The Week (US)

Europe: Threatened by Covid conspiracy theorists

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One of Europe’s top coronaviru­s experts has been forced into hiding by a heavily armed anti-lockdown extremist nicknamed the “Belgian Rambo,” said Thomas Gutschker in the Frankfurte­r Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). A corporal in the Belgian army who served in Iraq and Afghanista­n, Jürgen Conings disappeare­d from a military base in the eastern province of Limburg last month with an arsenal of weapons, including four missile launchers and a submachine gun. The 46-year-old, placed on a government watch list for his far-right views, left behind letters in which he stated that he could “no longer live in a society in which the politician­s and the virologist­s have taken everything from us” and vowed to “join the resistance.” Before vanishing, Conings posted a message on social media asking his followers for the address of Marc Van Ranst—a virologist and lockdown advocate who is as well known in Belgium as Anthony Fauci is in the U.S. Police quickly whisked Van Ranst to safety and launched a manhunt in coordinati­on with the military. They found Conings’ car and the missile launchers abandoned in a forest, but the renegade soldier is still at large. Officials now want to know why an individual with such extremist views was given free access to heavy weapons.

Van Ranst and his family have been cooped up in a safe house ever since, said Anne-Sophie Leurquin in Le Soir (Belgium). Some on social media accuse Van Ranst of bringing the threats on himself with his insulting comments about anti-vaxxers. Noting that the leader of an anti-vaccine group was a dance instructor, he tweeted, “When there’s a salsa pandemic, I’ll listen to you with great pleasure. But at this moment, I don’t give a flying f--- what you have to say.” He also joined a group run by some of his haters on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, arguing with their pseudo-science and mocking their poor spelling. “I just let them know that I wasn’t scared,” Van Ranst said. “I refuse to let myself be intimidate­d.”

Belgium isn’t the only place where scientists are being threatened, said MarieThérè­se Roosendaal in De Telegraaf (Netherland­s). The head of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health, Jaap van Dissel, has been the victim of a smear campaign claiming he’s a satanic pedophile who abused children in the 1980s. It’s all nonsense, but some Dutch believe it, and Van Dissel is now under police protection. In the Polish city of Walbrzych, the decision by local authoritie­s to mandate Covid vaccines for adult residents set off “a wave of hatred,” said Mateusz Kokoszkiew­icz in Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland). A mob of protesters gathered outside the home of Mayor Roman Szelemej, waving banners comparing him to Josef Mengele—the Nazi doctor who experiment­ed on prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp—while some shouted that he was a Jew involved in a global Covid conspiracy.

Across Europe, just as in the U.S., “science has now reverted to a matter of tribal belief,” said Peter Cluskey in The Irish Times (Ireland). Is this going to be our “post-Covid reality,” that those who speak for reason must do so under guard?

 ??  ?? Police and soldiers hunt for the ‘Belgian Rambo.’
Police and soldiers hunt for the ‘Belgian Rambo.’

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