Get out the popcorn! This internecine war among antivaccinationists is getting interesting (part 2)

It’s been well over two weeks since I urged everyone to get out the popcorn and sit back to enjoy the internecine war going on over in the antivaccine movement. The reason for my chuckling was the way that everyone’s favorite Boy Wonder Reporter Propagandist for the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, Jake Crosby, had apparently turned on his masters because he was ticked off at a perceived betrayal of purity in their antivaccine beliefs, so much so that he actually posted a screed against the other wretched hive of scum and quackery besides AoA or The Huffington Post, namely the antivaccine group SafeMinds on Patrick “Tim” Bolen’s website. Bolen is well known to anyone who’s been countering quackery on the Internet as having been formerly Hulda Clark’s pitbull (more like attack Chihuahua), to be avoided only for the annoyance he can cause. He’s also well known for being so completely off the rails that he makes the brain trust over at AoA look like Nobel Prize winners by comparison. Worse, one of the main targets of Jake’s vitriol, Mark “Not A Doctor, Not A Scientist” Blaxill is not just a big macher at SafeMinds but a major player at—you guessed it—AoA as well. So it was with barely suppressed howls of outrage at Jake’s betrayal, which even included the publishing of excerpts private e-mails between him and key members of SafeMinds, that SafeMinds struck back. Finally, AoA decided to get in on the act in, and it was on.

I was left wondering after that whether Jake had completely burned his bridges with his creators. I say “creators,” because Dan Olmsted and the crew of ostensible adults over at AoA had long trained, encouraged, and groomed Young Master Crosby for great things in the antivaccine movement. With each new “six degrees of separation”-style conspiracy mongering smear job directed at a perceived enemy of Jake’s, Jake received praise to high heaven as the vanguard of a new generation of antivaccinationists who would uncover all those imagined plots, whether they existed or not, and bring them to the light of day in order storm the barricades to topple the edifice of the hated FDA, AAP and CDC supporting the nation’s vaccination program. Yet, here Jake had turned on his former masters, much as the Frankenstein monster turned on his creator, all because he had come to believe that somehow SafeMinds had misrepresented itself in negotiations to the offices of Representative Darryl Issa, who, taking the antivaccine baton from the retiring Representative Dan Burton, had arranged one last antivaccine hurrah for his mentor in the form of a Congressional “hearing” by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which he chairs, about “environmental causes of autism” in late November. It turned into a mummer’s farce, of course, as it was fated to do. Burton was once the chair of the same committee and used it to abuse science and attack vaccines a decade ago, to the deserved contempt of anyone who understands science.

All of this leaves me somewhat puzzled that Dan Olmsted has allowed Jake to publish a new post on AoA. Quite frankly, two weeks ago I was pretty convinced that we’d never see a post on that blog again with Jake’s byline. It kind of makes me wonder what Jake has on AoA or one of its members. Certainly Olmsted’s introduction comes across as—shall we say?—less than enthusiastic, resigned even, as though he were acceding to a threat or blackmail of some sort. We see this first in the title, which is unusual for a Jake Crosby hit piece in that his name is placed in the title to let everyone know right away that it’s him: Jake Crosby: “SafeMinds Ignores Major Allegations While Replying Dishonestly to Other Charges”. Of this, Olmsted sighs, resigned:

Editor’s note: I declined to run Contributing Editor Jake Crosby’s original article on this topic for reasons outlined here. Since then, it appeared elsewhere and generated a great deal of comment within our community (and without). We subsequently ran a statement from SafeMinds, the object of the original piece. Now Jake has asked us to run this follow-up. Given that the subject is on the table, and that this article would presumably appear elsewhere in any event, I decided to run it, unedited.

