Inside the White Rose: the extremist groups looking to capitalise on Covid paranoia,Michael Marshall,The Skeptic

In my previous articles in this series, I introduced the White Rose movement, and how their guerrilla campaign of Covid conspiracy graffiti led members of the public into an online ecosystem of pandemic paranoia, in the shape of a busy network of overlapping Telegram groups. So while I initially joined The White Rose group, I soon found myself automatically added to a number of channels, and directly invited to join others. Meanwhile, members of all of these groups are continuously exposed to other channels as users cross-post content, each forwarded message containing several links to the original channel, should the curious be keen for more. It seems highly unlikely that any user sticks with just one Covid conspiracy channel; once you’ve dipped a toe, whether organically or by design, you’re encouraged into the deep end.

It‘s easy to see how an alternative information network such as this can lead people astray very quickly. For example, the FDA in America recently had to warn people not to take the horse dewormer ivermectin as a (non-effective) Covid treatment, warning Twitter followers “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” It’s a message many in the White Rose groups would do well to heed, given how frequently ivermectin is promoted in the various White Rose-adjacent channels.

One user shared a viral claim that ivermectin had an ‘almost 100%’ success rate in a Japanese case study, commenting that such success makes it as valuable as the (widely debunked) drug hydroxychloroquine:

The problem with drugs like Ivermectin and HCQ, is that they’re cheap and they work really well

Elsewhere, a user appealed for help in understanding how best to take Ivermectin:

Silver: “Quick question do we have any info on ivermectin? I’ve heard Alicia and Cory talk about taking it weekly”
Yeshua: “Darkhorse podcast has all the relevant information along with guest Robert Malone”

Given what we’ve seen from them in the past, it’s perhaps little surprise Dr Heather Heying and her partner Dr Bret Weinstein are recommended so enthusiastically as a source friendly to the Covid conspiracist mindset.

Elsewhere in the White Rose, several users shared a post claiming that Tokyo’s Medical Association Chairman held a live press conference recommending ivermectin to all Covid patients. The forwarded post included a comment from its source channel:

Japan finally ‘officially’ realises that ivermectin is a very cheap useful and effective drug in the treatment of CHY-NA virus

Any White Rose members who liked the video could click through to the original channel, to subscribe for similar content. The video and the associated “CHY-NA” comment came from Tommy Robinson, the far-right former EDL leader who served time for assault and fraud. Tommy’s official channel is cross-posted to the White Rose channel frequently – something which becomes less surprising the more one spends time in the White Rose.

Still, some White Rose followers are a little cautious – when the conversation turned to where best to buy the horse dewormer Covid cure THEY don’t want you to know about, one user in the Glasgow channel gave their fellow conspiracists some sage advice:

Be super careful guys – ivermectin for horses is usually wrapped up with a load of other chemicals (which btw are toxic to dogs) and is dosed or animals that are typically weighting about 500lbs!… I def wouldn’t be taking it in that form… best to get the human consumption stuff imo

Ivermectin is not the only ineffective medical treatment promoted by the White Rose – on multiple occasions Miracle Mineral Supplement (a form of activated sodium chlorite, chemically similar to an industrial bleach) has been recommended by the group’s followers, both under it’s original name and under the name “Chlorine Dioxide Solution”:

Perhaps White Rose followers were keen to promote Miracle Mineral Supplement under it’s alternative names in order to avoid any confusion – such as the time one group member assumed “mms” was an abbreviation for “master freemasons”:

Here the potential for the White Rose to spiral into other health misinformation is clear: users explain that MMS is not just a cure for Covid, but for “cancer and other diseases as well”. Elsewhere, one user explained that the MMS can detoxify the body of vaccine ‘toxins’, which has the effect of reversing autism, because “treating vaccine injury helps heal autism, funny that”.

Health misinformation is rife in the White Rose channel, both organically shared and promoted by members, and via the viral forwarding and cross-posting of content from other channels. One prolific source of cross-posted misinformation is that of notorious pseudoscientist David Avocado Wolfe, whose content appears almost constantly across the White Rose channels. Over the course of one weekend, I saw users sharing posts from Wolfe’s channel of placard-bearing children, news from Canadian protests, memes on the subjects of tyranny and media manipulation, a recipe for making your own “natural Hydroxychloroquine” from grapefruit and lemons, and a priest claiming that Covid was the work of the actual, literal devil. Each of these cross-posts, as ever, came with links to direct people to subscribe to Wolfe’s channel, where they’d get the bogus health information directly from the source.

