Monica Smit: COVID-19 charlatan given ABC air time

It seems longer, but it has been only two and a half months, since we dropped in on Monica Smit and her self-appointed government-in-waiting, absurdly named Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA).

The occasion was their attendance during COVID-19 lockdown at a meal held at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon in breach of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. It was all a bit of a chuckle given that the group effectively outed themselves and the restaurant by boasting about it on social media. The amusement was short lived for Moda however. On 6 August they announced their imminent closure on Instagram and Facebook. Their last meal was 14 August, just 11 weeks after hosting RDA. A representative told Star Weekly that the closure was unrelated to that event.

The representative claimed that mask-wearing mandates and lockdowns had not effected the business, insisting, “To be honest, we’ve never been so busy”. Although the attitude of the establishment to public health regulations was echoed in the observation:

Running a business is hard work and with or without the unlawful restrictions we were ready for a change.

Speaking of unlawful, it should be noted that Moda Kitchen and Bar had made the RDA business listing. The listing provides details of businesses prepared to exploit loopholes in public health regulations that keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most specifically this relates to mask-wearing and QR code check-in. There are exemptions to the requirement to wear a face mask. These include breathing difficulties, facial skins problems, intellectual disability, mental illness and having experienced trauma. The Privacy Act 1998, The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and The Equal Opportunity Act ensure that no-one, should they not be wearing a mask, can be asked to provide evidence of such a disability unless their prior consent has been given.

It is thus quite easy for the deceptive and dishonest to venture out without a mask. This is something we’ve seen as mask-less RDA disciples behind their phone cameras taunt police. The business listing idea is fluffed up through RDA concern that businesses might not be aware of the risks of discriminating. When it comes to QR code compliance a business may simply trust patrons to do the right thing. Or perhaps trust them to do what Monica advises; choose to check in with pen and paper and be trusted to leave genuine details. If you happen to be a business that regard essential public health initiatives as “unlawful restrictions”, as Moda did, your RDA business listing is this.

RDA business listing – Moda Kitchen and Bar

In other words… No mask? No problem! Secret medical conditions catered for. QR codes? Bah, we trust you. Pay cash; no trace. Fine public health-risk dining now available.

ABC Radio Nth QLD

Monica Smit delights in giving bad advice about public health and wellbeing mandates. On 12 August 2021, Monica was interviewed by Adam Stephens during the Drive programme on ABC North Queensland. The reason for this was RDA “You Can Say No” pamphlet-dropping in Cairns. Dave, a small business owner, was interviewed prior to Smit. He wasn’t impressed and wasn’t fooled.

The flyer tactic backfired as the only change in his behaviour was to place a sign outside his shop reinforcing that no mask or no QR code check-in meant no entry. The Drive programme is archived and Dave and Adam begin their chat at the 45:00 min mark. Next comes Monica Smit, delightfully introduced, and constantly referred to, by Adam as Monica Schmitt. Text messages, read out after a news break, were unanimously negative. If you’d prefer the highlights package, grab this mp3 here or listen below.

  • Cairns resident objects to RDA flyers, Monica Smit (4min), Adam reads text messages (9:40)

RDA recently made the Daily Telegraph’s top ten list of COVID misinformation spreaders in Australia. You may thus wonder why the ABC would give them air time. I would rush to add that the Daily Telegraph is a newspaper and not equivalent to the US based Centre for Countering Digital Hate. The latter spent significant time and resources collating information on those they ultimately termed the disinformation dozen. Nonetheless the central thesis remains intact. Despite clearly fallacious claims that place the community at risk, well-financed groups and individuals manipulate Facebook to their advantage. The DT reported that RDA subscribe to the belief neither COVID-19 vaccine has been properly tested and in fact weaken the immune system.

They also allow their name to back the conspiracy theorist standard that the vaccines are “manufactured by people who openly want population control”. Professor Mary-Louise McLaws specialises in infection prevention and control. She rightly observed the claims were “completely fallacious” and “wickedly inaccurate”. In a welcome development since the DT piece on 6 August, RDA had their page, and shortly after their backup page, unpublished from Facebook. That came on the heels of their aggressive campaign to boycott SPC after the fruit packing giant mandated COVID-19 vaccination for employees. The boycott campaign resulted in product tampering and threats that still continue.

