23 February 2022

Fascist flags, QAnon and extremist ties: the many faces of 'freedom' protesters

| Andrew Leigh MP
Join the conversation
31
Freedom Convoy To Canberra

Freedom Convoy to Canberra protest march to APH. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Over recent weeks, far-right anti-vax protests have cropped up in Canada, Britain, France and New Zealand. But never have these protests come to a city with a higher vaccination rate than Canberra, where unvaccinated adults are as rare as UFO sightings.

They have a right to peacefully protest, but those of us who believe in science also have a right to point out that vaccines save lives and conspiracy theories can kill. Since the Morrison Government belatedly began rolling out COVID vaccines in Australia, these free vaccines have protected thousands of Australians from hospitalisation and death. COVID vaccines work. Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and Vitamin C do not.

The anti-vax protesters aren’t just wrong about the science; they’re also a risk to democracy. As media commentator Van Badham has pointed out, these groups should be judged not by their relatively small numbers but by the damage they’re willing to do. Ironically, the people who claim to be saving democracy are its biggest threat.

READ MORE Hear the protesters out and you might agree with them

The violent anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne, the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January last year and the global so-called freedom protests have brought together a dangerous brew of conspiracy theories. Today, 15 per cent of Americans agree with the central false tenet of QAnon: that the government and other entities are controlled by Satan-worshipping paedophiles running a child sex trafficking ring.

The Melbourne anti-lockdown protesters have waved swastikas and nooses and welcomed anti-Semites. Some of the Canberra protesters waved Ustaše fascist flags and Confederate flags. According to Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw, one protestor was arrested with a loaded gun and an internal map of Parliament House.

The Canberra protests attracted support from senators Pauline Hanson, Alex Antic and Gerard Rennick. Like Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, with her support for those who vandalised the Museum of Australian Democracy, these extreme senators seem not to realise they’re playing with fire.

The protesters didn’t seem to care who they were hurting. When the vandalism of fences at Exhibition Park forced the closure of the Lifeline Bookfair, they shut down a charity event that helps people with mental health challenges. (Sidenote: if you haven’t yet made a donation to Lifeline, they could still really use your support.)

Many Canberrans turned the other cheek, putting up with abuse in the streets and shops. At BentSpoke in Braddon, Richard Watkins and his staff behaved with calm decency when a protester threw a glass at the bar.

READ ALSO Public sector union calls for 26 weeks’ paid parental leave

The Australian Federal Police moved the protestors on from the National Library lawns with minimal conflict and then did the same again at Exhibition Park a few days later.

The protestors wrapped themselves in multiple flags, but the one that struck me most was their attempt to co-opt the Eureka legend.

In one sense, there’s nothing new in this. Barely had the shooting stopped in 1854 when the battle of the Eureka Stockade became the battle for the Eureka Stockade – a battle for its history, meaning and legacy. As Geoffrey Blainey once put it, Eureka is a “great neon sign with messages that flick on and off, with different messages for different people on different occasions”.

But the Eureka legend is too big to be co-opted by extremists. Mark Twain called it “the finest thing in Australian history”. Ben Chifley believed “Eureka was the first real affirmation of our determination to become masters of our own political destiny”.

HV ‘Doc’ Evatt said, “Australian democracy was born at Eureka”. Gough Whitlam thought that it would “stir the imagination of the Australian people”. Robert Menzies and John Howard also acknowledged the role that Eureka played in our democracy.

Yes, Eureka was a tax revolt, but it was also about democracy, multiculturalism, egalitarianism, mateship and the fair go. Eureka inspired the women’s suffrage movement and the republican movement.

It is fitting that our first female Prime Minister was the member for Lalor – the electorate named after the Eureka leader, Peter Lalor. As Clare Wright, Peter FitzSimons, David Headon, John Uhr, John Molony and others have made clear, Eureka is a big national story – a story for everyone, not just the extremists.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner. He will be in conversation with Van Badham about her book QAnon and On: A Short and Shocking History of Internet Conspiracy Cults at the ANU on Monday (28 February).

