The lockdown-sceptical Plan B group has linked followers to an anti-vaccine and anti-mask group months after it said it had renounced conspiracy theories, Marc Daalder reports

A group of prominent lockdown critics has been criticised for directing followers to an anti-vaccine conspiracy theory group.

Plan B, launched by University of Auckland epidemiologist Simon Thornley and a number of other academics in April 2020, has previously garnered headlines for its opposition to lockdowns and New Zealand’s elimination strategy. When dozens of academics and GPs signed an open letter in March urging the group to renounce conspiracy theories, it did so.

“We don’t engage in conspiracy theories. We just share science,” Thornley said at the time.

The group also told Newsroom in February that it opposed conspiracy theories.

“We have avoided politics and steadfastly reject all conspiracy theories – including those created from time to time about Plan B.”

However, on the second day of this Level 4 lockdown, the Plan B Facebook page encouraged followers to check out the website of an anti-vax, anti-mask organisation that encourages people to violate public health rules and compares vaccines to human experimentation during WWII.

That group, The White Rose, provides stickers for followers to print out which promote a range of conspiracy theories.

“There is no pandemic: Your own government is waging psychological warfare on you,” says one sticker in all caps.

“The vaccine is more likely to kill you than the virus,” another falsely claims. In New Zealand, 26 people have died of Covid-19 out of just over 3500 cases. Just one death has been potentially linked to the Covid-19 vaccine in New Zealand, while more than 3.3 million doses have been administered.

Another implies the pandemic will lead to people being microchipped and says the end goal of public health measures is “total enslavement”.

A list of practices The White Rose opposes includes lockdowns and the standard test used to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Andrew Mackie, a spokesperson for Fight Against Conspiracy Theories Aotearoa (FACT), told Newsroom that Plan B’s tacit approval of these conspiracy theories was disappointing. FACT was the organisation that organised the open letter in March, which was also signed by some of Thornley’s Auckland Uni colleagues, like microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles and medicine professor Des Gorman.

“By promoting groups who claim the epidemic is a nefarious plot, Plan B lends credence to an alternative reality divorced from science,” Mackie said.

“We are very disappointed that academics associated with Plan B are reluctant or unwilling to identify the line that separates science-based analysis from those who promote conspiracy theories, and we would like them to clarify where they stand.”

Mackie said there was no doubt The White Rose was a conspiracy theory group.

“It’s a clearing house for sharing conspiracy theories on their Telegram channel, including anti-vax, QAnon content. They share misinformation about Covid, the seriousness of Covid, and about vaccines. They encourage each other to not comply with the public health measures, which is obviously worrying because they’re putting us all at risk,” he said.

One example of this was the distribution of fake mask exemptions, which originated with the anti-vax Voices For Freedom (VFF) group. Plan B was also criticised in the open letter for its association with VFF.

The White Rose website also mentions the Nuremberg Code, a protocol of medical ethics that emerged from Nazi experimentation on humans during World War II.

“The Nuremberg Code was about the Nazis doing horrific experiments on defenceless people. To make a comparison with people being offered the voluntary option to have a vaccine against a life-threatening illness should be condemned,” Mackie said.

Plan B did not respond to a request for comment.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

Leave a comment