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
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 dishonest to venture out without a mask. This is something we’ve seen as mask-less RDA disciples with 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
ABC Radio Nth QLD
Monica Smit offers unregulated “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. That Drive programme is archived and Dave and Adam begin their chat at the 45:00 min mark. Next comes Monica Smit, introduced 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 (DT) is 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 no 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 those 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 presently continue.
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.
One might then ask, were ABC standards for editorial accuracy 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 harm but there is, “so much science out there” to support this.
“Because it’s the truth”
When asked why she is informing people that 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 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 (I’m not suggesting she advised this). She followed on by claiming long term mask wearing is “really 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 might get that notion from an 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. If you land on the conservative City Journal, 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
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 review text could not be more clear. It 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 wrong. Adam Stephen put it to Smit that her advice could place people at risk of COVID-19.
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 to offer Victoria.
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. Smit usually only gets this much air time 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.
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 certain personalities 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, 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 likely 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, however, gives an inaccurate view of the groups resources. Their recent advertising truck, growing range of merchandise, and increasingly slick video production suggests 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. Yet this group is 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. The actual study completion date was 5 March 2021.
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 term, has become almost commonplace in conspiracy theory circles. It is seemingly confused with contrariness. This is underscored by the fact that constant cries of suppressed freedom, and the exploitation of loopholes, is possible only because of our democratic rights and the legislation that protects them.
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.
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.
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.
The present pandemic Australia is experiencing, and successfully managing to the envy of much of the world, has given attention seekers like Smit a spotlight they could previously only dream of. She clearly has no problem denying the scientific evidence and the necessary reality of COVID-19. Rather, Smit sees it as a tool to manipulate the gullible and those already tuned to conspiracy theories to further her own aims.
The COVID opportunity wasn’t lost on other conspiracy theorists around the world, particularly anti-vaccination lobbyists. As Vaxxed producer and CEO of the Informed Consent Action Network, Del Bigtree boasted last year the pandemic was “a dream come true”. It was to be capitalised upon. It was an opportunity to “get people to wake up”. In practice what this really means is convincing people that they have been asleep. A task that became easier when COVID lockdowns and restrictions yielded an attentive social media audience.
Smit’s attention-seeking includes an attempt to get a spot on Australian Survivor in 2017. The audition video is an interesting clip and Smit tells us that, “my willpower will definitely put up a very good fight” to scenes of her balancing on one leg (see below). Monica Smit has demonstrated her will power through the establishment of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA), a $1 company of which she is the only director and sole shareholder. RDA has over 50,000 supporters with strong wellness, anti-vaccine and conspiracy beliefs.
Smit has also displayed unique energy in her willingness to jump onto any conspiracy theory that is popular amongst anti-lockdown protesters. Her website tells visitors that RDA is a political movement*, not a political party. It’s a clever line. Particularly if hiding your allegiance to political connections. The site also offers a discredited study disputing the efficacy of masks and the now worn out anti-vaccine trope that PCR tests are oversensitive and thus COVID-19 cases are false positives. She would reject conspiracy theory labels and does reject being anti-vaccine.
Smit is attempting a unique balancing act in protesting the anti-vaccine label. In a video on her RDA website today she offered a “recap” of yesterday’s protest at the office of Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.
Despite the presence of anti-vaccine protestors, signage and rhetoric Smit rejected media reports of an anti-vaxxer presence and maintained she was “about informed consent”, the standard anti-vaxxer catch cry.
Monica Smit is, unsurprisingly, hard to get a handle on. She can be found online as a freelance journalist, although as we’ll see, this is a role she has apparently abandoned. That site is now focused on attacking Dan Andrews and massaging the fears that link COVID public health measures to an impending death of democracy. The site hosts Smit’s articles covering a range of topics from around the world. Despite claiming she will “only work with positive endings” she manages to find negative subject matter. Caps lock and repeated exclamation marks abound.
She also describes herself as a “Catholic pilgrim”. Following the Journalism menu to Catholic one finds a Regina Coeli Report in PDF featuring an interview with Smit on pilgrimages. Smit talks about God, the devil and evil. She references the fight for the Catholic faith and getting a “clear response from God to my efforts” for which she “wept out loud with joy”. Asked what she would say to convince someone to go on a pilgrimage she answered.
