Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories and Radical Right Libertarians

Featured

Covid-19 restrictions have seen a rise in those viewing any measures e.g. wearing face masks, lock downs etc. as unnecessary, not supported by their view of ‘science’ and constraining their democratic rights.  However, while many of those who support this view have no expertise in medical science, nor data, they seem to be inadvertently suggesting a deep seated radical right libertarian movement, masquerading as ‘common sense’ or scepticism that favours the business or the economy over society or humanity.  

 

Whether they are anti-maskers, sovereign citizens, conspiracy theorists, climate science denialists, QAnon or white nationalist alt right, the common underlying denominator and outcome is both promotion of libertarian views or actions, disrupting the status quo (upturning the sensible centre consensus giving way to radical right ideas aka Brexit and Trump), denigration of both science and education, and dismissal of duty of care, especially of vulnerable people.

 

In the Anglo world, parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas there seems to have been a quiet push to benefit radical right libertarians and their conservative political partners (or PR sock puppets) to not just promote religion or white nationalism for citizens to worship or follow, but now conspiracy theories to confuse issues and disrupt any logical policy making e.g. climate change.

 

The threads that don’t connect: Covid gives Australian conspiracy theorists a common home

 

‘Sovereign citizens’, anti-vaxxers, mask refuseniks and far-right extremists see all their wildly disparate beliefs confirmed by coronavirus restrictions

 

Michael McGowan  Sat 1 Aug 2020 21.00 BST

 

In the remote border town of Texas, Queensland last month, a police officer pulled over a truck driver after he allegedly crossed into the state without providing identification.

 

In footage posted online, the 33-year-old can be heard asking the officer whether he worked “for the corporation known as the Queensland police in all capital letters?”

 

He then asks: “Am I a man?”

 

The officer’s deadpan response – “It’s 2020 mate. What do you identify as?” – got him his own thread on Reddit, but the bizarre interaction is not unique.

 

Viral footage of people defying restrictions on borders, large gatherings and, in Victoria, the use of face masks, have increasingly peppered Australian news as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its eighth month.

 

This past week a woman who refused to wear a face mask in a Bunnings hardware store in Melbourne became the latest fodder for the news cycle after she described herself as “a living woman” to a bemused employee. A few days earlier, footage of a woman reading from a script as she asked an officer “have I disturbed the peace today?” while refusing to answer questions at a border stop in Victoria also made headlines.

 

Footage of these encounters and others like them share a similar characteristic: in them, the people challenging police appear to be reading from the same script, a pdf file that has been shared widely across various Facebook groups loosely affiliated with the so-called “sovereign citizen” conspiracy movement.

 

Described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US as an extremist group, the sovereign citizen movement is a haphazard collection of pseudo-legal beliefs broadly coalesced around the notion that modern government is illegitimate.

 

“Sovereign citizens believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don’t think they should have to pay taxes,” the SPLC says.

 

In extreme cases, sovereign citizens in the US have been linked to violence. In 2010 a father and son linked to the movement shot to death two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, who had pulled them over in a routine traffic stop. The two men were later killed in a shootout with police.

 

The movement is rooted in racism and antisemitism, though, as the SPLC acknowledges, many followers are unaware of its origins. Acts of deadly violence have usually directed against government officials.

 

The Australian wing of the bizarre movement, transplanted here with a few tweaks, is not new. One of its most well-known proponents, a Western Australian, Wayne Glew, had his property and assets seized in 2018 after refusing to pay $300,000 in council rates and legal fees because of a belief local government was unconstitutional.

 

But in the time of Covid-19 its adherents have found themselves a niche. As governments impose unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties in an effort to control the spread of the virus, sovereign citizens appear to be attempting to take advantage of broad community uncertainty to push their confused agenda.

 

They are far from alone. Experts say the pandemic has offered an umbrella under which a bevy of fringe conspiracy groups and far-right actors have found common cause. Cam Smith, an independent researcher who focuses on conspiracy theorists and the far right, says links between previously discrete groups including the sovereign citizens, anti-vaxxers, QAnon and anti-5G groups have increasingly blurred during the pandemic.

