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Crank magnetism at a young age: Anti-vaccine “resistance” and 9/11 Truth

If there’s one thing that irritates me about the anti-vaccine movement, it’s the utter disingenuousness of the movement. How often do we hear the claim from anti-vaccine loons that “we’re not ‘anti-vaccine’; we’re ‘pro-safe vaccine'”? I’ve tried to pin such people down time and time again to answer just what it would take in terms of scientific studies and evidence or in terms of what “toxins” would have to be removed to convince them that vaccines are sufficiently safe that they will have their children vaccinated? Inevitably, the answer involves levels of evidence that are beyond what can be practically or ethically obtained; i.e., a randomized, double-blind clinical study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children (which would be totally unethical) or an underpowered, poorly designed retrospective study (which would be prone to false positives or could be dismissed by anti-vaccinationists as inadequate if it were negative). That’s because, its denials notwithstanding, it is always and has always been all about the vaccines, period, end of story. Similarly, from the fringe of the autism community that passionately believes in “biomedical” treatments for autism, we frequently hear oh-so-pious denials that it’s “not about the vaccines.” Yet, if you take a look at, for instance, Generation Rescue or Age of Autism (or many other “autism advocacy sites” in that believe in the quackery that is the bulk of “biomedical treatments”), you will see more verbiage spilled about vaccines than about almost anything else when arguing for what causes autism, and many of these “biomed” interventions are touted as being a means of “reversing vaccine injury.”

That’s because, for the anti-vaccine movement it is always and has always been all about the vaccines, period, end of story.

If you have any doubts about this, check out this video currently being promoted by J.B. Handley of Generation Rescue over on the ant-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism:

NOTE ADDED AFTER THIS WAS POSTED: Apparently Robert Wanek’s video has been removed from YouTube for a TOS violation. However, Mr. Waneck tells his story on Alex Jone’s Prison Planet TV below; so it’s no huge loss:

I trust you’ll get the full flavor of Mr. Wanek’s anti-vaccine proclivities from the two-part video above.

But, wait! Someone else posted what looks like Mr. Wanek’s original video, or perhaps Mr. Wanek himself created a new YouTube account to post it:

And Mr. Wanek’s story is apparently on that New World Order conspiracy theory site, Infowars! As they say in the Internet Age, information will be free. Now, back to what I originally wrote!

First, I’ll note that the teachers at Breckenridge High School probably overreacted, at least the teacher who apparently put Robert in a bear hug and tried to physically confiscate his camera. However, I tend to doubt that the principal was too far out of line in pushing the student out of the area; reading between the lines my guess is that Robert Wanek was engaged in a delaying action and arguing with him. Still, it probably would have been better to get the security guard to do it. As for the teacher who tried to physically bar him from entering the room where the teachers were being vaccinated certainly was entirely within her rights, given that she merely stood in the doorway and told him he was not allowed to enter, although perhaps she should not have pushed him. No, the only teacher who very likely went over the line was the teacher who put him in a bear hug. Even so, however, one could argue that the Mr. Wanek had disobeyed a direct order from a teacher not to enter the room. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless old fart, I could also point out that I went to a Catholic high school, where disobedience of the sort demonstrated by Mr. Wanek would have probably resulted in a week long suspension, possibly even expulsion from the school. At the very least, it could very well have resulted in a serious butt beating. I’m not saying that’s good (corporal punishment rarely achieves much). I’m saying that Mr. Wanek is whining about a relatively minor punishment for his behavior. Heck, even a commenter at Age of Autism named Dan E. Burns in essence agreed with me:

In 1963 when I was Robert Wanek’s age I’d have been sent the the vice-principal’s office and assaulted with a paddle. Principal Daniel Bettin may be a troglodyte, but do a little research on the poor, stressed-out, in-over-his-head guy before you light your torch and go after him with a pitchfork. You might want to Google Robert Wanek, too. There’s a back story, and it’s not all about informed consent.

