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To Nuremberg or not to Nuremberg? That is the antivax question.

Punishing public health officials for their “crimes” has long been an antivax fantasy. The Brownstone Institute has a question and can’t decide if it agrees, even as it echoes the same rhetoric.

Having been countering antivax disinformation for over two decades now, when COVID-19 hit and resistance to public health measures, including vaccine mandates, started mounting, I was not surprised to see the narrative about “holding them accountable” arise, a narrative that takes its most disturbing form as “Nuremberg 2.0,” a fantasy in which everyone antivaxxers have hated since long before anyone had ever heard of the novel coronavirus that first made its presence known in Wuhan, China in late 2019 is at some time in the near future brought before a tribunal—just as Nazi doctors were brought before a tribunal at Nuremberg after World War II—to be judged and punished for their “crimes.” As I’ve written on numerous occasions, this idea of “punishment” is based upon a misunderstanding of the Nuremberg Code, in which vaccine mandates are falsely portrayed as violations of the the Nuremberg Code, ethical principles laid down after the Doctors’ Trial guiding human subjects research. Also as I’ve discussed before, the “Nuremberg Code gambit also lets antivaxxers portray public health officials and vaccine advocates as the equivalent of infamous Nazi doctors like Josef Mengele. That is not an accident in case you question whether it is. Perhaps that’s why I’m seeing an interesting development, some hardcore public health resisters questioning if that narrative goes to farm. Yet they still use similar rhetoric, with one suggesting “amnesty.” I’ll show you what I mean.

First, though, let’s see what kind of rhetoric I’m talking about, specifically rhetoric like this:

“T” is about as ignorant of international law as he is of history, science, and vaccines.

In the age of the pandemic, however, the question of who should be brought before the dock has led to COVID-19 contrarians demanding that, basically, all public health officials who recommended and/or implemented business closures, mask mandates, and, yes, vaccine mandates should be put on trial. Indeed, anyone who points out the disinformation promoted by disinformation peddlers like the Brownstone Institute (for example) end up being portrayed as having committed horrific crimes deserving of the guillotine:

Gee, what do you think that the Scientific Director of the Brownstone Institute meant by this as he echoes rhetoric akin to that of Mike Adams?

In antivax fantasies these “crimes” are often likened to the Holocaust in the same way that people like Del Bigtree used to misappropriate the Yellow Star of David to represent antivaxxers as being like Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, echoed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who, consistent with his previous rhetoric likening vaccines to the Holocaust, has misappropriated Anne Frank to represent the “persecuted” antivaxxer. I don’t think it’s even a question any more whether antivax misappropriation of Holocaust analogies and symbols is Holocaust denial. Meanwhile, the idea of “Nuremberg 2.0” has gone so far mainstream that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is very likely to make it policy by “investigating” Anthony Fauci, the CDC, and the Biden Administration for their “crimes” of trying to contain COVID-19, including mask and vaccine mandates, a development antivaxxers are excited about:

Question Nuremberg 2
How childish do you have to be to add a crudely Photoshopped Hitler mustache on Anthony Fauci?

So let me try to explain what I mean, starting with the aforementioned Brownstone Institute article by Donald Boudreaux entitled Tribunals Would Introduce Dangers of their Own. You can see from the title that Boudreaux isn’t so much opposed to Nuremberg 2.0 on principle, but rather due to the possibility of unintended consequences. First, though, almost as though he realizes how much he is going against the antivax, anti-mask narrative normally peddled by the Brownstone Institute, Boudreaux feels a need to assert his “anti-lockdown” bona fides:

From the start I vigorously opposed COVID lockdowns and protested the hysteria that lures people to tolerate such tyranny.

Although I wasn’t the most eloquent of lockdowns’ critics, I – like Scott AtlasDavid HendersonPhil MagnessJeffrey Tucker, Toby Young and the team at the Daily Skeptic, and the heroic authors of the great Great Barrington Declaration – never wavered from this opposition.

Not for a nanosecond did I as much as toy with the idea that lockdowns might be worthwhile. Every impulse within me, from my marrow to my mind, confidently informed me that lockdowns were destined to unleash Orwellian oppression, the terrible precedential consequences of which will plague (pun intended) humanity for decades.

