Saturday’s anti-lockdown rally echoed QAnon extremism

Saturday’s anti-lockdown rally echoed QAnon extremism

Roughly 2,000 turned out on the streets of Dublin on Saturday 14 July for an anti-lockdown rally organised by Irish anti-mask and far-right activists and groups. With COVID-19 case numbers rising in the aftermath of the government easing restrictions as the Delta variant took hold, the rally comes at a time when a fourth wave is well on its way to crashing on our shores. Although the concept of an anti-lockdown protest when the government has already lifted the majority of restrictions might seem moot, this misses the point of the rally. 

It was really organised to push more conspiracy theories about the pandemic — especially the vaccines — and stir up anger towards the government. Holding a rally outside Leinster House and calling for its gates to be torn down is no coincidence or slip of the tongue. The only reason for linking the potential vaccinating of children against COVID-19 with a conspiracy to harm them in some way is to create a reaction. We’ve seen what happens when these kind of ideas take hold. The storming of the Capitol in Washington earlier this year was a direct result of a twisted version of current affairs and history being pushed on the conspiratorial, suggestible, and vulnerable. This was QAnon. And now Ireland’s version of QAnon was on display over the weekend.

“It is war”

At the start of the rally we heard how vaccines were part of a plot to control and kill the population. The large crowd at the Custom House were told that the state is “coming for your kids” and they must “resist the needle”. What’s more, the man alleged that the health service vaccinating children is actually part of a genocidal plot and “means war”.

From here the rally marched towards the Leinster House where they voiced and danced their displeasure in front of an empty building, the government having taken off for its summer holidays the week before. In the build-up to the rally anti-mask and far-right activists had made calls for the elimination of Michael D. Higgins. These same groups also began to spread the conspiracy theory that he’s part of a “cabal” and abusing children. Obviously these claims are without merit. But the idea is to whip people up into a frenzy. And this was repeated on Saturday.

While on stage in front of the large crowd the first speaker, John Caufield, regurgitated these baseless claims to the 2,000 or so people in front of him. By signing the so-called dining bill into law Higgins is “a man of the cabal, not a man of the people”. With strong similarities to QAnon, in a raised voice he said that people “need to be angry” about what’s happening because of the “tyranny” brought about by an alliance of the “cabal” and the “occult”. To cheers from the crowd he stated that “the Rothschild banking cartel” is part of this group, a common antisemitic dog whistle. Going on he also said children being vaccinated for COVID-19 are part of a genetic experiment and that the pandemic is a “scam”. And, in keeping with the QAnon-like theme, he declared “We’re in warfare. This is the start of the warfare”. 

Other speakers, such as Terry McMahon, spoke along similar lines. In the case of the actor and director he ran the gamut of talking points lifted straight from ultraconservatives and the far right. Trans people, those studying and discussing racism, and people taking the knee were all targeted in his meandering speech. Dr. Vincent Carroll, who has previously spread disinformation about the pandemic, asked rhetorically “Where is the science?”. He attacked the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and demanded to know their “vested interests”, implying that it’s in the pay of pharmaceutical companies.

Michael Leahy, chair of the Irish Freedom Party (IFP), told the crowd the government has been “fearmongering”. He said the people at the rally were there to “stand up for their rights and liberty”, calling it “wonderful”. Leahy eventually got to the crux of the matter, arguing that the digital COVID certificates are nothing more than “apartheid” and are the first part of introducing a “surveillance and control system”. He lambasted the courts for not blocking the government’s lockdown laws. And, given this, suggested that they be removed and replaced with an alternative of some kind. 

Ben Gilroy, who helped organise the rally, kept to similar talking points. He accused the government of “coming after our children”. But him and his supporters will resist it in the schools and the streets. And, while pointing at Leinster House, he proclaimed “if necessary, we’ll fucking drag you out of there”. Gilroy opined that rallies like the one he was speaking at were valuable but more has to be done. The movement, he declared, has to “achieve something” and “we will achieve it because we have no other choice but to achieve it”. 

He voiced his disgust at Higgins, accusing him of  having “stabbed the Irish people in the back”, and led the crowd in a chant of “Shame on him”. Echoing previous speakers he accused Irish politicians of being puppets of a “global elite” and that the introduction of the COVID certificates is really about “introducing Communism/fascism through the back door”. In closing his speech he announced, “Make no mistake, it is war”. 

From conspiracies to incitement

With cases rising and the reintroduction of restrictions almost inevitable, the government has played into the hands of the organisers of Saturday’s rally. They’ve twisted governmental incompetence to display it as malevolence instead in order to get boots on the streets. By stoking the fears of already discontented and fearful people fed up with the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, conspiracy theorists and extremists are sowing the seeds for further rallies, protests, fundraising, and recruitment drives.

Conspiracy theories that are simply Irish adaptations of QAnon talking points about cabals and the sacrifice of children shouldn’t be surprising. Our own conspiracy theorists and far-right activists importing ideas straight from the US is nothing new. And like the case of QAnon, the outlandish ideas are nothing more than a cover for conservative, racist, and anti-LGBTQIA+ beliefs. This vapid concoction of hatred is wrapped up in conspiracy theories involving the president, the government, our children, and vaccines. It has to be in order to draw people into the movement and slowly radicalise them before they know what’s happened. But the cover is never all-encompassing. Often what’s underneath can be seen through the cracks. And on Saturday the bile was on full display. 

From trans people to the Black Lives Matter movement, to essentially anyone who is pro-vaccine, the list of targets is long. Did the speeches amount to incitement? That’s for the authorities to decide. But calling for politicians to be dragged out of Leinster House and insisting that there’s a war taking place is a sure way to incite actions that could have consequences difficult to even imagine. As of now gardaí are investigating threats against Higgins. How much longer before they’re investigating something much more serious than just threats?

Featured image via Facebook – Screenshot

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