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US Conservatives Have Jumped On The Alfie Evans Case And Facebook Is Fueling It

Alfie's story has been driven by an unprecedented social media surge and seized on by right-wing commentators.

Last updated on April 26, 2018, at 6:03 a.m. ET

Posted on April 25, 2018, at 6:51 a.m. ET

Alfie Evans is a 23-month-old toddler from Merseyside, in the northwest of England.

Since being diagnosed with a rare degenerative neurological condition in December 2016, Alfie has been at the center of a heartbreaking and complex legal dispute between his parents and doctors over his care. This week, the case entered its final stages. On Monday, Alfie’s life support was removed following a court ruling in February that backed the decision by doctors at Alder Hey Children's Hospital that it would not be in Alfie’s best interests to continue treatment. On Tuesday, Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, lost a last-ditch appeal to allow the child to be moved to a hospital in Italy connected to the Vatican, which they say has agreed to continue to treat him. A High Court judge ruled that the family could not take Alfie abroad and that what would serve his best interests would be to remove him from intensive care to a regular ward, a hospice, or his home. Despite the judge saying that the ruling represented the "final chapter" of the case, the family is due back in court on Wednesday for another appeal. Evans and James had sought permission to move Alfie to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, where he would receive treatment. They lost cases in England’s High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Doctors argue that there is no sign of Evans getting better, and any continued treatment in the UK or Italy would be "inhumane" and "futile."
Facebook: alfiesarmy

Since being diagnosed with a rare degenerative neurological condition in December 2016, Alfie has been at the center of a heartbreaking and complex legal dispute between his parents and doctors over his care.

This week, the case entered its final stages. On Monday, Alfie’s life support was removed following a court ruling in February that backed the decision by doctors at Alder Hey Children's Hospital that it would not be in Alfie’s best interests to continue treatment.

On Tuesday, Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, lost a last-ditch appeal to allow the child to be moved to a hospital in Italy connected to the Vatican, which they say has agreed to continue to treat him. A High Court judge ruled that the family could not take Alfie abroad and that what would serve his best interests would be to remove him from intensive care to a regular ward, a hospice, or his home.

Despite the judge saying that the ruling represented the "final chapter" of the case, the family is due back in court on Wednesday for another appeal.

Evans and James had sought permission to move Alfie to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, where he would receive treatment. They lost cases in England’s High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Doctors argue that there is no sign of Evans getting better, and any continued treatment in the UK or Italy would be "inhumane" and "futile."

But now Alfie's story has exploded into a full-blown international controversy, with conservative politicians and media figures on both sides of the Atlantic jumping on it.

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Pope Francis has even tweeted about the case.

It has also been seized on by hard-right US figures to push two of their biggest talking points: the right to life and the "horrors" of socialized medicine.

Alex Jones did a segment on Infowars about Alfie Evans with Katie Hopkins, a far-right British contributor to The Rebel Media.

Hopkins has used Alfie's story as a way to criticize the UK's taxpayer-funded National Health Service.

The unprecedented surge in online interest is due to Facebook, which has a number of pages devoted to the case.

Evans has been regularly updating his personal Facebook profile for the last year. His posts are being shared thousands of times.BuzzFeed News has contacted him for comment.
Facebook: thomas.leenew.7

Evans has been regularly updating his personal Facebook profile for the last year. His posts are being shared thousands of times.

BuzzFeed News has contacted him for comment.

The biggest hub of activity, the "Alfie's Army Official" Facebook group, gained 10,000 members in the last 30 days.

Members of the group post multiple times a day and coordinate most of the Alfie Evans-related content on Facebook. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the adminstrators of the group for comment.The group has spearheaded multiple crowdfunding campaigns. They include a change.org petition of the UK parliament that has over 340,000 signatures, and a JustGiving donation page that has raised over £100,000.
Facebook: alfiesarmy

Members of the group post multiple times a day and coordinate most of the Alfie Evans-related content on Facebook. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the adminstrators of the group for comment.

The group has spearheaded multiple crowdfunding campaigns. They include a change.org petition of the UK parliament that has over 340,000 signatures, and a JustGiving donation page that has raised over £100,000.

A photo of Thomas Evans that was posted to the group Monday has been shared 17,000 times.

Evans also regularly goes live on the group's wall. His videos are regularly being watched hundreds of thousands of times.

And members of "Alfie's Army Official" are constantly going live on Facebook outside the hospital.

Protests outside the hospital have been going on all month.

Alfie Evans' family met with applause & cheers outside Alder Hey Hospital as they walked through the crowds that had gathered to support them #AlfiesArmy https://t.co/O0DUVqHANA

On Monday, after the European Court of Human Rights ruling and the removal of the toddler's life support was announced, protesters tried to storm the hospital past a line of police.

This is the moment a group of Alfie’s Army supporters try to force their way inside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital #AlfieEvans https://t.co/Ms1GVgYW2P

The crowd of 200 people linked arms in front of the hospital, at one point delaying an ambulance on the road.

