A disturbing post on an anti-vaccine blog

I’m on my way to The Amaz!ng Meeting today; so I’m not sure I have time for the usual bit of Orac-ian logorrheic blogging that I somehow manage to churn out almost every day. In fact, I had thought of just running another rerun so that I don’t have to worry about it. But worry I did, at least a little bit, particularly after I saw something that really worried me a bit, and I’m not kidding.

Remember Kent Heckenlively? He’s a regular blogger at the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism whom I’ve taken to task from time to time for subjecting of his autistic daughter to what I consider to be rank quackery, for example, stem cell quackery in Costa Rica in which dubious doctors injected what they claim to be stem cells into the cerebrospinal fluid via lumbar puncture. (That particular route of injection is formally called “intrathecal.”) When I first heard about this, I was totally appalled, unable to understand how a parent could keep subjecting a child to invasive medical procedures with no value at all. Not just that, I couldn’t understand how Heckenlively could borrow $15,000 from his daughter’s grandparents in order to travel to Costa Rica to let strange doctors stick large needles into her spine to inject who knows what into the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes her brain and spinal cord. While I can almost understand the desperation, even then, knowing what I know, I can’t imagine paying so much for such a useless intervention that might even be harmful.

Yesterday, I got a brief insight into Kent’s desperation, thanks to a post that can only be described as scary, a post entitled When I Can Do Nothing:

What I can say is that on some level, my prayers to God for an understanding of the autism epidemic have been answered. I now know why they fear us so much. I can’t prove it, and as a lawyer I understand that’s the real show. But I know.

And yet, as thankful as I am for an understanding of what has happened to my child and so many others, my heart is heavy. The Dark Forces which in the past have destroyed the careers of those who have found clues to the afflictions of our children and other disease communities are once again on the move. You may very well read about their actions this week. And I can’t do anything to stop them.

Notice how Heckenlively refers to “Dark Forces.” Not “dark forces,” but “Dark Forces,” capitalized, as though it’s name or these Forces are so malevolent that they need to be capitalized, much as the Force in Star Wars was so important and powerful that it needed to be capitalized as a formal name. Worse, the imagery is downright paranoid. These Dark Forces, according to Heckenlively, are out to destroy the activists and “scientists” who have bought into the idea that vaccines cause autism, rather than the real situation, which is that they are trying to guard public health against the return of vaccine-preventable diseases that will occur if vaccination rates fall due to the sort of propaganda that AoA promotes.

Heckenlively then diverts to a discussion of Stephen King’s The Stand. It was at least 25 years ago when I read The Stand; so my memory of its plot isn’t that clear, although one chapter in the book embedded itself into my mind in such a way that I have never forgotten it and likely never will forget it. That’s the chapter where two of the protaganists escape Manhattan, where virtually everyone (except the two) was dead due to epidemic caused by the virus that wiped out most people and led to the collapse of civilization. Their escape route was the Lincoln Tunnel, which was chock full of cars and corpses. King used the concept of having to brave a dark tunnel full of corpses to truly frightful effect. To Heckenlively, what was important to the point he apparently wanted to make in his post was that The Stand was an epic story of good versus evil in a post-apocalyptic world. The villain is a man named Randall Flagg, who in the story is clearly meant to represent more than just a man but rather a powerful and evil force, perhaps even Satan himself. Arrayed against Flagg are five who will make their “stand” against Flagg by following the instructions of a prophet-like figure and delivering themselves right into their enemies’ hands:

Instead of a great battle between the two sides, Mother Abigail has a vision that five members of the Boulder community must make their way to Las Vegas where they will make their “Stand” against Randall Flagg. They will deliver themselves into the hands of the enemy.

Flagg is clearly a demonic force, but he doesn’t have quite the hold over people he thinks he does. His followers keep deserting him, especially in light of the five who have chosen to make their “Stand” against him. They carry no weapons. It’s simply the power of the faith they bring to that unholy place which defeats Flagg. Evil falls apart in the face of such humble courage.

I often find myself pondering such questions of faith. What is it I’m meant to do? I want to rush the barricades, but to what effect?

Those who have read The Stand will recall that the final confrontation involves the heroes sacrificing themselves, as well as the destruction of Las Vegas in a nuclear conflagration (which seems a bit ironic and slightly creepy, given that later today I will be in Las Vegas for TAM). In other words, in imagining himself a hero in The Stand, Heckenlively seems to be visualizing himself as a martyr delivering himself up to his foes and going out in a blaze of glory in order to destroy Satan.

Not satisfied with that, Heckenlively next finds a Bible passage that brings him comfort:

O’Lord, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve! O’ Lord, how long shall the wicked exult?

They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O’Lord, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan, and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.

Understand, O dullest of the people; fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He who disciplines the nations, he who teaches knowledge to humankind, does he not chastise? The Lord knows our thoughts, that they are but an empty breath.

Happy are those whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, giving them respite from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers? If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, “My foot is slipping,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who contrive mischief by statute? They band together against the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord God will wipe them out.

Basically, Psalm 94 is a passage in which the Lord is being begged to bring his vengeance down upon the wicked. It’s hard not to interpret Heckenlively’s quoting that psalm as anything more than hoping that those whom he sees as wicked similarly suffer God’s vengeance. In fact, he makes it explicit:

But if you’re in good with the Lord, bitching with Him, or haven’t put in a call lately I think this might be the perfect time to send up a flare. You might even think about reciting psalm 94.

God knows there are some wicked people out there trying to keep our children from getting better. If you’re listening God, and it meets with Your approval, this week would be an excellent time to deal with them.

I have a hard time characterizing Kent’s post as anything other than disturbing, if not downright scary. Think about it this way. When someone starts to view his opponents as “wicked people” deserving to be wiped out by God (or, as other translations of this particular psalm put it, to be “destroyed for their wickedness”), it’s just a short hop to thinking that perhaps believers should take matters into their own hands and start smiting the evildoers themselves, thinking it doing the Lord’s work. In any case, it’s very clear that Heckenlively is, at the very least, praying to God to “deal with” those whom he considers to be “wicked people out there trying to keep our children from getting better.” In the context of the psalm, “dealing with” these wicked people clearly means to destroy them.

Heckenlively and I are clearly on different sides of the autism-vaccine issue. Even so, I have never wished ill upon him. Hell, I’ve never wished ill upon even J. B. Handley, even though he has frequently attacked me. Well, maybe just a little bit of ill, such as embarrassment for his ridiculous statements and his promotion of anti-vaccine quackery and that his efforts to harm public health fail. Certainly I have never wished that God Almighty destroy him or Heckenlively for his wickedness or publicly wished ill upon him. Yet here we have Kent Heckenlively praying to God publicly to destroy his enemies. Presumably, that would include me, plus a number of people who are my friends, acquaintances, and fellow travelers in promoting vaccination and refuting anti-vaccine pseudoscience.

I don’t know what is going on in Heckenlively’s life right now that has brought him to this. The pain in his writing is palpable; he really does sound like a man on the edge, a man who is ready to break. I can only hope he finds a way to deal with whatever is going on in his life right now and return to a state of normalcy. We might be opponents when it comes to the issue of vaccines and autism, but, unlike Kent, I don’t want God–or anyone else–to destroy anyone over this.