Regular readers know that I’ve long documented the misappropriation of the Holocaust and Holocaust imagery by antivaxxers in order to spread fear, uncertainty, doubt, and, yes, loathing about vaccines. This tactic predates the COVID-19 pandemic by many years. As I started writing this, out of curiosity, I searched this blog and its predecessor on Blogger for references to the Holocaust by antivaxxers. I found that my first post first about this vile phenomenon dated back nearly 16 years, all the way back to 2005, when Mark Blaxill likened “vaccine-induced autism” to a “silent Holocaust” in a letter to TIME Magazine. It was a sentiment that über-quack Joe Mercola had echoed in a post whose URL has since been excluded from the almighty Wayback Machine at Archive.org and now redirects to a more recent post without Holocaust analogies. In that very same post, I noted a post in the antivaccine Evidence of Harm mailing list by Lenny Schafer, who runs the Schafer Autism Report, a propaganda site promoting the vaccine-autism link.
In that post, Schafer advocated referring to those of us pointing out that science did not support a link between mercury-containing thimerosal preservative that was in several childhood vaccines until around 2001 as autism Holocaust deniers:
Still Laidler’s conclusion is that “there may still be an autism epidemic in the United States” as quoted in the article makes this hit piece weak. In my opinion, our counter-propaganda is to characterize business like this as the work of autism holocaust deniers with an anti-child, pro-pharma agenda.
A question to raise to the public is why is the government dragging its feet with finding out the numbers and the causes and instead does this steady stream of alibis-for-mercury research
You might wonder why I dug back so deep for this analogy, going back to posts that now have broken links, to find antivaxxers likening autism and vaccines to the Holocaust. The reason is simple. With the COVID-19 pandemic, everything old is new again, and people who seem shocked at the Holocaust analogies coming fast and furious from COVID-19 minimizers/deniers and antivaxxers (many of whom are the same people) shouldn’t be. Likening vaccines to the Holocaust has long been a tactic of the antivaccine movement. It’s just been turbocharged in the era of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m going to argue why such analogies are a form of Holocaust denial. First, let’s discuss a relevant recent incident.
Stetson pushes back against Holocaust misappropriation
What prompted me to write this post is an incident that took place over the Memorial Day weekend, when social media noticed the owner of hatWRKS, a hat store in Nashville, selling Yellow Stars of David with the word “Vaccinated” emblazoned on them for $5 and likening “vaccine passports” to the Gestapo “requesting your papers.” Owner Gigi Gaskins even posted a photo of herself wearing one on Instagram. As it’s now been deleted, I’ll post this Tweet with a screenshot:
Great. Trucker caps with the Yellow Star of David for the “unvaccinated” too. Could anything scream “‘Merica!” more than that? In any event, Ms. Gaskin’s use of the Holocaust to sell antivaccine merchandise led to protests at her store:
These protests soon led the iconic hat company Stetson to announce that it would no longer sell its hats to hatWRKS:
After that, other major hat companies started canceling their distribution deals, including Tula Hats, Kangol Headwear, and Goorin Brothers, among others, none of which were particularly interested in being associated with the likes of Ms. Gaskin.
Initially, Ms. Gaskins was defiant:
And then she posted this:
Her defiance didn’t last long, however. Ultimately, faced with the loss of her business, Ms. Gaskins was forced to apologize for her misappropriation of a symbol of Jewish persecution during the Holocaust, but it really came across as a “notpology” to me:
Feeding the perception that this was a “notpology” were subsequent Instagram posts by her about the “mob” having come after her for her misuse of the Holocaust, one of which was loaded with false equivalence between her invocation of the Holocaust and Black Lives Matter:
No one was fooled:
Nor has Ms. Gaskins been anywhere near the only one making references to the Holocaust during the pandemic. The week before, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, for whom, it seems, no conspiracy theory is too outlandish, had made a similar analogy:
Not satisfied with that, she followed up with this a few minutes later:
Then, like Ms. Gaskins, Rep. Greene tried to walk back her previous statements a bit, except that she didn’t even offer a notpology:
The problem here is that the Nazi discrimination against Jews in the “early years” was part of the Holocaust. The Holocaust wasn’t just the mass slaughter of Jews in Nazi-occupied territories that began after the Nazi invasion of Poland and ramped up to genocide after the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Far from it! Without the years of the Nazis stoking fear and hatred of Jews among Germans, all to portray them as the “other” and less than human, the mass slaughter to come with the war would not have been possible.