Join the conversation

31
All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Latest

“The anti-vax protesters aren’t just wrong about the science; they’re also a risk to democracy. As media commentator Van Badham has pointed out, these groups should be judged not by their relatively small numbers but by the damage they’re willing to do. Ironically, the people who claim to be saving democracy are its biggest threat.”

Firstly, they’re not ant-vax protestors, at least not the vast majority of them – most are just anti being forced. They’re mostly not even anti-science – just anti the “science” that seems to contradict daily: masks are ineffective, no they’re not, you all have to wear one, maybe two.

Secondly, they are not relatively small numbers – it was described as the biggest protest that ever marched to Parliament House. Small numbers relative to what exactly?

Thirdly, you have a large group of people gathering to tell the government what they want (or perhaps what they don’t want) – excuse me, but I thought that was the essence of democracy.

“COVID vaccines work. Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and Vitamin C do not.”

I’m relieved to see this rant filed under “opinion”, because it’s certainly not an opinion shared by all, or supported by the evidence. COVID vaccines don’t work the way that we are used to seeing vaccines work. For example, where is smallpox ever since there was a vaccine that actually worked?! It’s certainly not spreading around with thousands of new cases every day like a certain COVID that so many of us were supposedly vaccinated against. And there are numerous other diseases that are virtually unheard of today, because the vaccines for those actually do work, unlike what was sold as a COVID vaccine.

And we couldn’t know if Ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine are effective treatments because trying them was prohibited – why was that?

Craig Gibson10:19 am 24 Feb 22

They love yelling about freedoms and how they are the fighters for the future. They forget that they make up about 5 percent of the population if that in most states. The other 95 percent who are the actual majority think they are unwashed feral clowns.

The greatest part about the rally and the freedom movement is watching it destroy itself due to and not ironically in the slightest . Politics . And missing money and an affair between two organisers

Sotu Surfboards11:11 am 24 Feb 22

Craig, sounds like you think it’s a great idea that ordinary Australian “feral unwashed” workers , doctors, nurses, teachers airline pilots, truck drivers should have a medical procedure they don’t want or need to be able to work in their profession……???? .

Sotu Surfboards, please give the statistics (percentages) of doctors and nurses in Australia who are unvaccinated. It would be minuscule. You make unsubstantiated claims, as anti-vaxxers do a lot.

Please provide the “science”proving vaccines are safe and work? Why is the medical profession silenced about the outcomes from vaccines they see? Show me one scientist that claims the vaccines are safe. For the economy vaccines were a good idea at first. But filtering through the data from both perspectives, it would seem the vaccines are of no use agains Omicron and even likely to make the viruses morph faster. If the vaccine worked, wouldn’t Vaccinated people will carry virus at schools etc for a day or two longer before recognised. Therefore doubling their chance of spreading it?
Why is it okay for you to portray your generalisations and assumptions as fact? Every group has extremists, even the government, big Pharma, etc. You cannot make out that the majority of people protesting for our freedoms are doing the opposite.
As a reporter, please post facts and not opinions, please voice exactly what the protestors are protesting for and elaborate with facts or their views, not your own.
Are you in any way, financially or other, encouraged to paint a negative picture towards the protestors?
Im open minded either way with vaccines etc, we should all be, to believe anything you read 100% now days is doing yourself disservice, this above article is case in point, smoke and mirrors.
lets get media back to its core, reporting the truths without bias, and not brainwashing the masses with what will sell or get readers.

Peter Graves10:13 am 24 Feb 22

You might care to read the article more closely and precisely It’s actually not written by a reporter.

The author is Andrew Leigh – a local federal MP. It’s his opinion. As he is entitled to.

Someone finally did a cost-benefit analysis of Australia’s response (which, you know, an economist like Mr Leigh should probably have demanded before unprecedented, draconian behaviour was taken by government).

