During the second and third years of the COVID pandemic, skeptics began to hear more and more of an anti-parasitic drug that had been used frequently for animals and less so for humans.
Ivermectin has been approved by health authorities to treat humans with strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness): conditions that are caused by parasitic worms. Also there are topical ivermectin preparations used to manage skin conditions such as rosacea and external parasites such as head lice. Used as prescribed it is quite safe and has improved the lives of countless individuals in developing nations. Yet we weren’t hearing about ivermectin used in this manner. Thanks to disinformation and irresponsible repetition of dubious claims, ivermectin was being promoted as a means to combat COVID-19.
The anti-vaccination movement embraced ivermectin because it resonated with the “my body, my choice” mantra. Right leaning media identities promoted it in much the same illogical way as they had hydroxychloroquine. It had been used safely for decades, they argued, and thus was clearly a sound choice to combat COVID-19 symptoms. Yet hydroxychloroquine, had a pharmaceutical history as an anti-malarial and an agent to manage symptoms of arthritis and autoimmune disease, not in treating COVID-19. Ivermectin similarly, had no clinically proven background in the treatment of COVID-19. The clinical trials had simply not been done.
For skeptics, the issue was and is quite simple. Look toward reputable sources. Seriously examine the arguments in favour of ivermectin. Review the strength of research being cited. Place the issue in context. Keep an eye out for ideology. Check the profiles and backgrounds of key players, and so on. In short: Seek the evidence.
“It was incredibly hyped,” Dr Rayner said. “I knew it was going to start a fire.” […]
“It’s not the best thing for Australia to become known for in terms of its contribution to the pandemic,” Dr Rayner said. “But that’s what it is, unfortunately. It has promoted vaccine hesitancy and people are dying because they’re taking a veterinary medicine that has not been proven.”
For those looking to grab the ivermectin ball and run with it, the media release was peppered with big names, other nasty diseases and potentially exciting findings. It has since been modified to include an FDA warning and offer clear disclaimers about ivermectin’s effectiveness. What mattered to those who would go on to push ivermectin as a safe cure for COVID-19, came from just a few paragraphs:
A collaborative study led by the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) with the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital, has shown that an anti-parasitic drug already available around the world kills the virus within 48 hours.
The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, said the scientists showed that the drug, Ivermectin, stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within 48 hours.
“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” Dr Wagstaff said.
Ivermectin is an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug that has also been shown to be effective in vitro against a broad range of viruses including HIV, Dengue, Influenza and Zika virus.
Dr Wagstaff cautioned that the tests conducted in the study were in vitro and that trials needed to be carried out in people.
For those of us even broadly familiar with how drugs are brought to market, it was that final line above that mattered. Early lab results do not equate to clinical trials. Indeed shortly after the announcement, effort and funding across the globe was directed to clinical trials of ivermectin. Yet it would take almost eighteen months before enough studies were done, presenting enough evidence to show that ivermectin does not hold promise as a treatment for COVID-19. Over 2021, the number of news articles heavily critical of the “dubious” apparent “miracle cure” rose steadily such as here, here and here. The BBC published a powerful article on the “false science” backing ivermectin. Flawed data, fake evidence and poorly designed and written research was common.
Australia watched on as Malcolm Roberts, George Christensen, Craig Kelly and Clive Palmer promoted (and still promote) ivermectin. In the absence of evidence ivermectin could not be prescribed for COVID-19. This led to proponents sourcing and ingesting veterinary-grade ivermectin. It soon became clear from social media that many were taking excessive doses very often. On 21 August 2021 the FDA tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” That tweet links to accurate FDA information on the dangers of using ivermectin.
It only took a moment but it drew a lot of attention.
Woody Harrelson recently hosted Saturday Night Live for the fifth time. Five appearances is supposed to be memorable as lucky celebrities receive an “honorary jacket”. Yet Woody’s gig will be remembered for him donning the cloak of conspiracy theory (see what I did there), during his opening monologue. After some surprisingly ordinary pot-smoker jokes Woody told viewers about a film script he had read as he smoked a joint leaning against a tree in Central Park. The same joint we’d just met in a prior joke.
So, the movie goes like this: the biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes.
And people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over.
I threw the script away. I mean, who’s going to believe that crazy idea?
I reckon like most people and virtually all Aussies, I was drawn to the SNL footage by the reaction it generated. I expected that Woody had hijacked the bulk of his monologue to chuckle through Ye Olde grab bag of COVID conspiracy smirk. Yet it was a tiresome old line: Big Pharma Control of government and media, purportedly being the real cause of COVID lockdowns, with an ultimate of profit. It fell rather flat on the audience.
Condemnation was swift. “Woody sprouts COVID conspiracy”, read Forbes. Vanity Fair told us he “really blew it”. People suggested he “sparks controversy supporting the COVID conspiracy theory”. SBS noted he “pushes conspiracy theories”. A quick Google search yields much more of the same. It’s pretty clear that rehashing COVID-19 fakery is not a way to win respect.
