Scientists around the world are racing to develop, test and deploy a vaccine against the coronavirus. Experts agree this is the only clear route by which we can escape the nightmare of Covid-19 and prevent the virus from taking a heavy toll for years to come.
But there is another, equally significant race going on: the campaign to misinform and spread fear about this vaccine, and prevent people accepting it when it becomes available.
Anti-vaccine campaigners across the world are
throwing their considerable efforts promoting conspiracy theories about this
vaccine and towards vaccines generally, including ideas that the vaccine will
contain a new virus or a microscopic tracking chip, or even that it will simply
kill anyone who receives it.
While the UK has traditionally had high levels of confidence in vaccines, British ‘anti-vaxxers’ are among those leading this anti-vaccine charge to hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
A Facebook group set up by British anti-vaccine campaigners in March has gained 145,000 members in less than three months, and plays host to alarming levels of Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Alongside anti-vaccine misinformation, British campaigners like Sacha Stone and Kate Shemirani promote a toxic and paranoid worldview to huge audiences on their social platforms. It is clear that, alongside its inherent harm to public health, the anti-vaccine movement has potential to act as a gateway to even greater social ills.
The anti-vaccine movement, commonly known as
‘anti-vaxxers’, encompasses a broad range of ideologies and motivations centred
on the general rejection of all types of vaccines. Many people in this
community are motivated solely by the belief that vaccines are harmful to the
human body: while such beliefs may be harmful to those who believe them and to
public health more generally, in and of themselves they pose limited danger to
political and social cohesion.
Yet as with the misinformation surrounding 5G internet and Covid-19, the anti-vaccine movement can act as a gateway to more dangerous political ideologies. The belief that vaccines are demonstrably harmful can lead to the conclusion that doctors, scientists, regulators and the government must be conspiring together to conceal evidence of their harm, either in the name of profits for drug companies or perhaps for more nefarious agendas.
This principle can in turn make believers more susceptible to other conspiracy theories that would require massive, coordinated deception to succeed, such as the belief in a New World Order (NWO) or even Holocaust denial.
Such pathways are graphically illustrated in anti-vaxx social media forums, where groups ostensibly devoted to the topic of vaccines contain constant promotion of other, more sinister ideologies.
One Facebook group that has seen explosive growth, Collective Action Against Bill Gates. We Won’t Be Vaccinated!!, was set up by British Facebook users on 13 April this year and has amassed over 134,000 members.
This group contains countless posts promoting the NWO and QAnon super-conspiracy theories, which many members appear to believe explain the motives of pro-vaccine institutions and promoters. Posts comparing Bill Gates to Hitler are commonplace, but they are quickly seized upon by other members who rush to defend Hitler in the comments sections by posting links to Nazi documentaries and websites.
Prominent British anti-vaccine campaigners are also using their platforms to promote alternative, harmful ideologies. Kate Shemirani, who styles herself as the Natural Nurse in a Toxic World, has received multiple suspensions by Facebook for promoting harmful misinformation to her 54,000 Facebook followers, including repeatedly linking 5G internet to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet in among the unfounded medical advice that she dispenses, Shemirani also teaches her followers about a vast, broader conspiracy: one that includes Satanic symbolism in music videos, the organised destruction of the atomic family, 9/11 as a false flag attack and large-scale sexual abuse of children by a global elite. Shemirani has also expressed her admiration for David Icke and condemned international organisations such as the United Nations and World Health Organisation as belonging to the New World Order.
Many of those who followed Shemirani’s Facebook page will have done so in order to hear her specific anti-vaccine content and naturopathic health advice, but having done so will then be exposed to even more troubling and damaging conspiracies.
Another prominent figure in the UK anti-vaxx community is musician-turned-spiritual guru Sacha Stone, who splits his time between London and Bali.
Stone is a prominent exponent of the theory that
all diseases and ailments can be explained by the pollutants in both within the
body and in the environment as a whole, including electromagnetic radiation and
genetically modified (GMO) foods. He promotes these views via his multiple
organisations such as the New Earth Project, Humanitad and the International
Tribunal for Natural Justice (ITNJ).
These organisations, which Stone appears to control, have a considerable reach on social media: the New Earth Project has 263,000 followers on Facebook, while the ITNJ has 55,000 YouTube subscribers. But alongside his content promoting spirituality and healthy living, Stone also promotes some deeply disturbing theories.
Vaccines are not merely unnecessary or misguided, Stone suggested in a recent interview: “Anyone who rolls their sleeve up for a vaccine – or an RFID nanochip – is absolutely inviting the Beast to take control of their soul,”he claimed.
This intense, religiously-framed hostility to vaccines indicates Stone’s adherence to the New World Order conspiracy genre, where anti-vaccine sentiments are just one component of a hugely dangerous and harmful belief system.
Stone also believes in a number of deeply antisemitic conspiracy theories. In an interview posted to YouTube in April, he defended Presidents Trump and Putin as “enlightened leaders” and said that Chinese premier Xi Jinping had attempted to provide a “remedy” in China but had been “butchered by Fabianist social engineering and cultural engineering programmes financed through Wall Street by the Sabbatian Zionist Lurian Kabbalists operating from behind the veil”, using coded antisemitic language very similar to that of David Icke.
“If you want to demonise anyone, demonise the godless creature that is conducting a transnational, supra-national orchestra […] it’s a Sabbatean, Luciferian, Satanic cult, highly interconnected, highly financed […] the creature that has been incubating and fostering every single battle and war for the past couple of hundred years.“Sacha Stone
Like Shemirani, Stone adheres to elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory, promoting the belief that thousands of children have been trafficked for sexual abuse by a global Satanic liberal elite, and are now being rescued from underground dungeons by the heroic efforts of President Trump.
This is a theme that his organisation the ITNJ has explored at length in streamed hearings, which resemble mock court cases in which “expert witnesses” testify to the existence of such Satanic abuse networks, as well as on topics like vaccine harms, corruption and the “weaponisation of the biosphere”.
Stone recently claimed to have received firsthand accounts of children being rescued from secret underground bases by US special forces working on behalf of President Trump, a key pillar of the QAnon narrative.
There are countless smaller and less prominent anti-vaccine groups and activists who are similarly combining their opposition to vaccines with much more toxic conspiracy theories.
At a time when there is likely to be huge interest in – and opposition to – the upcoming Covid-19 vaccine, it is vital to understand how such efforts run the risk not only of hindering efforts to defeat the pandemic, but also of causing considerable harm to social cohesion and safety by acting as a gateway to other dangerous conspiracy-oriented belief systems.
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