It rather sounds as though Jake told Olmsted that he would publish his new screed on Bolen’s site if Olmsted didn’t let him post it on AoA. It also really, really sounds as though there was some sort of threat or pressure brought to bear, because the subtext of unhappiness and passive aggressiveness in Olmsted’s introduction is so obvious that it can hardly be called a subtext. It’s not hard to figure out why, either. Right from the introduction, Jake does…well, a Jake:

On November 29th, SafeMinds hijacked the Dan Burton Congressional Hearing on autism and vaccines by pretending to represent autism parent and scientist Dr. Brian Hooker, and by changing the topic away from vaccines – thus opening the door to autism epidemic denialists among other vaccine program apologists. On its website and on Age of Autism, SafeMinds responded to my Bolen Report article “SafeMinds Steals The Show, Literally…” claiming that what I wrote about the organization were “false allegations.” However, they provided no proof that any of them were false, completely ignoring some of the more serious allegations.

This is, of course, completely hilarious. Jake is upset because he thinks that SafeMinds never proved his allegations false, while Jake has yet to provide compelling evidence that his allegations are true. As usual. In fact, the more I follow what’s going on, the more I wonder whether Brian Hooker is reeling Jake in, if you’ll excuse the expression, hook, line, and sinker. In his previous article, the one published on The Bolen Report, Jake published a bunch of excerpts from private e-mails, thus betraying the confidences of his fellow antivaccine conspirators in a truly despicable way. However, he never really convincingly proved his central charge, namely that SafeMinds, through its lobbyist Beth Clay, had somehow misrepresented itself as working with and representing Brian Hooker to Issa’s staff. He simply asserts this to be the case. Indeed, the only assertion that Jake managed to provide any evidence for that was mildly convincing was his claim that SafeMinds wanted to water down the vaccine fear mongering because its leaders didn’t want to come off appearing like a bunch of loons in front of the Congressional committee.

This suggestion is also completely believable, because, as I said before, there are at least two wings of the antivaccine movement. There are the pragmatists, who are still antivaccine but understand that being too vocal about being antivaccine makes them appear unhinged. Of course, they are unhinged, but they at least want to hide it for strategic purposes, so that they have a chance of potentially and incrementally getting what they want. This is also the faction that is very careful about becoming indignant when they are called antivaccine and retorting that they are “‘not antivaccine’ but ‘pro-safe vaccine.'” Obviously, Mark Blaxill and SafeMinds (and, to a lesser extent, the brain bust at AoA) fall into this category. Then there are the True Believers.They are antivaccine to the core and don’t care who hears them shout their true views to the word. They fervently believe, against all evidence and science, that vaccines cause autism, SIDS, asthma, and all sorts of chronic health conditions. As a result they believe that vaccines are, in essence, evil incarnate, and must be eliminated from the world. Obviously, Jake falls into this latter category. Now, even the True Believers know that they can’t get too crazy in their rhetoric, but they are just the sort who would be upset that a pragmatic group tried to muscle out a True Believer like Brian Hooker, who appears to be closely allied with Patrick “Tim” Bolen. Indeed, they are the kind of people who would say something like what a commenter by the ‘nym gavrillo writes:

Vaccines are a criminal enterprise , holocaust in nature.

Criminal prosecutions is what we should be demanding at this stage ….. forget about compensation and help and cures and all else besides . Lets start demanding that people who defend mercury , aluminium , Polysorbate80 , formaldehyde straight into infants bloodstreams , be prosecuted for crimes against humanity . That will send all these hangers on scurrying for their burrows like the rodents that they are ! Plus all our other demands will follow if we can get them to concede their guilt.

Even cranks don’t want cranks like this representing their position. One can almost sense the spittle flying out of the computer screen as gavrillo writes this rant. Of course, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the leadership of SafeMinds actually does think along these lines. They’re simply smart enough not to say such things aloud or write them down where they can be cited.

