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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.

Carlson And Fox Go Anti-Vax Wacko With Conspiracy Theorist RFK Jr.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox host Tucker Carlson hosted anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for a fawning interview on his Fox Nation show Tucker Carlson Today. Kennedy is a well-known figure in anti-vaccine circles and one of the most prominent backers of baseless conspiracy theories attempting to link conditions such as autism to vaccines.

During the November 15 interview, Carlson urged viewers to purchase Kennedy's latest book, a screed accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci of intentionally bungling the pandemic, killing alternatives to the vaccine, and launching an assault on the First Amendment in order to silence critics. Kennedy walked Carlson's audience through a grab bag of his most notorious conspiracy theories, at one point asserting his belief that vaccines had to be one of the "key suspects" behind the rise in cases of autism.

Kennedy suggested that more than 17,000 Americans have died from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, a claim based on a misuse and misunderstanding of U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System data that Carlson has repeated on his prime-time show.

Wisconsin Doctors Slam Johnson For Hosting Anti-Vaccination Event

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Medical experts are criticizing Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) for his decision to hold a vaccine skepticism event even as most new deaths connected to the COVID-19 pandemic are occurring among unvaccinated people.

Johnson announced on Friday that he would hold a media event the following Monday to discuss purported adverse reactions to the vaccines. The senator said that he would be joined at the event by the wife of a former Green Bay Packers player who claims to have experienced problems after being vaccinated.

Johnson told a local outlet he was not anti-vaccine, but insisted, "I don't think you can ignore some of the issues, some of the problems."

Speaking with Milwaukee, Wisconsin, affiliate Fox 6 News, Johnson cited information from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, an open database where concerns about adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines can be registered, as the source of his concerns.

The VAERS website notes that the information in the database may be "incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable," as reports are largely "voluntary, which means they are subject to biases."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, has said the COVID-19 vaccines are "safe and effective."

"Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history," the agency stated on its website.

As Fox 6 News noted, even if every alleged vaccine-related death was accurate — something that is extremely unlikely — they would represent just 0.001 percent of the more than 320 million doses of the vaccine that have been administered so far.

Dr. Joanna Bisgrove, a primary care physician in Wisconsin, expressed concern about Johnson's event.

"This misinformation is putting people at risk and already hurting people," she told Fox 6 reporters.

Another expert, Dr. Bob Freedland, who serves as the Wisconsin State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, criticized Johnson as well, urging him to cancel Monday's event.

"As a physician and concerned constituent of Sen. Ron Johnson, I call on him to cancel his anti-vaccine event, or, better yet, use his platform and time to hold an event encouraging people to get the safe, effective vaccine," Freedland said in a press release. "If he can't stop spreading misinformation and undermining the best tool we have to protect against COVID-19 and dangerous variants, Sen. Johnson needs to get out of the way and let the rest of us do our jobs."

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) criticized Johnson's planned event, calling him "reckless and irresponsible" and pointed out the COVID-19 vaccine is "safe and effective and based on years of science and research."

Monday's event comes as a new analysis of COVID-19 data shows that most recent deaths related to the virus are occurring among those who are not vaccinated.

In an analysis published by the Associated Press, using data from May, the overwhelming majority of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths were people who had not been vaccinated. Only about 0.8 percent of those deaths involved fully vaccinated people.

Johnson has expressed skepticism about COVID-19 vaccination efforts for months.

In May, the Wisconsin senator, who tested positive for coronavirus in the fall of 2020, suggested the vaccines were potentially linked to thousands of deaths, and that experts needed to investigate and research the issue further. He cited the VAERS website data to back his claims.

In December, Johnson invited an anti-vaccine activist to testify in Congress in support of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug promoted by former President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19. Experts have warned repeatedly that the drug is not a safe or reliable treatment for the disease.

And in April, Johnson sat down for an interview with vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been criticized for sharing misinformation about COVID vaccines on social media.

During that interview, Johnson notably did not rebut Kennedy's allegations that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was working on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry instead of advocating on the behalf of patients.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Fox News Features 'Democrat' Naomi Wolf And Her Bizarre Pandemic Conspiracies

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The feminist writer Naomi Wolf garnered fame during the 1990s for her book The Beauty Myth and her work as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But in recent years, she's been better known for promoting an array of unhinged conspiracy theories, most recently regarding the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This combination has made her a perfect guest for Fox News.

Fox is far more interested in turning coronavirus into a political cudgel than in giving users accurate health information. And so the network's hosts lean on Wolf's liberal credentials while giving her a platform to claim that the Democratic response to the pandemic is aimed at dissolving society and enacting a totalitarian state comparable to Nazi Germany.

Since mid-February, she appeared at least seven times on Fox to discuss her views on the pandemic: twice apiece on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Revolution with Steve Hilton, and three times on Fox News Primetime, the most recent of which came Monday night. Wolf cited the notorious anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during that interview to argue that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill and Melinda Gates, the state of Israel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were engaged in some sort of nebulous but sinister vaccine conspiracy.

It is irresponsible for a news outlet to give Wolf that sort of credulous attention. Her social media channels are littered with absurd claims about the virus and its vaccines. Between her first and second Fox appearances alone, she tweeted that a new technology allowed the delivery of "vaccines w nanopatticles that let you travel back in time"; that the Moderna vaccine is a "software platform" that allows "uploads"; and that due to face masks, children now lack "the human reflex that they when you smile at them they smile back" and have "dark circles under [their] eyes from low oxygen."

