At the Atlanta “World Wide Freedom Rally 3.0”, conspiracy narratives took center stage. On the surface, the rally opposed health measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including and especially vaccinations. During the rally, transphobia, racism, antisemitism, and old-school conspiracy narratives flowed over the speakers, highlighting the convergence of conspiracy thought as the fringe moves ever closer to normalization. While no speaker directly mentioned QAnon, the conspiracy beliefs shared come straight from the QAnon canon.
The “World Wide Freedom Rally 3.0” refers to a series of broad anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination rallies that occurred in Europe and the USA on 24 July 2021. The astroturfed rallies were organized originally by a German group called the “Free Citizens of Kassel”, an investigation from Logically revealed. In Atlanta, advertising for the event came through the North GA White Rose group. This White Rose Group is part of yet another astroturfed anti-vax and anti-lockdown effort originating in the UK, although the origins of the group remain underinvestigated. Both groups maintain an international network of group chats and announcement channels on the messaging app Telegram, a haven for conspiracists and neo-Nazis alike.
The White Rose takes their name from the group formed by the Scholl siblings in Munich to resist the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Despite this, the group chat for the North GA branch proved appealing for online neo-Nazis attempting to radicalize the conspiracists. The neo-Nazis forwarded explicitly fascist content into the group and one user took the screenname “Reinhard Heydrich”, the architect of the Holocaust. Active in both the local Freedom Rally and White Rose group is Chris Head, who created his own spin-off chat to share further extremist content. Days before the rally, Head’s history as a domestic abuser was revealed and Head scaled back his online presence and was not seen at the rally.
The Atlanta rally began at 2pm on Saturday, 24 July 2021 in the southwest corner of Piedmont Park. Despite the heat, a crowd of about 100 showed up for the rally. According to the Georgia group chat, rallies were also scheduled to occur in Roswell and Dalton. Based on discussions of carpooling and where to park in the group chat, it appears most of the crowd came from outside the city of Atlanta.
Several different right-wing and conspiracy-oriented groups distributed flyers. The two main organizers identified themselves as Karen P., a stay-at-home mother and Kilgore from I Do Not Comply. They were recently identified as Karen Denise Cortes Hernandez and Eugene Owens. I Do Not Comply is currently involved in a lawsuit against Kemp, because even Kemp’s nearly nonexistent health measures are too much for the group.
Before speakers took the stage, a musical act played. A group called “Sailing to Denver” warmed up the crowd. They opened with a song that immediately invoked by name the decades-old “Agenda 21” conspiracy, singing about the tyranny of what was a non-binding UN action plan for sustainable development. The crowd grew as the act sang about how “blue helmets”, UN workers, would come to their doors.
To be clear, nearly everything the speakers said about the government, the pandemic, and the vaccine is demonstrably false.
The first official speaker was Dr. Eric Plasker, a chiropractor with a practice in Marietta. While chiropractors are not known for their knowledge of infectious diseases, Dr. Plasker went above and beyond with his misinformation. Dr. Plasker claimed the COVID-19 vaccine caused heart palpitations and a burst appendix in one of his clients. Dr. Plasker gleefully described his arguments with staff at a local store due to his refusal to wear a mask and encouraged the audience to take a stand against similar “tyranny”. Naturally, Plasker posits, the problem is the overprescribing of antibiotics, when probiotics were the real solution. The chiropractor ended his time with a rallying call to the audience, that “If they come at you with force, meet them with force”.
Tim Ray, who operates an Atlanta-based conspiracy media network, spoke next. He pulled out the big guns, assuring the audience that noted antisemitic conspiracist David Icke was “right after all”, that we are seeing the Rockefeller Lockstep plan in effect, and that “the New World Order is not a conspiracy theory”. According to Ray, an “International Sabbatean Cabal” was behind it all, who David Icke has similarly named. The Sabbateans were a Jewish sect active in the 17th and 18th century. In other words, Ray claims that ‘the Jews did COVID-19’. Somehow, Ray incorporated claims that cryptocurrency would replace the dollar and that the UN was mobilizing military forces in the US and Canada.
