Is Australia’s Anti Vaxx Movement Collapsing or Evolving?
By Jamie McIntyre
Is Australia’s anti vaxx movement collapsing or evolving?
Crikey has taken money to do an anti vaxx propaganda hit piece (see below) to attempt to suggest the anti vaxx movement is collapsing. This is despite it having been responsible for the largest protests in Australian political history including a massive 500,000 people protest in Canberra early last month which was the closest Australia has come to a political revolution in its history yet. To suggest the movement is collapsing is premature at least and wishful thinking at best.
It’s morphing into a broader movement with the Russian -Ukraine conflict only highlighting even more the aggressive and blatant propaganda the West and particularly Australian’s are subjected to and just how controlled as a nation we have become. Australia will either have a revolution or suffer a massive brain drain of talented Aussies who already are planning to escape from what has become a closet communist country with less freedoms than the countries like Russia we are now bullied into hating. Although many Australians remain soundly asleep and programmed by mass media, never before in our history have so many been awake and prepared longterm to do something about it. The movement is not so much just an anti vaxx movement but a anti-Globalist movement, and that issue isn’t going away, until the Globalists are arrested and thrown in jail for the Covid fraud and attempted Global coup. And with Biden and his son Hunter being exposed, it’s hard to imagine his Administration won’t prematurely end, and we see many Us Politicians jailed. Also with the rise of BRIC nations, verse the West the Globalists, control losing their power, it’s more likely we are witnessing the wests collapse led by the Us dollar decline. With the continue rise of anti-globalists movement which the anti vaxx movement is just one part of the anti vaxx movement, should be congratulated on managing to prevent many from taking the deadly covid vaccines, so the country has some ‘purebloods’ left to rebuild a nation. A nation that’s about to experience record deaths and injuries from the failed vaccine experiment. Mainsteam media can continue to lie and deceive Australians, but I think they should be more concerned re their collapsing ratings and the death of themselves as people desert them in droves for independent media which is booming, then attempt to portray the anti vaxx movement as collapsing. As more and more get sick or lose relatives to the deadly covid vaccines it will only swell the ranks of the so-called anti vaxxed movement. Crikey should not mis construe the calm before the storm as a collapse. This war hasn’t even begun.
Australia’s Anti-Vaccine Movement is Collapsing
Australia’s anti-vaccine activists seized on COVID-19 and grew into an energetic and active movement. Now, their cause is falling apart.
AUSTRALIAN ANTI-VACCINE GROUP REIGNITE DEMOCRACY AUSTRALIA FOUNDER MONICA SMIT
The founder of Australia’s biggest anti-vaccine group looks exhausted.
In a video posted to Reignite Democracy Australia’s remaining social media accounts this week, a weary Monica Smit complains to her followers about the costs of running the group and employing staff as she asks for money.
“If we don’t get more funding, we’re going to have to cut down what we can do,” she pleads.
She supposes that if 10,000 people chip in $5 a month then they’ll be okay. Later that night, a message from the account boasts that they’ve had 60 people chip in — failing quite a bit short of her goal.
Launched during the peak of Australia’s 2020 strict COVID-19 restrictions and just after the first vaccine had been approved for use, Reignite Democracy Australia has played a key role in the effort to undermine Australia’s vaccination rollout.
Despite its best efforts of creating viral medical misinformation, storming MPs’ offices and leading protests, it has been unsuccessful. Australia is one of the most vaccinated nations in the world and is emerging from the pandemic with one of the lowest death tolls. Even half of those aged five to 11 have received at least one vaccine dose, despite anti-vaccine groups having tried and failed to capitalise on parent’s natural squeamishness about young children.
Now, Reignite Democracy Australia — and the rest of Australia’s anti-vaccine movement — is showing signs that its best days are behind it.