 

“It’s a weird moment where all of these groups who usually have their own thing have come together with Covid,” he says. “It doesn’t even really seem to matter if they don’t necessarily meld – they find ways to smooth it over.”

 

…..Prof Axel Bruns, a leading internet researcher from the Queensland University of Technology, has been researching misinformation related to the planned 5G network during the Covid-19 pandemic. He agrees that under the umbrella of the pandemic, the borders between different corners of internet conspiracy have begun to vanish……

 

….For the most part these online groupings have negligible impact on the real word. But the new outbreak of a pushback against Covid-19 restrictions poses a new challenge for authorities grappling with the consequences of people indifferent to the potency of the virus……

 

….The public health academic Prof Julie Leask from the University of Sydney is one of Australia’s leading experts on vaccination uptake. She says she has lost count of the number of interviews she’s done on the anti-vaxx movement, and is frustrated by what she see’s as the media’s outsized focus on its hardcore proponents.

 

“Even the fact you’re doing this story is part of the game,” she says. “It feels like society is obsessed with conspiracy theorists and I still haven’t figured out why. I almost wonder if we’re all attracted to these neat attributions for problems in the same way conspiracy theorists are. If you have a conspiracy theorist who doesn’t want to lock down or wear a mask, you don’t have to acknowledge more complex problems like gaps in our healthcare system.”……

 

When fringe beliefs become destructive

 

The challenge for media organisation lies somewhere in the tipping point: that is, when fringe beliefs and their proponents begin to slip into the mainstream. In the US, opposition to face masks has found its way into mainstream discourse as an issue of individual freedom in some cases peddled by Republican figures including Donald Trump.

 

In Australia that rhetoric has so far been confined to the fringes of the debate, with some notable exceptions: when Victoria mandated face masks in public, the Herald Sun columnist, Sky News host and rightwing pundit Andrew Bolt labelled it “virus hysteria”…..

 

…..While it’s hard to know the extent to which anti-mask sentiment has crept into Australia, Leask said the danger was when an issue became divided along “ideological gradients”.

 

“In the same way that climate change in the 1970s and 80s started to become an issue of, not just do we believe in global warming but ‘by the way this is a lefty idea so if you’re conservative you’re not going to agree with it’,” she said.

 

“You start to see those leading commentators influencing a larger group of people. If part of belonging to whichever tribe is to also believe ‘it is my right to not wear a mask’ then you might see a greater amount of non-compliance”.

 

For more articles and blogs about Australian politics, climate change, Covid-19, critical thinking, digital literacy, environment, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, marketing strategy, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy, statistical analysis and white nationalism.

EU Tourism Skills and Employment with Coronavirus

While Covid-19 has caused much unemployment with lock downs and related economic issues, tourism and hospitality vocational skills are key in developing and driving short term to long term employment for youth and women especially, for broad economic recovery in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

 

From CEDEFOP The European Centre for Development of Vocational Training:

 

Tourism at a crossroads: skills and jobs demand in the coronavirus era

 

As EU Member States struggle to revive their tourism sectors in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, skills are emerging as the deciding factor for successful economic recovery.

 

Tourism is a key employer of the EU economy. Employing some 13 million people, it contributes to substantial spill-over employment effects in other sectors, especially in construction, retail and healthcare. From 2000 to 2017, more than 1.8 million new jobs were created in the sector.

 

People working in tourism are vulnerable to coronavirus-related challenges and skills development implications. Almost one quarter of them are seasonal and temporary workers. The sector also attracts young workers, acting as a first entry point to the labour market for recent graduates, as well as a response to youth unemployment. It also offers easy employment access to vulnerable groups, such as women (almost two thirds of the workers in the sector), and migrants….

