With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a pause on many aspects of society, we’re now watching a weird conspiracy springtime happen in Australia. It’s making anti-lockdown protestors and QAnon believers out of family members, friends and neighbours, writes Tom Tanuki.
A motley crew of Facebook true believers, these people have spent far too long staring at their smartphones during the pandemic, terrified about government measures while learning very little about them or the virus that brought them on.
Instead they gained a sense of agency and calmed their fears by reading drivel from grifters like David Icke, or for that matter, people like ‘celebrity chef’ Pete Evans, who has now well and truly travelled the path from New Age fan of activated almond nuts to a conspiracy theorist nut.
As of Sunday they have now become a protest movement here in Melbourne, just like in America.
I am not surprised. I’ve been watching these people since they first began to organise, documenting their efforts in video.
For instance, a little while ago I happened to come across the following post by Gene which you can see for yourselves below. Gene’s not remarkable. He’s an average member of the Aussie anti-lockdown lot. The post is no more unusual than the torrents of garbage they churn out daily. But this one struck a deep chord with me.
It’s powerful because it tells you everything you need to know about their ‘movement’ in one post. I’ll let Gene go first, then later on I’ll tell my story about this image.
That settles it. Obviously this copper’s a freemason. What more evidence do you need? The checkered cap gives it away. The traditional VicPol, uh, inverted pentagram. His three fingers are clearly doing the good old triple sixes, which pleases our Dark Lord Satan. Case closed! The pattern-finding and Freemason-elite-blaming we see here are endemic traits in conspiracy world, where everything’s symbolic, connected, and run by a global elite who are Freemason reptile aliens and definitely not just rich evil CEOs.
Joeseph’s comment clarifies further: the VicPol logo represents the sun, pyramids and the … pineal gland? Yep, that alludes to the QAnon conspiracy network that’s popular with US hyperconservatives (and, increasingly becoming adopted by neo-spirituals, anti-vaxxers and the gullible abroad). The QAnon fairytale goes that Democrats, Hollywood and the global elite are a secretly united, ruling cabal of paedophile cannibals who eat children. Donald Trump was voted in to stop them, against all odds. Thank God! He’s gonna lock them all up in Guantanamo Bay. (They’ve been saying this is just about to happen for three years. Any day now.) Anyway, the cabal harvests the pineal glands in childrens’ brains, apparently. So that’s why that’s in the VicPol logo.
Freemasons. QAnon. 5G. Anti-vax. Wherever the anti-lockdown lot assembles – whether in Facebook groups, Telegram or MeWe – they create a cross-pollinating space for some bizarrely disparate theories. Sovereign citizen narratives blend with an unhinged hyper-conservative fantasy about Trump stopping Hillary from harvesting adrenochrome from kids’ pituitary glands. Anti-5G alarmists hook up with anti-vaxxers and they agree on an awkward blend of lockdowns-for-forced-vaccinations, lockdowns-for-5G-network-installations or all of the above. They rally behind Facebook Live addicts as figureheads – locally, that role has been taken up by people like Fanos Panayides, who starred on Channel Nine’s Family Food Fight in 2017 and now in 2020 now does twice-daily videos about how bad and fake the lockdown is. Fanos made a Facebook group for gathering coronavirus conspiracies in April, and it filled with 20,000 people very quickly. Then he, and a couple of other talking heads, called for a rally. So they hit the streets in Melbourne on Sunday, crying “ARREST BILL GATES!” and other fun stuff. Given the non-activist demographic of the protestors and the looming threat of a large fine their 200-odd turnout was impressive.
They are a real mixed lolly bag of conflicting beliefs, and it was obvious on the day.
Some of them say that 5G caused the coronavirus, or that the lockdown was orchestrated to install a 5G network, or even that they’re making tiny robotic bees with 5G transmitters in them (Charlie Brooker, collect your mates). By peddling these fantasies they waste the chance to ask perfectly sensible questions about 5G, like querying the relative lack of studies on 5G safety and calling for more testing to resolve their concerns. Very few of these 5G alarmists seem interested in the capacity for 5G technology to enable surveillance and military technologies that could change our society. China is reportedly using 5G-enabled facial recognition technology to track the movement of the nation’s eleven million oppressed Uyghur Muslims, facilitating further human rights abuses of that already-marginalised population. It’s scary to consider what the Australian government might do with the same technology to vulnerable groups. But nevermind! Let’s make up shit about WiFi bee robots.
