Canada’s anti-lockdown protests are unique in personality and tone, but these movements across the world face infiltration by far right groups and individuals.
Vancouver's Anti-Lockdown Protestors Give A Big "F*** You" To Healthcare Workers
BC is starting to open up, but these demonstrations will continue
Special to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network
May 27, 2020
Police and security prevent anti-lockdown protestors from confronting healthcare workers outside St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. May 10, 2020. Source: Facebook.
“Let’s go take a pit stop at St. Paul’s so we can talk to the doctors!”
Marco Pietro is a COVID-19 denier. He thinks nobody in Italy has actually died from it, and the deaths that have been recorded are being wrongfully attributed. He also espouses germ theory denialism, thinking COVID-19 and other viruses do not actually spread through physical contact or the air. In a video stream he says “fuck you” to frontline workers who he believes are covering up a giant hoax, saying they are “greedy fucks” and “glory hogs.”
On Sunday May 10th, Pietro and his megaphone led a group of over one hundred anti-lockdown protestors down the streets of Vancouver, paying a visit to St. Paul’s Hospital. The protestors gathered outside the ambulance entryway to yell chants at hospital workers that echoed these conspiracist views, shouting at the workers and security standing outside: “do the right thing,” “let us in,” and “what are you hiding!?” Organizers believed the fact that some nurses were outside at that moment was further evidence that the pandemic was a scam, while participants made other hostile accusations towards the workers.
Pietro is just one co-organizer among several in Vancouver’s anti-lockdown movement. He calls himself a spokesperson and his name is on posters. Yet as abhorrent and ignorant as his views may be, he just represents the tip of the iceberg as to how ugly these protests are.
The anti-lockdown protests in Vancouver, officially known as No More Lockdowns, have been going on for over a month now. Early on, I and others publicized the role neo-Nazi Brian Ruhe had in helping organize them from the beginning, first by using his e-mail list to advertise the event and invite his conspiracy theorist friends, then as part of their “executive committee,” which he has been allowed to remain on despite being a well known neo-Nazi.
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One would hope removing a neo-Nazi from their executive committee would be an easy decision, even for a group as wrong-headed in their mission as this one, but in looking at some of the other members and leaders it becomes easier to see why they are so comfortable with keeping Brian Ruhe on. Bob Wiles, a lead marshal for the protests who helps conduct their marches with the police, and a moderator of the No More Lockdowns Facebook group says in Ruhe’s defence that Hitler “was at least doing the best for his country unlike the current Crime Minister of Canada."
Raoul Taylor van Haastert, another moderator of their Facebook group who is planning a protest against 5G on June 6th, has also espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, denouncing the “Zionist controlled media” and stating that “our WW2 history is such a big lie.”
Another member of the executive committee, Lynn Allard, has also written articles for the white supremacist website Council of European Canadians accusing LGBTQ+ activists of antagonizing the residents of Chilliwack merely by making rainbow crosswalks. In one interview filmed from the protests she praised Hungary’s government, which used the COVID-19 pandemic to grant itself dictatorial powers and immediately revoked transgender rights, as a “leader of freedom in the world.”
As with the anti-lockdown movement in other cities, No More Lockdowns has created an alliance of conspiracy theorists, alternative medicine quacks, and far-right nationalist figures. All believe, to varying degrees, that the COVID-19 pandemic is either wildly exaggerated or a complete hoax made to enrich the pharmaceutical industry, hurt Donald Trump’s electoral chances, or eradicate national sovereignty to build a New World Order global government. Not every person involved in them is far-right, but for as long as they are allowed space, they will be able to network with others and promote their worldviews and material to other participants.
Brian Ruhe is only the easiest example illustrating this problem. In his videos recorded of the protests he can be seen sharing his beliefs that there is a Rothschild-Talmudic-Zionist-Communist conspiracy to control the world and hide the truth about Adolf Hitler, in addition to his views on black crime and other racial topics. He gives out his business card advertising his YouTube and BitChute channels where he has more videos on these themes. In watching several hours worth of video footage from these demonstrations, I have only seen people push back against Ruhe’s beliefs once, to which the main Vancouver organizer Susan Standfield told the people to take up their issue on the Facebook page.
