The Murky Overlaps Between Swedish COVID Protests And The Radical Right

Converging conspiratorial imagination.
Filip Sjöström (with a tie), one of the organizers, is at the front of the demonstration. (Photo Credit: Expo)

Filip Sjöström (with a tie), one of the organizers, is at the front of the demonstration. (Photo Credit: Expo)

Dr. Andreas Önnerfors, Sweden, is an expert on European cultural history and its mega-trends.

Despite Sweden’s comparably soft public-health approach in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, the Anti-Corona movement finally hit the streets in early 2021. Under the fuzzy slogan “Freedom and Truth”, a motley crew of protesters assembled on March 6, 2021 in Stockholm and a few weeks later in several other Swedish cities to voice their concerns over governmental policies in general and in particular over the alleged looming coup d’état staged by the ‘globalist’ elites. Hijacking the traditional labour day, May 1, “Freedom and Truth” marched again in the Swedish capital, spearheaded by representatives of the country’s sovereign citizen’s and ‘Better Man’-movement.

And, exactly as at the occasion of previous and similar protests across Europe, the people marching with the movement ‘Freedom Sweden’ (“Frihet Sverige”) can be best characterized as a strange alliance between people generally burdened by different grievances, mixed in with spiritual wellness entrepreneurs, anti-vaxxers, outright conspiracy theorists and radical-right activists, very similar to developments in neighboring Norway. It is dangerously naïve to ignore these overlaps.

No doubt, popular political protest against any public policies is a legitimate part of democratic politics, but by setting aside public-health advice, the protesters not only broke against democratically agreed regulations, but put their own and other people’s health at risk. Moreover, in March the crowd gathered in Stockholm violently pushed its way through police barriers in order to congregate at the central square Kungsträdgården under the statue of Charles XII (1682–1718), the Swedish warrior-king hailed as a totem within the Swedish radical right.

Already in October 2020 a smaller crowd had assembled around his statue in a bizarre event – welcoming virulent conspiracy theorists on stage such as Ole Dammegard and representatives of the shady ‘World Freedom Alliance’ (WFA, which has a very strong Swedish representation). By then, it was already pretty obvious that the anti-corona protests not only were directed against Swedish public-health-policies but also functioned as a smokescreen of antisemitic and radical-right extremism.

In March 2021, the movement “Freedom Sweden” (which practically is a Swedish branch of WFA) did absolutely nothing to cut these ties or distance themselves from such positions, rather to the contrary: its leading figure, Filip Sjöström endorsed a supportive post on social media from a representative of the terrorist organization Nordic Resistance Movement (‘Nordiska Motstånds Rörelsen’, NMR) calling for an end of democracy.

Anders Jonsson of NMR wrote on the Facebook Page of “Tusenmannamarschen” (“The Thousand-man March”, as the March event was titled): “Democracy is a system in which JEWISH power owns and directs” and that “JEWISH power and democracy has to be crushed and to be replaced by national socialism, which means COMMUNITY OF THE PEOPLE (“FOLKGEMENSKAP”)”. Sjöström replied: “Thanks Anders. It is worthwhile to discuss the term ‘democracy’. We will create something new and better.” A number of posts expressed antisemitic positions and linked to the spurious Protocols or the Holocaust-denier Ernst Zündel, as Swedish journal Expo reported.

On the surface, ‘Freedom Sweden’ seemed to voice the grievances of quite a sizeable number of the Swedish public who think that the (very modest) public-health measures have gone ‘too far.’ But, for those who listened to the German doctor Heiko Schöning’s opening address, there must have been no shrink of a doubt that his aim was not to push for legitimate political demands but rather shameless agitation.

Schöning said: “I want to address the facts first. I’m a scientist, I’m a medical doctor, and I can tell you straight: what we see with covid-19, world-wide, is organized crime. […] Lies in a world-wide fashion are going on! It is not new and this is organized crime!” Schöning then explained that the American company Emergent BioSolutions was behind Anthrax and today produces the Corona-vaccine: “The anthrax attacks were based [sic] by the US military, the anthrax came from the US army! This is proven!”. He then incited the crowd to resist vaccination: “Why? Use your common sense, the vaccinations are not safe! Don’t take it! Consider it! It is organized crime what is behind this.”

In reality, Schöning claimed, Covid-19 “is just a cover story for the financial crash. 2008 there was a global financial crash, and it was clear who were the perpetrators. The perpetrators were the banks and their private owners!”. Since the financial system still not is healed, “they are looking for a cover story. The cover-story is the coronavirus, its COVID-19, and you are in it!”.

Claiming that he already had exposed the plot in 2019, Schöning bragged about his appearance with prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy Jr at the Berlin 2020-protests (at which the radical-right conspiracy movement ‘Reich Citizens’ stormed the German parliament). He also told the crowd how he was arrested in Hyde Park for speaking out against corona-related policies. Quoting Depeche Mode´s song “Where’s the revolution”, Schöning called for to resist the “new normal across the globe from the oligarchs”. After the address, organizer Filip Sjöström praised Schöning as “the biggest freedom fighter we have right now”.

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It is evident that the rhetoric behind this version of ‘freedom’ rests on several fallacies:

a) unsubstantiated and abstruse claims of that what we witness is “organized crime”,
b) conspiratorial narratives of likewise completely unsubstantiated connections between Anthrax and the COVID-19 vaccine, and
c) an almost paranoid assertion of that the entire pandemic only serves as a cover-up of the financial crash of 2008 staged by globalist ‘oligarchs’.

By pushing these and other conspiracy theories (continuously repeated), it is clear that the activism of ‘Freedom Sweden’ and in extension the WFA has left the middle ground of deliberative democracy behind in which arguments can be scrutinized and debated in a rational discourse. Moreover, fearmongering and scandalization are part and parcel of their rhetorical arsenal.