Others accuse the government of becoming an authoritarian state, dismissing the medical crisis itself as a hoax and rejecting any rational reason for lockdowns. They can’t make the distinction between the medical advice and the state enforcement of that advice. It’s a crying shame – I’ve been discussing the problems with state enforcement of these lockdowns for months. The fines have been excessive. They’ve clearly targeted lower-economic and migrant populations in line with typical police biases. By dismissing the genuine medical rationale for lockdowns, the hoaxers excuse themselves from an important, real-world discussion about heavy-handed policing. It’s as though they’re not prepared for any real discussions about authoritarianism at all!
Some of them say Bill Gates should be ARRESTED for faking a PLANDEMIC to introduce FORCED VACCINATIONS (for vaccines that don’t exist yet). I don’t know. Maybe Bill Gates could be investigated for exploiting tax loopholes to the tune of around $14 billion, enough to feed the US’ entire homeless population for over a year? Maybe they could take a look at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s investments or donations into industries that are historically pro-child labor? … No? Alright, GLOBALIST PLANDEMIC HOAX it is then.
The anti-vaxxers ignore decades of reports and journals debunking their paranoia, and I have yet to read them reflecting on who might stand to benefit from a growing pool of working-class people rejecting the very healthcare systems that keep them alive. The sovereign citizen types insist that our government is illegal for various bizarre reasons on loan from America, while ignoring that it is the legal fiction of terra nullius that truly exposes the false foundations upon which colonial Australia was founded. (Probably because that would prove Indigenous sovereignty, thus eroding any claim of their own.)
It seems that for everything they think they’re protesting about, there’s a real underlying issue that they’ve misdirected themselves away from. Strange. Anyway, earlier I said I’d respond to Gene’s hot take on Officer Freemason. Here goes! Sorry, but there’s very little Freemasonry in my side of the story.
After last year’s IMARC mining conference blockade, which I attended, a photo emerged of one aggressive officer who had also been filmed punching a young woman. In the photo he was flashing an ‘OK’ sign at a protestor. Anyone who understands the bare minimum relevant political context could see it was intended as an alt-right gesture to bait and provoke. VicPol said it wasn’t, disingenuously assuring the public that he was only asking the protestor if she was OK (a startling behavioural improvement from punching little girls in the head earlier that day). So I assisted VicPol by sharing further alt-right content from the officer’s personal Facebook profile to remove any doubt about his intent. At that, VicPol backflipped, before waiting a few months for it to die down and then simply repeating their earlier finding.
In doing that they defended and obfuscated not only their display of coordinated state violence but also the far-right ideas among their ranks informing that violence. So the photo tells us a lot about VicPol. I think the story tells us tells us a lot about institutional power, violence and deception, too. This was an important photo.
Obviously, Gene didn’t quite get the picture. What does his weird Freemason take on it tell us about the anti-lockdown conspiracy movement? Well.
My experience monitoring the spaces that coordinated Sunday’s anti-lockdown protest tells me that these are surprisingly supportive spaces. Lonely, terrified and confused people provide safe harbour for each other. As they push themselves away from friends and family who are sick of hearing about how 5G causes coronavirus or how Bill Gates eats kids, conspiracy networks provide them with the affirmation and support they’re not getting elsewhere. They become willing to believe anything they’re told in those spaces. Gene’s post demonstrates how these guys might start out almost getting it, beginning with a healthy mistrust of the state, but then they wildly misdirect away from asking worthwhile questions. They delude themselves (and each other) by being blindly receptive to any old conspiracy shit. Their legitimate concerns get washed away in a sea of Freemason symbols and pineal glands. They are no longer a real concern to anyone in power.
Sunday’s protestors were suburban mums & dads role-playing as radicals. Compare how the police responded to them with their response to anti-mining protestors at IMARC last year. At IMARC, they ran a police horse into a young woman, breaking both of her legs; generously pepper-sprayed and beat countless young protestors; wore labels saying ‘EAT A DICK HIPPY’, flashed alt-right hand gestures to protestors, punched a young woman in the back of the head and much, much more. On Sunday, cops took away Fanos, one other speaker, and arrested a couple of other attendees. I’m told they didn’t even fine these useful idiots for breaching the very stay-at-home coronavirus orders that they were all supposed to be jumping up and down about. Contrast that with Refugee Action Collective protestors, who were fined $43,000 in April for protesting refugee detention from within their cars.
It’s clear which of these actions were of real concern to the state and which was seen as a bit of a joke.
Anti-lockdown protestors aren’t really saying much at all. It’s like they were almost about to, but then, whether by accident or design, they were steered away. If we’re still hanging on to any of these scared and confused people in our lives or Facebook friend lists after this pandemic, it would be useful, if possible, to redirect them to the real-world conspiracies of power that our state really clamps down on. Hopefully they wake up.