The chief architect of Melbourne’s week of violent anti-vaccine demonstrations is under siege from his followers calling him a sellout for agreeing to curtail his protest activity.
Harrison Mclean, 25, was arrested at his home on Saturday morning and charged with incitement while his followers clashed with police on a seventh day of violence.
The Monash University IT graduate runs the ‘Melbourne Freedom Rally’ group on encrypted messaging app Telegram used to mobilise anti-vax protesters.
Mclean, who also posts as ‘Dominic D’, used the channel, boasting more than 13,000 members, to promote and organise rallies against lockdowns and Covid vaccine mandates.
Hailed as a hero by conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and lockdown opponents for months, many abruptly turned on him on Sunday after he announced his arrest.
Harrison Mclean, 24, the chief architect of Melbourne ‘s week of destructive anti-vaccine protests, has been charged with incitement. He is seen here at Tuesday’s rally
Mclean, a Monash University graduate and former cheerleader, runs the ‘Melbourne Freedom Rally’ Telegram channel used to mobilise riots that turned the city into a battleground
Diehard members believed Mclean should have chosen jail over agreeing to bail conditions that prevented him from organising or promoting protests
‘I have accepted bail conditions for release, which include following chief health officer directions, and refraining from promoting freedom events that contravene CHO directions,’ he wrote.
Diehard members believed Mclean should have chosen jail over agreeing to bail conditions that prevented him from organising or promoting protests.
‘The bail conditions were reasonable for the circumstances, and there is nothing to be gained from sending time in jail,’ he told one.
‘There is a lot that can be done while outside that is not directly rally related.’
The bail conditions will hamstring his protest activity until he faces Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on April 11 next year.
Mclean also insisted ‘there was no encouragement to riot, only peacefully protest’ despite all the protests quickly spiralling out of control.
There is no record of Mclean encouraging violence of any kind in his promotion of the protests.
However, Mclean was blasted for the after-effects of the protests, including by a construction worker who was stood down after Monday’s rally.
Rallies earlier in the week were very successful with thousands flooding the streets, many dressed in high-vis though only a small fraction were actual construction workers
Hailed as a hero by conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and lockdown opponents for months, many abruptly turned on him on Sunday after he announced his arrest
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews shut down the entire construction industry for two weeks last Monday night after ugly scenes at the CFMEU’s Melbourne office where a crowd clashed with union officials over vaccine mandates for workers.
Several tradies told the Guardian that a handful of workers went there to speak with officials about the vaccine mandate and unrelated changes to working conditions because they couldn’t get through on the phone.
However, the small group was soon joined by hundreds of others intent on causing a scene, many of whom were not union members.
‘You went there looking for a reaction off the police, which you got but never went in you favour,’ the construction worker wrote.
‘I’m aggressive because I’m off work for two weeks down to your movement hijacking Monday. We went down there for answers and your people capitalised on an industry’s anger.’
Mclean insisted his movement only played a supporting role in Monday’s rally that had to be broken up with riot police after the mob trashed the union office.
‘We supported Monday, we united together on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the people gradually got tired out and unable to deal with police suppression on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,’ he said.
Mr Setka, the longtime CFMEU state secretary, tried to appease the crowd and address the protestors over loudspeaker on Monday
Another follower asked Mclean if he was worried about the CFMEU coming after him for hijacking the vaccine mandate issue to organise protests.
‘Well I guess that’s what occurs when I do what [Victorian CFMEU boss] John Setka refused to do and actually march the membership on parliament,’ he replied.
The protests lost significant credibility when rioters marched on the Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday and had more ugly clashes with police.
Custodians of the shrine blasted them for using the war memorial as a prop and for leaving rubbish and urine across the park.
‘No one came up with the Shrine in advance, people just went there because they were pushed there by police positioning and attacks,’ Mclean claimed.
Mclean also tried to clarify his personal stance on coronavirus, having previously claimed in speeches at rallies this year that the pandemic didn’t exist.
