Human rights abuses in the paint aisle at Bunnings? Yeah, right
I freaking love Bunnings. I mean, not usually. When I go in there I’m terrified. Long and various aisles. Many different types of spigot. Big blokes bustling about as if they know what they are doing.
But right now, the main reason I love Bunnings is because of its staff. A video on the weekend distributed on Twitter by Cam Smith (@sexenheimer) reveals the conversation between staff and a woman fronting up to a Bunnings in Victoria to have a fight about wearing a mask. The woman, named as Kerry Nash, enters the Narre Warren premises and is approached by a calm employee who asks her if she has a mask. (Hint: It’s Victoria. Wear a mask.)
Kerry Nash talking to police after she refused to wear a mask in Bunnings.
Nash, recording the interaction so she can use it as "evidence" (of what, I'm unsure, except to illustrate ignorance of the law), replies to the astonishingly patient staff: "It’s clear I don’t and you are not authorised to ask me or question me about it."
Then follows two minutes of breathtaking calm from workers while Nash recites a list of ludicrous reasons why she shouldn’t wear a mask and claims being asked to wear a mask is an unlawful condition of entry and even cites the Charter of Human Rights.
Geez. I wish I’d known about this Charter of Human Rights. We could only get into an AFL game at the Sydney Cricket Ground if the men in our party were wearing collared shirts, so we were forced into the expensive Swans merch store and that’s surely a greater breach of my human rights than wearing a mask in Bunnings.
Anyhow, about Kerry. Just as we are having a COVID pandemic, turns out we are also having a COVIDiots' convention. I can't be sure she's one of these nutjobs but her video was shared with a conspiracy theory Facebook group.
And these are the groups who think their individual rights are more important than the collective. They believe COVID-19 is a fiction and if it exists at all, it’s part of a "plandemic". That vaccines are a tool of Big Pharma. That masks are about breaking our indomitable will. That we should follow QAnon (and even slow old Twitter's decided to do something about those far-right lunatics). That the shutting of business is some blah-blah-destroy-economy-and-oppress-all-citizens plot or some such and it’s all the Jews’ fault.
And before some lunatic investigatively outs me on social media as a Jew, I did that already in a previous column. So last century.
The COVIDiots fester in far-right groups on Facebook and share videos of their "bravery" in Bunnings, Australia Post, at border checkpoints. We don’t know how many of these people there are, but researchers say they are linked to what’s called the sovereign-citizen movement which originated in the US.
Wesfarmers chief Rob Scott praised Bunnings staff for the way they dealt with a customer who refused to wear a mask. CREDIT:FACEBOOK
That movement has origins in anti-Semitism, with a belief that Jews control the banks and are working to control the world through the financial system. The core belief though is that the foundational law of the state has been unlawfully and secretly replaced and that the names we have are "corporate fictions". That explains the emphasis on describing themselves as "living" men and women.
That’s a brief summary from University of Sydney researcher Jordan McSwiney, who says COVID-19 has brought these folks out of the woodwork.
Cam Smith, an independent researcher into far-right groups and conspiracy theories, says he decided to share the video because "it's worth highlighting that there are these 'sovereign citizens' out there 'educating' people about their rights often turning a buck while doing it".
Folks like Kerry follow a script built on a farrago of lies and fabrications. It's not just the inaccuracy that's the problem.
"It concerns me that things won't always go as smoothly when it's not a white woman taking their advice," Smith says. "And it also bothers me that these conspiracy theorists are up in arms about these imaginary human rights abuses in the paint aisle when there are real human rights problems in this country."
A woman filmed ranting at Bunnings over the wearing of a face mask did the same thing at Australia Post.
The behaviour of these people is deplorable. Yes, refusing to wear a mask is risking health and safety. But what’s just as bad is the bullying of front-line workers who are stressed enough anyway. Retail staff don’t get the opportunity to work from home. They have to deal and that’s bloody tough.
Staff at this particular Bunnings say they’ve been overwhelmed by public support and how kind everyone has been (and also surprised it’s gone "viral" both in Australia and internationally).
My only suggestion to those working at Bunnings and to all others at risk of this behaviour is that you should embrace being filmed. It proves you were on the side of calm common sense and the person recording was completely not. Maybe Wesfarmers, which owns Bunnings, could provide bodycam for all staff.
What happened to Kerry Nash? Well, Google searches for "Bunnings Karen" spiked about 5000 per cent so there's her moment of fame. Her former employer iSelect has run far, far away from her. And at the end of the day, police were called and dealt with her outside the store. She never got her spigots. Good.
Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.