The hidden agenda of those exploiting Covid19 concerns
Throughout Europe there has been growing frustration at the restrictions associated with Covid-19 coupled with questions regarding the evidential basis for lockdowns and measures such as mask mandates. Mixed messaging from public authorities has heightened these frustrations.
It is thus not surprising that, during the summer and autumn of 2020, people took to the streets in Dublin and other European cities in what are loosely dubbed ‘anti-lockdown’ or ‘anti-mask’ protests. Most of those protesting at larger demonstrations in 2020 have had no hidden agenda. Their aim has simply been to reclaim their normal lives, and they do not believe there is sufficient evidence to justify restrictions which have upended every aspect of our society.
What many ‘anti-mask’ protestors may not realise is that many protest organisers are themselves masking their political allegiances.
While some protests were openly organised by the National Party, which makes no secret of its far-right political orientation, others were organised by Yellow Vest Ireland in collaboration with Health Freedom Ireland.
Yellow Vest Ireland originally came together at the end of 2018, drawing its inspiration from the Gilets Jaunes in France. However, while the French yellow vests formed a heterogenous and spontaneous movement focused on economic justice, and included adherents of a range of parties and none, their Irish imitators located themselves on the far right of the political spectrum almost from the beginning.
In an Irish context, the Far Right Observatory uses the term ‘far right’ to refer to individuals or groupings with an extreme ethno-nationalist outlook, often accompanied by explicit or implicit xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as well as misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. A rejection of social and political diversity is often coupled with a pronounced anti-science perspective and a conspiratorial mindset.
While the Irish Yellow Vest movement was initially ideologically fractured, with leadership figures moving in and out, by the middle of 2019 it had coalesced around two leaders with a far-right outlook: Ben Gilroy and Glenn Miller. The movement adopted themes such as opposition to the UN Compact on Migration and what Yellow Vest Ireland has referred to on social media as the “replacement of the indigenous population”. The so-called ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which originated in France, has been a touchstone for racist and far-right organising, and is pushed by leaders of far right groups in Ireland such as Hermann Kelly. Yellow Vest Ireland also appeared to be supportive of demonstrations against direct provision centres such as in Oughterard in September 2019.
In December 2019 and February 2020, Yellow Vest Ireland were among the organisers of protests outside the Dail against hate speech legislation, billed on their event page as being organised by “The Patriots Movement of Ireland”. In this context they shared videos by the far-right activist Gearoid Murphy who, in a deleted tweet cited by the Irish Times, described his political views as “probably somewhere between libertarianism and national socialism with a touch of Christian ethos”.
While Yellow Vest Ireland claims to be non-political — or ‘neither left nor right’ — the close association between Yellow Vest Ireland and the Irish Freedom Party pre-dates Covid-19 and the associated protests.
Although referred to on Yellow Vest Ireland’s website merely as an ‘anti-eviction activist’, the group’s main spokesperson Ben Gilroy is in fact a former leader of Direct Democracy Ireland, in which capacity he tweeted that he had “limitless time” for those like UKIP leader Nigel Farage. He is currently an active member of the Irish Freedom Party and contested the 2019 European Parliament and 2020 General Election as an IFP candidate.
Gilroy is the de facto spokesperson for Yellow Vest Ireland, but their operational leader appears to be former Defence Forces member Glenn Miller. In addition to his role in Yellow Vest Ireland, Miller is extremely active on social media and at the end of 2019 formed a Facebook Group ‘Irish Lives Matter’ which acts as an echo chamber for Yellow Vest Ireland, along with another group created by YVI and its county groups, United Patriots of Ireland. Miller himself is unabashed about his support for the Irish Freedom Party, and on 20 January 2020 Yellow Vest Ireland posted to the United Patriots of Ireland group in support of both Ben Gilroy and the Irish Freedom Party:
“Great news to hear that Ben Gilroy has now decided to run in the elections with the Irish Freedom Party. If you are looking for genuine change in Government then this is the party to achieve just that. Let’s all help in exposing the corrupted state we now live under and give the Irish Freedom Party your number one vote”. The post included a screengrab of a tweet by IFP leader Hermann Kelly and a photo of Kelly and Gilroy.
