In the last ten years I’ve lived in many places around the world. Across Europe in Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Hungary and more. At festivals, gigs and arts and music events. Plus having more permanent places to lay my head down – my base camps – in both Southern Scotland and West Yorkshire. Two stunningly, naturally, beautiful places – the Berwickshire Coast and the Pennines.
Todmorden in Calderdale is now in Local Lockdown 2 for the northern area of England. A ‘local’ lockdown for more than 4 million people. This feels, and is, incredibly divisive. To many in the area it appears to be an Orwellian ‘blame game’ – targeting areas where there are larger Muslim populations and/or poorer people. Many who live in multi-generational households and work in factories, shops, garages, bars and cafes where social distancing is incredibly difficult. However, the real impact of the secondary local lockdown will be in people’s responses to it, and in the ability of the local and national authorities to enforce it. The new regulations do not seem to be being obeyed much, as far as I can see in Calderdale. Folk have tasted some freedom. A step backwards is resented, and places like boozers and restaurants need customers from more than one household at their tables in order to survive commercially.
Perversely, it has also coincided with the month-long roll-out of the UK government ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme to encourage the exact opposite to ‘staying at home’! Forget social distancing and support your local businesses! It will be interesting to see if this ‘Eat Out’ programme is closed down in Lockdown areas.
In pubs and eating places, on the streets, out on country and coastal walks, in shops – I’ve met dozens of people who have their own personal theories of how and why the Corona virus has originated, how it has been spread, issues about wearing face-coverings, personal restrictions on movement, the effects on holiday plans, and, for a growing number, whether Covid-19 exists at all.
Personally, I live and work amongst an amazingly diverse range of people. I consciously like to talk to a wide range of people. This includes plenty of folk who have totally different belief-systems than me. I know half a dozen Flat-Earthers; Survivalists; Illuminati-followers and opponents; disciples of David Icke and his fight against the Babylonian Brotherhood; UFO believers; Vegans, Vegetarians and Meat-eaters; Climate change activists and those who deny it. I’m mates with fervent nationalists and staunch Europeans; Internationalists; Anarchists; Monarchists; Land-owners and Communards. But, down in the pubs and amongst the folk working in factories and the shoppers, amidst the watchers of TV soaps – the realities of life are ripe for the spread of conspiracies, nationalism, localism, vigilante-ism , and sadly racism, fear and loathing.
With these thoughts in mind, I started collating this ‘Conspiracy theory’ piece which involves some comments on Trump, who seems to be a one-man conspiracy-theorist, comments from the new Freedom Fighters of the world, from the Awakening Movement, QAnon and from scientists, fact-checkers and more…
President Donald Trump, 15th July 2020:
“Make no mistake. We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world.
They could have stopped it, they should have stopped it.
It would have been very easy to do at the source, when it happened.”
Here are some of the popular beliefs
I’ve heard all of the following comments in the past few weeks:
- Covid-19 is no more dangerous than flu and is not a major killer. We don’t need the lockdowns and restrictions.
- It’s a man-made disease – probably originating from China, or, from a powerful world organisation.
- It’s a part of an international (or national) government/world organisational plan to cull the world population and increase control of the populace.
- It’s being spread by Muslims and other foreigners.
- Lockdowns and other restrictions are not legal and are completely contrary to our personal freedom.
- In areas and sectors of the population where more tests are done, there will inevitably be more positive cases identified.
- Vaccinations against the Coronavirus and other diseases are an infringement of personal freedom, potentially harmful to health, and should be opposed.
- There are already treatments for the Covid-19 disease but they are being withheld.
- Going on holiday is a personal right.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is one of the most celebrated international organisations advising both governments and the public on the most effective responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the myths and misinformation surrounding the spread of the disease. Especially through social networks:
Here are some of the ‘Facts’ from the WHO:
“FACT: There are currently no drugs licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19
While several drug trials are ongoing, there is currently no proof that hydroxychloroquine or any other drug can cure or prevent COVID-19. The misuse of hydroxychloroquine can cause serious side effects and illness and even lead to death. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop and evaluate medicines to treat COVID-19.
