The Peterborough anti-lockdown movement started small, very small. Judging from the reaction amongst many community members expressing their concerns on social media, many have been totally taken off guard by the seemingly explosive growth of their movement even in response to rising COVID-19 cases locally and variants of concern. Pictures of the early lockdown protests last summer and fall show roughly a dozen people, whereas recent weekly protests have drawn upwards of 200 people, as reported by the Peterborough Examiner.
Concerns amongst the group range from general government distrust around lockdown measures, to full blown QANON conspiracy theories that interweave a sinister government plot to destroy small enterprises with anti-vax beliefs and just about every other right-wing conspiracy theory that you can think of. Parsed throughout, pro-privatization ideology, stemming mainly from movement leaders who dually operate as local business owners, private contractors, and wealthy retirees. These same movement leaders are wealthy suburbanites, own and operate businesses in service, contracting, design, and professional services locally, and maintain a vested interest in replicating a neoliberal pro-business, anti-government rhetoric even when there isn’t a pandemic. And while their movement makes claims towards 'grassroots organizing', I think we're starting to see it is anything but.
It’s worth noting immediately, and this is left out of the Examiner’s reporting, that many people over the past few weeks have been brought in from out of town in an effort to bolster a larger anti-lockdown movement across the province. Arthur has gained access to the Facebook Group End the Lockdowns Peterborough which demonstrates attendees organizing out-of-town rides for participants across the province recurring on a weekly basis, including to and from the GTA.
However, it’s undeniably the case that they’ve been growing in support locally. Their communications and outreach strategies have improved; they’ve generated a crude flow of capital in order to facilitate transportation and rental equipment costs, merchandising, and member support. They’ve set up digital infrastructure targeting more niche groups, preying on a general lack of media literacy amongst a mostly older demographic. Compounding this are roughly a handful of regional businesses who have weaponized their social media feeds in the example of the Canoe and Paddle and to a lesser degree, PTBO Chiro which continues to leave comments across local media channels encouraging followers to attend the Saturday protests.
In addition, several businesses have taken up a more covert roll in the example of the Cork and Bean’s owner Lorne Scanlon, while others have taken it upon themselves to be both public spokesperson and movement organizer, in the example of Who’s Next Barbershop’s Alex Masterson, who opened up Who’s Next in late 2020 during the height of the pandemic, therefore disqualifying him for any of the myriad of relief options available for Canadian capitalists.
Masterson has obtained media notoriety recently, after a series of articles published by the Peterborough Examiner detailed the story of his floundering business. Arthur has learned recently that Masterson is part of the Peterborough Anti-Lockdown movement himself, allowing direct access to security cameras on his premises to other movement leaders for the purposes of rapid mobilizations against public health and the Peterborough police, as revealed during an altercation between a movement leader in the anti-lockdown movement and an attempt by Peterborough Public Health to close the barbershop.
In addition, the Anti-Lockdown movement would mobilize at the barbershop to ‘fight the fines’, congregating more than a dozen maskless individuals in and around the business, including Rebel News host David Menzies fresh out of an altercation with dozens of Montreal police officers. Pictured below is Menzies smiling alongside the barbershop owner Alex, along with an unknown individual.
In the wider Ontario context, in the absence of any kind of unified left-resistance to the ‘business-as-usual' approach to the pandemic, failure on the part of all major political parties to adequately fight for paid sick leave, or even fight against massive public to private wealth transfers in the form of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for Canadian business owners, the far right has had a veritable field day. In Peterborough, they’re working with notoriously alt-right Rebel Media, trafficking in even more dangerous conspiracy theories through a series of niche Facebook groups and media spheres ranging from QANON wizardry to white supremacy.
Just a few days before, a movement leader with End the Lockdowns Peterborough would call into Rebel News to place a callout for the upcoming Peterborough anti-lockdown rally. We have not been able to determine whether members of the Rebel News staff attended the rally, but we have attached the clip below.
It’s worth noting here that before Rebel News was able to find this new grift of theirs, they were doing very poorly financially and headed for collapse. Rebel has simply found their newest marketing and communications strategy in wealthy business owners who already likely had ingrained right-leaning sympathies and financial incentive in privatizing the economy, reducing business taxes, deregulation, and anti-unionization.
Although many of us are familiar with the antics of Rebel News over the last decade, we would like to take the time to explore the sordid history throughout the last decade. This includes defending the machismo violence of the Proud Boys, appearing on Alex Jones’ Infowars, and palling around with the Charlottesville white supremacists that murdered Heather Heyer. They’re funded in part by a prominent US think tank that promotes anti-Muslim views and is itself bankrolled by a super wealthy right-wing donor network linked to prominent Republican donors like the Koch brothers. Ezra Levant, the owner of Rebel Media, publicly supported disgraced former Federal Court Justice Robin Camp — who infamously asked a 19-year-old homeless woman why she didn’t keep her “knees together” in a 2014 rape trial. In the US, Rebel’s Jack Posobiec – “Washington Bureau Chief,” was and is a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist who ran a pro-Trump Super PAC.
This is the media ecosystem that these business owners have decided to find allies in. Frankly, it’s absurd to pretend that they did not know about this history. A quick google search of “Rebel News” immediately turns up multiple pages of embroiled controversies.
But we’re not here to give these folks any breathing room to deny accountability. The movement leaders know what they’re doing. They’re aware of how tacitly absurd these efforts are just as much as they’re aware of how profitable this is for Ezra Levant.
The Peterborough Anti-Lockdown Movement is a revolt of our bosses. Of those that own capital. Of the swathes of ‘miniature’ workplace dictators that are bound together by their shared interest in the maintenance of wage labour. Many of these anti-lockdown protesters are quick to use words like “tyranny”, or “dictatorship” to describe public health measures. The real ‘dictatorship’, however, would be when your boss forces you to come to work in defiance of public health measures under the threat of termination. The ‘Tyranny’, might refer to the thousands of people young and old, who would need to staff the businesses of these so-called freedom fighters if they got their way. Workers who are considered nothing more than fodder to a deadly virus in their pursuit of profit. Workers who have spent the majority of the pandemic left out to dry by the mainstream political parties, even as public funds are transferred en masse to these same business owners through CEWS and other business resources offered by the Canadian state that could have otherwise been directed to social and community good.
At the end of the day, no business, no matter how big a dream or large an investment, is worth sacrificing public health. To save even one life at the cost of private enterprise is worth it. After all, recourse exists for bankruptcy, but not for your dead relative.
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