Indeed not, as we shall see later in this post and as you may have already gathered by Mr. Wanek’s appearance on Alex Jones’ show. Leaving that aside, if I had been the principal, I’d have probably suspended Mr. Wanek for a week and then followed it up with a week of detention. Mr. Bettin was actually quite merciful and measured in his response to Mr. Warnek’s behavior. Also, I would counsel Mr. Wanek to be less careless about what he says on videos. Contrary to Mr. Wanek’s surprise that he received a two day suspension for his antics, it is very clear from just a brief perusal of Breckenridge High School’s handbook online that he was clearly and unequivocally in violation of school policy. To wit, this passage:

Personal phones or electronic devices with photographic/video capabilities used as photographic/video instruments are not allowed in the school building. Persons using these phones/electronic devices in the school as a photographic/video device will be subject to suspension for a period of time designated by the administration.

Mr. Wanek was using an electronic device with video capabilities on school grounds. He was suspended for two days. End of story. Truly, Mr. Wanek, for all his moxie, is not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree; it’s rather odd of him to be surprised, shocked, and outrage that he got suspended for his actions when right there in the school handbook it says that he could be subject to suspension for using a video device to videotape on school property. Moreover, behaviors listed as having “disciplinary consequences” include disrespectful, disruptive, or insubordinate behavior, all of which Mr. Wanek has admitted to, although he doesnt’ call it that. Thus, the school was entirely within its rights to discipline him and suspend him. Yet, in the description of the video that has been circulating with it, Mr. Wanek states:

However, the punishment for handing out flyers was a 2 day out of school suspension which was issued to me. This is ludicrous unjust and downright fascist.

“Fascist”? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means, Mr. Wanek.

In any case, it’s sad to see a young mind being corrupted this way. Mr. Wanek has cojones and is willing to stand up for what he believes. These can be admirable qualities, particularly when put in the service of a good cause. Nothing should be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, what he believes about vaccines is a load of pseudoscientific nonsense probably fed to him by anti-vaccine parents. Also, unfortunately, Mr. Wanek apparently doesn’t know much about the history of nonviolent resistance movements. One of the main pillars of such movements is that protesters take whatever penalties are meted out for their behavior. If that means going to jail, so be it. In any case, this whole sordid affair makes me wonder if Handley (or someone Handley knows) put this poor dupe of a kid up to this:

Last Fall, for the first time ever, one of my son’s schools decided to have a flu shot clinic, using exclusively thimerosal-containing vaccines and welcoming kids of all ages. In a fit of local activism, we chose to hand out flyers warning parents of the risks of vaccines, and were promptly escorted off school grounds by the head of the school board (and, no, that’s not where we stopped fighting, but that’s a story for another day).

What happened to informed consent? What are people so afraid of?

Of course, it is not “informed consent” to try to frighten people into refusing the H1N1 vaccine based on misinformation and pseudoscience. It is fear-mongering. Personally, I’d love to see the text content of the flier Mr. Wanek was handing out. My guess is that it’s chock full of anti-vaccine talking points and other anti-scientific nonsense, which the son of the science teacher recognized right away. I’d also guess that the informed consent form that parents have to sign for the H1N1 vaccine is entirely reasonable and very much like the one I signed when I got my H1N1 vaccine. In any case, the “free speech” gambit is a crock. It’s been ruled time and time again that minors in a school do not have the same free speech rights that adults do; certainly, they do not have the “right” to try to disrupt a vaccination clinic. If Mr. Wanek had tried to pass out his leaflets anywhere else off of school property, he could have argued free speech infringement. Indeed, if his school tried to stop him from doing so outside of school hours and off of school property, I’d be down with Mr. Wanek, even though I know he’s a profoundly misguided young man when it comes to vaccines. But he didn’t. He was disruptive and insubordinate on school property.

