The violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement, VAXXED edition

Back in December, I wrote about a phenomenon that I had observed from the very beginning of my sparring with those who promote antivaccine pseudoscience and thoroughly debunked idea that vaccines cause autism. It was a phenomenon that seemed to get a lot worse last year, almost certainly due to the impending passage and then passage of SB 277 in California, a bill that eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates in the state beginning this month. So it was that I came to describe the violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement, complete with examples of such rhetoric, as well as memes like this one:

Gee, I wonder what is meant by this.

Gee, I wonder what is meant by this.

Since April, the producers of an antivaccine propaganda film by Del Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield, VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, have been touring the country along with fellow antivaccine activist and Wakefield admirer Polly Tommey (and, at some stops, Sheila Ealey) to do Q&As and crappy Periscope videos at screenings of their movie and fawning over parents who let their children die of medical neglect. Bigtree has also been teaming with lawyers eager to exploit parents of autistic children by suing for “vaccine injury” to lobby the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who just so happens to represent a district in a state that is the epicenter of supplement manufacturing in the US. While doing these Q&As, Tommey and Bigtree have been demonstrating that antivaccine is as antivaccine does, with Tommey declaring without a doubt that “there is no safe vaccine” and Bigtree likening having to adhere to school vaccine mandates as being like the Jews during the Holocaust.

Yes, there’s nothing like comparing a law that protects children by mandating vaccines for school to what the Nazis did to Jews and other people they didn’t view as fully human to demonstrate to the world that you aren’t antivaccine!

As if that weren’t enough, though, on July 10, Bigtree and Tommey did a video of one of their Q&As, this time in Pittsburgh. I commented on this before, but, I must admit, I didn’t watch every minute of the video. It was too neuron-apoptosingly painful, even for me. So I missed something important, even as I did comment on a video of his Q&A from the night before, when he asked “What were the Jewish people thinking when the Nazis took over?” and likened SB 277 to slavery and apartheid.

Let’s go back to the July 10, video, though, which is still on Facebook:

I missed a very critical part, but Matt Carey pointed it out to me. Here is the relevant segment, which is starts at about the 44 minute mark in the full video:

In the lead up to this segment, Bigtree invokes the “Brady Bunch fallacy” about how measles isn’t a dangerous disease and then goes on to rant about how we’re being “slowly brainwashed” by the media and big pharma, after which he continues using apocalyptic language about politicians bought out by big pharma and if you see one recommending a vaccine for Zika virus then you’ll “know what your future is.” He also mentions how this “will be the last vote for freedom you’ll have” as we watch the “most powerful lobby in the country and the world” poison our children. This is, of course, one of the major “dog whistles” of antivaccinationists, to invoke “freedom” and “parental rights” to justify their antivaccine views. Also, why big pharma would want to intentionally poison our children, Bigtree never explains. Neither has any antivaccine activist who’s invoked this line, either. I guess it’s because pharma is just plain evil and enjoys poisoning children.

Right after this he goes straight into the same territory that I wrote about last December:

…but now we’re watching the most powerful lobby in the country and in the world poisoning our children. And our government is helping them. What are we going to do about it? We have the power. But we have got to stop being afraid to talk about it. If you’re afraid to talk about it, your Twitters, your Facebooks, I don’t want to bring it up at my PTA meeting, I don’t want to at lunch or at Thanksgiving dinner, then I can imagine those same conversations were happening in Nazi Germany among the Jewish people. Let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to bring it into my reality. It’s still 20 miles away. I’m still allowed in this theater, not that one. All I have to get is this little star. All I have to do is to sign this little thing saying that I’m not going to vaccinate because I think they’re dangerous—and they are dangerous. I’m just going to sign this paper. I’m going to let them put me in a log. At some point, they have gone too far.

Do you think it’s a good idea to let the government own your baby’s body and right behind it your body? That is the end for me. Anyone who believes in the right to bear arms. To stand up against your government. I don’t know what you were saving that gun for then. I don’t know when you planned on using it if they were going to take control of your own body away.

It’s now. Now’s the time.”

You heard that right. Del Bigtree strongly implied that antivaccine activists opposed to SB 277 should consider taking up arms to resist. As Carey notes, at best this rhetoric is irresponsible. At worst it’s a call for violence. As I note, this is the sort of thing we’ve seen many times before. Tell me, how is Bigtree’s rhetoric any difference from the sort of sentiments expressed in these memes?


Or this one:

Apparently, there has to be eye candy for the male antivaccine activists seeing themselves as resisting tyranny.

Apparently, there has to be eye candy for the male antivaccine activists seeing themselves as resisting tyranny.


Or this one:

Who's the side using violent imagery now? I mean, seriously, which side looks scarier?

Who’s the side using violent imagery now? I mean, seriously, which side looks scarier?


You get the idea…

At its heart, Bigtree’s rhetoric is no different. Of course, I strongly suspect that Bigtree is the proverbial chickenhawk, someone who talks a big game but probably doesn’t even own a gun himself and would likely run at the first hint of violent confrontation. What worries me is that some of those listening might not. Certainly, there was no evidence of any disagreement at the Q&A or in the comments of the Facebook page.

Basically, Bigtree is bordering on inciting violence, but with just enough plausible deniability to be able to claim that he was only indulging in rhetorical hyperbole, but his rhetoric is no different than a lot of rhetoric one finds in the deeper darker places of the antivaccine Interent underground.