Since the first lockdown, I’ve been fascinated by the work of the conspiracy theorists that have worked solidly for nearly two years now to portray themselves as enlightened, whilst nicknaming all the rest of us mere mortals as sheep. As a Welshie I’ve got no issue with being linked to the Bovidae family – it comes with the territory.

I wrote about my experience at the time here. I enjoyed the sport of chatting and challenging these people. To be clear I don’t condone trolling, so my interactions were always respectful as in truth I felt concerned for a lot of the people holding onto the drivel that some of these conspiracists came up with. Then after reading a bit more I became interested in how these people were monetising their hate. A Just Giving account here, a Patreon account there, the monetization of successful youtube channels – it quickly adds up to a healthy income.

What I quickly discovered is that there were known “leaders of thought”, people that portrayed themselves as helpful but in reality, were feeding the anxieties of their followers with their various “concerns”. As the pandemic continued you could see that some of these people were loving their newfound celebrity status, whilst also professing to have been forced into the limelight as “somebody had to stand up for all the injustice” These people were operating outside the realm of the known right wing media like Toby Young, Allison Pearson, Peter Hitchens et all, but were building followers of thousands.

After the college FB account got attacked by some anti-maskers over our panto “Covidella and the Masked Ball” I took even more interest in these groups. I couldn’t understand how a simple stupid online panto was suddenly being accused of being a propaganda tool for the government.  I mean I know that it was a pandemic but we were talking about covid here, not some mind-altering virus, as if I’d be hired as a propanda tool for the Tories. Hell at one point somebody had a go because even the mice in the cartoon postcard were masked! On a FB ad we were getting trolled left, right and centre, with the most used words and phrases being that we “should be ashamed of ourselves”, we were part of the government’s “propaganda” machine, and the most popular word. . .paedophiles. Literally we were accused of being padophiles for “abusing children”. To clarify. . . all because we said ‘masked ball’ and the cartoon characters on the promo were masked. 

It was then that I discovered that right wing groups consciously looking to divide and rule were deliberately infiltrating alternative medicine groups, spiritualist groups and groups focused on holistic wellbeing. So they were targeting people who already had an issue with “big pharma”. Most of the ground work was already done for them. Of course fast forward a couple of years and there is the much held belief that the origin of all this nonsense was just part of the new online war with Russia. Divide and rule. . . whichever way you have to do it. What was also really evident from the people that fell for this nonsense was that these dangerous messages were really hitting their target with people that had known mental health susceptibilities. It was fascinating to watch friends and acquaintances falling down the rabbit hole.

When challenged they would all helpfully tell me that I was being manipulated by MSM (Mainstream Media). They would link me to “facts” that were always so easy to disprove. I learned more about covid and the ONS in a 3 month period than I would have thought possible. Through the joy of social media algorithms I quickly found a group of people like myself that would call out this nonsense. It was a lovely feeling of community at a grim time. 

When the answer to every probing question is “you’re being manipulated” it becomes a dangerous narrative. Their followers really were like sheep (ironically), all stating the same “message” like loyal followers. At the time my nephew was working on the NHS front line up in Liverpool. Pre and post pandemic he’s a geriatric consultant, but like many in 2020 he suddenly became a ‘covid doctor’, and like many on the front line would tweet about his experiences. As I read his tweets with pride, I was bemused by how many people would call him a fraud, claim that he wasn’t a doctor, accuse him of being “in” on the conspiracy. It’s when you see the truth being distorted like that you understand the magnitude of the problem.

One of the people that really fascinated me was the journalist Anna Brees. A few of my friends had sent me clips of hers in a bid to convince me that covid was not real. However that’s all I saw was the smoke and mirrors of somebody that had found her niche. I would regularly challenge her narrative, always politely – then one day she sent me a DM stating that “(your) comments on some of my posts recently are very negative” Her message went on to tell me that if I “constantly questioned (her) journalistic abilities” then she’d block me. I wrote back informing her that it was social media ie we could all interact, I mentioned that I was curious as to why she was trying to silence me. She declared me to be toxic and blocked me, not before taking a screenshot of the blocking and posting it to her thousands of followers claiming me to be “dangerous”. Cue a social media pile on of her followers, like the gangs from your playground memories, they’d blindly play “follow my leader”. Increasingly I noticed that the people shouting the loudest about protecting our “freedom of speech” were only looking to protect their own freedom.

I’ve continued to follow this group of people as I’ve been interested to see what they go for next now that the “loss of liberties” created by the pandemic has subsided. One of Anna’s mates was the recently convicted stalker Alex Belfield.  They would appear on each other’s feed tantalising their followers with the prospect of a joint channel (though I think to be fair that was just Anna angling for that – Belfield was far more successful than her, so she was hoping to nab a few more followers). 

Belfield’s persona was clearly to play up to his right wing audience. Like all the rest he claimed that he was simply executing his “freedom of speech”, but unlike Anna his venom was very much on display for all to see. How anybody could watch one of his phone ins and not just feel utter contempt at his style is beyond me. 

So this is when my “hobby” of SM people watching finally collided head first with our industry – as Belfield loved a “showbiz story”, and he also loved going after people in our industry. For somebody looking for notoriety in a Trump like fashion he’s just found the ultimate accolade – the first person in the UK to be sent to prison for online stalking.

It is well known that Belfield went after countless people in our industry, and many of them have spoken out recently. However I was struck yesterday by Ben Hewis’ post about the impact Belfield’s campaign had had on him and his family. I remember when Belfield turned on Ben, and watched the escalation online. Reading Ben’s account though this was clearly just the tip of the iceberg. 

Knowing the connection I nipped across to see what Anna had to say about her “mate’s conviction”.  True to form she’s currently framing it as the “establishment” out to get Belfield. Her follower’s are back to talking about paedophiles, but this time in a bizarre whataboutism as they try to compare the perceived severity of Belfield’s sentence with the perceived leniency of a paedophile. 

Those seeds planted in 2020 have been watered, nurtured and propagated like a good ‘un. Empathy of anything outside of “the fight” doesn’t exist. Today I was reading how Right Said Fred like Brees and the rest loving a bit of misinformation, accused Ben of being upset by some “hurty words”, implying that somebody should just accept being stalked by somebody who is clearly unwell. Zero empathy.

This court case might make others think twice about selling hate – then maybe we’ll all find out if these people are deluded, ill, or merely opportunists looking for their next Patreon subscriber.