Far-Right Extremists Go From ‘Stop Theft’ To Stop The Vaccine


Supporters of far-right groups gathering online have repeatedly come to one particular website in recent weeks – the federal database that shows deaths and adverse reactions across the country among people who have received the vaccine. Covid-19.

Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, many extremist groups use the figures to try to reinforce a wave of false and alarmist misinformation in articles and videos with titles such as “Covid-19 vaccines are weapons of mass destruction and could end the Human Race. “Or” Doctors and nurses who administer the Covid-19 vaccine will be tried as war criminals. “

If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be pursuing a lost cause once President Biden took office, its supporters among extremist organizations are now embracing a new anti-vaccination campaign agenda to try to undermine the government.

The attack on the safety and efficacy of vaccines is taking place in chat rooms frequented by all kinds of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.

These groups tend to present vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control. “If fewer people are vaccinated, then the system will have to use a more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us shoot,” reads a recent post on the social media platform Telegram, on a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys. . Accused of robbing the Capitol.

The sharp focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by QAnon supporters, who had falsely prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents marched to jail.

“They brought the shift in Trump’s national conversation to what was happening with the massive surge in vaccines,” said Devin Burghart, director of the Seattle-based Human Rights Research and Education Institute, which monitors the far-right. movements, referring to QAnon’s followers. “It allowed them to move away from the failure of their previous prophecy to focus on something else.”

The apocalyptic warnings about the vaccine fuel the far-right narrative that the government cannot be trusted, sentiment also at the root of the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill. The more vaccine opponents can prevent or at least delay herd immunity, experts noted, the longer it will take for life to return to normal and that will further undermine faith in government and its institutions.

Last spring, a common purpose between far-right activists and the anti-vaccination movement first emerged during armed protests in numerous state capitals against the coronavirus lockdown measures. That cross pollination expanded over time.

On January 6, as rioters marched toward the Capitol, numerous prominent figures from the anti-vaccination movement were on a nearby stage, staging their own rally to attack both the election results and the Covid-19 vaccines.

Events overshadowed their protest, but at least one outspoken activist, Dr. Simone Gold of Beverly Hills, California, was charged with violating the Capitol. He called his arrest an attack on freedom of expression. She was one of several doctors who appeared in a video last year spreading misleading claims about the coronavirus. Trump shared a version of the video, which Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed after millions of viewers watched it.

In the months since the inoculations began in December, the alliance that brings together extremist organizations to the anti-vaccination movement has grown larger and more vocal, as conspiracy theories about vaccines proliferated while those of the Presidential vote count fell back.

With their ongoing protests, far-right groups displayed many of the same talking points as vaccine opponents. Prominent voices in both the “Stop the Steal” and anti-vaccination movements helped organize scattered demonstrations on March 20 against vaccines, masks, and social distancing in American cities such as Portland, Oregon, and Raleigh, NC, as well as in Europe. , Australia, Canada and other countries in the world.

In April, a “Learn to Fight for Your Health and Freedom” conference is scheduled to bring together Trump allies like Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell along with high-profile members of the anti-vaccination effort.

The defamation of coronavirus vaccines is obviously not limited to extremist groups linked to the Capitol riots. In general, there is deep partisanship about vaccines.

A third of Republicans polled in a CBS News poll said they would avoid getting vaccinated, compared with 10 percent of Democrats, and another 20 percent of Republicans said they weren’t sure. Other surveys found similar trends.

About 100 members of the House of Representatives, about a quarter, had not been vaccinated as of mid-March, according to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader.

It’s unclear where Trump will fit in the vaccine battle. The former president, who has been vaccinated, endorsed getting the vaccine recently, prompting some disbelief in QAnon and other chat rooms. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people frankly voted for me,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

Through right-wing online channels, certain constant memes attacking the vaccine have emerged, such as a cartoon suggesting that what began with mask mandates will end with concentration camps run by FEMA for those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Numerous channels link to the government website called VAERS, for the Vaccine Adverse Event Notification System, to energize supporters. It had reported 2,216 deaths among those vaccinated during the three months leading up to March 22, with 126 million doses administered. The Covid-19 vaccines in use, like most vaccines, are considered overwhelmingly safe, but inevitably a small percentage of recipients suffer adverse reactions, some of them serious. The deaths have not been directly linked to vaccines.

Raw and incomplete VAERS statistics are intended for scientists and medical professionals, but are widely used among extremist groups to try to undermine confidence in the vaccine. One video consisted of a person reading the details of the graph out loud and shouting “Murder” where the graph said “Death.”

On Telegram, the channels frequented by tens of thousands of QAnon followers are filled with videos warning of the dire consequences of taking the vaccine. For example, David Icke, a British serial conspiracy theorist, posted a video called “Vaccine Murder” that he says transformed the nature of the human body. (Claims that vaccines change human DNA are false.)

Previously, Icke was best known for pushing the idea that the world was controlled by shape-shifting alien lizards that inhabited a global network of underground tunnels.

The general proliferation of conspiracy theories by QAnon supporters over the years has helped create a shared vocabulary among far-right organizations, experts said, paving the way for spreading false information about vaccines. “The last year with Covid has been a perfect storm in the sense that whatever your crazy conspiracy belief is, there is someone who has a Covid conspiracy to match it,” said Melissa Ryan, CEO of Card Strategies, a consulting firm. investigating misinformation.

Vaccines are sometimes referred to as “potions,” sometimes as “biological weapons,” and there are claims that vaccinated people are “shedding mutant viruses.”

Telegram is the site of much of the misinformation and fear. On one channel, there are claims that the vaccine is a depopulation tool. “At the end of this year there will be a wave of massive death among those who were vaccinated,” a publication reads.

In Idaho, far-right activist Ammon Bundy helped push for a proposed state law to ban mandatory vaccinations, though work stalled after the legislature suspended his work on March 19 for more than two weeks because too many lawmakers contracted the coronavirus.

The question is where this newly forged alliance goes from here. Some analysts believe that their lifespan will be limited, and that the far right will focus on something else, such as immigration. Eventually, hundreds of millions of Americans will be vaccinated, they noted, and skepticism about vaccines is not the same as being against vaccination. Some skeptics will soften if time shows that vaccines are effective.

However, a new report from Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Research Institute noted that while extremist groups’ removal of platforms made their campaigns more difficult to follow, the alliance has the potential to merge disparate factions into one. great anti-government movement united around public health. issues.

“It increases the chances for a big-game enemy,” said Joel Finkelstein, a Rutgers fellow who runs the institute. “If you feel deprived, like all these right-wing groups, boy, I have a tent for you.”

Ben decker contributed research.

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