You won’t regret it I promise! Just turn up and God will do the rest! You’ll see!
She would be just perfect for the emerging far right in the Victorian (and Australian) Liberal Party. As she bellowed at a rapturous crowd in Melbourne last weekend the fight she is leading against Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, Scott Morrison and Dan Andrews is one, “between good and evil and we are the good and good always prevails”. Smit maintains she is independent. Not affiliated with any political party.
Smit’s involvement in attacks on Victorian premier Dan Andrews goes back at least to working for online group Victoria Forward. The group hides its allegiance to the Victorian Liberals claiming to be “bipartisan”. The main identity is Facebook-friendly teen Edward Bourke. As reported byGizmodo Australia Bourke started work as Male Vice-Chair at the Sunbury branch of Victorian Liberals in December 2019. It was one month before Victoria Forward emerged. Bourke is a firm Trump supporter who is proud of his plan to “import US political culture” starting with the launch of Victoria Forward.
In May last year Monica Smit worked with another apparent freelance journalist Stephanie Bastiaan in video production for Victoria Forward. Bastiaan, a member of the Victorian Liberal Party, is co-administrator of Victoria Forward’s Facebook page. Bastiaan is an integral part of the party’s conservative faction associated with branch stacking last year. She is the wife of Marcus Bastiaan who resigned from the Victorian Liberal Party in August last year due to the same branch stacking revelations.
Victoria Forward is anti-Dan Andrews and has capitalised on political sore spots for the Andrews’ government. Anti-lockdown sentiment, the Belt and Road agreement with China, volunteer firefighters and the unfortunate but necessary brumby cull. Opposing the last issue found support from another anti-Dan Andrews group Project Rural which has close links to Victoria Forward. Another website has put time and energy into fighting the Andrews’ government’s planned brumby cull. That of Monica Smit “freelance journalist”, which includes images and the article Racing to save last descendants of WWI ‘waler’ brumbies. Smit and Stephanie Bastiaan were praised for their efforts defending the brumby by member for Western Victoria, Bev McArthur of the Victorian Liberal Party.
Monica Smit is also a darling of Sky News. She was interviewed in October last year during her stint on the Let Us Work bus with the “Sack Andrews” hashtag. With what would become a tactic of Smits during arguments with police at anti-lockdown protests she used her apparent status as a journalist to shirk social distancing restrictions. The bus was the idea of Laurie Pincini, of Rockleigh Tours and the sign was courtesy of another small businessman. Both had lost their businesses to the lockdown impact on movement and Smit used their situation to her advantage. Alan Jones on Sky interviewed Smit after the Stop the sale of Victoria rally last November.
Smit kept drawing attention over 2020 and into 2021. She would attend protests and have herself filmed arguing with police over her right not to wear a mask, because she was a journalist. As noted above yesterday she was vocal at a protest outside the office of Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Channel 7 reported on the event. In one bizarre post on the RDA site today is a screenshot of her message that, “It WASN’T and (sic) anti-vax protest just FYI”. In the shot is an image of a woman holding a sign that reads, “It’s a DNA altering poison to change who you are!”.
Her most compelling performance was last Saturday February 20th in the Botanic Gardens Melbourne. The much promoted Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccination. Immediately before she spoke, some organisers appeared to be trying to get the crowd to stay in groups and maintain some semblance of social distancing. Smit jumped onto the podium, grabbed the microphone from the speaker and yelled, “Do what ya want, awright!”, to rousing cheers. [Video: see 1min 15]
Then Smit almost screams, “We are coming!”. More cheers. She puts on a pair of gloves promising it will make sense. She went on to yell that the door that closed was Gates, Fauci, Morrison and Andrews. The window that opened was them. Cheers. The people around are fighting for your future, your children’s future the crowd was told. They would die for this country. Louder cheers. They had tried to do the right thing. Wrote petitions. Nobody opened the email. She stamps her foot, not for the first time. “Guess what? We’re coming for all the marginal seats”, Smit managed to loudly sneer leaning forward jutting out her chin.
