The vigilante mob of a dozen or so COVID “truthers” marched defiantly up to the front steps of the psychiatric hospital, demanding the release of one of the patients inside.
They had come to “free” Simon Parry, a radical COVID conspiracist activist who believes the coronavirus vaccine is a “militarised bioweapon” being rolled out by evil elites to “depopulate” the planet. Known for his outlandish threats of violence towards towards politicians and others he blamed for the “fake pandemic,” Parry has been sectioned, or held under compulsory mental health care, since April.
Predictably, the hospital security guards refused the mob’s demands, leading to a heated confrontation that was filmed by one of the protesters and posted online.
“You’re complicit in the crime… You’re still willing to stand there and defend them kidnapping our friend,” one of the larger and more aggressive protesters shouted at the lead security guard, before resorting to a now-familiar tactic in the COVID truther playbook – the delusional threat of arresting their opponents under so-called “common law.”
“In that case… I’m arresting you.”
After being repeatedly warned by the guard to stop grabbing at him, the protester backed down, leading to a messy, drawn-out standoff before the mob eventually retreated. But while they hadn’t freed their man that day, their fight to free Parry – a COVID truther influencer who runs a conspiracist Telegram group with more than 4,000 followers – was far from over.
The standoff at Manchester’s Priory Cheadle Royal hospital in northern England on May the 16th was just one flashpoint in a concerted campaign to free Parry – known to his supporters as “BigSy” or “the People’s Poet” – which has involved COVID truthers protesting at the grounds of the psychiatric hospitals where he’s been held.
While the campaign around Parry has gained almost no media attention, in the parallel reality of the UK conspiracist scene, mediated largely through the Telegram messaging app, it’s become something of a cause célèbre. A Telegram group dedicated to the campaign now has nearly 500 members, including fellow conspiracists who don’t know Parry personally. They routinely discuss alarming strategies to “free BigSy” such as intimidating hospital staff, serving bogus “common law” legal threats to officials, or taking even more radical direct action, including potentially “arresting” an MP.
The NHS would not answer VICE World News’ questions about Parry’s case or the threats emanating from the campaign to “free” him, citing patient confidentiality.
Parry's supporters – who did not respond to VICE World News’ requests for comment, but have stated their views on the case on Telegram – say they've been told he was sectioned because of his alleged threats to kill public figures, made in videos he’s posted online.
But in their eyes, the real reason he’s been sectioned is because the government is trying to silence an activist who was exposing the truth about the supposed “plandemic” – confirming their paranoid beliefs that the powers-that-be are out to get them, and raising fears that they could be next.
“This is a political arrest. It is not about mental health. It is about the bioweapon,” reads one of their campaign leaflets, referring to the coronavirus vaccine.
“This could be any one of us.”
For observers, the Parry saga encapsulates much of what’s so dangerous about the radical conspiracy ideology that surged during the pandemic, giving rise to volatile COVID truther subcultures.
Confronted with their friend being sectioned for his unhinged rants about depopulation and the “bioweapon,” his supporters – rather than treating this as a potential wake-up call about their delusional ideology – have interpreted this as a confirmation that corrupt elites are indeed intent on rounding them up to silence the truth.
Similarly, when faced with real world consequences for the threatening sovereign citizen tactics prevalent within the COVID truther scene – delusional vows to arrest opponents and subject them to capital punishment for “treason” – their response has simply been to double down on the strategy, mulling further “arrests” of politicians in Parry’s name.
In the Telegram group dedicated to the campaign, seen by VICE World News, one of Parry’s supporters suggested approaching an MP about his plight, then “arresting” the politician “for allowing kidnapping and torture if Simon isn’t released.” One of the admins of the group then agreed with the commenter that it was a good idea.
The MP named as a potential target did not wish to comment publicly on the matter. VICE World News understands that police and parliamentary security have been notified, amid heightened concern for politicians’ safety following the murders of MPs Jo Cox and Sir David Amess.
Parry’s own trajectory in becoming a prominent conspiracist influencer is illustrative of some of the incentivising forces driving this radicalisation. The scruffily-dressed Parry gives the outward impression of someone on the margins of society, but his activism has won him status, identity and community within the “resistance”, and even validating brushes with truther-adjacent celebrities.
Mohammed Shafiq is an independent researcher who monitors the UK conspiracy scene, posting videos about the movement to YouTube. He told VICE World News that Parry had been active in conspiracist circles even prior to the pandemic, but appeared to become even more radicalised, like many others, amid the surge in conspiracist activity unleashed by COVID.
“During the pandemic he started to go to protests, met new people and became more and more extreme,” he said.
