Well-funded reactionary forces are using the COVID-19 shutdown to spread their unscientific views about how to deal with the pandemic, the World Health Organization, the medical profession and scientists.
They are promoting a slick campaign on YouTube, piggy-backing on the anti-vaccination and anti-5G movements' conspiracies. As they are connected to far-right Republican sources — supporters of Donald Trump and QAnon — they are also well-funded.
QAnon believes that a “worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles” rule the world and “control everything”, including politicians and the media, according to The Washington Post. Followers of the illusive Q believe that they “exist in a symbiotic relationship with the president, and see Trump as an almost messianic figure”, according to Politico. Seven QAnon devotees are running for office, as Republicans, and one is believed to be in with a chance in Georgia.
Their conspiracy videos can be somewhat persuasive, despite being full of lies and half-truths. Their aim is to raise doubt. In a climate in which so many people distrust politicians, and there is still so much unknown about COVID-19, their propaganda can seem credible.
COVID-19 conspiracy theorists gained some momentum after the medical journal The Lancet, which declared hydroxychloroquine harmful, recently retracted a study it had published when it found that the data in the study was inaccurate. The World Health Organization also ceased its study on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, following The Lancet's decision.
It turned out that, while the study was peer reviewed, the data it purportedly used — from 96,000 cases in 11 countries and 163 hospitals including Australia — was false. It was co-authored by US vascular surgeon Dr Sapan Desai, founder of the small company, Surgisphere, which supposedly carried out the research. Desai, it turns out, is involved in three medical malpractice suits.
Other research has also refuted the theory that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for coronavirus, but conspiracy nuts used the opportunity to spread their unscientific theories when The Lancet pulled the article.
According to Politico, “Q-adherent beliefs range from untrue theories that spring from actual events”, including that “the Rothschild family was behind Princess Diana’s death, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler’s grandchild”.
Research by Queensland University of Technology from the Centre for Responsible Technology published by The Australia Institute on June 1 showed that the spread of conspiracy theories on Twitter is a highly coordinated campaign, with networks retweeting identical content repeatedly in a short timeframe.
I was recently sent a conspiracy video from a professor of ethics. It alleged connections between different international organisations, charitable institutes and Big Pharma, and attacked the Bill Gates Foundation, the British Wellcome Foundation and the World Health Organization. However, its main target was Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus taskforce.
It was aimed at building support for Trump’s lies that the COVID-19 virus was engineered by the Chinese government, thereby helping to absolve Trump of responsibility for the more than120,000 US deaths from the pandemic.
Another video was even more insidious and shows that it is not just in the United States that QAnon adherents are now seeking to enter electoral politics.
Irish presenter Dolores Cahill started out addressing the hoax that hydroxychloroquine is a cure COVID-19. But, her real message, which became apparent after 35 minutes, was to sow distrust in any centre-left government forming in Ireland, after the inconclusive February elections.
Cahill is a protein biochemistry scientist, not a specialist on viruses or vaccines. She has only just disclosed that she is president of the far-right Irish Freedom Party, which is seeking to form a coalition with smaller right-wing parties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, putting her intervention into context. The Freedom Party is anti-immigration, anti-woman, anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage.
In Australia, while QAnon may not be as organised at a parliamentary level, they are nevertheless starting to organise at the base. A group, calling itself Millions March, organised rallies in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne on May 30, with several hundred attending in each city.
They like to quote Martin Luther King and like to talk about “toxic environments” from fluoride, GMO and pesticides as well as the “right to work”, “media corruption”, “mandatory vaccines” and “restarting the economy”. They are also very anti-women, as the anti-abortion posters at the Sydney march indicated.
We need to be wary of those purporting to have your interests at heart and remember that those who are anti-science are also, in the end, anti-people.