A number of police officers have prevented any demonstrators getting inside Alder Hey #AlfieEvans

As a result, the hospital has had to inform patients and visitors to expect a police presence.

A woman named Sam Carson went viral for posting about her experience getting caught in the Alfie's Army protest on Monday.

Alfie’s plight is desperately sad, but to those planning on setting off fire alarms at #AlderHey please please think again. You will be interrupting life saving operations, critical procedures, and the care of children who are already frightened 🙏🏻 #AlfieEvans #AlfiesArmy https://t.co/6ZNLoUApAf

BuzzFeed News has contacted Carson for comment.

The sudden level of influence of the "Alfie's Army Official" group comes after Mark Zuckerberg announced in January that Facebook would be showing users more community-driven content.

"The first changes you'll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups," Zuckerberg wrote.Facebook's push toward "meaningful" Facebook groups has also inspired a rash of new issues, including a sudden uptick in misinformation, harassment, and radicalization. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Facebook for comment.According to data provided by Buzzsumo, in the last month, articles about Alfie Evans are being shared on Facebook by thousands of people. The share rates in some cases have almost quadrupled when compared with totals recorded from August to December of 2017.
Paul Ellis / AFP / Getty Images

"The first changes you'll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups," Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook's push toward "meaningful" Facebook groups has also inspired a rash of new issues, including a sudden uptick in misinformation, harassment, and radicalization. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Facebook for comment.

According to data provided by Buzzsumo, in the last month, articles about Alfie Evans are being shared on Facebook by thousands of people. The share rates in some cases have almost quadrupled when compared with totals recorded from August to December of 2017.

One site in particular, called Life Site News, has been relentlessly covering the story since last year.

lifesitenews.com, lifesitenews.com

Life Site News was founded by a Canadian lobby group called Campaign Life Coalition, which opposes abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage, and advocates for traditional family values. The site's "about" page says that its stories are meant to show "the social worth of traditional Judeo-Christian principles."

Far-right publisher Breitbart News has published 11 stories about Alfie's case in the last month. The Daily Caller has published nine stories.

Now the case has become a major conservative talking point on both sides of the Atlantic. On Monday night, Mike Huckabee did a segment about it on Fox News.

"This is what happens when the government gets in complete control of the health care system," Huckabee said.
video.foxnews.com

"This is what happens when the government gets in complete control of the health care system," Huckabee said.

Steven Woolfe, UKIP's former migration spokesman and a member of the European Parliament, published on his Facebook profile a letter to the UK's secretary of state for health and social care demanding Alfie be allowed to travel to Rome.

"I have been working with the Evans family for nearly two months before the media took an interest and the letter you saw were those I sent to the Secretary of State who has failed to respond," Woofle told BuzzFeed News. "None of the Evans' constituent MPs wish to help and it took us a long time to garner any interest in his case."
Facebook: StevenWoolfeMEPOfficial

"I have been working with the Evans family for nearly two months before the media took an interest and the letter you saw were those I sent to the Secretary of State who has failed to respond," Woofle told BuzzFeed News. "None of the Evans' constituent MPs wish to help and it took us a long time to garner any interest in his case."

And Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh demanded on Monday that the UK's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, intervene in the case to allow the child to be taken to Italy.

One tactic some on the far right have used is to compare the treatment of Alfie Evans this week with the attention surrounding the royal birth.

The story also got the attention of US cable news host Liz Wheeler, who has tweeted several times this week about Alfie.

It's also been turned into three separate Twitter Moments by Twitter UK.

Much of the online anger over the case has been directed at Alder Hey and the doctors who have been treating the child.

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On Tuesday morning, the British hospital's website was having trouble loading. Its Facebook page has been completely overrun by angry Alfie supporters.

facebook

The case comes follows that of Charlie Gard, an infant who had MDDS, a rare genetic disorder that causes brain damage.

Charlie's parents and the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London disagreed over whether to proceed with experimental treatment following a number of seizures in January 2017. After a lengthy court battle, Charlie's parents eventually agreed to transfer him to a hospice and have medical ventilation withdrawn. Charlie died the following day.His story similarly became a massive rallying point for religious fundamentalists and far-right pundits who believed it was an example of government overreach. Charlie Gard's story was even noticed by President Trump, who offered to help the child.
Carl Court / Getty Images

Charlie's parents and the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London disagreed over whether to proceed with experimental treatment following a number of seizures in January 2017. After a lengthy court battle, Charlie's parents eventually agreed to transfer him to a hospice and have medical ventilation withdrawn. Charlie died the following day.

His story similarly became a massive rallying point for religious fundamentalists and far-right pundits who believed it was an example of government overreach. Charlie Gard's story was even noticed by President Trump, who offered to help the child.

UPDATE

This post has been updated with a statement from MEP Steven Woolfe.

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