This explains its strong affinity with the radical right. Conspiracy theories are the catalyst of Swedish radical-right mobilization at least since 2015 when the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ served as a screen upon which narratives of the imminent apocalyptic ‘collapse of the system’ could be projected. As I have developed in a previous CARR-text, the sinking of the ferry M/S Estonia in 1994 can be defined as a ground zero for conspiracism in the Swedish radical right.

The narrative of conspiracy unites several (sometimes conflicting) strings: of a ‘deep state’ so powerful that it is capable of covering up massive catastrophes affecting the Swedish people negatively or so powerless and incompetent that it is barely able (or truly willing) to protect it. In both cases the ‘elites’ are blamed to orchestrate the demise of the Swedish people from its former Golden Age towards a dim future of a ‘great replacement’ when the Muslim ‘Other’ will take over, plotting together with internal enemies: liberals and feminists. There is widespread consensus in academic research that belief in one conspiracy theory opens up towards others with the potential to result in an increasing loss of reality, eventually moving beyond an ‘anti-Semitic point of no return’ as Abbie Richards aptly has categorized it.

For those who believe that ‘Freedom Sweden’ and the WFA simply voice legitimate concerns related to Swedish public-health measures it is recommended to examine the scrub beneath official signposting on Facebook pages like ‘Tusenmannamarschen’ or the far larger ‘People’s Rights in Society’ (“Folkets Rättigheter i Samhället”, almost 20,000 members). Within seconds it is possible to access the digital infrastructure of the most toxic radical right movement in Sweden. It is also no wonder that the radical-right news outlet Nya Dagbladet (ND, renowned for its declared ecofascist, ethnopluralist and anti-globalist positions merged with support for alternative medicine) hails ‘Freedom Sweden’ as a liberation movement.

Again, Filip Sjöström (and with him the WFA) desperately fail to dissociate themselves with the extremist fringes of the political spectrum – if by mere ignorance or conscious calculation remains to be established. On 24 March 2021, the leader of ‘Freedom Sweden’ published an Op-Ed in ND attacking Swedish COVID-19-policies. Ahead of the traditional political street protests of 1 May 2021, Sjöström called for to “open up Sweden!”. Lockdowns have proven to be ineffective and thus, the Swedish official “corona strategy is just one giant experiment”. It is only a matter of time before more and more people will speak up against the destruction of liberties. In the comments to the article, it emerges clearly that the readers of ND are of the opinion that COVID-19 is a hoax used by the tyrannical political elites to suppress freedom. It will become necessary “to clean out the parasites from parliament”. Sjöström also gave an interview to radical right Nya Tider in which he blamed the media of “being enemies of freedom”.

Against the backdrop of such obvious overlaps between the Swedish anti-corona movement and the radical-right extremist milieu in Sweden, it appears as a bizarre undertaking to defend ‘Freedom Sweden’ (as a branch of the WFA) against legitimate criticism, as it recently happened in an Op-Ed. The author, Susanne Dodillet, claims that Swedish media have misrepresented the “resistance against coronapolitics mainly as a growing and disparate gathering of idiots […] who with their conspiracy theories threaten the democratic order of society”. Dodillet alleges that Swedish media have focused upon “individual expressions among a limited group of vociferous individuals” who “with the help of media have succeeded to appear as spokespeople for all protesters”.

This is of course pure nonsense since the people organizing the protests have self-declared as spokespeople and by placing themselves on the stages of the protests and declaring themselves leading representatives of the WFA have claimed leadership over the movement and constantly self-portray in that capacity. This is not a media construct but a well-organized movement. And it is not a “breach against the principle of media objectivity” to call them leaders, as Dodillet claims, but a common-sense analysis of ego-statements by leading representatives of the protests. Anyone participating in these protests cannot have escaped the realization that these events were indeed organized by “vociferous individuals” who invented the name of the event, decided upon the date and place of congregation, the strategies with which it was organized and the slogans shouted by the crowd, and who willingly spoke to the press or staged press conferences.

Dodillet then attempts to show that a denial of the pandemic, that the risks with COVID-19 are exaggerated, that politics and experts in public-health lie and manipulate, and that global elites govern the “politics of corona” are legitimate political claims that do not deserve to be diminished by being classified as conspiracy theories. Her argument rests unfortunately on shaky ground and again opens up the abyss towards the persistent lies circulating in the Swedish radical right.

One of her proofs is a book written by Johan Nordangård, titled ‘The Global Coup d’ État’ (“Den globala statskuppen”, 2020). Dodillet rightly points out that the book most likely not would have passed any sound academic peer-review. But she still insists on using Nordangård as proof of the global cabal of elite manipulators without caring too much about his (own) publishing house “Stiftelsen Pharos” or who else might peddle Nordangård’s conspiratorial thoughts and books.

The blog of the ‘Foundation Pharos’ features for instance a lecture by Nordangård, “COVID-19 is part of Agenda 2030”, presented for the radical-right TV channel Swebb-TV which was banned from YouTube in January 2021 for its systematic disinformation. AlternaMedia, one of the most prolific publishing houses of the Swedish radical-right also sells Nordangård’s books together with titles written by the Eurasian extremist Aleksandr Dugin, Holocaust-deniers, pseudo-spiritual leaders and toxic counter-jihadists. To me, that context matters. Immensely.

Dodillet and others who have tried to downplay the obvious links to political extremism in the Swedish anti-corona movement and fail to see that conspiracy theories constitute the backbone of its rhetoric are either blind or consciously whitewashing the movement to serve their own spurious purposes. Legitimate political protest will have to expunge these obvious tendencies of radicalization, resist to be hijacked by the radical right and deny a platform for the expression of its toxic ideas.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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