The anti-lockdown rallies that were staged across Australia and became potential super-spreader events had been planned on social media for weeks by conspiracy theorists.
Police had been monitoring encrypted messaging platform Telegram as early as May before the protests erupted in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide on Saturday.
Plans for a rally then gained momentum on Facebook and Instagram where word began to circulate in fringe social media groups that are rife with Covid-19 conspiracy theories and anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination sentiment.
One of the alleged organisers of the rally was Anthony Khallouf, who runs a website called Australians vs The Agenda.
The anti-lockdown rallies that were staged across Australia and became potential super-spreader events had been planned on social media for weeks by conspiracy theorists (pictured, protestor tackled on garden bed in Sydney)
Police had been monitoring encrypted messaging platform Telegram as early as May before the protests erupted in Sydney (pictured), Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide on Saturday
One of the organisers of the rally was Anthony Khallouf who runs a website called Australians vs The Agenda
The website vows to fight the ‘socialist, communist, fascist state’ as well as the Covid-19 ‘scam’.
He is currently facing incitement charges over his alleged role in protests in Melbourne last year.
‘Sydney CBD takeover’ began to trend while social media plotters shared links to UK conspiracy theorist David Icke, independent MP Craig Kelly and the Qanon movement.
Group chats on Telegram began to balloon and were divided into regions with as many as 2,300 Sydney residents and 3,800 Melburnians taking part in the online conversations.
A nation-wide group chat had also been set up with a staggering 11,000 members.
More than 3,500 protestors turned out to the Sydney rally with thousands more marching in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane on Saturday.
Mr Khallouf praised the turnout, claiming there were more than 100,000 people.
‘This was not only a slam dunk, it was a home run, a premiership team going from being 18 on the ladder to destroying Richmond by 100 points,’ he told The Australian.
‘It was such a crazy day; co-ordinating an event where there are more than 100,000 people all over the country protesting about the exact same thing, at the exact same time and pulling it off without any problems, is a very proud moment.’
Fears have been raised the rallies could become a super-spreading event after protestors flouted stay-at-home orders, abandoned face masks and disregarded social distancing.
More than 3,500 protestors turned out to the Sydney rally with thousands more marching in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane on Saturday (pictured, protestor placed in handcuffs outside Town Hall in Sydney)
Mr Khallouf praised the turnout claiming there were more than 100,000 people (pictured, protestor outside Town Hall in Sydney)
Police have already started to track down protestors who attended the rallies and dole out fines (pictured, Sydney protestor tackled by police)
Mr Khallouf said he had no regrets if anyone caught Covid-19.
‘There are a whole bunch of left-leaning extremists targeting us and people in our community saying you’re an idiot for attending or they’re calling it a ‘free-dumb’ rally or an anti-lockdown protest which it wasn’t — it was called World Wide Rally for Freedom,’ he said.
Police have already started to track down protestors who attended the rallies.
Some 57 people have been charged and 90 fines issued in Sydney while 73 people have been fined and six arrested in Melbourne.
A 33-year-old Surry Hills man and a 36-year-old man from Edensor Park faced court on Sunday after they allegedly struck a police horse during the protest.
The Edensor Park man was also charged with assaulting a police officer.
NSW Police said they have received 5000 tip-offs and identified more than 200 people who attended after a special task force was set up in the aftermath of the protest.
NSW Police said they have received 5000 tip-offs and identified more than 200 people who attended after a special task force was set up in the aftermath of the protest
Some protesters took it upon themselves to set off smoke bombs during protests in Melbourne where six were arrested
Thousands turned out in Sydney and Melbourne (pictured) demanding an end to Covid-19 lockdowns
Members of the public are being asked to upload any videos or photos of the protest to CrimeStoppers to track down more participants.
In Victoria, 73 people have been fined and six people arrested for attending the protest.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said police were in the process of reviewing hundreds of hours of footage from social media, CCTV and body-worn cameras with more fines to follow.
‘Your faces are on the front page of our major newspapers. Your faces are on social media. Your faces are being published, wide and far,’ Mr Cornelius said.
Another man is seen on the ground after being tackled by police in Sydney as thousands gathered to demonstrate against the city’s lockdowns
A woman sobs while being led out of Victoria Park by two policemen during violent protests in Sydney
‘I would say that every Victorian who’s outraged by this, if you know who those people are, call CrimeStoppers and let us know who they are and we will take action.’
Their investigation will include the alleged assault of a mounted officer hurt by a flying bollard.
Victoria premier Daniel Andrews described protesters as ‘selfish’ but was reasonably confident it would not become a super-spreader event, given the state’s 11 new cases on Sunday had all been linked and were in isolation.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was disgusted and heartbroken by those who had shown ‘utter contempt for their fellow citizens’.
‘We know that events like that can cause those super-spreading events,’ she said on Sunday, as the state recorded 141 new COVID-19 cases and saw two deaths.
‘Please know that all of the sacrifices we’ve made over the last three or four weeks in particular have resulted in us being able to stabilise the growth in cases.
‘We don’t want a setback, and yesterday could have been a setback.’