Last week, I attended one of the “No New Normal” rallies that is held outdoors every weekend in a community in Alberta, Canada. I am not going to disclose the location or the names of the participants because I have no desire to give the organizers free publicity.
To date, more than 180,000 Albertans have been infected with COVID and 2,064 have died. There are 19,702 active cases and a Step I shutdown has been re-instituted, meaning that most non-essential businesses are closed or can offer only limited services.
My Significant Other has observed several of the anti-lockdown rallies over the past year and has become acquainted with the primary organizers and a few of the attendees, so I thought I would join him to try to gain some insight into why – in the midst of a pandemic that threatens to swamp Alberta’s healthcare system – dozens of people are still gathering weekly to oppose lockdowns, vaccinations, mask mandates and other public health initiatives. I had observed portions of other rallies, but had not attended any rally in its entirety until last week.
My previous experiences with anti-lockdown activists were not great. In the spring of 2020, I lost my shit with a small, loosely-organized group of adults who gathered with their kids each week to hold up posterboard signs about COVID being a “plandemic.” These people seemed to believe that even if COVID was a real illness and not some manufactured crisis designed to bring capitalism to its knees, it wasn’t anything to worry about – natural herd immunity would develop eventually, and everything would be okay. Unbidden, a young Sovereign Citizen in this group decided to lecture me on various pieces of legislation, telling me I should “look into that” or “do my research.” I could hear his cohorts chatting amongst themselves about how harmless COVID was as their children frolicked within inches of strangers.
I blew a gasket. Watching grown people parade their ignorance, urging other people to partake in it, and endangering their children was infuriating for me. I hollered at the Sovereign Citizen to cork it, shouted to the protesters that I hoped their children didn’t get sick because of their foolishness, and marched away in a huff.
A few months later, the rallies had doubled in size and were far less casual. A crude PA system was set up. Adults toting Trump flags outnumbered families and a few attendees passed out glossy literature informing people that masks pose a serious threat to your health. I observed roughly an hour of one of these new and improved rallies, conversing with a security guard tasked with monitoring it. The guard informed me that my grandparent could not possibly have died from COVID. It must have been something else. Perhaps pneumonia. They’re just putting COVID on everyone’s death certificate these days, he told me.
At these early rallies, there was a strong American influence. In addition to relying on information from U.S. sources like anti-vaccine activist Sherri Tenpenny, attendees often carried U.S. flags, Trump banners and other totems of Americana. I saw many Q Anon “WWG1WA” T-shirts. I heard concerns about George Soros and Bill Gates. There was some overlap between the Q Anon-linked “Save the Children” movement and the No New Normal protests, as well. Now that Trump is over, that element has receded into the background. The protesters’ focus is now firmly on “tyrannical” provincial politicians and health authorities.
The American solidarity isn’t gone entirely, though. At last week’s rally an attendee complimented my Significant Other’s hockey jersey, then proceeded to tell us that he doesn’t watch hockey after all that “Black Lives Matter ‘take a knee’ bullshit.“
In spite of all this, I was willing to give the protesters one more chance. I was very curious to hear what the organizers and speakers would say about the April 11th incident outside the shuttered GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alberta.
A major focus of an earlier rally had been the arrest of pastor Coates and the shuttering of GraceLife Church for violating public health orders. As I previously wrote about churches in the U.S. that ignored shutdown orders or capacity restrictions, GraceLife simply refused to limit the size of its gatherings. The pastor declined to meet with Alberta Health Services to work out ways for his church to stay open safely. He was jailed for 35 days earlier in the year, and his church was fined.
This church has received nationwide support for its stance, and the entire sequence of events has been re-framed by supporters as religious persecution. I have heard people say that Coates was arrested “for doing nothing more than preaching the gospel.”
On April 11, protesters unaffiliated with the church massed outside the fenced-off church property to protest its shutdown. A few of them got worked up and tore down a length of fencing, but other protesters urged them to stop and helped re-erect the fence. Then they all stood around with handmade signs about the dangers of vaccination and whatnot.
