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Monday, December 09, 2019

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March Reveals Anti-Vax Campaign Is Driven By Far-Right Extremists

Back when it was first gaining traction in the 1990s, the anti-vaccination movement was largely considered a far-left thing, attracting believers ranging from barter-fair hippies to New Age gurus and their followers to “holistic medicine” practitioners. And it largely remained that way … until 2020 and the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As this Sunday’s “Defeat the Mandates” march in Washington, D.C., however, showed us, there’s no longer anything even remotely left-wing about the movement. Populated with Proud Boys and “Patriot” militiamen, QAnoners and other Alex Jones-style conspiracists who blithely indulge in Holocaust relativism and other barely disguised antisemitism, and ex-hippies who now spout right-wing propaganda—many of them, including speakers, encouraging and threatening violence—the crowd at the National Mall manifested the reality that “anti-vaxxers” now constitute a full-fledged far-right movement, and a potentially violent one at that.

The most prominent of these extremists was former progressive icon Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has morphed over the past decade and longer, due to his obsession with the anti-vaccination cause, into a raving far-right conspiracy theorist. On Sunday, he was one of many who compared anti-pandemic measures such as masking and vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.

"Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did," Kennedy said. "I visited, in 1962, East Germany with my father and met people who had climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died, true, but it was possible."Many of the rally attendees wore yellow replicas of the Star of David badges that were forced upon Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and many of them carried signs referencing both that horrific episode of history and the German Nazi regime that inflicted it. So did other speakers, such as Del Bigtree, CEO of the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network, who added a threatening tone directed at journalists.

"Unlike the Nuremberg Trials that only tried those doctors that destroyed the lives of those human beings, we're going to come after the press,” Bigtree told the crowd.

Violence was also an undercurrent in the audience, some of whom carried signs suggesting a lethal response: “Shoot those who try to kidnap and vaccinate your child.” Another agreed with Bigtree, calling for “Nuremberg Trials 2.0.”

The inherent antisemitism of the anti-vaxxers’ conspiracism was also on full display: A large bus pulled up to the protest area blaring music with lyrics pronouncing “It’s God Over Government,” festooned on its side with mock “Wanted” posters featuring the anti-vaxxers bogeymen, notably Dr. Anthony Fauci, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and attorney Jacob Rothschild—the latter of whom has no known connection to the vaccine or mandates whatsoever, but whose last name conjures up Hitler’s antisemitic conspiracy theories that identified the family as one of the primary components of the Jewish cabal that Nazis believed secretly controlled the world.

The audience was a veritable showcase of the wide bandwidth of a far-right extremism. White nationalists from Nick Fuentes’ “Groyper army” (who have begun attaching themselves to anti-vaxx rallies as a way to recruit new followers) brought their “America First” banners. Proud Boys, who similarly have become a presence at COVID-denialism events, were also scattered throughout the crowd.

As Zachary Petrizzo of The Daily Beast reported, there were also lots of people out making money from the high percentage of hyper-gullible marks in the crowd:

Along the march route, attendees were also enticed to buy Trump paraphernalia, given religious books, and encouraged to take a free nasal spray that promises to cure anyone of the coronavirus if they are infected. Xlear CEO Nathan Jones, whose company sells the spray and has been sued by the FTC, was in attendance and baselessly claimed to The Daily Beast that his nasal solution “works” on COVID-19, adding that “just using saltwater [will] stop the spread of COVID-19 in the lungs.”

The coalescence of the anti-vaccination movement with other far-right conspiracist movements—particularly the authoritarian QAnon cult—has been an ongoing phenomenon since COVID-19 broke out in 2020, and the radicalization of its believers has been gathering steam increasingly since. Likewise, the inherently violent nature of many of these movements has resulted in an increasing drumbeat of real-world violence directed at health care workers, local authorities, and anyone who supports the pandemic measures.

Along the way, it has spread globally. In Europe this weekend, similar anti-mandate demonstrations brought together the COVID conspiracists with neo-Nazis, white “identitarians,” and a broad array of other far-right extremists.

Some European anti-vaxxers have attempted to shut down vaccination sites by claiming they have a “crime number” for the site, meaning they’re supposedly under police investigation (they’re not). Some of them, claiming to be “common-law officers,” have attempted to arrest nurses, teachers, and even police officers. Much of their rhetoric echoes the American “sovereign citizen” movement.

As Amanda Marcotte observes at Salon, these previously diffuse movements are commingling into a perfect storm of unified right-wing extremism that runs from mainstream Republicans to smirking neo-Nazis, with consequences well beyond just the pandemic:

There are a lot of Republican voters whose hatred and desire to spite Democrats has led them to gamble with their own lives by refusing vaccines. It's not much of a leap to believe such folks are open to taking things to the next level, to reject democracy and embrace an authoritarian ideology for the same vindictive reasons. The anti-vaccine discourse is a perfect space to blur the lines between being a petty partisan who is mad about losing an election and being an outright fascist who no longer believes in holding free and fair elections.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Disappointing Turnout And Hateful Rhetoric At Anti-Vax March On Washington

Washington (AFP) - Waving signs denouncing President Joe Biden and calling for "freedom," several thousand people demonstrated in Washington Sunday against what some described as the "tyranny" of Covid-19 vaccine mandates in the United States. It was a much smaller turnout than the 20,000 marchers expected by the event organizers.

