Lockdown, vaccines, Bill Gates and migrants are all the targets of conspiracy theories this week.

In our seventh COVID-19 and the far right round up, we take a look at another round of small anti-lockdown protests, how anti-vaccine and anti-science conspiracy theories are increasingly being pushed by some prominent figures on the far right, and how alarmist rhetoric about a supposed “invasion” of migrants during lockdown is gathering pace.

Lockdown protests

Hyde Park saw the largest anti-lockdown protest to date on 16th of May, but with attendance of around 100 it was still poorly attended given the publicity it received, with articles highlighting the plans in the Daily Mail among others and much shared flyers on social media. Breitbart London’s James Delingpole, Piers Corbyn (who was arrested) and former UKIP and For Britain activist Jeff Wyatt were in attendance. Protests in other cities were also poorly attended, with many of the suggested locations failing to attract a single protestor.

As with the protests the previous weekend, many of those who did turn up appeared to be motivated by conspiracy theories about the nature of the virus, the proposed vaccine and tracing apps and the motivations of governments in instituting the lockdown. There was little evidence of attendance by the traditional far right, though one journalist in attendance mentioned that they recognised various figures from pro-Brexit protests in Parliament Square.

Hostility to vaccines – and Bill Gates

Prominent figures on the British far right are increasingly declaring their unwillingness to accept a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available. There is also increasing hostility being directed towards Bill Gates, whose philanthropic efforts to discover a vaccine have made him a target of anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists.

Former UKIP leader Gerard Batten has tweeted abuse against Bill Gates fifteen times in the past few weeks, suggesting that he plans to profit financially from the vaccine and accusing him of belonging to a “rotten, corrupt international elite”. The increasingly conspiracy-minded Nick Griffin, has accused Gates of wanting to “chip n pin vaccinate your kids”, and shared an image of the poster for the ‘Kill Bill’ movie.

Ex-deputy leader of Britain First Jayda Fransen, who was wrongly accused of organising the lockdown protests last Saturday, has nonetheless demonstrated her opposition to some lockdown measures, and also declared that she will not accept a vaccine. The ex-UKIP Greater London Assembly member and independent mayoral candidate David Kurten has also declared his refusal to accept the tracing app, coronavirus vaccine, a mask or a microchip implant, the latter point a popular theory among proponents of the New World Order conspiracy theory. He explained his thinking by stating that “science has been thoroughly commercialised, politicised and corrupted”, and that scientists working for corporations, NGOs or foundations could not be trusted.

Migrant boats

Nigel Farage has continued his campaign to highlight the arrival of migrant boats on the south coast, this time travelling out by boat himself to record their arrival. Farage, Leave.EU and Katie Hopkins have repeatedly referred to these small boats of unarmed asylum seekers as “an invasion”, despite Hopkins’ previously stated objection to the use of the term “frontline” to refer to NHS staff on the basis that they’re not at war.

This increasingly alarmist rhetoric is not supported by any meaningful data, however. While there has been a notable increase in Channel crossings by boat recently, Farage has not provided any evidence that the overall number of undocumented migrants arriving is higher than usual during the pandemic. Given that alternative routes into the country like flights and regular channel crossings have been dramatically reduced recently, it seems likely that illegal migration has actually reduced in recent months.

Farage argues that the boats intercepted by the coast guard or on landing represent only a small fraction of the actual arrivals, but again he has not provided any supporting evidence beyond anecdotal evidence; the videos he has posted have all shown migrants being received by officials, rather than disembarking and escaping unchallenged. Given the ubiquity of camera phones, it is unclear why none of the people who have informed him about additional unregistered landings have provided recorded evidence.