FACT: 5G mobile networks DO NOT spread COVID-19
Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.
FACT: The prolonged use of medical masks* when properly worn, DOES NOT cause CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency
The prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency. While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not re-use a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp.
* Medical masks (also known as surgical masks) are flat or pleated; they are affixed to the head with straps or have ear loops.”
FACT: Spraying and introducing bleach or another disinfectant into your body WILL NOT protect you against COVID-19 and can be dangerous
Do not under any circumstance spray or introduce bleach or any other disinfectant into your body. These substances can be poisonous if ingested and cause irritation and damage to your skin and eyes.
Bleach and disinfectant should be used carefully to disinfect surfaces only. Remember to keep chlorine (bleach) and other disinfectants out of reach of children.”
Thinking Globally and Speaking Out Locally
I’ve found myself receiving increasingly impassioned and angry Facebook and other messages from people I am acquainted with, and in some cases, whom I know quite well. I’ve anonymised these ‘voices’ in the following on-line debates. But they are a pretty good indication of the power of the social media to spread truths, opinions, lies, science, disinformation and ‘conspiracies’:
Jane: “It’s upsetting that close friends are so willing to dismiss me as a deluded ‘conspiracy theorist’ instead of actually listening to what I’m saying & attempting to understand where I’m coming from. The Awakening is an interesting process. It involves a lot of research & new knowledge, spiritual activation & inner revelations. Big love to everyone we’re all at different stages of the awakening path. Am enjoying the new connections tho x”
Rachel: “Yes but do you listen?
The rabbit hole of conspiracy theories is very interesting but there’s more subterfuge than actual truth in most of it.
I was as involved and as believing as you about 20 years ago but when I realised that there was an anti-Jewish thread through nearly every theory I began to realise I’d been duped. The theories have become ever more ridiculous over the last 20 years and the tiny vein of truth ever harder to untangle. I prefer my sanity and positivity thanks chick but good luck to you.”
Jane: “I’m perfectly sane & positive thanks & yes the 13 families at the top of the pyramid are indeed Jewish. That doesn’t mean I’m against all Jew’s. Just the ones that are enslaving humanity for their own gains & raping, torturing & sacrificing children. Of course I listen! I listen to my intuition big time. This is the implementation of the New World Order as a smokescreen to bring in ridiculous Orwellian laws. Question everything you are being told & don’t trust the government or media. They’re lying! Think for yourself xxx”
“Great to see so many people shopping without masks on!!! Freedom! To all those who want to wear a mask for the rest of their lives to ‘protect the vulnerable’ and completely mess up their own health in the process. Go right ahead! All the evidence is out there. I’m done with the passive aggressive emotional blackmail x”
Trev: “Print these out. Please share.”
“Trev, I work for a clinical trials research unit. Believe me, the amount of regulation, external audits and peer reviews that researchers are beholden to means that falsifying anything isn’t really possible. It’s a very serious business with very serious penalties for faking results or even accidentally failing to document things properly.
What does happen, however, is that the media, pressure groups and conspiracy theorists who don’t have single bit of oversight or accountability regularly misunderstand or deliberately distort research findings to fit their own agenda or prejudice.
I hate wearing a mask, especially with my Gandalf beard (took me ages to find one that even does the job), but it’s a small inconvenience to wear for a few minutes in a shop if there’s a remote chance that it’ll help keep someone alive down the line.”
The Storm and The Great Awakening – conspiracy theories at the heart of QAnon:
“Generally they all believe that Donald Trump is fighting against a secretive and evil global cabal, members of which include former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros, who both have been hate figures for the American political right for many years.
The supporters believe that a person or group inside the administration – the eponymous “Q” – is posting coded messages online to inform Mr Trump’s supporters about this secret war, and preparing them for an imminent event in which the president overthrows the evil cabal and imprisons its members.”
