Lenin wrote, ‘there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen’, so maybe I should not be surprised that events find me writing once again on conspiracy theories so soon.
The recent ‘Unite for Freedom’ protest in London coalesced several groups to protest under the ‘no new normal’ tagline and advertised ‘Top World-Class Doctors and Nurses’ who would speak out on the ‘real truth’ of Covid-19. The protest in London echoed a somewhat larger one in Berlin, which ended with the far-right attendees attempting to storm the Bundestag.
Of those ‘World Class Doctors and Nurses’, a quick internet search brings up a ‘chiropractor’ a ‘natural healing consultant’ a ‘natural nurse’, and a ‘professor who has been interviewed on an alt-right YouTube channel’. If the deficit of qualifications in immunology or infectious diseases were not sufficient red flags, each internet search for one of these individuals brings up a warning box on what to do if you have symptoms of Covid-19. Good advice, as who really wants to be lectured on what to do about a life-threatening global pandemic by medical practitioners without expertise in the subject, who have been sanctioned by their professional bodies or even struck off?
But what of the groups who called for the protest? Well, hold your nose, because another internet search will quickly find the browser lost in the sewer of further conspiracies, knee-deep in bulls**t. One result, ‘Collective Action Against Bill Gates – we will not be vaccinated’, is a Facebook group with over 187,000 members. Of course, one can never be sure how many of those members believe the stuff posted by the Collective, but then that is not the point. The Collective churns out over 10,000 posts a month, and a scroll down the page will expose the viewer to an appalling narrative.
One such post links a celebrity to child molestation, of which the description alone is abhorrent; it had been on their timeline for three days! I was left with no choice but to report the post myself for hateful content, but its existence poses a question as to what Facebook are doing to control such damaging user content. That’s capitalism for you, all those clicks pay money!
A single message cannot set a group’s agenda, but a further trawl of this page brings up a video of Alex Jones, founder of the notorious conspiracy theory site Infowars (yes, it does say banned content – but it’s still visible), and an anti-semitic trope in which Holocaust survivor George Soros is described and shown as a Nazi officer.
What of Bill Gates, you ask? The central conspiracy spread by this group alleges Gates is trying to control minds by injecting a microchip device into the world population using the cover of a Covid-19 vaccination program. Gates may have used monopoly capitalism to make himself one of the world’s most wealthy individuals, and that is most definitely up for critical analysis, but a ‘mind-controlling chip in a COVID vaccine’? The world is bad enough without inventing a Twilight zone narrative.
An analysis of the conspiracy trope will find a twist on the same narrative rolled out again and again. QAnon smears the ‘liberal’ elite with pedophilia, which can then be found played out across social media as targets are picked off with other public figures linked to similar scandals. Who do the conspiracy theorists choose for such damaging hate speech? People of colour, the LGBTQI community, those that support left/liberal politics or causes, the oppressed, minority groups, basically anyone or anything that runs counter to their narrative. All are fair game, victims of a technology sector hiding behind ‘free speech’ (by which is meant consequence-free speech) and the lazy line that ‘we are content providers, not content creators’—a get out of jail free card.
So, what can progressives do to counter such a narrative? Firstly, regardless of Covid-19 restrictions, we must not allow the far right a free platform. The consecutive ‘anti-restriction’ protests held in Trafalgar Square demonstrate the growing reach of creeping fascism. The ‘fractured left’ must get its act together, organise, mobilise, agitate, and more importantly join forces and campaign against this threat.
It is important to point out that a flag very similar to the British Union of Fascists symbol was displayed openly and unchallenged at the first Trafalgar Square event; such symbols have remained hidden since the 1930s. Confidence is returning to the ranks of the far-right, encouraged by the dog-whistle politics of today’s Conservative Party and the rightward lean of many media outlets. Nigel Farage, ever the opportunist, talks of a new political party, and Lawrence Fox the ‘Woke Master General’ is currently raising funds for his own party.
Farage and Fox will claim to be fighting the woke narrative, enabled by the liberal elite, while also campaigning for free speech (which presses all the buttons for the knuckle draggers). In reality, they will be perusing their pet prejudices and rallying ever more precarious members of society’s middle strata to a scapegoating assault on the historic gains of workers and the oppressed, and most particularly on the lives of refugees and immigrants. Such reactionaries instinctively know that to further their class interests, they must obstruct the possibility of the emergence of a working-class.
The country is at a tipping point, with creeping fascism on the rise, an absent Labour Party, and a fractured left, bruised from Corbyn’s election defeat. I implore you, don’t sleepwalk back to the 1930s, stand firm, and proudly declare ‘¡no pasarán!’