‘I have never said that coronavirus isn’t real. I personally think that coronavirus is real, however, some people have some disagreements,’ he said.
‘I think it is real but the lethality and transmission rates are highly exaggerated.’
Mclean said claimed his issue was with mandatory vaccination and lockdowns, which he said were incompatible with freedom.
‘The goalposts will keep moving to three, four, five vaccines [being needed to enjoy freedoms taken away by government restrictions],’ he claimed.
‘Israel is moving to requiring more vaccine already.’
Mclean insisted his movement only played a supporting role in Monday’s rally that had to be broken up with riot police after the mob trashed the union office
But Mclean didn’t hesitate to immediately promote an even bigger rally the next day after Premier Daniel Andrews shut down the whole construction industry for two weeks in response to the riot
Mclean was replying under his real-name Telegram handle as opposed to his Dominic D alias, which he admitted was now blown.
‘Now that the genie is out of the bottle, my personal name can be more present,’ he said.
Mclean has in the past used the Dominic D alias to make statements on Telegram that led to accusations he holds white supremacist beliefs – which he denies.
His posts, penned under the pseudonym, have included remarks such as ‘Hitler had some good points’, and plans to radicalise his ‘freedom groups’ into more extreme political views, the Guardian reported.
Mclean on Sunday was challenged about reports of the posts he made, and insisted he was not a neo-Nazi and just wanted to encourage debate.
‘I am a libertarian populist, not a national socialist. I oppose their arguments and refute them at every available opportunity,’ he said.
The protests lost significant credibility when rioters marched on the Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday and had more ugly clashes with police
Maintainers of the shrine blasted them for using the war memorial as a prop and for leaving rubbish and urine across the park
He added that members of his group were ‘new to this side of politics and discourse’ and were not ‘comfortable’ with ‘the idea that Hitler had some good points’, before outlining a list of conspiracy theories he would slowly feed to fans.
‘We start at “Dan Bad” and go right through to “No Coercive Vaccines” and get into the paedo suppression orders and NWO agenda and one world government as a concept to be opposed,’ he wrote.
‘I wish it were different [but] we need to take it one step at a time.’
Mclean on Sunday claimed these remarks were not his own views, merely examples of him politely explaining to actual white supremacists why they should leave.
‘The context was me telling national socialists to leave our group and I was explaining why our group is not for them,’ he said.
‘I said that people coming in from Facebook were not ready to debate the JQ and that national socialists should not be discussing it in our chat for the debate, not to support national socialist arguments on it, which I disagree with.’
Mclean, however, did admit he wanted to shift the range of acceptable public discourse – the so-called ‘Overton window’ – to include such topics.
‘I am not trying to radicalise anyone, only expand the Overton window towards more freedom of speech,’ he said.
After the 2020 lockdown ended, Mclean became a key organiser and drove a shift in rhetoric to general themes of ‘freedom’ that attracted legions of new followers
Some members did jump to his defence to claim Mclean and the admins of his protest groups frequently tried to keep extremist discussion out.
‘Mate, Harrison has consistently said that neo-Nazis and violence aren’t welcome in the movement,’ he said.
‘Admins on the Melbourne freedom rally chat have been working overtime to remove racist posts and links to racist telegram channels
‘Harrison himself has spoken to neo-Nazis on the voice chat of the Melbourne freedom rally chat and has explicitly denounced their views
‘What more do you want him to do?’
McLean was charged over the first rally on September 18 where 10 cops were injured and there were ugly scenes of alleged police brutality.
That anti-lockdown protest was planned for at least four months and heavily promoted on his network of Telegram channels.
Mclean and his followers seized on a vaccine mandate for the construction industry to spawn another protest outside the CFMEU office on Monday.
Follow-up rallies, all promoted and organised on Mclean’s Telegram groups, continued every day until Saturday.
Thousands marched around the Melbourne CBD in the early protests but ran out of steam due to poor communication and increased police presence by Thursday, with just 200 showing up to St Kilda Beach on Saturday.