Yet as one might predict, the COVID conspiracy mob loved it. Avi Yemini tweeted “Woody Harrelson sums up the Covid scam perfectly”. His followers eagerly agreed, each chipping in some meaningless confirmation. One offered, “Now you know who was happy to sell you out for their own enrichment”, as if the pharma cartel conspiracy was a novel idea. The clip hit YouTube as supporters backed Woody for “telling the truth”, or dropping a “truth bomb”. Commenters adored him. Yet what really stood out is that COVID conspiracy theorists crave affirmation.
Tireless anti-vaccine profiteer Meryl Dorey, took time off from her High Court mischief to write a post on Substack praising the embarrassing wobble. Woody Harrelson makes heads explode by telling the truth about COVID policies, her piece was headed. Meryl had also noticed the critical headlines and sagely observed, Truth is not the media’s friend. She went on to list a number of headlines variously dismissive of Harrelson’s “anti-vaccine” and “COVID-19 conspiracy theories” deemed “antivax nonsense”. Then as if to again confirm she rarely has a grasp of topics she claims to be expert in, Dorey writes:
Notably, the Youtube (sic) video on SNL’s own site had comments turned off but shows that there are over 27,000 likes and only 1 dislike. One has to wonder if producers are paying attention?
Actually one has to wonder if Meryl has been paying attention, because it’s been almost 16 months since YouTube removed public display of dislike counts. Making things worse, Meryl then referred to a video of Harrelson recently ranting to Bill Maher on Maher’s Club Random about Big Pharma profits, hydroxychloroquine and the unfortunate development when, “ivermectin got made into a horse tranquilliser”. Meryl hoped more “high-profile individuals” will follow his lead, because it might just make “complicity theorists” think. An absolute failure to read the room, as it were.
Cute terms like “complicity theorists” and the utterly boring repetition of thoroughly debunked claims seeking to cast doubt about the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of vaccination and the role of pharmaceutical companies are passé. Long gone are the days of potential recruitment to the cause of COVID conspiracy. All that’s left are the various misfits and cookers who cling to the idea that democracy is under threat, paedophiles are hiding children beneath the streets and our very status as free human beings needs to be fought for. Regrettably, there are those who continue to amplify absurd themes for their own profit.
The world is moving on from the initial, uncertain years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The frightening, dystopian world that conspiracy theorists insisted we were heading for never eventuated. All that’s left for them is to keep referring to past events in the hope of maintaining relevance. Harrelson’s SNL effort confirms this rather nicely.
It is quite apt that Woody Harrelson was trying to get laughs because one thing is quite clear: the continued obsession with COVID-19 conspiracies is nothing but a bad joke.
As 2022 got under way Australians were getting used to the idea of a third COVID-19 vaccination and the possibility that the year just might unfold without lockdowns. An endangered economy needed attention. Some began to talk of a “post-COVID” way of living.
Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists however, were having nothing to do with a post-COVID anything. The pandemic and its consequent lockdowns had given them a reason to refine their identity and fool themselves into assuming a new sense of purpose. They were the self-appointed keepers of freedom. Indeed they had convinced themselves they were freedom fighters, perhaps based on a propensity for conflict at anti-lockdown protests during 2021.
Yet, with the probability 2022 would have scant regard for their well rehearsed narrative, they were faced with a new conflict: the impending likelihood of increasing irrelevance. This gave the (by then) heartily amused and bemused population Down Under the spectacle of the Convoy To Canberra. Inspired by the Canadian anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine mandate Freedom Convoy, the gathering of a reported 10,000 protestors in Canberra  was reported by anti-vaxxers on the Australian Vaccination-risks Network Vaxxed bus to be one million, and shortly after 1.8 million in strength.
The Canberra gathering was also populated by religious fundamentalists, sovereign-citizens, self-appointed indigenous activists and those drawn to the United Australia Party. Rather than organise into a coherent group and work toward realistic goals, the event became a shambles where infighting, conspiracy theory ranting, exploitation and violence was the norm. In January, GoFundMe froze A$160,000 in funds raised for the event due to obscurity over how it would be spent, requesting the organiser identify themselves. In February GoFundMe refunded A$179,000 to donors, citing violation of terms of service. Social media accounts organising this and other events, were reported to be based in Bangladesh, India and Canada. Australians had donated almost A$50,000 to the Canadian Freedom Convoy.
Other cookers remained in unhygienic camps in Canberra, regularly posting videos of their unhealthy plight. They warned the vaccinated of impending doom thanks to circulating COVID vaccine ingredients, and even promised boosters would cause a positive test result for HIV/AIDS. In early March the AVN filed their case against Brendan Murphy and the TGA with the Federal Court of Australia. They of course wanted money. Shortly after, sensible Australians were unmoved to learn that the AVN Vaxxed bus had been seriously damaged in the NSW floods. It was a write off. They of course wanted money. Around the same time dual Bent Spoon winner Pete Evans, joined a social media conga line of cookers citing this study, to claim “mRNA could alter human DNA”, even quoting from the paper whilst adding his own caps lock to warn that it “may potentially mediate GENOTOXIC SIDE EFFECTS”. But er, no.
