Cranks of a feather, part 2: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. cozies up the Nation of Islam over SB 277

Last Thursday I took note of a rather fascinating confluence of cranks who have come together to oppose SB 277 in California. For those not familiar with SB 277, it is a bill currently under consideration in the California Assembly that would eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. It was passed by the Senate last month, and a couple of weeks ago it cleared its first hurdle in the Assembly, having been passed by the Assembly Health Committee on a 12-6 vote. So now it’s in the full Assembly to be debated, and it shouldn’t be too long before it comes to a vote. As I’ve said many times before, when SB 277 was first introduced, I didn’t consider its chances of becoming law to be that great, even in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak, which was just the sort of occurrence that helped to demonstrate the problem with pockets of low vaccine uptake in the state to the world. In the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak, it became politically possible for Senator Richard Pan and Ben Allen to introduce SB 277 and actually have it considered, but even then I had a hard time envisioning SB 277 ever becoming law in the state that’s a hotbed of antivaccine celebrities and antivaccine celebrity pediatricians such as Dr. Jay Gordon and Dr. Bob Sears.

I was glad to be (probably) wrong, given that passage of SB 277 appears to have taken on an air of inevitability. True, it might still fail or be amended beyond recognition. Governor Jerry Brown might betray California children again by adding a signing statement to try restore a religious exemption, as he did with an earlier bill. However, that’s looking less and less likely, particularly after its having made it through committee.

Certainly the antivaccine opposition is doing itself no favors. What do I mean by that? Well, the confluence of cranks to which I referred at the beginning of this post was antivaccine activists uniting with the Nation of Islam and, by proxy, the Church of Scientology to oppose SB 277. Indeed, contemplating who’s crankier, the antivaccinationists or the Nation of Islam is not a straightforward question, which made me wonder just what on earth antivaccinationists thought they would gain by allying themselves with a group that is racist and antisemitic, preaching that white people are “devils,” Jews are evil, and Adolf Hitler was a person to be admired. Add to that its belief in the Great Mother Wheel or the Mother Plane, a human-built planet, a half-mile by a half-mile, a UFO that was seen by the prophet Ezekiel. No wonder the Nation of Islam has an affinity for Scientology, although given how white Scientology’s membership and leadership are it’s strange that they seem to be making beautiful cranky music together.

Oddly enough, the reaction of various prominent antivaccine bloggers to this alliance with the Nation of Islam and the town hall meeting held at an LA Scientology building last Thursday featuring Brian Hooker and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has been almost universally positive—ecstatic, even. For example:

EPIC! We have not seen The People Rise Up in Unity like this since the 60's and 70's ended the Vietnam War. TRUTH and JUSTICE will Prevail in this Land!

Posted by Californians for Vaccine Choice on Thursday, June 18, 2015

And:

FULL HOUSE! They try to split us up but they bring us closer together instead! People of all ages, nations, races all together to fight for our kids! You don’t mess with the Nation of Islam, Robert Kennedy Jr. Or Brian Hooker! “You allow the same media who tells you that your baby got autism from natural causes, tell you about the Nation of Islam.There is wickedness in high places, the pharmaceuticals!” Tony Muhammad, speaking so much truth. ACTION ALERT, call legislators, numbers to call in pics!! ‪#‎NOSB277‬ ‪#‎CDCWHISTLEBLOWER‬ ‪#‎JUSTICEORELSE‬ Brian Hooker, Eric Gladen, Wendy Silvers, Michelle Maher Ford, Julie Marsh Ed Arranga

Amazingly, longtime antivaccine activist and the originator of such antivaccine tropes as the claim that the Amish do not vaccinate and do not get autism, Dan Olmsted, was less than thrilled with this development. This just goes to show why Dan Olmsted is (usually) the blogger over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism who tends to be relatively less objectionable. In a post entitled Knock-Knock-Knocking on Racism’s Door:

Sorry, but to my mind this is not a kumbaya moment. The Nation of Islam is a racist, bigoted, homophobic, woman-degrading hate group. I mean, isn’t it? It is. For Muhammad to compare the coverage of autism and the Nation of Islam is sickening, and it ought to sit poorly with us. It’s also choice to talk about “people of all ages, nations, races all together to fight for our kids” and getting “closer together” when NOI doesn’t really want white people around — they want a separate state. (“Rather than preaching a message of unification, NOI calls for segregation and separatism,” according to the Web site the blaze.com. “On the group’s web site, the denomination is clear that it wishes for African Americans to live separately from whites.”)

