A protester with syringes attached to her hat demonstrates outside the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police this month. Photo: Martin Pope/Getty Images
The UK’s increasingly radical anti-vax, corona-denying movement has pinned its hopes on a new strategy for stopping the government’s vaccine rollout: a police investigation that they believe will find that the COVID jab programme amounts to a massive crime against the public.But for all their efforts so far in 2021 to advance the investigation – widely publicising the case’s crime reference number (CRN) “6029679/21,” and submitting to police boxes of “evidence” supposedly documenting the vaccine rollout’s criminality – their campaign has faced one fairly significant hurdle. Police say that there is no investigation taking place, and the CRN refers merely to the fact that anti-vaxxers have filed a complaint.
READ: Anti-vaxxers think a 9-digit code shows COVID jabs are criminal. It doesn’tNow, the understandable lack of police progress in advancing this non-existent investigation is fuelling frustration within the COVID-conspiracy scene, pushing the movement in potentially dangerous directions, experts say. Anti-vaxxers are carrying out a series of direct action protests intended to pressure the police into advancing the case, while more radical voices in COVID conspiracy Telegram groups are calling for ex-cops and military veterans to form a unit to “arrest the people committing the crimes” – whoever that means.“The police are corrupt. The whole fucking system is satanic and evil to the core,” wrote one user in a Telegram group dedicated to advancing the supposed COVID vaccine investigation last month, calling for veterans and former cops to “assemble a unit.” “It’s time we take things into our own hands.”
For experts monitoring the COVID conspiracy movement, the expressions of growing desperation and increasingly strident calls for action are a serious concern.“It’s incredibly dangerous,” said Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who monitors COVID misinformation. He pointed out that the calls to recruit veterans to carry out so-called “common law arrests” came in the wake of militant anti-vaxxers forming a direct action group called Alpha Men Assemble, which includes former soldiers in its ranks and had carried out combat training drills.
“It shows that these online extremist conversations have potentially dangerous offline consequences, especially if people with military knowledge become involved,” he said. “It’s all a dangerous recipe.”READ: Anti-vax conspiracy theorists hold combat training sessions in UKIn recent weeks, say experts, the mounting frustrations within the COVID conspiracy scene over the lack of progress in the supposed police investigation have been increasingly visible.“The expectation that something is going to happen – but nothing does – is leading to frustration,” said O’Connor. He said the UK COVID conspiracy movement had strong echoes of the QAnon cult, with its key influencers engaged in “continuous narrative formation” to account for their lack of results.A recent statement on Telegram, purportedly from one of the men who laid the original police complaint and has promoted it as the great hope of COVID conspiracy movement, bemoaned the doubters questioning whether the investigation was even happening, and made an apparently veiled threat towards officers who failed to advance the case.“If the police have been ordered by other police not to investigate crime, especially these serious crimes, they are perverting the course of justice and will be held to account for their decision making,” read the message.
In other signs of growing impatience with police, anti-vaxxers have been circulating an email address where the names and ID numbers of officers who don’t assist the supposed investigation can be “reported,” with the implication that they will eventually face unspecified repercussions.
Other efforts have focused on trying to pressure the police into advancing the non-existent investigation through direct action protests. On Wednesday, a group of protesters, including high-profile activist Piers Corbyn, carried out an “Evidence Dump” in central London, intended to demonstrate their overwhelming proof for the criminality of the COVID vaccination drive, gathering outside New Scotland Yard, where they faced off against a line of police officers behind a barricade.“We demand answers!” a protester yelled, before the crowd broke into chants of “Save our children!” and “Do your job!”
On Saturday, another protest is planned outside London’s Hammersmith police station, where activists laid the original police complaint, demanding a clarification and update on the supposed investigation.
All of this is taking place despite the anti-vaxxers’ central claim – that a police criminal investigation into the COVID vaccination programme is underway – having been thoroughly debunked by police statements carried in mainstream media reports. O’Connor said that the continued belief in the ongoing police investigation, despite the evidence to the contrary, was illustrative of the conspiracist mindset – which framed the media organisations refuting the “police investigation” misinformation as simply being part of the conspiracy.
“Some in these communities are now using [media organisations’ properly reported] fact checks as supposed evidence that the establishment is covering up the real investigation,” he said.The efforts to debunk the false “crime number” narrative haven’t been helped by occasionally ambiguous statements from police officers – apparently in an attempt to placate riled up protesters – which have been seized on and amplified by anti-vaxxers.On Wednesday, a protester at the central London “Evidence Dump” rally excitedly shared with his 12,000 Instagram followers a video of his conversation with a police officer at the event, who had told him that “that crime report was allocated to a detective to action.”The comment, claimed the protester, was “confirmation” that a police investigation was underway.
However, a Metropolitan Police spokesperson told VICE World News that the officer’s statement was consistent with the police’s position, and that while the complaint had been allocated to a detective to assess, “[t]here is no investigation.”Joe Ondrak, the head of investigation for Logically, a tech company that combats online disinformation, told VICE World News that he had come across a number of similar statements from police officers on duty that had put wind in the sails of COVID conspiracists, and “caused a sharp intake of breath from me and other researchers.”
But he acknowledged that police had “a difficult line to tread.” A more resounding police rebuttal of the “crime number” narrative, he said, might break the anti-vaxxers out of their “holding pattern while they wait for their imaginary detective to do their work,” and instead “pivot the movement towards more extreme actions.”In the meantime, the CRN referencing the supposed police investigation is being routinely cited by militant anti-vaxxers – most of them aligned with the sovereign citizen movement, followers of a delusional conspiracy theory who believe they are exempt from the law – in their attempts to shut down vaccination centres, or place officials under arrest.
Their narrative was given a major boost on Monday when former England footballer and TV pundit Matt Le Tissier shared a graphic featuring the CRN with his 561,000 Twitter followers, and made it his profile pic.
O'Connor, said the post by Le Tissier – who has a track record of questioning official narratives around coronavirus, particularly whether the vaccine is contributing to heart problems among footballers and other athletes – would have a “very significant” impact in amplifying the false “crime number” narrative.“When public figures share conspiracy theories, the reach of these narratives is expanded exponentially,” he said. Le Tissier did not respond to repeated requests for comment through his talent agency, M&C Saatchi Merlin. At time of publication his profile picture is still a graphic of the bogus crime number.