“[Asked how he would feel] if a person at his rally contracted COVID-19 and died, he stated that ‘it would be better to die on your feet than live on your knees’; a term used in a Midnight Oil song.”
The court heard police first arrested Mr Pecora for alleged breaches of the Chief Health Officer’s directions during a protest at the Shrine of Remembrance on August 22.
On September 2, police then visited his Middle Park home after learning Mr Pecora allegedly planned on attending another protest on September 5.
Senior Detective Schaefer said officers warned the 43-year-old against attending but five days later Victoria Police’s monitoring and assessment centre began infiltrating the online “Melbourne Walk For Freedom” Facebook event, planned for the Tan on Saturday and allegedly found Mr Pecora was an administrator.
There, under the online alias Arkwell Tripelligo, he allegedly claimed to be a “combatant in the game of geopolitical chess” and called for others to unite against the “forces of darkness” before demanding Premier Daniel Andrews be arrested for treason.
On September 10, police executed a search warrant on Mr Pecora’s home and seized two computer tablets in the presence of his wife and child.
Senior Detective Schaefer said Mr Pecora then drove to see his solicitor in St Kilda where he attempted to hand his phone over for safekeeping.
“The solicitor refused to accept the mobile phone so [Mr Pecora] buried the phone in the solicitor’s front yard without the solicitor’s knowledge,” the officer said.
The court heard that during his subsequent police interview, Mr Pecora told police he’d created an online pseudonym to express his political views without being identified.
“He believes the number of COVID-19 cases is highly exaggerated by geopolitical power seeking to control people,” Senior Detective Schaefer said.
In opposing bail, police said Mr Pecora’s alleged offending posed a “serious risk” to public health and his preparedness to attend rallies could result in deaths.
But Mr Pecora’s lawyer Christopher Wareham argued the police push to keep his client in custody was nothing but “preventative detention” with a monetary fine the maximum penalty for Mr Pecora’s charges. He said continuing to lock up his client would be unjustified.
“He didn’t do anything but encourage others to gather,” Mr Wareham said.
“He’s entitled to have a view about COVID-19.”
Magistrate Felicity Broughton granted Mr Pecora bail on a raft of conditions including restrictions to his movement and online activity.
The bail conditions include not planning or attending any mass gatherings, not attend the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance or Parliament, providing police with the details of his computers and electronic devices, and removing himself as an administrator of the Melbourne “freedom” protest events on social media.
He must also reside at his bayside home during curfew hours.
Mr Pecora is due to return to court on September 25.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.