In yesterday’s post, which featured a couple of delightfully bitchy emails between Belinda McKenzie and Charlotte Ward, Belinda made a statement which puzzled some of our readers.
Describing the Association of McKenzie Friends, which Belinda and Sabine founded together in 2011, Belinda said,
We’ve never charged a penny to anyone we’ve tried to help in the 7 years we’ve been active nor demanded anything back. We are the archetypal McKenzie Friends = REAL FRIENDS to people in dire trouble and it doesn’t get much worse than being hauled up before the UK High Court!
Reader Vincent de Paul asked whether this statement was true.
On the face of it, Belinda is not lying: the Association of McKenzie Friends does not charge its clients for their services. In that sense, they offer a “free” service…but a bit of deeper digging reveals a darker picture.
First, we should point out that Belinda and Sabine act as McKenzie Friends only to people whose cases have reached an impasse in the Family Courts.
Under the guise of their various protests against serious issues such as forced adoption, Belinda and Sabine have the perfect excuse to hang about outside the Royal Courts of Justice—coincidentally, the Family Division of the RCJ is where one is most likely to find people with the most complex and difficult court cases.
These are people in desperate straits, for one reason or another: perhaps, like the Musa family, they have abused their children with such severity that they are likely to have their children removed and face prison sentences; or like Melissa Laird, they have neglected their child to the point where the courts have decided there is no way to rehabilitate the family, and have not only removed the child but sent the mother back to the United States.
Murmuring words of encouragement like, “You’re being victimised by the evil court system”, and “It’s not your fault, it’s the corrupt judges who want to snatch your children from you”, Belinda and Sabine zero in on their victims. They claim to be able to help, as they and they alone understand the fundamental rot at the heart of the system, and they alone have the knowledge and dedication to fight for their clients.
We should point out that Sabine and Belinda have never yet participated as McKenzie friends in a winning case, a fact which they blame on (you guessed it!) the corrupt system.
So if they don’t charge a fee, and they never win, why do they bother with the McKenzie Friend charade at all?
It seems like a losing proposition, until you understand that their goal has never been to win cases. Their motive is to “prove” the validity of their various mad conspiracy theories via the clients whose cases they exploit.
This gives them the hook they need: claiming to be “fighting for the rights of downtrodden parents to keep their children”, and acting as David to the Goliath of the family court system, they now have an excuse to ask their many supporters for donations for the cause.
Beyond the Donate! button
We’ve spoken before about the ubiquitous “Donate here!” buttons on all of their blogs, but those buttons, it seems, are merely the icing on a much larger cake. While they may dredge up a few pounds per post via button clicks, the real money lies elsewhere.
First, both Belinda and Sabine run extensive email lists, which they use to drum up money from the faithful, out of view of the internet where they might be asked inconvenient questions.
While emails might seem an antiquated method in these days of social media, in fact email solicitation is still a very profitable means of drumming up donations. Potential donors on the receiving end of an email from Belinda or Sabine feel as though they are part of an elite group, and indeed they are: they are the chosen elect. Having donated in the past, they are very likely to continue doing so, and Belinda and Sabine know the precise language to use to squeeze every last tuppence out of them.
We’ve seen a few examples of these emails, and they are masterful at playing on donors’ emotions. Phrases like “in the worst-case scenario, that we lose, we/I could be stung for massive costs, enough to lose me my house… (Sabine is OK because she’s penniless)” help reinforce the idea that Sabine and Belinda are selfless campaigners, willing to risk it all for the sake of their principles. Who could fail to be moved enough to donate to them?
If you’ve ever wondered why Sabine and Belinda seem to be so mad about petitions, it’s this: when people sign petitions, they hand over their names and email addresses. They are considered to have “raised their hands” in favour of whichever cause the petition supports, and their personal information is duly harvested and added to the email lists maintained by Sabine and Belinda.
But there’s more…
Another way bloggers can make money, even without the use of donation buttons or extensive email lists, is via website monetisation with pay-per-click widgets.
These widgets (basically a small piece of code installed on a blog) link to Google AdSense, and pay blog owners a small amount each time a reader clicks on a particular link to another blog. Very popular links equal bigger payouts. Should a subject go viral, as the Hampstead hoax did, owners of blogs which are linked in this way could expect rather handsome payouts.
We’re grateful to Outlaw Jimmy for pointing this out back in March 2015. He noted that in mid-March of that year, a commenter on the never-ending David Icke forum Hampstead thread stated,
What is the relationship between Sabine McNeill and the Tap Blog, who first ran with the story and have continued unabated? Crimes of Empire site are in on it too, and many others. Most of the “donate free” sites are affiliated with DONATE NOW sites and must be making money out of gullible people with this story. Why does “Getoutofdebtfree” and others for example have links to the Hampstead Child abuse story? Look at the comments section of the Tap Blog about the protest tomorrow at the school in Hampstead. Are these people stupid or part of the corrupt system?
Arrangements such as this play upon the fact that when troofers latch onto a promising story, they will click links obsessively in attempts to “research” it…and if the blogs featuring that story play their cards…er, their widgets right, everyone wins. Well, everyone except the innocent people named in the hoax, who must cope with its fallout for years to come.
Interestingly, Outlaw Jimmy points out that Sabine directly suggested to Henry Curteis of the Tap Blog that he might wish to use a pay-per-click widget. In the comments section of a Hampstead hoax-related post, she wrote, “BTW, how large is the number of hits / visitors you’re getting? Don’t you want to put that widget out and all be proud together?” This helps explain, too, the large number of blogs which Sabine maintains, and the relentless cross-posting she does from one to the other. While her page-views on each individual blog are nothing to write home about, if she was using a pay-per-click widget when the Hampstead hoax was at the height of its internet popularity, she and her friends at the larger and more popular blogs would have been pulling down a significant amount of money.
When we look at the larger picture of how the Hampstead hoax was used as a magic online money generator, it becomes very clear that this was never really about “saving the children” from the imaginary cult. Rather, it was about the unimaginably vast number of clicks that could be generated by concerned but gullible troofers, being manipulated by a few clever blog owners who are in it for the pay.