When Russell Brand issued his pre-emptive denial in an attempt to get ahead of the horrendous allegations of rape and sexual assault aired by The Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches on Saturday, he addressed his 6.6 million YouTube subscribers with the words: “Hello there, you awakening wonders.”
It’s Brand’s standard greeting to his followers and it connects him, in his latest incarnation as a ‘wellness’ guru and questioner of ‘establishment narratives’, with a wider community of ‘awakening’ conspiracy theorists. This is a community that’s increasingly moving out of its internet echo chamber of medical disinformation and climate science denialism into real-world activism in communities around the UK.
You may recently have come across people in town centres with loudhailers and placards proclaiming that CO2 is nothing to worry about and that the government is using the climate emergency as part of a plot to deprive people of their freedom and impose a New World Order. You may have thought these people were random eccentrics (to put it politely).
If so, you’d have been wrong. They’re part of a movement that started growing exponentially during the pandemic and that has now moved on from spreading disinformation about vaccines to campaigning against action on the climate emergency. In the past few weeks it has become very active in Cornwall, where I live, and in other parts of the South West.
A group called Wake Up Cornwall is its main public face in this part of the world, where it’s leafleting, postering, holding street demonstrations and attending public meetings organised as part of local authority public consultations on the climate emergency and what local communities can do about it.
But this group, and its sister group Time to Wake Up Devon, are part of a much bigger network that’s pumping out an impressive volume of misleading material designed to make people feel that their lives and liberties are under attack by evil ‘globalists’.
There is no single, central point from which the movement is directed – indeed, one of its strengths is that it has grown organically. It is not overtly party-political, though Richard Tice’s Reform UK party, with which it shares many positions, appears to see it as a fertile recruiting ground. Some of its leading figures are also linked to groups even further to the right, including the neo-Nazi Patriotic Alternative.
The Light, a monthly newspaper with a print-run of at least 100,000 and an extensive distribution network, is probably this movement’s most influential communication asset. The network’s main organising platform is the website UKCitizen.org, with another more specifically South West-facing site calling itself ‘Seven Concerned Citizens’, and it’s via these sites that groups around the country have been encouraged to “go local”, in particular by attending council meetings to ask questions designed to show that action being taken by councils to reduce carbon emissions are unnecessary and based on fraudulent science.
UKCitizen.org has produced a voluminous, 193-page “Going Local” handbook with questions for activists to bring to council meetings. These include questions implying that such action relies on “models that don’t work” or is based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “which are government opinions rather than scientific findings”, or that councils have ignored “the science which illustrates there is no catastrophic global warming caused by fossil fuels and CO2”.
Activists are also encouraged to bombard their local council with freedom of information (FoI) requests aimed at uncovering a conspiracy to hoodwink local people. As the authors of this handbook are no doubt aware, such vexatious FoI requests are potentially a significant drain on council resources.
Neither ‘Seven Concerned Citizens’ or UKCtizens.org give any information on who is behind their websites, but the foreword to the handbook they are distributing thanks “Sandi Adams for her contribution to this Going Local Pack and for raising the profile of UK Citizen”. So who is Sandi Adams?
Her website tells us that Adams “worked in the corporate world for 20 years as a set designer in London, and moved to Glastonbury in 2009. In 2014 Sandi helped sandbagging during the flooding of the Somerset levels and realised that the flood was not caused by high spring rainfall, but by UN Agenda 21 policies to protect biodiversity.” (These floods coincided with the highest rainfall recorded in Somerset for over a century).
In an interview with the Plymouth-based conspiracist ‘news’ channel UK Column, Adams reveals that this revelation was preceded by an earlier ‘awakening’ that occurred when she was designing corporate events for Microsoft and Google, became disillusioned with her work for these clients and “had a bit of a breakthrough, or breakdown or whatever you want to call it”. This led to the break-up of her marriage and “caused me to flee to the West Country, where I started researching Agenda 21”.
As early as 2019, Adams was speaking on platforms alongside conspiracy theory luminaries such as Piers Corbyn and Mark Windows (who has hosted holocaust deniers on his YouTube show). The pandemic turbo-charged their paranoid view of a world being taken over by a secretive cabal of ‘globalists’, and between 2020 and 2022 this trio were a regular fixture at anti-lockdown and anti-vax events.
The anti-vax community already overlapped substantially with the New Age ‘wellness’ community, and it was in this confluence of gullible former hippies, far-right libertarians and conspiracy-curious suckers that messianic hucksters like Russell Brand were also to find a receptive (and very lucrative) audience of the ‘awakened’.
