The autism “Holocaust”? Why antivaccine advocates are not autism advocates

A typical response to a charge of being antivaccine coming from someone whose rhetoric is definitely antivaccine is to clutch her pearls mightily and retort, “I’m not ‘anti-vaccine.’ I’m pro-vaccine safety.” Similarly, a common retort of antivaccinationists who believe that vaccines cause autism, particularly those who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism, is to declare themselves “autism advocates.” Indeed, the bloggers at one of the most wretched hives of scum and antivaccine quackery on the whole Internet, Age of Autism, routinely declare themselves an autism advocacy organization. They’re not anti-vaccine. Oh, no. How dare you call them that? Unfortunately, not infrequently they manage to pull off the act well enough to be taken seriously by government agencies as actual autism advocates.

These two claims of antivaccine groups (that they’re not antivaccine but that they are pro-vaccine safety and autism advocates) are easily falsified. Indeed, I’ve documented numerous examples over the years that antivaccinationists who claim the mantle of vaccine safety are, in fact, doing nothing of the sort, but what about the second claim, that they are advocates for autistic children? This claim, too, is belied by their words and behavior. In particular, I’ve pointed out over the years penchant such people have for comparing the “autism epidemic” (which was always there but disguised under different diagnoses) to a “Holocaust,” making vaccine manufacturers the Nazis because their products are blamed for causing this “Holocaust.” It’s an analogy that I’ve pointed out more times than I can remember over the years, one used by no less majors figure in the antivaccine movement than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Dr. Bob Sears.

All of which serves as background for a particularly illuminating post by Dan Olmsted (although it illuminates in a manner not intended by its author), entitled, Is Autism a Holocaust? Riffing on a book with a typical antivaccine title, The Autistic Holocaust: The Reason Our Children Keep Getting Sick by Jon Mica. This led Olmsted to wonder “whether calling autism a holocaust, capital H or lower h, in a book title or anywhere else, is simply out of bounds.” Personally, from my perspective, if you ask that question in a manner in which the answer could go either way, yes or no, you are almsot certainly an antivaccine loon. Certainly Dan Olmsted is that. So are the people he posed this question to, Bob Krakow, Lou Conte and John Gilmore. They all more or less agreed that it’s probably not ever appropriate to call the “autism epidemic” a holocaust (either big-H or little-h), but the reasons they give for their answers are pure antivaccine pseudoscience.

Let’s start out with Bob Krakow, a lawyer known for representing parents who believe that vaccines caused their child’s autism. He doesn’t think that the comparison is “not appropriate and does not serve the interests of our children.” Obviously. But then get a load of his reasons:

Naming what has happened to our children a ”Holocaust” calls for a comparison that diminishes what happened to the children, but distorts the sense of what has happened. It is a facile comparison and unhelpful. What happened to our kids is something new, devastating and horrible. The response to the devastation – in many levels – warrants extreme moral outrage. But there is no Fuhrer orchestrating a systematic exercise of killing against one or more groups based on ethnicity or belief. In fact, what is happening here today is more insidious and less obviously evil, so it is more challenging to identify and counter. “Autism” – a word I equate to a slave name because it is, in a sense, a medical euphemism, which means little and signifies ignorance about cause — is also not a good word for what afflicts our children.

Choice of language is important. Using the word “Holocaust” is use of a word that is a sort of blunt linguistic instrument that fails to describe what has happened. It will also offend certain groups and elicit resistance to our narratives – although that is not my primary concern. We have to use our own language, new language, not use comparisons that are inapt.

So, in other words, Krakow objects to the use of the word “Holocaust” to describe autism but has no problem comparing autistic children to slaves, referring to the word “autism” as a “slave name.” I’d agree with Krakow that the use of language is important. Indeed, it’s very important. Building on that assertion, I’d point out that Krakow’s choice of the term “slave name” reveals far more about his views and language strategy than perhaps he might want to reveal. He’s also demonstrating a whole lot of racial insensitivity; one wonders what African-Americans think of his use of the term “slave name,” given the history of slavery in this country. I can’t help but wonder whether Krakow is Jewish (he is listed in two Jewish business directories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is Jewish). If Krakow is Jewish, then it’s hard for me not to see his objection to the appropriation of the word “Holocaust” to describe autism coupled with his concurrent use of the word “slave name” to describe autism as nothing more than a Jew being upset at someone misappropriating his people’s history while hypocritically being more than willing to misappropriate African American history to serve his rhetorical purpose.

