Boxpark was the starting point on Saturday for a march organised by QAnon-style conspiracy theorists who bullied members of the public queuing to get their booster jab, attacked a council covid testing stall and intimidated staff in the Whitgift Centre. MARC LISTER reports
Central Croydon was overrun on Saturday by members of what appears to be a covid conspiracy cult intent on spreading chaos and disinformation through the community.
Traffic was blocked, a covid testing stall was vandalised and ordinary members of the public queuing for their vaccines were intimidated and threatened.
In America, the QAnon far-right political movement has grown, encouraged by President Trump, with backing from his supporters, such as Steve Bannon, to the point where in January thousands stormed the Capitol in Washington, stirred up by fake news and shock jocks, in an effort to get the result of the 2020 Presidential election over-turned. Five people died during or following the insurrection. Many were injured, including 138 police officers.
Saturday’s little “Don’t Tek Di Vaccine” demo gave Croydon a small and unpalatable taste of a similar use of mass hysteria to try to overturn established institutions, in this case the NHS and hard-working medics and research scientists.
Possibly most worrying, as the band of around 100 people gathered outside Boxpark next to East Croydon Station, before making their way northwards through the Whitgift Shopping Centre and on towards Streatham, was the near-complete absence of any police presence.
The entire spectacle was streamed live online via a YouTube channel. The channel, run by someone known as “Owen”, has a record of showing conspiratorial content about the activities of the Freemasons.
In the footage, the group passed a stall on North End distributing covid testing kits, with some protesters intent on destroying signs and ripping down the council gazebo. Others abused those staffing the stall, one throwing a handful of their leaflets over their table. Others are seen to hold back the more aggressive members of the group.
Further clips show the protesters then forcing their way past security in the Whitgift Centre, harassing shoppers and retail staff.
The marchers were apparently heading for Brixton. Judging by their own video clips, the march fizzled out in the late afternoon with a couple of barely coherent speeches given on Streatham Common.
But along the way, they harassed dozens of people queuing outside a chemists’ shop on London Road, where they were waiting their turn for a covid booster jab. One woman in the queue did well to stand her ground under such provocation, pointing out the “arrogance” of her abusers, while claiming the vaccine is “wonderful”.
5 security guards try to prevent the mob… pic.twitter.com/GJE6ORVxEK
— Lister (@marclister3k) November 13, 2021
Although a couple of police officers were seen at the start of the march, they quickly disappeared, leaving the protesters’ toxic behaviour against members of the public to go largely unchallenged.
The organiser of the protest appears to be a wannabe rapper called Remeece – real name Edward Freeman. Freeman, a nightclub promoter, was pushing a three-foot tall sound system that blasted out his conspiracy rap, Don’t Tek Di Vaccine on repeat.
The music video for Remeece’s record features Freeman’s associate, Piers Corbyn.
The protesters each took a stack of leaflets from the boxes provided by the organisers, to hand out – or to throw at people – along their way.
In the video clips, one is seen to push a leaflet through a part-opened window of a London black cab. Seconds later, the taxi driver throws the crumpled leaflet back at the marchers.
Marked with Remeece’s branding, with a random approach to the use of CAPITALISATION, the leaflets make many lurid and blatantly untrue claims, and others that descended into the almost comically inane. They include, “Millions of people have become MAGNETIC post-vaccination”, and “Very troubling information for WOMEN on REPRODUCTION SYMPTOMS”.
The leaflets included demonstrably false statistics regarding death rates and injuries caused by the vaccine and the covid virus itself.
Also playing a lead figure at the march, taking charge at various points, was Ashley Bennett, from an organisation called “Official Voice”.
The very unofficial Official Voice have a history of attempting to storm broadcast studios, media offices and government buildings. They have been compared to Mussolini’s Blackshirts, as they try to dress and act in a similar manner.
It took three hours of the march’s slow-moving chaos before two police vans appeared, as much as anything for the officers to supervise the protesters moving through the busy road junctions.
Why Croydon? Similar protests have been taking place all over the country, targeting schools, hospitals and MPs’ home addresses.
The groups are reported to be funded and supported by various far-right groups, and even have links to the Scientologists, who are noted as long-term anti-vaxers.
A music site, “Jam for Freedom”, which promotes Remeece’s work, has received endorsements from Steve Bannon, who has been indicted for his role in the Capitol Hill insurrection and is now subject to FBI questioning.
The movement aims to discredit government institutions and promote a distrust in science. The protests are in effect promoting “herd immunity”, the original position adopted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year, when he claimed on live television “that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population”.
With infection numbers and fatalities from covid-19 on the rise again, while vaccination uptake, particularly in diverse communities such as Croydon, not always as high as the NHS and public health specialists would like, there remains a real danger that Remeece and his far-right mates’ fake news and deliberate misinformation might cost lives.
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