The floods revealed some of the conduct of cooker and anti-vaxxer Dave Oneegs, and his intentions in founding the group Aussie Helping Hands (AHH). Crikey reported in mid March that questions were being asked relating to legitimacy. Following obvious deception, false advertising and exploitation of distribution centres, the Office of Fair Trading QLD, the Department of Fair Trading NSW and NSW Police began investigations. $330,000 had been raised and Oneegs bank account was frozen. The same applied to one Dorothy “Dotti” Janssen. In a video, Oneegs alludes to a conspiracy, labelling his plight “a precedent [to] the social credit system which is coming if Australians don’t wake up”. The Northern Rivers Times published an in depth piece on 19 May (Ed. 97, p.6) looking at the players behind AHH including Hayley Birtles-Eades. It is a damning assessment of AHH. Vaxatious Litigant (@ExposingNV) posted an interesting Twitter thread on the matter yesterday, as Oneegs is due in court next month.
The suave George Christensen was impossible to miss when he animated the zombie antivax myth that relies on the base rate fallacy: highly vaccinated populations have increased cases in those vaccinated. George went as far as claiming a conspiracy between “power elites and the media” was in play. I’ve looked at that fallacy here before and fact checkers have patiently explained time and again just why it is a non-event. However this graphic, tweeted by @MarcRummy, is one of the best I’ve seen that quickly and clearly reveals the fallacy. Of course, reporting of fatalities never stopped as George had claimed. Rather, they were never there. Also never there, were the serious adverse reactions to the Pfizer mRNA vaccine that led Craig Kelly to tweet:
The Pfizer report was also used by Senator Gerard Rennick to spook Australians with respect to vaccine safety. The problem with their approach goes deeper than Kelly’s unfortunate citation of Children’s Health Defense. Just like VAERS and the UK Yellow Card reporting system the Pfizer document relies on passive reporting. Causally speaking the data are unverified. However, again like VAERS and the UK Yellow Card system, the reports will be taken seriously and followed up if events occur more frequently than before the vaccine was distributed. As if on cue to reinforce this point came the absurd claims of Japanese Encephalitis actually being a side effect of the Pfizer vaccine (see p.32 for original).
In late March the AVN and fellow plaintiff Mr. Mark Neugebauer were found in the Federal Court of Australia to lack legal standing necessary to bring their case against the Department of Health to cease COVID-19 vaccination of Australians. Neither satisfied the requirement of being a “person aggrieved”. Delightfully, Justice Perry found that Meryl Dorey’s evidence contending the AVN “is the peak vaccine organisation in Australia”, is “recognised as a leader” by other similar groups and “is a leading source of information in respect of vaccination”, could be accepted only as a belief held by Dorey. Now is not the time to dig into Dorey’s “evidence”. Suffice it to say this wasn’t just a neat legal description from Justice Perry as to why she would not accept Dorey’s evidence as legal evidence. Perry rightfully considered section 136 of the Evidence Act as requested by the respondent. As one might expect the Act is clear in that a) one cannot simply use opinion or belief as evidence, particularly when b) it is prejudicial and/or misleading.
Nasty tricks continued to target the notion of being vaccinated. A version of this video doctored with captions contended that the QLD CHO was discussing fatalities from myocarditis brought on by vaccination against COVID-19. Yet seen in full context the discussion between himself and a reporter is about deaths at home from COVID-19. One of the lowest COVID conspiracy tricks pulled by Australian politicians related to Malcolm Roberts presenting so-called results from an event titled “Covid Under Question”. His speech to the Senate accused government bodies of hiding deaths and injuries caused by the COVID vaccine rollout. Roberts claimed a “cross-party inquiry” had produced the results. In fact it was a gathering of predictable COVID conspiracy identities. RMIT Fact Check reported:
Notably, it was not a parliamentary inquiry, despite being attended by six state and federal parliamentarians from One Nation, the United Australia Party and the Coalition, including George Christensen, Craig Kelly, Senator Alex Antic and Senator Gerard Rennick.
Among those giving evidence was Dr Peter McCullogh, who has wildly claimed that the pandemic was planned, that COVID-19 infection confers “permanent immunity” and that a Queensland vaccine trial “turned everybody in the trial HIV positive”.
It also featured at least one member of the World Council for Health, a group whose claims about vaccine harms have been debunked by AAP Fact Check, with one expert describing their evidence as a “garbled mixture of misinformation”.
There was of course a federal election campaign underway. Clive Palmer’s National Press Club address was so dishonest he earned his own Fact Check cheatsheet. This included that very tired misrepresentation of TGA data on COVID-19 vaccination that he and Craig Kelly had begun in 2021. The pandemic had squeezed out a veritable host of overly ambitious parties and candidates working toward their dream of political dominion. It would take Tom Tanuki to so neatly sum up this bevy of Cooked Candidates and Shit Minor Parties. Around election time in Australia, 2022 got the pox. Or rather, monkeypox. All those freshly primed and pumped anti-vaxxers must have been delirious. Well, more delirious than usual, as they swiftly adjusted their narrative to accomodate a cut and paste for monkeypox. We had VAIDS, which although non-existent apparently meant “vaccine-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”. Interestingly one suggestion was that the COVID-19 vaccine was a tool of the global elite in their quest for world dominion. Not long after Malcolm Roberts tweeted this nonsense about WHO Health Regulations.
