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The HART Files: Inside the Group Trying to Smuggle Anti-Vaccine Myths into Westminster

The HART Files: Inside the Group Trying to Smuggle Anti-Vaccine Myths into Westminster

By Jordan Wildon, Nick Backovic, and Ernie Piper

Chat records and other documents obtained by Logically show that a U.K. group of lockdown-skeptic political activists and health professionals have been coordinating efforts to lobby MPs and gain political and media influence, with an aim to “wrestle control back from SAGE.”

Logically reviewed hundreds of documents and tens of thousands of messages sent between members of HART (Health Advisory and Recovery Team) which go as far back as January, prior to the group’s official launch. The documents, including briefing bulletins that were sent to MPs, are outwardly polished in their presentation so as to appear legitimate, but the chat logs reveal a deeper connection to disinformation narratives commonly encountered on alternative news sites.

On its website, HART describes itself as “a group of highly qualified UK doctors, scientists, economists, psychologists and other academic experts” who came together “over shared concerns about policy and guidance recommendations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Logically’s analysis of the chat logs reveals more than 150 members, whereas fewer than 45 members appear on HART’s “Who Are We?” webpage, which notably omits some of the most prolific members working behind the scenes. Initially, the group branded itself as giving a “credible second opinion for politicians, the media, businesses and the wider public.” In pursuit of this goal, it coordinated efforts to create and distribute medical misinformation through a variety of channels.

 

Inside the logs

Logically obtained the HART chat logs via a tip from someone inside the group. The person behind the leak, who spoke to Logically on the condition of anonymity, said that they had been researching the group after a friend shared links from HART. 

“I tried to convince this friend that that site was not a good source of information,” they said. “I became a bit obsessed with the HART group. I wanted to understand them. I wanted to be able to show people, with evidence, why the HART group should not be taken seriously.”

After discovering that a subdomain on the HART website linked to the group’s Rocket.Chat, a popular Slack alternative, they found that the chat was accessible to anyone who registered an account. Later, realizing that they hadn’t been removed from the group, they began saving the messages, automatically archiving redacted message content every hour and uploading it to the internet.

Among the group’s most active and notable contributors are businessman and political activist Narice Bernard, former Pfizer executive widely cited in antivax circles Dr. Michael Yeadon, pathologist Dr. Clare Craig, export credit specialist and libertarian Baron Bernie de Haldevang, anti-mask activist Jemma Moran, retired pediatrician and UsForThem campaigner Ros Jones, and Anna Rayner, who once described herself as a “homeopath specialising in treatment of Autism and related disorders, Vaccine Damage and heavy metal toxicity.”

The history of the chat logs reveal a clear and well organized lobbying campaign. One spreadsheet contained a complete list of members of the House of Commons, including their email addresses, Twitter handles, and lockdown voting history, highlighting those who most often voted against lockdowns. Roles within HART were also well defined. A document listing the HART group’s organizational structure shows specific areas for members to work on, including an executive coordinator role for Anna Rayner, who due to her “working in a maligned area of healthcare” wanted to remain “in the shadows.” "My role is to get us noticed at Westminster,” wrote Bernie de Haldevang, introducing himself to new members of the group in January, “the more we are the stronger we become, so a very warm welcome to you and I hope to get to know you all shortly."

HART members are critical of policies such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, and vaccination while also claiming that COVID is not a pandemic but an endemic. While the group does not believe, by and large, that the vaccines don’t work or that COVID doesn’t exist, they do frequently recommend alternative treatments such as ivermectin and vitamin D, at times claiming “the vaccine isn’t a vaccine,” as well as laundering views from more extreme and questionable sources such as the Daily Expose, Children’s Health Defense (a known anti-vax group in the U.S.), and dubious news sources. 

 

Communications Strategy

The group prioritizes “optics” over mass messaging or public facing content, and members emphasize the need to present their talking points in a “vanilla” manner for MPs, with “articles driven in journalistic style, so no redoing the science, but breaking it down for not too bright MPs and journalists to get their heads around and to aid our lobbying efforts.” One of the group’s main goals is targeting MPs in order to exert influence within Westminster: “[MPs] are lemmings, I am afraid and they will only really follow if a few senior ones buy into what we publish.”

Businessman and prominent Keir Starmer supporter Narice Bernard describes the group’s communications strategy in a post, saying “We don‚'t (sic) exist to engage the public this a (sic) a top down strategy. Engagement with the public would make us campaigners and doors will close very fast largely because it would be a threatening posture to the government. We do have a plan nonetheless of engagement with the public which is to update them as people join and any strategic discussions which are noteworthy.” Bernard also appears keen to engage Labour MPs as well as Conservative ones, in order to avoid “appropriation” by an existing anti-lockdown group of Tory MPs.

