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Beneath Freedom's Skin

John Smith* finds  Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protests harbour old hatreds

A photograph of poorly printed sticker on a public bin with a Star of David and “9/11” marked in the centre of the star, like the bullseye on a target, was a vivid remnant of a violent freedom rally. Beneath this star was a QR code linked to a false and hateful documentary blaming ‘Jewish Elites’ and Zionist Figures for the September 11 attacks. What the public viewed as a movement against the Andrews Government and, at most, a danger to public health, had revealed its vile underpinnings.

Observing these protests from the COVID safe position behind my laptop and protective shelter of Victoria’s stay at home orders, my body still began to tremble under the ferocious Antisemitic howl of such an eclectic swam. Though these protests invited a multitude of individuals who would otherwise fail to find common ground, they were united by a fear that could be understood through antisemitism.

Wearing a black short-sleeve t-shirt, a black hat, and black sunglasses a man with patchy stubble and a smug smile that emphasised the toxicity radiating through the protest holds up a sign with the word “qui??”.

‘Qui’, as in the French word for ‘who’. Given the Protest, in which this sign was identified, occurred over a month after Bastille Day and the company this person was marching with, I can comfortably say that this sign was not an appreciation of the French language and culture, but a nod to the French far-right who use the term ‘who’ as a dog whistle to mean Jews. Like the sticker on the bin, the “Qui??” sign contained a QR code that led to information about how the said “Qui” operate and who this ‘Qui’ is.

‘Who’ pulls the strings?  Who controls what we see? Who is advocating for a one world vaccine microchipped global government?  

The “Qui?” placards were again captured at subsequent protests, including one sign which read “911 Qui?”.

As the protest continued, and armoured police officers continued to tightly clench onto the security of their capsicum spray canisters and riot shields, the ideologically eclectic rabble began to gain momentum, shouting chants that ranged from “freedom!” to “fuck Dan Andrews” to “you can stick your poison vaccine up your ass”. More neo-Nazi stickers were placed on street poles and police cars stating, “white revolution is the only solution”. Vegans, people wearing t-shirts with peace signs, people who, in popular culture, have been associated with non-violence and ‘peace and love’, were sharing the chants with neo-Nazis, populists and Christian fundamentalists.  To me, this exhibited that the ‘peace and love’ advocates were either comfortable and/or agreeing with the antisemitism which pulsate within these protests, like a disease-ridden heart, or were willing to ignore the antisemitic rhetoric as they are just as opposed to the lockdowns and vaccines as the far-right within the protest. Either way, they are complicit in the international rise of antisemitism.

An example of this complicity came from the owner of Brewista Café in Preston. This café emphasises the organic and sustainable nature of their foods, a concept that would traditionally be aligned with the environmentalism of the left. However, this owner attended the August 21st anti-lockdown protest and subsequently posted on Instagram about her pride in attending this protest.

Someone called the owner out for attending this protest, commenting, “Proud to be protesting alongside neo-Nazis?”

To which the owner replied with her personal account, “My enemies (enemy’s) enemy is my friend”.

After watching this protest, and the protests that followed, like a paranoid window watcher, I noticed that the antisemitism within the protests was becoming more widespread and far more overt. The vile rhetoric that was spouted in the protest was being upheld within the group chat that organises the protests through posts about praising Hitler, polls on the validity of the Holocaust, and baseless and hateful theories of Jewish people administrating a genocide against white people.  

So, like a kid Googling themselves or a tired couple seeing a Rabbi for marriage counselling, I decided to go to John Safran to make sense of a situation where solutions were either fading or too hard to see. I sought assistance from a man who calmly and graciously expressed to a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan that he is “whiter than Hitler” after disclosing the fact he is Jewish. 

Separated by a computer screen, I asked Safran, that given his experience following the far-right in Melbourne prior to the pandemic, is it really that shocking that the far-right have attached themselves to this movement?

Safran said, “As soon as (Donald) Trump came in, Trump started talking about the closing down of manufacturing hubs around America, and they (the far-right) took that to Australia and suddenly, like overnight, they (far-right) are no longer mentioning Halal certification or Muslims at all, but they started talking about the working class.”

Safran continued with, “I guess this is happening with this anti-lockdown thing, they (the far- right) see a little opening of something they (the far-right) can say that this is not about racism or neo-Nazism, but a concern about civil liberties or the ingredients in the vaccine.”


I ask Safran whether the comparisons of Victoria’s public health restrictions to the Holocaust was an insidious tactic to further Holocaust denial or distort the memory of the Holocaust.

“You have got the people in charge of these far-right movements who know exactly what they are doing and are total anti-Semites and are trying to cause grievances. And then when it comes to the schmoes who turn up, there is a whole raft of reasons why they’re there. There is definitely undereducated and naive people there. So if a person wears a yellow star and says this is Just like the Holocaust, on the one hand, it is obviously stupid and not true…but I do feel it is different to when right-wing people and left-wing people are intentionally trying to problematise the Jewish community.”

I then asked Safran about certain Mainstream politicians and less radical anti-lockdown groups and figures, who have received a mainstream platform, who use the term ‘globalist’ as a sort of insidious place holder for ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewishness’.

Safran let out a light giggle when he expressed “It is the right-wing version of having plausible deniability”. However, Safran switched to a more serious tone to say “yeah, it is totally dangerous and kind of gets into that space in the greyness where ‘is it becoming antisemitism?’”

Within both the mainstream wing of the anti-lockdown movement and the far-right of the movement, there is this confused school of thought and obsession surrounding George Soros, a Hungarian-Billionaire investor who is at the centre of many contemporary Antisemitic conspiracy theories.

John responded to this Judgement of Soros, “The thing about George Soros and powerful people with lots of money is that I was looking into the war machine, like Lockheed Martin and Boeing and these other weapons companies that make the bullets and the bombs that get dropped on non-white people in the Middle East, and isn’t it interesting that all these people obsessed with George Soros don’t even know the names of the people that run these corporations. No one knows these people’s names, let alone their ethnic backgrounds. No one’s like ‘the goddamn Episcopalians that run Boeing’”.

Safran continued, “isn’t it interesting, how it’s often homed in on some Jewish person, whilst on the other hand, it is not homed in on the ethnic background of these people, who you’d think on a rational and more logical level, would cause more concern than George Soros and who’s lobbying is very influential in government. Somehow, the Episcopalian who runs Boeing, no one knows his name.”

Having put all this information together, I began to feel a sense of deep concern yet a small sense of hope. It was not necessarily a concern for safety, although, that is very real, rather it was a about how Melbourne can remedy the trauma from the precariousness these protests have ignited.

Nonetheless, many people are absolutely repulsed by the ideas of the freedom movement. I realised that the collective struggle against this very vocal minority and the politicians and media figures who nurture them can begin a robust opposition against these freedom/anti-lockdown movements. I have seen this through the actions of local collectives and figures such as Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, Tom Tanuki, The Online Hate Prevention Institute, and the condemnation from workers unions and the general will of people who are choosing to get vaccinated and completely refuse the vile, violent nature of the freedom/anti-lockdown movements.

('John Smith' is a pseudonym adopted to protect the author)*


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