 

EU - tourism - economy - skills

Economic Impact of Tourism (Source: CEDEFOP)

 

….The sector also suffers from negative perceptions regarding working conditions and career prospects. Offering targeted and high-quality training opportunities could be a way to attract more and better-prepared candidates. Reskilling and upskilling of existing employees is necessary to respond to the emerging and persisting new trends in the sector, such as provision of services to targeted groups of visitors (for example, elderly or with disabilities).

 

Understanding the business and societal challenges and opportunities that affect employment levels, occupation tasks and, consequently, skill profiles in tourism is paramount for designing and offering relevant high-quality vocational education and training.

 

Read the full Skills developments and trends in the tourism sector analysis for in-depth information.’

 

For more articles and blogs about adult learning, career guidance, COVID-19, digital marketing, economics, EU European Union, industry based training, small business, soft skills, tourism marketing, training delivery, VET vocational education & training, work skills and younger generations click through.

 

Higher Education – University Funding – Course Delivery Threats

Featured

Presently we see results of neo-liberal policies in education, including higher education and universities having budgets cut, with research, course content and study choices manipulated through favouring STEM over liberal arts of humanities.

 

One does not think it’s a coincidence that seemingly disparate issues and groups, whether focused upon climate science denial, low taxes, immigration restrictions or white nationalism seem influenced by underlying ideology of radical right libertarians joined at the hip with eugenics, wanting to influence education, research and student outcomes.

 

Excerpts from Inside Story Australia:

 

The four-and-a-half-decade higher education squeeze

 

Rodney Tiffen 17 JUNE 2020

 

Calls for universities to reduce their reliance on international students ignore the incentives created by successive governments

 

‘It’s a long time — forty-five years in fact — since government funding of tertiary education peaked in Australia at 1.5 per cent of GDP. These days, the government contributes 0.8 per cent, or just over half that proportion. Back in 1975, around 277,000 students were enrolled in higher education; by 2016, the number had increased fivefold to 1.46 million.

 

Those figures capture the essential story of Australian universities over the past forty-five years: massive growth combined with declining public investment.

 

The suddenness of the Coronavirus pandemic has hit Australian universities very hard, but the acuteness of their problems has been greatly exacerbated by trends that have been building for decades. The federal government has offered much less support to universities than to other deeply affected parts of the economy, and many conservative commentators have used this as yet another occasion to criticise the sector.

 

Backbench Liberal senator James Paterson (graduate of the Koch affiliated IPA), for instance, says that “universities have not done themselves many favours in recent years,” as if reacting to the diminishing level of public support, especially from his own party, has not been a central driver of the strategies for survival universities have had to adopt.

 

Over the period 1989 to 2017, domestic student enrolments more than doubled, according to former Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, yet the federal government’s contribution to operating costs rose only by a third. Between 1995 and 2005, when OECD governments increased their contributions to tertiary education by an average of 49.4 per cent after inflation, the Howard government provided no real increase at all.

 

As Glyn Davis wrote before the pandemic, “By withdrawing public funding, government has deeded Australia a university system that relies heavily on the families of Asia. If our neighbours tire of cross-subsidising Australian students, the number of local places would shrink rapidly.”

 

The pandemic has thrown university budgets into chaos. No other sector so badly affected by the coronavirus has been treated with so little sympathy, let alone tangible support. It seems the government’s cultural antipathy to universities overrides all else…..

 

There has been an ever present battle over universities and education, not just in Australia on funding, nor recently but in the past e.g. Milton Friedman in 1955 essay “The role of government in education” for the minds and wiring of students.  

 

In some places it is normal for fringe right wing parties new to a governing coalition to request seemingly unrelated portfolios of defence, home affairs, and education…..  Control of the latter gives control over curriculum content and the hidden curriculum; Jane Mayer describes (in ‘Dark Money’, as does MacLean ‘Democracy in Chains) the machinations going on in US (and further) by radical right libertarian donors to not just change what people think, but how they think… (or not).

 

Over generations there has been a move to more liberal student versus teacher and authority centred learning, both overtly and via the hidden curriculum.

