Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been monitoring the reaction of the far right to the outbreak and seeking to identify the ways in which it attempt to exploit the crisis.
Earlier this week, HOPE not hate published a primer identifying common themes and narratives, and since then we have seen the emergence of further misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the pandemic. We also identified an anti-Muslim misinformation campaign alleging that mosques were still open, in defiance of government advice.
Far-right activists in the UK are increasingly united in their view that globalisation and immigration are to blame for the ongoing pandemic. They are also relishing the opportunity to promote racist stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Chinese people on extreme message boards and channels.
The Hundred Handers white nationalist group has added anti-China stickering to their normal repertoir of white supremacist and antisemitic messaging. It has also put up posters in several locations across the UK with messaging related to the corona virus and open borders. For example, one poster saying that “Open borders spread disease”.
Meanwhile, former UKIP leader Gerard Batten is promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being a Chinese ‘bioweapon’. This is a term that has also taken hold in more extreme elements of the far right, particularly on the messaging app Telegram, where the idea that the Chinese government and Chinese people more broadly are spreading the disease intentionally is widespread.
Antisemite, former British National Party figure and leader of The Patriotic Alternative, Mark Collett, discussed the British population’s response to the lockdown in his weekly YouTube livestream. In the conversation he sees the drive to stock up on goods ahead of the lockdown as evidence that the UK has become a “low trust society” as an effect of immigration and loss of ethnic homogeneity.
5G Conspiracy theories
The supposed connection between the next generation mobile network technology, 5G, and the current pandemic is an idea that has gained hold and continues to spread. The spread of this idea can partially be attributed to the timing of its roll-out, which coincided with the spread of the virus, combined with an always-present fear of new radio technologies. Claims of the health risks of 4G were also relatively wide spread. This has been compounded by the notion that 5G was supposedly introduced in Wuhan around the time that the virus appeared.
Different variations of 5G conspiracy theories have, in the last weeks, begun to spread widely. Britain’s premier conspiracy theorist David Icke proposed that 5G was secretly introduced while “everyone is distracted by [the] coronavirus”.
A video by a supposed former manager at Vodafone based in the UK has also been spread widely. The video alleges that the corona epidemic is actually not a virus epidemic at all. It argues that the disease is actually caused by our immune systems reaction to 5G waves. The video is, however, full of contradictory statements, and seems to have misunderstood fundamental aspects of how the cell phone network works.
Hijacking video meetings
The far-right has always been quick to innovate and make use of available technologies to spread their ideas and use them to attack their opponents. This pandemic is no different. “Zoom bombing” is the new practice of hijacking virtual meetings on the popular video chat app Zoom. It is a form of trolling, aiming at causing outrage, attract attention and simultaneously attacking minorities adapted to a world where most meetings have become virtual.
Security issues and problematic default settings in the Zoom app allow uninvited guests to find ongoing meetings and join them without approval only to then spread racist and generally offensive messages to other guests. As schools and universities have taken to using Zoom for their lessons and lectures it has allowed far-right activists to gain entry to spaces that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to if meetings were held offline.
Zoom bombing is both an issue of trust, students have been known to share invites to Zoom meetings on far-right platforms, as well as an issue of digital security, the far-right has used automated tools to find open meetings on the app as well as find public ones by, for example, synagogues.