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40592-021-00148-y

$1.1 million per quality adjust life years, or 11 times more expensive than our usual baseline for intervention. The people Mr Leigh condemns have already paid most heavily for it, while the rest of us will be paying it back for generations.

When the hard left Socialist Alliance protest, often with violence, it’s nothing to see here. Perhaps because their votes go to the ALP/Greens and that’s OK with Andrew Leigh

Too true, and amongst what was described as the biggest protest at Parliament House, Mr Leigh manages to find 2-3 misdemeanors in a crowd estimated to be at least 10,000 people (one of whom was carrying a firearm and, shock horror, a tourist brochure of the Parliament House!). Then, “At BentSpoke in Braddon, Richard Watkins and his staff behaved with calm decency when a protester threw a glass at the bar.” Of course they behaved with calm decency, it probably something that happens every week in a bar.
Even Mr Leigh is forced to concede “The Australian Federal Police moved the protestors on from the National Library lawns with minimal conflict and then did the same again at Exhibition Park a few days later.” Did you hear that? Minimal conflict! These aren’t the trouble makers Mr Leigh is imagining them to be.

CaptainSpiff2:45 pm 23 Feb 22

Protesters were against vaccination mandates, not vaccination. Is Andrew Leigh unable to tell the difference? Was there a single protester there who wanted to prevent anyone else from getting vaccinated?

Covid vaccines work. That’s demonstrably true, in so far as they significantly lower the hospitalisation and death rates for vulnerable cohorts. But does Andrew Leigh’s faith in science allow him to acknowledge that the vaccines do very little to stop transmission?

And if the vaccines don’t stop transmission, what’s the rationale for mandates?

But sure, keep chanting about “far right anti-vax extremists”, “threat to democracy”, etc etc.

This is a very distorted and inaccurate account that avoids facts in an attempt to malign a large group of very frustrated fellow Australians, of all backgrounds. Here is what Andrew Leigh fails to comprehend:
– it was primarily an anti-mandate, anti-lockdown, we want our lives back, we are hurting type of protest;
– there were 10,000 to 15,000 people at the rally;
– it was one of Canberra’s biggest ever protests;
– they came long distances from all over Australia;
– there were many flags, including a multitude of Aboriginal and Eureka flags;
– people appeared to be of more traditional Labor then Liberal base;
– there were nurses, tradies, teachers, truckies, factory workers young and old who had lost their jobs;
– but overall, it was a friendly, peaceful, safe, multi-cultural gathering;
– one touching moment was when the whole crowd sang Happy Birthday for a mother whose daughter had died after being vaccinated and this was her birthday;
– incidents of abuse and bad behaviour were isolated and unrepresentative;
– the vast majority were exceptionally well behaved according to the police, NCA and Lifeline CEOs;
– the disruptions they caused was more on account of the size of the crowd, unlike the deliberate disruptions and damage caused by neo-Marxists posing as Extinction Rebellion protesters.
Andrew Leigh did not go to the protest and speak to people. Why not? Scared to listen? Deaf to the voices of the workers, the disadvantaged and marginalised?
None are so deaf as an out of touchpolitician who will not hear.

Haha, perfect counterpoint to the comment I made below about Leigh’s seemingly one eyed stance.

Apparently there’s quite a few people around who can ignore bad behaviour from protesters as long as they agree with them on an issue.

This seems a fitting link for some:
https://tenor.com/view/sergeant-schultz-see-nothing-hear-nothing-know-nothing-hogans-heroes-john-banner-gif-9302846

Whilst many of the MPs claims here are reasonable, I find it strange that he never wrote similar articles when illogical and extreme left wing protesters were impeding local Canberrans going about their lawful business in the last couple of years…..

Agree. Where was his condemnation of Extinction Rebellion

“when illogical and extreme left wing protesters were impeding local Canberrans going about their lawful business in the last couple of years”
Oh? That was a reference to Extinction Rebellion? I though he was referring to the government imposed lockdowns, mandates, restrictions, etc. etc. impeding local Canberrans going about their lawful business in the last couple of years.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.