The violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement, “I didn’t really mean it” edition

It’s always nice when I learn that a target of my—shall we say?—Insolence takes note of what I’ve written. Well, maybe not always nice. Sometimes that notice takes the form of attacks, such as those by our good quack buddy Mike Adams, who’s been writing mean and nasty things about me for over three months now, although I do note that he’s become painfully, tediously repetitive. It’s as though he’s not even trying any more. Sometimes, however, it’s someone less ludicrous and more potentially dangerous. I’m referring in this case to Del Bigtree and Polly Tommey, the producers of Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine “documentary” VAXXED that’s making the rounds in theaters across the country. To publicize the movie and its antivaccine message, the combination of (usually) Bigtree and Polley have been doing Q&As after screenings all over the country. During those Q&As, Bigtree and Tommey have been saying some pretty outrageous things. Tommey, for instance, said that she won’t judge parents who kill their autistic children, while Bigtree has frequently compared school vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, slavery, and apartheid and, most recently, was noted by Matt Carey and myself to have said something that could reasonably be construed as urging antivaccinationists to take up arms to resist “forced vaccination.”

Well, they’ve responded on Facebook. Before I get to their response, though, let me just remind you what they said. First, here’s Polley Tommey regarding judging parents who murder their autistic children:

Excerpt: Parents are taking the lives of their children already because they won’t leave their children in the world as it is today, and I for one will never judge them for what they did. I discussed the full context of the quote in my treatment of her despicable statements and included a link to the Facebook page with the full video.

Now here’s what Del Bigtree said:

…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.

I don’t know how else that can be interpreted as a vague incitement to violence. Sure, as a pedant pointed out yesterday, it doesn’t rise to the Brandenburg v. Ohio standards of an imminent threat of lawless action to a specific person or persons, but it’s still pretty bad. Bigtree is basically asking all those antivaccinationists with guns what they’re waiting for if they believe that one purpose of the Second Amendment is to assure the ability of the people to resist the government if it ever descends into tyranny (which he considers “forced vaccination” to be). Whether Bigtree realizes it or not, it’s the same sort of coded appeal to violence that radical antiabortion activists use to inspire acts of violence against doctors who perform abortions.

Clearly, both Bigtree and Tommey—especially Bigtree—were stung by the criticism of their irresponsible statements. Clearly, at some level, Bigtree, at least, seems to realize that he crossed the line and went too far. But, as Matt Carey notes, he just can’t quite force himself to do the right thing and just apologize and take back what he said. Instead, he bobs and weaves and then digs himself in even deeper by trotting out even more ridiculous Holocaust analogies. I tell ya, I was so tempted to resurrect a certain undead Fuhrer to feast on his brain, but clearly there would have been nothing there for the Hitler Zombie to consume. So here, in its full context, is Bigtree and Tommey’s response:

I emphasize full context, because the first things Bigtree says, after some annoying banter about the “VAXXED bus,” that he and Tommey will be using to tour the US in support of their documentary when it is done, consist of:

  • Whining about being “taken out of context” (Bigtree) or having their videos “edited” (Tommey). Whatever.
  • “Trolls” who are “watching everything we say and trying to cut out anything they can use against us,” which he relates to politics as a behavior that forces politicians to stick to safe sound bites that “can’t be taken out of context.” Whatever.
  • Bragging about how they “shoot from the hip.”

He then claims that his words about guns were taken out of context but does concede that it wasn’t “exactly the best constructed statement ever.” He then goes on to disingenuously deny that he meant in any way that antivaccine parents should pick up their gun and start fighting. As I surmised, although he doesn’t admit it, he was just blowing a lot of hot air. He admits that he doesn’t own a gun, that he’s never owned a gun, and that he didn’t grow up around guns. He even went on about how he cared so little about guns that he didn’t really care when people expressed fear that the government was trying to restrict their right to own a gun because, well, such issues didn’t really concern him given that he didn’t own any guns and didn’t want to. Then he says:

But the truth is, then you get to a law that I care about, that I don’t want the medical industry enforcing their policies, their ideas, or their drugs onto my children or me, and I see that as a constitutional right. And then suddenly I start looking at gun laws again, you know, I didn’t stand up for those people fighting for their constitutional right to own a gun, to be able to hunt in a country that was designed to be free, and so all of a sudden I have an issue that I want people to take seriously. Maybe they’re like “I don’t care about vaccines.” And it reminded me of this poem that heard. I just want to read it real quick. Most of you have probably heard it, but ti comes out of Nazi Germany, I believe it was a pastor that wrote this. I think it’s really profound. What he wrote was:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