I would strongly suggest removing terms like genocide and Bill Gates stuff" - HART co-chair

Though some members of the group are keen to resist associating themselves with conspiracy theory figures, this resistance is usually based on a desire to seem palatable to the outside world, rather than a hostility to those beliefs as such. For example, when discussing whether to attempt to recruit Dr. Thomas Binder, a Swiss cardiologist who was detained under mental health legislation in April, a co-chair of HART wrote, “Binder is extremely outspoken and quite controversial on a number of levels. If you want a headline like ‘member of anti lockdown group is 9/11 conspiracy theorist’ then go ahead, otherwise I'd avoid,” before going on to describe Binder’s conspiratorial views, such as WEF and Great Reset conspiracy theories. “[These views] are an extreme version of ours,” the co-chair adds, “Again, some of us here may have those views as well but they aren't going to get us mainstream attention."

The majority of the documents exchanged by the group members were hosted on Google Drive with publicly accessible open sharing settings, while others were attached to the Rocket.Chat messages themselves or reshared from the HART’s former Slack group. 

Among the files shared were copies of letters and briefings the group drafted to send to politicians, members of the press, and in one case, the University of Edinburgh. In the letter, signed by only one group member, the author called for the dismissal of University of Edinburgh professor Devi Sridhar, for “promoting propaganda on vaccines to innocent children,” adding, “I would call this taking part in a genocide program.” Nearing the end of the letter the author writes “not only is [their] behaviour unethical but criminal. This is a crime against humanity.”

Upon sharing the draft letter with the group, members workshopped it, “I would strongly suggest removing terms like genocide and [Bill] Gates stuff - it is unnecessary. The university will be concerned about reputational risk,” wrote one of the organisation’s co-chairs. “If we hit the universities, this is where they’re getting paid from. Cut off their source of oxygen,” replied the original author. It’s not clear whether this letter was eventually sent, but another letter did make it to the University of Edinburgh from UsForThem Scotland. A copy of the reply was shared with the HART group. The UK Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA) also sent an open letter to Sridhar, which was then also uploaded to the Children’s Health Defense website. Around the same time, an article criticizing Sridhar was posted to the Conservative Woman, a website that regularly re-packages extremist viewpoints, exclusively quoting Ros Jones of HART, as well as referring to the UKMFA, of which HART member Liz Evans is listed as a founder. Evans introduces herself in the HART channels as “running UK Medical Freedom Alliance.”

The group also spends significant time discussing the discredited theory of “biomagnetism”, that is, whether vaccines can make the recipient magnetic.

The members of the group also repeatedly make claims about the media being controlled, social media censoring their views (a number of members have moved to Parler and Gab), often stating that journalists cannot be trusted, but also keeping a shortlist of journalists they believe will share their views or could be helpful to them. In one message, member Dr. Sam McBride goes as far as calling BBC disinformation reporter Marianna Spring a “Russian sleeper agent,” as well as discussing sending “a proleptic communication” from a “scary legal team,” before offering help to fund this. 

Despite efforts to maintain a watertight communications strategy and maintain a veneer of legitimacy, some classic conspiracy hysteria inevitably creeps in. “Roll on Nuremberg 2.0!”, McBride writes in a message in March, “The Gene-Jab violates my basic humanity,” he adds. “See you @ Nuremberg 2.0 Dr Max,” Rayner writes, in response to an opinion article written by a doctor arguing that NHS staff should be vaccinated. The reference to the Nuremberg trials, where key Nazi officials were prosecuted for crimes relating to the Holocaust, suggests that some in the HART group believe that doctors, journalists and scientists will be tried in the same way for their handling of the pandemic.

The group also spends significant time discussing the discredited theory of “biomagnetism”, that is, whether vaccines contain materials that can make the recipient magnetic, even dedicating a channel to these discussions.

With regards to HART’s lobbying efforts, Logically cannot confirm whether the group’s initiatives had any success with MPs; in a draft of a February newsletter, however, HART claimed that “over 50 MPs have read each edition” of the bulletin, though there is no assurance that MPs have actually read these, or if the emails were simply opened by a parliamentary staffer. The group alludes to having direct contact with Sir Graham Brady, Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West and chair of the influential 1922 Committee backbench group of Conservative MPs. Member Ros Jones also claims her group UsForThem scheduled a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Conservative Party and vocal critic of government lockdown policy. Logically was unable to ascertain whether this meeting actually took place.

