UK Authorities Concerned About Anti-Vaxxer Movement as it Tends To Extremism, Report Says
The coronavirus pandemic has spawned all sorts of conspiracy theories, which in turn have galvanised anti-vaccination movements around the world with protests staged against safety restrictions, obligatory vaccines and COVID-19 passports. Quite often these demonstrations turn violent.
British authorities are concerned about its home-grown anti-vaxxer movement as it has tended towards violent extremism, The Observer
reported, citing a government source. According to the insider, Prime Minister Boris Johnson
is receiving updates from police and counter-terrorism officials about individuals prepared to "undermine national health security".
"It’s a growing concern and it is being monitored at the highest level. No 10 is among those getting reports direct: the PM is seeing them in his inbox. The consensus is that we didn’t win [the disinformation war] as cleanly as we need to do next time," said the Whitehall source.
Among the agencies who have the responsibility of monitoring the anti-vaxxer movement
is the Home Office’s department for security and counter-terrorism and its research, information and communications unit. Other offices assessing the movement’s activity are the counter-extremism analysis and insight programme (CEAI), extremism analysis unit (EAU) and the counter-disinformation unit, which is part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Conveyor Belt to Extremist Groups
Aside from ordinary protests, members of the anti-vaxxer movment have been known to send death threats to schools which host vaccination programmes. Last month they stormed a COVID-19 resting site, which they apparently mistook for a vaccination centre. Videos posted online show demonstrators insulting medical staff, accusing them of "genocide".
One of the most outspoken activists is Piers Corbyn, who has recently been arrested after he encouraged demonstrators to find MPs who voted for COVID-19 safety restrictions, and burn their offices.
One of the groups involved in protests is Alpha Men Assemble (AMA). According to The Observer, which viewed messages by its members on the Telegram messaging app, AMA has offered its followers training in self-defence with "professional men" and told them to buy "black style uniforms". The group, which has 7,000 followers on Telegram, encouraged members to adopt anti-surveillance tactics – telling them to communicate offline or via ham and citizen band radios as well as to use “burner phones”.
AMA also said several former servicemen joined its ranks. "I’m English. Ex RAF. My mission statement was a 'force for good'. I believed in that," read a message on Telegram according to The Observer.
Another anti-vaxxer group Veterans 4 Freedom mentioned violent insurrection in which vaccination centres are targeted, The Observer writes.
"We’re seeing the convergence of anti-vaxxers into other fringe movements," said Imran Ahmed, founding chief executive of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which briefs UK officials on the activities of the anti-vaxxer movement.
Assessment conducted by government departments described the movement as a "conveyor belt" which delivers new recruits to extremist
groups, including racially and ethnically motivated organisations.
Milo Comerford, head of research and policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said governments in Europe and North America are struggling with the growing prominence of a highly ideologically eclectic movements, which emerge at the intersection of COVID-19 conspiracies and extremism.
"Traditional counter-extremism policy paradigms are geared towards threats from organised groups with clear political objectives. However, these loose online conspiracy movements represent a much more 'hybridised' challenge, not just to public safety, but also to rights and democratic institutions," he said.