(Reading time: 7 mins.)
In an opinion piece in Saturday’s Irish Times, Sean Moncrieff describes a journey on public transport in which he and others were subjected to an anti-masking and Far-Right conspiracy harangue by two other passengers who were not wearing masks. This behaviour typifies the arrogant, overbearing attitude of these Far-Right conspiracy theorists and how opposed they are to the prevalent ethos, especially among working people, of social solidarity.
The incident described is far from being a random isolated one. Up and down the country, anti-maskers have insulted people wearing masks, calling them “muzzled”. Irish Yellow Vester Ben Gilroy was videoed following an elderly man around a supermarket, harassing him for wearing a mask. Some of them, like anti-migrant, anti-masker Alan Sweeney, whose home is in Co. Galway, and a couple from Wexford, have travelled far outside their 5 km. restriction zones to enter shops while refusing to wear masks and then filming the resulting altercation as being alleged struggles for their civil rights. Following an anti-masker rally last year, a group of them entered carriages on the LUAS (the Dublin tram system) and mocked and abused people wearing masks (Sweeney was among those that time too). On a supposed celebration of St. Brigid by anti-maskers in Kildare this February, one was allegedly pulling masks off elderly (naturally!) passers-by. A doctor who returned to Ireland to help fight the virus and gave a thumb-down sign to an anti-mask march in Dublin, was menaced by some participants while many shouted at him “Take off your mask”. Dublin QAnon leader Dolores Webster (‘stage’ name Dee Wall) at a rally in Galway last year was videoed unmasked and deliberately coughing at a counter-protester while laughing about it.
They have even picketed hospitals, as reported in Wexford and in London, while health workers in Wales on social media reported being attacked by anti-maskers. More of that behaviour would have forced the State to close them down, which is probably why we have not seen more of it.
One of the many ironies associated with the Far-Right is that they claim wearing masks creates fear and breaks down solidarity among people, making them more easily manipulated. Meanwhile they go about actually undermining genuine social solidarity wherever they find it.
Social solidarity evolved first among ancient human societies as a way to live to survive in difficult situations. First in the family, then in the tribe, people helped one another in order for the group as a whole to survive. As society developed, even in societies dominated by exploiting classes that had little or no notion of solidarity, aspects of this social solidarity continued: agricultural communities worked in cooperation to get harvests in, to dig and operate irrigation ditches, to maintain various infrastructures. Workers, pitted to compete against one another as individuals or even groups, learned to build common solidarity and developed slogans like “An injury to one is an injury to all!” and “United we stand, divided we fall!” The moral folk tale of the mother (or father) and the sons (or daughters) being likened to sticks, individually vulnerable but unbreakable in a bunch, is known around the world.
During this pandemic, social solidarity has been expressed by cooperation to stop the spread of the virus, for example by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks in shops or among crowds. It has also seen expression in demonstrations of solidarity with front-line service workers, in actions like creating solidarity noise, posts on social media, display of placards and banners inside windows and on balconies. People have helped neighbours with their shopping and delivery needs and in some areas, communities have organised a broader service. The anti-maskers and the fascists among them, naturally, have done none of this, despite claims to be raising money “to feed the homeless” or “for mental health services” at events they used to promote their right-wing anti-masker rhetoric (and quite possibly line their own pockets). In fact the genuine feed-the-homeless voluntary services already in operation prior to the pandemic — due to the crisis of homelessness and lack of adequate services in this state – have continued their voluntary work, risking their health and safety. And though they appeal for donations of food, clothing and sleeping bags, they NEVER ASK FOR MONEY.
FASCISTS AT WORK
In recent developments the unity of the Far-Right in Ireland has fragmented. But in earlier days, the organised fascists in the very small parties and groups encouraged the anti-maskers in order to increase their numbers on protests, to recruit members into their own groups and to prepare some of them for street-fighting against the Left. The largest rallies were convened by the Irish Yellow Vests, led by Islamophobe Glen Miller and the self-promoting “anti-eviction activist” (sic) Ben Gilroy. But they were attended and promoted by a wide range of Far-Right conspiracy theorists, anti-maskers, anti-immigrants and Catholic fundamentalists including QAnon, Gemma O’Doherty, the fascist National Party, Síol na hÉireann and Irish Freedom Party.
