On encrypted messenging apps used to stir up resentment towards lockdowns are threats to state premiers and wild, debunked conspiracies.
On encrypted messenging apps used to stir up tens of thousands of protesters at rallies in Sydney and Melbourne over the weekend are threats to state premiers and wild, debunked conspiracy theories about everything from forced vaccinations to “the great reset” of society.
Shared widely on Telegram and Facebook are messages about storming the press conferences of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with an army of “100,000”.
The proponents of “freedom rallies” in Australia’s two largest cities, attended by as many as 30,000 people, are devout followers of QAnon, members of the far-right and prominent anti-vaxxers who refer to the majority in lockdown as “masked zombie slaves” with “nothing inside them at all”.
“The “pandemic” is a cover for a currency reset (aka the Great Reset) and everything that comes along with it is a smokescreen,” one Telegram user wrote in the Sydney Freedom Rally group — an offshoot of the main organising group, the Worldwide Rally for Freedom.
Others call for more extreme measures.
“This won’t end until society collapses or there is a revolution,” another Telegram user wrote.
Protesters who were denounced by state leaders and the Prime Minister on Sunday were buoyed by a small group of politicians who celebrated their efforts to pushback against stay-at-home orders despite the Delta variant of Covid-19 spreading in Melbourne and Sydney.
They include the usual suspects: Independent MP Craig Kelly, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts and Nationals MP George Christensen — all of whom are wildly popular on social media.
Mr Kelly wrote on Telegram that a photograph of a man allegedly punching a horse at the Sydney rally was “propaganda that would make (Nazi propagandist Joseph) Goebells proud” and was “a coup for the (vaccine) sellers”.
He wrote that the vaccine was “experimental”.
“Those protesting for freedom and against compulsory injections of experimental agents could be painted as violent thugs that abuse animals,” he wrote.
Mr Christensen even spoke at a rally in the Queensland city of Mackay after promoting the event to “freedom lovers” in the days before Saturday’s march.
In the same groups, plans are being made for another protest on Saturday, September 18. But many who attended the weekend’s protests are already voicing concern about the prospect of being identified in the masses of people and hit with a fine.
Those who attended were whipped into a frenzy by speakers, including TikTok comedian Jon-Bernard Kairouz, who was fined for attending.
“I must say I’ve crunched the numbers, I don’t think the cases are going to go up tomorrow,” he told the crowd.
“But from what I’ve calculated there’s over 50,000 people here today.”
Videos from the speech showed the man standing next to him was wearing a vest featuring one of the extreme conspiracy theorists the world has ever known — David Icke.
Icke believes the world is ruled by an ancient race of reptiles.
Police said they were shocked by the level of violence used by protesters.
“What took us by surprise and what disappoints me so greatly is the level of violence that people were prepared to use. That was unprecedented. That’s not Sydney,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was “absolutely disgusted and disappointed” in those who attended the protest, warning it could lead to a “super-spreading” event.
“We don’t want a setback, and yesterday could have been a setback. Time will tell,” she said on Sunday.
“But I’m just so utterly disgusted, disappointed and heartbroken that people don’t consider the safety and wellbeing of their fellow citizens.”
Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys described the events that occurred on Saturday as “violent, filthy, risky behaviour”.
He said a strike force had been set up to investigate the protest and urged anyone with video footage, photos or any information to submit it to Crime Stoppers.
“The investigation into people’s behaviour yesterday will continue for some time, so I expect over the next few days and perhaps weeks that number of penalty infringement notices will continue to be high,” Mr Worboys said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said those who attended should reconsider their priorities.
“We can’t vaccinate against selfishness. These people should be ashamed.”
By Rohan Smith