As anti-vax protests fade from public debate, “alternative media” have found an unlikely new hot topic: Dutch farmers. And across the Atlantic, some sources claim a convenient would-be connection to Canadian truckers who blockaded trade earlier this year.
AMSTERDAM — Tractor-riding farmers in the Netherlands have descended on different parts of the country over the past few days, blocking supermarkets, distributions centers, and roads in and out of major cities. The protests have escalated, with a few cases of violence.
The agriculture sector is protesting Dutch government plans to reduce the nitrogen oxide and ammonia pollution produced by livestock. The plans would require farmers to use less fertilizer and reduce livestock numbers, with cuts reaching 70% in some cases and about 30% of farms expected to have would to give up raising livestock altogether.
The agriculture protests aren’t new. They’ve been happening sporadically since 2019. What is new this time around is that the Dutch farmers have unlikely new allies — conspiracy theorists around the world.
Alternative news sources are claiming the farmers from the Netherlands heartland were inspired by the Canadian truckers, who made headlines earlier this year with a blockade in the capital of Ottawa to protest mandates that required truckers crossing the border into the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is not clear if there is a direct connection to Canada's trucking movement, but reports of the claim have begun to actually end up inspiring the farmers to continue with their protests against the government.
Counter Signal crowdfund
This would-be self-sustaining storyline kicked into high gear earlier this week when Canadian editor Keean Bexte touched down in Amsterdam earlier this week, reports VRT, the Flemish-language Belgian public broadcaster. Bexte, editor-in-chief of influential “alternative news” site, The Counter Signal, had crowdfunded 8,000 Canadian dollars for his trip. He even created a website, Dutch Uprising, to cover the protests, with articles shared thousands of times.
The protest was soon picked up by far-right groups and politicians.
Bexte has been claiming that Dutch farmers have been inspired by the Canadian truckers’ protest earlier this year. Back then, about 90% of truckers were vaccinated, about the same as the Canadian population generally. But the protest was soon picked up by far-right groups and politicians. The truckers actually had more support outside Canada, particularly from the U.S., than within the country itself.
Bexte has posted an interview with a Dutch farmer who said he was inspired by the Canadian truckers. However, the main source of the argument seems to be a photo that falsely claims to show Dutch farmers protesting in solidarity with the Canadians. The photo was shared hundreds of times on Facebook and inspired stories on alternative news sites, which accused the mainstream media of ignoring the story.
A New World Order
The far-right groups and alternative news sources supporting the Dutch farmers are deeply critical of COVID-19 regulations, directing much of their hostility at the World Economic Forum (WEF). Bexte has accused the Canadian and Dutch prime ministers of being “WEF puppets,” claiming the organization controls national governments and is using COVID to push a new world order.
It's about attracting attention and undermining trust.
Like the Canadian protesters, the Dutch farmers enjoy support from far-right groups that is not mirrored in the country itself. Public approval of the farmers’ actions dropped significantly back in 2019 after they blockaded roads, and has not recovered.
Will the escalating protests and conspiracy theories this time garner new support? Unlikely, since the Dutch are notoriously averse to radical public action, preferring cooperation, consensus decision-making and dialogue (the “polder model”, named after the collective effort required to build the dykes that keep the country safe from flooding).
For the far-right populists on either side of the Atlantic, the goal is still not really about polling well, and certainly not about agriculture policy. It's about attracting attention and undermining trust, which requires trying to look bigger — and wider — than they are.