You get off the SkyTrain at Granville Station and walk towards the Vancouver Art Gallery. From the moment you start walking you hear echoes of a man yelling through an old microphone, but it is too far away for you to make out the words. As you get closer, you come to realise that it is a strange song being played over loudspeakers, it sounds like propaganda from a dystopian movie: “…You have strengths dangerous to the establishment — and it wants them eliminated, So your whole life you’ve been told your strengths were weaknesses- Now I’m telling you otherwise…” The Wayseers Manifesto. A song and a political speech rolled into one. Possibly a nice sentiment, until you realise that it is in reference to the public health orders related to Covid-19. You look around you and you see people in “Trump 2020” hats talking to large men wearing the bold yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags as capes, all around you are signs reading “End Lockdown”, “Give Us Back Our Freedom” and “It’s All About Control”. The final clue to what is going on comes to you when you realise none of these people are wearing masks.
On February 20th, I spent my day at the “BC Freedom Mega Rally” an anti-mask, anti-vax, “pro transparency” gathering held at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In the interest of getting as much information as I possibly could, I went under the guise of being a wide-eyed youth who was “looking for information from both sides”. The breed of people that are known for attending such events are infamous for hating any form of media that doesn’t conform to their world view and bolster their factual inaccuracies, so I figured this would be the best way to avoid any unpleasantness. What I witnessed while I was there, the rhetoric being spouted, the conversations I listened to, and the sheer amount of misinformation I heard was astounding. I didn’t go there to talk to the event organisers or the speakers directly, their points were made quite clear. I wanted to talk to the people that were there either volunteering their time to hand out pamphlets or the ones who are so committed to these beliefs that they are willing to stand in the cold holding signs chanting “LOCK HER UP” in relation to Dr. Bonnie Henry. What I found was that most people there either lacked any real information that wasn’t essentially copy and pasted from the numerous pamphlets that were being handed out or were fully unwilling to even talk to someone who was wearing a mask. The picture painted by what I was able to gather wasn’t one of some grand rebellion organized and attended by a collective with a single goal in mind; to resist tyranny at any cost. It was a muddy, ink-stained page filled with right wing Reddit buzzwords and a vague sense of oppression. I couldn’t find two people who could agree whether it was communism, the Rothschilds, global elitists, big pharma or some combination of all of them that was running this scam but the one thing they all agreed on was that it was indeed a scam.
The first person I talked to was a volunteer for Action4Canada, a group that has spent years railing against topics including: immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion and marijuana legilization. When asked about what their goal was at the protest today, I was given the same speech they gave everyone there: COVID-19 is the same as the flu and this is all a ploy for control. They believe the only reason that people are having long term effects is because doctors are denying people Hydroxychloroquine which has been dismissed by the New England Journal Of Medicine. When I asked the volunteer their sources for this information I was handed an armful of pamphlets and websites to go to sponsored by the same people who helped organize the event. The same thing happened with a few different groups, all giving a variation of the same answer, a drug that has been proven to not work against the long term effects of COVID-19. The strangest thing to me about it was the fact that the people would all say the same thing “A majority of the people who are dying from this are the elderly” when they were themselves pushing 60. With all their talk of propaganda and misinformation not one of the people there seemed to be able to think about their “version of truth” in the same context. None of these “strides against propaganda” stopped any of them from cheering and howling when a young girl between the ages of three and five was brought up to the mic to lead a chant of “what do we want? FREEDOM! When do we want it? NOW!”
The piles of propaganda that I picked up throughout the day fall into a few different categories: flat out disinformation such as twisted versions of stories pertaining to COVID-19 violations or random non sequiturs from the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, “new age” and homeopathic cures for COVID-19 that at best amount to nothing more than breathing exercises and meditation and at worst are potentially toxic untested chemicals, or just flat out conspiracy theory rhetoric including QAnon propaganda. One pamphlet that was only handed out in secret and that I had to ask one of the speakers for is potentially the most frightening; a small, yellow pamphlet with a QR code that leads to a website about Common Law. At face value Common Law seems harmless, in theory a group of people get together and create a community and decide laws and ethics for that community. The frightening part is when you find the connection to The Republic Of Kanata, a group who has used Common Law to create a “sovereign nation”, who have made public threats to destroy shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
It is possible that none of these things on their own would be inherently dangerous (except maybe the Common Law people) but when you put them all together into this thick murky soup, it begins to confuse people who are scared enough to believe anything. When you have people who are claiming to be experts tell you that your fear is valid and you should act on it, many people will. While I was there, that is what I saw: people scared about an unprecedented time in history being fed convenient lies instead of hard truths. People who are potentially willing to do violence over those lies. The sheer volume of misinformation that has been spread is hard to overcome but if we don’t find a way soon there will be no turning back.
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