Got it, everyone? Boudreaux is just as hardcore as you are about how horrible public health interventions to try to save lives during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic were. He even demonstrates it by citing some of the worst of the worst of COVID-19 minimizers, antimaskers, and antivaxxers. He even paid mandatory tribute to the Great Barrington Declaration, that document promulgated by Brownstone Scientific Director Martin Kulldorff and two other scientists that advocated a “let ‘er rip” approach to the pandemic in search of “natural herd immunity,” with supposedly young and healthy people being allowed to go about their business, catch COVID-19, and supposedly recover to contribute to this “natural herd immunity,” and the “vulnerable” somehow kept safe by “focused protection.” It was a clearly eugenicist document that basically said, “Screw the vulnerable” and “screw the few unfortunate ‘young and healthy’ people who still succumb or suffer major complications from COVID-19.” (Unsurprisingly, the Brownstone Institute now peddles a profoundly antivax narrative.) The Great Barrington Declaration never would have worked, but unfortunately garnered great influence among a number of governments.

Boudreaux is also against “forgiveness,” even if he doesn’t advocate punishment:

Before explaining my opposition to attempts at imposing formal punishments on lockdowners, I note that my argument isn’t about forgiveness. While a case can be made to forgive lockdowners, that’s not the case that I’ll make here. Forgiveness, being personal, is beyond my capacity to recommend or to oppose. To forgive or not is exclusively your call. My argument here is simply a plea to my fellow anti-lockdowners not to call for, or even to wish for, the imposition of state-imposed sanctions on prominent lockdowners.

This passage is clearly a reaction to an article in The Atlantic by economist Emily Oster, who wanted to suggest offering “amnesty” to everyone who was wrong early in the pandemic about how to mitigate its death and destruction, which to her was basically all traditional public health, particularly anyone advocating school closures. Conveniently, Oster didn’t seem to think that she or anyone on “her side” (such as the Brownstone Institute) had made any such mistakes needing any sort of “forgiveness” or “amnesty. Basically, Oster’s version of “amnesty” involved not granting it unless public health advocates admit they were wrong. Hilariously, it was antimaskers, anti-“lockdowners,” and antivaxxers who reacted most negatively to this suggestion, because they want revenge. They use rhetoric very much like Boudreaux’s, but in favor of revenge. He does not question in the least whether those whom he hates deserve such retribution:

My blood still boils at the thought of lockdowns, and my anger at those persons who imposed them is as intense a sensation as I have ever experienced. It continues to be so.

Got that, public health advocates? You’re so evil that Boudreaux hates you intensely. He does not question that you deserve something! Of course, I would address the question another way. My blood still boils at the thought of people like Boudreau, antivaxxers, public health opponents, and people whose efforts resulted in likely millions more dying of COVID-19 than had to. Let’s just say that I feel the same way about the propagandists at the Brownstone Institute that Boudreaux feels about Anthony Fauci.

So why does Boudreaux oppose “Nuremberg 2.0”-style tribunals? Simple? He worries that he and his fellow disinformation spreaders at Brownstone could some day, if politics change, be at the receiving end of them, but first he worries that such tribunals would be too “political.” First, he doesn’t trust the governments who supposedly imposed the “lockdowns” to punish those responsible:

Perhaps ironically, one reality that leads me to oppose formal efforts to sanction lockdowners for their infliction of harm is a reality that plays a prominent role in my opposition to the lockdowns themselves – namely, political action is inherently untrustworthy. Summoning government today to penalize officials who imposed lockdowns is to call for action by the very same political institution, if not the same flesh-and-blood officials, that imposed the lockdowns.

If you’re an antimasker and antivaxxer, this sort of distrust makes perfect sense, but then Boudreaux takes it a step further:

The danger is too great that a government agency or commission empowered to sit in judgment over individuals who were in office during the two years starting in March 2020 will abuse its power. The risk is too high that the pursuit of justice will descend into a hunt for revenge. No such agency or commission will act with the requisite objectivity to make its decisions just. To suppose that any such formal inquiry into personal guilt or liability would be adequately apolitical is as fanciful as supposing that lockdown-happy officials in 2020 were adequately apolitical.

In this imperfect world of ours, officials who were responsible for pursuing even horribly destructive policies yesterday are best left immune to being formally punished or sanctioned by officials who are in power today. The dangers of empaneling tribunals to punish recently dethroned officials for their policy choices include, but go beyond, the above-mentioned risk of today’s officials pursuing revenge rather than justice.