 

Hence the curriculum is based on freedom, discovery, experience and creativity, as opposed to engaging with a pre-existing body of knowledge to which the teacher is an authoritative and wise guide.

 

(Liberals, Libertarians and Educational Theory – Lindsay Paterson, 2008)

 

MacLean (like Mayer) has also upset the libertarians:

 

Stealth Attack on Liberal Scholar? Historian alleges coordinated criticism of her latest book, which is critical of radical right, from many who have received Koch funding.

 

Collusion, alternative facts, shadowy billionaires: the words sound ripped from the political headlines, but they also describe the controversy surrounding Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking)….

 

…..Some nevertheless say they worry that swarm-style attacks on progressive scholars’ works — especially in an era of online harassment of professors and plummeting public trust in academe — could become a new normal. MacLean, they say, is the victim of just such an effort.

 

But taking advantage of student centred or liberal approaches can go both ways.  Such antipathy towards the humanities and scholarship does not preclude the likes of Kochs promoting their own ideology through funding academic schools’ programs or research, think tanks and lobbying MPs to promote their ideology e.g. George Mason University, many GOP politicians and think tanks (globally) affiliated through their Atlas Network, e.g. IPA Institute of Public Affairs in Australia promotes climate change denialism. (from Crikey Australia).

 

One does not think it’s a coincidence that seemingly disparate issues and groups, whether climate science denial, low taxes, immigration restrictions or white nationalism seem influenced by underlying ideology of radical right libertarians joined at the hip with eugenics, wanting to influence education, research and student outcomes, into the future…..

 

For more blogs and articles about Ageing democracy, Australian politics, career guidance, climate change, conservative, Covid-19, critical thinking, curriculum, demography, economics, environment, fossil fuel pollutiongovernment budgets, higher education teaching, instructional design, international education, international student, learning theory, nativism, pedagogy, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy, soft skills, student centred, VET vocational education and training, work skills and younger generations.

University Higher Education or VET Vocational Training?

Guardian article has interesting points about the value or not of higher education versus vocational, white collar professionals versus practical or blue collar occupations and front line personnel in let sectors versus invisible managers. Important that career counsellors, teachers, parents, peers and communities are aware so that youth are not compelled or led to expensive higher education for unclear graduate outcomes and careers.

 

Coronavirus is teaching the UK it’s wrong to deride the practical professions

Liz Lightfoot

 

Post-pandemic, we must put vocational courses centre stage and stop favouring academic pupils over those who invent, make or care.

 

When my son was 15 he announced he intended to study law and be a barrister. “Why law?” I asked. “That’s what clever people do,” he replied.

 

He changed his mind, but at universities up and down the land there are students struggling and dropping out of courses because they chose what clever people do, often under pressure from their families to pursue academic, rather than more practical, routes to employment.

 

As the Covid-19 pandemic whips us to our senses, the full extent of our reliance on people who didn’t pursue an academic route has hit us like a hurricane. So this has to be the time, at last, for the UK to put vocational courses and qualifications centre stage. That means recognising them for what they are, not chasing the chimera of parity of esteem with academic ones, as in the past.

 

We don’t need only doctors, lawyers, civil servants, accountants and money analysts. We are crying out for care workers, plumbers, electricians and car mechanics. We applaud manufacturers who change tack to make ventilators and face masks. We are prostrate with gratitude to those keeping some semblance of normality going – the supermarket cashiers, bus and train drivers, and the refuse collectors. Oh, how we miss our hairdressers as we battle to disguise our greying locks.

 

We’re grateful to the farmers who keep producing, the drivers who deliver our online purchases; postal delivery workers; to the cheerful cornershop owner, the bakers, the ICT technicians who can restore our devices.

 

Then there’s a new appreciation of the caring services, social workers, nurses, paramedics and, of course, care workers. Parents, struggling to amuse and home educate their children, are now in awe of the nursery and teaching professions….

 

For related blogs and articles about adult learning, career guidance, higher education teaching, TAFE education & training, VET vocational education & training and younger generations click through.