Becoming a fixture at anti-lockdown protests and a regular presence in the parliamentary precinct in Westminster, Parry built his profile in the “resistance” on the back of increasingly hostile, confrontational behaviour, posting online his encounters with MPs including Michael Gove, Jacob Rees Mogg, and Jeremy Corbyn. He would post these to his growing community on Telegram, merging with a river of posts about standard truther talking points of COVID jabs and 5G, along with occasional outbursts of antisemitism. “If you want to want to know how sick the satanic Zionist Jews really are…” begins one post Parry forwarded to the group.
In his run-ins with politicians and other “establishment” figures, Parry would typically rant about the “bioweapon” and the New World Order’s supposed depopulation agenda, or refer to the prevalent truther revenge fantasy that politicians and others deemed responsible for the “plandemic” will one day face mass “Nuremberg 2.0” trials for “treason.”
He’d also hector police to arrest MPs as part of a supposed criminal investigation into the COVID vaccination programme that became a major focus for the UK truther movement earlier this year, despite not actually existing. In one clip, he offers a group of police officers a million pounds “to honour your oath, do your job and arrest some MPs or you’re all going down to the Nuremberg trials.”
In some of the exchanges, Parry – who was an organiser of the “UK convoy” protests in February in which Labour leader Keir Starmer was chased by a mob – could appear bantery and conversational. He attempts to break the ice with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by telling him that he had stayed at the flat of his brother Piers, a prominent COVID conspiracist, “a few times,” managing to engage him in a brief exchange, and gets a laugh out of police stationed near Parliament by bellowing at them: “Can we negotiate [former Health Secretary] Matt Hancock being traded with Julian Assange?”
Within seconds though, Parry’s tone switches to unhinged rage, yelling that Hancock is a “dirty disgusting paedophile” who is guilty of “genocide.”
Parry’s most reckless comments include violent language that could clearly be interpreted as threats to kill MPs and government officials. In one video, shot in London, Parry is heard on a megaphone saying: “Chris Whitty [the UK government's chief medical adviser] will be getting decapitated pretty soon.”
In another video, he boasts to his followers that he had issued an ultimatum to police to arrest senior MPs and health officials for facilitating the rollout of COVID vaccines, or face the consequences.
“If you don’t arrest them, Hancock, Whitty and others are getting killed – so I’ve heard anyway,” Parry says in the clip.
Shafiq believes that Parry’s brushes with celebrities associated with the COVID truther movement had a significant impact on his behaviour, emboldening him into more reckless threats. In particular, he said, his interactions with Matt Le Tissier, a former England footballer turned football pundit, who has publicly pushed conspiracist narratives around coronavirus, appeared to leave him “starstruck” and gave him a massive boost.
“It was when he met Matt Le Tissier that it went to his head,” said Shafiq.
“Simon is a big football fan… When he met Matt he went on overdrive.”
Most of all, Parry was proud of his coup in getting Le Tissier to come on his podcast, telling Jeremy Corbyn during their exchange: “I did a podcast with Matt Le Tissier last night, changed the world with that one.”
In the video podcast, posted online in February, Parry welcomes Le Tissier as “a hero.”
“If it were a game of football between the conspiracy theorists, and the government and the mainstream media, I think we’d be smashing it about 27-0 by now,” says Parry.
“I would imagine the referee would have stopped it,” says Le Tissier, laughing.
Asked by VICE World News about his interactions with Parry and the allegations his association had emboldened him, Le Tissier distanced himself from the sectioned activist.
“Mr Le Tissier has spoke in favour of balance and campaigned as a voice for free speech and the underrepresented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He has never denied the pandemic,” said a statement issued through Le Tissier’s representative, Michael Burns.
“He appeared once on this podcast episode many months ago as a favour to a friend and has only a vague recollection of who Mr Parry is,” he continued.
“Mr Le Tissier does not share Mr Parry’s views, nor does he condone violent threats of any kind.”
Meanwhile, Le Tissier continues to promote COVID-sceptic narratives to his 590,000 Twitter followers, while Parry’s supporters continue to fight, fruitlessly, for the release of their man. Their recent efforts have included attempting to reach out to so-called “red pill” media figures or conspiracists with large social media followings – Maajid Nawaz, Jennifer Arcuri, GB News – to urge them to speak out about his case.
But for many, even in the Wild West of the COVID truther media ecosystem, being associated with Parry and his intimidating brand of activism was a bridge too far. One of the influencers targeted by their campaign for potential support, a fellow militant truther named Michael “Mad Mix” Manoel Chaves, repudiated the “Free BigSy” movement in a video rant posted last month.
Chaves, whose Telegram channel has more than 17,000 members and who was the ringleader of a COVID truther mob that served a common law “writ” at the home of TV presenter Jeremy Vine in October, said he had previously publicised “Free BigSy” campaign material, but was now distancing himself.
“I’m able to come out here and rant at you people every day because I think about what I say before I say it,” he said, revealing that he himself had been detained in a mental health unit in the past.
“If I had a channel on Telegram and … I started calling for people’s heads to roll and stuff like that, how long do you think it would be before I was sectioned?”