Tens of Thousands of anti-lockdown demonstrators marched through central London on Saturday and again today.
It was billed the “Freedom March” by protesters who assembled at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park from midday, some holding banners backing Donald Trump’s run for presidency in 2024, or supporting the far right conspiracy movement QAnon.
Msm have said the size of the protests in London are far smaller than turnout predicted by organisers but videos from the march suggests otherwise.
Organisers had predicted a huge turnout with one of the main groups, the conspiracy theory proponents Save Our Rights UK, believing
“this could be the biggest march London has ever seen”. It was far from that, but many of those present estimated it was the biggest anti-lockdown event in the UK so far, although the Metropolitan Police did not confirm a figure.
Some protesters appeared keen to share their opinions , one claiming that Covid vaccines were a deadly chemical weapon devised by the government to reduce the UK population.
Others praised the British conspiracy theorist David Icke. Jai Perera, from London, said: “Everything that Icke said 20 years ago has come true – everything! Read one of his books, it’s all there.”
Latest Office for National Statistics data shows just 6% of British adults reported vaccine hesitancy.
Stephen Reicher, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising the government on behavioural science, said that coordinated local initiatives that engaged people on their concerns had cut through.
Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews, said: “There are huge numbers of local initiatives, GPs phoning , knocking on people’s doors.
“The key issue is that you’ve got to respect people, listen to people and give them a voice, and make clear you have trustworthy
Yesterday, stadiums, shopping centres and theatres were among hundreds of walk-in vaccination sites which opened across England to boost the number of people getting jabbed.
Nearly 44 million people in the UK have received at least one dose – 83.3% of the adult population – with 32 million – 60.9% – having had two doses.
Meanwhile the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which monitors global anti-vaccine groups, said the UK’s movement remained small compared with other European countries and the US. Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the group, said
“The rate of growth of homegrown misinformation super spreaders is far outstripped by the rate of expansion of the US anti-vax industry.”
However, Ahmed, a member of the UK government’s counter-disinformation policy forum, added: “We would be naive to forget the fact that misinformation respects no borders, and our own research shows US anti-vaxxers have found a receptive audience here in the UK.”
Others point out the relative modest size of some of the main groups.
Save Our Rights UK has less than 10,000 subscribers on Telegram compared with the far right former leader of the anti-Muslim English Defence League Tommy Robinson who has more than 105,000.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Tech against Terrorism, an initiative supported by the UN counter-terrorism executive directorate, predicted that the momentum of the UK anti-lockdown demonstrators would be likely to fade when restrictions are lifted as expected next month.
“Resistance to lockdown measures will likely dissipate as restrictions are lifted,” they said. However, they warned that the anti-vax movement would keep on attempting to exploit any uncertainty saying that some groups recently claimed – falsely – that Danish footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed during a Euro 2020 match due to a reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine.
With every development in the vaccine rollout – whether that’s booster drives or restrictions on the unvaccinated – we can expect a corresponding spike in anti-vaxxer activity, both online and offline,” they added.Among the thousands who marched through central London, one of the primary conspiracy theories was that Covid vaccines are deliberately deadly.
Video captured featured speakers, such as former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said, “I’m here proud to stand alongside you, teachers and educational campaigners, who bring hope to our children,” praising their work throughout the pandemic.
Nine protesters have been arrested during demonstrations across London, the Met Police said.
Anti-lockdown and climate change demonstrations took place on Saturday in Westminster, Lambeth and Southwark alongside some smaller protests.
Police arrested three people during Saturday’s protests.
Five Extinction Rebellion protesters were detained after manure was dumped outside the Daily Mail’s London headquarters on Sunday.
Four of the five were also held on suspicion of causing criminal damage.
A sixth person was arrested after police said a 54-year-old man attempted to dump manure from a truck near Buckingham Palace.
The man was held on suspicion of dangerous driving, while all six have been detained under section 148 of the Highways Act and remain in custody.
The significant majority of those protesting engaged in a positive manner with our officers,” Ch Supt Karen Findlay said.
“We did experience small pockets of antisocial behaviour in Whitehall which involved missiles being thrown at officers, but these were dealt with quickly and effectively.
“I am grateful to the command team, all our officers and those who attended to protest in central London for achieving a positive outcome.”
The Metropolitan Police arrested 12 people in raids in three areas of the capital on Friday and confiscated items linked to the protests.