Concern for UK security as anti-vaxxer groups evolve into US-style militias | Security and counter-terrorism in the UK
Counter-terrorism officials and police are increasingly concerned about the trajectory of Britain’s anti-vaxxer movement as it evolves into violent extremism and the formation of American-style militias.
Boris Johnson is among those receiving direct security updates about people out to ‘undermine national health security’.
The most extreme elements of the movement are recruiting and strategizing on the encrypted social media messaging app Telegram, with an anti-vaxxer UK channel calling on ‘men of integrity’ to ‘fight for our children’s future “.
Anti-vaxxers have targeted dozens of schools and recently stormed a Covid testing site. They were led by Britain’s most visible campaigner, Piers Corbyn, who then urged people to burn down the offices of MPs who supported further restrictions.
Health experts warn their false claims have impacted the vaccination programme, with Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, blaming ‘misinformation’ for vaccine hesitancy.
Among the government organizations now mobilized to monitor the anti-vaxx movement are the Interior Ministry’s Office for Security and Counterterrorism (OSCT) and its Research, Information and Communications Unit (Ricu) which covers public security issues, including the fight against terrorism.
The Home Office’s Counter Extremism Analysis and Analysis (CEAI) program is also tasked with documenting the anti-vaxx threat, whose work informs strategic and operational decisions, as does its unit. Extremism Analysis (EAU) and the Counter Disinformation Unit, which is part of the Directorate for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The latest intelligence assessments paint the anti-vaxxer movement as ostensibly a treadmill, supplying new recruits to extremist groups, including racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist organizations.
“It’s a growing concern and it’s being watched at the highest level,” the Whitehall source said. “No 10 is among those who receive the reports directly: the Prime Minister sees them in his inbox. The consensus is that we did not win [the disinformation war] as neatly as we have to do next time.
The main concern is that Britain’s anti-vaxx conspirators are going offline, with Britain’s Alpha Men Assemble (AMA) group organizing military-style training in preparation for what it has called a “war” on the government and its Covid policies.
Recent posts from the WADA’s official Telegram channel, which has 7,000 subscribers, encourage members to adopt anti-surveillance techniques using ‘burning phones’ and advising people to ‘communicate offline’ with radios CB and amateurs.
Other messages seen by the Observer promise supporters that “you will learn self-defense at every AMA meeting” with “professional men” and say “to acquire [sic] a black style uniform”.
Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based think tank that studies extremism, said the AMA has many similarities to US anti-government militias and that it was clear that she hoped to create some type of paramilitary force.
Last Thursday, the leader of an extremist American militia, the Oath Keepers, was charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
The AMA also openly seeks out British veterans, an approach that overlaps with US militia activities. Telegraph messages suggest a number of former servicemen have already joined. One, referencing a scene from the dystopian film The matrix, calls himself a “red pill veteran”. Another says: “I am English. Former RAF. My mission statement was a “force for good”. I believed it. »
Another group, Veterans 4 Freedom, which is believed to have around 200 members, has hosted Telegram conversations referring to a violent insurgency in which vaccination centers are being targeted.
Milo Comerford, Head of Research and Policy at ISD, added: “Governments in Europe and North America are grappling with the growing importance of a set of highly ideologically eclectic movements emerging in the intersection of covid conspiracy and extremism.
“Traditional counter-extremism political paradigms are geared toward threats from organized groups with clear political goals. However, these loose online conspiracy movements represent a much more “hybrid” challenge, not only to public safety, but also to rights and democratic institutions.
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which briefs UK officials on the evolving anti-vaxx threat, said: “We are seeing the convergence of anti-vaxx into other fringe movements.
“They’re adopting what they learned about marketing strategies and communications, when they researched new markets and how to converge their audiences and hybridize their ideologies, the same way the ‘great reset’ replaced QAnon in as a cohesive plot narrative for fringe elements”.
Comerford cited recent data from Prevent, the UK government‘s counter-extremism programme, which reveals that one of the fastest growing extremism challenges in the UK are “mixed, low-level” threats. clear and unstable” (MUU), ideological drivers of extremist violence beyond the traditional categories of far-right and Islamist extremism.
Ahmed added that the prominence of figures such as Piers Corbyn at Britain’s anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown rallies alongside far-right supporters articulated the coming together of traditionally opposing ideologies.
Despite their attempts to quash online coronavirus misinformation, Whitehall officials are appalled that prominent anti-vaxxers are still hosted on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Telegram, reaching nearly 1.5 million people . The most popular use the name of David Icke, a high profile British conspiracy theorist who promotes the false belief that coronavirus is spread via 5G.
Internationally, protests and demonstrations against coronavirus lockdowns, so-called health passports and vaccination mandates have turned violent.
Across Europe, an anti-vaxx ecosystem has sparked real-world violence. In Italy, anti-vaxxers teamed up with far-right gangs to plan a bombing attack. Last month, German police foiled a plot involving violent anti-vaxxer extremists who allegedly targeted a prominent politician.
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.