Covid-19, Conspiracies, and the Growing Appeal of the Far-Right in Western Europe

Written by Emma Bronsema

Sign translates to”Stop Corona Madness”

The far-right is becoming more attractive during the pandemic. This is being achieved through the spreading conspiracy theories and participating in the rallies and anti-lockdown protests. Since the start of the pandemic, quarantine regimes have seen an increase in mobilization of right-wing extremists, whose ideologies have been gaining traction through the use of alternative media outlets, the spread of Covid conspiracies, and anti-lockdown protests.

How they are spreading their message

Right-wing messages are often shared through social media platforms. These platforms, full of targeted propaganda, are used to connect and gather people together, as well as to advertise and disperse misleading information. They send out messages and conspiracy theories that play on the uncertainty of the pandemic, and people’s fears and insecurities.

The far-right often uses “alternative media” outlets for their publications, in order to distance themselves from established, elite, and political media. The alternative media uses the same facts but interlace their reports with speculation and suggestions of things that could be true. This includes claims that the virus was lab-created and is not as dangerous as other media outlets would like the public to believe. The mistruths they tell are often subtle and seemingly harmless.

There are also connections made between alternative media with other platforms – including Facebook and Youtube – to gain the perception of credibility and attract a dedicated following. Credibility is also obtained when public figures, such as celebrities, play into the conspiracy theories.

An attractive option for people

As the pandemic ensues and people are under strict rules – as vitally important as the guidelines are – people are continuing to lose faith in the government; especially business owners and workers who are financially and mentally suffering due to the prolonged lock-downs and enforced curfews. Other people are finding the restrictions oppressive and an inhibitor of their normal lives that they desperately long to go back to. People are upset and the far-right preys on this, with the desire to cultivate hatred and mistrust amongst people’s views of the democratic system and its political leaders.

Covid protest in Lepzig Germany

Making themselves visible

Within the last year, especially the last few months, neo-Nazis, QAnon, and other right-wing extremist groups, are participating in anti-Covid restriction protests. The riots that have ensued provide a way for “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild.”

The extremist groups who are encouraging, hijacking, and establishing protests are able to use violence as a way to promote their ideology and gain media attention. They portray themselves as activists that are hands-on and are involved with and act for the people; they refuse to step down, instead they fight for what they believe in. This was shown during the protests in Vienna where Neo-Nazi militants “refused to disband and blocked traffic.”

The European demonstrators encouraged breaking rules – including businesses, saying that they should open “in the spirit of civil disobedience.” However, this is ironic, far-right demonstrators encouraging businesses such as restaurants to break the rules. They want to gain favour of the public but if they are encouraging people to break the rules, how do they expect a committed following of people who will listen to them and comply with their rules and desires for the country.

Historical Imagery and Comparisons

Aside from social media platforms and violence, the far-right extremists use symbols and specific imagery to get attention and spread their ideology. In Belgium, like many European countries, the government is advising mass vaccinations in order to lift lockdown measures. In opposition of this, however, the far-right “used an image of Auschwitz in its campaign against public health measures and vaccinations.” The repurposing and editing of an Auschwitz image was used as a symbol of government control in a time when it was advertised that the government knew what they were doing. Using historical imagery, in combination with social media, accelerates their message and gains them a mass following. Other brandished images are a nod to the Reichsbürger movement – a movement that “rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state.”

campaign poster with drawing of entrance to Auschwitz
The Belgian anti-vaccine add

Lastly, the anti-lockdown riot in Berlin saw comparisons to the Reichstag fire in 1933 – that was used as a way to consolidate power and target communities, allowing the Nazi regime to rise in Germany. Decades later, the right-wing extremists took over the riots in order to storm the Reichstags (government) building. This is important to note as they want to overthrow the current democracy system in favour of a far-right regime, and are using Covid-19 as means to an end.

While right-wing extremists are actively participating in riots, they are attracting large numbers of people with their ideologies. They spread conspiracies and prey upon people’s fears that are a result of tensions with the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the response and measures put in place by the government.

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