One of the depressing aspects of the anti-vaccine movement is not just its promotion of fear mongering based on either no science or pseudoscience, in which it claims that vaccines are the cause of autism and all manner of other neurdevelopmental disorders, not to mention dystonia, and other complications. It’s how anti-vaccine activists like Handley manage to play cleverly on Americans’ sense of fair play and support for free speech to spread their deadly misinformation. Add to that list how the anti-vaccine movement is indoctrinating its children, much as cults do. They’re indoctrinating children into not just being afraid of vaccines but into pulling stunts like Mr. Wanek’s. Then, after youths like Mr. Wanek are punished for their behavior, they are held up as martyrs to the cause, thus reinforcing their view that they are right. In Jake Crosby and Robert Wanek, we see how the anti-vaccine movement is grooming the next generation of activists for pseudoscience and quackery.

Barring more information that may lead me to change my mind, I conclude that Mr. Wanek may have a point about the behavior of one of the teachers, but he’s so wrong that he’s not even wrong about the rest of what is in his video. Vaccines, including the H1N1 vaccine, do not cause the problems that he attributes to them, and Mr. Wanek was, whether he knows it or not, by his own admission clearly guilty of violating multiple school policies. If anything, by being suspended for two days, Mr. Wanek got off lightly for his infractions. Now, with the help of J.B. Handley, he’s going to try to make trouble for Breckenridge High School by making this video, which prominently includes e-mail addresses of the teachers involved and the school principal, for which he’ll probably receive an Age of Autism crank award.

You know, I doubt it will do any good, but maybe it would be helpful to try to counter some of the praise from anti-vaccine loons that Wanek is getting with a dose of reality over at his YouTube page. After all, Mr. Wanek also appears to be a 9/11 Truther who was previously disciplined for wearing a “9/11 was an inside job” T-shirt:

Also, check out Mr. Warnek’s photo on his YouTube channel, where he is wearing a T-shirt declaring Barack Obama to be a fraud and happily posing next to one of those hilariously off-base photos of Barack Obama made up to look like the Joker with the word “socialism” ominously inscribed beneath it, along with a plug for Alex Jones’ über-conspiracy crank site, Infowars.

It’s very sad to see crank magnetism in action already operative in a teenager like Robert Warnek. Sad, but not surprising. (I wonder if J.B. Handley knows that Mr. Warnek is, at his tender young age, already a raving New World Order conspiracy theorist.) I fear that, 20 years from now, we’ll see Robert Warnek occupying the same place that Gary Null, J. B. Handley, Alex Jones, John Scudamore, Joe Mercola, or Mike Adams occupies today. I fear that Mr. Warnek is the future of quackery and conspiracy mongering, although one can always hope that he grows up, wises up, and discovers real skepticism rather than pseudoskepticism.

Finally, think about this for a moment. The crew at Age of Autism keeps telling us that they’re not “anti-vaccine.” Its bloggers, who in essence function as a propaganda arm of Generation Rescue, claim they’re an “autism advocacy group.” If that’s the case, then why is J.B. Handley promoting a young man like Robert Warnek, who is protesting against H1N1 vaccination among high school students and teachers, all of whom are too old for vaccines to possibly cause autism even if the paranoid ravings of Generation Rescue that vaccines cause autism actually had any validity? It’s the same reason why AoA and GR constantly harp on Gardasil, where the same is true. For them, it’s all about the vaccines. It’s always been all about the vaccines. It always will be all about the vaccines.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

42 replies on “Crank magnetism at a young age: Anti-vaccine “resistance” and 9/11 Truth”

One small point: you assert that he claims he wasn’t violating school policy with his taping. At around 5:23, he states that the school policy is that he receive detention for having the camera. So he seemed to me to have a pretty clear understanding that he was violating school policy. I would counsel you to be less careless about what you write in blog posts.

If you’re going to be an annoying pedant, then at least be a real annoying pedant and quote the actual text correctly, especially given that I cited the relevant passage from the Breckenridge High School Handbook. It says that the penalty for having a video device on school grounds is suspension, not detention. So, there. I match pedantry with pedantry. In any case, Robert refused to give up his video camera, which showed that he didn’t understand that the teacher was well within his power to confiscate the video camera. Couple that with the kid’s insubordination, which he totally didn’t ‘fess up to, and you have a kid who thinks the rules don’t apply to him.

