This post is an initial rough sketch of looking at the composition of Bermuda’s covid protest movement. It is not meant to be exhaustive and is based solely on my personal observations of this movement. From my perspective, they’re essentially the Bermuda version of the Qanon phenomenon, and they do, after all, share many of the positions of that movement.
All groups – political parties, pressure groups – generally are composed of different factions. They are not necessarily monoliths, even if they are single-issue organisations. They are composed by individuals, but often one can discern certain clear ‘groupings’ within them. Of course, there are often overlaps between groups, and the groups themselves are not necessarily representative of similar or wider groups. For example, not all Christians are part of this group, just that a group of Christians can be identified as a grouping within the wider Qonion movement.
What’s the utility in trying to identify the groupings involved in Qonion? I think it’s important to identify that this group is composed of diverse interests, they come to their criticism of vaccines or public health restrictions from different perspectives and backgrounds, and understanding that helps guide how one might approach representatives of the group, or the group more generally in our socio-political mileux. It’s also useful to see how this cocktail might evolve as they cross-pollinate each other.
I stress this is not exhaustive, but it’s a first rough sketch.
This group is ideological and are opposed and hostile to pretty much any State actions, including the very notion of public health. To them health is completely an individual matter, the survival of the fittest, etc. They view any public health restrictions, such as lockdown, curfews, masks, etc., as a direct threat to their civil liberties. They only see ‘their’ rights and not the wider aspect of rights and responsibilities. They are driven by their ideological position. This group includes what may be described as the Sovereign Citizen movement, slogans of which have been found at various Qonion protests here.
This groups is composed basically of persons who have or are involved in politics. This includes persons who have run as candidates for parliament, who have, or are, serving in the Senate or the House of Assembly, as well as activists for political parties (based on their self-identification during the October 2020 election). While this crosses all parties – I can think of Qonion’ers in both the OBA and the PLP – I think it is fair to say that the FDM is a key component here, both in terms of their official positions articulated by their Leader, and the key role of their second most prominent candidate, Eugene Dean, doubling as a leading spokesperson for the Bermuda Freedom Alliance. Of course politics and ideology overlap greatly (and, indeed, the FDM’s positions in the 2020 election skewed right-wing libertarian), however this group is not necessarily ideologically driven. There can be more cynical political reasons – identifying and cultivating a fertile voter base for future elections; applying pressure internally to effect change within a party, including pushing for a leadership change – which comes along with ‘spoils of war’ in terms of Cabinet positions and other positions of patronage at your disposal.
Okay, I totally made up that name. It’s based, however, on the concept of ‘ital‘, which derives from Rastafarianism and the concept of vitality, eating naturally and avoiding harmful inputs into the body (such as alcohol, etc.). This is not exclusive to Rastafarianism, and indeed overlaps with the next group to a large degree. I just couldn’t think of a better name for this general group. In general, this group subscribes to the concept that if you eat right and avoid unhealthy foods (in general, processed food, sugar, meat) as well as ‘unnatural’ products, such as processed drugs and medicine (so, aspirins, vaccines, etc.) the body will be fine. Their reaction to the pandemic is to oppose vaccines (processed and unnatural) and advocate healthy eating and exercise; nothing else is needed. In as much as the Rastafarians were a persecuted group in Bermuda and the Caribbean (and many would argue continue to be so), and in as much as there is a strong Rastafarian current in this grouping (but not necessarily), there is also a ‘healthy’ suspicion of authority in this group.
This is a bit of a mixed group, but in general it includes what I would generally call yoga enthusiasts and crystal crusaders. They share a lot of the perspectives on Italism (above) in terms of healthy living, just they add in enthusiasm for yoga and the healing powers of crystals. This group often holds a degree of suspicion of ‘Western’ medicine and an advocacy for ‘Eastern’ medical traditions, including Ayuvedicism, Chinese medicine, Japanese (Reiki) medicine, Hadith/Prohpetic medicine, herbal medicine and various (it’s a large continent) traditional African medicine and Caribbean folk medicine. Alternative medicine in general.
Okay, I’ve made that term up as well. I’m using it as short-hand for persons prone to conspiracy theories in general, not necessarily those who subscribe to the beliefs of David Icke (though there are quite a lot of them in Bermuda). These people are always talking about this or that conspiracy theory, be it the Illuminati, the Freemasons, reptilians, Davos, Bill Gates, 5G or whatever the latest conspiracy is. Often they hold more than one conspiracy to be true, or blend them all into one single one – covid-19 is currently providing quite a unifying theme in that regards.
Save the Children! Just Stop the Bully!
This is an interesting group. Basically, they believe that there is a conspiracy to abuse children by elites. This takes different forms, but from what I can tell, in Bermuda’s Qonion’s, the current takes the form of seeing masking, social distancing, remote learning and vaccine availability for minors as a form of child abuse; in our local Qonion protests you’ll see it manifesting as ‘Just Stop The Bully’ signs, which is a group that seems active between Bermuda and Barbados for some reason. It’s possible that this current is also behind the new Us For Them Bermuda group that recently formed to protest against children being required to wear masks as part of public health measures in schools.
Again, this isn’t just Christians – there are Muslims and other faith groups represented in this group. Just, in Bermuda, the Christian variety is dominant and prominent. The basic aspect of this group is that they believe all they need is faith. They don’t need a vaccine or a mask or anything else. Their faith is all they need. At the more extreme end this group believes the pandemic is largely a Satanic or Jewish conspiracy. You can probably guess that there is some overlap in this group with the Ital group and the Ickean group – indeed, a lot of the Ickean conspiracy thinking (especially around Davos) share an undercurrent of traditional anti-semitic tropes. Also to a degree the New Age group in terms of Prophetic/Biblical medicine as distinct to modern medicine – see for example the Jehovah’s Witness medical beliefs. This group is often the ones offering up prayer and calling for a return to a more Christian theocracy – the pandemic being seen as punishment (a biblical plague if you will) for this or that offense, such as marriage equality for example.
The above seem to be the groupings I’ve been able to observe as distinct currents within the Qonion movement.
The movement itself seems rather flexible in structure. The most organised group being the Bermuda Freedom Alliance (part of a global ‘Freedom Alliance‘ network), although, of course, they don’t represent everyone. My impression is that the Political Actors provided the main organisational backbone to the movement. They have experience organising, and also have funding behind them. A lot of the promotional material by, at least the Bermuda Freedom Alliance (such as their ‘Beyond the Pandemic’ video series), but also the Stop The Bully group seem rather professionally done, which indicates the group having some funding backers behind them. This has, of course, led to some seeing the Bermuda Freedom Alliance as a proxy of the FDM. I don’t know if that’s the case, but there are certainly overlaps (ideological and personnel) between the two groups, so it’s easy to see why that question is raised.