According to Travis View, who has studied the QAnon phenomenon and written about it extensively for The Washington Post, the essence of the conspiracy theory is that:
“There is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything. They control politicians, and they control the media. They control Hollywood, and they cover up their existence, essentially. And they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump in this conspiracy theory knows all about this evil cabal’s wrongdoing. But one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected was to put an end to them, basically. And now we would be ignorant of this behind-the-scenes battle of Donald Trump and the U.S. military—that everyone backs him and the evil cabal—were it not for ‘Q.’ And what ‘Q’ is—is basically a poster on 4chan, who later moved to 8chan, who reveals details about this secret behind-the-scenes battle, and also secrets about what the cabal is doing and also the mass sort of upcoming arrest events through these posts.”
Anna McLaughlin, King’s College, University of London:
“We are all prone to believing information when it is repeated, easy to process and when it aligns with our prior attitudes and world views.”
Full Fact – the UK’s independent fact checking organisation
Anna: “Where do conspiracies come from?
Ultimately, people get caught up in conspiracy theories for a multitude of reasons.
It might simply be that the theory aligns with their pre-existing beliefs and opinions, giving their feelings of anxiety an outlet to focus on. For others, placing the blame on a specific person, country, or organisation, may give a face to the invisible threat of the virus. They may even simply just provide a form of escapism that distracts from the bleak reality of the situation.”
“Shut your windows, lock your doors and unplug your Wi-Fi: Conspiracy theories are coming for you. Unlike in the past, though, they’re emanating from the president of the United States himself in the midst of a raging global and disproportionately American pandemic.”
“And, if you need a trustworthy alternative to mainstream media, do look at reputable and independent science websites, such as Science News (which is also non-profit), Nature News, or Science Mag. These websites cover the latest scientific research and events, summarised in everyday language, by writers who are qualified to interpret the results of studies.
We need to recognise that conspiracy theories are flourishing due to a climate of fear, mistrust, and lack of knowledge about the virus.”
My friend Angus Cockburn posted on my Facebook:
“It’s got to work (the Lockdowns in the UK and restrictions and other actions world-wide) – this pandemic should have been billed like Ebola not flu – the daft British public might then have taken it seriously – if allowed to run out of control it would take 10-12% of the population – about 6,000,000 people – is that serious enough?”
A Final Note from Alan:
I’m no longer that optimistic about the likely success of the various UK government responses to the Covid pandemic. At a global level, ye gods only know! I sense growing exasperation and confusion amongst the local people where I have been living in West Yorkshire and to a slightly lesser extent back in the Scottish borderlands. Where there was once some semblance of community spirit, co-operation and shared ownership of the challenges posed by the Coronavirus and the most efficacious responses, there’s now ‘disunity’, ‘fear’, increasing mental-health problems, social and economic disintegration. There’s also an ever-growing level of ‘civil disobedience’, which could easily escalate, as has been seen in the second lockdown in the Australian State of Victoria with the rise of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ fighting with police. Maybe I’m now becoming part of the problem. For example, at a completely personal level, I may well ignore some of the Scottish devolved government travel advice, when I get the trains back from Todmorden to Berwick-upon-Tweed and up into Scotland. First Minister in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has said: “I strongly advise anyone planning to travel to areas affected in the north of England, or anyone planning to travel to Scotland from those same areas, to cancel their plans.”
I think that allowing and to some extent encouraging international travelling, whilst (at least temporarily ignoring climate change), and most of all, the totally ineffective local and national enforcement of regulations will see the edifice of the ‘mandatory and compulsory’ restrictions and laws erode and crumble.
Once a critical mass believe that public order is no longer functioning…the whole world, not just in the UK…the result will see us in the midst of a dysfunctional meltdown…we stand on that precipice…Weird Shit is getting Weirder and Shittier!