Besides, elsewhere, it’s clear that Krakow’s quibble is only a matter of degree:

Those of us who are vaccine safety advocates should learn to stop leading with our chin so that we do not provide our adversaries with easy opportunities to focus on side issues. Mass injury to children by vaccines is not the” holocaust” and it is not “genocide”; it is its own modern form of atrocity that requires and merits its own language.

In other words, he doesn’t like the term “Holocaust” applied to autism and vaccines not because it is a bad analogy (although it is beyond breathtakingly bad) but rather because he thinks that it’s a bad strategic move for his side.

Similarly John Gilmore objects to the use of the word “Holocaust” only because it has associations with the Nazis that are “too powerful,” but then he can’t resist undermining his response by pointing out that among the first victims of the Nazis were the developmentally disabled. To this observation Conte couldn’t resist adding the history of eugenics, because, you know, vaccination is just like eugenics.

Lou Conte prefers a different term than “Holocaust”:

Which is why I refer to what we’re experiencing as being “The Great Poisoning.”

It’s not just a poisoning of our children but a poisoning of our morals, of our public institutions and sense of what people should do for each other.

Let’s be clear here. This isn’t about disease prevention or public health any more.

It’s about corporate profit and if you can get the government to mandate the use of drugs, billions can be made. NY just mandated the meningitis vaccine on a population where meningitis hasn’t happened in 5 years. NY did this because it could, because they were paid to do it and because they didn’t even care enough to question it.

Hundreds of young people will be injured by a drug they don’t need – many seriously. They will be poisoned so that pharma can make a few billion more.

I commend Conte on his restraint in not bringing up Bayer, which was a division of I.G. Farben spun off from the company when it was broken up after the war. (I. G. Farben made the Zyklon B used to kill Jews in the gas chambers.) Yes, that’s sarcasm, in case that’s not obvious enough and in case someone tries to quote mine me.

Of course, the comments, as is so often the case, show the depths of craziness in the antivaccine movement. Conte, Gilmore, and Krakow might not think that referring to autism as a holocaust is a good idea, but AoA denizens disagree. Here are a few examples:


Holocaust is very appropriate word for massive maiming and extermination of already 2 generations of American children for profits of pharmaceutical mafias. We can’ use euphemisms anymore for description of this genocide.


“I don’t think the word Holocaust is too extreme. But perhaps some might want it spelled with a small h.. / “holocaust.””


How about all caps – HOLOCAUST. Is mass poisoning and murder since WWII less important? Less noteworthy? Less horrific? Are we anesthetized?

Shannon Epstein:

Sorry, but it is a holocaust. It just is.


If people don’t like the word Holocaust, how about:

Federal and State sanctioned Genocide.

Holocaust or Genocide-either one works for me but actually neither one is strong enough to characterize what has become the destruction of several generations of people not only in the US but around the world.

Dawn Loughborough:

These are atrocities against children. This is a holocaust happening now and it has to be stopped.

Cia Parker:

I think the word Holocaust is appropriate. Our children have been flung onto the altar and burnt there to sate the thirst for corporate profits. Burned on the altar of Mammon. All of the imagery evoked is moving at the deepest levels of our soul. The perversion of the worship of God to that of the scientist and doctor in the white coat claiming to have taken the place of God in the religion of Science, while behind the scenes it is the power and money-obsessed plutocrats who are throwing children into the flames, while proclaiming that they are really saving lives, don’t look behind the curtain. Imagery of millions of Jews being rounded up and led to the slaughter, most of them submissively and uncomprehendingly. Both of these image pictures are accurate. They are obscene, but again, that is exactly how to describe what is happening. It is obscene.

So, whenever you see antivaccinationists try to co-opt the language of advocacy for autistic children and of drug and vaccine safety, remember this. There is a large contingent of antivaccine activists who truly and honestly believe that describing the results of the vaccine program, the most prominent of which to them is an “autism epidemic,” are quite properly described as a holocaust and that comparing these results to the actual Jewish Holocaust is not beyond the pale. And if autism and vaccines are the equivalent of a big-H or little-h holocaust, what, then, does that make pharmaceutical companies and pro-science advocates like us? Nazis.

That’s all you need to know about what many antivaccinationists think about autism and why their donning the mantle of “vaccine safety” and “autism advocacy” is a sham.