London Covid Protests: A surplus of conspiracy and anti-vax misinformation
Over the years I’ve been on the ground at many street protests and events
with the goal of documenting opinions and fairly reporting a flavour of the messaging.
Like many, I have been deeply frustrated to then read via mainstream sources
that these same events were either ‘far-right’ or ‘racist’.
There’s something incredibly classist (and lazy) about journalists judging
thousands of ordinary people as bigots from the distance and safety of their
keyboard. I’ve pushed back against these narratives because they simply did not
map on to the observed reality. This did me no favours of course, as I’d simply
be accused of ‘defending racists’. But I didn’t care, because pushing back
against misinformation and documenting truth is all I need.
My test of what a gathering is about relies on what you can see and hear
most. Which themes and opinions dominate. Basically, if an impartial observer
was to turn a corner and stumble across a protest, what would their ears and
eyes reasonably inform them it was about?
This brings me to the protest I covered outside Parliament in London UK on
Saturday the 18th of December. The protests were organised with the intention
of challenging the government’s plans on vaccine mandates and potential further
restrictions. As a staunch liberal, this is all perfectly valid and important
stuff to be engaged in. If you can’t peacefully protest state restrictions,
then what can you protest?
The problem however, is that there are some deeply troubling components to
this sort of protest. And the truth is, there was not a single direction you could
glance without seeing or hearing anti-vaccine misinformation, Holocaust
comparisons, or antisemitic conspiracies about Rothschild controlled governments.
Some of this made ‘the great reset’ banners seem quaint.
Furthermore, these extremists seemed perfectly at home, waving their placards
and shouting through their megaphones without so much as a “steady
on” from other presumably more reasonable protestors.
You can watch my coverage below:
If an impartial stranger was to come across this protest on Saturday, they
would almost have no choice but to conclude it was organised to peddle conspiracies
and spread vaccine misinformation. That’s the difference between previous
protests I’ve defended and this one. The cries of ‘anti-vaxxer’ and ‘conspiracy
theorist’ would be much easier to defend against were it not for a shocking
surplus of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
It is certainly unfair to generalise all those present as being equally untethered from reality. Of course there were people present with genuine and reasonable grievences. I’d also be happy (and relieved) to accept the plausible view that the cranks and
conspiracy theorists present did not represent the majority of those that gathered.
But if that isn’t even close to being apparent from your own protest, where would it