Be that as it may, in his article Jake then starts quoting more excerpts to try to “prove” his point. Far be it from me in any way to defend SafeMinds, but on the other hand, whom am I supposed to belief? Jake is well known for cherry picking and arranging bits of information and quotes in a manner that guarantees that he comes to a predetermined conclusion, and he certainly appears to be doing the same thing here. Indeed, he focuses on a couple of sentences as “slam dunk” evidence that SafeMinds is guilty, guilty, guilty. In all fairness, I do have to point out that Jake in essence agrees with me when I expressed amusement at SafeMind’s excuse, which boils down to, in essence, “We investigated ourselves and found no evidence of wrongdoing!” However, that was such an obvious retort that I can’t claim that it’s the least bit clever. Now here’s where Jake zeros in on a single sentence:

Now, the next two sentences appear to be a tacit admission that indeed SafeMinds-hired, scientology-tied lobbyist Beth Clay did in fact misrepresent herself to staffers:

“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 the first sentence makes very clear that “SafeMinds” did not misrepresent itself to congressional staff, the second sentence states that at no time did “SafeMinds or any of our affiliates (ie Beth Clay)” try to rescind Brian Hooker’s invitation to testify (boldface mine).

If Beth Clay really wasn’t misrepresenting Dr. Hooker, SafeMinds would have been consistent and referred to both the organization and its “affiliates” as not misrepresenting him to the staffer or having him uninvited to give testimony. The fact that SafeMinds only included the reference to its affiliates for the latter sentence but not the former indicates that indeed Beth Clay had in fact misrepresented Dr. Hooker to staffers.

Methinks that Jake, as usual, reads too much into this. Yes, it could mean what Jake thinks it means, but it also might just be legalese. Certainly it’s not slam dunk evidence that Beth Clay had “in fact misrepresented Dr. Hooker to staffers.” Moreover, Jake produces no evidence to suggest that Hooker was in fact the driving force behind this antivaccine hearing, making his complaint rather moot anyway. All we have are the words of Jake Crosby and Brian Hooker to go on when examining their claim that somehow SafeMinds hired a Scientology-associated lobbyist to insinuate itself into the process of setting up the Congressional hearing and steal the limelight and leadership role from Hooker. We have no way of knowing whether Hooker was ever the driving force behind this quack hearing to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong here. I have no dog in this fight. I’m just sitting back and enjoying the disarray in the antivaccine movement right now, as the attack dog AoA so carefully trained and nurtured turns on it and its ally SafeMinds. For all I know, Jake could be 100% on-target in his accusations. I doubt it thought. It is, after all, Jake Crosby we are talking about here.

Perhaps the most telling part of Crosby’s little screed is his aggrieved response to accusations of having betrayed his friends and allies by violating behavioral norms in the business world and publishing private e-mails. I get the feeling that this criticism actually might sting him a little bit from his response:

SafeMinds repeatedly accuses me of breaching “standard confidentiality.” However, there was no binding agreement or even a discussion of keeping e-mails and conversations confidential when I joined SafeMinds’ Government Affairs Committee. I stated up front in my article on the Bolen Report that I had thought long and hard about sharing private email exchanges, doing so only because I felt it was warranted, considering the damage to the congressional autism hearings that SafeMinds has wrought. I was not obliged to follow any confidentiality standards, nor was Dan Olmsted when he revealed Tim Bolen’s email without permission.

The only time the issue of privacy came up was after the fact – when Mark Blaxill asked me if I wanted to stay on SafeMinds’ Government Affairs Committee after he had learned of my article, indicating I could not remain on it if I publish discussions. I responded that I would not be participating on the committee anymore, to which Blaxill replied:

Sounds good. I’ll take you off the distribution list.

After falsely accusing me of “breaching confidentiality,” SafeMinds then accuses me of taking emails from its members “out of context,” but never says how any of them were taken out of context.

I can’t really tell anymore whose explanations and recriminations are most believable. I don’t believe either of them, actually. However, if there is one thing that I do accept, it’s SafeMinds accusation against Jake of violating confidentiality. He did. There is no way he can convincingly deny that he did. He undeniably published private e-mails. Here’s where someone needs to tell Jake to grow up. Instead of owning up to what he did when he betrayed his friends, he retreats into a bizarre legalistic excuse that there was no “binding agreement” or “discussion” of keeping e-mails and conversations confidential when he joined SafeMinds’ Government Affairs Committee. That’s because e-mail confidentiality is something that is so basic, such an obvious part of everyday business and social interactions, that it is usually assumed among adults capable of entering into such business relationships that it doesn’t need to be discussed. Jake’s whine that Olmsted did it too is pathetic. Olmsted might have figured that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak, which might or might not be justifiable. If Jake wanted to be ethical and consistent, he would simply say that he knows what he did violated his friends’ and mentors’ trust but he felt that revealing what was going on was so important that he was willing to do that and pay the consequences. His legalistic excuse-making is childish. It’s also completely disingenuous of Jake to say that SafeMinds never said how their e-mails were taken out of context because he knows damned well that for SafeMinds to put them into context would almost certainly require them to reveal more of them.

