Those protesting covid restrictions and fighting for health freedom are being cast as unhinged loonies and extremists
People protesting against the loss of freedom due to restrictive covid policies, along with those who don’t want to take the covid jab are being smeared as extremists and sometimes cast as far right activists.
No evidence is presented for these claims, however. Instead it appears that mischaracterising people who are by and large peaceful, reasonable, intelligent and open-minded as the complete opposite appears to be the strategy for particular interests.
While it’s pretty common to hear derogatory terms such as ‘loonies’ or ‘unhinged’ in reference to so called ‘anti-vaxers’, it was not until a prominent lobbyist and pundit referred to them as ‘extremists’ in a couple of tweets recently, as noted in a previous story, that I heard the term directly employed that way in the New Zealand context.
Then after this week’s freedom protest in Wellington, the slurs came again.
That was the comment from a lobbyist who posted a picture of a protestor with a sign reading “violating the Nuremburg code bears the death penalty.”
Of course, the sign is not a threat of vigilante violence as is being suggested, but a reminder to those in power that the war criminals tried at Nuremberg did in fact, meet the death penalty for their crimes against humanity and their sentences were passed by judges in a criminal court.
This is probably not the most constructive sign to carry at a protest for freedom, but the handful of people carrying such signs were hardly representative of the majority.
The lobbyist continues with more hyperbole: “The thing to remember about the unvaccinated folks protesting in Wellington today is that their entire grievance is based on deranged and often dangerous conspiracy theories that put themselves, and all of us, at risk of serious illness and death.”
To cast a diverse collection of grassroots campaigners expressing genuine concerns about covid policies as a dangerous group of extremists would be laughable if it were not so serious.
All this was to be expected, however. Here’s why.
Questioning Government policy on covid and jabs could get you labelled a security threat
The narrative emerged in the US earlier this year. A briefing from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March, ominously signaled it was shifting its focus from foreign threats to domestic ones.
In the briefing, ‘domestic violent extremists’ were described as people who were motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanised by recent political and societal events in the US, and were considered to pose a threat to homeland security.
What’s worrying is that the description is broad and could be applied arbitrarily to mean any grassroots movement in opposition to government.
In August, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin in much the same vein, which highlighted domestic threats that included concerns about people interested in “conspiracy theories concerning the origins of Covid-19 and effectiveness of vaccines”.
Alternative media and health freedom advocates in the US picked this up early on.
Greenmedinfo’s Sayer Ji noted in August, “The latest DHS report now weaponises the agenda to “fact-check” and “debunk” any dissenting voices or free speech by tying it to terrorist threats or potential acts of violence.“
A recent report by US group Citizen’s Commission to Safeguard Freedom also warned that “Government and powerful allied forces” were working to brand the diverse health freedom movement as a “monolithic right-wing group” in order to classify those involved as extremists or domestic terrorists.
Meanwhile, back in Aotearoa …
An 18 June address given by the director general of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Rebecca Ketteridge called “Navigating Domestic Security Threats in a World of Uncertainty” carried the same message.
In it, she said that part of the country’s “threatscape” was “the emergence of Covid-19 specific grievances and conspiracy theories amongst a small proportion of our population. The prevalence of on-line rabbit holes of disinformation may radicalise some individuals in New Zealand.”
Ketteridge goes on to explain that “Single Issue-Motivated Violent Extremists are those who condone the use of violence to achieve a specific outcome on a single issue – such as anti-1080, or anti-vaxxers.”
While Ketteridge emphasises that security services are looking for those that intend to use violence in the name of a cause, it’s unclear why she has singled out those two issues as examples. Those who want to remain unjabbed and be left alone to live their lives in peace will likely feel deeply unnerved to know our security services take this view.
Journalism or advocacy?
For the last 22 months the media, for whatever reason, has chosen not to question the need for restrictions and authoritarian policies and has gleefully embraced the demonisation of the unjabbed.
The ubiquitous term ‘anti-vaxxer’, almost certainly dreamed up in a public relations firm and seeded into the modern lexicon to protect the interest of pharmaceutical companies, is a clear sign the legacy media have abandoned principles of objectivity and balance.
The hate speech leveled at the unjabbed would trigger outrage if targeted at any other minority, and gives lie to the claim of ‘inclusivity’ spouted by so many legacy media outlets.
In an early November interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Newshub political journalist Tova O’Brien asked if the 4.6 per cent or 188,000 thousand “hardcore anti-vaxers could potentially pose a threat?”.
