Covid-19 Conspiracy and Disinformation Stickers in NYC
I was able to go to NYC last weekend for the first time since January 2020, curious to see what the stickers would be like there after such a tumultuous couple of years in the United States, post-Trump and in the midst of a global pandemic. Saturday evening in midtown yielded few stickers at all, and surprisingly, almost nothing related to current affairs. Ho hum, snooze. Thanks, America. There were a few, though.
On Sunday morning, I had seen some footage on Sandi Bachom’s and Ron Filipkowski’s Twitter feeds about a group of Proud Boys marching in the city the day before at an anti-mandate protest and about them skipping fares at Grand Central to ride on the subway. The Proud Boys had joined a so-called “freedom rally” that day, part of a larger global event, with thousands of people gathered on the streets of Manhattan for speeches and a candlelight vigil (view footage from freedomnews.tv on YouTube here.)
B & I decided to walk over to Grand Central to see if there were any stickers related to the demonstration, and yes, indeed there were. We exited the subway on E. 42nd Street to find most building walls and street poles peppered with Covid conspiracy and anti-vax misinformation stickers. Heading north a few blocks on Lexington, we found over a dozen different designs stating, “Say No to Vaccine Mandates,” “Your Obedience is Prolonging this Nightmare,” and “VaxPass is the New Jim Crow.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking south on Lexington, and over the next 24 blocks photographed over 70 different stickers, most of which had several duplicates on every block. There were easily hundreds of stickers along that one stretch. I’ve never seen such a rash of stickers from one campaign in such a condensed area like that anywhere, even in Berlin, where large protests are common. Similar stickers were also seen further downtown on Lafayette Street near Foley Park where the candlelight vigil took place the night before. Most stickers looked like they had been stuck up that day, though there was evidence of similar older stickers, too.
A majority of the stickers said “Brought to you by THE WHITE ROSE” and listed “t.me/jointhewhiterose” as the website, which states, “The White Rose is a global network of independent activists, all working in unison to disseminate a much needed counter narrative to the relentless fear mongering, lies and propaganda we’ve all been subjected to since day one of the Covid-19 scamdemic.” (t.me is the URL for an online messaging app called Telegram. An article in Mother Jones states that the Anti-Defamation League calls Telegram a “white supremacist safe haven” and a “tool for right-wing extremists.” The app is also used in the US by the Proud Boys organization, according to an article in The New York Times.) Several White Rose stickers included QR codes that link to the group’s Telegram channel.
In a bizarre and insulting meme twist, the current White Rose group appropriated the name of the World War II German antifascist White Rose resistance group. Led by Hans and Sophie Scholl, the group used anonymous printed leaflets and stencil graffiti to oppose the Nazi regime.
The new White Rose stickers first appeared in England in January 2021, which explains why some of the NYC stickers referenced “neighbourhoods,” the NHS (England’s National Health Service), and gov.uk (government services).
The stickers, printed in at least 14 different languages, have since gone viral around the globe, with sightings seen across the UK, US, New Zealand, and Germany.
This past summer, a British journalist named Michael Marshall joined the White Rose Telegram channel and said he had found 230 different sticker designs. He analyzed some of the sticker themes in his article Inside the White Rose: The Covid conspiracy graffiti group operating at your doorstep (The Skeptic, 19 July, 2021), including “There is no virus,” “The virus is real, but masks are bad,” “The virus is real, but vaccines are bad,” “But, Bill Gates,” “The bigger picture,” and “What point do YOU think you’re making?”
Another article also stated that the White Rose sticker campaign is ratcheting up their tactics and that the group is now crowdfunding for billboards in four cities in England.
I’ll write more about these stickers in the weeks ahead. Batshit crazy stuff.
For more information, see Wkipedia’s White Rose (disinformation group), as well as:
- Cuddeford, Callum. Britain’s sticky issue: The vaccine disinformation war, https://swlondoner.shorthandstories.com/, n.d.
- Fox, Mira. Anti-vaxxers have stolen an anti-Nazi group’s identity, Forward, 24 August 2021.
- Marshall, Michael. Inside the White Rose; from stickers and graffiti to an online Covid conspiracy ecosystem, The Skeptic, 11 August 2021.
- Roffe, Erica. Anger at anti-vax and conspiracy misinformation stickers spotted in Bedford, Bedford Independent, 6 May 2021.