Byline Times and The Citizens expose how the far-right has recruited anti-vaxxers to new, hateful causes
Five years ago, Michael Chaves’ social media accounts reflected the life of an ordinary middle-aged man. A former paramedic and divorced father of three, he promoted himself as a DJ and singer, posting Shatneresque covers of popular songs on YouTube and Instagram. If he had any political leanings, they were not expressed.
Last week, Chaves led a group protesting the presence of Drag Queen Story Hour, which is taking place in libraries in various cities across the UK. Bearing placards claiming that drag was “sexualising children” and accusing the police of “protecting a paedophile”, the group angrily expressed a variety of beliefs commonly associated with the far-right.
Chaves vociferously denies any association with the far-right and openly mocks those who refer to him as such. So what causes ostensibly apolitical people to become mouthpieces for extremism?
The Citizens and Byline Times took a deep dive into the conspiracy community to find out.
Somewhere around 2018, Chaves swapped his cover versions for conspiracies. Dedicated to promoting his views on freemasons, 'flat earth' and the New World Order, his social media output ramped up during the pandemic and he became a strong voice in the anti-vaxx movement.
The movement consists of a number of separate groups formed on messaging app Telegram, whose beliefs range from wanting to stop the Government mandating the Coronavirus vaccines (which it has never done) to fears that the vaccines are harmful, cause death and (in some cases) are being funded by Bill Gates to facilitate mind-control and cull the population.
Often banned from expressing these views on social media, many of their arguments are formed around the false narratives of free speech and bodily autonomy.
Chaves’ ‘Mad Mix Conspiracies’ Telegram channel currently has over 17,000 followers, some of whom joined him last summer when he attended the home of Jeremy Vine to “serve him notice” regarding his reporting on the pandemic.
For the past two years, The Citizens have tracked the insidious infiltration of the far-right into the anti-vaxx community.
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The Early Links
The first indication of a far-right presence in the anti-vaxx movement came via links to the Workers of England Union (WEU) which appeared in February 2021.
Run by Robin Tillbrook, a lawyer and leader of the English Democrats Party, the WEU offered legal representation for those whose refusal to vaccinate had cost them their jobs.
Tillbrook himself has a long-standing professional association with the neo-Nazi group Patriotic Alternative (PA), whose leader Mark Collett also jumped on the anti-vaxx bandwagon, with PA posting supportive messages for the movement in almost every group within the anti-vaxx network.
They were ostensibly sharing their vaccine concerns before drip-feeding Islamophobic, homophobic and transphobic views into the conversation.
A 2020 Hope Not Hate report on PA acknowledged the movement as “[providing] leadership... to the young, politically homeless”. The report also noted that “PA attempts to present a more ‘respectable’ public face that belies the extremeness of its actual politics” and that Collett’s aim was to “start packaging what we do in a way that will make it saleable”.
Appearing sympathetic to the anti-vaxx movement is the most recent incarnation of this saleability. Having successfully got a jackboot in the door, they are now free to promote their transphobic agenda to an active army of 'useful idiots', genuinely convinced their children are at risk and oblivious to the lies, manipulation and propaganda.
The anti-trans agenda is the latest in a long line of LGBT hate projected from the far-right, whose ideals stem from a warped interpretation of traditional Christian views.
Pushing the idea that anything other than ‘one man-one woman’ is “degenerate”, they are playing on the fears of the anti-vaxx community – many of whom are already convinced the vaccine is an attempt to harm their children – to suggest that the LGBT community is equally harmful to them.
We encountered the same fears and naivety ourselves when speaking to local anti-vaxx groups.
Having found our local Stand in The Park group – members of which accuse COVID-19 regulations of “stealing our freedom” – advertising the WEU at a punk festival, we asked what they knew about the union and its leaders. After a slightly embarrassed pause, they admitted that they knew nothing, but emphasised that “[the WEU] have done a lot of good for people who lost their jobs”.
Capitalising on a perceived lack of representation is the first page in the far-right playbook and has made it easy for 'news' outlets such as Scum Media to latch onto a ready-made anti-vaxx audience who previously felt ignored by the mainstream press. Having gained their trust, they can then push wider far-right beliefs onto the group.
Run by two former associates of Collett – ex-For Britain member Lucy Brown and former groyper Nick Cotton – Scum spent the majority of the pandemic filming anti-vaxx protests to “give people a voice”.
Both Cotton and Brown have renounced their far-right past, but Cotton still labels himself a “nationalist and a libertarian” and claims there is “no such thing as a trans adult” while wishing he could have been present at the library protests to “[charge] into every one of these events with a camera crew demanding an explanation”. An archived version of their website from early 2020 shows that they were still posting links to far-right groups and white power events.
A New Target
As the pandemic has become less of an issue, trans people have become the far-right’s newest target.
While it’s unlikely the majority of those in conspiracy groups have any personal grievance with the trans community, having become captured by far-right ideology over the vaccines, they are being radicalised into action against the LGBTIQ community.
Brent Lee is a former conspiracist who spoke to us about his 13-year journey into and out of such groups and highlighted the role of political ignorance in their acceptance of the far-right.
Lee said that his initial involvement stemmed from an interest in “fringe ideas'', exacerbated by a lack of political knowledge. He explained that ideas of freemasons controlling the government and creating a New World Order seemed feasible because they were partially verifiable – freemasons did exist and had power within governments.
At the time, his primary concern was “false flags” – a belief that terrorist attacks didn’t really happen and were, instead, false narratives created by the government to hide the mass human sacrifices they were supposedly committing to appease a higher power.
The Sandy Hook shooting changed this and, as he watched the Truther narrative shift from “false flag” to hoax (something which made no sense within his own ideology), Lee began to question other aspects of the movement.
When Lee had joined the community in 2003, he said he saw the Truther movement as progressive, seeking a worldview that would allow them to live in peace, free from the tyrannical rule of governments. Over time, the far-right, he explained, seeking to capitalise on their disenfranchisement, drip-fed retrogressive values into the conspiracy community and changed its direction.
Recent conspiracies such as QAnon and Pizzagate, (which began on US trolling site 4Chan and posited that Trump would save the Western world from an alleged cabal of politicians and actors who supposedly trafficked and ate babies to harvest their adrenochrome) stem from and appeal to the ideals of the far-right.
Many of those in conspiracy and anti-vaxx groups believe they are progressing toward a state of harmony and "saving the children”. Having successfully (in their own eyes) challenged the UK Government’s response to the pandemic and “saved the children” from the vaccine, they are now seeking other ‘truths’ to uncover and other perceived threats to their children’s lives. This is now taking on the form of falsely “revealing” trans people and drag queens to be paedophiles.
Michael Chaves did not respond to a request for comment.
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