Adams appears in multiple YouTube and Rumble videos that are widely shared in conspiracist circles. In one, she explains the supposedly sinister plan behind the UN’s Agenda 2030 on climate (originally called Agenda 21) at an online event organised by the so-called ‘World Council for Health’, a pseudo-medical outfit that promotes misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and quack Covid-19 treatments such as ivermectin.
Adams explains that she sees low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and ‘15-minute cities’ as part of an ongoing plan to “lock down” communities: “These climate lockdowns are real – they cause absolute chaos… people die trying to get through in ambulances… it’s been a total disaster.” She claims that “an organisation called ICLEI, the International Committee for Environmental and Local Initiatives“ has sent “agents that went in to promote ICLEI, and ICLEI has taken over every town council, every city council.”
The organisation she was referring to is actually the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (originally called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), an entirely voluntary and democratically constituted network that brings together participating local governments from around the world to share ideas and initiatives on climate and environmental sustainability.
More than a decade ago, far-right conspiracist groups and media commentators in the US, including Glenn Beck of Fox News, seized on this well-intentioned organisation as the supposed spearhead of a globalist plot to impose “centralised control over all human life on earth,” in Beck’s words.
Adams goes on to explain to the ‘World Council for Health’ that there is a plan to take “our initiative in Glastonbury […] and to try to cookie-cut it across the country and hopefully the world”. This would appear to be the plan that is set out in the “Going Local” pack on UKCitizens.net.
An object lesson in how to disrupt local council action on the climate emergency is Adams’ intervention at a meeting of Glastonbury town councillors in March 2023 – one of her biggest internet video hits.
At this meeting (attended by a small crowd of other excited conspiracy theorists, who cheered her on) Adams maintained to bemused councillors that the government’s net zero agenda would mean “no flying out of the UK, no ships out of the UK, no cars at all by 2030, all wood burners and gas appliances to be ripped out of people’s homes by 2025 – we would literally be imprisoned on our own island.”
She also claimed that the government
“is working alongside the World Economic Forum, and they’re bringing in drone technology that will be surveilling us from the air”.
“We must understand the whole thing with CO2 in this,” she continued. “Because even I as a kid was taught that CO2 was the gas of life – it makes things grow. If you talk about net zero, it’s zero you, it’s zero me, it’s zero plants, it’s zero everything. You know, the carbon, CO2, rises from the sea, most of it – it’s not anthropogenic and I want this to be looked at properly!”
How she expected the mayor and councillors of Glastonbury to overturn the scrupulous work of thousands of expert climate scientists was unclear, although she advised them: “It was all found out in Climategate in 2010 – look it up.”
Adams appeared to believe that Glastonbury has a mystically appointed role in resisting this monstrous conspiracy: “Whatever happens in Glastonbury reverberates around the whole world!”
It would be easy to dismiss all this as the deluded ramblings of someone in the grip of a severe mid-life crisis. But in April a survey by Savanta for King’s College London and the BBC found that a third of the public (33 per cent) now believe that so-called 15-minute cities “are an attempt by governments to restrict people’s personal freedom and keep them under surveillance”. Almost as many (29 per cent) now believe the “Great Reset” recovery plan promoted by the World Economic Forum during the Covid-19 pandemic to be “a conspiracy to impose a totalitarian world government”.
The survey also found that one in four people in the UK say they have either taken part in, or would be prepared to take part in, protests or rallies against such alleged conspiracies. Alarmingly, one in seven think violence could be justified as part of such protests.
Unsurprisingly, the far right is already weaponising such beliefs, and has been very much involved in publicising the views of Adams and others like her. Adams has been given airtime by GB News, where she has been one of former BBC presenter Neil Oliver’s many conspiracy theorist guests, and she has made frequent appearances on the online TV ‘news’ site, UK Column.
UK Column is described by the anti-extremist organisation Hope Not Hate as “a longstanding and significant voice in the UK’s conspiracy theorist alternative media,” which has “produced content promoting various far-right conspiracy ideologies, such as the ‘Cultural Marxism’ theory, and even the ‘Kalergi Plan’, a variant of the ‘White Genocide’ conspiracy theory that alleges that a sinister plot is underway to wipe out white Europeans.”
UK Column has given favourable coverage to the neo-Nazi group Patriotic Alternative. One of the ‘news’ channel’s directors and presenters is Alex Thomson, who has appeared as a guest on Patriotic Alternative’s online video show, Patriotic Weekly Review, alongside white supremacist blogger Jason Köhne and Patriotic Alternative’s founder Mark Collett, a long-term neo-Nazi activist and former chair of the youth wing of the British National Party (BNP).
