The star of the parliament protests has surprised her online audience by announcing her arrival in the country.
Conspiracy influencer Chantelle Baker has landed in Ukraine, posting live streams from Odessa to her Facebook page. The new page, set up after her original one was banned by Facebook, is part of a project described as “a completely independent media group” that will “open your mind to new ideas, innovative concepts and new perspectives”.
Prior to the February parliament occupation, most people probably hadn’t heard of Chantelle Baker. The self-described fashionista and one-time reality TV competitor had been posting fashion and beauty videos on Facebook for a couple of years, but had more recently found her largest success with videos that questioned the official narrative around Covid and the government’s response to the pandemic.
By the time the “Freedom Convoy” began its journey to parliament grounds, she was one of the more prominent influencers in the community, and over the next three weeks grew to become a star of the event, with her live streams from parliament reaching tens of thousands of live viewers on Facebook, with thousands more watching the recordings later.
Baker’s streams from the final day of the occupation received, according to The Disinformation Project, more online viewers than mainstream media companies combined, and her live-to-air claims that police had started the fires which ravaged the camp became a ground truth for the movement’s supporters.
In her first live stream from the country, on Saturday morning New Zealand time, Baker apologised for not updating followers in recent days before explaining that the reason was she’d secretly travelled to Ukraine to speak to the people first-hand.
Prior to landing in Odessa, a city hundreds of kilometres from the war’s front lines, Baker and her partner had been travelling through Europe interviewing controversial figures. Most recently she had posted and hour-long interview with Dutch politician Thierry Baudet, a conspiracy theorist who has repeatedly gained attention for his climate-denial, anti-Nato and pro-Russia positions, and also his various racist and antisemitic remarks.
The couple’s European excursion began with their attendance, along with Chantelle’s father, former New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker, at the Vienna leg of the Better Way Conference, an event described by Vice News as “the Davos of Covid conspiracy theorists”.
While in Ukraine, Baker has told live stream viewers, she won’t be posting any of the footage they’ve been capturing on the ground, nor would she post any of her thoughts about the war or the politics in Ukraine as any such posts would be deleted by Facebook, YouTube and others. Instead, she says, occasion cellphone live streams are all she will offer while she’s in the country.
In the live-streams over the weekend, from the largely unaffected city of Odessa, she mostly expressed her surprise about the mood among the people, and the fact that the city is not obviously any different to other large European cities. Thanking viewers who have donated to her ANZ bank account she said, “you guys have allowed us to get into Ukraine and to be able to tell stories of people that are here on the ground, and what they’re going through, which is amazing and is so different to what I have thought [from] the media and what I’ve seen so far.
“What’s happening in Ukraine is—” she continued, before clarifying that she’s quite far from the front line, “and obviously we’re only in Odessa, which is one town that has not been affected very much”.
Her announcement video had accrued close to 100,000 views by the weekend’s end, and while Baker wasn’t offering her thoughts about the war, there were plenty of controversial views being expressed among the 1,500 comments on the Facebook video.
“I might think you’re aware Ukraine is NWO [New World Order] deep state operative, used to perpetuate destabilisation for their reset,” offered Russell. “The US and Nato, not Putin, are the agitators wanting war to feed the military industrial complex,” Cindy wrote, receiving around 100 entirely positive reactions from other viewers.
Elly wanted to make sure Baker and other viewers knew what to make of Russia’s leader in all this: “I really dont think Putin is bad. I think he’s just made out to be that by the media/govts. Sounds like he is standing up to the elites.” It was a position met with around 125 positive reactions.
Many of the viewers, seemingly not familiar with Ukrainian geography, felt her 12-minute live stream was, by itself, enough to debunk the media narrative of the war. “Wow doesn’t look like a war torn country,” said Denis, of the brightly lit cobblestone streets and local nightlife. Margo was similarly struck by the lack of tanks and bombed-out buildings: “Makes you wonder if there is an actual war going on in Ukraine.”
In her second major live stream from the city, Baker reported that “private police” had been following them and ordered them not to film (although they appeared to still be filming) due to martial law. She marvelled at the presence of high fashion stores, hairdressers, nail salons and an Italian restaurant, before revealing that despite having booked train tickets to travel to Kyiv, a much more heavily impacted city, they had opted to miss their journey as they (reasonably) felt the city was currently too dangerous.
While we don’t really know Baker’s view on the war and its participants, it is widely held among those who remain active in the many channels that formed the online heart of the parliament protest that the war is not as it’s presented, and in many cases that Russia is the “good guy” in the conflict. Many of those who’ve followed Baker since the occupation take that view, and are seemingly expecting her to uncover a truth that the mainstream media is apparently hiding.
So far it seems likely that we won’t know how Baker sees, and chooses to present, the war until she’s safely out of the country.