Reignite Democracy Australia has been begging for funding through platform DonorBox and through their app RDASocial, but neither of those show how much money it’s earning. It lists its cryptocurrency wallet’s address as one way of donating to it. The wallet has received a total of US$7.35.
The group’s digital reach is shrinking, too. Once riding high with ballooning follower counts on platforms like Facebook and Telegram, Reignite Democracy Australia has been banned from the former and is seeing much less traction from the latter.
Recent attempts to circumvent this ban (“We’re giving Facebook another try. It’s a great way to get messages to the masses,” it wrote) have been foiled as Meta, Facebook’s parent company, removed the group from Facebook again and again.
Telegram has become the platform du jour for conspiracy groups because of its practically non-existent approach to content moderation. Reignite Democracy Australia’s channel is one of Australia’s largest, with 75,000 members. For the last month, however, its channel has been consistently losing participants. (This is unusual because active social media accounts generally tend to naturally gain subscribers over time.)
Its posts’ engagement rate by reach — a statistic that compares how many people see a post with the number of subscribers — has dropped to a third of what it was in September last year. In simple terms, its audience’s total number of people and the proportion of them who see its posts are decreasing. People are voting with their eyeballs.
A GRAPH SHOWING RAW NUMBER OF VIEWS FROM REIGNITE DEMOCRACY AUSTRALIA’S TELEGRAM CHANNEL
A similar trend has also affected other prominent anti-vaccine voices in the so-called “freedom” movement, such as United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly, anti-lockdown activist journalist Real Rukshan, and protest organiser Harrison McLean, each of whom have seen significant slides in engagement.
Anti-vaccine movement loses steam
The peak for Australia’s anti-vaccine movement was between September and the end of last year. Events such as the Melbourne protests that kicked off outside the CFMMEU offices, the “Kill the Bill” protests against Victoria’s new pandemic bill, and the beginning of Parliament House protests each acted as lightning rods. They provided a concrete call to action, a sense of growing momentum and engaging social media content.
By the beginning of 2022, things were changing. The vast majority of Australians had been vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates, were being phased out. Google searches for phrases like “vaccine”, “vaccine injuries” and “vaccine mandates”, as well as Australian media mentions of “vaccines”, plummeted. Essentially, the movement ran out of things to post or protest about as almost everyone got vaccinated and got on with their lives.
They were already over the peak by the time of the Convoy to Canberra. One researcher told Crikey that she believed that part of the appeal for many of the freedom figures to make the pilgrimage to Canberra at the beginning of February was that protests had begun to die down in cities like Sydney and Melbourne. It was a last-gasp effort.
Subsequent protests in places like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are happening less frequently and attended by fewer people. Some of the major livestreamers like Real Rukshan have stopped attending protests. The protests were a virtuous cycle: swelling numbers became a bigger spectacle that led audiences from around the world to tune in, which in turn fed the protests.
A SMALL PROTEST IN CANBERRA BLOCKS THE ROAD THIS WEEK
The backslide in interest has reversed the dynamic. Smaller, monotonous protests on an increasingly irrelevant issue aren’t drawing the same audiences, which means there’s even less reason to livestream or watch for all but the diehards. Out of sight, out of mind.
The anti-vaccine movement tried its hand at electoral politics but has been unsuccessful so far. Despite a widely held mistrust in institutions, many involved have or are seeking office. In the state elections since the pandemic, no single-issue, anti-vaccine, anti-mandate candidate has been even close to being elected, nor has there been a surge in support for established parties who flirt with the movement such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Several groups are jostling for the anti-vaccine vote in the upcoming federal election, but polling isn’t picking up a significant bump in their support.
The introduction of electoral politics into the movement has produced problems of its own. The United Australia Party’s open embrace of the anti-vaccine rhetoric at first was welcomed by the movement, including the formation of a partnership with Reignite Democracy Australia, but the relationship soon frayed. Telegram channels were filled with discussions about how Clive Palmer’s red shoes and Craig Kelly’s hand gestures were signs that they were puppets of the new world order. Monica Smit’s fiancé, an anti-vaccine content creator called Morgan C Jonas, publicly resigned as a candidate for the United Australia Party and chose to instead run as an independent. Schisms have emerged between those running for different parties as well as between those who wanted “political politicians” — as one Convoy to Canberra organiser said — to stay out of the movement.
