With the new House GOP circus of the Damned playing regularly in the Capitol and state legislatures under Republican control needed new enemies of the state to pursue, more and more anti-vax nutjobs are vowing to put doctors, public health officials, pharmaceutical executives and government scientists in prison for the crime of...well, I'm sure they'll come up with fantasies that will justify more violence and fundraising for GOP candidates heading into 2024.
As COVID cases continue to gradually decline, and with the U.S. government declaring it will end the formal public health emergency on May 11, the pandemic is, in the view of many people, receding into the rearview mirror. (This despite the fact that the disease continues to kill many people every day, especially endangering the elderly and becoming a leading cause of death for children.)
And major anti-vaccine figures are now seizing their chance to enact what they see as justice—and do a little fundraising and image-burnishing in the process. Besides Bigtree’s nonspecific legal threats, we have Children’s Health Defense, the most moneyed and influential anti-vaccine organization in the U.S., led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. CHD is often involved in strange and frequently doomed litigation, but recently, and with much fanfare, it launched a new one: an antitrust lawsuit against major news organizations and social media outlets, which they accused of conspiring to “collectively censor online news” about COVID. The defendants included frequent anti-vax targets like the Washington Post and the BBC, and the plaintiffs are a veritable who’s who of people making bogus health claims, including CHD itself; Ty and Charlene Bollinger, who run websites and sell products devoted to making bogus claims about cancer and vaccines; Jim Hoft, who founded right-wing news site Gateway Pundit, and Joseph Mercola, a longtime figure in the natural health world who’s also been a major funder of the anti-vax movement. The lawsuit made quite a bit of noise in conservative media and the anti-vaccine world—and it allowed CHD to continue asking for donations for its general litigation fund.
(As Vox recently reported, CHD got a possible advantage in the Texas judge assigned to the case: Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who’s also in position to single-handedly outlaw medication abortion in a separate upcoming case.)
Besides the anti-trust lawsuit, Children’s Health Defense is also pledging to lobby the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of what it calls “vaccine-injured” service members. The organization is calling on its audience to help it lobby the VA to get disability benefits for service members who claim they were injured by COVID vaccines. Again, the action serves several separate purposes: to help CHD raise its public profile, to align it with the cause of veterans’ rights, and to give it the appearance of demanding some sort of corrective action from an arm of the U.S. government.
. The anti-vaccine world has also been paying a great deal of attention to a self-described former Swiss investment banker named Pascal Najadi, who claimed recently that he filed criminal charges against the current Swiss President Alain Berset, who is also the country’s former minister of health, for promoting COVID vaccines and claiming, incorrectly, that they meant you could not spread the disease. This is, more or less, like saying you’ve sued the sky for creating rain clouds, but anti-vaccine figures have been enthralled; one of them, a woman named Dr. Jane Ruby, exulted on Telegram that Najadi “may have started a worldwide c19 bioweapon investigation!” (COVID vaccines are not “bioweapons.”)
In fact, Berset does face a scandal at home. But what’s going on in Switzerland is more complicated, and not clearly connected to Najadi at all. The Swiss Parliament announced in late January that it would launch a probe into whether Berset’s former spokesperson, Peter Lauener, leaked information to Blick, a Swiss tabloid, about the country’s planned COVID measures during the height of the pandemic. Bloomberg reported that the probe will investigate, among other things, whether Berset “was trying to influence news coverage of the government’s handling of Covid-19.” (Blick has denied this took place, saying they gathered information in an independent and journalist way, adding that they “resolutely deny the accusation that we allowed ourselves to be influenced by the interior department.”) But several conspiratorial news sources, most notably Gateway Pundit, have produced a mangled version of the story, incorrectly reporting that the probe was opened due to Najadi’s complaint.
Anti-vaxxers worldwide have also falsely claimed that Pfizer vaccines have been banned in Thailand after Princess Bajrakitiyabha of the Thai royal family “fell into a coma” after a booster shot, as many social media posts have claimed. Thailand’s Department of Disease control called this “fake news” in a Facebook post, and asked citizens not to share it. (The princess collapsed in December due to what the palace said was a bacterial infection, not a booster shot; updates on her current condition haven’t been made public, but the palace said in a previous statement she’d also had a brain aneurysm.) Anti-vaccine figures on places like Telegram have nonetheless claimed that Thailand is “convening war crimes tribunals” against Pfizer, which is not how anything works.
In all, this rash of grandiose legal threats, doomed lawsuits and excitable rumors of foreign prosecutions has a lot in common with the basic shape of QAnon beliefs. It promises that justice will be served, evildoers will be dragged into the light and prosecuted, and those who doubted “the COVID narrative” will be vindicated. (Elsewhere, the former light of QAnon’s hopes and dreams, Donald Trump, has declared he will bring back public executions if he’s elected president again.)
More than anything, the people making money in the anti-vaccine world need to keep their audience’s hope, and their attention, as long as they possibly can. The false promises are yet another way to keep them in their seats.
It's all tremendously dangerous stuff that's going to get people hurt and killed.