Irish anti-lockdown groups are using Telegram to organise protests and promote conspiracy theories

A photo of the encrypted messaging app, Telegram.

A number of private online groups are calling for nationwide protests to demand an end to the lockdown in Ireland. Using the encrypted messaging service Telegram, the groups contain hundreds of members.

And in screenshots seen by The Beacon, the content ranges from dismissal of the dangers of the COVID-19 virus to promotion of conspiracy theories.

Online organising

The parent group on Telegram goes by the name End lock down Ireland. It contains over 200 members and is administered by the user Elisthan. 

In a post they relate that “Organising decentralized protests in one nationwide group has turned out to be impossible”. And it is this which gave rise to the four groups for each of the provinces. Elisthan states that as a result, “it will be much [sic] much easier to organize protests”.

In a post shared to the other groups, Elisthan appealed to users to step up their “recruitment efforts”. They called on them to “talk to people” in order to “open their eyes” and “Make them see the light”. Going further, they asked for group members to:

Get up and start recruiting and get people to join our cause and our Telegram groups. We are not too far off of having sufficient numbers for a proper protest for all four provinces.

Elisthan declared that “we need to mobilize NOW [sic]” in order to “Help us free Ireland”.

Organising across Ireland

The Beacon has also learned of four other organising groups which are offshoots of End lock down Ireland. The groups are dedicated to organising according to province, with groups existing for Connaught, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. And all of them, like the parent group are calling for the government to end the lockdown in Ireland.

In response to a comment that the lockdown wasn’t needed one user proclaimed that: 

The media fear mongering [sic] has worked so well that people are afraid to go out.

When asked if a protest is due to be held in Munster one of the administrators, Aingeal, replied:

Our protest will take place in the near future when we have sufficient members. For now we need to get our numbers up and be ready

Conspiracy theories and racism

Links to videos and memes around the topic of migration have also been shared. Some of the content relates to the what’s know as the “Great Replacement”. This conspiracy theory, favoured by the far right, pushes the idea that there is a plot involving global elites, in league with the UN and NGOs, who are attempting to eliminate white people via mass immigration.

One user, although disagreeing with this content being posted in the group because it was off-topic, agreed with the ideas. They wrote that they “believe that the irish [sic] people are being treated like second class [sic] citizens in our own country”. 

In response, another member of the group opined:

The migration agenda is very real and is linked to the control programme that convid [sic] is part of

The user M3L also agreed, saying “There is a war on whites”. And evidence of this can be seen “in the liberal media worldwide”. 

Others posted content about the pandemic, which has killed 1,518 people in Ireland so far, not being legitimate. Instead, they believe it is part of a “psychological operation” to apparently manipulate the wider population. 

“Leveraging” the pandemic

A recently published study has shown that extremists are seeking to “leverage” the pandemic and are using Telegram groups to do so. According to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), extremists are attempting “to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to the benefit of their radical causes”.

CEP revealed that various groups based on Telegram have spread conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus. Included in this are anti-Semitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories blaming Jewish and Muslim people for the pandemic. Added to this:

Other channels encouraged spreading anti-Asian racism, encouraged recruitment within the context of the economic crisis, and have spread misinformation regarding martial law and firearms confiscations.

It also highlighted comments made by the leader of the far-right Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), Simon Lindberg. 

In a blogpost he wrote that the effects of the pandemic could provide an opportunity for his group. He related his “great excitement” about fact that the economic downturn caused by the pandemic could “lead to a ‘national uprising’”. 

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has also highlighted how the far right is attempting to use the pandemic to recruit new followers and spread its message. In a report published in April it stated that COVID-19 “has been seized by far-right groups as an opportunity to call for extreme violence”.

And in some case the same groups have called for direct attacks on hospitals. 

Featured image via Flickr – Microsiervos

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