When they came for the Unionists, I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So what was Bigtree’s excuse? He claims he was standing up for the Second Amendment because he doesn’t think that people pay enough attention to each other’s concerns. What it sounded more like to me may not be what he meant, but one could also say that this was yet another of Bigtree’s not-so-well constructed lines of thinking. Basically, it sounded as though he claiming that he stood up for gun rights because he was hoping that gun owners would care about vaccines too. He hastens to add that he doesn’t think violence is the way to solve anything and that peaceful protest can bring about change, which he might actually believe. His statement still comes across as disingenuous given that his full statement in context was hard to interpret any other way but a call for armed resistance couched in a manner sufficiently vague that it falls just this side of Brandenburg v. Ohio.

Hilariously, Tommey at one point in chimes in about the “trolls” who, apparently, take their words out of context and edit them deceptively. Even more hilariously, she urges her audience to “come to us” for an explanation. It was at this point that irony meters everywhere spontaneously burst into flames and melted into a pile of plastic and copper goo, the only remnants of their cases and wires, given how the first trailer for VAXXED featured the dishonest editing of snippets of dialogue from different phone conversations to give the impression that this was one conversation. No, both Matt and I made sure to link to the entire video. I pointed out the approximate time in the video where the relevant conversations were. Both of us encourage you to watch the both videos in their entirety that we discussed, because, believe me, Polley’s justifying murder and Bigtree’s vague call for armed resistance were only the two worst things in those videos. There was so much more.

She also seems to think that she was being accused of actually advocating killing autistic children. It’s a lovely straw man, a straw man so massive that, were it to catch fire, likely it could be seen from the International Space Station. No one ever accused her of that. What we did accuse her of was saying she wouldn’t condemn parents who murder their autistic children. She still won’t. She bobs and weaves and ducks and dodges, but in the end she doesn’t say anything new, although she does talk about building respite homes for the parents of autistic children. All of this leads into a prolonged rant against—what else?—big pharma, particularly drugs used for ADHD, like Adderall, which they seem to view as the height of evil. Apparently, they view vaccines as a “gateway drug” to Aderall and psychotropic drugs. Clearly, Tommey and Bigtree seem to think that ther are currently jackbooted soldiers like the ones below waiting to burst into their houses and forcibly vaccinate their children at gunpoint and that pediatricians will soon be doing the same with psychotropic medications, because references to Nazis are sprinkled liberally throughout the video.

They're coming to vaccinate your children!! they're coming to vaccinate your children! At least, that's what Del Bigtree wants you to think.

They’re coming to vaccinate your children!! they’re coming to vaccinate your children! At least, that’s what Del Bigtree wants you to think.

Particularly irritating is Tommey and Bigtree’s rants about anxiety, how you have to “work through” your anxiety, and how you shouldn’t be “drugged” for it. I know people with anxiety. For clinical anxiety, you can’t just “work through it.” People with anxiety seeking medication have already tried to “work through it.” They can’t. That’s the problem. Medications are a last resort, not a first resort. They both recommend finding a “wholistic” doctor for anxiety and depression. Such advice will lead to someone who might have been saved killing himself.

The part that made me laugh the hardest was when Bigtree became quite incensed about VAXXED being characterized as a “propaganda film.” I rather suspect that bit of complaint was aimed at me, because I’m the one who has so consistently referred to VAXXED as a propaganda film. (Thanks, Del.) He argues that VAXXED can’t be propaganda because it espouses the “minority view” and propaganda is defined as supporting the system, the majority view. Uh, no, Del. There’s no such limitation on the definition of what constitutes propaganda. Propaganda is biased communication designed to influence people to its viewpoint, often using deceptive techniques, such as the misleading presentation of information, lying by omission, using loaded imagery and language, and even outright lying. VAXXED does all these things; it is antivaccine propaganda. It’s propaganda so blatant that it would make Leni Reifenstahl, were she still alive, blush.

The problem with Bigtree and Tommey is that they can make a fairly slick documentary, where they can shoot and edit things again and again to make the crazy less apparent. When they’re up on stage in a theater in front of an audience and have to speak off the cuff, their true beliefs come through. That was the problem for them; so they blame it on “trolls.” Well, I have a message for both of them: Fact-based criticism, evne harsh, sarcastic criticism, is not “trolling.” Calling it “trolling” is simply a transparent way to try to dismiss it without answering it.