While a few in the media leapt at the opportunity to vilify a small evangelical community at the latest COVID 19 spread, the really big COVID 19-conspiracy story landed by the thousand this weekend to general shoulder-shrugging and eye-rolling. It’s overdue we woke up to QAnon here.
The National Rally for Freedom, organised by political party Advance New Zealand and the Liberty March movement on Saturday, saw thousands turn out in Auckland and across the country – in fact on that day the marches were simultaneous right across much of the world. Twitter and Facebook just exploded across New Zealand networks.
Here’s one of the protest signs:
“At this point I would feel safer if coronavirus held a press conference telling us how it’s going to save us from the government”.
Now for the immediate impact on the coming election, this may just look like more wasted vote to redistribute. But the global extent of the gatherings including here isn’t going to go away while this COVID 19 rages over every global governmental defence.
Ever rational, Minister Megan Woods reassured us on Sunday of of ‘robust systems’ being in place, after two health workers in west Auckland tested positive. A model of calm and rationality, she keeps most of us believing in the necessity of unemotional almost unpatriotic trust in the benevolence of the state as a source of truth and good.
But for some who were required to give up their freedom to travel, to see the people they loved, to shop, to be in public, and to work, every explanation sounds more like excuses justifying more sustained repression and removal of freedom.
The marchers are rising; they come from a deep anti-establishment position both left and right. This is our version of Q Anon, and Q Anon itself was an organising power behind it. The combination of authoritarian democracies (both those from the minimal government spectrum like Trump, and those from the maximal government spectrum like ours) and the worldwide rage of COVID 19 has led to deep distrust of government to tell the truth, be good for citizens, and be in control when it matters. It’s an epistemic crisis.
As noted by Anna-Sophie Harling the head of media evaluation startup NewsGuard quoted in The Hill:
Pandemics fuel a lot of questions and make people very skeptical, especially in cases when what we would consider to be credible and trustworthy institutions all of a sudden don’t seem to have the right answers or are not aligned on how to manage the situation.”
People will satiate their hunger for answers when every institution appears to have lost control of the world.
In late August Facebook deleted over 790 groups, 1000 pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon and restricted the accounts of hundreds of other Facebook groups and thousands of Instagram accounts. Q-Anon newsfeed rankings and search results were also downgraded.
It’s not going to work. Q Anon has its roots on the bulletin boards of the websites 4Chan and 8Chan.
We’ve seen a series of global “save the children” protests in the last few weeks – proof of how resilient and adaptable that community is.
One of the main sources is the hyper-viral short documentary “Out of the Shadows” which fueled baseless theories linking COVID 19’s origins to Bill Gates, 5G towers, and the World Health Organisation. I’m not linking to it – you can seek it if you want.
There’s supposed to be a big ring of paedophiles across the world who are deep within the government. During Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, Senator Bill Heffernan tried to table a list of 28 names of prominent Australians who he alleged were paedophiles. It’s not hard to imagine the same kind of “outing” occurring when the findings of our own Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care brings its own findings out soon.
This is not an unreasonable instinct. New Zealand levels of incarceration and institutional abuse should shake to your core the foundations of traditional leftie belief in the benevolence of the state. And that’s where the seed of deep distrust begins. Then pile on to that Police blocking the motorways, the military taking over border control at airports, police patrolling hotels, and media-fed witch-hunts of Pacifika people whenever there’s an outbreak. Because within this sustained public health crisis, the state is showing that it can adjust your level of daily freedom every week at the whim of Cabinet decision. No one respecting freedom is going to put up with that for long.
The marches and the political party are a sign that patience is running out, anger is alive, and those who are fed up have very strong global support.
Institutional mistrust is one element, but Covid-19 made it worse by isolating people and leaving them with little to grasp it but to go online: the virus amplified the tendencies already evident within societal epistemic capture by unregulated and globally dominant information agglomerator networks.
We saw a few millennial cults rise and fall with the Depression in Pentecostal tentpole frothings in midwestern USA. But this one is different. It has no church or belief structure of much note. It’s totally secular. It has no eschaological (end-times-anticipating), or apocalyptic drives. It’s a rising anarchist spirit, corresponding to the multiple crises rising in the world right now. It may well have hard-right backers, but that matters not to those marching – not one whit.
We have the new post-Covid society arising: a society divided about whether the state should be trusted, a network of growing anti-establishment rebellion, and a global movement reaching our shores.