Sometimes it’s not the media that’s your problem, it’s the truth.

And:

I know many in the autism activism community believe there is no problem with this association, that you use what you have to get what you need. Sorry to disagree with that, Friends, but I do. Desperate times call for desperate measures, yes, but not deals with the (small d) devils of racism, bigotry and homophobia.

This brings us to our reducto ad absurdum: Would we go to an Aryan Nation event if they agreed with us? Is “Racists For Vaccine Choice!” a placard we are prepared to get behind?

Not the best week to ask that question.

Indeed.

I wonder if Olmsted is aware of the increasingly close connection between the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology. If he isn’t, his head will explode when he learns of it.

Be that as it may, one can’t help but wonder why Mr. Olmsted is so surprised and taken aback. The antivaccine movement has always shown itself to be willing to make alliances of convenience and not to be too concerned about whom it allies itself with. To answer Mr. Olmsted’s question, my prediction is that a significant percentage of the antivaccine movement would indeed ally itself with the Aryan Nations if it saw an advantage. In this particular case, the specific advantage antivaccinationists perceive comes down to two words: “CDC whistleblower.” I described the CDC whistleblower manufactroversy in more detail last time, but I can repeat the CliffsNotes version here. Basically, Brian Hooker, at the behest of a misguided CDC psychologist (now known as the “CDC Whistleblower”) incompetently “reanalyzed” a CDC dataset and claimed to find a correlation between MMR vaccination and autism in African-American boys. You can see quite quickly how black supremacist cranks like the Nation of Islam would latch onto a conspiracy theory like that, and they sure did.

And, in case you didn’t think it was all about the vaccines, rather than “health freedom” or “parental rights,” take a look at what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. used to think of the Nation of Islam (and Jesse Jackson):

“His [Jesse Jackson’s] love affair with [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan and his Jewish xenophobia are also unforgivable,” Kennedy adds.

“I feel dirty around him, and I feel like I’m being used. I feel like with Jesse, it’s all about Jesse.”

Yet, on Thursday night we saw this:

In the video above, RFK, Jr. is discussing the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and—you guessed it—using the CDC whistleblower narrative to claim that SB277 is another Tuskegee syphilis experiment. His narrative is chock full of conspiracy theories about big pharma, the government, the “CDC whistleblower,” and his full panoply of antivaccine pseudoscience. Hilariously, he even seems to be trying to adopt the cadences of a black preacher, as though he were trying to speak like Louis Farrakhan and Tony Muhammad. It was so bad that a credulous antivaccine treatment of RFK’s talk was nice enough to summarize it for me so that I didn’t have to find video of everything:

America’s foremost environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whistleblower and top scientist Dr. Brian Hooker and Minister/civil rights leader Tony Muhammed addressed a standing room only crowd about California’s new Tuskegee Experiment, SB 277. Robert Kennedy calls this bill “Tuskegee Times 200,000” because of the disproportionate extent of the African-American injuries and deaths that SB 277 is scientificatlly projected to create. With the facts exposed, will the California Assembly vote to adopt what is now considered the most racist bill in California’s history? Will Jerry Brown sign a bill that will especially target Blacks with unnecessary injuries and deaths?

Brian Hooker a “top scientist”? That’s rich, really rich. Here’s a guy who bragged about the simplistic approach he took to reanalyzing the CDC dataset, which, recall, involved analyzing case control data as a cohort study and failing to control for basic confounders. In any case, apparently RFK, Jr. got really despicable. He claimed that the CDC “played with the numbers” to get rid of the autistic kids to “flatten out the numbers,” with a jaunty explanation that “”statistics don’t lie but statisticians do,” by also claiming that statistics can show that”…sex doesn’t make you pregnant” by getting rid of all the pregnant women in the study of people who have sex the same way they get rid of all the vaccine-injured participants in the studies into whether vaccines cause injuries. According to this same report, Kennedy noted that, if the CDC hadn’t lied, they could have saved 250,000 Black children who today are crippled by debilitating neurological illnesses, comparing it to the the Tuskegee Experiment, which “only” affected 399 individuals.

You get the idea. If you’ve been a regular reader her for the last year, you’re familiar with all these pseudoscientific conspiracy theories.

