By Christian Haag and Alexander Smith
In anticipation of the upcoming farmers' protests in Brussels and The Hague on March 11, several prominent Twitter users have been sharing conspiracy theories and spreading disinformation about the Dutch farmers fighting a hostile takeover by the New World Order. Why are the farmers protesting, and why is the Dutch government buying farmland?
Dutch farmers began protesting in 2019 in response to policies proposed by the Dutch House of Representatives to reduce nitrogen emissions. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) determined that the nitrogen level produced by agriculture and industry was damaging the environment, prompting policymakers to introduce solutions, including halving the number of livestock in the country. Angered by the government's framing of farmers as large-scale polluters and the economic losses the new policies would cause, the Farmers Defence Force (FDF) has held numerous protests, starting at The Hague in October 2019.
The need to reduce nitrogen emissions is due to an ongoing nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a pioneer of area-efficient farming, which has led them to become the world's second-largest food exporter, creating a high level of nitrogen compounds as a by-product, causing pollution to soil and water supplies. Because of its small size and expansive agricultural sector, pollutants are more concentrated in the Netherlands than in other larger countries. For example, the Dutch dairy industry produces more excrement than the country can safely dispose of.
Since 2019, demonstrations have continued in the Netherlands by both the FDF and Farmer-Citizen Movement. However, the far-right in the Netherlands has shown an interest in the farmers. Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist and expert on the far right, told NBC News that there are broadly two far-right groups at play, the FDF and the Forum for Democracy (FVD); the latter having used the farmers' protests to promote their broader political agenda.
The Dutch government has taken steps to curb nitrogen emissions, including various innovations in farming practices and voluntary buyout schemes. In April 2022, the Netherlands minister for nature and nitrogen, Christianne van der Wal, published an outline of her new plans to combat the nitrogen crisis. The new policy proposed that by 2030, nitrogen emissions be cut by 50 to 75 percent in certain protected natural areas. On June 10, 2022, the Dutch government presented a national program outlining its objectives to reduce emissions of nitrogen greenhouse gas in rural areas. Those who did not want to sell their farms would have to innovate, scale up, or move them. However, the expropriation of farms remained an option. Following the news from the Dutch government in April and June, the farmers' protests intensified during the summer of 2022.
The Far-Right Steps In
On February 3, 2023, Eva Vlaardingerbroek, a Dutch politician and former FVD representative, posted a video about the Dutch farmers' protest in the summer of 2022. She stated that the Dutch government has doubled down on the expropriation plans of farms from Dutch farmers, planning to take over 3000 farms by the year 2030. Towards the end of the video, she says: "As civilians, we have to stand united with our farmers against the totalitarian forces who want to cut our food supply and take away our rights in order to control us."
A European Union flag is shown over the monologue, and the post urges support of the cause with the hashtag #Dutchfarmers. On March 3, 2023, when Belgian and Flemish farmers protested in Brussels against the new regional government plan to limit nitrogen emission, Vladingerbroek tweeted that farmers are "virtually the only self-reliant societal group in The Netherlands that has the manpower to bring the government to its knees. And that's exactly why they're trying to get rid of them."
Vlaardingerbroek appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in the summer of 2022, claiming that the nitrogen crisis was made up and that the Dutch government was stealing farms and wanted the farmers' land to house new immigrants, a narrative that is now widely disseminated on Twitter. In all cases, the environmental impact and issues are omitted.
On March 5, 2023, Vlaardingerbroek retweeted a Dutch dairy farmer who stated he had to close down this farm due to being labeled a "peak polluter." This was retweeted by Jordan Peterson, who wrote, "You're next, on some front: You and your carbon footprint. And by 'you're' I mean everyone reading. Including the demented leftist still clinging to the shreds of their pathological ideology." Vlaardingerbroeks reiterated this, tweeting,"'You're next,' said @jordanbpeterson regarding the farmers. Meaning: we're all next. Don't think they won't do it to you. That's why we have to say no to: - carbon credits - digital ID - CBDC's - 15 min cities, or they'll be turning off our lives at the push of one button."
From Cows to Conspiracy
Since Vlaardingerbroek's tweets, the hashtag #DutchFarmers has been used to spread conspiratorial claims that the expropriation of Dutch farms is part of the Great Reset, a global takeover by the New World Order and the World Economic Forum (WEF). The claims are part of a common conspiratorial narrative in which the WEF and New World Order are attempting to take control of the world.
Claims have been made that the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is "completely" owned by the WEF and wants to destroy the Dutch farms to enact control over the Dutch populace. Logically fact-checked such a claim by conspiracy theorist David Icke, finding it baseless and conspiratorial.
Vlaadingerbroek's reference to carbon credits, digital IDs, CBDCs, and 15-minute cities are associated with the Great Reset meta-conspiracy, effectively spreading the disinformation further.
The Disinformation Snowball Effect
Vlaardingerbroek’s revival of conspiracies and exploitation of the Dutch farmers' protest has been furthered by other prominent Twitter personalities, including Jordan Peterson and Elon Musk. The claims are then shared by large numbers of small accounts, in line with the larger accounts, creating a snowball effect of disinformation on an international scale.
This top-down spread of disinformation is not new. A study by the Reuters Institute on disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines showed that prominent public figures made about 20 percent of COVID-19 disinformation claims in their sample, which accounted for 69 percent of total engagement on social media. In 2021, ISD examined the spread of the Great Reset conspiracy theory in Dutch online communities, finding that Thierry Baudet, FVD's leader, has played a vital role in mainstreaming the theory, combining it with the dissemination of antisemitism, COVID-19 disinformation, and the QAnon conspiracy theory.
But why has the Dutch farmers' protest been a target for the far-right and conspiracists on an international scale? According to Barbara Molas at the ICCT, it is for the same reasons as the Canadian Freedom convoy: "It serves as a focal point of public resentment against the established government, as a hub for extremist discourse and because it enables loose and post-organisational movements like the far-right to look bigger and more organized than they are." For this purpose, disinformation, like the Great Reset conspiracy, is a key radicalizing tool to make the perceived threat appear global.