She was in her element. Attention, glorious attention. Stuff Australian Survivor. They would never get cheers like this. She goes on firing up the crowd with promised threats to governments, Federal and State. A monster has been awakened and the fire in its belly is so bright it can’t be put out, she yells. “Guess what? We have God on our side… this is a battle between good and evil…”. She continued on leaving no doubt that her plan is revenge through political victory. Anyone who knows her, the crowd was told, would know she has been towing the line, she’s been a reporter (self-appointed freelance journalist), doing everything right. “Well guess what? The gloves are coming off”. She pulls her gloves off and throws them down. Then finishes with another, “We are coming!”. Chants of “Moni-Ka, Moni-Ka” followed.
You can also check Monica Smit’s performance by audio here [MP3 5MB] or listen below. After Smit is a few seconds of the angry crowd chanting at police, “Free Australia, freedom, freedom”. There were twenty arrests.
It was a well planned speech. Monica Smit has no doubt what her next move is. Exactly who she may have offering or even giving support is not clear. Past form would suggest conservative factions of the Victorian Liberal Party. Yet Smit’s conduct would almost convince that she is striving to be an independent liberal. Reality says she will be a conservative. Her attacks on the Morrison government serve to create the impression she has no time for a coalition government and perhaps the Liberal Party.
But impressions can be deceiving. Monica Smit can be deceiving and is likely deceiving her supporters. Time will tell if she has truly abandoned Victorian Liberals. At one point Smit yelled that the most dangerous thing was a person with nothing left to lose. She blamed the government/s for this. The scale of selfishness and recklessness at play in exploiting public health measures necessary in a pandemic, can’t be overestimated. Little wonder there were twenty arrests.
A pressing issue in this light is the growing protest movement and the rise in anti-vaccination traffic on social media. It is concerning that there is little doubt such protests will continue. I recently mused in a comment about this so-called mandatory vaccination march. What fascinates me is that this is going on in the wake of the severe oppression and jailing of Hong Kong protestors who dared publicly say, “Independence for Hong Kong”. At the same time as Myanmar is experiencing a military coup and suppression of democracy. The same time as the actual dictator (not Dan Andrews) Alexandar Lukashenko, crushes anyone who dares object to him stealing the most recent Belarusian presidential election. At the same time as Putin jails many who gather to vocally support opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Who himself was jailed in a penal camp for breaching conditions of a suspended sentence.
It goes to show what a secure and fair democracy Australia is when the utter vacuum of any need to protest leads to the invention of faux suppression. So the privileged bored can role play. COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory. Nor are they ‘experimental’. But more so, we know much of the anti-vaccine, anti-COVID measures and conspiracy theories have been generated by Russian trolls and bots [BMJ]. So how does Australia treat ex-pat Putin loyalists who regard us as a USA puppet and Western “enemy”? It lets them protest and say whatever they like. To even counter-rally against Ukrainians who are also rallying for their own cause to be independent from Putin’s Russia. Because that’s what this county allows. Democracy.
I imagine protestors will continue to enjoy this game. To pretend their rights are being taken away. To act as if they can’t refuse the vaccine. Pretend vaccines don’t work but instead cause widespread injury. Gather absurd information from social media and accept it as truth. Become hysterical about the Nuremberg code and argue their rights are breached, which they aren’t. Praise the scam artists profiting from their gullibility. Never question how full-time anti-vaxxers – white, financially comfortable and safe, support themselves. Pay no attention to the genuinely oppressed in the world, unless they want to liken their pretend oppression to real suffering.
Australia and its democracy may not be perfect but it has given rise to the bizarre symptom that is faux suppression – the pathetic, selfish obsession with fantasy. These protestors are without a doubt a malignancy born from democratic values. If they can not only invent suppression but afford (financially and socially) to role play as if it were real, no matter what the health cost to the society that props them up, then they certainly live in one of the greatest nations on the planet.
Australia has flaws of course, and our government is far from perfect. But the purported reignited democracy from the likes of Monica Smit who has inane support from the likes of Bernie Finn and Craig Kelly would be truly horrifying.
Well guess what? Reignite Democracy Australia is not coming with anything Australia needs.
* 4 September 2021 – The site now describes RDA as “An advocacy group and aspiring media outlet.”.