Rep. Greene further betrays her knowledge of history, with this claim as the wearing of badges by Jews in Nazi Germany was first recommended—not yet mandated—by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Wearing the Star wasn’t mandated until after the invasion of Poland in 1939, and then at first in only occupied territories. The badge was therefore not part of the “early” persecution of Jews by the Nazis, but only first appeared after nearly six years of increasing persecution. Indeed, the Nazis didn’t mandate the wearing of Yellow Stars of David in by Jews in Germany itself until 1942, by which time the exterminationist phase of the Holocaust was well under way. Finally, as the Holocaust Memorial Center points out, forcing Jews to wear badges identifying themselves as Jews was a practice of persecution that dates back at least as far back as the 13th century.
Antivaxxers, however, have a long history of misappropriating not just the Yellow Star of David, but the Holocaust, to portray themselves as persecuted.
A brief history of misappropriation of the Holocaust by antivaxxers
Just search this blog for [“antivaccine” AND “Holocaust”] or [“antivaccine” and “Nazi”] and you’ll find more examples than you’d care to read about of antivaxxers either likening autism (in their minds caused by vaccines, of course) or vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and medical experimentation by Josef Mengele. Indeed, it’s a common theme that’s been used by not just the rabid antivaccine conspiracy theorists, but even by the antivaxxers who most strive for “respectability.” For instance, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has used the analogy at least twice (that I’m aware of). For example, in 2015, RFK Jr. was featured in this news report:
But some parents fear information about the hazards of vaccines has been suppressed, largely because of what they call the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over health officials. Many parents believe their children have been damaged by vaccines. When Kennedy asked the crowd of a few hundred viewers how many parents had a child injured by vaccines, numerous hands went up.
“They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said. “This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”
Like Ms. Gaskins, RFK Jr., too, was forced to apologize and backtrack, but his “apology” was also a classic “notpology”:
“I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word holocaust to describe the autism epidemic,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families.”
Or, as I put it at the time, in other words, to RFK Jr., the “vaccine-induced autism epidemic” is as bad as the Holocaust, but he won’t use the word “Holocaust” anymore because comparing autism to the Holocaust offends people. I also noted that this was not the first time RFK, Jr. had used Holocaust analogies with respect to vaccines. He had done it two years before, when he likened “vaccine-induced autism” to the Nazi death camps, and, for all I know, had been using such offensive analogies for much longer. Whether he still uses them or not, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he still does in private, among true believers, where he won’t be quoted publicly.
As I wrote at the time, RFK, Jr.’s reference to the Holocaust was unintentionally appropriate, just not in the way RFK, Jr. meant it. Such an attitude (“their brain is gone”) would not have been out of place in, ironically enough given all the Nazi analogies that antivaccinationists like to make, Nazi Germany. After all, one of the slogans used by Nazis to justify the T4 euthanasia program in which “mental defectives” were “euthanized” was “Lebensunwertes leben,” or “life unworthy of life.” True, he wasn’t advocating killing autistics. He did, however, express the same sort of attitude that allowed the T4 euthanasia program to be tolerated, even supported, by German civilians.
Nor is RFK Jr. the only one. For instance, “Dr. Bob” Sears has been known to go full Godwin over vaccine mandates himself, suggesting that the unvaccinated would have to wear a “Scarlet V,” as Jews under the Nazis had to wear the Yellow Star. He, too, was forced to back off and apologize in an addendum to his original Facebook post:
I will admit that his apology appeared to be a bit more heartfelt than those of RFK Jr. or Ms. Gaskins:
Apology: The original version of this post went beyond the Scarlet V analogy to stating that this discrimination could go so far as to warrant wearing yellow stars as a way to identify people who are unvaccinated. Use of such imagery, I now realize, was completely unfair and inappropriate. The holocaust suffered by the Jewish people was an atrocity of which nothing could ever compare. I know that I share the hope of everyone around the world that nothing will ever come close to it. As an explanation (inadequate though it is), it was my sole intention to only draw an historical parallel to the discrimination felt by a people who were wrongly isolated from society because of their religion and who they were as a people. I realize, now, that there is no separating just the initial discrimination put upon the Jewish people from the atrocities and holocaust that followed it. They were one and the same, and the symbol of the yellow star was such a clear part of that dark time in history. To allude to this symbol as a parallel to the type of discrimination occurring today is unfair, inaccurate, and was a mistake on my part. I apologize directly to each and every one of you whom I offended.
