Shouting “freedom” and without social distance, more than 2,500 people gathered this Sunday in the center of Madrid to protest against the mandatory use of masks and against what they describe as a “false Pandemic” of Coronavirus. The protesters held banners that read: “The Virus does not exist”, “Masks kill” and “We are not afraid.” The rally drew a variety of attendees, including conspiracy theorists, libertarians, and anti-vaccines.
The anti-mask militants have one point in common: they believe that the authorities are violating their rights. For the experts, in addition, they have a greater presence among voters on the extreme right or extreme left, due to their distrust of the State or authority in general.
Pilar Martín, a 58-year-old housewife, said that she had come to Madrid from Zaragoza for the demonstration because she believed that governments around the world were exaggerating the number of infections to curb people’s freedoms.
“They are forcing us to wear a mask, they want us to stay at home practically locked up. It is obvious that they are continuously deceiving us by talking about outbreaks. It is all a lie,” she said during the protest.
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Anti-mask groups began to appear in demonstrations against the confinement measures in the United States, and later spread to Germany – where a demonstration with far-right parties and far-left movements brought together 15,000 people – Canada, the United Kingdom and France.
For the sociologist David Le Breton, the refusal of some to wear the mask is a new sign of growing individualism. “The paradox is that the freedom defended by the masks is, in reality, the freedom to contaminate others,” Le Breton told journalists. “It is the product of civic disengagement, one of the hallmarks of contemporary individualism,” he added.
Heterogeneous and extreme movement
For Tristan Mendès France, a specialist in digital cultures, the anti-mask movement is heterogeneous, made up of people who do not have the same concerns or the same discourse against the use of masks. “There are supporters of conspiracy theories, regardless of their ideological tone, and people who have an ideological agenda, more linked to the extreme right”.
For her part, Jocelyn Raude, professor of social psychology at the School of Higher Studies in Public Health in France, considers that anti-masks “are more present among voters on the extreme right and extreme left”. “There is in this attitude a way of disobeying a government that they do not approve or of expressing a broader relationship of distrust in relation to the State and authority in general.”
Among the advocacy groups of Professor Didier Raoult, a French infectologist who has conducted controversial studies on hydroxychloroquine, a drug that according to Raoult would be effective in treating COVID-19, there are countless people against the mandatory use of masks and also against vaccines.
Although hydroxychloroquine has undergone some studies in the context of the Coronavirus outbreak, so far “there is no good-quality evidence” to show that it is effective against COVID-19, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned.
The virologist attracted many followers of conspiracy theories. A survey by the Jean-Jaurès Institute on the profile of Raoult’s followers revealed that 20% of them voted in the last presidential elections of 2017 for François Fillon, the candidate of the traditional right (party that ruled the country several times); 18% voted for Jean-Luc Mélénchon, from France Insoumise, the most voted on the extreme left, and 17% opted for Marine Le Pen, candidate from the extreme right.
Fake news and conspiracy theories
Several members of the anti-mask groups also reject the effectiveness of the same to contain the spread of the new Coronavirus, and question that they are “useless” or even supposedly dangerous. Various false information about masks circulates in these groups.
“The mask deprives us of most of our oxygen. Therefore, it can kill us,” says Maxime Nicolle, a well-known figure in the yellow vest movement, protests that erupted in late 2018 in France, some of them violent , with social demands. Reports that masks can cause death is false, vehemently denied by doctors and researchers.
A part of the anti-mask militants, the most radical, is adept at conspiracy theories, which are most widespread in the far-right media and among those who consider themselves anti-system and anti-vaccines. Many of those theories falsely link Microsoft founder Bill Gates to the Coronavirus. Some accuse him of leading a class of global elites. Others are supposedly leading efforts to depopulate the planet or even trying to implant microchips in people.
“When you put on a mask, you become intellectually vulnerable, lose your identity and become an ideal prey for occult and transhumanist powers (movement to transform the human condition through the use of science and technology) who want to destroy you in the name of the new world order”, affirms an Internet user of these groups in France. “First there are the masks and then the vaccines that will have a nanochip controlled by 5G,” says another French activist.
At the Sunday demonstration in Madrid, attendees shouted “freedom” to demand that the use of masks be voluntary and that they be allowed the right to choose whether or not to receive the possible vaccine for COVID-19. Many of the protesters denied the existence of the Coronavirus and chanted that “there are no new outbreaks” at a precise moment in which Spain is experiencing a rebound in cases of the worst in Europe.