Whenever anyone expresses surprise or dismay at the increasingly unhinged violent rhetoric coming from the antivaccine and antimask movement in the era of COVID-19, I like to point out that I noticed this trend among antivaxxers and first wrote about it in 2015 in the context of antivax resistance to SB 277, the California law passed that year that eliminated nonmedical “personal belief” exemptions to school vaccine mandates. However, perusing my blog last night, I noticed that the violent rhetoric goes back long before that. Indeed, my first ban on this blog occurred in 2006 due to a commenter advocating taking an autism advocate out and horsewhipping her. Then, in 2011, I noted a man named Mark Sircus, who is an acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner as well as a practitioner of “pastoral medicine,” advocating hanging scientists at the CDC over vaccines in a post entitled String the Bastards Up. Here’s a taste:
In general I am against the death penalty as I am against killing of any kind. Though the Bible sanctions death and killing, it is clearly against murder and the taking of innocent life. We could argue all day about what some people clearly seem to deserve and we could argue about the legitimacy of many things from the Old Testament or anything else written that the elites of the world have had their dirty fingers in.
For all those who are for the death penalty, my message will be clear. I am calling for the conviction and the worst possible punishment under the law for certain people in government who are in the medical field. There seems to be no limit to what our present society will accept. We are letting the bankers and the shysters on Wall Street destroy western civilization, allowing them the fattest paychecks on earth as a reward. And we are letting doctors in white coats inject poisonous heavy metals into babies and paying them well for it.
I also noted that one of the commenters said:
I love the fact you are trying to hold these people who have done indescribable harm accountable. But, one of the reasons they get away with this, is people are reluctant to name names. Do name them. Put their names on the Internet, in forums, on websites for all to see. If you know who they are, name them. Let all the world see their crimes. They escape because they can remain anonymous. Their colleagues, their families, their professional connections, should all know what they do. Let them be named!!!
Does this sound familiar? Remember, this was from nearly ten years ago. It’s also an example of why antivaxxers are so obsessed with doxxing any provaccine pro-science blogger or social media influencer who posts under a pseudonym. As I’ve described many times, it’s their go-to first move whenever a pseudonymous influencer scores a hit on their misinformation.
Since 2015, I’ve periodically updated this series, expressing relief (and, to be honest, surprise) that there hasn’t (yet) been any violence that’s resulted in death or serious injury, although antivaxxers have advocated attacks on provaccine journalists and one antivaxxer did accost and shove California State Senator. Richard Pan, the pediatrician turned politician responsible for SB 277. More recently, Mike Adams was forced to walk back his violent rhetoric about executing doctors and public health officials who have responsible for COVID-19 vaccination. More recently, antivaxxers harassed breast cancer patients and the health care professionals treating them at a cancer clinic in Los Angeles, and fights broke out between the antivaxxers and provaxxers who had shown up to counterprotest. More recently still—just a week ago, in fact—one person was stabbed and a reporter assaulted as COVID-19 antivaxxers and counterdemonstrators fought in front of LA City Hall:
A crowd of several hundred people, many holding American flags and signs calling for “medical freedom,” had descended on City Hall around 2 p.m. for the planned rally. A few dozen counterprotesters had amassed on 1st Street near the former offices of the L.A. Times before the clash.
A fight erupted on the corner of 1st and Spring streets shortly after 2:30 p.m., as counterprotesters in all black and anti-vaccine demonstrators draped in American flag garb and Trump memorabilia traded punches and threw things at one another. It was not immediately clear how the fight started, though each side quickly blamed the other.
One person, who the anti-mask protesters claim was part of their rally, could be seen collapsed in the intersection, bleeding. Police on the scene said the person had been stabbed, and paramedics arrived to take him to a hospital.
In the melee, counterprotesters could be seen spraying mace while members of the anti-vaccine rally screamed death threats. One older man screamed, “unmask them all,” and clawed at a woman’s face.