It should still be telling that “Dr. Bob” thought that the Yellow Star of David was a good analogy to the “discrimination” against antivaxxers. Fortunately, I “immortalized” the original version of Dr. Bob’s post here. Let’s just say that Dr. Bob knew exactly what he was doing, as he did it with a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”:
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as a reference to a holocaust. Rather, it’s intended to raise the issue of prejudice and discrimination. Others have likenend vaccine injury to a holocaust. Instead, we are talking about families who choose to not vaccinate. No holocaust here.
Right, Dr. Bob. At least the blowback shamed him into backing off and apologizing. I hope he learned his lesson.
I could go on and on and on with examples of antivaxxers using this sort of analogy, such as when Anne Dachel over at that wretched hive of scum and antivax quackery Age of Autism likened suggestions that the names of nonvaccinating families be made public to the Jews of Budapest in 1940 under Nazi rule or the science showing that vaccines don’t cause autism to Germans saying “we didn’t know” about the Holocaust, when another antivaxxer likened vaccine mandates to 1935 Nazi Germany, and when Laura Hayes wrote about “stopping” the “vaccine Holocaust.” There have been so many Holocaust and Nazi comparisons, more than I can count, ranging from invoking Josef Mengele, the infamous doctor at Auschwitz known for conducting horrific medical experiments on prisoners, to general invocations of the Holocaust as an appropriate metaphor for “vaccine-induced autism,” to Hilary Butler calling the unvaccinated the “new Jews,” to Mike Adams predictably (being Mike Adams) setting up a website called Vaccine Holocaust. And don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve encountered antivaxxers have likening vaccines to eugenics.
Then there was this protest from 2019 in Poland, in which antivaxxers dressed up as Auschwitz inmates. I kid you not:
I just don’t know how anyone could do such a thing. It goes beyond ignorance.
Then, I noticed something for the first time in 2015.
Enter the Yellow Star of David
Beginning around or about 2015, I started noticing a new phenomenon, antivaxxers putting badges on themselves patterned after the Yellow Star of David that the Nazis had required Jews to wear. The first example was a woman named Heather Barajas, who posted a photo of herself and her child to Facebook wearing such a badge. True, at the time, the badge she designed was not a Yellow Star, but she made the analogy quite explicit in her post (now removed):
Even before Barajas, some antivaxxers tried dressing up as Auschwitz prisoners in one of the most offensive examples of cosplay I can imagine:
Finally, leave it to Del Bigtree to co-opt the Yellow Star of David himself, this time in 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, while giving a speech before the Brooklyn Orthodox Jews who were resisting measles vaccination mandates in the middle of an outbreak of—you guessed it!—measles:
Around the same time, Yellow Stars of David started popping up all over antivaccine social media:
Unsurprisingly, since the pandemic hit, it hasn’t just been antivaxxers co-opting this symbol, but COVID-19 conspiracy theorists who deny the severity of the pandemic or view it as a “plandemic.” Examples abound, such as an antivaxxer likening the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to the “COVIDcaust“:
And it’s not just the US and UK, either:
Sadly, since 2015—and, even worse, since the pandemic hit 15 months ago—the number of examples I could cite of antivaxxers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists claiming the Yellow Star of David is beyond counting. It’s just one more example of how antivaxxers have long co-opted the imagery of the Holocaust for their own ends.
Antivaxxers and misappropriation: A form of Holocaust denial
As I’ve documented above, antivaxxers have long misappropriated comparisons to the Holocaust and even Holocaust imagery, such as the Yellow Star and the uniforms of Auschwitz inmates, in order to portray themselves as persecuted. Of course, the Holocaust isn’t the only historical example of persecution that antivaxxers like to misappropriate. They’ve been known to refer to themselves as the “new civil rights movement” when they are anything but. The Holocaust, however, is the most offensive of their misappropriations, because of the magnitude of the false equivalence that antivaxxers claim when they use it and the history to which they are lashing themselves.
That false equivalence might seem risible and so ridiculous as to be utterly dismissible at first. Specifically, by likening themselves to victims of the Holocaust, antivaxxers (and antimaskers) would have people believe that being encouraged or required to get a vaccine to protect oneself and one’s children against a disease that has produced a deadly pandemic with a death toll in the millions— 600,000 in the US alone—is the same as the genocidal program of labeling, persecution, and extermination of Jews that took place in the Third Reich 80 years ago. I used to mock them for it by posting this particular meme:
In the age of COVID-19, though, I’m not laughing so much any more. Maybe I should never have been laughing. The reason is that, by comparing what is an objective good (vaccination) to one of the greatest acts of evil ever perpetrated in history (the Holocaust) and likening themselves to victims of the latter, antivaxxers are arguably engaging a form of Holocaust denial. The comparison is so ludicrously inappropriate, such an incredible false equivalence, that it can’t help but promote the idea, shared by Holocaust deniers, that the Holocaust wasn’t so bad. After all, it’s mind-numbingly obvious that the inconveniences that antivaxxers experience is nowhere near the level of persecution that Jews and the other victims of the Nazi regime suffered during the Holocaust. At the very least, such a comparison downplays the severity of the Holocaust, maybe not to the level of outright Holocaust denial, but then there are gradations of Holocaust denial.
