For months, thousands of people have taken to the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, and other Australian cities, to protest vaccine mandates and measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The protestors are an eclectic bunch: young and old, wealthy and working class; and they wave an array of flags including from Spain, Israel, Poland, Kenya, and, of course, Australia.
Underpinning the protests, however, is far-right ideology and the protests have become key recruiting grounds for far-right organizations.
The Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, which has organized counterprotests, said “the right are trying to build a reactionary movement that unites anti-vaxxer conspiracists, Trumpist loons and outright neo-Nazis.”
Contradictory images of the protests have emerged, such as a woman wearing a t-shirt displaying a peace sign but posing next to an inflatable effigy of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews hanging by the neck from make-shift gallows.
In the background, another woman, after reciting passages from the bible, yells into a microphone: “I look forward to the day I get to see [Dan Andrews] dance on the end of a rope.”
The images highlight the intersection of the anti-vax wellness community, Christian fundamentalists, and some of Australia’s most extreme far-right organizations.
Journalists and anti-fascist researchers who have monitored the protests online and on the ground have found they are often orchestrated and led by far-right agitators or at least by people sympathetic to far-right ideology. The protests have become increasingly violent while supporters of the movement become more radicalized.
Last week, in a video leaked from a closed Q&A zoom session hosted by Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA) founder Monica Smit, her guest, a fellow RDA leader expressed her frustrations and said they were willing to take up arms.
“I’m absolutely exhausted. Everything I’ve done has done nothing and I just don’t know where to go from here…It’s got to the stage where we’re getting arms, archery,” she said, before Smit cut her off, saying: “stop, stop, stop, we can talk about that separately.”
It’s not just the far-right co-opting the anti vax movement but the anti-vax movement has co-opted other movements as well. Earlier this week, anti-vaxxers and far-right ideologues convinced indigenous activists in Canberra to attack Old Parliament House.
Footage taken at the front entrance shows both indigenous and white men adding leaves and sticks and even furniture to a fire that engulfed the front of the building.
Journalist and author Paula Matthewson later tweeted: “I’ve been watched this escalate slowly over several days. Sovereign citizen anti-vaxxers convinced some indigenous activists that if they took over Old Parlt House they could re-establish the sovereignty that was never ceded. They’ve been trying for days to get people to storm the building.”
Sovereign citizens is a conspiracy group with anti-Semitism at its core and believes modern government is an illegitimate corporation. A reporter posted to Twitter on the day of the attack on Old Parliament House a letter that had been taped to the doors of the building and was addressed to “The Australian Commonwealth de facto Corporate Administration” stating that the government was trespassing.
The organizer of some of Sydney’s largest anti-vax protests was present at Old Parliament House while a Twitter account associated with the Australian chapter of the Proud Boys posted a photo, since deleted, showing one of their members was also present.
In a statement posted to the popular Facebook page Blackfulla Revolution, respected Aboriginal Elders Greg Simms and Wes Marne said they had been misled by the anti-vax protestors.
“It was not until the day unfolded that we realised what we thought we were attending was in fact an event promoting antivax sentiment,” he said.