Here’s a shot of an antivaxxer attacking journalist Tina Desiree Berg:
Elsewhere in the protest, another reporter was attacked:
I note that this is not the first time that the man in the photo, identified by some as Benjamin Patino, has become violent and attacked a journalist:
Unsurprisingly, he is a Donald Trump supporter, which is yet another example illustrating how the confluence and alliance of the antimask/antivaccine movement with far right wing activists has ratcheted up not only the violent rhetoric but the violence. Indeed, I noted that there was ample evidence at the protest outside of the cancer clinic that antivaxxers were aligning themselves with fascists (and vice-versa). But, wait! you ask, What about the person who was stabbed, who appears to have been an antivaccine protester? To be honest, I don’t know. The man was released from the hospital the day after the protest, and his identity was not revealed; so it is impossible to know which side he was on.
Then, just yesterday it was reported in The Washington Post that an antivaxxer had shown up at a Walmart and warned pharmacists that administration of COVID-19 vaccines was a violation of the Nuremberg Code and could result in their execution:
An Alabama-based anti-vaxxer who has gained a following online — where he spreads false information about the coronavirus pandemic, Key was on a mission to give the pharmacists inoculating shoppers a warning.
“What they’re doing is crimes against humanity,” he said in a live stream on Facebook. “And if they do not stand down immediately, then they could be executed. They can be hung in the state.”
Wearing a polo with “Vaccine Police” written across the left side of his chest, Key ran through the game plan with the group. During a prayer in the parking lot, Key said he hoped to “put the fear of God in these pharmacists.”
The live stream shows Key walking past the produce section and then along the grocery aisles. As he made his way to the pharmacy counter, workers there can be seen shutting down the counter and locking the door.
I wonder why. Certainly if I saw a deranged man wandering through my store making threats, I’d try to protect myself too, and that’s what Christopher Key did:
Key went on to claim that the pharmacists were violating the Nuremberg Code, a set of medical ethics rules established after World War II that led to the prosecution and execution of several Nazi doctors who carried out medical experiments on victims in concentration camps. Key’s comparisons are inaccurate, experts say, because the coronavirus vaccine is not experimental.
“If you allow one more shot in one more person’s body, you yourself will be executed in violation of the Nuremberg Code,” he said as he pointed to a Walmart employee standing nearby. “We don’t want that to happen to any of you guys at all. We love you guys. We want to keep you safe.”
How nice of Mr. Key. He doesn’t want to kill pharmacists, but thinks that they should be executed if they keep administering vaccines.
Here’s the Facebook Live video, which, bizarrely enough, is still up at Facebook. It’s bonkers:
Then Key got all disingenuous:
About 10 minutes after confronting the Walmart employee, who mostly remained silent, Key switched his tune. He was actually there to get the vaccine, he said.
“Why can’t I get my vaccine? I’m here to get my vaccine,” he said.
After about 20 minutes loitering outside the pharmacy, Key and his posse left the store and encountered a police officer waiting outside.
“She just refused me my vaccine,” he said to the officer, referring to the female employee. “What if I die tonight and I get covid because I didn’t get my vaccine?”
Spare me. Let’s move on.
On Tuesday, the violent rhetoric of the antivaccine/antimask movement took an even more disturbing turn in Maine:
Several GOP lawmakers gathered with anti-vaccine activists at the Augusta state capitol building on Tuesday to protest Gov. Janet Mills’ recently announced COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
Healthcare providers already require their workers to be vaccinated against measles, Hepatitis B and other infectious diseases. Mills’ mandate will add the COVID vaccine to that list starting October 1.
Conservative lawmakers including Reps. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred), Tracy Quint (R-Hodgdon), Laurel Libby (R-Auburn), Assistant House Republican Leader Joel Stetkis (R-Canaan) and Republican Sen. Lisa Kiem (Oxford) spoke at the event. In their remarks, they validated false and dangerous claims about vaccines, at times framing the public health initiative as a government experiment in violation of individual liberties. Rep. Chris Johansen (R-Monticello) was also present at the rally after losing his wife to COVID on August 10.
