THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
April 30, 2021 at 17:32 JST
Not all Japanese conspiracy theorists spreading information similar to the U.S. far-right movement QAnon are shut-ins who spend all their time on social media.
A number of the beliefs of Shinryoku Saito, 64, a veteran local politician in Fukui Prefecture, have left many people scratching their heads.
“Microchips are embedded in the COVID-19 vaccine and controlled by 5G radio waves. Anyone inoculated will die within five years,” the prefectural assembly member said in an interview with an Asahi Shimbun reporter at his office.
“Both (Prime Minister Yoshihide) Suga and (Finance Minister Taro) Aso have been arrested," he added. "Those now appearing as them in public are wearing plastic masks or are clones.”
Saito regularly publishes a pamphlet titled “Hotline” reporting on his activities in the prefectural assembly and distributes them to voters in Sakai city, his local constituency. He mailed out about 16,000 copies in February.
Among the items he wrote in that edition were that the COVID-19 vaccine was a “murder weapon” and that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States were nothing but computer graphics.
Such ideas are similar to those espoused by QAnon, including that a secret cabal actually controls the U.S. government, business sector and major media organizations. The theories have all been discredited, but that hasn't kept people from still believing them.
Even though some of his colleagues have asked Saito to stop spreading such ideas, he's unapologetic for what he has written.
Saito previously served on a municipal assembly and has spent 30 years as an assemblyman all told. He once presided over the prefectural assembly and currently serves in the No. 2 position of the Fukui prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Because a number of Japanese media outlets reported on the contents of the Hotline issue, Saito was asked if he had been inundated with criticism.
“I have received nothing but encouragement and praise from around the nation,” he said.
He took out his smartphone and showed the reporter his Facebook account.
“I will further spread your wonderful report,” read one comment.
“This is the kind of expose that I have long waited for,” wrote another poster.
Saito added that he has received the most extensive response to his ideas since he began working as a local assembly member. He also said the LDP has not admonished him over the contents.
Saito explained that he obtained the information for Hotline from the many books he reads and the internet. The bookshelves in his office were filled with novels, nonfiction books and magazines. He admitted to reading books that laid out various conspiracy theories.
A former elected official is among supporters of Saito's beliefs.
Former city assembly member Shinichiro Ishikawa, 67, now a YouTuber, saw the number of his viewers jump from autumn 2020 after he began posting reports taken from other websites about fake ballots being used in the U.S. presidential election.
When he continued with such content, Ishikawa, who began his YouTube channel in July 2019 with only a few hundred registered viewers, at one time hit about 100,000 viewers.
Ishikawa once served three terms on the city assembly in Fujimi, Saitama Prefecture, but was not re-elected in 2009 and subsequently failed to win in elections for national and local assemblies.
“My activities now are much more fulfilling than when I was a city assembly member,” Ishikawa said. He explained that having 100,000 viewers led to revenues of about 40,000 yen ($370).
In March, he broadcast a report calling Saito "a warrior of light."
But not everyone is so enamored with Saito.
“I verbally cautioned Saito,” said Norikatsu Nakakura, 53, who heads the LDP caucus in the Fukui prefectural assembly.
“There are many members who secretly hope Saito resigns,” said a source in the LDP prefectural chapter.
A 72-year-old Sakai resident who has supported Saito for 30 years could not understand what came over the local politician.
“He was always an earnest learner and did everything for his local constituency,” the supporter said. “I know full well what he has contributed, such as turning local crabs and shrimp into popular brands nationwide.”
Another longtime Saito supporter in his 70s said he warned him that the contents of the Hotline issue were inappropriate.
In response, the man said Saito shouted at him and showed him the video from Ishikawa and other messages praising what he had reported.
“He's only interested in the internet,” the man said. “He doesn't listen to us anymore.”
But Saito said, “I'm only transmitting the truth. Everyone will understand that soon.”
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