If things had stopped there, it would have been okay. But many of the protesters parked their vehicles on land belonging to the Enoch Cree Nation, due to RCMP roadblocks. When Chief Billy Morin asked them to remove these vehicles, some protesters hurled racial slurs at members of the Nation, threw dirt at them and vandalized two vehicles (including the Chief’s). As a result, the Nation had to issue a statement asking GraceLife supporters to stay off their land.
The Enoch Cree Nation is currently struggling with a COVID outbreak and is taking every possible measure to contain it. They have shut down all non-essential services due to at least three cases of a variant of concern. The Nation has done some great work for the community during the pandemic, such as opening up a vaccination clinic to all Indigenous people. They do not need this shit.
At last week’s rally, I wanted to hear at least one speaker address the GraceLife attack on the Enoch Cree Nation and say something like, “This is not who we are and this is not how we’re going to do things.” Not one person did that. The Enoch Cree incident was not mentioned at all, though the “unfairness” of the GraceLife shutdown was mentioned at least twice.
I’m going to refrain from calling the protesters Covidiots, Brunch Covidians, germ bros, etc., in this post. I’ve already gotten that out of my system in other posts. They call themselves Freedom Fighters, but of course I’m not going to call them that, either. We’ll go with “the No New Normal crowd” or simply “rally attendees.”
I already know most of the reasons for the rallies, of course. General concerns include: the passage of draconian legislation like Alberta’s (repealed) Bill 10, the economic fallout of lockdowns, perceived threats to wellbeing from inoculation/the possibility of forced inoculation, risk of increased suicides from social isolation, masking as a form of indoctrination preparing us for coming authoritarian rule (Communist and George Soros/Jewish New World Order plots were frequently mentioned early on, though participants were careful to avoid using the word “Jewish” when referring to Soros).
Business shutdowns have been a major focus of the No New Normal rallies. The last time I walked past a rally, the former police officer at the mic was urging attendees to open up their businesses immediately, in violation of public health orders. “There aren’t enough cops to arrest us all!” he roared, to thunderous applause. To my knowledge, not one person followed his directive. It is doubtful that anyone in the crowd owns a business. Many of the attendees appear to be unemployed, retired or on disability. Rather than face the fact that pandemics impact the economy, the No New Normal crowd insists that businesses would thrive and everyone would be okay if the government simply threw open the doors to every business and allowed them to operate at full capacity.
Opening up businesses during a pandemic does not necessarily mean that those businesses will do well, of course. If people are using common sense, they won’t be crowding into pubs on Friday nights or going to busy amusement parks, and the businesses will still suffer. In a sense, there is no way to win a pandemic. There is no right answer. There is no ideal solution. It’s all a tightrope act.
The concerns of the protesters go far beyond temporal matters, though. There is a strong spiritual component to all of this. Religious leaders have been at the forefront of anti-lockdown protests throughout Alberta. One controversial street preacher led a nighttime rally that involved the use of tiki torches, invoking for some the spectre of American protesters chanting, “The Jews will not replace us” as they marched with tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
The weekly rallies are actually comprised of two separate groups. One group is quite small. It’s led by a woman, and seems more cerebral and insular than its big and boisterous counterpart. The second group does a simulcast, sets up a fairly decent PA system and has a more formal structure. Speakers must be approved by the organizers. It is easily four times the size of the other group.
This second group gives off a junior-high pep rally vibe. They blast rock and roll before their events begin. One week it was the anti-‘Nam anthem “Fortunate Son”, last week it was “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. The emcee, an energetic young man who is also one of the organizers, gets the crowd of roughly 100 people psyched up with shouts and call-backs like, “NO NEW NORMAL! NO NEW NORMAL!”, “Do we accept vaccine passports?” and “Do you accept this lockdown? Will you accept the next lockdown?” These mantras of denial are repeated after each and every speaker (and there are many speakers). I lost track of the number of times the emcee screamed “WOOOO!” or “AWRIGHT!”
The crowd is a mixed bag: Churchy suburban families with khaki-sporting dads and lots of kids running around, senior citizens hauling posterboard signs, men in camo and ballcaps, women in flowing skirts. A large number of attendees arrive with the aid of canes, walkers, and wheelchairs, indicating that many people at high risk of COVID are the very ones scoffing at the very notion of a pandemic.