In December 2021, Netherlands-based Thomson, who at one time worked for GCHQ, explained to viewers of Patriotic Alternative Weekly Review that the pandemic had given UK Column a shot in the arm. Although its promotion of anti-vax material had led to the channel being kicked off YouTube and Vimeo, “while that was happening we got probably a doubling of our audience again, certainly a doubling of our profile”.
Thomson also described how UK Column had been able to tap into the same vein of New Age woo-woo that Russell Brand and Sandi Adams have exploited so effectively:
“You have the New Agers […] There was a node there. There’s a history going back some time of the New Agers being ahead of us in realising constitutionally – and also I think demographically – what was going on. The New Agers, with their, shall we say, non-racial view of the world, were quite cute as to what corporatocracy was doing – hollowing out capitalism, for example, and denuding us of national values.”
Thomson also affirmed to Collett that he was happy to subscribe to the white nationalist credo – “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” – and said that the pandemic and vaccination had presented a “golden opportunity, because in the Covid era “everyone who’s half-awake now understands that the jabs in their various combinations are wrecking fertility.” Which, he observed, was a danger to “England as an ethno-state”. (NB: There is no evidence that Covid-19 vaccines affect fertility.)
When Collett asserted that the “globalists”, who both he and Thomson saw as the enemy, were “disproportionately made up of Jews”, Thomson agreed: “Massively disproportional […] but there’s a group who Jews hate even more than us, the whites, and that is their fellow Jews who simply want to get on with their life.”
This is not to suggest that all those who have fallen into a conspiracy mindset about Covid and the climate emergency have ended up as full-on antisemites. Many who take part in groups such as Wake Up Cornwall are no doubt sincere in their belief that they are working in the interests of local people and humanity at large.
Their perception that global corporations do not necessarily have their best interests at heart is not unfounded; nor is their feeling that the mass media often lie to them. Some of the issues they highlight, such as the spread of facial recognition and other surveillance technology, are real concerns.
It would be a mistake to write off all those involved in groups like Wake Up Cornwall as a bunch of malevolent nutters, not least because this would be to misunderstand their motives. Their impulse to take action that they see as being for the public good is in some ways admirable, even if deeply misguided and aimed at the wrong organisations.
But there is a strong undertone of antisemitism in conspiracy theories of the sort that have gained traction in the past few years, and Sandi Adams herself has been accused of promoting brazenly anti-Jewish conspiracy narratives.
The front page of her website has a curious announcement headed “Disclaimer re Anti Semitism”. In this, she claims that blatantly antisemitic material that appeared on her site in 2020 was not her work but the result of the site being “hijacked by my then webmaster, Torbin Franck, who took it upon himself to write views I did not hold”. These included a post headed “The Truth is Anti-Semitic” and a neo-Nazi propaganda video entitled Europa –The Last Battle, “neither of which I agreed with at all”, Adams claims.
These posts have certainly created problems for Adams. Residents of Stroud made strongly worded protests against her appearances at rallies organised by the ‘Stroud Freedom Group’ in 2020 and 2022, pointing out that her deletion of some of these posts “does not reflect a change in attitude toward antisemitism on the part of Adams. Sandi Adams’ website still hosts antisemitic content.”
And indeed, the current version of her website includes a clearly antisemitic screed that explains how the New World Order is part of a satanic plan by a secretive group of “Illuminati” families “subservient to the Rothschilds”:
“They have laid down in their Protocols that mankind will not be allowed a moment of respite from bloodshed and misery until all nation states are abolished, all traditional religions destroyed, and mankind kneels before them in complete submission.”
The “Protocols” is a reference to the notorious forged document “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a foundational text of modern antisemitism.
Overt references to antisemitism are not likely to be featuring in the public activities of groups such as Wake Up Cornwall. Indeed, the “Going Local” pack that this and other groups are using contains strict instructions about being discreet about what they say on social media, though these are phrased in terms that are not altogether reassuring.
Quoting from Sun Tzu’s ancient Chinese classic The Art of War, the pack’s authors tell its ‘awakened’ readers:
“Keep your mouth shut: ‘O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.’ Bear in mind that in all likelihood anything said on social media will be immediately known by those who intend to control us.
“Just do it: ‘Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night and, when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.’”
The subtext is clear: this is a war. And those who believe that meaningful climate action is desperately needed, at international, national and local level, should be under no illusion about the nature of the opposition that’s now being mounted to this.