Inside Melbourne’s emerging coronavirus denial cult
A large group of conspiracy theorists who claim the coronavirus pandemic is one big fraud and take part in bizarre online rants to reject restrictions have been unmasked.
The Leader can reveal five key players behind the disturbing antivirus cult, who are running Facebook livestreams and making outrageous claims about planning future protests.
On Monday, Victoria's peak human rights body rejected growing conspiracy theorists' online rants to reject corona restrictions, declaring the government's actions are lawful.
But it hasn't stopped thousands of conspiracy theorists in Melbourne from running large meetings and filming bizarre rants on social media including the "Bunnings Karen" who took on retail workers when they questioned her about not wearing a mask.
Here are the key players of Melbourne's antivirus cult:
Nick Patterson, former MMA fighter, from Melbourne's southeast
Nick Patterson from Melbourne's southeast, who runs a website called John 8, which speaks out against unlawful lockdowns and is believed to be behind organising large gatherings in Melbourne's southeast.
Mr Patterson, who boasted about a large gathering in Cranbourne on Sunday, where Eve Black - who bragged online about driving through a Melbourne checkpoint - attended as a guest speaker, has hundreds of followers on his personal Facebook page.
Most of his followers are from Melbourne's southeast including areas such as Cranbourne, Narre Warren and surrounding suburbs.
He posted a photo of the meeting on social media which showed the group were not social distancing or wearing masks.
In his website bio he says: "I am not a lawyer, neither do I have a university degree; I was actually a professional MMA fighter and, although now retired, I apply the same mindset in different arenas.".
Eve Black, Melbourne, social media conspiracist
Eve Black, who calls the pandemic a "SCAMdemic" on social media and uploaded vision of her interaction with officers at a lockdown checkpoint last week.
Ms Black's actions have been roundly condemned by politicians and health experts, but she has no regrets about her public stunt, posting a message on her Facebook page saying "I regret nothing. I'm just tired of the abuse and threats. Wake up, sleeper" with the emoji of a sheep.
She also posted a quote purportedly from Melbourne Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye saying "it is an ancient principle of the common law that a person under arrest has no obligation to stop for police or answer their questions.
Black engaged in a short debate with one of her followers who asked "what about if they committed an offence".
She is now openly bragging on Facebook about taking part in another meeting on Saturday at 6pm, telling followers: "Lemme know if you want the address".
James Bartolo, conspiracy group leader, former salesman in Melton
James Bartolo, a leader of the conspiracy group The Conscious Truth Network, uploaded a video of himself arguing with officers for 20 minutes about whether their actions were legal.
Mr Bartolo used similar language to Ms Black, who was reading from a script on a piece of paper in her video.
He is encouraging Melburnians in stage 3 lockdown to breach checkpoints, arguing it's a violation of human rights.
His group has 1660 members.
Mr Bartolo regularly shares videos with his followers discussing the "pandemic" hoax, questioning whether COVID-19 is infectious, pushing 5G conspiracies and sharing his theory that coronavirus is part of a push towards a cashless society.
In one bizarre clip, he also questions whether the moon landing was faked.
A new video of Mr Bartolo has emerged on social media showing him boasting about running a previous boot camp centre where "beautiful women" would pay him money so he could "look at their arse and correct their squat".
Raphael Fernandez & Fanos Panayides, Melbourne anti-vaxxers and Facebook influencers
A Facebook group which was led by Melburnians Fanos Panayides and Raphael Fernandez, The 99% Unite, followed and promoted a web of anti-public health theories, including the coronavirus pandemic and existing conspiracies around vaccinations and 5G technology.
The group was recently shutdown by Facebook, but other similar splinter groups are now emerging.
The group operated across several pages on Facebook in an apparent attempt to evade the social media giant's crackdown on misinformation.
The largest page was started in April and boasts more than 65,000 members.
The group tells its followers not to wear masks and to reject coronavirus tests and has held large protests in recent months.
Originally published as Inside Melbourne's emerging coronavirus denial cult