An equally fearful danger springs from the reality that almost every significant change in policy can be portrayed by its opponents as an unwarranted assault on humanity. Because real-world complexities will always enable opponents of the challenged policy to muster some ‘evidence’ of extensive damage that the policy allegedly caused, empaneling tribunals today to punish officials whose policy choices were implemented yesterday will, going forward, discourage not only the active taking of bad policies, but also the active taking of good policies.

I can’t help but see this attitude towards the question of a “Nuremberg 2.0” as the dawning realization on the part of antimask and antivax propagandists like the writers at the Brownstone Institute just how loony the groups with which they’ve aligned themselves are and a desire not to be too closely associated with them. Sure, they’re willing to use the anger expressed by such groups to promote their message, but they’re so much more reasonable! Unlike those bonkers antivaxxers who have been calling for Nuremberg 2.0-style “tribunals” to “punish” vaccine advocates for decades, Boudreaux and his fellow astroturfers see the danger inherent in such calls for a “Nuremberg 2.0” that would hold public officials personally criminally responsible for their actions during the pandemic.

It’s also interesting how Boudreaux doesn’t mention that finding some evidence of “extensive” damage from various policies is exactly what he and his fellow propagandists do. They cherry pick the literature to find studies that purport to show horrible damage from various “lockdown,” mask, and vaccine policies, no matter how poorly designed, while similarly cherry picking evidence to favor studies that show the lowest infection fatality rates, death tolls, and damage from the actual virus itself, including the invocation of conspiracy theories about PCR tests supposedly causing a “casedemic” of false positives; doctors being falsely accused of manipulating death certificates to have people dying “with COVID” being recorded as dying “of COVID”; overblown and unsupported claims of effectiveness against COVID-19 for repurposed drugs we know to be ineffective, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, because such highly effective drugs would obviate the need for public health interventions; promoting the myth that “natural immunity” to the virus is superior to vaccine-acquired immunity even though the rise of immune-evading variants like Delta and Omicron shows that postinfection immunity is not durable; lying about masks; and denying the mass casualties that occurred during the initial waves of the pandemic, such as in the spring of 2020 in New York. It’s projection, plain and simple, accusing public health advocates of the same dishonest tactics that the people behind astroturf groups like the Brownstone Institute use.

In addition, interestingly, Boudreaux seems to realize that the question of “accountability” could very well backfire on him and his fellow propagandists in, for example, 2028:

Suppose that a precedent is set that encourages those in political power today to persecute, with charges of having pursued harmful policies, individuals who held political power yesterday. Further suppose that when COVID-28 hits, officials then in power wisely follow the advice offered in the Great Barrington Declaration. I have no doubt that choosing this policy course would minimize deaths. But no policy will completely avoid deaths. COVID-28 will indeed kill some, perhaps many, people. 

When COVID-28 is finally over and a new political party takes power, there’s nothing to prevent the new party from empaneling a tribunal to hold those officials previously in power personally responsible for the deaths that occurred on their watch when COVID-28 raged – deaths that will be blamed on what will be said to be the reckless following of Great Barrington Declaration guidance.

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this is the scenario that actually happened (or something close to it) in a lot of countries. A Great Barrington Declaration-like “natural herd immunity” strategy was followed. Indeed, such a strategy was explicitly advocated by the Trump administration, with two Great Barrington Declaration authors (Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff) having actually met with President Trump and spoken on a regular basis with Trump’s coronavirus czar Scott Atlas! If Trump hadn’t lost the 2020 election, I’m pretty sure that by 2021 US policy would have basically been the Great Barrington Declaration. Even with Joe Biden as President, policy in effect wasn’t that much more restrictive than what Boudreaux advocated.

That’s why this passage blew up another of my irony meters:

While such a tribunal might be made to appear akin to an ordinary court of law following the same rules of procedure, evidence, and proof that operate in ordinary courts, the reality is that any such tribunal would be a political body. Each such tribunal would be used, above all, as a forum for the politically ascendant to publicly flaunt what they and their compatriots are certain is their moral superiority over the degenerates now in the dock. 

