Belgium’s intelligence services have issued a warning of attempts by Russia, as well as by extreme right-wing groups, to disseminate fake news in order to undermine the government and its medical advisers.
In a document published on the website of State Security, civilian intelligence and its military counterpart SGRS warn that extremists are using social media to published conspiracy theories and turn groups among the population against each other.
“These include the Knights of Flanders, a new group of far-right Templars, who spread a theory that the origin of the coronavirus dates back to the flu vaccine,” the document says. “Other far-right groups spread hate messages against Muslims. This is how the French-speaking group Nation at one point disseminated the message that a fatwa called on infected Muslims to cough in the faces of unbelievers.”
Among tactics used by the groups are suggestions that the coronavirus was manufactured deliberately (in China or a variety of other countries), that the government pretended to have no stocks of protective equipment to scare the population into accepting harsh new laws or, alternatively, to kill off the elderly.
The virus has been linked to immigration and to refugees, as when the French-speaking Parti National Européen claimed that the refugee centre in Mouscron was a hotbed of infection and calling for its closure.
The influence of Russia is also detected.
“The VSSE [civilian intelligence] also notes that certain far-right groups and organisations are propagating pro-Russian discourse and disseminating Russian propaganda in our country in the context of the coronavirus crisis, like the recently created ‘Squadra Europa’ movement. This is a very recent pan-European far-right movement, active on Twitter and other social media, with a connection to Belgium.”
And the extreme right and pro-Russians are not alone.
“The Brussels anarchist scene also made headlines during the coronavirus crisis. On April 8 the left-wing anarchist website Indymedia Bruxsel launched an appeal urging supporters to exploit the COVID-19 epidemic to commit violent acts against the police, prison officers and telecommunications infrastructure, in order to harm society as much as possible. According to Indymedia, the coronavirus epidemic is the perfect time to take action: law enforcement is busy with other things.”
Finally, the document warns of efforts by some foreign countries to exploit the difficulties experienced by some companies as a result of the crisis.
“In the context of the coronavirus crisis, the [intelligence services] would like to stress that we must remain vigilant with regard to foreign powers which are seeking strategic takeovers of companies in difficulty following the coronavirus crisis. These are mainly deals in the high-tech sector allowing a country to strengthen its strategic position and to establish itself in the European market,” the document says.
“The VSSE also wishes to draw attention to the risk of foreign powers exploiting their humanitarian actions to engage in interference in decision-making processes. This ‘corona diplomacy’ is not necessarily in the interest of our country.”