I Joined a Covid Truther Group and All I Got Was Depressed

This article was first published on Independent Australia

Joanna Psaros

5 April 2021

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

“My 82 year old mum will not accept the vaccine… My immediate family is 100% against it so I don’t have to worry about them and a lot of my friends are on the same page, but so many people have been sucked in and I am running out of options to convince them.” 

Leanne, White Rose member. 

Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed an infestation of bizarre stickers adorning various public surfaces. 

Sticker on Sydney CBD pavement, March 2021

Sticker on building wall, Bondi, March 2021

If you are afraid of breathing, you are the one who is unwell,’ reads one.  ‘Live in fear,’ proclaims another ‘(it makes you easier to control).’ The messaging is vague, but the target is clear; lockdown and the Covid vaccine. 

The messaging itself repelled me, but there was something about the presence of an underground fringe movement in broad daylight that was both disturbing- and strangely exciting. It conjured up images of an organised underworld taking to the streets in the cover of darkness. 

I decided to follow the follow the QR code link on one of the stickers to the online chat group of The White Rose- a name stolen from the non-violent student resistance group against Nazi Germany begun in 1942. The link between the names is an example of the Covid truthers’ co-option of the anti-fascist movement’s techniques and messaging, with a German anti-lockdown protester in December last year gaining notoriety for publicly comparing her efforts in protesting government lockdown to the anti-Nazi White Rose’s Sophie Scholl. Scholl was executed at the age of 21 for producing and disseminating anti-fascist leaflets. 

As I delved into the forums, I started to feel paranoid about the chance of being seen and outed on here, and the reactions of my friends and workmates. And then it occurred to me that these are the risks and consequences these users voluntarily face. This can mean one of two things; either they believe so fervently they’re willing to accept social exclusion, or that there are enough of them out there that the people in their life actually accept their views. As it turned out, it was a mixture of both. 

Leah, for example explained:

“So many people have probably written me off as a nutcase, but I honestly don’t give a flying f**k. A lot of my friends are on the same page but so many people have been sucked in and I’m running out of options to convince them.”

Anti-vaccination graffiti on bus stop

Yet another White Rose sticker in the Sydney CBD

When asked if her parents were against vaccinations, she replied: 

“Absolutely! We were never vaccinated as my Dad wouldn’t allow it. My sis and I had measles, mumps, whooping cough and chicken pox and I believe it gave us incredibly strong immune systems.” 

This prompted Edward to proudly respond with his own list of preventable childhood ailments, responding, 

“Ha! Same. I’ve had chicken pox, measles & mumps. Lucky you to have a switched-on Dad!”

Username “Just Wondering” explained cryptically explained how she became involved with the movement, claiming, 

“I went down so many rabbit holes it wasn’t funny.” 

Determined to get to the bottom of their obsession, I tried to pin down exactly what the rabbit hole meant. Immediately I was sorry I asked. 

Thrilled at the prospect of a new convert, the chat was flooded with links to podcasts, websites and videos disseminated from right wing conspiracy theorists (the majority of which I won’t name though one of the most popular was, tellingly, the Daily Mail). Many were seemingly unrelated to Covid, including an action thriller about a US government agent who rescues children from sex traffickers starring Jim Caviezel. Fun fact- Caviezel actually played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’- a role he claims was the literal nail in the coffin of his Hollywood career.    

I was exhausted from trying to mentally debunk the incessant flow of misinformation. Whenever the conversation deviated from the general theme of global government control, users talked over and frequently contradicted each other. Whatever I had expected from this movement, it wasn’t that it would be so disorganised and, well, boring. And when the posts weren’t boring, they were just sad. 

My 82 year old mum will not accept the vaccine,” claimed a Melbourne member to universal support. 

I’m just a mum concerned for the future of her kid,” proclaimed another (which certainly concerned me). 

When the conversation turned to a simultaneously aggressive and wildly paranoid discussion on the myth of ‘black supremacy’, I decided it was time to log off. I’ve no doubt that Covid truthers in particular and conspiracy theorists in general pose a serious danger to society. But for me, this exchange sums up my experience with them. 

“Hello everyone- what the fuck is going on,?” asked Daniel. 

After being met with an influx of wacky videos ranging from social distancing, to chid trafficking, to aliens, he responded 

“Ah, very good. Many people have lost the ability to think critically.”

Suddenly those stickers had lost their intrigue.  

A version of this article was first published on Independent Australia.

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