Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, social unrest has become more visible, both on the streets and on social media. Conspiracy theories spread rapidly. The National Coordinator of Counter-Terrorism and Security (NCTV), Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, writes in his new Threat Analysis that there are many different polarizing groups and individuals active online who find each other in rejecting government and government policies. The Threat Analysis specifically highlights the role of the Blue Tiger Foundation, which is called “an ultra-conservative publishing house”.
According to the counter-terrorism officers, this foundation financially supports farmers‘ protests. The Blue Tiger is seen as a pass-through of anti-government propaganda, fake news and conspiracy theories. The NCTV sees one of the organizations that reinforce polarization in society.
The same applies to a man who is not mentioned by name and who was arrested in July. According to NCTV, he moves within the online environment of anti-government activists and conspiracy thinkers, where he manifests himself as the foreman of a group of 12,500 followers on Facebook. He is also active in various Telegram groups and opposes the corona measures by alluding to ‘civil judgments‘ of elected representatives and RIVM employees.
The NCTV signals an activistic upper layer, which is relatively wide and melange. But in addition, there is a “radical undercurrent with extremist behaviors”. These people assault politicians and journalists, intimidate police officers or publish online lists of private addresses of police officers and politicians.
The dissemination of this kind of information on online platforms is not harmless, writes the NCTV. The threshold for extremist behaviour is lowered. It strengthens polarization and sometimes leads to hardening, harassment and violence or calls for it. A concrete example of this is the setting on fire of cell towers by people who distrust the new 5G mobile data network.
The NCTV sees little coherence between the different groups that go out into the streets. The demonstrations come to people who are protesting for various reasons. They often do not do this out of ideological beliefs, according to the NCTV. They are driven by “feelings of injustice, great discomfort or another reality experience”.
For example, they oppose the Temporary Corona Law for fear of disruptive effects of the measures on the elderly and families. In addition, they are self-employed people who see their income fall away or conspiracy thinkers.
Hooligans also abuse the demonstrations, signals the NCTV. Groups of football supporters who usually seek battle together to fight with the police in protests. They did that not only in anti-lockdown protests, but also in anti-racism demonstrations last spring.
Several groups of citizens continue to join, for example, the ongoing peasant protests. In contrast to last year’s large-scale actions, the peasant protest is becoming smaller and more grim. Some of the farmers are hardening, for example by threatening politicians, journalists and peasants with different views.
Signs of hardening
The NCTV also sees a hardening among the anti-racism activists. Under the heading ‘Black Lives Matter NL’, demonstrations are organised by a coalition of long-standing action groups against racism and discrimination. These demonstrations denounced subjects such as institutional racism, police violence, the colonial past, slavery, Zwarte Piet and discrimination in a broad sense.
But unlike in other countries, anti-racial monstrations in the Netherlands were generally peaceful. They were not accompanied by looting, arson or the devastation of statues. However, according to the NCTV, some activists and “small identical groups” show signs of hardening. For example, they do not want to debate with dissenters and scrambling statues, which in their eyes are a symbol of racism and colonialism. They also openly and secretly intimidate opponents and police.
Online, activists distribute video clips of arrests of black people and discriminatory statements of police officers in the Netherlands. Sometimes this leads to the threat of policemen.
Compared to protests, such as in Germany, the NCTV notes. In the Netherlands there is a gap between the amount of displeasure online and what can be seen on the streets. But I‘m sure the NCTV isn’t on the anti-lockdown protests. “These protests can lead to (violent) disturbances of public order.”