An academic teaching journalism students at one of the UK’s top universities has publicly supported long-discredited conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attack, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Professor Piers Robinson is the chair in politics, society and political journalism at the University of Sheffield, specialising in “contemporary propaganda, with a particular focus on the current war in Syria”, according to the University’s website.
He is also the co-director of the University’s Organisation for Propaganda Studies, which claims to conduct “rigorous academic research and analysis of propaganda.”
The University of Sheffield’s Department of Journalism Studies is one of the most prestigious in the country and has placed top in the Guardian’s rankings for the subject for the last two years.
Its advisory board includes a range of high-profile journalists, including BBC Sports’ Dan Walker, Yorkshire Post Editor James Mitchinson and Nina Bhagwat, Channel 4′s Diversity Executive.
But Robinson’s work has been described as “conspiracy-theory driven”, “completely insulting” and of having “no interest in truth or justice” by academics speaking to HuffPost UK.
A former head of MI6 and a former Supreme Commander of Nato have both told HuffPost UK that quotes they gave in public have been misinterpreted by Robinson in his lectures to journalism students.
Robinson’s lectures and public appearances are heavily critical of western governments and media, and he often appears on Kremlin-backed channels such as RT and Sputnik.
During an interview with Sputnik in March 2018, Robinson suggested Russia was being “demonised” over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in order to distract from the west’s “aggressive regime change strategy” in the Middle East.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a deadly military-grade nerve agent in March. Extensive evidence has been presented of the identities, military records and links to the Russian government of the two suspects in the Skripal affair, and European arrest warrants have been issued.
In an email to HuffPost UK, Robinson stood by the interview, saying: “I have not seen persuasive evidence to attribute blame to the Russian government re Skripal.”
In March last year Robinson appeared on RT’s Going Underground programme in a segment titled “Can the Mainstream Media Convince us Trump is a Russian Manchurian Candidate?”
He told the host that allegations Russia had engaged in a campaign of disinformation and fake news to influence the US 2016 Presidential Election were part of “propaganda activities” aimed at “shifting attention onto Russia”.
In the email to HuffPost UK, Robinson said: “I have not seen any compelling analysis or evidence to show that there was any significant propaganda campaign to influence the US 2016 presidential election.”
The book rejects the established narrative that 19 al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in 2001, instead suggesting explosives were used to bring down the towers, and questioning whether the planes were even hijacked by terrorists.
These claims form the mainstay of the 9/11 truther movement. An extensive investigation by the The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Government science laboratory, debunked many of these claims in 2005.
In his review, Robinson calls the book “a serious challenge for mainstream academics and journalists to start to ask substantial questions about 9/11″ in order to “search for the facts and speak truth to power”.
Robinson also provided a quote for the back cover of the book, writing: “9/11 Unmasked provides an authoritative and carefully argued exposition of key problems with the official narrative.”
When asked by HuffPost UK if he agrees with the conclusions of 9/11 Unmasked, Robinson said in an email: “My position, as has been the case for some time, is that [conclusions detailed in 9/11 Unmasked] demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that significant parts of the official narrative are very likely to be incorrect.
“It is no longer tenable for academics and journalists to avoid asking probing questions about the possible involvement of state actors in the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 requires further analysis and investigation and this is a position I share with many other academics.”
Robinson also suggested a number of other academics whose work would allow readers to “get up to speed with geo-politics and the current dynamics of the international system”, one of whom was Kees van der Pijl, an emeritus professor at the University of Sussex.
Earlier this month van der Pijl tweeted: “Not Saudis, Israelis blew up Twin Towers with help from Zionists in US govt.”
Lydia Wilson, an Oxford and Cambridge research fellow and editor of the Cambridge Literary Review, said this raises serious questions for the University of Sheffield.
“It’s ridiculous that Piers Robinson is teaching propaganda,” she told HuffPost UK. “The most troubling thing for me is how did he get this job? It’s not hard to uncover this man.
″[The review of 9/11 Unmasked] is conspiracy-theory driven. There’s no academic who should write a post like – there’s no argument and there’s no evidence.
“It’s dangerous to students – he’s working in a journalism department and he can’t analyse journalism sources.”
Robinson has taught at the University of Sheffield since last year, HuffPost UK understands that his inaugural lecture to students in October 2017 was based on a paper he published around the same time, titled “Learning from the Chilcot report: Propaganda, deception and the ’War on Terror’.”
This paper argues that the ongoing conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, is not the result of the popular uprising known as the Arab Spring, but is in fact the “consequence” of policies made by former leaders George Bush and Tony Blair in reaction to the 9/11 attacks.
