Despite record numbers of people being vaccinated, and the proven efficacy of vaccines, the Australian anti-vaxxer movement has not gone away. After a series of violent anti-health measure protests in Melbourne in September and October, the anti-vaxxers have continued to hold small rallies and marches, even after most restrictions have been lifted. The anti-vaxxer cause seems to be morphing. While opposition to vaccine mandates is still their central platform, the various factions involved in these mobilisations are now broadening their agenda to encompass a libertarian middle class concern for their so-called rights and freedoms that they supposedly lost during the pandemic.
This is very much aligned to a broader international phenomenon that has seen right-wing extremist political formations infiltrate the anti-vax milieu with explicit far right propaganda and talking points. Globally, we can identify an overlap between the anti-vaxxers and deluded QAnon conspiracists; increasingly, these individuals are being influenced by explicitly fascist sects such as the Proud Boys and other Nazi-adjacent gangs.
This is obvious in the supposedly secret chatrooms the fascists and the antivaxxers inhabit on Telegram, Gab, and Discord. In one recent chat, a Melbourne woman introduced quotes from Hitler into a discussion of the anti-vax protest movement and received several approving comments. The fascist threat in Australia is currently small, but the Nazi-aligned groups have latched onto the anti-vax movement, and they see it as a fertile recruitment ground.
Therefore, we must take the far right seriously. They are fed on a constant diet of misinformation about COVID, about the vaccines, and about a conspiracy of shadowy political forces using the pandemic as a cover for the real agenda: to somehow dismantle individual freedoms by making everyone wear masks and be injected with unknown substances to control their minds and actions.
This is complete nonsense: it is both unscientific with regards to the virus and the vaccine, and it is ideological nonsense because the capitalist state—as bad as it is—is not yet ready to abandon the cloak of electoral democracy to impose a dictatorship.
Ironically, it is the fascist wannabees at the core of the anti-vax movement itself that have such authoritarian tendencies. This is becoming more open and explicit, even as it shelters under the false flag of freedom. There is only a small gap between believing in shadowy conspiracy theories and being convinced by the anti-Semitic lie that vaccines are part of a Jewish plot to enslave the world. The fascists understand they need to broach the “J question” carefully, but they are using the cover of the anti-vax movement to introduce people to their racist ideas.
Alongside explicit fascist elements, the November 20 “freedom” rally organisers include the hard right group Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA) which has recently announced a merger with Craig Kelly and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP). This is an opportunistic electoral alliance, but it is a good fit for the far right because Craig Kelly continues to push Ivermectin (horse deworming paste) as a cure for COVID and this resonates with the anti-vaxxers.
As I have previously written, this coalition of crazies will boost the UAP’s electoral prospects. The anti-vaxxer and false freedom crowd are a Trojan horse for the right-wing electoral politics of Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly. The UAP is opposed to action on climate change and supports the expansion of Australia’s coal mining industry because that’s how Clive Palmer got his filthy riches. Craig Kelly is a homophobic and racist bigot: he voted against marriage equality and supports the Morrison government every step of the way. We know that the UAP will preference the coalition and so supporting this mob is ultimately a vote for Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce. Worse than this—as bad as another Morrison term would be—is that electoral success will allow the UAP/RDA group to claim a victory, and this will help them grow. This will strengthen the far right and provide more potential recruits for the fascists.
This reason alone should be enough for anybody concerned about Australia’s future ability to resist the rise of fascist violence to come to the counter-rally. However, if you need further convincing, here’s CARF’s top 10 reasons why we need to be there and bring ourfriends.
- We can’t let the far right normalise the idea of mass death due to covid!
The size and scale of the anti-vaccine and COVID denying rallies are a significant leap forward for the forces opposed to essential health measures. Their efforts are helping to normalise a situation where we all accept mass deaths due to COVID for the sake of some misguided sense of individual freedom. The pandemic has shown us otherwise, that in fact we are all connected and that it is necessary for us to collectively participate in public health measures to free ourselves from the impacts of the virus.
- We need to make it clear that these demonstrations involve dangerous far right and fascist forces!
It is important to counter demonstrate and to explain to a wider audience that these mobilisations involve a variety of far-right and fascist forces. In Melbourne one of the most prominent known figures has been AVI Yemeni, the self-declared “biggest Jewish Nazi in the world.” Other figures include Harrison McClean who is well known for his antisemitic conspiracy theories.
- Far right politics should be opposed through protest!
We need to counter-mobilise to discredit conspiratorial anti-vax ideas, highlight the involvement of the far-right, and put forward our own arguments: that vaccines are about social solidarity, and covid-19 is a serious threat to people’s health and lives. We need to counter them in numbers and energy, and argue their ideas are grossly wrong and extremely right wing.
- We cannot let the far right grow!