The millions of dollars raised through the pandemic for legal challenges against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions have largely come to nothing. Nathan Buckley, who had created several online fundraisers for class action suits that had all been unsuccessful, has had his practising licence suspended and is running for One Nation. Australia’s longest running anti-vaxxer group, the Australian Vaccination-Risks Network, has recently raised nearly half a million dollars for a legal challenge against the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s approval of COVID-19 vaccines, which has yet to even prove it has legal standing to go ahead.
Perhaps sensing the shifting energy, major figures in the movement have also begun to focus on other issues. Pro-Russian messages about the war in Ukraine and the floods in Queensland and northern NSW, the spiritual home of Australia’s anti-vaccine movements, have taken over feeds once dedicated to vaccine misinformation. Reignite Democracy Australia is trying to pivot to focusing on the federal election by spreading lies about electoral fraud.
The consequences for those most involved in the movement continue to pile up. Rifts have opened between organisers after tens of thousands of dollars went missing in the aftermath of the Convoy to Canberra protests. Questions are being asked about the $320,000 raised for flood support by a group founded by three anti-vaxxers. Anti-vaccine business directory website Fair Business Australia’s Bec Lloyd released a video defending against claims of scamming and ripping off other people’s work. One prominent figure in the Convoy to Canberra protests was admitted to Canberra Hospital’s high-dependency unit after suffering a manic episode. Some figures like Romeo Georges or Matt Lawson who were big parts of the early movement have left completely or stepped back from personal involvement. Others are facing court for alleged crimes.
Australia’s anti-vaccine movement was gifted the perfect opportunity. Here’s what they leave behind
COVID-19 has been the perfect opportunity for the anti-vaccine movement. A low-information environment that was constantly in flux. Governments making up new, strict rules on the fly that took away rights and liberties for an invisible enemy. Social media and technology facilitated the spread of misinformation and conspiracy at a speed and scale never before experienced during a pandemic.
Even as these conditions fade, the movement’s lasting influence will be the connective tissue created between the people sucked in by lies and rumours. Australians who were tepid or unsure about vaccine safety are now hooked into networks of conspiracy and extremism via apps like Telegram. Even as their white-hot anger and fear diminishes, they remain disenfranchised and sceptical, if not outright hostile, of the government and our institutions. These dormant concerns and connections are ready to be re-activated by the right moment or person.
But those watching the movement warn against assuming that the movement will peacefully ebb into obscurity, as it was before COVID-19. ASIO chief Mike Burgess warned about violence from radicalised anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protesters just a month ago. The Australian reported that police were expected to charge high-profile leaders of the movement for incitement to violence, although this has yet to eventuate.
Online activists and researchers who’ve been tracking Australia’s anti-vaccine movement told Crikey that a new generation of more radical anti-vaccine protesters who are steeped in sovereign citizen ideology have taken the reins of the movement. Campsites with the leftovers from February’s Convoy protests — led by people like Jim “Iron Thunderbolt” Greer and Dave “Guru” Graham — are festering just outside Canberra. Diehards have spent weeks in squalid conditions, becoming increasingly detached from mainstream society and submerged in toxic communities using violent rhetoric.
Outside the Lodge on an overcast day earlier this week, an anti-vaccine campaigner spoke on a microphone at cars whizzing past. She told a handful of other assembled activists, three sitting in the gutter while one listlessly waved a giant red ensign flag, that the Australian anti-vaccine movement had hit a wall.
“For us, I think we need to change tactics. Canberrans are not listening,” she said.
As she finished, a single person clapped.