Ruhe is not the only far-right nationalist trying to spread his message at these protests. Some of the most visible are the few Yellow Vest protestors getting involved, one of whom has warnings of “ethnocide” written in marker across the back of his vest. Others are not immediately visible but are still there. In one speech at May 3rd’s rally, Northern Guard member Glen Dumont tried to recruit for the anti-refugee group and the Islamophobic III% militia. Off-camera he can be heard promoting the group’s activities to others, and other protestors have made negative comments about Muslims as well. A couple of other protestors have also made remarks against Asians, going beyond criticisms of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Marco Pietro, who has no known previous association with far-right groups, claimed without evidence that economic assistance for temporary foreign workers was going towards the Chinese military.
Homophobia and transphobia have also come up in No More Lockdowns repeatedly. Several protestors have stated they were opposed to kids receiving education about sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI). Others also mocked notions that people can be outside the gender binary, using it as an example of why scientific and educational authorities are not to be trusted. One has even attacked Melinda Gates by questioning if she is transgender. A popular livestreamer who has been active at these protests is two-time Peoples’ Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, who regularly speaks to participants about her involvement in anti-LGBTQ+ causes.
A somewhat surprising prejudice that is central to the anti-lockdown protestors, inherited from the anti-vaccine movement, is against people with autistic spectrum disorders. Based on the pseudo-scientific belief that vaccinations can cause autism, protestors speak in horror about children with autism as if they are only capable of living a miserable existence and may have been better off getting sick. As autism activists have argued, simply dismissing these views as pseudo-scientific leaves their ableist assumptions unaccounted for. These fears also play into conspiracy theories: that vaccines are being used as a globalist plot to depopulate the human race. One protestor in Edmonton who was fined by police was telling them that vaccines exist to depopulate the white race.
Early on, the protestors in Vancouver were appreciative of police efforts to accommodate them. They expressed gratitude for the Vancouver Police Department escorting them repeatedly, claiming police supplied more for them than they even asked. They believed police were supportive of their message by doing so. They used images of police riding motorcycles beside them as promotional images for their protests. And to a large extent, organizers are still appreciative of the police, saying they will continue to alert them of all their protests in advance.
But this relationship has gone through bumps and is not completely assured. While Vancouver Police were initially more concerned with the few counter-protestors who would come out to oppose them, in recent demonstrations they have had to hold back protestors from harassing people in the street. One protestor in particular, Mak Parhar, a flat earth advocate who refers to the Holocaust as “six million lies,” was said to have been monitored by police during the April 26th protest. Additionally, some blamed police for failing to protect protestors after conspiracy theorist videographer Dan Dicks was allegedly hit in the back of the head with a bottle. Marco Pietro, who at a previous protest rally praised the VPD for several minutes on his livestreams, said he would no longer say anything positive about the VPD after that. However, he thanked the VPD again at a demonstration on May 17th. On Facebook, participants share news and videos of police from Edmonton and Fredericton giving protestors fines or being stopped.
The mistrust some have of police is not just due to a few incidents. Some worry that in a hypothetical future when vaccinations or microchips are mandatory, the police will be on the side of those enforcing them. Many protestors express anti-government ideologies, including pseudo-constitutional theories popular in some “patriot” circles that Canada is not really a sovereign country, or those professed in organized pseudolegal commercial arguments. A lot of protestors support conspiracy theories associated with QAnon, such as that Justin Trudeau is part of a Satanic pedophile cabal that will be taken down in a Trump-endorsed coup d’état. A number of QAnon posters have been seen at these protests, and even some of the co-organizers are believers.
The main Vancouver organizer, Susan Standfield, has tried to emphasize that they want the protests to stay peaceful, telling protestors to ignore any passersby who mock them. But some of the protestors have a hard time listening, and go up to their hecklers anyway, risking the chance of escalations into fights. In livestreams, some women have said they would not bring their children to the protests anymore because of what has happened at past protests. This is an obstacle for Standfield who, using the logic of an advertiser, said she wants their movement to be a movement of mothers. She called off the plans she had for a “children’s march” as a result. Protestors are also getting more hostile to their opponents, putting photos on Facebook of the license plates of drivers who flipped them off.