Editorial standards?

Adam Stephens did give his reasons for interviewing Smit. He observed that it’s interesting that there are people that hold this view. That there are people in regional QLD who are active members of RDA as evidenced by pamphlet distribution in Cairns. He continued;

Whether you wanted to hear from Monica or not there are people that are listening to her message, and sometimes it’s… I think worthwhile in actually learning about the motivations of some of these groups in our community, and some of the people that feel strongly enough to actually join groups like this and distribute their information.

I’m aware that listeners took the trouble to contact the ABC to voice concern. Before we examine Monica Smit’s claims, let’s consider the following. Smit was not introduced with sufficient context to advise listeners that they may be misled. It was not stressed that Monica Smit and RDA are not medical or pandemic specialists or that they are not advised by medical experts. It was not explained that their website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Indeed it was not stressed that the group has no relevant qualifications specific to the management of COVID-19, or any illness, at all. Finally, there was no public health representative on hand to address the claims made by Smit.

We might ask then, if ABC standards for editorial accuracy were satisfactorily met. Granted, a context of sorts was laid down during Stephens’ chat with business owner Dave. Whether this was enough to reinforce that Smit and RDA act in dissonance to both government guidelines and evidence-based health policy is not merely unclear, but unlikely. Monica Smit brings a firm, if utterly misguided, confidence to her stints behind any microphone. It came to the fore as she insisted that masks were not only useless and causing harms but there is, “so much science out there” to support this.

“Because it’s the truth”

When asked why she is informing people they don’t have to follow mask mandates or QR code check-ins if they choose, Smit replied, “Well because it’s the truth”. With QR codes she advises to manually sign-in or shop somewhere else.

In effect this would mean finding a shop that has adopted Smit’s illegal loophole advice. As we’ve come to expect from RDA on evading mask wearing, she mentions PTSD, anxiety, depression – the “huge list of exemptions”.

She blames “the coercion and the scare tactics of the police and the government”, for forcing those with legitimate reasons for exemption into wearing masks. At no time did Smit offer a legitimate reason as to why Australians without a health condition can refuse mask wearing. Unless of course, you are willing to feign one. She followed on by claiming long term mask wearing is “really dangerous”.

Ah, dangerous. That word brings to mind the long debunked claim that oxygen is restricted and CO2 intake rises to poisonous levels. Smit gushes that “People have, you know, passed out at work”. A fan of Tucker Carlsen, Smit is likely influenced by the research letter pushed by him about six weeks ago, and now retracted from JAMA Pediatrics. Smit goes one better claiming there is, “[A] lot of science to say that they cause cognitive issues with teenage children as well, and they’re wearing them eight hours a day”.

Smit has probably found the isolated German survey looking at “complaints from adolescents and children caused by wearing a mask”. This is not “a lot of science” and comes with an editorial note stressing the absence of a causal link. There is also the genuine concern related to the importance of non verbal facial cues to children who are learning. These are minimised by face masks. Particularly in the classroom. As fate would have it, or rather, as science would have it, this has been studied pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. CNN published a handy summary here. Of course if you land on the conservative City Journal and don’t mind a dash of moral panic, you will find arguably emotive material to support Smit’s contention.

Adam Stephens questioned Smit on whether she really did have substantial supporting science given the evidence-based source material that advises government policy. Smit was glad he asked because in March and April of last year the media, “were saying that a healthy person wearing a mask is an absolute waste of a mask”. She wondered “why the narrative has changed”. In fact that was because of a WHO funded systematic review and meta-analysis published in June of 2020 in The Lancet. More so this was clearly conveyed in “the narrative” presented by the media. Consider this non-ambiguous heading in The Guardian: Victorians may be now be told to wear face masks to halt COVID-19 – what’s changed? Then Smit confidently offered another disingenuous and factually wrong line.

