Thursday, 23 August 2012

Of freaks who come out at night

A while back I was laughing at the clueless ‘street pastor’ scheme, whereby those few special constables the Manx police force can persuade to patrol Douglas’s deadly dull streets as the pubs chuck out now at least have brightly clad evangelical ‘care in the community’ cases to talk to.
As I said at the time, this bonkers phenomenon seems to be taking off in quiet towns with no history of late night disturbances – which seemed odd. The only common traits seemed to be grandstanding small town politicians along with close links between redneck police forces and the most mentally challenged brands of the godbothering racket. In short, a recipe for more faith-based lunacy and another drain on the rates.
It was no surprise that such nonsense would eventually reach the island – given the number of what P. J. O’Rourke calls ‘moral buttinskis’ blundering around government buildings looking for a handout – but if geriatric spinsters want to make up for wasted lives by watching daft adolescents spew down their tasteless T-shirts around Friday midnight, let them. Got to be more fun than flower arranging or whatever else they spent their previous six or seven decades doing.
Now a friend ‘across the water’ (he's another close observer of faith-based lunacy) has more evidence of this fad. It started when he noticed a Guardian article (see uncritically parrot an obvious press release (see in more detail at ). So far, so unsurprising. Private Eye, amongst others, has noted that even the press bible of the bleeding heart liberal is carrying rather a lot of one-sided twaddle from rank amateurs at present – possibly linked to the same falling sales and staff layoffs the entire print press industry is seeing.
Note at once – eerily similar claims and stories, which give away the source of all such stories as a common one, which is certainly not any of the dreary bible-bashers currently causing small town drunks to redecorate high street pavements with even more of the alcohol and spirits industry’s produce even faster.
The stunning thing about these phenomena is that the movement has spread around the UK without one police force doing background checks which should immediately interest any half-awake Fraud Squad. 
The 'charity' behind it is the Ascension Trust, which has actually been registered twice. First in 1994, when it managed to run until 2010 without once filing accounts or even basic information to the England & Wales Charity Commission. In turn,  behind that was an odd evangelical from Ghana who I seem to remember was the subject of numerous complaints and suspicions - never investigated because of his friendship with police officers who tried to introduce the Guardian Angels (also closely linked with evangelicals - Seventh Day Adventists in that case) to London. 
In 2008 the Ascension Trust re-registered but still didn't file any accounts until 2010 (i.e. the last possible moment before the Charity Commission could have instigated strike-off). The source of £682,20K of the £776.20K declared income is described only vaguely as ‘charitable activities’, and the 'charity' doesn't do any fundraising. In short, since 1994 the charity has never made any satisfactory explanation as to how it raises funds or what it does with the loot, and has been allowed to get away with this on the dubious grounds that it is a religious group 'helping' busy police with good works.
If you check the latest examples, you'll see that the new groups tend to start in quiet towns with no record of late night violence and general drunken disorder, and the volunteers tend to be elderly white churchgoers of limited education and - well, let's just say they tend to have had quiet lives!  This is significant, as is the way that new groups spring up in areas where godbotherers have more than a little influence on local police through police liaison committees and so on, and also places where professional police officers are being pulled off the street in favour of either special constables or those community wardens/police support officers (i.e. volunteers and part-timers with little or no training and no powers of arrest).
 Police, councils and indeed the organisers of the new groups have all bought into the myth that the charity started in inner-city, multi-racial London giving practical help to police and calming potentially violent situations - a myth which seems ever less likely, especially given that the first version of the trust was so carelessly recorded by officialdom. As the new groups spring up, the original myth is being buried and only the claimed exploits of the new volunteers are recorded by journos who don't find time to look further, and the press cuttings in turn are the evidence offered for the next group along the line to start. Perhaps there's also some sort of franchise deal where the groups are expected to make a contribution to the Ascension Trust from whatever 'expenses' or 'charitable donations' local authorities make to their 'patrols'.
Steady little earner for the trustees, I’m sure, but probably only par for the course. Evangelical scamsters everywhere feed on not so much actual social unrest as the lazy tabloid mythologising, then use it to pimp their dubious schemes to cash-strapped local authorities. Public money is thrown down the drain, but no actual lives are altered for the better. All window-dressing, but do we blame the venal bible-bashers and their pyramid schemes, incompetent local authorities, lying local politicians, or lazy local press? Or all of the above?
And should we worry enough to stop it, or should we just have a quiet chuckle at yet another crazy addition to the curious subculture that passes for modern nightlife?
(hat tip to John Hunt)

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