Many of the biggest names in the global anti-vax and coronavirus conspiracy scenes converged on the UK city of Bath on Friday for a major conference that aims to give a respectable veneer to COVID truther ideology.
The 3-day Better Way Conference bills itself as, in the words of its organiser Dr Tess Lawrie – a vocal UK advocate of the unauthorised anti-parasite drug ivermectin as a treatment for COVID – promoting “an evidence-based approach to medical decision making, sovereignty, empowerment and reimagining the future of healthcare.”
But misinformation expert Joe Ondrak said the conference was a who’s who of big names in the COVID conspiracist scene. Attendees include high-profile dissenting doctors who have campaigned against COVID vaccines, to conspiracy-minded media pundits, to hardcore sovereign citizen groups and others calling for Nuremberg-style mass trials of the elites supposedly orchestrating the coronavirus plot.
PHOTO: AP Photo/Matt Dunham
“This really is a uniting of the tribes,” Ondrak, head of investigation for Logically, an organisation that combats online misinformation, told VICE World News. He said the event was likely to contribute to deepening radicalisation and collaboration within the COVID conspiracy movement, which is already viewed by security officials as a growing threat.
The event gives a slick, professional gloss to a movement that is more widely associated with volatile street protests and threats to “arrests” of public figures by so-called “sovereign citizens,” conspiracy theorists who reject the authority of the government.
Ondrak said the sold-out event – 3-day passes cost £375 ($468) – was unlike any other he’d come across in terms of bringing together the divergent strands of the COVID conspiracist movement, and the sheer number of global “heavy hitters” on the programme.
Among the dozens of speakers scheduled to appear across seven three-hour “conversations” are major figures such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a son of the American political dynasty who is one of the world’s most high-profile proponents of anti-vax propaganda and COVID misinformation, and Robert Malone, a medical doctor who rallies against the mRNA vaccines he portrays himself as having played a key role in creating, gaining a reputation in the conspiracy scene as a brave whistleblower.
Organisers did not respond to a VICE World News request for comment about who would actually be physically present, rather than attending by videoconference, but wrote in promotional materials that most of the 60-odd speakers would be there in Bath.
Also on the bill are lawyers who have been spearheading pushes to prosecute politicians and health officials around the world for supposedly engineering a fake pandemic and foisting dangerous vaccines on the public.
They include Reiner Fuellmich, a German lawyer whose has been driving a campaign to put world leaders in the dock for supposed “crimes against humanity” during the pandemic in supposed “Nuremberg 2.0” mass trials, and UK solicitors Philip Hyland and Lois Bayliss, who drove the so-called COVID “crime number” campaign that falsely claimed to supporters that a massive Metropolitan Police investigation was being carried out into the UK coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Other speakers include Dolores Cahill, a notorious Irish anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist who was formerly a professor of immunology at University College Dublin, and who is linked to a sovereign citizen group that last year “rescued” an elderly COVID patient from an Irish ICU unit, that resulted in the man’s death.
The programme suggests a strong sovereign citizen element to the conference, with one talk explicitly focused on “Health, Environment and Sovereignty” and the leader of a UK sovereign citizen group, the People’s Public Trust, listed as one of the speakers. Sovereign citizen ideology, centred on the delusion that followers can declare themselves exempt from laws they don’t like, has become a driving force of COVID “truther” movements around the world during the pandemic, with self-appointed “common law constables” claiming the power to arrest those involved in coronavirus vaccine rollouts.
“The sovereign citizen stuff is a much more prominent thread than I would have expected,” said Ondrak. “This isn’t just about ‘health’ – this is ‘common law’ making its way into the mainstream of this movement.”
VICE World News sat in on the opening session of the conference, titled “Reclaiming science together,” using a £49 ($61) virtual pass. The session involved Malone being interview by host Maajid Nawaz, a British former Islamist turned counter-extremism expert turned media pundit, who lost his broadcast role on London’s LBC earlier this year over his alarming lurch into promoting COVID conspiracy theories.
There was an immediately apparent conspiracist tone to proceedings, with the session preceded with recorded remarks by the leader of an Austrian group called the Union for Sovereignty, one Max J. Pucher.
“It needs courage to stand up to the totalitarian collectivist trends of the globalists,” he said.
“We all know that there is a hidden political agenda at work that drives… government officials around the world.”
The opening remarks were given by Lawrie, a medical doctor who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth, and who leads a group called the World Council for Health, which organised the event.
She hit on common COVID conspiracist tropes, noting that Bath was both an “ancient place of healing and discovery” and the place where, in 1781, court astronomer William Herschel had discovered Uranus: a planet “considered the great awakener, the force that shakes you out of your slumber.”
The precise location of the conference in Bath was not immediately apparent, since the event was kicked out of its planned venue, operated by the local Bath and North East Somerset Council, earlier this month.
A spokesperson for the council said that they had cancelled the booking after viewing statements by the World Council for Health including that COVID vaccines were “unsafe for use in humans” and that it was “illegal and unlawful for anyone to participate, directly or indirectly, in this harmful experimental vaccination programme.”
“It is reasonable for us to believe that such views would be put forward at the conference and the council’s venue would be used to make claims that the council, alongside trusted partners, is acting unlawfully in regard to the vaccine rollout,” said the spokesperson.
The World Council for Health did not respond to VICE World News requests for comment.