The conspiracy buffet

It isn’t just health misinformation that thrives in the White Rose Telegram, either – all manner of conspiracy theories find a willing audience. As is so often the case, believers in one non-mainstream belief are more prone to believe in other extreme and irrational ideas, and so it was no surprise to see Telegram channels adjacent to and heavily cross-linked with the White Rose stoking paranoia over chemtrails, and even flirting with Flat Earther beliefs (the latter was certainly no surprise to me, given that one of the more prominent activists in the Covid-denialist movements is also one of the UK’s most recognisable Flat Earthers).

In my local White Rose group, one member shared a lengthy post listing “who exactly FUNDS the CDC” – the US Centre for Disease Control clearly exerting quite the influence here on Merseyside. The post claimed the list of 78 organisations (a list eclectic enough to include Hilton Hotels, Oxford University, Eventbrite and Mailchimp) ‘have played a role in the pandemic’ and benefitted from the pandemic, alleging a conflict of interest.

It’s unclear if the person who posted it actually visited the link, which merely lists any organisation or group that has supported the CDC – including, for example, “Cumberland Elementary School 4th Grade Class”. If this really is the smoking gun list of who pulls the CDC’s strings, we presumably need to start holding a group of Californian 9-year-olds accountable.

It’s notable that the post fails to mention the dozens of churches and religious organisations on the list – perhaps that wouldn’t fit quite so well with the picture the original poster, “Q Tuber Digital Soldier” intended to paint, given the conservative Christian nature of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The post ends with links to channels dedicated to GESARA and NESARA conspiracy theories (covered in depth previously for The Skeptic by Thiago Vahia Malliagros), as well as links to the QAnon channels “exposthePedos” (sic) and – ominously – “tribunalsandexecutions”. I decided against taking up the invitation to join those channels.

Common Law and Sovereign Citizens

Underpinning much of the conspiracy language across the White Rose channels are allusions to the need to live under common law, to stop paying taxes, and to stand up to the cabal behind the fake government. To seasoned conspiracy researchers, this is Sovereign Citizen language – the false belief that the government is nothing but a corporation that you can opt out of, if you say the right words in the right order, avoid acknowledging the name on your birth certificate, and refuse to recognise the authority of the courts.

It is the Sovereign Citizen (aka Freemen on the Land) belief that saw businesses attempt to exempt themselves from Covid safety measures by posting excerpts from the Magna Carta in their windows, and in a disturbing development the same belief led to a group attempting to seize Edinburgh castle last month and a library last week.

Far from being a fringe outlier in the White Rose movement, this fundamental conspiracist misunderstanding of the legal system seems central to how the White Rose see themselves. Take, for example, the principles in their mission statement:

We Advocate:

– Natural law, according to which all people—by virtue of being born—are endowed with inalienable ‘natural rights’, conferred not by act of legislation (as with ‘legal rights’) but by “God, nature, or reason.”
– Individual sovereignty/self-ownership
– the natural right of every person to be the exclusive controller of one’s own body and life.
– Bodily autonomy
– the natural right of all human beings to self-determination over their own bodies.
– Freedom of movement.
– Freedom of assembly.
– Freedom of speech.

This is the language of the Sovereign Citizen movement, though it’s notable that their commitment to the natural rights of ‘bodily autonomy’ and ‘self-determination over one’s own body’ finds a limit as soon as the conversation turns to gay and trans rights (examples are too numerous to include as part of this aside, but involve the usual homophobic and transphobic myths).

It’s hard, of course, to estimate how many members of these groups take Freemen of the Land ideas seriously (or, at least, seriously enough to put them into action), but members brag to one another about how they have begun to refuse to pay taxes:

Curiously, the same members posted some time later to complain of unusual occurrences in the financial world, and to prophesise a major shake up of the banking system, because their bank had begun to ask them more in-depth questions.

An outside observer might speculate on the causal link between a decision to stop paying taxes and a bank’s sudden interest in asking tricky questions about one’s finances.

Cross-post radicalisation

While much of the content in the White Rose Telegram group and its adjacent groups spreads organically, it’s clear that there are groups eagerly trying to take advantage of the growing audience and the ease at which users can be added to or subscribed to new channels. Content from pseudoscience and conspiracy figures like Kate Shemirani and David Avocado Wolfe is cross-posted regularly, occasionally by the official channel themselves. Meanwhile, content from far-right figures like Tommy Robinson routinely appears – often tailored for a Covid conspiracist reader, in an attempt to engage the audience on a topic they’re interested in, inviting them to subscribe to the main channel and its far clearer Islamophobic, antisemitic and far right content.