A task almost as important for the individuals prosecuting such ‘trials’ would be to damage as much as possible the future electoral prospects of the party with which most of the accused are associated. Each proceeding would be incurably and poisonously political, as would each finding, verdict, and sentence. If such a tribunal were ever to mete out true justice, it would be only by pure chance.

That rather perfectly describes Republicans in the House and their slavering to attack the question of “accountability” by tasking their new committee chairs to “investigate” Anthony Fauci, the CDC, and the Biden administration, along with Hunter Biden’s laptop. Either Boudreaux is oblivious to the fact that he is very aptly describing what is going to happen in 2023 now that Republicans have taken back the House, or he knows but is cynically avoiding the connection. (I vote for the latter explanation.)

Boudreaux also can’t escape the connection between his “anger” and the outright ridiculous calls for justice, like this one from Dr. Roger Hodkinson, who describes himself as “full of vengeance” and wanting any physician advocating vaccinating, for example, pregnant women, to be in jail, period:

“The Big Kill”? Yes, COVID-19 was a big kill, but much of the explanation of why so many more died than had to die relates to the the malign influence of people like Dr. Hodkinson (and the Brownstone Institute) spreading anti-public health and antivax disinformation.

Try as Boudreaux might to finesse the question of “accountability” promoted by people like Dr. Hodkinson and Boudreaux’s masters at the Brownstone Institute, he’s trying to thread the needle of echoing the anger and thirst for revenge against those whom they falsely perceive as their “oppressors” that antivaxxers have long nurtured dating back to long before the pandemic in order to foment further anger, all while himself appearing to be “reasonable” compared to them in that he doesn’t think that public health officials should be held personally accountable for the “carnage” that he falsely attributes to them. It’s a cynical and obvious ploy, but then Boudreaux does write for the Brownstone Institute.

In the meantime, let’s just say that my contempt and anger for people like Donald Boudreaux and Roger Hodkinson are equal to their anger for me, the difference being that those of us who have tried to counter disinformation and lies about public health interventions have actual scientifically supportable reasons for our anger.

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]

23 replies on “To Nuremberg or not to Nuremberg? That is the antivax question.”

Maybe they’re worried that a call for Nuremberg would hurt their brand of ‘sensible’ or ‘reasonable’?

So much easier to simply declare yourself a winner and go home than to actually win…

It would be interesting to bring in all the math models and prove that Great Barrington (aka the US and Brazil) kills fewer people than strict control (aka New Zealand). If there were any sort of independent jury this would not turn out as expected.

“my contempt and anger for people like Donald Boudreaux and Roger Hodkinson are equal to their anger for me”

Extremists bashing away at each other in an escalating spiral of hatred. When, as in so many controversies, sanity can only be found in a balanced perspective. Communication and compromise can only result when opponents are able to respect and listen to each other.

Trying to claim there were no problems at all with the official covid policies is extreme and irrational. And so is saying everything was done wrong in every possible way.

People were, and still are, very confused. Most of the intentions have been good, but good intentions in no way guarantee good outcomes.

As they say, never assume malice when incompetence and stupidity are a sufficient explanation.

The debate between round Earth and flat Earth does not mean the Earth is a cube. Some things are physically correct regardless of opinions. Viruses don’t care about belief systems (b.s.). The fact that nearly everyone who got very sick or worse was unvaccinated (either by unavailability or choice) should convince everyone who is not an ideologue.

“Trying to claim there were no problems at all with the official covid policies is extreme and irrational. And so is saying everything was done wrong in every possible way.”

Unfortunately, first you need to know what those problems actually were. Then, the definition of a correct response, which is a subjective matter to a lot of people. Those with little direct contact with covid death and misery but intimate knowledge of looking after children whilst trying to work from home, see the debate differently to a doctor in an ICU packed full of dying patients. Neither see it the same as the people with an overview of the facts, figures and impact on society as a whole.

It’s pretty obvious that a lot of people would have preferred covid kill as many as it could, unchecked, if it meant that they weren’t inconvenienced. Once a public health measure is enacted, these people will not look at what might have happened without the measure, just at what does happen with it. It’s the natural ungrateful character of people that makes them sue the person who drags them out of a car accident because they get a strained wrist.

Great, just when the Ryan Cole affair seemed to be dying down and it looked like I could stop wearing a bag over my head, there’s another pathologist embarrassment in the form of Roger “Full Of Vengeance” Hodkinson.

