On Saturday I attended one of several Freedom Rallies around the country. In Wellington, the rally was set for midday at the train station. It was a fairly low key affair, with flyers being handed out saying that masks and the vaccine are both ineffective.
There were a stack of placards for people to hold, including some pretty wrong-headed misinformation claiming that vitamin D will stop you getting COVID, the vaccine has killed (opens new window) over a thousand people in the US, and “germ theory (opens new window) is a fallacy”. That last one I have problems getting my head around - the idea that over a hundred years of scientific advances in the field of disease are all wrong. If this were true, and germ theory is not correct, I’m not sure by this point that it would matter too much. The medical technology we’ve built around the theory has been so fruitful in saving millions and millions of lives that it’s been incalculably useful to us even if it’s untrue.
Here’s me holding a coldhearted sign about how many over 70s will die (with out of date numbers), and some of the other signs that I saw:
From what I could tell, the rally appears to have been organised by Mary Byrne, the head of Fluoride Free NZ (and given the recent announcement that the government plan to hand the water fluoridation decision to the Director-General of Health (currently Ashley Bloomfied), I imagine Mary is fairly angry right now that one decision will undo years of her campaigning). This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, I think this shows that once people become invested in conspiracy thinking, it’s likely that they’ll end up believing in multiple conspiracies. Taking Mary as an example, although she’s known for her anti-fluoride stance, she’s also spoken up about other conspiracies in the past - and now appears to be a full on COVID conspiracy theorist.
Secondly, it points to something I’ve been noticing for a while now - that a lot of the noise and effort coming from the conspiracy crowd actually comes from just a few key individuals. Although there are a lot of people around the fringe of conspiracy groups, usually there are a few passionate people who are the driving force. I wonder if it would be possible to target these individuals to help them see how deluded they are, or whether it would just be another game of whack-a-mole and others would pop up as quickly as they disappeared.