On Sunday night, Wolf cited purported reports of women who "bleed oddly [from] being AROUND vaccinated women," pointing her followers to a Facebook group which at one point had been titled "All Vaccines are Fake."

Less than 24 hours later, she was back on Fox.

Wolf's coronavirus rantings are consistent with her recent remarks on a host of other topics. In a series of 2014 Facebook posts, she suggested that videos showing Islamic State group terrorists beheading Americans might have been fabricated by the U.S. government; that the government was trying to create an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. as part of a plot to bring about a totalitarian state; and that the results of the Scottish independence referendum had been faked. That spate provoked critical revisitings of her prior commentary during the Bush and Obama administrations from both the left (The Daily Beast's Michael Moynihan: "From ISIS to Ebola: What Has Made Naomi Wolf So Paranoid?") and the right (National Review's Charles C. Cooke: "The Fevered Delusions of Naomi Wolf").

Then in May 2019, Wolf suffered through an embarrassing radio interview during which the interviewer explained to her that a central premise of her latest book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love, was false. Wolf had claimed that dozens of men were executed for having sex with other men in Victorian Britain. But the interviewer pointed out that she had misinterpreted a legal term that means that the subject had been pardoned as if it meant that they had been put to death. Her U.S. publisher subsequently canceled the book's release.

Fox is aware that Wolf is not credible -- indeed, Tucker Carlson himself mocked her over the radio interview shortly after it aired. At the time, he suggested that her failure undermined all her past work.

"Wolf learned live on air that her book, which she supposedly wrote, was a total sham, built on bogus assumptions," Carlson sneered.

"This woman calls herself Dr. Naomi Wolf," Carlson later told Fox's Melissa Francis (Carlson mocks people he disagrees with who ask to be addressed as "doctor" when they have a Ph.D. rather than an M.D.).

"She's advised presidential candidates, Al Gore, most famously," he continued. "She was a Rhodes Scholar. You and I were raised to believe that she was really impressive, but she's really not."

But a few days after President Joe Biden was victorious in the 2020 election, Wolf tweeted, "If I'd known Biden was open to 'lockdowns' as he now states, which is something historically unprecedented in any pandemic, and a terrifying practice, one that won't ever end because elites love it, I would never have voted for him."

And mirabile dictu, Carlson's faith in her was immediately restored.

While discussing her comments on his November 10, 2020, show, Carlson described her as "a woman called Naomi Wolf -- a pretty famous Democrat actually; if you're older than 30, you remember her." He praised her "surprisingly blunt, insightful, and honest observation."

A few months later, Wolf had apparently redeemed herself enough in Carlson's eyes to garner a slot on his show. He opened his February 22 broadcast by running through the same credentials he had previously suggested did not prove she was impressive.

"You've heard the name Naomi Wolf before," Carlson said. "She has been a prominent person in this country and a prominent Democrat for more than 30 years. Wolf is one of the founders of third-wave feminism. She worked for Bill Clinton. She advised Al Gore, famously. Late last year she voted for Joe Biden. You've almost certainly seen her book. She's written a lot of them."

Carlson did acknowledge that he had previously criticized Wolf on the show. But he pretended that this had been a matter of ideological disagreement, rather than that he had suggested she lacked credibility due to a significant and sloppy analytical error. Indeed, he celebrated her faculties, saying that her tweet about Biden showed that "whatever her preconceptions, Naomi Wolf has been paying attention."

During the interview that followed, Carlson nodded along as Wolf told him and his audience that "under the guise of a real medical pandemic, we're really moving into a coup situation, a police state situation" in which "autocratic tyrants at the state and now the national level are creating a kind of merger of corporate power and government power, which is really characteristic of Italian fascism in the 20s" such that "we are turning into a version of a totalitarian state before everyone's eyes."

At the conclusion of the interview, Carlson thanked Wolf for the "eye-opening pleasure" and said he hoped she'd be back. And a few weeks later she was, returning for a March 17 interview in which she complained that Twitter had twice locked her account until she deleted her unhinged coronavirus tweets. She described this as "It's really a very kind of CCP [Chinese Communist Party] type of conditioning to kind of conform and watch our words."

That kicked off a string of appearances in which she discussed her dystopian coronavirus views on other Fox shows.

  • She claimed that vaccine "passports" could lead to "literally the end of human liberty in the West" with governments rounding up "dissidents and opposition leaders" as in Nazi Germany on the March 28 edition of The Next Revolution.
  • She argued that "totalitarian, Chinese Communist Party-style methodologies" are being "directed at young adults and at the academy, in every part of civic life right now" such that "we're really, you know, grooming the next generation to be subjects to a totalitarian regime, not America at all" on the April 1 edition of Fox News Primetime.
  • She described vaccine "passports" on the April 4 edition of The Next Revolution as follows: "We'll just let private industry discriminate against Americans based on their biological characteristics, which was exactly what Nazi Germany did."
  • And she said of coronavirus restrictions impacting religious services on the April 5 Fox News Primetime: "We have to face where we are if we're going to survive it. There is a war on humanity, there is a war on religion, there is a war on human assembly. Big Tech wants to drive everyone indoors and dissolve the bonds between people."

Notably, while Carlson stressed Wolf's work for Clinton and Gore in the 1990s to suggest she is a rank-and-file member of the Democratic Party, she has proven much more heterodox in recent years. She spoke, for instance, at a 2008 rally in support of archconservative then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), during which she claimed that she had not received letters from her daughter at sleepaway camp because the government was intercepting her mail.

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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