An antivaccine Frankenstein strikes back against the monster he created

On the one hand, I’m seriously tempted to get out the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show that is the internecine conflict going on in the antivaccine movement right now. On the other hand, as bizarre as it sounds, I actually do feel a bit sorry for the main combatant, Jake Crosby. He’s the guy whom I likened to an antivaccine Frankenstein’s monster turning on his creators last week. The reason was that Jake had become very, very unhappy with the antivaccine leaders who created him, or at least who created the blogging phenomenon that is Jake Crosby, Internet Detective and Disher of Dirt. They nurtured his anger and resentment, turning it into paranoia, egging him on in the echo chamber that is the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, and praising him to high heaven for what a “great reporter” he is and what a “great job” he did after every new attack he launched on their enemies. His paranoia thus nurtured, Jake became the Boy Wonder (or, to anyone with a sense of rationality—which most definitely includes no one at Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, or Age of Autism—the Boy Blunder), churning out antivaccine propaganda screeds and character assassinations of those deemed the enemies of the antivaccine movement, in particular Paul Offit.

Jake started out as a one trick pony, his one trick being to create hilariously inept and tortuous “six degrees of separation“-style conspiracy theories in which he’d link his target to—of course!—big pharma. Later, he developed a second trick, namely showing up at the talks of those he detests (like Paul Offit) in a truly creepy stalkerish manner, all to badger them and tyr to get them to say something that he could report on later in order to embarrass them, all the while painting himself as the brave maverick martyr for free speech who was kicked out of or denied entry to these talks because he speaks Truth to power. Jake also did this all with a truly nauseatingly self-righteous attitude, in which he is completely incapable of ever acknowledging even the slightest error or wrongness in anything he has done. Now, the antivaccine Frankenstein that created Jake is striking back since its creation has turned on it. Its actions tell me that it’s disavowing Jake, trying to sever ties with him, and, in general, throwing him under the bus in the same way that Jake threw his old friends under the bus, betraying their trust in a truly egregious fashion by publishing their private e-mails.

So, in light of his previous nasty activities and his betrayal of his friends and allies next week, why do I feel a little bit sorry for Jake? I’m sure some of you out there will think that Orac has gone soft. Maybe I have. There’s also no doubt that Jake has done some truly vile things since he let himself become the attack poodle for older, cleverer activists who were apparently not quite clever enough to realize that sooner or later the weapon they had forged would turn on them because it is the nature of such weapons to do so. Admittedly, that makes it very hard not to feel considerable schadenfreude at his recent falling out with his previous masters at SafeMinds that led him to a truly unethical act that was a horrible breach of trust; i.e., his broadside at his former friends published on, of all places, a hive of scum and quackery even more wretched than AoA, namely Patrick “Tim” Bolen’s website. On the other hand, from a very young age Jake was fed the antivaccine lie that he’s “on the spectrum” because he was “poisoned” by vaccines and therefore is now a damaged person. At the risk of degenerating into armchair psychoanalysis, I can’t help but think that that must have affected him, which makes his recent falling out with people he used to consider friends and allies likely all the more distressing, particularly SafeMind’s response, which is a pretty obvious swipe back at Jake entitled SafeMinds Responds to False Allegations from Bloggers. (It’s also amusing that the word “bloggers” in the title shouldn’t be plural.) After reading it, if there’s one thing I can say, it’s that I don’t feel the least bit sorry for SafeMinds. In fact, I’m highly amused at the obvious discomfiture of its leaders at the revelations that Jake has already published and, no doubt, the fear that they have of what Jake might publish next:

It is unfortunate a committee member breached normal confidentiality of SafeMinds internal communications by including email segments from SafeMind’s staff and board members in their blog article and likely shared their entire content further with others outside of SafeMinds. We regret that the use of segments of these emails takes their actual meaning out of context with relation to our May 18, 2012 Congressional Staff Briefing or the November 29, 2012 Congressional Hearings. SafeMinds takes pride in our continuing record for establishing the scientific basis on the environmental causes of autism and for promoting the proper treatments/outcomes for those affected. We will continue to work tirelessly for those adversely affected by toxic exposures including those from mercury, vaccines, and other toxicants – and for their loved ones. And we are very grateful for the support we continue to receive from the autism community.