When he’s not bloviating about vengeance and the horrors of vaccines, Hodkinson has been involved in commercial projects like MutantDX, a firm dealing in “liquid biopsy” technology for which he is the Lord High Panjandrum along with a dude who goes by “Moorthy”. It’s hard to know exactly what the company’s selling based on their website, which provides no way to contact them (the corporate address reportedly is a condo in the apartment complex where Moorthy lives). It sounds rather mundane for a firm that boasts it will dominate the “exploding multi-billion dollar liquid biopsy cancer market”, but even Elon Musk had to start somewhere.

“never assume malice when incompetence and stupidity are a sufficient explanation”

Or as with Indie, all three simultaneously.

“From the start I vigorously opposed COVID lockdowns and protested the hysteria that lures people to tolerate such tyranny.”

“I…never wavered from this position.”

Translation: I never let evidence of the harm caused by the virus get in the way of my ideology.

Hysteria? Right – over a million dead Americans is nothing to get worked up about….

@ Indie Rebel

You write: “Extremists bashing away at each other in an escalating spiral of hatred. When, as in so many controversies, sanity can only be found in a balanced perspective.”

As usual you think someone who basis his position on credible science is an extremist and those who take positions that have NO credible science are one side of a balance perspective. As usual you continue to display what an idiot you are! ! !

I believe the first GOP show trial hearings on Tony Fauci will blame him for the creation of COVID in the Wuhan lab — which is premised on the idea that that the virus was indeed a WMD-grade horror, not, you know, just no worse than the flu. Of course, consistency us no mote a sign of fascist hate speech than truth, so no doubt they’ll try to hang (figuratively?) Fauci with “needless life-destroying lockfowns!!” too, and probably simultaneously.

Sadly, you’re probably correct. They’ve already basically signaled that that’s what they’re going to do, along with investigating Hunter Biden again and the Jan. 6 committee.

Nuremberg? Right. Because advocating for vaccines, masks and other PH measures is analogous to running painful, life threatening experiments on enslaved minorities..
although to anti-vaxxers/ denialists vaccines, masks and other PH measures are painful, life threatening experiments on enslaved minorities.

Obviously, my travels in altie world reveal terrible comparisons like these as well as ridiculous conspiracy theories which basically advocate against interventions that interfere with business or freedom. It’s as though they would live their lives oblivious to how they affect others much as how (new) Twitter is run: Say what you like, do what you like. No big deal.

Actually, recent events and the material I survey on the internet have left me feeling rather pessimistic about the future: although I live in a diverse, safe, affluent area that is consistently liberal, I know that this is not average. Over all, education and science are not encouraged: if some areas ( guess!) will allow nearly anyone to teach and public education is not valued but entrepreneurial ventures and home schooling are, what happens in 10 years? Yet anti-vaxxers and PH denialists shriek that “schools were closed for two years” ( Katie Wright) “destroying children”. RFK jr sidles up to right wing politicians and Adams hangs out with Jones and Bannon. People like Del and Null “instruct” parents and “investigate” public officials.

We just had 2 anti-vaxx clowns elected to our school board. They campaigned hard against masks, vaccinations (any vaccinations) for school kids, the teaching of critical race theory (which they insist is being taught from elementary through high school), and the “pro trans” view of teachers. They also want to take the power to set curriculum away from teachers and administrators and put it in the hands of parents

The anti-vaxx thing alone wasn’t enough (we were the home of UpJohn: Pfizer has a manufacturing plant here) and it was going to be a close race but then they jumped on a hot-issue: whether the football field at one of our high schools should be renamed in honor of an old coach, and that put them over the top.

What in the hell is wrong with these people that they can”t understand the 4th-grade concept of “public health”!? And did they also sleep through 4th-grade civics that introduced that incomprehensible concept known as “the public good” or “the commons”? Is it that libertarianism and pure selfishness have been allowed to run amok for generations? Is it the larger menace of social media and its demonstrated erosion of rationality have caused mass psychopathology that is now impenetrable and normalized?!? What in the hell has happened that these people cannot even remotely comprehend what public health is? I am absolutely, totally baffled. These anti-vax nuts are just insane and deranged on a level that defies the capacity of my little inferior brain to comprehend.

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