A fire-breathing yoga teacher who goes by the name of Petrol Panther says his only regret about twirling flaming batons in front of protesting Covidiots at Sydney’s ‘Freedom Rally’ super-spreader event is that he cut his own hair the night before.
Demonstrators in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on Saturday lashed out against lockdowns which subject about 14 million Australians to restrictions imposed to quell the worrying number of Covid-19 cases in the country.
Coronavirus cases in the Sydney outbreak grew by a record for the Delta strain of 163 cases on Saturday and a further 141 on Sunday.
But it wasn’t enough to deter about 3,500 furious Sydneysiders from breaking the rules and causing chaos in the streets without face masks, and exposing millions of people to the highly-contagious variant.
Among the campaigners was heavily tattooed ‘energy healer’ James Ward-Collins, who amassed huge crowds of spectators fire twirling at the rally.
Pictured: James Ward-Collins raising his fire sticks at the anti-lockdown protest in Sydney on Saturday
James Ward-Collins (pictured), 28, said he was shocked when police sprayed him with a fire extinguisher
Arial video footage showed the 28-year-old, who is from Sydney’s affluent Castle Hill but lives in Maroubra in the city’s eastern suburbs, putting on an energetic display in front of seething Australians who gathered in close to watch.
Moments later, police used a fire extinguisher on the shirtless man to put an end to the show.
He was carted off in handcuffs as the protest descended into pandemonium.
Many participants carried signs reading ‘Jesus saves’ and ‘my body, my choice’, chanted provocative lines such as ‘f**k Gladys’, and brawled in the streets.
Ward-Collins told Daily Mail Australia he has no regrets about the performance itself because ‘I believe there is an agenda to destroy our Australian culture, our rights, our freedoms, our small businesses and out “normal” way of living’.
Pictured: James Ward-Collins being taken by police after being sprayed with a fire extinguisher
James Ward-Collins (pictured) was arrested and charged with flouting Covid-19 restrictions
James Ward-Collins (pictured) will appear in court next month. He lives in Maroubra in Sydney’ eastern suburbs
‘I am a fire lover and I brought my stuff down and I wasn’t attention-seeking or [sic] tryna boost my ego or anything, it was literally in the moment – felt the only time to do it in such a large crows safely and I did it.’
While recalling the makeshift show, he said he was ‘really in the moment’ when police pointed a fire extinguisher at him.
He claimed cops did not ask him to stop his impromptu street performance before he was blasted.
‘It kind of blinded me and stunned me and then I was being pulled out of the crowd by police and handcuffed and taken away,’ he said.
He was charged with flouting Covid-19 movement restrictions and will appear in court next month, but his only regret was that he cut his own hair on Friday night.
Ward-Collins acknowledged the event – which he claims was attended by 10,000, rather than 3,500 reported by police – could lead to more Covid cases, but isn’t particularly concerned.
‘If I get the virus, I would rather recover naturally without an extra shot of contaminants being injected into my body,’ he said.
Pictured: James Ward-Collins beng escorted out of the Sydney CBD in handcuffs
James Ward-Collins says he is a ‘fire lover’ and did not intend to draw such a crowd with his fire twirling
‘Anyone who wants to get vaccinated should do so and anyone who doesn’t want to get vaccinated should be able to live their life without forced compliance.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Sunday that a woman in her 30s with no pre-existing medical conditions died from Covid-19.
‘This is a horribly cruel disease, and that’s why our response has been so strong against it,’ she said.
Ms Berejiklian also told reporters that photos of the violence that erupted in the streets on Saturday ‘broke my heart’.
‘Millions of people across our state are doing the right thing and it broke my heart that people had such a disregard for their community. I’m disgusted.’
James Ward-Collins says his only regret about the protest is that he cut his own hair on Friday
James Ward-Collins was at the protest against lockdown on Saturday in Sydney is a yoga instructor and runs his own studio
‘Thank you for the people doing the right thing and for those that aren’t.. you should be ashamed of yourselves.’
So far, 57 people who attended the rally have been charged, more than 500 infringement notices were issued, and a strikeforce has been established to identify others who were there.
As the chaos unfolded, protesters were filmed crash tackling a policeman into a garden bed in front of Town Hall station in the city’s CBD as officers attempted to make an arrest.
More arrests are likely.
Footage showed angry protesters attacking police and hurling pot plants at officers on horseback.
Frenzied crowds were heard screaming ‘you serve us!’ to police as a group of protesters were filmed crash tackling officers into a garden bed in front of Town Hall station.
Another man is seen on the ground after being tackled by police in Sydney as thousands gathered to demonstrate against the city’s lockdowns
With the help of his colleagues the young officer is seen trying to wipe off the ink that was thrown onto his uniform and skin
Police are seen firing capsicum spray towards protesters that selfishly put others at risk amid a recent Covid outbreak
At least five officers were seen struggling to take down a single protester, before then carrying him away in handcuffs as crowds of demonstrators hurled abuse at police.
NSW Police posted a photo of a protester allegedly punching a horse on Saturday evening and pleaded with the public to identify the man.
‘Good news! Troop horse Tobruk was not injured and is recovering back at the stables after a hard day’s work,’ a police Facebook post later read.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott was fuming about the rally, and labelled attendees ‘selfish boofheads’.
‘What we saw today was 3,500 very selfish boofheads – people that thought the law didn’t apply to them,’ Mr Elliott said.
One man with blood dripping from his nose is seen being walked away in handcuffs during violent anti-lockdown protests in Sydney on Saturday
Chaos in Sydney: Tens of thousands swarmed George Street in the CBD for the anti-lockdown protest on Saturday
He also said there is ‘no doubt in my mind’ that at least one of the protesters had Covid.
‘If we don’t see a spike in areas where these protesters came from in the next week, I’ll be very, very surprised,’ he said.
‘When we talk about a superspreader event, today was the best case study I’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic.’
‘I’m appealing to all 3,500 people to get tested tomorrow, if not for themselves for the sake of their family and friends,’ he added on Sunday.
Health officer Brett Sutton took to Twitter to point out the irony in protestors claiming their cause was ‘freedom’.
‘I love freedom. Who doesn’t love freedom? I want freedom from being amongst the over 4 million official (and likely 10 million actual) Covid deaths globally,’ he wrote.
‘Let’s not pretend that ‘marching for freedom’ will actually deliver the precious freedom that we all need and desire.
‘New variants could still be catastrophic for much of the world – Australia included.’
He said ‘giving up’ on trying to prevent Covid spread could be disastrous.
‘Letting infections potentially overwhelm our health system will cause illness and death at an awful scale,’ he said.
On Sunday, Ms Berejiklian thanked the ‘brave officers who put their safety on the line’.
‘This type of activity during lockdown will not be tolerated and the full force of the law will be brought against anyone who engages in this type of illegal activity.’