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

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.


  • Excellent piece. You certainly have some patience. If only you had the time to do some Street Epistemology with some of them. (I’m talking specifically about the kind of stuff that Anthony Magnabosco does).

  • I was at this demo yesterday, and agree that it was full of cranks, and you’re possibly being over generous by suggesting they were the outweighed by people with legitimate concerns.

    What I will say, is that the level of cranks, and the hyperbolic messaging/banners was far lower than earlier lockdown protests.

    I didn’t see any 5G cretins, only one referral to Bill Gates and very little else that I would consider bat guano crazy.

    The majority of banners I saw (excluding the handouts) were anti vax passport/mandate, not anti vax. There’s a huge difference.

    The cranks are always going to flock to such a demo, in the same way fascists and Nazis would to an anti Islamisation demo, and fascists and communists would to a pro Palestine demo.

    I saw people in the march shouting at public for wearing a mask on the street, and it was embarrassing to share a demo with them.

    I hope someone steps up and creates a movement that is pro science, vaccines, freedom and anti censorship, mandates, passport, lockdown.

    I’m not calling you a liar, but I’m struggling to believe you couldn’t spot someone within the crowd that appeared to be capable of presenting a legitimate and liberal case for being at that demo.

    It reminds me of the Will Franken stand up sketch where a BBC reporter was looking for people at a demo to represent a Brexiteers.

    I look forward to hearing more from you on the liberal argument for opposing mandates and lockdown etc, if you do of course.

    Thanks for all of your podcasts over the last year.
    I do enjoy them, and as you asked those cranks, you’re one of the people I look to for information and views on contentious subjects.

    Have a great Christmas!

  • christopher hornsby

    I’m a pro vaxer but the last guy you interviewed in the yellow jacket was actually quite impressive. He was ready with the facts of various bodies that criticised vaccines and the names of several highly qualified doctors who supported the fact that vaccines were killing people. And he was very measured and controlled unlike most demonstrators who just tell you to ef off as soon as you say something they don’t agree with.

    • Really? Not a single thing he said was true. He called me a “sheep” and said I wanted to kill him. He also banged on about the UK government building concentration camps. He had a Jewish star attached to his arm. And you saw all this and thought “this guy seems reasonable and measured”? Amazing.

What do you think? Leave some comments!