Anti-Lockdown Activists Co-opt Vigils Against Male Violence
Footage from Saturday’s vigil for women threatened on the streets and Sunday’s protest appear to show anti-lockdown campaigners pushing their own agenda, Sian Norris reports
Footage taken in Clapham and central London shows how anti-lockdown campaigners tried to use Saturday’s vigil in memory of Sarah Everard – the young woman killed two weeks ago in the capital – to promote their own political aims.
A vigil planned in Clapham Common was cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, however, people still gathered together on Saturday evening to remember Sarah Everard and “all women threatened on the streets”.
Now Byline Times can reveal that a prominent anti-lockdown campaigner appears to have been present at the vigil on Saturday and a follow-up protest on Sunday organised in response to police violence.
In a video compiled by the Guardian, a man who appears to be William Coleshill is standing behind Labour MP Nadia Whittome as she gave a speech about women’s safety.
Coleshill also appeared to be filming at Saturday’s vigil, when another man used the event to spread an anti-lockdown message. An unidentified man can be heard shouting “they have injected all the over-60s haven’t they”.
Coleshill was formerly a Conservative councillor for Enfield, but was suspended from the party after making “racist remarks”. He was charged with being at an anti-lockdown rally in Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, last 15 November 15 when the UK was in a second Coronavirus lockdown. He has also been accused of verbally harassing Labour MP Jess Phillips.
Katie* told Byline Times that “there were people there who hadn’t come to fight for women’s rights or against state violence” at the vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday evening, including a man who addressed those attending.
Footage of the man – not Coleshill – includes him shouting about “Coronavirus legislation” and “we must be free”. He responded with aggression to women asking that he stop speaking, by shouting “you’re a liar” to women attendees.
It is thought that he is “Heiko Khoo”, a Marxist, who gave an anti-lockdown speech in Hyde Park back in November. (Dr Khoo later told Byline Times that the “liar” remark was addressed to a police officer.)
Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union and editor of the Lockdown Sceptics site, has also used the events of Saturday night to promote an anti-lockdown narrative.
Writing on Lockdown Sceptics, he said that the people criticising the police response were “the very same people who’ve enthusiastically supported the lockdowns, including the suspension of the right to protest, and who’ve condemned anti-lockdown protestors for being ‘selfish’ and ‘irresponsible’”. Young stated that the arrests of women in Clapham “were on you”.
A woman who attended Saturday’s vigil told Byline Times that the Metropolitan Police’s decision not to engage with the grassroots organisers of the event was, in part, responsible for how she believed it could be co-opted by those with different agendas.
“When the Metropolitan police refused to work with the organisers, and the organisers stepped back, that left a vacuum which was filled by people who had a different agenda,” she said.
Since the footage emerged of police behaving in a heavy-handed fashion at Saturday’s vigil, right-wing conspiracies have sought to discredit the women who attended the event in remembrance of Sarah Everard and in resistance to male violence.
Former Brexit MEP Martin Daubney, who used to edit ‘lads mag’ Loaded magazine, tweeted how a young woman named Patsy Stevenson – whose restraint by the police became a defining image of the vigil – “was thrown into the public eye with a cameraman in tow… does anyone believe this nonsense?” He then referred to her as an “actress activist” – ignoring that she can be both an actress for her job and attend a vigil.
Similarly, the website Politicalite “revealed” that Stevenson was an actress in an “exclusive” – although this information appeared to be in the public domain.
The accusations about the activist are reminiscent of ‘false flag’ and ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy theories which claim, for example, that people involved in tragic or politically-sensitive events are in fact actors spreading disinformation.
A member of hard-right organisation GB Resistance used Sunday’s protest against police violence during the Clapham Common vigil to push their own anti-feminist agenda. The Sunday protest also focused more widely on resistance to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently being debated in Parliament.
In a four-hour livestream of the protest, the group framed the event as a “mostly Communist rally” that was “left alone by the police”. The film-maker wrote that “feminism is part of the neocom [neo-communist] agenda… Radicalised minorities + women are the new vehicle for abolition of our liberties to erect a new totalitarian neo-communist state”.
The comments on the video were full of anti-mask, anti-left and anti-women rhetoric, alongside disturbing conspiracy theories.
The vigils and the protests of the past week were focused on women’s safety and in response to women’s shared experiences of male violence. It is disappointing, then, that some men and women clearly saw it as a chance to take up women’s spaces and push their fringe agendas.
Update 17/03/21 to include a response by Dr Heiko Khoo
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