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‘It’s almost like grooming’: How anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and the far-right came together over COVID

screen-grab-CFMEU-protest-Melbourne_ABC News

SCENES OF PROTESTORS clad in hi-viz jackets and shouting anti-vaccination slogans have dominated the news recently.

As ABC News reported: “Some of those gathered held a banner reading ‘freedo’, while others sang the national anthem and chanted ‘f*** the jab’.”

Some attacked union offices, drawing criticism from officials such as Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) chief Sally McManus, who described the protests as being orchestrated “by violent right-wing extremists and anti-vaccination activists”.

These images may shock some but for researchers like me — who research far-right nationalist and conspiracy movements, and explore the online spaces where these people organise — these scenes came as no real surprise.

Far-right nationalists, anti-vaxxers, libertarians and conspiracy theorists have come together over COVID, and capitalised on the anger and uncertainty simmering in some sections of the community.

They appear to have found fertile ground particularly among men who feel alienated, fearful about their employment and who spend a lot of time at home scrolling social media and encrypted messaging apps.

The latest in a continuum

It’s important to see what’s occurring with these protests as part of a continuum rather than a series of unrelated incidents. This week’s protests are related to anti-lockdown protests held in 2020, and earlier this year.

It was at first limited to the conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer crowd. Some were just upset by lockdowns but most of the planning conversation online was being led by anti-vaxxers and QAnon activists.

These movements thrive on anxiety, anger, a sense of alienation, a distrust in government and institutions. It’s really no coincidence this is occurring most vigorously in Melbourne given what this city has been through with lockdowns.

It has really built momentum over the last year and, more recently, been infiltrated by far-right groups. 

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