Covid-19 Climate Science Vaccination Misinformation PR and Astro Turfing

In recent months there has been an increase in confusion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding in news and social media round Covid-19 using same techniques as in tobacco, climate science denialism and anti-vaccination movements that seem to benefit US radical right libertarians’ preferred ideology and politics.

 

The following articles from The Fifth Estate in Australia and DeSmog Blog in Canada explain the communication techniques well.

 

Separating truth from lies in the causes of the pandemic

 

David Thorpe | 28 April 2020

 

OPINION: What’s caused this devastating pandemic that’s so far cost at least 207,000 lives (and it’s hardly begun) and wrecked the global economy? If, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of a blizzard of bizarre messages claiming to reveal the truth behind the pandemic you might be forgiven for feeling confused, so here’s your handy guide to what isn’t the cause and what is.

 

Misinformation wars

 

Right from the start misinformation was rife: there was no virus; the disease was like flu and wouldn’t cause significant harm; emails offered baseless cures and treatments; and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about its origin.

 

It turns out that many who circulated such misinformation have a history of casting doubt on climate science or seeking to debate issues that were already laid to rest within the scientific community, according to DeSmog.org:

 

“The decades that fossil fuel companies spent funding organisations that sought to undermine the conclusions of credible climate scientists and building up doubt about science itself ultimately created a network of professional science deniers who are now deploying some of the same skills they honed on climate against the public health crisis at the centre of our attention today.”

 

Some of this misinformation was/is channelled by presidents Trump and Bolsanaro. Others by think tanks, experts (some self-proclaimed), academics, and professional right-wing activists who are also climate change denialists.

 

After taking apart all of these arguments, DeSmog asserts: “COVID denial should forever discredit climate science deniers”.’

 

From DeSmog direct:

 

The Reason COVID-19 and Climate Seem So Similar: Disinformation

 

Repost By Guest • Monday, April 20, 2020  of Amy Westervelt, Drilled News. Originally published by Drilled News.

 

For a long time, the story went that the tobacco industry cooked up disinformation and then spread it to the fossil fuel guys, the chemical industry, pharma, you name it. But one thing that became incredibly clear when we began digging into PR firms and specific publicists was that this version of history was not quite right; if disinformation strategies were cooked up by any particular industry it was the public relations industry, which put these strategies to work on behalf of fossil fuels, tobacco, chemical manufacturers and more, often all at the same time.

 

The very first publicist, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, worked on behalf of both Standard Oil and, shortly after, American Tobacco, for example. Daniel Edelman developed astroturf campaigns for both RJ Reynolds tobacco company and the American Petroleum Institute, as did John Hill, who went so far as to have tobacco folks join the API. He also worked with Monsanto, juggling all three clients at the same time. E. Bruce Harrison worked for the chemical guys first, then managed front groups for tobacco and fossil fuels at the same time. You get the drift.

 

These industries all surely learned from each other at various points in time, but that was mostly because they were working with the same publicists. The history is less that tobacco or oil embraced disinformation first and then passed it on and more that a handful of PR firms and consultants created the disinformation industry, and then put it to work on behalf of whatever industry needed it at any given time.

 

Today, those same strategies are at work on behalf of those who worry that the response to COVID-19 will undermine capitalism, which is why climate folks keep noting how familiar the whole anti-science component of the rightwing response to the pandemic feels. It’s familiar because the exact same strategies are being deployed, in some cases by the same people. Here are a few key examples:

 

Disinformation Strategy #1: He who controls the language controls the narrative.

Disinformation Strategy #2: Leverage science illiteracy to create doubt.

Disinformation strategy #3: Astroturfing.

 

Our hope, of course, is that when people learn to recognize these strategies and know what’s behind them, they might become less effective. Disempowering the disinformation industry is a necessary part of any climate solution.’

 

For more articles and blogs about climate change, Covid-19, populist politics, critical thinking, marketing & communications and science literacy click through.