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Aerial photo of Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles skyline

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

On January 30, the Los Angeles Times reported that "members of anti-vaccine and far-right groups" caused a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in LA's Dodger Stadium to temporarily shut down. Although the disruption "ultimately did little to inhibit vaccine distribution" and there was no violence reported, media should more proactively describe these actions as not mere "protests," but as expressions of a dangerous and increasingly interconnected world of conspiracy theories.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the group didn't prevent anyone from making their appointment, though some people had to wait for an extra hour. Los Angeles County has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with an estimated 1 in 3 Angelenos contracting COVID-19 at some point.

The Los Angeles Times referred to "far-right groups" present at the vaccination site shutdown, but it didn't elaborate that some of those involved were reportedly supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon has grown from an initial lie that Hillary Clinton's arrest was imminent (over Pizzagate, a different conspiracy theory) to an all-encompassing pro-Trump conspiracy theory that's been linked to or helped inspire multiple violent crimes, including the deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. CNN Business reporter Donie O'Sullivan explained that there is "an overlap between QAnon, between election conspiracy theories, and between vaccine misinformation."

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The mainstreaming and intermingling of conspiracy theories during the pandemic has been a potent vehicle for radicalization, and the Dodger Stadium anti-vaccine "protest" was a (relatively docile) example of that radicalization at work. From the Los Angeles Times story:

A post on social media described the demonstration as the "Scamdemic Protest/March." It advised participants to "please refrain from wearing Trump/MAGA attire as we want our statement to resonate with the sheeple. No flags but informational signs only.
"This is a sharing information protest and march against everything COVID, Vaccine, PCR Tests, Lockdowns, Masks, Fauci, Gates, Newsom, China, digital tracking, etc."

Despite the importance of the extremism angle, most coverage of the Dodger Stadium vaccination disruption rendered the anti-vaxxers responsible for the shutdown as just "protesters." Though their activities met the definition of a "protest," media should be wary of comparing QAnon conspiracy theorists opposed to voluntary vaccinations during a deadly pandemic to ordinary political protesters based in this reality.

Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles Times headline reading "Dodger Stadium's COVID-19 vaccination site temporarily shut down after protesters gather at entrance"

The Times also published a good headline about the "anti-vax 'mob'"

A Los Angeles Times headline reading "Anti-vax 'mob' that closed Dodger Stadium vaccination site sparks outrage"

CBS News

A CBS News headline reading "Anti-vaccination protests temporarily shut down Dodger Stadium mega vaccination site"

The Washington Post

A Washington Post online headline reading "Anti-vaccine protesters temporarily shut down major coronavirus vaccine site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles"

Bloomberg

A Bloomberg online headline reading "Protesters Disrupt L.A.'s Dodger Stadium Vaccination Site"

NBC News

An NBC News headline reading "Anti-vaccine protest briefly shuts down Dodger Stadium vaccination site." A sub-headline reads "The fire department closed the entrance for about an hour as protesters attempted to enter the parking lot."

BBC

A BBC headline reading "Covid vaccination: Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium 'closed by protests'"

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