Not only is there no evidence anything was “quietly pulled”, the WHO has no influence on domestic health policy. Public health emergencies of international concern would see the WHO develop and recommend health initiatives. About this time the AVN returned to the Federal Court to hear that it was liable for costs sustained by the Department of Health in the earlier case. The AVN had argued their action was “public interest litigation” and as such costs should be waived. This was rejected. Costs further included those incurred in the dispute of costs and also any costs arising from their application to join with Mr. Neugebauer. The AVN had already received generous donations, with most via GiveSendGo. Rather than settle they continued to make ludicrous claims to members, purporting to have “evidence from some of the most esteemed medical and scientific experts in the world”. They filed to appeal. By now, thanks to insurance and donations, the group also had the ghastly Vaxxed bus back on the road, exploiting vulnerable Australians to peddle the myth of large scale vaccine injuries.
One day after the TGA provisionally approved the Moderna vaccine for children aged six months to five years antivaxxers blamed it for the death of a toddler at a QLD childcare centre. Despite the fact there is significant time between approval and availability, misleading social media posts falsely described the toddler as “fully jabbed”. In fact the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for all ages was brought home days later when toddler Ruby Edwards died after contracting the disease. It triggered Acute Hemorrhagic Leukoencephalitis following inflammation in her brain and spinal cord.
As COVID-19 reinfections gradually increased the anti-vax lobby happily explained the cause via mere temporal correlation. It was the devastation of immune systems caused by COVID-19 vaccines they claimed. This was debunked at the time and a recent study from Denmark confirms effectiveness of vaccination against reinfection with COVID-19, albeit less so with respect to the Omicron variant. Then came the social media claim that a fertility specialist at Brisbane’s Mater hospital had “collected data showing 74% miscarriage post inject (sic)”. Even worse “In an attempt to silence him he was fired last Friday!!”. However the doctor hadn’t worked there for nine months and hospital records gave no indication of such an increase. A spokeswoman for Mater Health responded to queries:
Mater has not observed any change in the rate of miscarriage over the last five years or specifically since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Victorian CHO Brett Sutton was accused of admitting COVID-19 vaccination was ineffective, following comparison of two video outtakes. It was a popular trick amongst conspiracy theorists and relied upon comparing health reports specific to different Omicron variants. The dominant strain in Victoria in April was BA.2. By August it was BA.4 and BA.5. Sutton had observed the vaccines were less effective at preventing infection with the latter strains. August also brought the appeal hearing for AVN v Secretary Dept. of Health. Three judges dismissed the appeal as incompetent and ordered the AVN to pay costs. One might suspect that the AVN would get the message. No. On 31 October AVN advised of their intention to pursue further action. Just before Christmas Meryl Dorey announced a refined “babies case” would be filed with the High Court of Australia. They of course want more money and this case has its own GiveSendGo page.
The cooker community continued to fascinate throughout the year. One bemusing feature was the badgering of New Zealand and Australian Governors General by supporters of rabid paedophile conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer. Standing at the G.G. residence gate, and reading from a script they would bellow through a bullhorn that all federal and state parliaments must be dissolved, as they have “lost confidence in the government”. New elections must be held and “all the documents Senator Heffernan produced for royal commission” must be released “unredacted” immediately. This refers to Heffernan’s 2015 speech, which cookers use to help justify the conspiracy theory that the elite run an international paedophile ring. Despite its absurdity this belief is common amongst the “cooker community”. Just to complicate things other cookers, such as retired QANTAS pilot Graham Hood reject it outright, adding to the angst and infighting. For a sample of cooker infighting I heartily recommend this video.
The year trundled into the latter months with a distinct feeling that those intent on spreading COVID-19 misinformation as a means to profit, had in many cases succeeded but had spent the year waning in popularity. Still, this meant many thousands of Australians – and millions of others around the world – remained in echo chambers of misinformation. Monkeypox was now caused by AstraZeneca of course, because it contained a chimpanzee adenovirus. A bogus claim that Robert F. Kennedy had won a US Supreme Court case against pharmaceutical lobbyists, and in doing so confirmed mRNA vaccines cause irreparable damage was denied by Kennedy himself. Australian deaths in 2022 slightly increased, bringing more claims the cause was COVID-19 vaccination. “SHAME. DISGUSTING. CRIMINAL.”, tweeted the almost forgotten Craig Kelly. Meryl Dorey drew a debunking from AAP Fact Check for this very lie. Yet in October the TGA had still reported a pandemic total of only 14 deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccination. Thirteen followed one dose of AstraZeneca. Those figures are unchanged as of today.
Fortunately 5G is unable to manipulate our DNA via graphene oxide injected with COVID-19 vaccines. Nor is graphene oxide destroying our immune systems. It is not a component of the vaccines, or masks, or PCR tests and thus, thankfully won’t be controlled by “electromagnetic 5G sensors”. More to the point such a concept is utter rubbish. One had to feel a little sorry for fact-checkers dutifully refuting this piffle. Social media accounts spreading disinformation had continued to close. Meryl Dorey’s AVN Facebook page, widely known for disinformation, was finally unpublished and her Twitter account, @nocompulsoryvac followed soon after. Monica Smit spent the year fumbling to recreate her prior influence. Time was spent fighting charges brought against her in 2021, reinventing herself and refuting vaccine requirements. Incitement charges were dropped in July and Smit now claims she intends to sue Victoria police. Some good news was that Avi Yemini was denied a Victorian parliamentary press pass and people still mock him.
