Virus deniers planning mass protests
Coronavirus conspiracy theorists are trying to recruit half a million people for a mass protest calling for Victoria to end its lockdown and Australia to get its freedom back.
The '500,000 to End the Vic Lockdown & celebrate freedom!' event on Facebook already has more than 35,000 people listed as attending on September 5, with a further 23,000 saying they're interested.
"The Andrews government must be made accountable for overseeing the biggest public health disaster in Australian history," the event description reads.
"500,000 Australians shall declare the END of the state of emergency.
"Dan Andrews - Get out of our lives. We can manage our own wellbeing."
The protesters plan to meet at a location that will be announced on the day.
The group is encouraging people to wear Guy Fawkes masks and have even created a Spotify playlist.
It stipulates it will be a peaceful process but others have encouraged people not worry about getting fined for breaking Victoria's stage 4 lockdown rules.
One of the organisers, former reality TV show star Fanos Panayides, said the "freedom day" event was not just for Victorians but all of Australia.
He told followers it would be a day for Australian history.
"You're either going to be there and show your support, or not," he said in a video posted on the event page.
"You should want to go there because of the circumstances of this country. You should want to go there because your freedoms have been stripped away one by one until there's nothing left."
He said people from all states would be creating banners for those states.
"People in Victoria need to stop looking at this just as Victoria, this is an Australia-wide event," he said.
Mr Panayides has more than 23,000 followers on Facebook and appears to be a member of Reignite Democracy Australia.
Mr Panayides promotes various conspiracies around vaccinations and 5G technology and doesn't believe coronavirus is real.
WHO IS FANOS PANAYIDES?
Back in May, Mr Panayides told his followers to smash their TVs in protest of the media telling them what to think.
He smashed his own TV in his backyard, declaring they were terrorising the world and people needed to take the power back.
Dozens of his followers followed suit, filming themselves taking hammers and other tools to their own TVs.
He was also arrested as part of anti-lockdown protests outside Parliament in Victoria.
At the event he was filmed attempting to read a verse from the Bible which, he says, talks about microchips.
He told the program he did not believe the coronavirus existed but was "probably a flu going around and getting people sick".
"But I believe the motives of the world at the moment doesn't make sense at all," he said.
He blamed pictures of morgues and bodies in Italy and New York on "media manipulation".
Earlier in the pandemic he started a group called 99% Unite that quickly attracted thousands of members but it was removed by Facebook for spreading "harmful misinformation".
It told followers not to wear masks and to reject coronavirus tests.
Mr Panayides and other conspiracy theorists operate across several Facebook pages to avoid the social media giant's censors.
The largest page was started in April and had more than 65,000 members.
A group called 99% Unite Worldwide is still circulating and has 16,000 members.
"What's going on around the world is just the beginning to mass genocide," Mr Panayides said in a video posted online last month.
"Don't sit there and say I didn't tell you that something was going on when you see people dropping like flies, when they go and stick people with a vaccine for a virus that your Prime Minister has to lie about the death rate for."
He's also claimed there was a scheme in which families accepted money in exchange for saying their loved ones died because of the coronavirus.
Co-leader of 99% Unite, Raphael Fernandez, who is also an organiser of the September 5 protest, has been promoting a black crystal called Shungite, which he claims wards off EMF, which conspiracy theorists believe is emitted by 5G towers and can cause symptoms of the coronavirus.
WHAT ARE POLICE DOING?
Police are aware of the protest and said they were making inquiries into the organisers to deter any breaches of the chief health officer's directives.
"This would be a completely blatant breach of the chief health officer's directions, putting Victorian lives at risk," a spokesperson said.
"Those thinking of attending can expect to see a highly visible police presence in and around the city to ensure the community is complying with stage 4 restrictions.
"We will have no hesitation in issuing $1652 fines or making arrests on the day, if necessary.
In addition to this, those who are found to be in breach of a self-isolation order can be subject to a fine of $4957."
Originally published as Virus deniers planning mass protests