Ms Magda Whale, Suffolk Park
As a resident of Byron Bay for nearly 30 years I am dismayed that Byron Shire is known as the anti-5G and anti-vax capital of Australia. My dismay is not only related to my scepticism of (potentially over-exaggerated) ‘health’ reasons stated by many opponents. It also stems from those calling for freedom of choice in health who have, wittingly or not, jumped into bed with right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis.
Little did I think that those living in Byron Shire would be potentially mingling with white supremacists at rallies ostensibly advertised as in opposition to vaccinations or new technology, but which have become linked to COVID-19 pandemic conspiracy theories.
From the USA to Australia, extremists have been weaponising the pandemic. One banner, seen in a recent American protest about government lies related to the virus, depicts a rat in a Star of David, with the byline declaring ‘the real plague’. In this country the vilification of the Chinese community is most popular.
With the anti-vax, anti-5G debate too often conflated with the pandemic, we have seen Nazi flags tied to the Chinese flag, and a spike in racist attacks on anyone with Asian features. Protests that drew anti-vaxxers and anti-5G supporters out into Hyde Park, Sydney last month were relatively small. But according to ABC Background Briefing, banners displayed included, ‘Stop the Chinese invasion’ and ‘immigration is the elephant in the room’.
I am not suggesting that all attending the protest that day signed on to all statements made. Perhaps the underlying shared reason that brings these groups together is the mistrust of government and big business. Right wing extremists are generally anti-government, as are the anti-vaxxers and 5G crowd. Many of them believe the government is purposely poisoning us through radiation or harmful vaccines. Hard to imagine that the right-wing extremists who attend the same rallies and display their fascist, racist signs, would ever have been given space as if allies of anti-vax and/or anti-5G proponents.
The confluence of these seemingly disparate groups reminds me of when President Trump commented on the violence and death of a counter-protester at the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Virginia, saying there were good people on ‘both sides’. Many who attended declared they did not identify as white supremacists and that they were against the use of violence. Yet they marched alongside those in Ku Klux Klan costumes and those wearing Nazi insignia. .
My interest here is not in trying to change anti-vax/5G protesters’ minds, as I believe lines are already drawn. I am however interested to see how those ardent activists in the Byron Shire, and across Australia, are actively distancing themselves from extremists; who are very adept at manipulating COVID-19 fear by linking issues, such as vaccines and 5G, to the pandemic and to hate of the ‘Other’, and at infiltrating and co-opting protests. I further look forward to seeing those who are allegedly protecting my health and well-being stand up to vilify and decry the extremists who share your rallies, instead of flying banners side by side with them.