Malcolm Roberts has continued to work hard all year to ensure his position as an outspoken authority on COVID-19 is the same as his position as an authority on climate change. One tweet which cited Natural News reminded me of the awfully deceptive film Died Suddenly. This was released in an attempt to spread the myth that vast numbers are dropping dead because of the COVID-19 vaccine. A collection of out of context clips and headlines uploaded by rabid conspiracy theorist Stew Peters, it pushes the depopulation theory and has been thoroughly debunked. It relies on decontextualisation to lull the viewer to not consider alternative causes for the images of blood clots and collapsing people. On a sad note it has contributed to the trolling of those who have lost a loved one to sudden death, regardless of the cause.
On the topic of consequences however, Australians were shocked when Nathaniel, Gareth and Stacey Train murdered two young police officers and a neighbour almost certainly as a result of their involvement with, and conduct as, online conspiracy theorists. Their lifestyle indicated they’d chosen to live isolated, and had internalised paranoid beliefs about government intentions. Gareth Train had contributed to different forums where conspiracy theories and sovereign citizen ideology thrive. The pandemic with its consequent restrictions and mandates likely exacerbated his thinking, but Train was no newbie. Click through the sample below:
Unsurprisingly there was sympathetic chatter amongst conspiracy theorists online, some of which occurred on (dodgy flood money guy) Dave Oneegs’ Telegram page. Dave has a long history of believing lockdowns signalled that Australia will be “taken over”. Elsewhere, articles have appeared questioning every reported aspect of the shooting. Why was a welfare check run on a missing person? Why send regular cops? Why not sit and wait it out? Why, why, etc, etc. In short this event is now a conspiracy theory for conspiracy theorists. Sympathisers wanted to identify with the Trains claiming, “he was definitely one of us” and that it was “time to rise up”. A tweeted reply to a well known activist was chilling in its ignorance. “Wearing that title with pride now, look what we can do. Smoked to (sic) 2 pigs. It’s too easy. while you snooze… normie”. If this event has taught us anything it can not only be how a small minority might act. We must accept how a much larger minority is prepared to think and converse and provoke. That is where the problem lives.
As Australia moves into the fourth year of this pandemic we can predict that the enemies of reason and those who profit from disinformation, will ensure plenty of losing in the lucky country. Only a few have been mentioned above. Yet living in this wealthy country at this time in civilisation’s history is still a case of winning the lottery. COVID-19 infections are presently surging and we’re yet to see what strains, if any, will arise from the situation in China. We’ve learnt much about coping with pandemic conditions. 2023 can’t do much more than demand we continue to put that knowledge into practice. Similarly we’ve learnt much more about evidence denial and those that rely on it. 2023 will be an opportunity to immunise against non-critical thinking and to further identify, refute and annoy those who seek to promote it.
Following a complaint to the ABC in the wake of a 12 August interview with the founder of Reignite Democracy Australia, Monica Smit, Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that it was a “serious editorial misjudgement”.
They found that ABC Far North Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy, harm and offence. A correction has been published and, after the finding is reported to the ABC board, it will be published under upheld complaints.
A post here on 18 August, examined in depth a series of bogus claims made by Smit (pictured), and touched on the importance of editorial accuracy. On 13 August I’d submitted a complaint to the ABC summarising the most significant points made in that post.
As mentioned in the post under Editorial Standards?, after the interview, presenter Adam Stephens did clearly outline his reasons for having Smit on. He thought it is interesting people hold such views and that, as evidenced by RDA pamphlet drops, some residents around Cairns had been swayed by Smit.
He also added:
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.
This sounds reasonable, but the problem is that Smit is a skilled manipulator. She is well versed in faux justifications for anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown claims. The RDA site leaves no doubt that they present harmful and divisive claims backed up by legal loopholes and the misrepresentation of studies. At the time, Smit had already incited a number of illegal protests. It was clear she had no regard for community safety. It is a factor that ABC management should have proactively made clear to programme producers across the country.
In an ideal world, disinformation would be refuted on the spot. In reality, because Smit (and others like her) cover such a range of topics, and use obscure details, this is impossible. The answer is to never provide air time. A decade ago, anti-vaccination activist Meryl Dorey was given ABC air time to discuss an immunisation incentive. She used both opportunities to spread disinformation. Complaints were upheld and Dorey hasn’t been on the ABC since. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits Smit.
ABC Far North: On 12 August, ABC Local Radio Far North Drive interviewed a member of anti-lockdown and COVID-19 conspiracy group Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). The program failed to explain that the interviewee had no medical or pandemic expertise; and that the group is anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and encourages illegal lockdown protests. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand. During the interview it was stated that mask wearing is dangerous; this is inaccurate. The interviewee made repeated erroneous claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected by the presenter. The program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
ABC’s editorial standards are covered in the Code of Practice. Ultimately, Audience and Consumer Affairs found that the interview breached the ABC standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2, and for harm and offence 7.1 and 7.6. The full email response from Audience and Consumer Affairs is below (with permission of ABC).