Standfield and her co-organizers have plans to keep these protests going throughout the summer, calling for a “Summer of Freedom.” even as BC’s provincial government says it plans to open up. As Press Progress has noted, these protests aren’t just about the lockdowns, many of the conspiracy theories they adhere to will remain issues for them as long as the COVID-19 pandemic and possible remedies for it remain in the news. Standfield has acknowledged as much at a previous demonstration, saying “it’s not just about the economy” and that she would help people organize “on any issue that’s important to you, 5G, vaccines, legislation, guns I guess.” For this reason, Standfield is trying to rebrand No More Lockdowns as a “Human Rights Movement.”
Another protestor also expressed displeasure with the protests’ “back to work” rhetoric, saying that would just leave them as slaves. "That's just the only way we can get on their level. They don't see themselves as slaves, so they don't get it. If you tell them to get back to work to make some money, I don't know, do you even care? Probably not," replied Chris Verolli, a conspiracy theorist vlogger and moderator of the No More Lockdowns Facebook group. There is no indication that this is a movement of the economically desperate, protestors regularly mock people who rely on CERB or other programs as sheep becoming reliant on a tyrannical government that will enslave them.
The Vancouver movement has its own unique attributes, but while larger and better organized it is not too different from those in other cities. Free North Patriots, a shady group helping to network and organize anti-lockdown protests across the country, has promoted No More Lockdowns’ protests. Protestors in Vancouver have also partaken in and organized protests in Surrey, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford, and Vancouver organizers say they are in contact with people from other cities as well.
While the previous protests did not continue an earlier pattern of growth that they had hoped for, and hopes that they will reach 1,000 protestors may be unrealistic, they still have plans to look forward to for the summer. No More Lockdowns wants to protest against specific politicians; they previously protested outside Adrian Dix’s constituency office, they’ve said they would like to protest against Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth's house, and at a previous march a participant made note to point out the office of Spencer Chandra Herbert, a Vancouver-West End MLA who previously denounced the protests. Some of their plans are more mundane, but nonetheless ambitious, one of the more noteworthy being Standfield's hopes to do a class action lawsuit against the province for economic damages. The bad combination of scientific illiteracy, bigotry, and strange conspiracy theories may limit the reach of their audience, but nonetheless they will remain a headache for healthcare workers, the groups of people they target, and those of us who just want to keep ourselves and others safe.
Which brings us to last weekend, May 23-24.
Standfield's attempt to turn No More Lockdowns / Human Rights Movement (as it is now officially calling itself) into a movement of moms has not been fruitful. Her most recent rally in Kitsilano Beach, intended to attract more mothers, had the worst turnout they had in weeks, barely reaching over a hundred people. They continued to face a lot of hostility during their march and one male participant nearly got into a fight.
The efforts exposing the role neo-Nazi Brian Ruhe has had in organizing for No More Lockdowns has led to infighting, and impacted their rallies. This demonstrates the effectiveness of exposing these movements and individuals, even while staying indoors. One attendee said on their Facebook group that people he talked to will not attend anymore rallies because of Ruhe. This person was subsequently removed from the Facebook group for speaking out. Other than some postering efforts to expose Ruhe's neo-Nazism by unknown actors, it was mainly anti-fascist researchers on Twitter and organizations like the UBC Students Against Bigotry who were exposing Ruhe's involvement with the demonstrations online. Press Progress was the only media organization to report on Brian Ruhe's involvement, citing my work. The Surrey organizers also asked Ruhe to stop attending their events, although their protests are also on the decline due to their own leadership problems.
No More Lockdowns has another image problem as a result of their hostility to healthcare workers. Marco Pietro has faced some blowback online for insulting frontline healthcare workers and lying that he never made those remarks, even though there’s video evidence. Their protest against St. Paul’s hospital has even caused some division within their ranks. Dan Dicks, whose videos helped popularize the protests, called the action “absolutely deplorable” on his Twitter account and has not been to seen at the subsequent two demonstrations. In recent protests, they have tried to argue that they do not hate healthcare workers, they just want them to “speak out,” that is to promote aspects of their worldview. On Sunday they expressed this by arguing with a doctor they passed by, telling him hydroxychloroquine and zinc were cures for COVID-19, that viruses are not contagious or that COVID-19 testing is not accurate.
During their May 17th protest a man collapsed and they had to call for an ambulance, depending on the very people they call corrupt.
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Editor's note: a video of anti-lockdown demonstrators recording licence plates was provided to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network for fact-checking only and was not intended to be hyperlinked in the article. The hyperlink was removed immediately after being brought to our attention. CAHN apologizes for this mistake.