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An anti-lockdown protest in Dublin in February
An anti-lockdown protest in Dublin in February
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

'Violent rhetoric' within Irish anti-lockdown movement 'should not be underestimated' - report

The ISD report details some of the main players in Ireland’s anti-lockdown movement.
Dec 15th 2021, 1:04 PM 36,297 0

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has enabled fringe Irish groups to coalesce and spread conspiracy theories to a wider audience than ever before, according to a new report.

An overview of anti-lockdown groups in Ireland by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) also warns that despite a decline in support for Covid-sceptic groups over time, there has been “a notable shift towards violence” in the rhetoric espoused at some events.

The report profiles some of the main players in Ireland’s anti-lockdown movement, including far-right political parties, conspiracy theorists and New Age and holistic health groups.

According to ISD, groups pushing a range of conspiracy theories and misinformation in Ireland were relatively disconnected before the pandemic and their messages rarely made it beyond their own individual communities.

But a desire to push back against Covid-19 restrictions led to the alignment of many of these groups into the anti-lockdown movement.

“New Facebook groups organising protests and spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation about the pandemic gathered tens of thousands of followers, increasing by 90% between July 2020 and February 2021,” the report says.

“Telegram channels emerged pushing similar theories and gathering thousands of members, while individuals who had little influence before the pandemic were able to reach international fame through Facebook and other platforms.”

The report also outlines how, as Irish society opened up in 2021, elements of the anti-lockdown movement have become more extreme in their tactics and rhetoric, resulting in increased Garda protection for politicians and other public officials.

A number of protests have taken place at the homes of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, while several figures have been filmed being accosted by Covid-sceptic individuals in recent months.

ISD says that despite being “a fairly rudderless movement”, the increasing use of intimidating tactics and violent rhetoric by elements of anti-lockdown groups means their potential impact on wider society “should not be underestimated”.

The report further details how the pandemic and a growth in anti-lockdown communities online allowed Ireland’s far-right movement to campaign to a wider audience and gather support for smear campaigns and disinformation campaigns aimed at minorities.

It says that although new groups emerged within the movement that initially tried to distance themselves from far-right elements during 2021, these groups failed to keep extremist rhetoric out of the anti-lockdown movement.

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“The pandemic has successfully pushed theories and ideologies commonly associated with far-right movements into a more mainstream space and the emergence of new influencers has given these theories some credibility among people who had never been exposed to them previously,” the report says.

However, ISD’s Aoife Gallagher explained that anti-lockdown groups do not just appeal to those on the right of the political spectrum.

“It’s really important to know that a lot of people involved in the movement would consider themselves fairly progressive and liberal, especially when it comes to those in New Age, wellness and spirituality communities,” she said.

“The idea that these movements will only pull in people that have right-wing views is wrong, and anyone really could be susceptible to these views no matter what side of the spectrum they sit on.”

Gallagher pointed to education in media and online literacy and the regulation of social media algorithms as potentially being able to assist with the issue of online extremism.

“The root cause of conspiratorial thinking is a huge, huge level of distrust that people have in their institutions, so I think we need to work to restore people’s trust in things like the government, the media and the health service,” she said.

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Stephen McDermott

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