Dear Mr Gallagher
Thank you for your email regarding the 12 August edition of ABC Far North’s Drive with Adam Stephen, which featured an interview with Monica Smit of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). I apologise for the delay in responding.
Your complaint has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards, which are explained in our Code of Practice. We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from ABC Regional management and assessed the content against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and harm and offence.
Drive has explained that local Cairns businesses had received flyers from RDA, and that they broadcast an interview with a business owner who expressed his frustration with the “irresponsible” behaviour of this group which would “put everyone else in danger”. Following this, the editorial decision was made to interview Monica Smit from RDA.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that within the context presented, this interview was a serious editorial misjudgement. Our findings are set out below against the relevant editorial standards.
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
As you explain, at no point was it made clear that Monica Smit and RDA have no medical or pandemic expertise, nor are they advised by medical experts. It was not made clear that their flyer and website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Further, it was not explained that RDA is an anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination activist group which attends, supports and encourages illegal lockdown protests and other activities. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand and in particular to the credibility of the claims made by Monica Smit.
As you point out, Monica Smit made numerous inaccurate and unsupported statements in this interview which were not corrected or adequately challenged by the presenter. The claims made by Monica Smit regarding mask wearing and lockdowns were both alarming and erroneous. The interviewee was allowed to make repeated inaccurate claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected. Further, the program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2.
Harm and offence
7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.
7.6 Where there is editorial justification for content which may lead to dangerous imitation or exacerbate serious threats to individual or public health, safety or welfare, take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks, particularly by taking care with how content is expressed or presented.
Audience and Consumer Affairs observe that reliance by listeners on the information provided by Monica Smit during this interview about public health orders was likely to cause harm. This includes the inaccurate information about mask wearing, lock downs and comments made by the interviewee on how to breach / avoid health orders.
The likely harm was not justified by the editorial context. Issues around groups like RDA are newsworthy to a degree, usually because of the threat or harm they present to the wider community and their illegal activities. An interview with a fringe activist with no medical expertise talking about public health matters requires very solid context and rigorous debunking; that did not happen on this occasion.
The material propagated by Monica Smit in this interview put RDA followers and the people around them at risk, and the editorial context did not justify the likely harm. The program did not take adequate care with how this content was expressed or presented, particularly in relation to accuracy.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence7.1 and 7.6.
ABC Regional apologise for this serious lapse in editorial standards. This matter has been discussed with the program team and a correction published here. In keeping with Audience and Consumer Affairs’ usual processes, this finding will be reported to the ABC Board and a summary published here.
Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the attention of the ABC. Once again I apologise for the delay in responding. Should you be dissatisfied with this response, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (www.acma.gov.au).
Yours sincerely (redacted) Investigations Manager Audience and Consumer Affairs
In a unique social media twist senior members of COVID conspiracy group, Reignite Democracy Australia ‘dobbed in’ the restaurant that hosted them for an illegal dinner.
It just so happens that Victoria’s current lockdown coincided with the long planned Australia-wide Millions March Against Mandatory COVID Vaccinations organised by Health Rights Alliance. The vaccine is not mandatory. So anti-vaxxers seize on the possibility of a COVID “vaccine passport” and the health workers who may be asked to have the vaccine. Thus a perfect storm for prancing protestors was afoot. On Saturday far from any actual risk and always mere steps from the safety of her car Monica Smit was role playing political dissident/freedom fighter (more on that below). Three hours later she was sipping wine with around 15 RDA friends dining illegally at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon. We know this because one of the group posted a photo with a timestamp and details*.
Fi Reilly wrote;
Moda restaurant in Seddon. Getting on with business. Great hanging out with fellow freedom fighters.
How could this happen? How could Australia’s self-appointed government-in-waiting be so careless? More so, how could our brave freedom fighters end up so safe and cosy and warm whilst the people they encourage had so successfully antagonised police only to ultimately find the inside of an ambulance? More on that dastardly disparity below also. First let’s review some points.
A march during lockdown
In Victoria the venue for the Millions March was Flagstaff Gardens. The last such march in Melbourne saw the crowd gather in the Botanic Gardens on February 20th. Back then our frenetic COVID conspiracy theorist and wannabe political saviour Monica Smit seized the opportunity to promise that she and RDA “are coming” for the jobs of government. Since that time Smit has continued to push thoroughly debunked theories about COVID-19 and to urge civil disobedience in her followers. QR codes, face masks, social distancing, vaccination, temperature readings are all attacks on rights say RDA. Laws protect those who refuse to comply states their disinformation narrative.