Speaker after speaker -- including notorious anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust -- took to the microphone in front of the white marble Lincoln Memorial to decry the rules.

Like other Covid restrictions aimed at reining in a disease that has infected more than 70 million people in the United States, killed more than 865,000 and brought much of daily life around the globe to a stuttering halt for two years and counting, vaccine mandates have become a deeply polarizing political issue.

"Mandates and freedoms don't mix, like oil and water," another speaker said.

"Breathe. Inhale God, exhale fear," exhorted yet another to applause from the crowd, made up of people of all ages, including children, and largely unmasked.

"I'm not anti-vaccine, but I'm anti this vaccine," Michelle, a 61-year-old physical therapist from Virginia who declined to give her last name, told AFP.

She said the messenger RNA serums developed by companies such as Pfizer and Moderna in record time were "too experimental" and "rushed."

The mRNA vaccines, given to millions of people around the world in the past year, have been proven safe and effective, as well as being hailed as potential gamechangers in modern medicine.

Michelle, who paused in the interview to sing the national anthem with other demonstrators, said she has a religious exemption from taking the vaccine -- but that to continue coming to work in Washington she has to get tested every week.

To her regret, her son, who initially had also resisted taking the vaccine, has now relented.

"He went and got it without me knowing -- so much peer pressure," she said.

'My Body, My Choice'

Another demonstrator, Therese is adamantly opposed to vaccines -- all vaccines.

She explained that she came by bus from Michigan, in the north of the country, to protest.

"Mandates are not appropriate... vaccines aren't working, we've been lied to about the vaccines," said the 61-year-old, who worked in a school cafeteria before her retirement and also refused to give her last name.

"And we should not be masking our children," she added.

"I talked to a couple of psychologists who say our children are suffering and they're depressed... It's terrible. We need our freedom back."

Further up the steps, the speakers -- including some people in white coats, presented as doctors from Texas -- continue to come and go.

"We are Americans and that's what we do, we fight tyranny!" claims another.

A few joggers, as if lost, walk through the crowd amid the signs proclaiming slogans such as "My body, my choice" or "God is our rock that will take down Goliath."

There are also many anti-Biden posters and a few flags bearing the name of his predecessor Donald Trump -- under whom the vaccines were developed and who has taken credit for them.

Isaac Six, 34, shrugged off the difficulty of being unvaccinated while in Washington, where proof of vaccination is now required to go to restaurants and other public places.

"It's OK, we're saving money," the 34-year-old charity worker said with a laugh.

Vaccines in general "are wonderful, they have helped millions of people," he added.

But mandating these vaccines, which like all vaccines are not 100 percent effective at preventing transmission, is "completely irrational," he argued.

What worries him are policies adopted "out of fear and panic" and "by one person."

"I would like to see more of the legislative process involved, the people that we elected to represent us be the ones to actually pass legislation," he said.

Banned By Facebook, Anti-Vax Misinformer Moved To New Page

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In November 2020, Facebook removed a page where Del Bigtree, a notorious anti-vaccine figure, broadcast his show -- The High Wire -- to a large online audience.

Bigtree's page was removed after Facebook determined that he violated the platform's policies against "misinformation that could cause physical harm." He had used his High Wire broadcast to claim that COVID-19 was "one of the most mild illnesses there is," that wearing a mask poses a serious health hazard, and that people should intentionally expose themselves to COVID-19, among other dangerous claims. Facebook's action came months after he was banned by YouTube, where he had also broadcast his show.

On February 8, The New York Times reported that Facebook says it will "remove posts with erroneous claims about vaccines from across its platform."

Bigtree continues to share dangerous medical misinformation on Facebook. After the platform banned The High Wire's page, he began to post dangerous medical misinformation on another page he operates. The page is not hard to find -- its name is "Del Bigtree."

On that page, Bigtree shares disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, including the baseless claim it will eventually kill half of its recipients. He also pushes dangerous falsehoods about COVID-19, including his suggestion that the disease doesn't actually exist. Some of Bigtree's dangerous claims on his Facebook page are documented below:

Bigtree Promoted Denial Of Coronavirus Fatalities

Bigtree's Facebook page shared a video from a January 6 Washington, D.C., event called the "Rally for Health Freedom." The event coincided with other rallies in Washington that day that culminated in a failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Bigtree was a speaker at the event and made a number of medically dangerous claims after asking the crowd, "Are people really dying" of COVID-19? Bigtree touted the widely promoted, but false, claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility and claimed that vaccine manufacturers are "murdering people."

He went on to engage in COVID-19 denial. Claiming "I don't think God messed up" in the creation of humans, Bigtree said, "I don't think there's some coronavirus that can override the brilliant immune system that is born into us" and that "99.99% of us are showing how great God's design is, because this virus does nothing to us." (More than 450,000 people in the United States have died from the disease.)

He then falsely called COVID-19 a "cold," and claimed that unlike quarantine measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, "we let the Spanish flu run its course, we let MERS run its course, we let SARS run its course" and "we all lived." (That is not what happened during those outbreaks, some of which killed many people.)

Saying that he stood with supporters of Donald Trump who refuse to wear masks and commenting on the size of his crowd, Bigtree also bragged that he has "been to more superspreader events than almost anyone I know" before falsely claiming that there is "no such thing as asymptomatic spread" of COVID-19.

Bigtree Shared Video Falsely Attributing Convulsions To COVID Vaccine

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