The clearest illustration of this overt attempt to fish for new users to radicalise came soon after I joined my local White Rose group – within days I encountered a video of a blonde American lady spreading misinformation about Covid vaccines, with a caption which alluded to the debunked notion of vaccine shedding:

The post ended with a link to the source group – a channel called (at the time) “Calling A Spade A Spade”. Adding an extra link to the group at the end of the post was a clear indication of an attempt to get users to visit and subscribe to this new channel, in order to get its content delivered directly, with a notification every time a new post appeared. But when I clicked through to this new channel for the first time, the posts I was greeted with were something quite different to Covid conspiracy content:

This was overt white supremacist material, with its talk of “White beauties” who “love their own race” and its dire warnings that diversity will be the “destruction and death of everything white”. This is the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, delivered to anyone who might have taken an interest in a video about the alleged dangers of the Covid vaccine.

This new channel – at the time “Calling A Spade A Spade”, since renamed to the more Q-friendly, less racially-slurry “Are We Being Played?” – had 4,556 subscribers when I first joined it; at the time of writing, that figure has ballooned to over 20,000. It seems clear that this growth is heavily driven by their strategy of cross-posting to other conspiracy theory channels, and on any given day it is one of the most prolific sources of conspiracy content in the White Rose groups, even when that content is only tangentially related, or (surprisingly often) is just a video of cute animals.

The innocuous content normalises the channel; people become familiar with its name, and perhaps at some point of repeated exposure they eventually decide to subscribe – at which point they’re directly sent overtly racist material, such as this cartoon promoting the idea that uncontrolled mass immigration will deliberately lead to the eradication of white people from Britain:

It isn’t merely racism and Islamophobia that the channel smuggles into the timeline of Covid conspiracists – given that the Great Replacement is also at its heart an antisemitic conspiracy theory (the “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville referred to the idea that a Jewish elite was deliberately trying to use mass migration to eradicate white people), there is no shortage of antisemitic content too. Take, for example, this meme, decrying the supposed most powerful form of racism:

There’s an awful lot to unpack from this one meme – from the use of the stock photo of twin girls to evoke Aryan imagery; to the notion that the people who suffer the worst kind of racism imaginable are white people; to the idea that this heinous racism is so rarely heard of specifically because it is “never mentioned by the mainstream news media” (with the unspoken implication that it is kept out of mainstream news by the people who control the media: Jews).  

I’m sure there are members of the White Rose reading this (I know you read my previous two pieces; I hope they offered even a moment’s pause for reflection) who reject the notion that their movement is being co-opted by white supremacists. However, one rarely has to scroll far to find content that is nakedly antisemitic shared in the White Rose channels – indeed, this warning about the shadowy influence of the Rothschild and Rockefeller families appeared on my local White Rose group this evening, created by and explicitly promoting the “Fuck the Nazi World Order” channel:

Clicking through to the source, we see that logo for the “Fuck the Nazi World Order” channel is a swastika, while one of the most recent posts to the channel lists with photographs all of the Jewish people among President Biden’s cabinet nominees, just in case anyone finds it useful to have a list of prominent Jewish people who are ‘part of the the Nazi World Order’.

Meanwhile conversation on the main White Rose channel included a request for a new sticker which explicitly accuses Jewish people of profiting from the (in the minds of the White Rose, deadly) Covid vaccines and of being complicit in the slaughter of 30 million Russians during Stalin’s government:

The race or religious identities of anyone else in Stalin’s government or anyone else involved in vaccine manufacturing notably seem to attract far less attention and interest.

At the same time, Are We All Being Played were posting “the Raw truth about the Khazarians/Jews”, explicitly calling Jewish people parasites, and blaming them for the fall of western civilization – language we hoped we’d heard the last of almost eighty years ago.

Note how those images tag in another channel, “Dismantling the Cabal” – a channel which now has over 78,000 subscribers, where the Calling A Spade A Spade / Are We Being Played channel feel comfortable posting far more explicit calls for racial violence.

Elsewhere the channel has posted overt Christian Nationalist iconography – overlaid with QAnon slogans – and explained that white nationalists are simply god-loving family men who love to fish.

In the months that I have been part of the White Rose Telegram group, no effort has ever been made to curtail the cross-posting from channels like this, which exist to spread antisemitic and racist content. The only times I’ve witnessed anyone sanctioned for using racist language was when a moderator gave someone a warning for using a racist insult – namely, the word “Gammon”:

Antisemitism and holocaust denial in The White Rose

It may not be a coincidence that Tony’s name rearranges to 14 and 88 – both numbers with White Supremacist inferences

The irony of such antisemitic content regularly appearing in a group which took its name from an organisation that stood up to the Nazis isn’t fully lost on members of the White Rose, but some resolve that dissonance by rewriting history and reframing what the original White Rose stood for:

Genocide of the Jews? Even if you believe that, the White Rose were all done by 1943 and the alleged genocide didn’t even begin until a year later… they weren’t opposing genocide, they were opposing identity politics and the Jews who own us today thank them for their service, I assure you.