Now that you’ve made an attempt to derail the thread right at the beginning with pedantry, please stick to the main points. Still, to make you happy I slightly changed the text.

In the spirit of Alex Jones, I’d like to accuse Robert Wanek of being an agent of “Big Pharma”. Big Pharma hates vaccines. They’ve been leaving the vaccine manufacturing business. Why? Vaccines are cheap and make the companies little money compared to infectious diseases and their consequences.

An aunt of mine contracted polio as a child. Growing up and throughout the remainder of her long life, she was a metaphorical license to print money for drug and medical supply companies. Ka-Ching. Ka-Ching. Ka-Ching. On the other hand, I was vaccinated against polio, will never get polio, and will never need the services that my aunt did. Big Pharma made a measly $15 dollars off me. Not much.

So Big Pharma creates these blag flag propagandists, who appear to be waging war against the machine.In reality, they are trying to destroy a public health tool that costs them billions.

How refreshing to see one of today’s brave, maverick youths standing up against the eggheads! Why, I’m sure there’s many among us who have had just about all we will take from those damn reason-mongers and intellectual bullies.

A huzzah for the right to be wrong!

This boy is a hero; sure, an idiot, but a proud one and a hero none the less.


Angry and stupid is no way to go through life, son. If the kid marries into some money he could very well grow up and become “my dad and uncle were in the cia and the army” Handley.

I wouldn’t be so judgemental like Orac. I don’t believe he will

“occupy the same place that Gary Null, J. B. Handley, Alex Jones, John Scudamore, Joe Mercola, or Mike Adams occupies today”.

I myself believed in many conspiracies, 9/11 and apollo hoax including. Though, I managed to find right path – skepticism, which eventually led me to anarchism. So I think he has a chance to walk thorugh this (woo-shit) and become a better person, some day…

I hope he’s not planning on going to law school. His understanding of written policies is poor, at best, and the weighing of the evidence will get him killed in court each and every time… You know, like it’s done with the antivaxxers?

“Angry and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

The typical unholy trinity of woo is “ignorant, confused and hostile”.

Though I agree that those afflicted at a young age have a chance to broaden their horizons and embrace critical thinking. Once your mental processes harden off, it’s much tougher.

I would wager that in addition to containing misinformation about vaccines in general, his fliers probably did not disclose the risks of the actual virus, including the risk of death or serious injury and how they compare to the risks he claims are in the vaccine.

And adding to his lack of understanding of school policy, his understanding of vaccine law suits is noticeably lacking, as well. In the first interview, he brings up the canard that one cannot sue the manufacturer if one is injured. That is not true. True, if someone is injured by a vaccine, they need to go through the VICP first, but they can refuse the judgment/awards and choose to go after the manufacturer directly.

Mr. Wanek, study up on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (aka the Vaccine Court), why it was created and how it actually operates.

This student violated the law and school rules by slipping under the arm of the public health officer the student
broke the law, by forcing his way into an area where health procedures were taking place with a camera the student violated the other students rights to privacy.

The student is lucky of the only legal proceedings is a simple suspension from school.

It is most likely the student by violation of the terms of being excused from class to take part in the immunization clinic, violated the ethical standards, and if the students had prior permission from parents actually violated the others students parental rights, child welfare laws, and could be facing criminal charges such as trespass, assault, and battery, interfering with public health officers and a
host of other state and federal laws.

And, JB Handley makes this kid to be a hero. How sad.

As I was watching his video I thought to myself ” Boy, this kid is really drinking the Alex Jones kool-aid.” Then a couple paragraphs down, hey he really is being indoctrinated by fear tactics.

He’s still in high school, so I will give him a lecture and a temporary reprieve, my neighbor however, is a grown man and slurps up anything Alex Jones spills, its quite sad really.

