The Convoy to Canberra protest has lasted more than a week, and tensions between some of the disparate groups are beginning to show.
What started out as an imitation of the truckers’ Convoy for Freedom in Canada quickly drew in anti-vaxxers, so-called Sovereign Citizens, ultra-religious groups, and even some members of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
Some protesters also claim to be demanding rights for Indigenous people – despite the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra already disavowing these people as unrelated to their cause.
Far-right researcher Dr Kaz Ross of the University of Tasmania said these disparate but overlapping groups have formed an appealing whole, even if these differences have caused infighting and disputes among them.
“The Sovereign Citizens give you your legal framework, the paedophile-accusers give you your mass appeal, and the Aboriginal rights protesters give you an authenticity,” she told The New Daily,
However, more and more of these groups are beginning to adopt the legalese used by the Sovereign Citizens.
Dr Ross condensed the protesters’ shared message as “Aussie Aussie, oi, oi, ANZACs, a bit of Jesus, freedom, and save the children,” all set to the tune of all set to the tune of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice.
Regardless of what group they fall under, some of the protesters are disaffected Australians – many of whom lost their jobs during the pandemic and, with it, their main social connections.
“It’s really sad that this is their first experience of community. It’s like going to a music festival or something,” Dr Ross said.
“And that’s a pretty sad indictment on our capitalist, consumerist, hyper-individualist, rat-race lifestyle.”
Anti-vax and anti-lockdown advocates
Many of the organisers and attendees are more mainstream anti-vaxxer or anti-lockdown protesters, including some of the people behind the Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccination rallies that occurred nationwide in 2020.
These people have experience running mass demonstrations and have the equipment to make it happen.
Michael Simms, a key figure behind the Millions March movement and who claims his autistic son was injured by vaccines, is based in Canberra and showed up at the protest.
“They’re central because they’ve provided a lot of the infrastructure,” Dr Ross said.
Hamish McLean, an anti-lockdown protester and one of the key figures behind the Melbourne Freedom movement, was also in attendance before leaving in disagreement with other organisers.
So-called Sovereign Citizens believe each individual human is “sovereign” and that they’re being oppressed by the government, which they consider to be a “corporation”.
These people believe they can break free of everything from taxes to mask rules by using their own legal jargon.
Many Sovereign Citizens coalesced around the Convoy to Canberra, and can be identified by their use of the Australian Red Ensign instead of the usual Australian flag.
Some of the early organisers, brothers Ryan Harder and Sam Harder, fall under this category.
Ryan was arrested on his way to Canberra and charged with arson over the fire at Old Parliament House in December.
One subset of the Sovereign Citizens call themselves the Velvet Revolution.
These people dress in high-vis and call themselves sheriffs. Over the past few days they have issued ‘arrest warrants’ for various Australian politicians.
Sovereign citizens with Aboriginal flags
Another subset of the Sovereign Citizens falsely claim to be representatives of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
These people emerged onto the scene during the protests outside Old Parliament House in December.
Ngambri Ngunnawal elder, Aunty Matilda House-Williams, said at the time that she was “disappointed these protesters chose to disregard cultural protocols” by not communicating with herself or other elders.
Birpai journalist Jack Latimore said these protesters, some of whom are Indigenous and some of whom are not, co-opted the Aboriginal Tent Embassy “in what amounts to a hostile takeover”.
He accused the protesters of “Blackfishing” by using the world’s longest-standing protest for Aboriginal rights to push their Sovereign Citizen agendas.
Some white Sovereign Citizens at the Canberra rally have been dismissive of the unique oppression faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
People obsessed with paedophiles
Amid the crowds of anti-vaxxers, so-called Sovereign Citizens, and nationalists of many persuasions were a group of people accusing politicians of being paedophiles.
“This way predates QAnon,” Dr Ross said.
“Some people trace it back to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s – the idea that there are these religious rituals going on using the blood of children.
“But there’s been this bubbling theme in Australian conspiracy theories for decades about paedophiles.”
In 2015, then-Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan used parliamentary privilege to claim he had seen a list of 28 alleged paedophile politicians.
Some of the Canberra protesters are demanding that authorities, or the government, release the full list of names.
However, the constant shouting about paedophiles has caused some rifts among protesters.
Some protesters from other groups have told the paedophile accusers to be quiet or protest somewhere else because they are making the movement look bad.
Western Australian doomsday prepper Jim Greer kicked off the whole movement when he announced in late January that he was going to Canberra to protest.
Very quickly, a GoFundMe page was set up in his name that amassed more than $150,000 in just a few days.
Mr Greer was arrested on Friday after police found a loaded, sawn-off shotgun plus additional ammunition inside his eight-tonne, camo-painted off-road truck.
The truck also contains 200 litres of water, enough non-perishable food to last his family for six months, and more than 2000 seeds to start an orchard on an undisclosed tract of bushland in Western Australia, in the event society falls apart.
While Mr Greer was instrumental in forming the Convoy to Canberra, Dr Ross noted that doomsday preppers by nature tend not to show up at mass movements, and therefore there was no significant contingent in Canberra.
Clive Palmer supporters
Key figures behind the Convoy to Canberra have from the outset told people not to bring party politics to the rally.
Dr Ross said many of the protesters resent Clive Palmer for allegedly co-opting the anti-vaccine mandate and anti-lockdown movements.
However, outspoken MP Craig Kelly made his way down to Canberra.
Meanwhile, former nurse and frequent anti-vaccine rally attendee Cathy Byrne showed up in bright yellow.
Ms Byrne is the United Australia Party’s second-position candidate in South Australia.
The Convoy to Canberra has been supported by traditionalist Catholics and other conservative Christians.
Former Qantas pilot Graham Hood, a Seventh-Day Adventist who has become outspoken against vaccine mandates, attended the rally.
Mr Hood performed baptisms along the drive to Canberra and sanctified the ground of the protest.
A Polish-Australian group called Solidarity has also been extremely visible at the rally with several large banners.
The group, which vehemently opposes lockdowns and uses Sovereign Citizen language, claims to take inspiration from the Cold War-era Polish trade union of the same name that ushered in the country’s democratic elections of 1989.
Dr Ross said there was relatively few fascists and white supremacists at the rally, however, a handful of Proud Boys and neo-Nazis did show up.
There were also many flags of the fascist, WWII-era Ustaše regime in Croatia around the Canberra protests.
This evokes last year’s ‘Tradie Protest’ in Melbourne, which was supported by groups of far-right Croatian-Australians.
Despite the protesters initially drawing parallels with the Canadian truckers’ Convoy for Freedom, very few trucks actually showed up in Canberra.
“We’re not Canada – we’re going to have a lot of trucks, but we’ve got a lot of people with caravans and families and four-wheel drives,” anti-lockdown organiser David Graham, who also goes by Kanga Guru, said in a live-stream a day before the convoy reached Canberra.
“Don’t expect to see big convoys of trucks – we may, I think we’re going to have a fair few. But this is a people thing, and the people don’t all drive trucks.”
Truckie groups have distanced themselves from the protest.