Ray called on the audience to form local groups that could mobilize to protect one another if the health department came to take away their children or arrest them, which he claimed was already happening in California. The most entertaining part of Ray’s time came when someone flew an RC drone, common in Piedmont Park, over the assembled crowd. In turn, the crowd shouted about fear of surveillance and tried to grab the drone as numerous people live-streamed the entire rally.
Next up was Holly Terei. Before the pandemic Holly Terei advocated for autistic students and spoke of the good done by education programs in her local public schools. She was even involved with a PPE supply drive for teachers. Terei’s beliefs seemed to shift due to the pandemic and necessity of virtual learning. Now, Terei is active with No Left Turn in Education in Gwinnett County.
The national organization is part of the astroturfed effort fueling the anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) hysteria in the USA. No Left Turn in Education provides example petitions, letters, and legislation to prevent discussions of racism and race in education. The group encourages parents to challenge their local school boards and overwhelm the administration with records requests. At the rally, Terei called for children to not be masked, attacked CRT (which isn’t taught in K-12) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion education, claimed that antiracism is the real racism, and claimed that Social and Emotional Learning is a trojan horse teaching pushing the trans agenda on students.
Dr. Carrie Madej spoke next, achieving new heights with her bad science. Dr. Madej, an internal medicine specialist in McDonough, opened with the claim that “we are eternal spirits” and saying that attendees have nothing to fear from the pandemic. Dr. Madej falsely claimed SARS CoV-2 has been patented for decades, that it was created in a lab, and that hospitals bribe doctors to inflate the infection numbers in order to suspend the constitution. Dr. Madej gained internet prominence in conspiracist circles for her videos falsely describing how the vaccine alters human DNA.
She went on to describe her belief that Bill Gates is injecting AI into people to collect their information and control them. She described this as being perpetrated by a “cabal”, a phrase commonly used by QAnon adherents, and claimed that “there are war crimes” going on and that doctors and nurses “will be tried for them”. At the end, Dr. Madej veered into sovereign citizen territory, discussing separating oneself from their birth certificate.
Shilo Harris took the stage as the penultimate speaker. The war veteran and inspirational speaker, who survived an IED explosion that left him with life-long injuries, was the least conspiratorial of all the speakers. Harris described his experience in the military, describing how he contracted dysentery and mentioning that germs are real, and his feelings of patriotism. Nonetheless, Harris still falsely claimed that the vaccines cause major health issues.
Finally, Kandiss Taylor closed out the event. The fringe GOP figure, who received 0.8% of the vote in the 2020 special general election for US Senate that Raphael Warnock later won, is now running for governor. Taylor is also deeply involved in the Big Lie of voter fraud in Georgia and is taking part in numerous lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results in Georgia, which she described at length at the anti-lockdown rally. According to Taylor, Dominion Voting System is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and takes its name from a satanic inversion of the word of God. Taylor spoke only briefly on the current pandemic and took most of her time rehashing the last presidential election. As she spoke, a “Trump Won” banner was unfurled in the crowd.
The crowd itself tended white and middle-aged, with many people bringing homemade signs spouting conspiracy theories. Several sported Trump gear and many wore anti-vax and anti-mask shirts. A man wearing a III% shirt and reinforced gloves appeared to be the event’s security, originally showing up in plate carriers before switching to just a nightstick. The Three Percenter hung around the edges of the crowd, watching the outside, and speaking often with the event organizers. The Georgia III% movements are highly contentious and splinter often, making it hard to immediately determine the man’s group membership. At one point, he left the crowd to find whoever was operating the RC drone that flew over the crowd. Passerby gawked at the gathering in the middle of Piedmont Park in disbelief.
While those in the crowd may not have been exposed to the antisemitic, racist, and transphobic conspiracy narratives shared by the speakers before the rally, they certainly were afterwards. The two groups most responsible for the rally are the result of astroturfed misinformation campaigns originating from Europe. Much of the promotion for the event occurred on the messenger app Telegram, which allows for conspiracy narratives and fascist belief to thrive and co-mingle. While the rally was marketed as a “freedom” rally, the content of it covered the board of conspiracies and messages of hatred that are entering the center of US politics due to organized efforts.
With the looming threat of the delta variant, low vaccination numbers, and fall and winter rapidly approaching, the rally bodes poorly for the health of Georgian’s immune systems and their democracy.