While I commend Dan Olmsted for actually having a problem with associating with the Nation of Islam based on its history and teachings, I’m afraid he’s very much in the minority. For instance, get a load of this commenter remonstrating with Olmsted:

Have you watched the entire meeting? I cannot believe that you have for all that I saw was 100% truth and unity in action. As a Canadian, I feel we are finally seeing a coming together where the media will be called out and politicians will be held to what is true and right. I am sure the black community will be disparaged for what they will do and more games will be played to try and divide and conquer us. Finally, though, I feel this movement for medical freedom and integrity has wings.

Crank magnetism overcomes all.

ADDENDUM: Just this morning, Kent Heckenlively, too, is ecstatic about this new alliance with the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology, writing a post that wasn’t published when I wrote this last night, The Battle for California, Part 4 – The Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology Join the Fight Against SB 277. He reveals its roots, which were in Autism One in Chicago, where, apparently, Brian Hooker, Barry Segal, Eric Gladen, Shiloh Levine, and Robert Kennedy, Jr. had met with Minister Louis Farrakhan, whom Heckenlively portrayed as “deeply disturbed by the information” about the “CDC whistleblower” and the made up claim that the CDC had “covered up” a correlation between vaccines and autism in African-American boys. The first part of Farrakhan’s reaction:

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised Dr. Hooker to find himself at a United Methodist Church in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 listening to Minister Farrakhan preach to an inter-faith audience of approximately 1,400 people. Near the end of his speech, Farrakhan called on the group to oppose SB 277 and urged them to call their Congressional representatives and demand that Dr. William Thompson be subpoeaned to appear before the American people and tell the truth about what had been done. Minister Farrakhan pledged to support this effort. On October 10, 2015 there will be a large march in Washington D. C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. Two weeks later, on October 24, 2015, the Nation of Islam will lead a protest at the CDC demanding that Dr. Thompson appear before Congress.

The funniest line of Heckenlively’s post? Obviously this one:

Dr. Hooker was impressed by Minister Farrakhan’s command of the science. As a scientist, Dr. Hooker finds most people mess up the science when they try to talk about it, but it was clear to Hooker that Farrakhan had listened closely.

Here’s a hint: If Brian Hooker is “impressed with your command of the science,” you’re doing it wrong. Very, very wrong.

No, wait. This is even funnier:

I believe it is incumbent upon us as a community to admit our shortcomings. We have not been good protestors. We do not know how to defend ourselves against powerful interests. Although we may be good warriors for our children, we are outmatched in the political arena. The Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology are superb warriors in the political struggle. When putting together a coalition our partners will have strengths and weaknesses. I welcome them to the fight and encourage others to do the same. I say let us defend our children and hold any disagreements we may have among the various groups for a later time when our common enemy lies defeated on the battlefield.

Yep. Let’s team up with those racist, Hitler-admiring conspiracy theorists and their newfound best buds, a religion made up based on the writings of a science fiction author whose adherents are known for fanaticism and harassing critics. Seriously, Kent Heckenlively should watch Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

I say again: Do antivaccine activists really think that teaming with groups like the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology will help them defeat SB 277? If the opposition to SB 277 was disreputable before, it goes beyond disreputable now.

ADDENDUM #2: Now Greg has chimed in:

Thanks Kent for seeing the sense in accepting NOI support in fighting for the health of our kids. But wait!! Orac and his minions are sharing how crazy we are associating with NOI. I don’t know –I am starting to rethink things now! Orac loves us and wants the best for us ‘cranks, quacks, and conspiracy theorists’. He cares passionately about what goes on here in our little ‘wretched hive of anti-vaxx scum’. Maybe we should just continue to engage them with our polite, reasoned arguments, and cooler heads will prevail and they will eventually see our point of view. LMAO!

No, Greg is, as usual, dead wrong. That was mockery and glee. Actually, I’m lovin’ it that RFK, Jr. and his fellow antivaccine activists are getting in bed with the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology to rally opposition to SB 277. If those on the fence about the bill, perhaps over issues of health freedom or parental rights, had any doubts about the reasonableness of the opposition, those doubts will be magnified 1,000-fold by seeing RFK, Jr. getting on stage with a high ranking leader of the Nation of Islam (Tony Muhammed) and going full antivaccine crank conspiracy theorist (but I repeat myself) in a Church of Scientology building while bragging about having met with Louis Farrakhan. Seriously, Greg, I want to see more of this, as it makes the job of those supporting the bill much easier.

More, please.