Nazis. It’s always Nazis. At least, with antivaxxers it is.
Since the pandemic, it seems that, no matter what governments and public health officials recommend or institute as interventions to slow the spread of COVID-19, antimaskers, anti-“lockdowners,” and antivaxxers refer to the interventions as authoritarian (or outright fascist), with public health officials being Nazis. Of course, comparing vaccine advocates to Nazis has a long and dishonorable history in the antivaccine movement, making the resurrection of this disinformation technique utterly unsurprising. In fact, the idea that anything beyond completely voluntary public health interventions—with which you should not comply!—are unacceptable assaults on freedom akin to Hitler’s totalitarian regime, complete with its genocide against European Jewry. This concept has become the organizing principle—the raison d’être, if you will—behind the Brownstone Institute, a COVID-19 disinformation machine that can’t make up its mind whether public health interventions against COVID-19 are fascism (with Anthony Fauci and other public health officials Nazis) or totalitarian Communism akin to the Chinese Cultural Revolution (which, I suppose, sort of makes sense given Brownstone’s embrace of the “lab leak” conspiracy theory for the origin of the pandemic).
So it was that I came across an article by Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker on the Brownstone Institute’s website entitled We Can All Be Evil and the Germans Were Nothing Special. (We’ve met all of them before.) Regular readers and those familiar with the Brownstone Institute can probably guess where this article is going, but I do like to point out one thing. Notice how, in the Brownstone Institute narrative, public health interventions are not just misguided, scientific mistakes, errors, or excessive. They are evil, and the people who orchestrate them are evil (like Hitler), while those who carry out public health policies, while not necessarily evil themselves, are, as individual Nazis did during the Hitler regime, carrying out evil policies.
Unsurprisingly, neither Frijters, Foster, nor Baker have any expertise in infectious disease, virology, pandemics, immunology, vaccines, or public health. They are all economists. (Well, not really. Baker only has a BA in economics, which makes him an economist as much as my BS in chemistry makes me a chemist.) If you look at the articles they’ve authored for Brownstone, you will quickly see a recurrent theme, namely about how interventions against COVID-19 were “crimes” that “victims” won’t forgive, about how academia is drawn to “fascism” (which is hilarious to me because they use the broadest possible dictionary definition of “fascism” to make their point and also because of how much of an affinity antivaxxers like those at Brownstone have for fascism), how “dissent” is being “punished,” and the devastating effects of “lockdowns” (which, outside of China, haven’t been a thing for a year now and were arguably never much of a thing in most of the US).
So what do Frijters, Foster, and Baker have to say about COVID-19 containment policies? This passage seeks to liken COVID-19 public health responses to a “mania” not unlike the mania that swept Hitler into power and allowed him to consolidate power to become the absolute dictator of Germany in less than a year and a half after being appointed Chancellor of Germany:
For more than two years, the world has been swept up in covid mania. Ordinary people of almost every nationality have accepted the covid ‘story’, applauding as strong men and women have assumed dictatorial powers, suspended normal human rights and political processes, pretended that covid deaths were the only ones that mattered, closed schools, closed businesses, prevented people from earning livelihoods, and caused mass misery, poverty, and starvation.
The more these strong men and women did these things, the louder the applause, and the greater the disapprobation and abuse levelled at those who decried such actions. Police bullying of those speaking out against the covid story was cheered on by populations keen to see the naysayers brought to justice.
The past two years have proved that the Germans of the National Socialist period were really nothing special.
My first question was this: What are these people smoking? No, seriously, they got a hold of some seriously bad stuff. (Either that, or they’re completely delusional or lying, take your pick.) This is some seriously revisionist history of the pandemic. What really happened, of course, is that it didn’t take very long for public health interventions that were anything stronger than completely voluntary to encounter stiff resistance, at least in democracies. Just in my neck of the woods, in Michigan, by April 30, 2020 a little more than a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had imposed stay-at-home public health orders, there were armed militia members showing up at protests at the State Capitol Building as part of anti-“lockdown” protests. Because of Michigan’s messed up laws, these militia entered the Capitol Building with their weapons and freely roamed around, intimidating state legislators.
Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia and Boogaloo Bois, some posing in front of the governor’s office in the legislative building to intimidate her are certainly evidence of our Michigan governor exercising “dictatorial” powers in April 2020, wouldn’t you say?
Pray, continue, though, Brownstone Institute propagandists. Sadly, they do. First, they cite the famous Milgram experiments, in which subjects were ordered to give a person increasing electrical shocks to a “learner” (or so they thought) in response to wrong answers to questions, with the learner increasingly pleading for mercy. Famously, more than half of the subjects administered the maximum intensity of electrical shock. Also famously, the “learners” were actors hired to pretend to be suffering, and the real objective of the experiment was to see how far normal people would go in response to “prodding” by an authority figure. Of course, by today’s standards—and even arguably the standards of 60+ years ago—Milgram’s experiments were unethical. Nevertheless, Brownstone flacks see everyone who went along with “lockdowns” as subjects in Milgram’s experiments while citing Hannah Arendt, famous for coining the phrase the “banality of evil” to describe Hitler’s henchman Adolf Eichmann and for trying to explain how ordinary people could do such evil in response to orders. No one ever said Brownstone Institute flacks were subtle in their messaging.
