by Jackie Howell
COVID-19 presents an opportunity for practically anything – a chance to learn a new hobby, a chance to learn to work remotely, and a chance to reflect. While some have mildly enjoyed the ability to stay at home, these unprecedented times have allowed the far-right to prey on those affected the most by COVID-19. When there is a crisis, the far-right uses this opportunity to their advantage to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories to attract supporters. As COVID-19 disrupted economies globally, it was only a matter of time before the disenfranchised – now with idle time – turned to QAnon and the far-right for comfort.
Across the world, states are witnessing a surge in anti-government protests and a rise in violence. From anti-maskers to protests against lockdowns, those on the fringe have joined the far-right’s movement. Referring to people that follow the rules as “sheep,” far-right populists have managed to spread their anti-liberal, anti-immigrant agendas. As a Japanese Canadian, I am not surprised by the increase in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes. During the beginning of the pandemic, my mother and I were accused of bringing the virus to our hometown. We faced disgusted glances, racial slurs, and the not-so-subtle attempts to give us more than six feet of space – even though neither of us presented with symptoms, we spoke English, and we were wearing masks before the mask mandate. To the disenfranchised, we represented the virus and all of its destruction simply by our physical Asian traits. It is shocking and sad how a pandemic could bring out the worst in people, but these qualities are what the far-right looks for when recruiting supporters.
“COVID-19 has been an intelligence test” (Vice) is quite an ironic statement to make by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers considering the lack of logic in their arguments against lockdowns, vaccines, and the health threat of COVID-19. Often, I see tweets on the low death rate of COVID-19, spurring online movements against lockdowns and masks. In my hometown (Chatham-Kent), protesters from Windsor to even Toronto came to support our local group of anti-maskers. The result? A rise in COVID-19 cases. The rejection of science and evidence is becoming a successful tactic of the far-right to gain supporters on the fringe.
The idea that COVID-19 and the migrant crisis contribute to the elites’ global agenda is absurd and unfounded. This conspiracy theory resonates with QAnon supporters, the far-right, and those on the fringe. When far-right populists present misinformation in a clear consumable manner, the far-right can attract new supporters that may not identify with the political right or those outside of politics. For example, the woman that changed her opinion on Trump after watching YouTube videos and reading social media posts illustrates how the far-right can manipulate logic to gain supporters. As crises continue to occur, the far-right has the opportunity to seek new supporters by blaming a common enemy.
How this TV chef turned COVID truther helped QAnon boom in Germany. (2020, October 23). VICE News, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg&ab_channel=VICENews
Kalmar, I. (2020). Islamophobia and anti-antisemitism: The case of Hungary and the ‘Soros plot.’ Patterns of Prejudice, 54(1-2), 182-198. DOI: 10.1080/0031322X.2019.1705014
Scott, M. (2020, October 23). QAnon goes European. POLITICO. www.politico.eu/article/qanon-europe-coronavirus-protests/