Rather than reflect on why the White Rose were “all done by 1943” (founding members Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed by the Gestapo that February), or push back against the clear denial of the holocaust as “alleged genocide” here, some members of the modern-day White Rose actually welcomed this perspective:

I think Tony is a breath of fresh air in the group. Was getting too stuffy and insular. You need people to shake you out of your trance. The portrayal of Hitler is heavily politicised by Western media.

Heaven forfend anyone overly politicise the memory of Adolf Hitler. Clearly this kind of discussion is not uncommon for the White Rose, as a group moderator interjected at this point to bring calm to proceedings:

Let’s not get into another holocaust debate people, please! We’re here to resist government tyranny.

When I last checked, the member who complained of the unfair politicisation of Adolf Hitler’s memory is still a member of the White Rose group. If White Rose members have made it this far into this article, I’d urge you to consider why your group not only attracts so many holocaust deniers, but seemingly welcomes them.

Meanwhile, the effects of the steady trickle of this conspiracist content is that people continue to be further radicalised, as is evidenced by repeated references to the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, often under its alternate name, The Kalergi Plan:

(Later this month, The Skeptic will be publishing an article explaining what the Kalergi Plan conspiracy is and where it comes from.)

There are too many examples to list of this kind of explicit or implicit antisemitism shared in the White Rose Telegram channel and the channels that regularly cross-post with them, seemingly without raising any alarm bells among the regular members of the White Rose, but I’d like to highlight one more, as I believe there is value in unpicking it:

The Jews Didn’t Just Declare War On Germany… They are declaring war on the entire white race.

This meme attributes the following quote to Nahum Rabinovitch, said to be “an influential anti-white Jewish-Canadian Rabbi”.

The white woman must cohabit with members of the dark races, white men with black women. This the white race will disappear, for mixing the dark with white means the end of the white men, and our most dangerous enemy will become only a memory

Crucially, this quote was never said by Nahum Rabinovitch, who died in 2020 and who would almost certainly have objected to having been described as ‘anti-white’. The words are usually attributed to a different Rabbi, Emmanuel Rabinovitch, who is alleged to have said it in 1952, in a speech called ‘Our Race Will Rule Undisputed Over The World’. It is a speech that, it shouldn’t shock you to hear, did not take place – instead, the speech and the story behind it is a work of antisemitic propaganda invented by Eustace Mullins, an American white supremacist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist and holocaust denier.

This is a well-known and thoroughly debunked piece of antisemitic white supremacist propaganda, being shared as if it were true, and even then misattributed to a real person in order to anchor that hatred to someone real. To which the response from a group member is (corrected for readability):

Fuck them. They committed the holocaust on their own… if you choose to be sheep, then you will be led to the slaughter by the Jews

This vile antisemitism was posted in a channel which regularly appeared in the feed of the “let’s oppose the lockdown” group putting stickers on lampposts round the corner from my house. This was the water in which those racist and antisemitic conspiracy theorists felt well-positioned to be regularly fishing for new recruits.

A member of the White Rose writes: “When your government is trying to kill you, the best way to stop them is to kill them first… this can’t be done peacefully”

This, for me, is the truly worrying thing about the White Rose. People who are confused, worried, scared or stressed about the pandemic and all of its associated uncertainties find those frustrations echoed and amplified – even semi-organically in a mostly grassroots way – by the graffiti they see. That graffiti not only encourages them to join a movement and become activists, but to see themselves as standing up to tyranny. And along the way, they’re encouraged to learn what and who is behind that tyranny: immigrants, people of colour, gay and trans people, and Jewish people. Their Covid activism channel introduces them to white supremacist groups, hate propaganda, and channels which urge them to take a stand to protect their way of life.

It might be that many of the people in these groups will never do anything more than share images online and paste their propaganda to street furniture; it may be that their talk of uprising, and even violence, is just talk. But, unfortunately, it’s always just talk, right until the moment it isn’t – afterwards, it’s a question of why the warning signs were missed, and how we could have prevented something awful from happening.

This is textbook radicalisation, and it is on our very doorsteps. We need to be paying attention.

The post Inside the White Rose: the extremist groups looking to capitalise on Covid paranoia appeared first on The Skeptic.

Seizing on people’s pandemic fears, extremist groups are trying to radicalise White Rose members with health misinformation, holocaust denial, and white supremacist propaganda
The post Inside the White Rose: the extremist groups looking to capitalise on Covid paranoia appeared first on The Skeptic.