Last weekend's riot in Sydney - and a riot it was - came out of the blue. There have been riots in Australia in recent decades - at Cronulla in 2005, for example - but not such an aggressive revolt against government policy in the midst of a health emergency.
Many there would no doubt say they were peaceful. And the hardships caused by lockdowns are real.
But it seems clear that there is an undercurrent of wider anger against masks and vaccines but also 5G and other nebulous targets. Conspiracy theories abound, unsupported by science. Something deeper is going on.
You get a sense of it by trawling the dark depths of the internet. All kinds of nonsense comes up: "The Chinese biological laboratory in Wuhan is owned by Glaxo" a post on the Australia One site says.
"Who, by chance, owns Pfizer! (the one who produces the vaccine)."
And so on, and so on, sometimes eventually leading to George Soros (who is Jewish). Many of the assertions don't withstand a moment of scrutiny. They have been debunked by science. Pine tea cannot cure Covid.
GlaxoSmithKline does not own the Chinese laboratory or Pfizer.
This is a closed world of discontented people talking to each other. The leader of Australia One answers questions online from followers. One devotee wonders what she should do if "the police, the military, nurses, doctors, whoever are knocking on our front door and trying to vaccinate us?"
Some people will "kill the copper dead on the door," opines Australia One's leader Riccardo Bosi. "That's what we want to avoid," he does add.
But he has an alternative. "The best thing we can do over the next four-six weeks is build an army," the former officer in the actual Australian army says.
"We can bring every city to a standstill," he says. "We've got nothing except the weight of numbers.
"If we've got a protest and a million turn up, we win. That's it. We win. The politicians can go to hell."
It's hard to know how much weight to put on this. A million-person protest seems a fantasy but former special forces lieutenant-colonel Bosi is talking about defying elected politicians and the police.
He envisages force: "We don't have enough cops in the country to stop a million people who want to march." Mr Bosi didn't respond to phone calls or texts.
How many are there?
The numbers in each social media group are small - Australia One only has 1000 or so subscribers on Telegram, about the same as Anti Vaccination Australia - but there countless groups, sharing conspiracy theories.
Some, like Australia Freedom Rally, are part of a global network. Opinions and details of meetings are spread in a formless and ever-changing network.
But this does not mean there is a single organised movement.
Different groups might not actually like each other. Far-right extremists who look to the United States and hippyish protesters against 5G in Byron Bay are not obvious soul-mates.
Dr Josh Roose of Deakin University calls it a "complex tapestry".
People have lost faith in politicians. It hasn't been helped by poor communication. There's been a lack of consistency in the communication and a vacuum of leadership.Dr Josh Roose
Some protesters are anti-vaxxers (though they often don't like the term); some are anti-mask; some anti-5G. But some may be just plain angry and frustrated at the lockdown. Some people originally from Middle Eastern or east European countries may mistrust government with reason.
Dr Roose believes the protest should be seen as a symptom of something deeper.
"People have lost faith in politicians. It hasn't been helped by poor communication. There's been a lack of consistency in the communication and a vacuum of leadership," he says.
Some of the protesters seem to have come "from communities which have been disproportionately hit by Covid".
But this picture of ordinary people merely venting anger doesn't mean they aren't being manipulated. "There are certainly sinister elements," Dr Roose says, "and that includes the far right and conspiracy theorists."
He believes that Covid has hit some groups disproportionately, particularly those who cannot work from home and who are in precarious sectors of the economy - people without sick leave, often working in shops, factories or restaurants and hotels.
Apart from the lack of trust in politicians (and the media and science), some see themselves as unjustly treated. They believe they are reclaiming something which has been stolen: "These people represent themselves as real Australians."
Left or right?
There are elements of both, from an anti-Semitism usually associated with the right to the anti-capitalism of the left - plus raw unfocused anger, according to Chris Cooper, Director of Reset Australia which works to counter online threats to democracy.
Some of the angry people see themselves as "sovereign citizens", like the lady videoed protesting against wearing a mask in Bunnings last year: "It's my right as a living woman to do what I want". (Snobbishly, she was then dubbed "Bunnings Karen", a term which may have intensified the anger).
There is also a hippyish "natural health, natural living" anti-vaccination element which defies left-right categorisation.
These groups go to different corners of the internet and recycle beliefs to each other - often completely false beliefs. "They are in an echo chamber where they are getting alternative perspectives (from the mainstream media) and it becomes this reinforcing feedback loop," Chris Cooper said.
Democracy at risk
Even though the numbers may be relatively small, and many of the people resisting masks or vaccines may be well-meaning but wrong-headed, both Chris Cooper and Josh Roose think we are at a dangerous time.
The combination of discontent and the internet offers fertile ground for a populist rabble rouser. Both see parallels with the rise of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union.
"Over the medium and long term, we are seeing the creation of a wholly polarised electorate and that's really dangerous. The middle ground is being stripped away," Dr Roose says.
"We are at a pivotal time - and a dangerous time - in Australian politics."
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