In an email shared to the group from Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, De Haldevang was referred to as a “good friend” to Steve Baker, Deputy Chair of the COVID Recovery Group (CRG), an informal group of Conservative MPs who opposed, and voted against, lockdown measures. WhatsApp messages shared to the group confirmed that De Haldevang also had direct contact with Ed Barker, who helps the CRG with communications and strategy. “Just following up with Ed Barker of the CRG,” De Haldevang posted to the group, “he wants to have a general discussion about what's next and how we can help them. That agenda may have to shift a bit.” 


 

Connections to other conspiracy groups

The chat logs and documents provided to Logically also revealed the deeper connections of HART to other activist and political groups, such as the UK Medical Freedom Alliance, UsForThem, lockdownsceptics (now the dailysceptic), and Liberal Spring. Despite the group claiming to maintain an “impartial” public presence “committed to complete transparency in respect of any affiliations or conflicts of interest of its members,” leading members of each of these groups are members of the HART Rocket.Chat, and all of them cite each other in publications, giving an impression of independent experts coming together in agreement on points, while actually coordinating behind the scenes. 

Members of the group reference personal contact with prominent conservative activist Toby Young, and talk about authoring or supplying information to Young and the dailysceptic website. HART also sought discounted membership for Young’s controversial Free Speech Union, which, at full price, would cost £4.95 a month, or £49.95 a year. Multiple members made it clear that they were already in contact with Young, and were already part of the FSU, with one saying they were introduced to Clare Craig, and then the group, through Young.

Another exchange claimed the “Government had terrified the public over this virus,” by “getting the BBC to show young people in hospital gasping for breath”

At the thematic center of the group’s beliefs is a distrust of mainstream media and a conviction that the government’s agenda was to keep the U.K. population under lockdown indefinitely. In particular, there is clear distrust of the BBC throughout the chat logs, with members calling the outlet a “massive problem” and questioning who’s “pulling their strings.” Narice Bernard suggests figuring out ways to “intimidate” the BBC into airing their views.

Another exchange claimed the “Government ha[d] terrified the public over this virus,” by “getting the BBC to show young people in hospital gasping for breath,” as well as suggesting that a January poll was “just more made up numbers” and that “polls should be banned.” In a separate strategy discussion, one member reminded another: “We are not publishing through HART. The strategy is to use third party partners anonymously to publish reports on harm restrictions."

Apart from claims that the government is controlling the media, the group believes that the government is using “covert ‘nudges,” and psychological strategies to “increase compliance” with measures, as well as with vaccinations. “Several interventions of this type have been woven into the intensive communication campaign,” a member writes, alleging that fear, shame and peer-pressure are being weaponized by the government. The group also created a channel dedicated to countering what it claims are these forms of control: "I'm planning to create a Counter-Nudge Unit to: bring together psychologists for a counter-psy-ops taskforce and to catalogue use/abuse; promote a sort-of Hippocratic oath for behavioural scientists; and give the public the resources to spot and resist nudges,” wrote a member.

As social media is awash with medical misinformation claiming that the pandemic is fake, that the vaccine isn’t really a vaccine, that the vaccination drive is “genocide” and that doctors, scientists, politicians, and journalists would have to answer for their “crimes against humanity” in a “Nuremberg 2.0,” findings like these can serve as a reminder that such misinformation isn’t always as organic as it may seem. Many alternative news sites launder misinformation into the mainstream from the ground up, often using anonymity to cover up their lack of credentials or to simply hide from accountability. HART works in both directions – from the ground up, by using third parties to spread its message anonymously and coordinating its efforts to make that spread appear authentic, but also from the top down, as demonstrated by its attempts to lobby MPs. 

Logically reached out the members of HART mentioned in this investigation, they issued a joint response which we have printed in full:

HART is a voluntary association of scientists, health care professionals, economists and other academics with a shared belief that the voices of experts with different views to the Government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, have not been heard.

We are grateful to Logically reporter Ernie Piper for bringing to our attention that an individual has shared private archives and group chats in which HART members believed they were debating, in confidence, their wide-ranging perspectives and hypotheses on the scientific advice informing the Government’s pandemic policies, as well as informing HART’s strategy.

It is disappointing to discover that the trust we place in our members, that allows free expression in those chats, has been breached. For Logically to compound the matter by extracting statements out of context for seemingly defamatory purposes is a sad reflection of the censorship and harassment experienced by individuals and organisations who question the Government’s narrative and scientific orthodoxy.

HART is not in receipt of any funding following initial public donations which totalled £1,434.99. These funds have supported our website and set-up costs.

 

Related fact checks

HART members claim that mRNA vaccines cannot be considered vaccines: False
Members claim that vaccine trials on children and young people were "rushed": False
Some in the group claim that lockdown policies are ineffective against COVID-19: False
Members also claim that vaccines can make the recipient magnetic: False

 

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