The ‘Brett Sutton’ lie

Smit claimed:

I know that Brett Sutton, he’s the Victorian CHO (Chief Health Officer) here, he actually did a full study paper on how useless masks are to stop the spread of disease. So basically the narrative has just changed but the science has not changed and that is that masks are dangerous.

A “full study paper”? Sounds impressive. Also, I happen to agree with Monica here. The science has not changed. Nor has the old tactic of cherry picking and manipulating facts to support disinformation. What we find on checking Sutton’s authorship of research is a 2001 literature review in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, that he co-authored. At the time Sutton was based at North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Tasmania. Both he and his co-author worked in the Department of Anaesthesia. The title of the literature review was Do Anaesthetists Need to Wear Surgical Masks in the Operating Theatre? A Literature Review with Evidence-Based Recommendations.

The text could not be more clear. The review was undertaken due to the absence of published data on the unmasking of the anaesthetist alone. In the modern operating theatre, exactly how this would impact post operative wound infection, if at all, needed elucidation. It was noted that surgical masks offer incomplete protection from bacteria and viruses. More so, plastic face shields provide better protection from infection for the anaesthetist. Three compelling studies led the authors to conclude in part;

These studies provide sound scientifically-based evidence that, in the setting of a modern operating theatre with laminar flow/steriflow systems, surgical masks should no longer be considered mandatory for anaesthetists and non-scrub staff during most surgical procedures.

There is a reason for the extra detail on this review. This claim about Brett Sutton’s past authorship is not just misinformation, already tossed about like a Frisbee at a church picnic. This is hot-off-the-tongue disinformation. A nice fresh lie still in its packaging, delivered over the airwaves for the gullible to snatch up, unwrap and distribute. It has the added connotation that Victoria’s CHO is not only aware that masks are ineffective, but had produced “a full study paper” to this effect. Listeners may wrongly assume this is both recent and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smit studiously avoids admitting the paper is nineteen years old and that it examines only anaesthetists and non-scrub staff in operating theatres. Whilst cherry picking, she missed the one that suggested plastic face shields offer better protection.

In July 2020 Brett Sutton presented advice on wearing face masks in areas experiencing stage three restrictions. At the same time the reasons for the mandating of mask wearing were being thoroughly discussed in mainstream media. It was impossible to miss. To suggest there was just a sudden change in “narrative” is absurd. Adam Stephen put it to Smit that her advice could place people at risk of COVID-19.

Deep breath

Without drawing breath she responds;

Well I just totally disagree with that because, um, you know I think the government is putting people at risk of serious problems ah, with lockdowns and things like that so, it’s proven around the world that lockdowns don’t work. Australia has the worst lockdowns actually, I think, in the world. We’re being laughed at overseas because of how harsh our lockdowns are. Some, some, some countries have hundreds of thousands of cases daily and they’re still living about their lives, and we get one case and we close borders.

So ah, I would say the government is being a lot more dangerous than we are, and we’re actually empowering people to have critical thinking, which the government doesn’t want. They don’t… the government’s not giving people all the information. And that’s… and we get censored. I just got taken off Facebook. I had sixty six thousand followers and I get censored because my science is apparently not true, but I can back it up. But a lot of the science that’s said on mainstream media can’t be backed up but there’s no censorship for them so it’s really difficult.

It has not been “proven around the world” that lockdowns are ineffective. They remain one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions. Healthy discussion continues about how this effects economies and communities. What is doubly strange about Smit’s approach here is that if masks are as useless as she claims, there is one clear alternative. The very lockdowns she also insists are useless. I doubt she is aware of this. Her approach is to attack all options and encourage us to abandon them. She has no alternative.

Stephens raises the question of people who accept the claims on the You Can Say No flyer being fined. Smit comes back with a prompt that all the resources are on the website, and that;

If you get the flyer you really need to take that extra step to actually do the research because if, you know… know the law and you know your rights, then actually that fine is null and void and it’s actually um… it won’t mean anything.