Mclean admitted defeat through the Telegram channel after Friday’s dismal turnout, but still hailed the week of riots as a success.
‘In the long way to reclaim our rights, we will inevitably suffer losses. Today was one of those days where we were outnumbered and unsuccessful in coming together,’ he wrote.
‘Don’t lose hope and don’t forget the victories of this week where thousands upon thousands of everyday Victorians spilled into the streets and highways to the endless sound of car horns and trucks cheering us on.
‘Don’t ever forget that we made history that day… You don’t have to win every battle to win the war. Truth always wins in the end.’
By Saturday, just 200 protesters showed up on St Kilda Beach (pictured), by which point Mclean was already under arrest
Hundreds gather at St Kilda for the ‘Millions March for Freedom’ rally as protests in Melbourne reach its sixth day
Tensions have been high all week in Melbourne’s CBD, with residents protesting mandatory vaccinations for building sector workers (pictured)
Mclean used a separate page to post official updates and share flyers for the protests, which were shared across social media.
In another group he maintained, 13,000 hardcore supporters schemed, posted photos and videos, and cheered on the violence.
The protests claimed to be predominantly tradies and construction workers outraged at being forced to get a Covid jab to work, but the vast majority were mobilised by the Telegram group and wore suspiciously new high-vis.
Instead they appeared to be a mix of disgruntled tradies and union members, Melburnians sick of lockdown, conspiracy theorists of all flavours, ultra-libertarian ‘freedom’ activists, and far-right rabble-rousers.
At a glance, the pale IT expert seems like the last person you’d expect to be pulling the strings of this rag-tag horde of hi-vis wearing demonstrators.
Mclean graduated from the $9,000-a-year St Joseph’s College in Melbourne before studying computer science at Monash University from 2015-19.
Photos on social media paint a picture of an outgoing student active in Monash’s social social scene Science Society.
Typical undergraduate activities like fancy dress parties, formal dinners, and relaxed campus life feature in his Facebook tags.
Mclean was also a competitive cheerleader, winning a tournament in June 2017 and posing with a teammate with their trophy for a celebratory photo.
Later he headed on an overseas trip through Europe and the US with his blonde-haired girlfriend at the beginning of his final year.
Photos on social media paint a picture of an outgoing student active in Monash’s social scene and the campus Science Society
Mr Mclean headed on an overseas trip through Europe and the US with his blonde-haired girlfriend at the beginning of his final year of university
Before graduating, he co-founded social media platform WeYouMe, which uses blockchain technology to encrypt data.
Mclean first started attending anti-lockdown rallies last July at the height of Melbourne’s deadly second wave of Covid.
After the lockdown ended he became a key organiser and drove a shift in rhetoric to general themes of ‘freedom’ that attracted legions of new followers.
He was filmed speaking at so-called ‘freedom’ rallies in December and January and on Australia Day, wearing an untucked shirt and sunglasses.
By March his movement had more than 2,000 members and has added 7,000 more by the time the CFMEU was attacked, as Victoria was thrown back into lockdown.
Another 4,000 joined the group as the week progressed, reaching a high of 13,000 by Sunday morning after Mclean had abandoned further rallies.
Thousands of construction workers are pictured protesting on the West Gate Bridge on Tuesday afternoon as the demonstration moved out of Melbourne’s central business district
Mr Mclean was also found to be part of a chat used by far-right group Proud Boys to vet new members
At a rally in March he proclaimed his movement was ‘done with the cabal which runs this country’ and claimed the Covid pandemic didn’t exist.
‘We are going to purge this country of every single incumbent politician who does not support freedom,’ he bellowed.
Protests were organised at least once a month and promoted with the same template of the rally details over a washed-out photo of the venue.
Mr Mclean then began to expand the movement across the country, creating Telegram pages and discussion groups in major cities along with a national ‘Australia Freedom Rally’.
Flyers for each demanded ‘no more’ lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine mandates and passports, business closures, or ‘medical apartheid’.
He also build a slick website for each city with identical branding and a page on every social media platform imaginable.