I wonder how the excerpts Jake published took “their actual meaning out of context with relation to our May 18, 2012 Congressional Staff Briefing or the November 29, 2012 Congressional Hearings.” SafeMinds couldn’t be accusing Jake of cherry picking quotes from select e-mails, could it? Imagine that! Neither SafeMinds, AoA, nor Generation Rescue was the least bit concerned when Jake was posting his smear pieces against Paul Offit, various journalists, and, yes, me. Now that SafeMinds is on the receiving end of Jake’s mad skilz, which its members who are also associated with AoA helped to nurture and encourage, suddenly it’s found religion about dark insinuations based on little or no evidence, publishing private e-mails, and weaving conspiracy theories from them. From my perspective, SafeMinds’ reaction is incredibly amusing—downright hilarious, even—particularly the petulance of it all. For example, it must be particularly galling to Jake that the SafeMinds press release couldn’t even give him even a modicum of respect sufficient even to mention his name. It’s almost as though Jake’s become Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named.” More likely, he’s persona non grata, and whoever composed the SafeMinds press release couldn’t even bring himself to mention his name.

Perhaps the most hilarious part of the SafeMinds press release has little to do with the butthurt SafeMinds is feeling over Jake’s betrayal. Rather, it’s this part:

When SafeMinds became aware of allegations our organization inappropriately represented ourselves or used undue or untoward influence with congressional staff at the COGR to create desired outcomes, we immediately began an investigation.

After speaking directly with the staff responsible for organizing the recent autism hearing, we were assured that nothing undue or untoward occurred in conversations with SafeMinds. At no time did SafeMinds misrepresent our organizational affiliations to congressional staff. At no time did SafeMinds or any of our affiliates seek the recision of Brian Hooker’s invitation to testify before the COGR. While we enjoy a mutually respectful working relationship with staff in the COGR, SafeMinds did not seek any influence on the selection of witnesses called before the committee on November 29th beyond a request allowing SafeMinds to testify on the panel. If any member of the community has additional concerns, we recommend they contact the committee directly for further clarification.

In other words, we investigated ourselves, and found no evidence of wrongdoing at all! Carry on! Well, that‘s certainly a relief! I thought for a minute that maybe Jake’s allegations had merit, but SafeMinds just disabused me of that by performing what (I’m sure) must have been a thorough and unbiased investigation, much the way foxes can be trusted to guard the chicken coop. I wonder how it would go over if a pharmaceutical company, accused of, say, malfeasance, deception, or withholding information about the vaccine program used the very same technique, investigating itself and then declaring that it had found no evidence of wrongdoing. Somehow, I suspect that SafeMinds wouldn’t be mollified. Neither am I. Jake’s story actually sounds rather plausible (which is highly unusual for Jake). I recounted the reasons in my last post, but in brief it “rings true” that the more pragmatic SafeMinds would want to keep the mercury militia member Brian Hooker from testifying in front of Darrell Issa’s farewell Congressional Hearing on Autism in November, and it makes particular sense that SafeMinds didn’t want Jake to testify. If you’ve ever seen him speak, you know why. Not only is he terrible speaker, but he comes off as the unhinged conspiracy theorist that he is, as this video shows (embedding disabled). This is just the testimony that Jake gave to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, when he’s presumably on his best behavior. It would clearly have been a very bad thing for SafeMinds to have let such a person represent the organization in front of a Congressional committee on autism, and clearly the leadership at SafeMinds knew it.

In any case, let’s not forget that Jake accused SafeMinds of misrepresenting itself to the staff of Representative Darrell Issa, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is Dan Burton’s old committee and also the committee that held the hearings on autism in November, as representing Brian Hooker. Supposedly, Hooker worked for a long time to get Burton’s old committee to start holding hearings on mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism again, the way Burton did back in the day 10 years ago, but then SafeMinds hired lobbyist Beth Clay to swoop in and take over the Hooker’s part of the hearings using deception. Whether or not that’s an accurate representation of what actually happened, I have no idea. After all, Jake hasn’t exactly been known for his accuracy in the past. Now, SafeMinds is accusing Jake of lying (without actually naming him), and Jake’s accusing SafeMinds of lying right back and saying in response to Erik Nanstiel protesting that SafeMinds are “good people,” “No, they’re really not.”

