By Jakob Stein
On June 28 the fascist media outlet Infowars, led by its owner and lead radio host Alex Jones, hosted an anti-mask rally at the Texas Capitol in Austin. The event drew approximately 150 American flag-waving, MAGA hat-wearing reactionaries who chanted the slogan “We can’t breathe,” in a racist mockery of the words which have been a rallying cry for the movement for Black lives, as well as the last words of several victims of police strangulation like George Floyd and Eric Garner.
The fascist overtones of the event cannot be ignored, at one point Jones proclaimed, “We’re not your slaves, we’re not in your cult. If you want war, you better believe you got war.” Some of the attendees carried anti-semitic and anti-communist signs. Jones and fellow InfoWars fascist Owen Shroyer arrived and departed from the event in an armored vehicle, which had previously been attacked by combative anti-police protesters on May 30 with kicks, sandbags, and even a road sign.
As they pulled up to the event, Shoyer appeared through a hatch on top of the vehicle making the bogus claim that masks have no effect in preventing the contraction of the coronavirus, something that directly contradicts the established consensus within the medical community. While they oppose simple precautions like face coverings, InfoWars has previously been warned by the FDA for promoting and selling products like “Superblue Silver Immune Gargle,” “SuperSilver Whitening Toothpaste,” “SuperSilver Wound Dressing Gel” and “Superblue Fluoride Free Toothpaste” as both preventions and treatments for COVID-19.
Jones and his cronies make not-so-strange bedfellows with the anti-vaccination movement (commonly known as anti-vaxxers) and other assorted reactionaries to make up the ‘anti-mask movement.’ These people have united under the full embrace of the lies and myths pushed by charlatans like Jones, who at one point claimed, “COVID-19 is a real virus, but it is a stimulated virus so they can track and trace and control people.” He also endorsed the theory that imperialist billionaire Bill Gates is somehow behind the virus.
Jones embraces a particularly dangerous brand of conspiracy entertainment which verges on delusion, however these are not just the rantings of a volatile shock-jock, but a long-term process of creating a fascist mythology around current events. He uses this to mobilize some of the most reactionary segments of society against progressive causes like the movement for Black lives, and he especially loves to use the specters of ‘communism’ and ‘antifa’ to gin up his base.
This movement of mostly older, white, petit-bourgeois people has raised several objections to the wearing of masks in public places, among them claims that their doctors had advised against the practice due to respiratory issues, advice that a doctor would never give at a time when those with respiratory issues are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. By and far the most common reason for opposing mask requirements lies in a hollow defense of ‘liberty,’ which mirrors the rationale behind the similarly reactionary protests to ‘re-open’ the economy in previous months. In fact, just two days after the InfoWars event, reactionary bar owners also held a protest in front of the state Capitol under the racist name “Bar Lives Matter.”
Many of the people at these protests constitute the widest base of recruitment for the fascist movement in the US. It is no coincidence that these ‘pro-freedom’ demonstrators are fiercely pro-Trump as well as directly opposed to the ongoing rebellions against racism and police violence.
There is a great deal of overlap between these groups, and when political con-men and snake oil salesmen like Jones enter the equation there is a dangerous potential, not only for terrible sanitary practice that will likely increase the spread of the coronavirus, but a very real possibility of reactionary violence aimed at their perceived enemies. There have already been numerous examples of angry fits thrown by these types making the rounds on social media, and while these have largely been non-violent, the hatred and intensity with which they happen show the potential for escalation.
Meanwhile over 11,000 people have been arrested and brutalized over the past month for taking part in the uprisings and protests against police departments around the country. The myth of victimization being pushed by people like Jones flies in the face of the very real and extremely violent state repression levied against the movement for Black lives. Both protest movements are alike in that they represent a class, however these classes are diametrically opposed to one another as the rebellion against police is a working class movement against oppression while the hysteria surrounding masks and closed businesses represents the lamentations of the most reactionary sectors of the small propertied, petit bourgeois class.