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How Australia became a flashpoint for the US far-right and anti-vax movement

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But it’s not just Australian protesters who are taking cues from the anti-vaccine movement roiling the US. For the past two years, far-right and anti-vaccine commentators in the US have been spinning elaborate tales of a dystopian pandemic reality unfolding in Australia.

President Donald Trump at a rally in Florida on February 18, 2017.

Source: Getty Images North America


As protesters rallied in Melbourne and the regional Victorian city of Ballarat over the weekend, their US counterparts pointed to Australia as a cautionary tale and spread misinformation about its COVID-19 response under the #Australiahasfallen Twitter hashtag.

One Twitter user shared images of the Howard Springs quarantine centre, claiming it was “Australia’s covid [concentration] camps”.

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“This is exactly why our American forefathers gave us the right to bear arms,” they added.

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‘Alt-right’ political cartoonist Ben Garrison also weighed in, publishing a cartoon of a kangaroo wearing a swastika armband and holding an Australian flag embellished with illustrations of the COVID-19 virus.

As the cartoon kangaroo zipped Australians inside his pouch, he told them he was keeping them “safe”.

“America you must NEVER give up your guns!” Mr Garrison tweeted while sharing the cartoon.

Why is the US far-right and anti-vax movement homing in on Australia?

Ever since the pandemic began, far-right US commentators have looked to Australia as an example of ‘tyrannical’ rule.

Conservative commentator Candace Owens compared Australia’s government to the Taliban and called for US troops on the ground.

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“When do we invade Australia and free an oppressed people who are suffering under a totalitarian regime?” she said on her YouTube channel.

US Senator Ted Cruz was savaged by Norther Territory chief minister Michael Gunner when he claimed the state government’s vaccine mandates were “disgraceful and sad”.

“Vaccination is so important here because we have vulnerable communities and the oldest continuous living culture on the planet to protect,” Mr Gunner responded.

“We don’t need your lectures, mate, you know nothing about us.”

Cam Smith, an independent researcher who focuses on conspiracy theorists and the far-right, said misinformation about Australia has become another front in culture wars within the US.

“Going back to Port Arthur, Australia took this radically different approach to guns and that’s already a major flashpoint in the American culture war,” Mr Smith told SBS News.

“If conservatives can say ‘Australia has fallen’ then it proves everything wrong we did with guns.”

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Anti-vaxxers are also disseminating misinformation about Australia’s COVID-19 response to strengthen their arguments against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions, he said.

“There’s this alternative reality being created,” Mr Smith said.

“We’ve seen conspiracies going around about authorities in the NT forcibly jabbing people, which is so far from the truth but it just gets presented as total fact.”

Kaz Ross, an independent researcher of far-right extremism and conspiracy theories in Australia, said footage of police violence at the heated Melbourne protests earlier this year has gone viral among conservative US commentators.

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“I think in America it’s like, ‘wow, well, they’re our allies and we’re culturally close to them. They’re like our little brothers or little cousins, and oh my God, they’re a police state’,” Dr Ross said.

People participate in the 'freedom rally' protest in Melbourne, Saturday, December 4, 2021.

Source: AAP


How will things play out in Australia ahead of the federal election?

Dr Ross believes Australia will likely see similar culture wars permeate the political climate ahead of the next federal election.

“The ultimate effect of Trump is to say ‘you can’t trust the government, you can’t trust the courts’,” she said. 

“And I think we’re already starting to see that here and people starting to say ‘what if they steal the election?’”

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Dr Ross said while observing the protests in Ballarat last Sunday, she heard protesters discussing electoral fraud.

“I heard people saying ‘how are we going to stop them stealing the Australian election?’,” she said. 

“They were saying things like ‘maybe we should take pens to the polling booth because maybe if we use a pencil, they can change our votes’.”

Dr Ross said there are Australian politicians and members of the anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine movement who are trying to harness the populist policies of Donald Trump.

“Trump becomes a synonym for freedom for an outsider who’s against government corruption, which is just ludicrous,” Dr Ross said.

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“His political strategy was very social media focused. He was prepared to lie, to say any old rubbish and use social media to create anger, division and hatred.”

 

Protesters are seen during a demonstration outside the Victorian State Parliament, in Melbourne, Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Source: AAP Image/Con Chronis


Anti-vaccine mandate activist Monica Smit announced earlier this year that she had joined forces with Craig Kelly, leader of the United Australia Party (UAP) to campaign for the next federal election.

Ms Smit’s partner, prominent anti-lockdown protester Morgan Jonas, has announced he will run as a candidate for Flinders with the UAP. It follows Mr Kelly’s multiple appearances at so-called “freedom” protests in Melbourne and Sydney.

Mr Kelly and chairman of UAP Clive Palmer have shown a keen interest in Mr Trump’s rise and subsequent election defeat, with slogans reminiscent of Mr Trump’s including ‘Make Australia Great Again’ and ‘Save Australia’ appearing on the UAP website.

 

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Dr Ross is concerned that 2022 will be a “bad year” for Australia in terms of US-style culture wars that may take root here. 

“2022 is going to be a bad year because there are the midterm elections in America. And there’s the election here,” she said.

“It’s like a stone falls in the pond of American politics and we get the ripples here.”

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