After a rally of theirs at Custom House Quay on 22nd August 2020, a spokesperson for the National Party boasted about having organised the rally’s “security operation”; what he was referring to was an attack by at least 50 men, most of them armed with metal bars and clubs disguised as flags, upon an unarmed smaller group of counter-protesters in which one of the latter was knocked unconscious.
WHY ARE THEY ALLOWED TO BEHAVE LIKE THIS?
The above is a question many ask themselves. Although recently there have been a few arrests for contravention of pandemic restrictions and public disorder, in general the anti-maskers have enjoyed a freedom to flout the law to a degree difficult to believe. The QAnon group that rallied for months every Saturday outside the GPO in Dublin had a police presence only to protect them, while around the corner the pickets of sacked Debenham workers were harassed by the Gardaí. On a couple of those Saturdays, people in O’Connell Street picketing in solidarity with a Basque hunger-striker, though masked and maintaing social distancing, were harassed by the State’s political police.
Gemma O’Doherty videoed herself up and down the country denouncing all and sundry while violating pandemic restrictions. Sweeney, as mentioned earlier, has done the same, abusing shop workers providing a service while carrying out their duties under pandemic restrictions. Dolores Webster aka Dee Wall has had herself videoed addressing anti-masking rallies in places as far from Dublin as Galway and Belfast. The Irish Yellow Vests were allowed to flout the restrictions on a number of their rallies and marches until they tried to block Grafton Street and were aggressive to the Gardaí who tried to move them on, whereupon the Far-Rightists were shocked to be on the receiving end of police batons, normally only experienced by genuine protesters about social and economic conditions.
The Far-Right have been allowed to breach pandemic restrictions because their protests do not threaten the status quo. Furthermore, they aim at disrupting social solidarity which is no friend of the ruling class and its governments of various political parties. But there is more to it than that. The QAnon and Far-Right demonstrations in the USA were observed to have police support and police officers were observed opening gates for their recent invasion of the Capitol building in Washington DC (although a police officer was also killed in the invasion). In Ireland, the counter-protesters attacked by armed (and masked – at an anti-mask rally!) fascists at the Irish Yellow Vest rally at Custom House Quay on 22nd August 2020 were not only not arrested but the Gardaí attacked the counter-protesters. A few weeks later, an LGBT campaigner of many years was clubbed to the ground in Kildare Street by a supporter of the National Party after which the Gardaí ordered the woman, blood streaming down her head, to leave the area. On each occasion the Gardaí reported no serious incidents had occurred but following widely-disseminated video on social and mass media of the latter incident they were forced to amend their report and eventually to arrest an individual for the assault.
This is not merely a case of general police and fascist mentality running in parallel — the Gardaí have faced and attacked protesters on the Republican and socialist Left for decades. That is the section of society that is viewed as a potential threat by the ruling class and its State. And when the working people are to be squeezed in future austerity to make them pay for the capitalist crisis, it is those among the Republican and socialist Left that will be mobilising protests in resistance. A fascist and racist movement undermining social solidarity and attacking the genuine opposition must surely be a most welcome phenomenon to the Irish ruling class.
A conspiracy theory? Perhaps – but certainly a more logical one and with a basis in history.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING:
Sean Moncrieff piece in the Irish Times: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/sean-moncrieff-they-re-idiots-leave-it-by-the-time-i-sit-down-again-i-m-speechlessly-angry-1.4471045
Far-Righter Alan Sweeney harassing people wearing masks: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=1577148655909375&story_fbid=2618273678463529
and engineering altercations by entering shops without masks: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/anti-maskers-serve-them-and-get-them-out-as-quickly-as-possible-1.4423654
Doctor who returned to Ireland to help fight the virus intimidated: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40048547.html
Misreporting of the Irish Yellow Vest rally on Custom House Quay in August 2020: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/four-arrested-in-clashes-at-anti-facemask-protest-in-dublin-1.4336794
A more reality-based account of the August Irish Yellow Vest rally: https://rebelbreeze.com/2020/08/31/there-will-be-another-day/
Commemorating those who have died with Covid 19: https://www.irishtimes.com/covid-19-lives-lost