Robinson uses a number of quotes from the Chilcot Report – the public inquiry into the origins of the Iraq War, which was published in 2017 – and other sources, to make the case that the current war in Syria is part of a regime-change plot by western governments, supported by an extensive propaganda campaign aimed at the public.
In one instance during his lecture and paper, he quotes Blair as saying “the Middle east is set for catastrophe” as “indicative evidence” the former prime minister knew the region would be embroiled in “big and significant” western-backed conflict a decade later.
In his email to HuffPost UK, Robinson stood by his interpretation, saying: “Remember Blair and Bush are planning the overthrow of Saddam [Hussein] in these documents plus discussing when to ‘hit’ Iran and Syria.”
But the next page of the Chilcot Report, which he does not show to his students, shows Blair was actually discussing offering Iran and Syria “help and support in building a new partnership with the West”.
Dr Yasser Munif, a Lebanese expert on middle eastern politics and society at Emerson College, Boston, told HuffPost UK: “Robinson and people like him are trying to transpose what happened in the Iraq War onto what’s happening with the Arab uprisings of 2011.
“One of the major problems with his thinking is he completely denies the agency of the Arab population, perceives anything happening in the region as a form of conspiracy.
“He thinks Arabs have to be manipulated and funded and told exactly what to do – it’s completely insulting.”
A major part of Robinson’s case for arguing the Syrian war is part of a western regime plot, is a quote from US General Wesley Clark, made in 2006.
At the time, he described a 2001 encounter with a Pentagon official who alluded to a plan to “take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off with Iran”.
Robinson claims in his lecture and paper that General Clark was “was more or less right on the money” and says it is further evidence the conflict in Syria began as part of a western regime change plot.
When HuffPost UK spoke to General Clark and informed him of how Robinson was using his quote, he said: “Tell him to stop – the document was written in 2001 so I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with Syria in 2011.
“It certainly wasn’t a western regime-change issue.”
Robinson also uses another quote in both his lecture and paper, from a speech by the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove.
Speaking at the Rusi think-tank in 2014, he describes a pre-9/11 conversation with Saudi Prince Bandar, who told him: “The time is not far off, Richard, in the Middle East when it will literally be God help the Shia, more than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them”.
Robinson presents this as further evidence the middle east will be hit by a series of western-backed wars.
But the next part of Dearlove’s speech, which Robinson does not play to his students, makes clear he is talking about possible Saudi funding for Islamic State, not regime change, as explained by journalist Patrick Cockburn.
When HuffPost UK informed Dearlove of how Robinson was using his quote, he told us: ”[He] is wildly misinterpreting me.”
In his inaugural lecture to journalism students, HuffPost UK has also learned that Robinson claims the infamous “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner that hung behind George W Bush when he made his speech declaring the Iraq War over in 2003 was “was actually imposed over, it wasn’t actually there”.
In his email to HuffPost UK, Robinson elaborated saying he believed it was “imposed via computer programming overlay in real time, like they do with adverts at football matches and so on”.
We have been unable to find evidence to support this claim. The speech, complete with banner, was broadcast live on TV at the time and the banner now hangs in the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Robinson is also a public speaker and regularly shares a stage with and promotes the work of:
- Robert Stuart – a man who is trying to produce a documentary alleging the BBC faked the aftermath of a napalm attack in Syria.
- Patrick Henningsen – a former Associate Editor of conspiracy website Infowars and later the founder of 21st Century Wire, a website that said the “alleged Sandy Hook ‘massacre’” in which 20 children were shot dead “smells like a cover-up”.
- Vanessa Beeley – a British blogger who believes the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was staged, al-Qaeda wasn’t behind the 9/11 attacks and that “Zionists rule France”.
Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told HuffPost UK: “Piers Robinson and his friends have no interest in truth or justice, they have an interest in propaganda and their propaganda is rooted in a particular worldview that stems from the belief that the only evil in the world comes from the West.
“The administrators of the university that he teaches at have to be presented with this evidence.
“Someone who’s supposed to be objective and teaching propaganda is himself a propagandist.”
A University of Sheffield spokesperson, told HuffPost UK: “Academics in our community share, scrutinise and debate a range of different views based on their areas of research.
“The principles of academic freedom allow views to be shared and challenged within the law.”
An earlier version of this article said five planes were hijacked on 9/11 and that Patrick Henningsen was a co-founder of Infowars. The actual number of planes was four and Henningsen was an Associate Editor.