The far right and fascists have mobilized around the issue of opposing vaccines and health measures to recuperate their forces here in Melbourne and worldwide. They’re using these protests as a chance to grow and organise themselves. This is a dangerous development and ignoring them will not make them go away. If we want to make sure that these forces can’t grow we need to highlight their politics for what they really are, and show them that the majority of public opinion is against them.
- It is important to break the vaccine hesitant from the serious COVID deniers and the fascists.
Not only have previous anti-vaccine demonstrations bolstered ideas hostile to social solidarity, but they have opened yet another opportunity for hardened far-right and fascist organisations to capitalise on the fears and anxiety provoked by misinformation and hostile media reporting of public health measures. These demonstrations only offer fertile soil for them to pedal their bigoted conspiracy theories amongst a crowd open to these ideas. However, as most of the rally goers are not fascists themselves, they can be broken away if confronted and made aware of the sort of fascistic company they’re keeping. We need to counter-mobilise to discredit their ideas, disrupt the far-right’s ability to recruit and publicly push for a pro-health agenda.
- Vaccines and masks are a health and safety issue
Workers need to take vaccines and masks seriously to keep themselves safe at work. Selfish anti-vaxxers put themselves and their workmates at risk of infection, or worse. The far right is hostile to trade unions and workers’ organisations because they support capitalism—the Proud Boys even make this explicit in their propaganda—and therefore we have to insist that workers have the right, and the responsibility, to protect themselves by being vaccinated and wearing a mask when appropriate.
The pandemic is a union issue, and one that the workers’ movement more broadly must address. Capitalism doesn’t care about workers’ health because it puts profits above saving lives. We need to mobilise to counter this anti-worker and anti-human rhetoric and to encourage the trade union movement to take up the fight for COVID-safe workplaces.
- Show solidarity with healthcare workers!
Health care workers are on the frontline in the effort to keep all of us safe. Not only do doctors and nurses work tirelessly at testing and vaccination sites, they also staff the ICU wards where many COVID patients end up. We have already seen anti-vax protestors attacking health workers in other parts of the world and these dangerous far right mobilisations will encourage similar outrages in Australia.
- Solidarity with teachers: Schools are not yet safe
We know that children are at risk of both infection from and transmitting the COVID virus. There is ample evidence from international studies that schools are likely to be sites of infection and transmission. This puts students, teachers, and families at risk. We are campaigning for safety measures in schools and supporting teachers who want to take action to highlight their concerns about returning to work while it is not safe to do so. We acknowledge the difficulties that parents face with learning from home, but this requires the proper support measures from governments, not blanket orders that schools re-open without adequate safety protocols in place.
- COVID-19 is a virus caused by Capitalism
The ultimate cause of the pandemic is global capitalism. The virus spread from the wild because of food scarcity in China forcing people to kill and eat animals already at risk because of encroachments on their habitat for farming, logging and extractive industries. The spread of the virus around the world was also facilitated by global travel that was not properly or quickly regulated to prevent cross-border infection.
Infections could have been quickly brought under control in many places if governments had acted faster with public health measures. The hesitancy to do this was the result of pressure from business leaders who were more concerned about how profits would be affected by an economic slowdown. This is well-documented in Australia. The failure to prevent the Ruby Princess cruise ship from discharging infected passengers in Sydney led to the first big national outbreak. The Morrison government refused to act quickly with purpose-built quarantine facilities, and this allowed the virus to escape again from so-called ‘hotel quarantine’. The government was forced to introduce Jobkeeper only after it was embarrassed by the ACTU and the scheme was ended prematurely which led to thousands of people being left without income for many months. The pressure to reopen the economy while the virus is still at large and not under control is also driven by the demands of the bosses. It is workers who will pay for the ultimate cost.
- Who’s streets? Our streets
We need to mobilise on November 20 to protest against the far right and to show that there is opposition to their false promise of freedom and their anti-science conspiracy theories. In addition, progressive forces need to return to the streets to reconnect with supporters and rebuilt lost momentum. The political and economic crises that mark the period of capitalist decline were not put on pause during the pandemic.
Attacks on working class organisations continue; wages and conditions are still under threat as the capitalist class seeks to claw back its lost profits and margins. The global recession is not over and this has led to an increase in imperialist tensions between the USA and China. Australia is caught up in this new cold war. The COP26 climate conference has done nothing to save the planet from global warming; instead, it has merely launched a corporate greenwashing exercise based on meaningless slogans such as “zero emissions by 2050”.
As the pandemic recedes from public consciousness, the left will need to reclaim the streets and rebuild to once again bring 10s of 1000s of people onto the street to demand action to halt the climate emergency, to say “No war with China,” and to fight for workers’ rights.
Stopping the far-right and fascists is just the first step.