Support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is by no means universal on the America right. Many conservatives, from Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to media Never Trumpers like The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and the Washington Post’s Max Boot, have been blistering critics of Putin — especially during the brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Yet in the MAGA cult, Putin has had his share of apologists — from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to “War Room” host Steve Bannon to former President Donald Trump. And Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler, in an article published on March 24, focuses on a bizarre trend: far-right anti-vaxxers and online “wellness influencers” who have become cheerleaders for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Butler previously reported on pro-Putin anti-vaxxers in a March 2 article, and since then, the Mother Jones journalist stresses, the “overlap” between pro-Putin propagandists and anti-vaxxers “has only grown.”
“(On March 19), the Toronto Star reported a startling correlation between vaccination status and beliefs about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Butler explains. “More than 80 percent of vaccinated Canadians said they believed their country should help defend Ukraine, compared to less than a quarter of unvaccinated people. This dynamic is especially pronounced in extremist spaces. Some of the anti-mandate trucker convoy chats on Telegram now seem dominated by Putin cheerleading.”
Some online “wellness influencers,” according to Butler, have been claiming that President Joe Biden is “trying to pull a fast one on them by painting Russia as the aggressor” in Ukraine.
“Should social media platforms flag influencers’ content as disinformation,” Butler observes, “it only serves to reinforce their belief that they are being punished for their righteous truth-telling. Some influencers have monetized their self-proclaimed martyrdom by sharing disinformation about Ukraine and hawking their own wellness items.”
Instagram, according to Butler, is one of the social media platforms where pro-Putin anti-vaxxers and “wellness influencers” have been plentiful.
“Beyond the oils and the tinctures, influencers are selling something much more valuable: a sense of fierce and uncompromising maternal identity,” Butler observes. “The account bios frequently mention natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting — and their posts and stories tie events in Ukraine back to defending their families from what they see as government overreach.”
Anti-vaxxers who are sympathetic to Putin, Butler writes, are also more likely to be influenced by the far-right pro-Trump conspiracy group QAnon.
“Factions of anti-vaccine groups increasingly embraced COVID denialism and dabbled in QAnon,” Butler notes. “The Russians’ initial plan of dividing Americans had worked better than they could have possibly expected — so that by the time Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, anti-vaccine activists were primed to believe that Putin was the good guy.”
Reprinted with permission from Alternet