One man showed up for two weeks in a row carrying a tiki torch, which he did not light. A service industry worker showed up with a bullhorn to protest being laid off yet again. Another person with a bullhorn used it to tell the crowd something about Catholics.
What they share is a peculiar, almost childlike, sense of fatalism. They believe that lockdowns and other health regulations will never end, and that a permanent state of “tyranny” is already in place. The sense of persecution and self-pity is palpable. A young mother with whom I chatted at one rally was convinced that GraceLife has been shut down forever, though there is no indication that this is the case.
With a few exceptions, the same speakers are at the mic week after week, often in the same order. The same talking points are hit again and again. Roughly halfway into the protest, a friend who accompanied me tapped out due to this tiresome repetition.
The rally regulars don’t seem to mind. They clang their cowbells, hoot and applaud as though they’re receiving fresh pearls of insight.
One of the rally organizers is usually the first to speak, after the emcee has warmed up the crowd. I’ll call him Mike. Mike has a distinctive shouting style, quite common to protesters, and his messaging is consistent. Earlier this month he shouted, “Quit complying with tyranny! If you are not being persecuted, you are not doing this correctly!” Last week he shouted, “We have to win this! Defeat is not an option!” He tells the crowd something I have heard other speakers say: There aren’t enough police or military to enforce health regulations, so go ahead and violate them.
The second speaker, as usual, is the wife of a husband-wife team. She gives an update on the group’s social media hits. She boasts about the low turnouts at vaccination clinics, then tears into the provincial government and its health officials. “YOU’RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY!” she shrieks to Premier Jason Kenney.
After a few mumbly speeches that are hard to hear from my vantage point, a doctor takes the mic. I am a bit confused as she talks about how the medical system “brought us COVID and now wants to bring us useless vaccines” that have not been shown to be safe or effective. She tells us that childhood vaccinations have caused an “explosion” in childhood illness and that vaccine “injuries” are “indisputable.” How is this woman a doctor?
Then my confusion vanishes: She is a homeopathic doctor. Oh, okay. Now it makes sense. She launches into a marketing spiel about homeoprophylaxis being an effective form of inoculation, tells us we should all be taking a whopping 8000 units of vitamin D3 a day and lets us know that one of the COVID vaccines causes false positives for HIV. This is not accurate. One vaccine that was in development in Australia was scrapped last year because of false HIV positives, but no vaccines currently in use have had this issue.
She also repeats the bizarre anti-vaxxer claim that vaccines change your genes. “They are changing the human genome…What will humanity look like in a few years? We just don’t know.”
The weirdest speech is yet to come, though. The next guy at the mic, a middle-aged fellow in a cowboy hat, tells us that suicides from isolation are very high (they are not) and that so many people are drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizer that some grocery stores have started placing it near their beverage aisles.
The next speaker is a young man who tells us that although he is not opposed to vaccinations, he does think COVID is a fake pandemic to promote fake vaccines to reduce the population. Like the homeopath, he believes that natural cures will take care of the pandemic naturally. Just get exercise, meditate, eat properly and be in healthy relationships. I wonder what professional athletes who have suffered COVID would have to say to this guy.
Like most of the speakers, he instructs us to stop participating in lockdowns.
The husband of the husband-wife team, a portly retired police officer in a suit, tells us that only 47 people have died from COVID in Alberta (at that time the number was 2,037) and that they could have died from old age and/or obesity. He thinks police need to “smarten up”, “educate themselves” and stop writing tickets for health violations. Paradoxically, he tells officers to start policing big box stores the same way they police small businesses. “DO. YOUR. JOB,” he bellows at these officers.
He makes vague statements such as, “What they have done in the legal system for 40 years is criminal.” I suspect that the crowd doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, but they applaud him anyway. He says that if we were in a real pandemic, there would be bodies in the streets and hospitals would be at maximum capacity. I don’t know where he got the impression that all pandemics are supposed to look like European villages during the Black Death.