So what does it all mean? If SafeMinds really did hire Beth Clay, it hired a Scientologist, which makes a lot of sense. Scientology is the implacable enemy of psychiatry, which fits in well with the “do it yourself cure” mentality of the antivaccine movement, which believes that pharma-made vaccines are as evil as Scientologists consider anything having to to with psychiatry.

Which brings me back to the price.

Yes, it’s enormous fun to watch Jake Crosby battle it out with SafeMinds. It’s hard not to feel enormous quantities of schadenfreude washing over my circuits at SafeMind’s discomfiture, and, as sorry as I might feel for Jake, that goes for him too. He’s an adult now, and the nasty things he’s done were after he had become an adult. Jake is therefore responsible for them. What gets me so interested in this kerfuffle is only in small part due the entertainment value it provides. What really gets me interested is the cost that the antivaccine movement exacts from autistic children. I was reminded of us by an article in the Texas Observer by Alex Hannaford entitled Autism Inc.: The Discredited Science, Shady Treatments and Rising Profits Behind Alternative Autism Treatments:

That Texas has become a hotbed for alternative autism treatment and that many parents blame their children’s autism on vaccinations is thanks in no small part to the 2001 arrival of a man named Andrew Wakefield.

Fifteen years ago, Wakefield was the lead author of a paper published in the British medical journal The Lancet suggesting a possible link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Though the paper itself said that no causal connection between MMR and autism had been proven, the publicity surrounding it—in which Wakefield called for the suspension of the triple vaccine—caused panic among parents. The number of parents choosing to vaccinate their children fell dramatically, and measles rates went up: In 1998, there were just 56 cases of the disease in England and Wales, but by 2008 there were 1,370. In 2006, the country saw its first child measles death in more than a decade.

It is the children who suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases whose parents didn’t vaccinate them because of the antivaccine message promoted by SafeMinds and AoA. it’s autistic children viewed as “damaged” by vaccines and subjected to the most horrific quackery, in a vain attempt to “cure” them of their “vaccine injury,” leading parents to sink huge sums of money in a vain attempt to have a “normal” child:

Wakefield, she said, emailed her some tips. The new diet apparently helped her son and she felt his speech was improving. Then another parent referred her to Dr. Kendal Stewart, also based in Austin. Stewart’s specialization, she said, was neuroimmune disorders. “He explained that the regressive autism was secondary to a larger disorder affecting the immune system and the brain. Finally, we were getting answers,” she said.

Kate told me Stewart diagnosed her son as having a “significant viral burden causing inflammation” and began anti-viral therapy. Stewart apparently also discovered her son had “multiple allergies, heavy metal toxicity and impaired folate metabolism” (not enough folic acid).

She told me Stewart used “targeted supplementation and interventions” to “heal” her son’s “neuro-immune dysfunction,” adding that she is also in the process of writing a book with Stewart to share their story and help other families.

Kate said Stewart told her that her son wasn’t clearing harmful toxins out of his body. He was showing “really high mercury levels,” she told me, but these could apparently be cleared using supplements that have “natural chelators in them like garlic, parsley, things like that.”

Sometimes, the quackery goes as far as injecting something the quacks claim to be “stem cells” into the cerebrospinal fluid of autistic children. It can include dozens of supplements per day, chelation therapy, hyperbaric oxygen, and an almost unimaginable cornucopia of therapies ranging from the mundane and ineffective to the truly bizarre and dangerous. All of this can be laid at the feet of Andrew Wakefield and his groupies. All of this can be laid at the feet of SafeMinds, AoA, Generation Rescue, the National Vaccine Information Center, and, yes, Jake Crosby. They promote it; they defend its practitioners; they perpetuate the central dogma of the antivaccine movement that autism is “vaccine injury.”

As much as the current throwdown amuses me, as much as I hope it leads to more revelations of the inner workings of the antivaccine movement, I can’t forget that.