As well as Miller and Gilroy, Yellow Vest Ireland’s leaders include Mark Laidlaw, who, ahead of the 2020 General Election, shared a post to the Yellow Vest Ireland Facebook group pointing out that there are “plenty of new patriot parties” to choose from, and that “Yellow Vest Ireland have information on all these new patriot parties”, while stating that he himself would be voting for the Irish Freedom Party.
Yellow Vest Ireland’s connections with Ireland’s far right go beyond the Irish Freedom Party.
In November 2019, referring to a ‘mass sleep-out’ at the GPO to highlight homelessness, Glenn Miller wrote on Yellow Vest Ireland’s Go Fund Me page:
“Thanks to Rowan Croft , Pat Greene, Anna Kavanagh, Dee Wall, Angela Ray, Hermann Kelly and delegates of the Irish Freedom Party and Direct Democracy Ireland who helped to highlight the housing crisis and all those countless Irish Patriots who participated in the event and help in content distribution online”.
As well as representatives of the Irish Freedom Party, Rowan Croft (also known as ‘Grand Torino’) is a regular at Yellow Vest Ireland events. A former British soldier and self-styled ‘citizen journalist’, Croft earns his living from making videos promoting a range of far-right themes. In December 2018, he interviewed two central figures on the far-right scene: the Irish Freedom Party’s Hermann Kelly and Jim Dowson. Dowson is a close associate of Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party, and founded the Britain First movement, which he subsequently left. He has also played a central role in the Christian fundamentalist group Knights Templar International.
Covid-19 provided an unexpected mobilisation bonanza for Ireland’s far right, but they were slow to see its potential. Early on in the pandemic, Yellow Vest Ireland was sharing daily Covid-19 death tolls and exhorting people to limit their exposure to the virus. It was only in July that — along with elements of the far right throughout Europe — Yellow Vest Ireland saw the mobilising potential of Covid-19 and the associated restrictions.
The first ‘Time for Change’ rally took place in Dublin on July 25th, but it was merely a dry run for a much larger rally on August 22nd which was organised in conjunction with the highly vaccine-sceptical group Health Freedom Ireland and featured Irish Freedom Party chair Professor Dolores Cahill as the main speaker. Other speakers included Irish Freedom Party leader Hermann Kelly and Yellow Vest Ireland spokesperson (and Irish Freedom Party candidate) Ben Gilroy.
The protest on August 22nd was also billed as having the support of the German group Querdenken, which has organic links with the German and European far right and has organised a range of anti-lockdown protests in Germany. Further information on the connections between Prof Cahill, Querdenken and the Irish far right is available here.
A subsequent Yellow Vest Ireland protest, on September 12th, featured Niall McConnell of Síol na hÉireann leading a paramilitary-style colour party at the head of the parade. McConnell describes himself as a ‘Revolutionary Irish Catholic Nationalist’, and is associated with the ‘Alliance for Peace and Freedom’, a neo-fascist European grouping whose leaders include former BNP leader Nick Griffin and Florian Stein of the German neo-fascist National Democratic Party. The Alliance for Peace and Freedom has described Síol na hÉireann as the “leading and only serious nationalist party” in Ireland. While it should be noted that Yellow Vest Ireland subsequently claimed they had been ‘duped’ by McConnell, it appears their objection was not to his politics but rather to his inference that he had hosted the protest.
There are legitimate reasons to question the response of the Irish and other governments to the pandemic, and to be concerned about restrictions on all our civil liberties. However, those leading ‘anti-lockdown’ or ‘anti-mask’ agitation — whether on the streets or online– should come clean about their political allegiances and agendas.
They should remove their own masks.