An egregious Herald opinion piece on 16 November claimed the country was likely to experience a terror attack at the hands of someone filled with rage over covid policies by the end of next year. This piece of scaremongering was rightly slated on social media.
And earlier this month, Stuff ran a piece called “The age of misinformation is here” which reinforced the narrative that anti-Government protestors and ‘anti-vaxxers’ posed a national security threat.
The intro reads: “Misinformation can kill, and almost two years since Covid-19 hit our shores it’s a national security issue with no easy solution. How is it impacting how we treat each other, and society at large?”
Again, the subtext here that any opinion that goes against government policy, or orthodoxy generally, is dangerous.
The Stuff article cites a briefing to the Department of the Prime Minister and cabinet:
“Anti-mask and anti-lockdown narratives, often couched in broad human rights and basic freedoms terms (and often grounded in narratives linked to the US constitution) [have] found fertile ground amongst followers of a few influencers, political parties and some church congregations.”
OK, so have I got this right? Masks and lockdowns good, human rights and basic freedoms bad? It’s hard not to come to the conclusion the public is being groomed to think of freedom and bodily autonomy as ‘selfish’.
The media has been very quick to pick up on any anger or outburst expressed by the many thousands of Kiwis who have been affected by mandates or who are feeling the incessant pressure from Government and media to take a jab they do not want, not to mention the psychological trauma of being cast out of the lifeblood of society with no objection from the majority of their fellow citizens.
Similarly, the legacy media refuse to acknowledge with any sincerity what these people have lost or show any willingness to tell their side of the story.
On 12 December much loved veteran broadcaster, John Campbell’s tv special “Anger, anxiety and us” purported to be very confused about why people are so angry (hint: medical mandates, segregation, mass sackings, media bias, censoring of dissent, constant fearmongering) while ultimately reinforcing the now familiar trope that the unjabbed are at best misguided and at worst, a menace.
Look out for these pieces, they are likely to keep coming.
Troll on social media gets in on the act
Last week this tweet was posted from a doctor trying to pin the alt-right label on grassroots activists Voices for Freedom (read the thread in its entirety for all claims).
“Alt-right forces such as those that provoked the January 6th insurrection in the US are at work in New Zealand, and they’re using COVID health policies as the anchor to indoctrinate and radicalise people.”
” … It is no coincidence that Voices for Freedom, whose revenue streams remain high and hidden, uses the same language … “
As one commenter replied, VFF was started by “three mums from Ponsonby” as a response to the draconian covid restrictions put in place last year, and which has grown a membership base of about 100,000 through good old fashioned community building around a common interest – freedom. Revenues come from donations from concerned citizens.
The group is explicitly non-partisan. Their website states:
“We are independent and not allied with any other organisation in New Zealand. Our supporters represent a diverse cross section of New Zealand society. Being non-political we do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation. We built our database independently and continue to experience rapid growth with supporters numbering in their many thousands.”
And just to be clear, since they are invariably referred to in the legacy media as ‘anti-vax’, whatever that means, they aren’t:
“Voices for Freedom is not anti-vaccines. We value medical freedom and are pro-choice. We champion the right to be free from coercion and from discrimination based on vaccination status.”
Scapegoating and dehumanising the unjabbed
A more realistic threat comes from hatred towards the unjabbed that continues to be stoked by the media and the state.
Vaccine fundamentalism – an irrational, blind, bottom-line faith in the beneficence of vaccines that can tolerate no questioning or dissent – has been extant for a long time and is increasing in the covid era. Many people unjustifiably believe the unjabbed are a threat to them.
Examples from overseas show this clearly. In Germany, graffiti saying “Gas the unvaccinated” and a newspaper cartoon showing a man playing a video game in which unvaccinated people are hunted down and killed. In Canada earlier this year the front page of the largest online news site featured a host of hateful statements made about the unjabbed on twitter.
We have yet to see anything as extreme in New Zealand but if intolerance and hate continue to be pushed, we might still get there. Let’s hope not.
Rather than ramping up the fear and exclusion, psychologist Paris Williams notes in his excellent analysis of the current situation that the path to healing and rebuilding social cohesion begins with dialogue and mediation, restoring informed consent, and ending medical mandates.
He suggests the Government should make “an explicit acknowledgment of and responsibility for the harm done to those who have chosen not to get vaccinated—the harm and humiliation caused by generally scapegoating and vilifying them, invalidating their perspectives, and threatening to take away their livelihoods. This would go a long way to repairing this social rupture and re-establishing trust in our democratic institutions.”
I couldn’t agree more.