Adam lets Monica know they’ll leave it there. Smit responds with an eager “No worries!”. Those familiar with Monica Smit might have noticed the big grin tone in her final words. She had reason to feel smug as Australians have every right to expect better from our national broadcaster. After all Smit usually only gets this much air time from Alan Jones on Sky News. The reaction on Telegram, the favoured social media platform of COVID conspiracy theorists, was predictable. Discussion was kicked off thirty minutes later by RDA on their Telegram channel, with an announcement headed by a customised graphic.

Telegram

The first post I wrote on Monica Smit and RDA opened with Monica Smit loves being the centre of attention. That entire topic requires a post on its own. Suffice it to say however, that personalities such as Smit only take. They surround themselves with givers and ruthlessly ban, delete and expunge those who challenge their bogus view of reality. The result is the unfettered pseudo-worship you see in the small sample above.

Note the suggestion from one devotee to “destroy those imbeciles”, in reference to Dave the shop keeper. It’s further worth noting RDA didn’t provide Adam Stephens’ interview with Dave or the dissenting text messages. All that was known is that a shop owner was “appalled” by the flyer. Sophie, who unwittingly outed herself as a Cairns local and almost certainly a distributer of the flyers, decided that was enough for the destruction of “those imbeciles”.

Still no evidence

The bulk of RDA members on social media continue to behave as if enjoying a sustained muck up day. This gives an inaccurate view of the groups resources however. Their recent advertising truck, growing range of merchandise and increasingly slick video production suggest donations remain healthy. This has enabled the group to curate their campaign of alienation through misinformation. Their message is for those who prefer to be told what to think rather than make their own conclusions. What I find fascinating is that these sheep are convinced they have discovered a unique truth that “sheeple” cannot see.

Although Smit talks of access to science that confirms the RDA position, there is none on their site. The well examined Danish study on mask wearing and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can be accessed in favourable format. Rather than finding masks do not prevent transmission, the study failed to find, “at least a 50% protection against a SARS-CoV-2 infection given by mask wearing”, as it was designed to do. Fact Check also addressed this nine months ago. In targeting COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy, RDA direct readers to the tired example of the estimated study completion date for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Other material is presented in misleading context. Despite Smit’s claim of enabling critical thinking, visitors to the site are shown bias. There are no opportunities to compare contentious information in a critical fashion. The elephant in the room here is that all reputable evidence is against the position held by RDA. The use of critical thinking as a buzz word has become almost commonplace in conspiracy theory circles. It is seemingly confused with contrariness. This is underscored by the fact that their constant cries of suppressed freedom and the exploitation of loopholes, is possible only because of our democratic rights and the legislation that protects them.

Conclusion

There’s little point rambling on much more dear reader. I’m certain the RDA site would be worthy of content analysis. A work similar to the excellent approach employed by Thomas Aechtner in assessing the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, would be welcome.

Monica Smit is more than just dishonest. In taking advantage of a global pandemic to raise her profile and profits she has proven to be a malignant influencer. What has been demonstrated above is that everything Monica Smit said during the interview with Adam Stephens is demonstrably false. More to the point it has long been clear what she stands for.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation needs to be out in front of such people.


References

ABC North QLD Drive – Thursday 12 August 2021

The Lancet VOLUME 395, ISSUE 10242, P1973-1987, JUNE 27, 2020. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Anaesthesia and Intensive Care 2001; 29: 331-338: Do Anaesthetists Need to Wear Surgical Masks in the Operating Theatre? A Literature Review with Evidence-Based Recommendations. M.W.Skinner, B.A. Sutton.

Mask Mythbusters: Common questions about kids and masks

Corona children studies “Co-Ki”: First results of a Germany-wide registry on mouth and nose covering (mask) in children – DOI: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-124394/v3

The impact of face masks on children-A mini review: PMID: 33533522 PMCID: PMC8014099 DOI: 10.1111/apa.15784

BMJ Rapid Response – Conclusions from the Danish study

Danish study doesn’t prove face masks don’t work

Why nobody will ever agree on whether COVID lockdowns were worth it – The Conversation

Reignite Democracy Australia – You Can Say No

Reignite Democracy Australia – Informed Consent

Reignite Democracy Australia – Face mask Exemptions

Updated: 19 August 2021

♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎

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