The ex-soldier leading lockdown uprising
A former soldier and competitive bodybuilder is leading a bizarre conspiracy theory group that claims the coronavirus is a hoax and part of a global "war on humanity".
James Bartolo runs the organisation The Conscious Truth Network, which is encouraging Victorians in stage 3 lockdown to deliberately breach COVID-19 public health orders, including by passing lockdown checkpoints illegally.
But the group's Facebook page encourages followers to "unplug from the matrix" and free themselves from an apparent global conspiracy waged by corporations to enslave populations.
Eve Black, the Melbourne woman who sparked outrage after she filmed herself refusing to comply with police direction and driving through a checkpoint, is part of the group.
Mr Bartolo believes a "treasonous and corrupt network of filth" is behind a conspiracy to use the COVID-19 pandemic to strip rights away from people.
He too shared vision of himself refusing to co-operate with authorities at a road checkpoint, arguing with a police officer for 20 minutes that his actions were unlawful.
Mr Bartolo said: "What's the crime I've committed? If I haven't committed a crime, then I'm going to go."
Eventually, in apparent frustration, the officer permitted him to pass - a similar end result to that captured in Ms Black's video.
She used similar language and was reading from a script on a piece of paper. The Conscious Truth Network is providing tips to its followers on how to challenge police at checkpoints.
Victoria is in the midst of a deadly second wave of coronavirus infections, with thousands of new cases recorded in the past few weeks.
The death toll has also jumped sharply, largely due to outbreaks in aged care facilities.
Greater Melbourne is in its second week of a stage 3 lockdown, which provides just four valid reasons for leaving one's home - seeking medical care, providing care, buying groceries and other essentials, and working or studying if it's not possible to do so remotely.
Mr Bartolo started his group in May to coincide with an anti-lockdown rally held in Melbourne.
He is a former soldier in the Australian Army and a competitive bodybuilder who describes himself as a "truth seeker" and "freedom fighter".
"I have always known there was something terribly wrong with the world and from a very young age was certain I would have an impact in fixing this broken planet," Mr Bartolo writes on his website.
"My personal mission is to help wake people up and the together we can serve justice to the corrupt, twisted and sick individuals, corporations and entities who have caused such massive harm to the people of this world.
"After justice has been delivered, then we can focus on creating the world we are all happy to live in peacefully together."
Content he shares covers everything from 5G conspiracies to his belief that the moon landing was faked and that COVID-19 is a "relabeled flu" that isn't contagious or deadly.
In a June 7 video, an angry and ranting Mr Bartolo took aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for instituting tough coronavirus restrictions "without consent of the population".
He described Mr Morrison's leadership as "a dictatorship" and accused the media of "deliberately manipulating the masses to spread and entice fear".
"Forcing someone to do something they don't want is raping their freedom," Mr Bartolo said of the PM. "He is the furthest thing from a true leader."
Of coronavirus, he said: "It has also been proven that this virus is not contagious. If it was, then by God there would be an extraordinarily higher amount of cases."
To date, 15.4 million people globally have been infected with COVID-19 and some 630,000 have died.
But Mr Bartolo believes people have been "tricked and brainwashed" and urges his followers to follow their "gut" that the pandemic is a hoax.
In another video posted on June 4, he interviewed a man called Sheriff Jupie, who he identified as an 18-year-old electrician, "about he's (sic) views on the pharmaceutical industry and their side effect ridden drugs".
He has also boasted about repeatedly breaching lockdown restrictions in the first wave of infections by going out in public to attend rallies and interview people about coronavirus.
Other clips focus on 5G technology, "which apparently is only meant to speed up internet speeds … oh how I wish that was true", claiming it can instead "create ongoing pandemics".
Originally published as The man leading lockdown uprising