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Threats

Gardaí monitoring safety of Irish politicians amidst resurgence of violent rhetoric online

Gardaí are aware of several people involved in spreading hateful messages and veiled threats.

GARDAÍ ARE CRACKING down on conspiracy theorists who are threatening politicians on social media and investigators are “actively” reviewing the safety of TDs, The Journal has learned.

Officers have recently visited the homes of several well-known figures known to publish videos based on anti-government messaging, including that the Covid pandemic was a hoax.

Some of Ireland’s most outspoken online conspiracy theorists have been in Garda sights for the past year to see whether threats they have made against politicians since the beginning of the pandemic could be considered legitimate.

It’s understood that one prominent individual who has a following online has been visited by gardaí in recent days.

Although the vitriol of anti-Government messaging by conspiracy theorists has become more muted since Covid restrictions were lifted, the emergence of monkeypox as a global health crisis has led to a resurgence in threatening rhetoric from some figures.

The Department of Justice confirmed that security arrangements given to ministers and other people during the pandemic remain “under constant review”.

A spokesman for the department said: “For sound reasons of the safety and security of individuals, it is not the practice of either Minister McEntee or the Department to comment on security arrangements that may be in place.

“Minister McEntee is in regular contact with the Garda Commissioner on such matters – the Garda Authorities keep the protection of certain office holders or other public figures under constant and active review.”

Arrangements were put in place for a number of ministers during the pandemic, after anti-lockdown activists began to protest outside the homes of politicians.

Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris and Stephen Donnelly were three of the most frequently targeted politicians during this period.

As a result of these incidents, stronger Garda security measures were implemented to protect the ministers and the Tánaiste. 

Videos captured during these protests showed groups of people shouting slurs outside the politicians’ homes in what organisers called the “bring it to their door” campaign. 

And the recent spread of monkeypox in Ireland and other countries outside of Africa has now given conspiracy groups a new cause to rally around.

‘Predictable’

Many online conspiracy theorists claim that monkeypox is preparing the ground for more Covid lockdowns, and that Ireland will need to be vaccinated against the virus as happened during the Covid pandemic.

Others have claimed, incorrectly, that outbreaks of monkeypox in Ireland and other countries are due to side-effects from Covid vaccinations. 

A widely shared post on Telegram reads: “It’s looking more and more like monkeypox is a cover story for covid vaccine-induced shingles, autoimmune blisters and herpes.”

The post links to an article which cites no studies or any other source for information.

Aoife Gallagher of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an organisation which studies trends of disinformation and online hate, explains that the weaponising of the monkeypox crisis by online conspiracy theorists was “entirely predictable”. 

She told The Journal that groups are latching on to monkeypox in a way that is nearly identical to what happened during Covid – namely that groups are using it to “coalesce” into a bigger movement to help spread their message more effectively. 

“When monkeypox and the facts about it started to spread, they were almost immediately disregarded as being part of an agenda by some group, that it was the next stage in the ‘plandemic’,” Gallagher said.

“For many, it was another sign of the plan to control our lives through a totalitarian or authoritarian scheme. If it started over in the US, you can be sure the same tactics and claims are going to be made in Ireland also.”

The content of some videos about monkeypox has become so extreme in recent months that gardaí have decided to intervene. On numerous occasions, death threats and threats to the physical safety of elected individuals have been made in the online videos.

Detectives have probed complaints from members of the public regarding the behaviour of these people. 

Most of the videos concerned have been shared on Facebook and Telegram. Some have come directly from personal websites created by conspiracy theorists or the platform Bitchute, which has become a more popular platform for extremists to share their views.

Conspiracy theorists who have been banned from more traditional platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are uploading their content to Bitchute more frequently, as they can do so freely without it being taken down.

Garda teams continue to analyse materials sent to officers. Dedicated teams have also been formed to covertly track some of those posting material that is deemed threatening to politicians.

While the rhetoric around Covid has dissipated since the reopening of the country, there is now a growing cohort of people who have said they would resist, with force, any restrictions imposed by the growing monkeypox problem.

The HSE last week announced that some people who are at high risk of contracting monkeypox will be offered a vaccine against the disease in the next few weeks. There has never been any mention of any lockdown or potential lockdown.

Undercover garda units were deployed earlier this year to investigate the threats from online conspiracy theorists.

The Journal understands that while this operation has been scaled back, there is still a “significant” garda presence keeping tabs on people who have made threats to Government online and in person. 

Garda reviews into the safety of TDs and Ministers is ongoing.