Police in Victoria have charged two men over the “coordination and encouragement” of an anti-lockdown protest to be held in Melbourne on Saturday.
Victoria police said the men, a 28-year-old from Coburg and a 38-year-old from Epping, had been arrested and charged with incitement after officers searched their homes on Tuesday morning.
In a statement, police said officers seized several items including mobile phones, laptops and postage items. The men have both been bailed to appear at the Melbourne magistrates court on 4 February.
Dreamed up by a coalition of online groups broadly linked around a mishmash of conspiracy theories, the so-called Day of Freedom protest scheduled for 5 September has been planned in defiance of lockdown restrictions, mandates on mask-wearing in Victoria, 5G, vaccinations and “child trafficking and pedophilia”.
The event, which has been repeatedly removed and reposted to Facebook has, at various stages, had more than 10,000 people mark their intention to attend.
Guardian Australia last Saturday revealed members of the 99%, a loosely defined conspiracy group responsible for organising an anti-lockdown protest that led to 10 arrests in Melbourne earlier this year, were using encrypted messaging apps to plan to disrupt police attempts to thwart the protest.
On Monday night, Facebook removed one of the largest groups linked to the protest, which at its peak had more than 100,000 members. The group quickly migrated to an encrypted messaging service where organisers continued to try and rally supporters.
“Without large groups it is difficult for people attending to be organised,” they wrote.
“Please share this link with all of your contacts and everyone who’s attending on Saturday. They can’t silence this channel. They have no leverage over this space.”
Conspiracy groups linked to the protests have upped their campaigning as the protest approaches. On Tuesday, the New Daily reported that 12 Victorian crossbench MPs had received a flood of abusive messages after their personal phone numbers and email addresses were plastered in Facebook groups linked to the anti-vaccination movement, critics of 5G technology and followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Victoria police have responded to the increased organisation among the various conspiracy groups with a heavy hand. Last week, the assistant commissioner, Luke Cornelius, described the protest as “bat shit crazy nonsense” and described the organisers as “boofheads”.
On Friday, a 76-year-old man from Windsor was arrested and charged with incitement for allegedly helping to organise the protest.
In a statement on Tuesday, Victoria police said officers were “continuing to actively investigate the coordination and encouragement of this activity, and are committed to putting a stop to this”.
“This is a serious breach of the chief health officer directions and jeopardises the health of the entire community,” the force said.
“Those still thinking of attending the CBD to protest on Saturday can expect a swift and firm response from police. We will have no hesitation in issuing $1,652 fines to anyone who is breaching the restrictions on the day, or making arrests if necessary.”
Source: The Guardian