Meanwhile back in reality, at 11:59 pm Thursday 27 May, Victoria went into ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions following a rise in community based COVID-19 cases. Restrictions include wearing a face mask, maintaining social distancing and travelling within 5 km of home unless meeting requirements to exceed that distance. In short a lockdown. The reasons scarcely need to be repeated but nonetheless the Department of Health state regarding stay at home directions:
The purpose of these directions is to address the serious public health risk posed to the State of Victoria by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
It’s worth noting that the organisers of the Millions March posted a cancellation, of sorts, on Facebook just before 11am;
HRA wishes to advise that the official broadcast of the MMAMCV event has been cancelled due to vital team members pulling out. This was not the outcome lead organisers wished for, but it has been taken out of their hands. […]
For those still attending the gathering, some HRA members will be there alongside you, but have had to pull out in an official manner.To all that still attend, it is your event now – rock on!
Described by the Herald Sun as a “protest inciter” Smit herself was keeping well away from any protest. Exactly one hour after the ‘official’ cancellation was posted by HRA a mask-less Smit was warning of a police checkpoint at Victoria and Peel Streets Melbourne. Her real aim was for the sole purpose of being seen breaching regulations. To enjoy the attention that Monica loves so much. In a performance that’s almost as sad as it is funny, Smit offers;
And by the way, police monitoring this channel (it’s actually a Facebook Live video) I have a single friend who lives ’bout five hundred metres from Flagstaff Gardens. So I’m here as support, so you can go jump.
Yeah that’s right.
I shudder to imagine that huge police Monica-monitoring unit, a large wall screen displaying satellite data, row after row of computer monitors streaming code, and the small army of headpiece-wearing keyboard crunching surveillance experts who wince in fear when told to “go jump”. No doubt they even have a code name for her. The Bored Identity perhaps? Yes. Let’s go with that.
Having counted “three or four hundred cops”, and perhaps thinking of old spy or war movies when someone ‘reconnoitres the perimeter’, The Bored Identity tells viewers;
So, I’ve done a parameter of the park.
The Bored Identity then meets an admirer named Layla. A stranger we learn. They gush praise at each other sharing promises of fighting for their rights no less and the rights of Layla’s dog. So brave is The Bored Identity she admits on the monitored “channel” that she earlier drove past police, and then;
I yelled out the window, I said ‘Go catch some real criminals’, I go ‘Go do ya job for goodness sakes’.
Gosh!… I’ve got my single friend here – she needs my support. Actually ya know what I’m really doing?
[Whispers to the admirer who is suitably impressed. She ‘loves it’ in fact]
That’s my support for the day. All right Layla. Ga’Luck!
[Bored Identity walks off]
Uurgh! Gosh! Well, yeah. It’s gunna be interesting guys.
Clearly The Bored Identity is a highly trained operative. Masquerading as an attention seeking dimwit who provides video evidence on a self-described monitored “channel” that she is indeed in breach of stay at home restrictions is surely a clever ruse. The police based Monica-monitoring unit stood no chance.
On a more serious note police had earlier urged Victorians to respect efforts to combat the pandemic. On Saturday The Herald Sun later reported;
Victoria Police urged people to obey the current CHO directives.
“We are confident the overwhelming majority of Victorians will be doing the right thing and adhere to restrictions so we can all return to normality as soon as possible,” the force said in a statement.
“Those who choose to blatantly disregard the CHOs directions can expect to be held accountable and fined.”
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission added, “Any protest activity should comply with the public health directions in place at any given time.”
It is difficult to track all movements of The Bored Identity from this point until the restaurant. There was another ‘channel’ – what you might still call a Facebook Live video – which was a laneway-based recap of the day’s protest. This was a little strange as RDA didn’t appear anywhere near the protest. For reasons unknown that video has been deleted. But fortune has smiled upon us as a screenshot with a comment survives;
This commenter writes;
So once again you have “avoided” being arrested and later posted photo’s (sic) of yourself sitting in a restaurant with others who seem to always avoid arrest Hmmm. You commenced the day by telling people where the police were gathering but didn’t make any video from the actual park. Hmm. You later made a video from a laneway afterwards, boasting the protest was a big success. If I was cynical, I would say you and your crew are in cahoots with the police – of course you COULD just be teflon coated.
These points are inescapable. I mentioned in my last post on RDA that Monica Smit is likely deceiving her followers. But rather than being in league with police I’d argue she will always have a safe way out and is highly adverse to any genuine discomfort. The strange new blend of conspiracy theory with biblical fundamentalism that she caters to is growing rapidly and is no doubt quite lucrative. Whatever the case Monica Smit her partner Morgan Jonas and other RDA members chose to spend up at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon.
A person who owns, controls or operates a food and drink facility in the State of Victoria may operate that facility during the restricted activity period only for the purposes of takeaway collection or delivery of pre-ordered goods.
As we’ll see below media reported the owner of the restaurant denied knowledge of the diners. But again we may thank Fi Reilly;
The relevant part of this screenshot is;
And loved having lunch with everyone afterwards in Seddon. We were just finishing lunch when the business got a call the police were on the way. People who dob on business is such a low act in my mind. Let’s all continue to support these types of businesses.
Being in cahoots aside, one does wonder why the business would get a call to say police were on the way. Tends to defeat the entire purpose of dealing with an offence. Perhaps it’s really an attempt to convey a composed exit. Nonetheless these images were on Twitter by Saturday evening and not long after the text of them accompanied news reports.