He tells the crowd that he is usually hospitalized six times per year due to chest infections, but this year he hasn’t been to hospital once. He’s overweight, doesn’t exercise, doesn’t mask. “How am I not dead?” he asks. He goes on to say that if anyone in the crowd had gotten COVID, the villains of the story (health officials, the government, the media) would have made it headline news. This is quite far from the truth, of course. The speakers have no notion of the health history of the attendees. If someone here had COVID, would they even get tested? Probably not. If someone died of COVID, would the other attendees notice their absence? Not necessarily. At one rally my husband attended, the speaker asked for a show of hands to find out how many people knew someone who had died from COVID. My husband raised his hand. The speaker ignored him and told the crowd, “See? No one.”
The retired policeman tells us to stop masking and just take Vitamin D. He ends his speech by saying, “We’re not immune to COVID. We’re immune to the bullshit.”
The final speaker, as always, is a hippie wearing a lei and a sign she painted herself (below). Her job is to end the rally on a bright note, talking about a kids’ book on freedom that she’s writing. She tells us to “spread love like you’re bees spreading pollen.” Then, as usual, the rally ends and the weekly march around the neighbourhood begins.
As things are winding down, a bearded old man with a cardboard sign approaches a mask-wearing jogger and tries to talk to him about the menace of Communism. The jogger tells him to back off, so the old man retreats, yelling back over his shoulder, “You’re an asshole! Maybe I’ll just call the police!”
So what is the message here?
The upshot of all this is that COVID either doesn’t exist or isn’t a big deal. There is an overemphasis on fatality rates. No New Normal protesters generally believe that if a disease doesn’t kill people, it can’t have any real impact on hospitals, businesses or schools and shouldn’t be treated as a serious public health issue. We should just ignore it and go about our ordinary lives.
At one rally, a woman opined that COVID procedures are taking up too much of the caregivers’ time at the longterm care facility where her father is housed, meaning he has to spend all of his time in his wheelchair. She seems to believe that these conditions would never have existed in longterm care prior to the pandemic, and that if the staff simply stops trying to prevent the spread of COVID in their facility, the residents will be happier and healthier. In reality, understaffing has long been an issue in many longterm care homes across Canada for years. It’s one of the reasons COVID has hit so many care homes so hard. One of the other reasons was failure to maintain proper anti-COVID protocols.
To date, only a handful of Alberta physicians have voiced support for the anti-mask/”plandemic” movement. Two of them were mentioned at this week’s rally: Dr. Roger Hodkinson and Dr. Dennis Modry.
Modry is not even a licensed, practicing physician. He was, at one time, a top heart surgeon in the province, but between 2009 and 2013 questions were raised about the mortality rate of his patients and his inability to get along with hospital staff. When his surgical privileges were yanked in 2013, Modry entered a pitched legal battle with Alberta Health Services for the next two years, alleging some sort of conspiracy. His current nonsensical campaign against the AHS could be a continuation of that battle.
Every statement Modry has made in relation to COVID is so chockablock with bullshit and erroneous information that I can’t even get into it here. Premier Kenney (one of the primary villains in the Alberta anti-masker narrative) responded to one of
Moonbat’s Modry’s letters on Twitter, so take a look at that if you’re interested.
The rallies seem to be a combination of support group, social gathering and pity party. Persecution and unfairness are the overriding themes. The No New Normal crowd is simply grappling with the same things that all of us are during the pandemic – uncertainty, unemployment, frustration, loneliness. Rather than responding to our circumstances with sensible solutions and optimism, they retreat into weekly orgies of denial and anger to cope.
The No New Normal crowd will tell you that their fight is for freedom. Freedom to roam the world maskless, freedom to make their own health decisions, freedom from Communism, freedom from indoctrination, freedom to keep their businesses open or to frequent their favourite businesses during a pandemic, freedom to take Holy Communion in a packed church. What they’re really fighting for is a freedom they have always possessed and always will possess: The freedom to be foolish.
Turns out they were right and you were wrong.
Are you going to publish an apology now?
Right about what? That the pandemic wasn’t a problem?
It was certainly a problem, and remains a problem even with the less severe variants we’re seeing currently. My father is in a nursing home. A friend is suffering with long Covid. People are still in hospital. People are still on ventilators. Businesses are staying closed because of staff illness.
“I don’t know anyone who died, so I don’t care” doesn’t work for me.