In *20 years*,Orac? Woo-meisters are already targeting teens and 20-somethings by using media favored by that cohort(you-tube;face book;twitter-“twits on twitter”- internet “radio/TV”);Null is trying to get his (what is laughingly called a)”radio show”- the “Empowerment Hour”- on college-acccess TV stations(with some success);some of their propaganda is directly aimed at the young (check out the wording in Adams’ rants)sort of a ’00’s version of ’60’s anti-establishment rhetoric (poorly done, of course)and his ridiculous efforts at rapping(the Vanilla Ice of Woo?the Notorius D.U.M.?) Oh, there’s even more…..

Since when, even among the whackaloons, has thimerasol been associated with causing autism in _teens_?

At least with the MMR vaccine, there is an association between getting the vaccine and the onset of most identifiable autism symptoms. Still doesn’t mean anything, but at least there is a post hoc in order to attribute the prompter hoc. Moreover, autism is sufficiently widespread to be a concern.

In terms of thimerasol containing vaccines and school age children, what exactly is supposed to be the problem that they are causing?

#15 Pablo: And that’s the same reason it always blows my mind when those people also say that someone older than I would be an idiot for getting the swine flu vaccine.

#16 muteKi: Oh, they have an answer for that one, too: they quote a guy named Hugh Fudenberg who produced a totally unsourced claim that getting six (I think it is) flu shots massively increases your risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease.

Fudenberg was a real researcher with a long and eminent track record, but somewhere along the way in the last decade or so, it appears he went way, way off the rails. As I recall, when last heard from, he was creating remedies for autism in his home, or something like that.

I suppose you could make an argument for vaccines contributing to the increase in Alzheimer’s. To wit, prior to vaccines most people did not live long enough to get Alzheimer’s.

I wouldn’t give this kid a free pass. He needs to be shown how stupid he is. But like others on this thread, in my teenage years I went through a tarot-card-reading and ghost-hunting phase, before becoming a skeptic. I think it was a necessary phase.

Hopefully, his “buck the system” tendencies will lead him to skepticism as well.

You can excuse a teenager for acting like a teenager. Rebelling against the authorities. Overestimating his intelligence and understanding. There’s a reasonable chance he’ll grow out of it and look back at this incident with embarrassment. The same can’t be said for Alex Jones, Mercola or Handley who are supposed to be adults.

One thing that disturbed me a little was at the end where he calls for action to be taken against the teachers. While I hope that he intended legal action, I fear that someone might interpret it as taking physical action.


Good point about HIPAA. If he had taken video of the immunizations, even including the line waiting to enter, he would need to get written permission from every single individual receiving a shot or waiting for a shot lest he run afoul of “da man”.

#22 – These are kids, right? I doubt if they are allowed to consent – so he’d need the permission of their parents.

Thanks for the updated links, Orac. I encourage people to comment on YouTube to preemptively quash anti-vax support. I doubt it’ll work, but we may impact lurkers on the fence.

Since when, even among the whackaloons, has thimerasol been associated with causing autism in _teens_?

Knowledge is power. Nobody ever said it had to be correct.

I love how he says he didn’t violate the camera policy because someone else shot the video. He still admits possessing the camera (hence the altercation over the memory card, which he seems to think is the same as a hard drive). And who taped the interview in the bathroom (where his voice is heard)?

He likes to throw around big words like “assault”, “fascist”, and “administration”, but I don’t think he knows what those words mean. (Notice the idiotic usage of “consideration” when he means “consequences” or “punishment”. When I was his age (well, when I was 18), I was picking up my college diploma and heading off to grad school (PhD in neuroscience), not trying to stir up trouble with antivax pseudoscience. If he really cared about other students, he wouldn’t be trying to violate HIPPA by conspiring to videotape in the vaccination room (ex post facto “permission” notwithstanding).

He’s a glory hound, trying to be famous.
Well, he should learn that actions have consequences.