More than a dozen anti-vaxxers, including protest inciters MONICA SMIT and MORGAN JONAS, were photographed at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon on Saturday afternoon despite statewide coronavirus restrictions which have shut restaurant doors and banned public gatherings.
The photograph, posted on encrypted communication app Telegram, was deleted on Sunday as the restaurant faced huge public backlash and threats of customer boycotts.
A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said the incident will be investigated by the government’s coronavirus enforcement team.
“This claim has been referred to the Victorian Government’s High-Risk Industry Engagement and Enforcement Operation for investigation – and it will take action as necessary,” the spokeswoman said.
Moda Kitchen and Bar denied opening its doors to the anti-vax group, despite police confirming they were called to the Victoria St restaurant over reports of “a group not wearing masks” about 4.30pm on Saturday.
“We were closed. We went there to clean but we were closed. I don’t know what people are talking about,” the restaurant owner told the Herald Sun.
The Daily Mail UK published an almost identical piece. The restaurant’s Facebook page vanished soon after, likely going private as criticisms filled comments. The Instagram account followed today shortly after Victorians discovered its presence. Another inescapable point to this story is that the vast majority of Aussies really don’t have any respect for social saboteurs like Reignite Democracy Australia or for businesses that would happily breach regulations to accomodate them. Victorians are striving to get through a serious public health challenge. Many businesses doing the right thing are hurting. Thousands of workers and staff are losing income.
With all this talk about rights and freedom-fighting what about the rights of those doing the right thing? RDA and Co. of course have no answer.
The RDA rabbit hole
Their arrogance stems from bizarre claims like this on their Facebook page;
EXPOSING OUR MEDIA’S RECENT VENTILATOR LIE: One Day, One Victorian On a Ventilator, the Next Day, None!
Victoria’s ‘7-day snap-lockdown’ only exists because there was a need to coerce v8ccination.
General jab hesitancy and public disinterest created an urgent government need to counter-market; and thus, this lockdown serves primarily as a marketing drive for an otherwise undesirable Pharma product. There is no “outbreak,” no actual new cases, and certainly no “Indian double mutant strain.”
It was all meticulously preplanned – with every component strategically devised to ensure a successful psychological operation for public manipulation. The unusual media fixation on an “infected case” that was traced to the 3 Monkeys bar on Chapel Street, was the scheming strategists giving an ironic and knowing nod to the film 12 Monkeys (about a killer virus) – and they are laughing at us. […]
The other day, the media delighted in revisiting the idea of the true medieval horror of hooking a human up to a ventilator – intubated, and comatose, as they battle ‘a flu-like virus’ while being fleeced a small fortune for the privilege of being slowly tortured to death… well, it so happens that there are now ZERO people in Melbourne’s ICUs and not a single person on a ventilator, and not a single death since last year. […]
This lockdown is a criminal act perpetrated by a criminal government, pursuing a criminally coercive v8ccine agenda. It is a lie, founded on lies – and it shall all ultimately collapse by the sheer weight of endlessly being propped-up against the opposing gravity of truth.
Let us continue to contribute to that weight.
There’s more like this of course, including the baseless assertion that this “vaccine experiment” is punishable by death under the Nuremberg Code. Or the video of Monica Smit extolling loopholes she has found to get around QR codes. You see, families leave phones at home when going for a cafe brunch because they seek “quality time”. Monica acts as if you’re going to believe that. So they can’t be expected to use the QR code. Wink, wink. Enter dastardly plan to use alternatives to QR codes. Like, pen and paper.
Apart from promoting the DHHS reasons for not wearing a mask visitors are urged to download and print out copies of the following You Can Say No flyers to bother innocent members of the public with.
The Facebook page of our ‘future government’ is packed full of such pointless opposition to barely inconvenient aspects of life during a pandemic. Smit and Jonas seem driven by an out of proportion belief in their own importance and intelligence. All throughout is a concerning number of even more concerning prayers or proclamations relating to God, Jesus/Yeshua and the bible along with the belief that this pandemic was foretold in said bible. Pastor Paul Furlong of The Revival Church tells visitors;
God’s word says we cannot forsake the gathering of the saints, and do so even more it says as the days become more wicked and evil and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is at hand, I believe we’re right there right now.
There is strong promotion of Peacemakers Australia. This group are like a real life manifestation of the Game of Thrones malignant religious sect the Sparrows. Complete with obsessed, testosterone fuelled thugs and verse quoting bible waving women, they too see their role foretold in Gospel and psalms. Popping up around all this are the regular crackpot COVID trouble makers from Craig Kelly to Matt Lawson.
Ultimately in the three short months since I last wrote about Monica Smit and Reignite Democracy Australia they have become at once more extreme and less in control of those they attract. They are nothing more than attention-seeking, exploitative charlatans and a problem for any democracy. Australia is a long way from anything like the storming of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021 in Washington D.C. But if the belief in the right to do something like that here needs a home, it would find it amongst this awful amalgam of people.
Reignite Democracy Australia still has nothing Australia needs.
– Hat tip to the eagle eye who shared these screenshots.