Here’s another example of what I mean:
As Hannah Arendt pointed out, the most committed Nazis were the ‘Gutmensch’: Germans who genuinely saw themselves as good people. They had been loved by their mothers, were dutiful followers of the local faith, paid their taxes, had ancestors who died for Germany, and were in loving family relationships. They thought they were doing the right thing, and were roundly validated and supported in that belief by friends, family, the church, and the media.
The intellectual class had come face to face with this truth in the 1950s, but the relentless wish of humanity to look away from uncomfortable truths made societies, and over time even scholarly circles, forget. We told lies about the Nazis to feel good about ourselves. This self-rejecting cowardice grew over time and fed into today’s debilitated, self-hating woke culture in which you can hardly reference the Nazi period at all in polite company, much less try to open people’s minds to its lessons, without being accused of being a Nazi deep down yourself.
The Germans forgot not because the information about the Nazi period was hidden. On the contrary, young German schoolchildren were forced to read books and watch documentaries almost constantly. They forgot the central lesson because they could not live with the idea that the behaviour they were told about was normal. So, like everyone else, they pretended that the Nazi period was totally abnormal, led and supported by people who were innately more evil than others.
Once again the Nazis. It’s always Nazis with these people!
Of course, the amusing thing about this post is the projection involved. To Frijters, Foster, and Baker, the true “heroes” weren’t the frontline medical workers, the people working for grocery stores and other essential businesses for whom working at home was not an option, or the police or frontline responders like paramedics for whom working from home was also not and option and who faced the danger of COVID-19 every day. Instead, apparently, their heroes are people who resisted:
What is then our explanation for why strong religious groups and maverick personalities within our countries were less affected by the madness? Our explanation is that those most strongly immune to the madness from the very start were already somewhat disconnected from the mainstream, often not even having a television or social media connection to mainstream society. Being outliers at the start protected them from being swept up in the madness of the mainstream crowd.
Michigan Liberty Militia and Boogaloo Bois (not to mention Proud Boys, Patriot Front, and other fascist—or at least fascist-adjacent—paramilitary groups) are arguably “somewhat disconnected from the mainstream,” although I would argue that they are certainly plugged in, given their massive social media activity. In any event, lest readers accuse me of cherry picking “resisters” to public health interventions, let’s look at who else “resisted”: antivaxxers such as Robert F, Kennedy, Jr., Del Bigtree, Joe Mercola, and pretty much every other antivaxxer; grifters and quacks like the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone, Mehmet Oz, Simone Gold, and Steve Kirsch; populist authoritarians like Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro; and a wide variety of garden variety cranks and opportunists. These are not exactly the sort of people that I’d ever want to associate myself with in any way, nor should you.
There are reasonable arguments to be had over how best to balance the economic and health toll of public health policy interventions versus the benefits in terms of decreasing COVID-19 incidence, complications and death, but that’s not what these propagandists are about. They’re about nothing less than declaring any public policy that isn’t 110% voluntary as evil and fascist, with people implementing such policies akin to Adolf Hitler and those carrying out or supporting such policies being akin to the subjects of the Milgram experiments or the banality of evil under Hitler. I’m only surprised that they could resist citing Daniel Goldhagen.
I am rather amused, though, that Frijters, Foster, and Baker come so close to saying something somewhat reasonable, but can’t quite bring themselves to follow the implications of what they write:
Yet this is no recipe for the future, because a society of outliers is no society at all. Any social group has a core constituency of those who truly belong. The strong religious groups standing outside of the social mainstream may be inoculated from the madness of the mainstream, but they are just as prone to follow a wave of madness within their own group.
Ditto for any other ‘maverick’ group. Within whatever group they belong to – and all humans belong to groups – humans get swept along when that group goes mad. Hope lies not in a society of outliers, but in a society with better ways of recognising and countering emerging madness, or at least more quickly snapping out of madness when it inevitably emerges.
So very, very, very close, and yet still so far:
For young Germans, the covid period has a bittersweet silver lining. It has become clear, again, that the Nazis of the 1930s were entirely normal people, and that everyone else in the world can be a Nazi too. The Germans can release themselves from the belief that there is anything abnormally evil about being German. There is a potential Nazi in all of us.
So incredibly close.
If only Frijters, Foster, and Baker could recognize themselves and Brownstone Institute in what they write. If only they could recognize the projection involved in their “analysis” and revisionist history. If only they could recognize that their anti-“lockdown” propaganda and activism derives more from a libertarian political viewpoint that promoted the Great Barrington Declaration, an astroturf “declaration advocating a strategy for the pandemic based more on resisting government authority to do anything for public health and promoting a eugenicist “natural herd immunity” strategy in which COVID-19 would be allowed to rip through the “young and healthy” population (who could go on about their lives), while the elderly and those with chronic health conditions that make them more susceptible to hospitalization and death were left on their own to protect themselves.
Alas, they cannot and do not. Either that, or they know quite well what they are doing. The longer I pay attention to the Brownstone Institute’s narrative about how everyone who sees through its antivaccine misinformation and COVID-19 minimization are Nazis, the more I suspect that it’s the latter.