Unfortunately, this is now typical of Republicans. I warned in 2018 that the GOP was fast becoming the party of antivaxxers, and by 2019, nearly a year before COVID-19 first shut down the country, it was quite clear that the antivaccine movement had found a political home in the Republican Party. Basically, in pandering to their base, large swaths of which antivaxxers had successfully enticed to their cause by framing school vaccine mandates as an issue of government overreach and “parental rights,” Republican politicians locked themselves into antivaccine, antimask positions as expressions of support for “freedom.” Examples before the pandemic include the Ohio statehouse, which was rife with antivaxxers (and. still is), Oregon Republicans walking out and refusing to work until a provaccine bill was shelved, and, in my neck of the woods, Republicans in my district holding an antivaccine roundtable falsely billed as a “vaccine choice” summit. Worse, after COVID-19 hit, antivaxxers and COVID-19 antimaskers/minimizers/deniers increasingly allied themselves because both groups are profoundly anti-public health, more specifically against any public health intervention that requires collective action or government mandates of any kind.
Here’s what’s disturbing, though, came through in speeches by state representatives Laura Libby and Heidi Sampson, both—you guessed it!—Republicans:
Libby, who was among those that led the failed 2020 people’s veto campaign to reinstate philosophical exemptions to childhood vaccination, egged on the crowd Tuesday.
“What are you prepared to do to protect your kids and the generations to come?” Libby said. “Will we have the right to make our own medical decisions, or will the government? The stakes have never been higher. And to be clear: this is war.”
“When we win this war you can tell your kids and grandkids you fought for them,” Libby continued. “We must stand together. It will take every one of us.”
During her speech, Sampson claimed Mills’ mandate was a government ploy to illegally test “experimental” COVID vaccines on unwitting citizens. She described Mills as the “reincarnation” of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who performed deadly medical experiments on Jewish people in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
“Do I need to remind you of the late 1930s and into the 40s in Germany. And the experiments with Josef Mengele,” Sampson said. “What was it? A shot. And these were crimes against humanity. And what came out of that? The Nuremberg Code. The Nuremberg Trial. Informed consent is at the top and violating that is punishable by death.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Comparing public health officials to Nazis and vaccine mandates to the Holocaust is nothing new for antivaxxers, and since COVID-19 hit antivaxxers have cranked such comparisons up to 11.
I’ve referred to how antivaxxers love to cite the Nuremberg Code, the ethical framework that came out of the judgment from the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial against Nazi doctors who had performed horrific medical experiments during the war. It is a strategy that is both a Godwin in that it paints those who support vaccine mandates as being every bit as fascistic and evil as Nazi doctors and ignores the much more recent ethical statements that govern current human subjects research, the Belmont Report and the Declaration of Helsinki. A not-so-subtle inference behind antivaxxers’ references to the Nuremberg Code is that provaccine doctors should suffer the same fate as the doctors convicted during the Nuremberg Trials, imprisonment or even execution. Of course, if you really view vaccine mandates as being akin to what the Nazis did to Jews and others whom they considered enemies of the volk, then violence is justified to stop it. That is the warped thinking of antivaxxers that leads to images like this:
It’s one thing when random antivaxxers on social media, antivaccine protesters who are vile enough to harass cancer patients, or utter cranks like Mike Adams spout violent rhetoric or become violent themselves or fools like Del Bigtree ask if it’s “time for guns,” compare themselves to the Founding Fathers, and declare themselves as willing to die for the antivaccine cause. It’s quite another when actual legislators and government officials start dipping their toes into the pool of the same violent rhetoric. Bigtree and his fellow antivaxxers aren’t taken seriously by most reasonable people. Actual state legislators can’t be ignored because they are elected officials.
And it’s more than just lowly state representatives, too:
Of course, Congresswoman or not, you have to be really bad to have someone like Ben Shapiro call you out for being bonkers (even if he couldn’t resist a false analogy to attack his favorite leftists), leading Rep. Taylor Greene to deny that’s what she meant:
Sorry to inform the Representative, but the discrimination and persecution of the Jews in the early years of the Nazi regime were the early stages of the Holocaust. Why? Because the systematic discrimination and persecution set the stage for the systematic targeted deportations, killings, and ultimately genocide that started several years later. The genocide would not have been possible without the initial discrimination, which dehumanized Jews in the eyes of Germans.
I’ll conclude, as I have in most of the posts in this series, expressing relief and amazement that the violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement hasn’t led to more violence. Unfortunately, my relief and amazement appear to be threatened, as the violent rhetoric is becoming more unhinged, and there is now actual violence. More than ever, I fear what could be coming. Someone’s going to die violently at the hands of antivaxxers, and I fear it will be sooner, rather than later.