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Covid-denialism: the right-wing ‘freedom’ movement winning hearts and minds

Via the anti-lockdown protests, reactionary conspiracy-theory politics backed by big money have broken through to a fervent working-class audience, warns JOE GILL

MY FRIEND said the “unite for freedom” march on Saturday April 24 was the best he had ever been on. He loved the camaraderie and the absence of fear, which has beset us as a country during the pandemic.

“Stand up, take your freedom back!” chanted the unmasked would-be liberation movement of thousands in London. The crowd was diverse, my friend insisted — young and old, people from all over Britain. On social media I saw Union Jacks, England flags.

One man had a T-shirt with the words “hugging heals” written on the back. “It was great, positive vibes throughout, it was wonderful to see so many people uniting in the interests of true rights and freedoms,” said Youtuber and “conscious music” DJ Mark Devlin in a video published on Sunday. He compared the march organisation to how acid raves were organised in the late ’80s, with no central co-ordination.

Media coverage was limited — the familiar Covid sceptic cry was heard: “Take off your muzzle, take off your mask!” White rose stickers were plastered along the route — like any movement, this one has its symbols and slogans.

After a largely peaceful day, police moved in on a crowd at Hyde Park after 7pm, with confrontation and provocation by the police, according to marchers. Devlin admits in his video that “normies” (that’s the “sheeple” who go along with lockdowns and other measures to control the virus) and the media see the marchers as dangerous anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers. But marchers are those who can “see through the lies” he claims. What are the lies he speaks of?

Actor, loudmouth and libertarian mayoral candidate Laurence Fox was on the march. “We stand together for freedom. What a beautiful day, with the best people,” he wrote on Twitter. This is the same Fox who believes white men are oppressed and whose London mayoral campaign is backed by a Tory millionaire and Leave campaign donor Jeremy Hoskings.

NHS staff reacted to the “freedom march” on social media with expressions of rage and sadness.

Dr Samantha Batt-Rowden, critical care doctor and president of the Doctors’ Association UK, pointed to the situation in India where mass political rallies and an end to social distancing had preceded the latest Covid-19 catastrophe in the country: “In India patients are dying on the pavement whilst in London people are marching down the road in an #antilockdown protest. These tragic images need to be projected on big screens where all those protesting can see them. My heart is broken.”

As seen since the first anti-lockdown protests last year, a new movement is emerging and gathering strength. Its support base is similar to the Brexit movement, with the likes of Fox and Reform UK leader Richard Tice offering support for the protests. The hedge-fund millionaires are there in the shadows.

To those of us who accept the science, epidemiology and terrible facts of Covid-19, this is a movement set against public health amid a pandemic that has killed at least five million people (including all the unregistered Covid-19 deaths across the world revealed by excess deaths data).

It is right people should fight to preserve freedoms that could be taken away by the government, but the freedom not to wear a mask and endanger someone else’s health is not a freedom worth defending. It is my freedom to ignore your health vulnerabilities that could be lethal.

The freedom folk were marching against the measures taken to protect us from a deadly pathogen that they imagine has been conjured up by nefarious powers — Bill Gates, the World Health Organisation, the UN, the Council on Foreign Relations. All institutions that represent global governance are part of the conspiracy to impose a cashless, microchipped society of slaves by 2030.

Boris Johnson is a “traitor” because he buckled to the plan, rather than resist it, despite his statement that he would rather see bodies piled “high in their thousands” than go into a lockdown last autumn.

Of course, it is right to hold all these institutions and rich power-brokers to account and ask whose interests they are pursuing. And that is the most insidious and persuasive part of this movement — the grain of truth amid the quackery.

When I ask my friends who believe the “plandemic” conspiracy how they think people have died, given the consistent epidemiology of how the virus attacks the lungs, can cause blood clots, shortness of breath and then asphyxiation, they really have nothing to say.

Instead, they want to talk about the dangers of vaccines (again, this is a difficult one to pin down to any real data or facts as regards vaccine efficacy verses risks), legitimate fears over vaccine passports and the right to protest, which again must be protected.

It is this mix of issues that makes it difficult to simply dismiss such protests as a bunch of far-right conspiracy theorists who care nothing for the health of vulnerable groups and the 150,000 who died of Covid-19 in this country.

It feeds off a mass denial that pandemics and climate change are real existential threats that are emergent within our collapsing capitalist civilisation, seeing them as conjuring tricks by the global elite. Instead, exponential industrial growth, territorial expansion of human settlement into areas of wildlife diversity and the vast consumption particularly of a global 1 per cent ruling class are the structural causes of these linked crises.

The freedom movement sees itself as a popular resistance against intergovernmental institutions like the UN, EU and WHO hell-bent on imposing “tyranny.” (Tyranny has been the pet terror of right-wing libertarians for decades against all moves by the state on behalf of society to impinge on the property rights of the rich).

There are areas of apparent common ground in a leftist and new populist view of the forces of oppression in the world, but ultimately they represent irreconcilable views of power. This is a conservative movement that wants to preserve a way of life that is dying — and it is backed by the very elites that profit from fossil fuels and extreme global inequality.

What is clear is that the right has found new vehicles to recruit disenchanted and alienated people to its cause under the guise of opposing “tyranny” around issues like 5G, vaccine passports and opposing the global elite.

My working-class friend simply does not recognise that he is being drawn into a far-right ideological universe. He’s simply on a spiritual journey. Millions like him are being mobilised like never before with new memes of freedom, “waking up” and seeking truth.

This evolving movement faces socialists and the left with the biggest challenge for ideological struggle in the coming period, as protests inevitably return in the summer of 2021.

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