It will be fun to see what happens. Seems this guy is an attention seeker anyway…but as the saying goes, you ain’t no Galileo unless you’re also right.

He also needs to learn that being roughly pushed out of a room he ran into to cause trouble (again) really isn’t much of an assault. His screams of persecution merely cheapen real persecution.

@Todd W and Daedalus2u: I don’t think he can be hit with a HIPAA violation, because he is not a health care worker/provider. From my education on the regs, only medical personnel and facilities are liable (so you can still gossip about what your neighbor told you about their…whatever).

But, this kid is an idiot. And I’ll bet he was fully vaccinated as a baby, too.

As for Alzheimer’s disease (as I’m sure many of the regular RI readers are aware): many people didn’t live long enough to show signs of it. But if you read any gothic literature (think Mr Rochester’s first wife in Jane Eyre), you realize it existed. “Dementia”, “premature dementia”, whatever name…so many disease that people worry about now existed back then; just because they have different names people think they did not exist.

@32, He may not be a covered entity, but in this context, the school is. From the wikipedia on HIPPA:

“It also requires covered entities to take reasonable steps to ensure the confidentiality of communications with individuals.”

Such as prohibiting the photographing or filming of medical procedures without the express consent of the individuals being vaccinated.

Technically, the school was legally obligated to prevent or stop any unauthorized photography or filming regardless of any establish school policy against the use or possession of photographic or video devices. Technically, anytime you see a news story with pictures or videos of people being vaccinated, the provider should not have allowed the press to video/photograph it w/o the express consent of the individuals pictured.

@Karl Withakay: you may be correct that the school could be held liable. I didn’t think about that, and can’t say for sure. I would have to go back into my HIPAA training sources (if I didn’t throw them out when I changed jobs…) to see for sure.

@ #3 –

A-HA! I knew it! The anti-vax conspiracy is actually a Big Pharma conspiracy, wrapped in a shadow government secret, nestled in a secret Muslim plot (to fill our children with toxins to make money off making our children sick so Big Pharma can make super weapon drugs for terrorist soldiers to take over America).

It all makes sense. Big Pharma hates being forced to hemorrhage billions in profits on vaccinnes, its lost money that could be spent making up new diseases. But it needs the support of a secret, shadowy government to pull it off. And only one shadow government can do that — the one that leveled the WTC. And who has the most to gain by this? The newly elected secret Muslim president who wants to take down America from within.

Damn you Big Pharma! Is there anything you won’t do for money? Damn you sheeple who couldn’t see what was “really” happening on 9/11! And damn you non-teabagging americans for electing the secret anti-christ! What has happenened to… *wipes tear* my counnnn-tryyyy.

Soap Box, Rense is another website that should be covered by Scopie’s Law (slightly modified):

n any discussion involving science or medicine, citing certain conspiracy ridden websites as a credible source loses you the argument immediately …and gets you laughed out of the room.

It would be interesting to know how much Alex Jones makes off his conspiracy mongering. Even if he believes some or all of what he pushes it’s not hard to imagine him laughing all the way to the bank over the easy money he’s making by the eager sheep who visit his website, buy his materials etc.

@ Todd W. I also have found that it’s easier to comment negatively about pseudo-science on you-tube than on heavily-moderated woo web sites( e.g. especially true for anti-vax and AIDS denialism).Many of the aforementioned idiots have videos or even “channels” on woo-, I mean, you- tube.(I fear it represents an attempt at “mainstreaming” woo).

If the kid marries into some money he could very well grow up and become “my dad and uncle were in the cia and the army” Handley.

I knew J.B. Handley when he was a kid and knew his family. His Dad was in fact, CIA, attached to the US Embassy in Tokyo, ensconced in one of those small, meaningless letter combination agencies – ALCD/something or other, as I recall. Can’t speak about his uncle, as I never met him nor have any idea about him.

J.B. was quite the brat back then. Scary to see him grow up into a crank.

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