It’s all so hilarious—from both sides.

I guess I was wrong two weeks ago when I predicted that Jake was finished in the antivaccine movement. Actually, maybe I wasn’t. By Jake’s own admission, SafeMinds has cut him off from the e-mail list. Olmsted’s reaction to his demands to publish yet another jeremiad against his allies is one of resignation, which again brings up the question of whether Jake has some dirt on AoA that has forced Olmsted to publish his latest. One wonders, one does.

Whatever the case, I think I’m going to have to buy some more popcorn. At this rate, I’m already running out of my current supply, and I will definitely need more as this little internecine war continues and takes more bizarre turns.

ADDENDUM: And it’s already taken a bizarre turn as a commenter by the ‘nym Ottoschnaut takes Jake to task thusly:

Jake- you write- “The organization claimed to have developed a “professional relationship” with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (COGR). Who knows what they mean by that?”

Well- wasn’t Safeminds involved (with others) in organizing the Congressional Briefing on VICP, back in May 2012? If Safeminds was involved in that effort, is it possible that they have been politicking and liaising with Congressional offices for some time prior to the Prevalence hearings? Of course it is. Safeminds presented some very compelling fact sheets to Congressional staffers at the VICP briefing. Isn’t being present and presenting data at a Congressional briefing part of the process of developing a professional working relationship with Congress?

I think you are giving Safeminds credit and blame for actions well beyond it’s ability. If it is that easy to manipulate a witness list- just hire a lobbyist and kiss a few asses- then why are we still involved in this fight? It could have been ended by stacking govt hearing witness lists years ago, yet here we still are.

If this were easy, Andy Wakefield would be a medical hero and the ACIP members would be in jail. But it isn’t easy. Dr Hooker Goes to Washington and gets jerked around. So what? Do you think the pharma criminals are going to sit back and let him give his testimony, or are they going to try every dirty underhanded trick, most of which we don’t know about, to stop him? Why did Issa apologize to Dr Hooker at the opening of the hearings? Because big, bad Safeminds bullied Issa into removing Dr Hooker from the witness list? Really? Doesn’t pass the stink, laugh, or duck test. Issa, I surmise, is bankrolled by folks who told him to exclude Dr Hooker.

When will Dr Hooker give his version of events in his own words? Not filtered through a reporter- a statement on his own signature. He could point the finger right at Safeminds and say, “they did it!” and I have faith that Dan Olmstead would make it public. Note- Dr Hooker has not done that yet, has he?

Jake- you know I respect you and have great admiration for your tenacity and truth seeking. I am willing to consider the possibility that I am wrong, that Safeminds are the scumbags you make them out to be. I am not there yet.

Yes, one of the commenters is trying to school Jake on the nature of politics and how Washington works. Even though he totally believes that vaccines are pure evil, he nonetheless tells Jake to cool it and grow up, correctly pointing out that Jake is serving as nothing more than a mouthpiece for Brian Hooker and that we haven’t heard Hooker’s version of things yet.

The more I look at this, the more I think that Hooker, perhaps goaded by Patrick “Tim” Bolen, is simply using Crosby as a patsy to attack SafeMinds. It is truly amusing to behold. One can only hope that the next act is as entertaining as the last couple of acts have been, as Jake buries himself deeper and in the process flings the dirt all over SafeMinds and Age of Autism.

If I believed in karma, I’d say this is a bit of it. However, at the very least, I can enjoy a bit of schadenfreude without feeling guilty about it.