After 2021 gave us lockdown after lockdown the hope was that 2022 would provide something different and, hopefully, something better. Instead, the new year got off to a less than auspicious start when a man allegedly started a fire in the Freemasons’ Grand Lodge in Dublin. Although motives were uncertain it appears that what we’ve expected has come to pass and that conspiracy-laden, extremist rhetoric has now turned into what was essentially a terrorist attack.
A planned attack?
Here’s what we know so far. At around 5.20pm on New Year’s Eve a man turned up outside the Freemasons’ HQ on Molesworth Street and began spraying graffiti on the pavement outside. He apparently then broke a window to gain entrance to the ground floor and started a fire. When gardaí and firefighters arrived the man was found unconscious, and covered in some kind of liquid, on the basement level outside the building, having jumped from the window he entered. Emergency services rushed him to hospital where he’s in critical condition.
Solid information regarding possible motives has been lacking. A spokesperson for the gardaí told The Beacon they’re “appealing to any members of the public who may have witnessed this incident or who can assist Gardaí to contact them”. Beyond this, no other details were forthcoming.
But the graffiti the arsonist sprayed outside the Grand Lodge is evidence of some anti-vaccination motive. It reads “Burn for the children you destroy: 33A Nucleotides”. Given that nucleotides are involved in the production of COVID-19 vaccinations and anti-vaccination as well far-right groups are opposed to the vaccinating of children, the man’s motives become apparent. Also considering that the graffiti was clearly sprayed using a stencil, it suggests that it wasn’t just a spur of the moment incident. If anything, it indicates a certain level of planning and premeditation. John Mooney’s report in the Sunday Times does appear to confirm some of this, with sources telling him the suspect engaged with anti-vaccination and QAnon content online.
Conspiracies old and new
Throughout the pandemic Freemasons have been a popular subject of discussion amongst anti-vaxxers and elements of the far right. There are hundreds if not thousands of mentions of them across Irish Facebook groups and Telegram channels popular with the above two groupings, with the vast majority of the references being negative.
With this in mind, reactions to the arson attack have been largely unsurprising. Members of various anti-vaccination and far-right groups have been downright gleeful about the attack. Users of these groups on Telegram posted comments such as “Burn baby burn”, “May it burn to the ground”, “Best news of New Year’s Eve 2021”, and “It would be awful if all the scum were incinerated” in the immediate aftermath of the news breaking about the fire. Elsewhere on social media like-minded people called for further attacks on other Freemason buildings.
Many anti-vaccination and far-right activists believe the Freemasons are involved in some sort of conspiracy involving the pandemic and vaccines. It varies according to person, with each one having some differing interpretation of what kind of nefariousness the Freemasons are apparently up to. In some cases they’re believed to be Luciferian; in others merely pulling the strings of world leaders. They’re used as a scapegoat for whatever particular conspiracy that person is invested in.
But this isn’t remotely new. The earliest anti-Freemason text published on religious grounds dates to 1698, with the author accusing Freemasons of “Mischiefs and Evils”. Attacks on other grounds date as far back as 1383. These patterns have continued throughout history, with the nadir being reached during the Third Reich. Historians have well documented Adolf Hitler’s contempt for the Freemasons, with Nazi propaganda linking them to Jewish people and the supposed influence of the latter on world politics. Many Freemasons ended up in concentration camps but nobody knows the precise figure.
In Ireland an apparently devout yet extremist element of Irish Catholicism has also latched on the issue of anti-Freemason belief. Here the old conspiracy theories are rehashed and incitement against the Freemasons is a regular occurrence. Intersection between this particular group and the far right is common if not the norm.
Over the course of the pandemic we’ve only seen conspiracy theorists and extremists become more emboldened. A hands-off policing approach from the gardaí seems to have made some of them think they’re untouchable. They’ve gone from holding rallies on the streets of major cities and towns, to attacking activists there to observe these rallies or violently confronting counter-protestors, to gathering outside the homes of politicians and public figures, accusing them of all kinds of horrendous things.
Just last month we reported on anti-vaccination activists in Germany planning to assassinate Saxony’s prime minister Michael Kretschmer. Thankfully police managed to arrest the planners before they could pounce. We argued that the same kind of threat exists here given the scale of disinformation and incitement. Unfortunately it appears we were correct.
It’s only sheer chance that an innocent person wasn’t injured or even killed because of the attack on the Freemasons’ building. As the graffiti makes clear, it was a terrorist attack designed to punish Freemasons for their non-existent crimes and sow fear amongst them as well as anybody in favour of vaccinations. Politicians, health officials and workers, and other public figures involved in fighting the pandemic would be right to be on alert. The attack on the Grand Lodge was form of stochastic terrorism which, as history shows, has the potential to leave dozens dead.
Up until now many have been sceptical of the threat anti-vaccination and far-right activists and groups pose to society. Often they’ve written off these dangers as coming from a fringe element. But as we’ve said before, it’s all just words until it isn’t. And that’s exactly what happened on New Year’s Eve.
Featured image via Twitter – Screenshot