rips 'Extremist' Maajid Nawaz'. The account also classed Nawaz as a fascist along with Nick Griffin and others.
This is a good description of some of his subsequent activities with this account, including his vile use of it to smear Tom Holland and others as a fascist, but the account was also vehement in its defence of Mo Ansar, vicious to his perceived enemies, and abusive, particularly to women:
These are just a few examples - in another, he told a woman to shut up and called her a 'bitch'. Ansar has deleted many tweets since I started looking into this, but fails to realise that Google and other sites tend to cache everything sooner or later, as some of the links in this article show.
Before I discussed the above evidence that 'The Truthteller' was Mo Ansar, several people he interacted with already suspected it was him, despite the conspicuously shonky spelling and grammar.
Ansar deleted the account when I exposed it on Twitter, and I was suddenly flooded with anonymous accounts justifying him to me and others, and trying to smear me for all sorts of nonsense. I was also, briefly, suspended from Twitter. No doubt a coincidence. Four of the Twitter accounts who defend Ansar from even the tiniest of criticisms, while sharing some of his more bizarre views on history and religion, call themselves 'Ann Fields'. Many have noticed that Ansar is a Liverpool FC fan, whose ground is of course Anfield. But perhaps that's simply a coincidence, and he has some fans almost as devoted to him as 'The_Truthteller', 'Driller Kay' and Wikipedia's 'Avenger786’. In an attempt to prove that he was not 'Ann Fields', Ansar offered to meet David Aaronovitch at a cricket match. But the suggestion itself rather heavily implies the opposite, as it would have been impossible for him to be certain 'Ann Fields' would be tweeting while he met David unless he had prearranged for 'her' to do so. This has shades of Johann Hari and the curious incident of someone meeting his online alias 'David Rose'.
Many have written about Mo Ansar online, and there will be more to come in print shortly. But for all the comic absurdity of his claims to be a lawyer, an LGBT activist, an 'educationalist', a lecturer and seemingly dozens of other professions, the details of which he never wants to substantiate, don't make the mistake of thinking him harmless. He is a dangerous fraud, and has knowingly spoken in a way to incite death threats against others, for petty revenge.