At worst, as Sarah Bond, associate professor of history at the University of Iowa, wrote in The Washington Post yesterday, the misappropriation of symbols of Jewish suffering is profoundly antisemitic:
And in appropriating deep symbols of Jewish pain, these bad actors undermine not only the gravity, nuance and suffering of the Holocaust, but also of centuries of historical antisemitism, in service to their need to be public martyrs. They cast about for some touchstone for their perceived injustice, landing on the Holocaust as the ultimate exemplar of persecution in the modern era. In so doing, Holocaust-invokers add themselves to a long and sad history of borrowing the pain of others to lend credence to their own.
By invoking the Gold Star, Greene and many other evangelical followers of QAnon and former president Donald Trump are linking themselves with a much longer history of Christian antisemitism. Use of the color yellow for the purposes of discriminating against, excluding and expelling Jews goes back hundreds of years.
After listing example after example of how labels such as the Yellow Star have been used over the centuries to label and facilitate the persecution of Jews, Bond then brings it home:
The dubious power of this kind of false analogy relies on making you think the Holocaust has an equal weight as an optional vaccine or a mask mandate does. The more insidious work of this false equivalence is how easily it can erode the gravity of the original evil. When non-Jews appropriate the Star of David for their own aims, they contribute to the erasure of the historical suffering of Jews — from medieval to modern times. The problem here isn’t just the gross misuse of a historical symbol, it’s the impact on the explicitly Jewish suffering associated with that symbol.
That is why the misappropriation of the Holocaust and symbols of Jewish oppression by the Nazis is, at minimum, a false equivalence and at worst antisemitic and a form of Holocaust denial.
Leave it, again, to Mike Adams to show what I mean when he expresses extreme puzzlement that Jews find the misuse of the Holocaust and Holocaust imagery by the likes of him to be extremely offensive:
Joseph Mengele and his cohorts injected chemicals into Jewish captives during the Holocaust and watched them be tortured to death from it, including children. They loved experimenting on twins – Hitler’s fascination. They would cut their brains open and cut out parts to see what happened. With no anesthesia or painkillers, these “patients” were tortured in horror, and viewed not as humans, but were nothing more than lab animals to the Nazis, just like Americans are to the vaccine manufacturers now.
Of all the people on Earth, you would think Jewish people know this, remember this, or at least their grandparents or parents warned them of this. Study history or you’re doomed to repeat it.
The scientists who create vaccines now are cut from the same cloth as the scientists who concocted the deadly chemicals for the gas chambers of the Holocaust. Jews in America need to wake up, because Israel can’t help you now. They are under forced vaccination already, countrywide, with vaccine passports already in place. Are you seeing the similarities yet?
Unbelievable that Israel, the Jewish homeland, uses Nazi-style chemical medicine and mRNA gene-altering, gene-mutating, blood-clot-causing inoculations that have yet to be tested for safety or efficacy. What in God’s world are they thinking? Why are citizens accepting this slow-walk into the “gas chambers” of chemical medicine, where you die early from all kinds of neurological disorders, blood disorders and other dysfunctions the MDs just can’t seem to explain or solve for you.
Fellow Jews, pay close attention to a man who has spoken out to protect millions of Jewish people around the planet. Mike Adams of Natural News has published more truths about the Holocaust than any other health and safety news publisher, anywhere. The research runs deep.
It should be more like, “The research runs derp.” I’m sorry, but I laughed out loud (very derisively) at Adams’ claim (written by his lackey S.D. Wells) that he has published “more truths about the Holocaust than any other health and safety news publisher, anywhere.”
The bottom line is that Mike Adams and his ilk, the ones likening COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, are no friends of Jews. In misappropriating the symbols and language of the Holocaust, they are engaging in a form of Holocaust minimization, if not outright denial.
ADDENDUM: After this post went live, someone pointed out this Twitter thread to me, an excellent additional reason why antivaxxers co-opting the Holocaust is stupid, ignorant, and offensive: