About five weeks ago, I took notice of an event that seems to be getting the antivaccine crankosphere a bit riled up and excited. I’m referring to the so-called “Revolution for Truth” march on Washington being organized by various antivaccine groups, who, emboldened by President Donald Trump’s long, sordid history of expressing antivaccine views, his meeting with antivaccine agitator Andrew Wakefield in secret in August, and his meeting with antivaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in January, really believe that now is their moment and that 2017 will be the antivaccine year. Thanks to, among others, Donald Trump, vaccine policy, which used to be a bastion of bipartisanship, is becoming dangerously politicized, with antivaccine conspiracy theories getting darker and darker. Given that this antivaccine march on Washington will take place tomorrow, I was curious to see what its proponents have been up to as the day nears.
On Sunday, this appeared on the Revolution for Truth Facebook page:
Not surprisingly, the first thing they want their demonstrators (and those who can’t go) to do is to contact the White House and say:
Vaccine injuries are real and devastating. One in 68 children (1 in 42 boys) now has autism. Autism should be declared a national emergency and a higher priority. I support an independent vaccine commission.
This is, of course, typical antivaccine misinformation. Notice the implication that all of this autism is caused by vaccines, when the science is very clear that it is not. I also note that this “independent” vaccine commission that antivaxers want would not truly be “independent. When they say “independent,” they mean a commission run by one of their own, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., which could call CDC and FDA witnesses to harass them with questions about vaccines and autism based in pseudoscience. The reason they’re excited about an “independent vaccine commission” is because, after his meeting with then President-Elect Trump, RFK Jr, being RFK Jr., couldn’t help but blab that the then Trump had asked him to chair just such a commission. Hilariously, the transition team quickly slapped him down, saying that no such offer had been made. Unfortunately, damage was done. It was bad enough that Trump would have met with such a die-hard antivaccine crank as RFK Jr. about vaccines and autism, no matter what the reason, and the possibility that Trump might have offered RFK Jr. the chair of an antivaccine commission with the imprimatur of the President on it was an excellent way to undermine confidence in vaccines.
Next up, Revolution for Truth wants antivaxers to contact their Senators and Congressional Representatives to demand that they subpoena CDC scientist William Thompson, a.k.a. the “CDC whistleblower” (at least since 2014, anyway). Thompson, of course, is a rather bitter, clueless man who appears to have had a falling out with his co-authors on one of the seminal papers looking for a correlation between MMR and autism—it didn’t find one—because he believed that the way the report was written up was not sufficiently transparent about how it corrected for confounders in a subgroup where the study found an apparently elevated risk of autism associated with MMR vaccination. The story is too long to go into in much detail, but suffice to say that the association was almost certainly spurious, as it went away with more controls. Thompson apparently nursed a grudge for nearly a decade and, for whatever reason, decided to start unloading on and confiding in Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer turned antivaxer and incompetent epidemiologist, providing him with the original data to mangle with a “reanalysis” so epically incompetent that a brand new journal actually retracted the paper.
Unfortunately for poor, clueless Dr. Thompson, Hooker recorded their conversations without his knowledge. Even more unfortunately for Thompson, somehow Andrew Wakefield got wind of the existence of those recordings, obtained them from Hooker, and then made a video featuring cherry picked quotes by Thompson venting to Hooker. Basically, the whole thing is, when objectively examined, a big nothingburger. However, because it confirms in antivaxers’ fragile eggshell minds the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that there’s evidence that vaccines cause autism that is being “covered up” by The Man, the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory had legs. (Not surprisingly, Thompson’s silence since lawyering up two and a half years ago only contributes to the conspiracy theory, with some antivaxers believing that The Man has gotten to Thompson.) While it was fascinating to watch close-up the birth of a new conspiracy theory, dealing with it has become a major headache for pro-science advocates because antivaxers have basically gone wild on social media over it and used it as a rallying point. Meanwhile, Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree have made an antivaccine propaganda movie, VAXXED, that has become a rallying point. Not surprisingly, a large part of the movie is about the “CDC whistleblower.”
Since the last time I took note of this attempt to party like it’s 2008, which was the last time there was an “major” antivaccine march on Washington; i.e., the “Green Our Vaccines” march, led by Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. Only this time around, the cast of characters is different. Scheduled to speak at “Revolution for Truth” are: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Barbara Loe Fisher, Minister Tony Muhammad, Del Bigtree, Brian Hooker, PhD, Paul Thomas, MD, Judy Mikovits, PhD, Toni Bark, MD, Marcella Piper-Terry, Kent Heckenlively, Diane Hennacy Powell, MD, Sheila Lewis Ealey, Jennifer Margulis, PhD, Zen Honeycutt, Robert Moxley, Tami Canal, Sherrie Saunders, Jim Turner, and Alexis Baden-Meyer. We’ve met some of them before, but others we have not. For instance, I had never heard of Alexis Baden-Meyer before, but apparently her primary gig is anti-GMO, if her TruthOut page is any indication. That’s not surprising, as anti-GMO and antivaccine go together like pizza and beer. Of course, in this case the beer and pizza are both crappy. Maybe I should say they go together like cat poop and a litter box. Robert Moxley, on the other hand, appears to be a criminal defense attorney in Wyoming (!) who also does civil litigation regarding—you guessed it!—”vaccine injury.” Sherrie Saunders was a medic in the Army who has now gone antivaccine over her having given anthrax vaccine to soldiers and now thinks that the Gulf War syndrome is—surprise! surprise!—an adverse reaction to the anthrax vaccine due to “animal protein” in the vaccine. Not surprisingly, she’s been interviewed by the VAXXED crew.
Not surprisingly, excitable fellow that he is, Kent Heckenlively is all fired up to go to the rally. Oddly enough, he’s already provided his intended remarks, which to me would mean that his speech would be the perfect time for a bathroom or coffee break. He’s also provided it in all caps, which is even more appropriate. I thought about typing out the excerpt I’m going to provide, because all caps bother me, but then I decided just to copy and paste because (1) all caps is very appropriate for anything Heckenlively writes; (2) I’m lazy; and (3) I was up late last night doing emergency surgery and don’t have a lot of time before I have to leave for work. Get a taste of what attendees will be hearing:
IT WAS A BIT OF A SURPRISE TO FIND THAT THE SAME VILLAINS WHO HAD BEEN RESISTING AN HONEST INVESTIGATION INTO CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME CALLED FOR BY DR. MIKOVITS, WERE THE ONES I HAD KNOWN FOR YEARS WERE RESISTING AN HONEST INVESTIGATION INTO AUTISM CALLED FOR BY DR. ANDY WAKEFIELD.
THAT’S WHY I WROTE THE BOOK, INOCULATED: HOW SCIENCE LOST ITS SOUL IN AUTISM, TO GIVE A BEHIND THE SCENES ACCOUNT OF NOT JUST WHISTLE-BLOWER, DR. WILLIAM THOMPSON’S CLAIM OF CORRUPTION AT THE CDC REGARDING VACCINES AND AUTISM, BUT TO GIVE A WIDER VIEW OF THE AMAZING CAST OF AVENGERS WHO ARE FIGHTING THIS ENORMOUS EVIL. I WANTED TO FOCUS ON DR. BRIAN HOOKER, WHO BEFRIENDED THE WHISTLE-BLOWER, AND IS A LIVING EXAMPLE OF HIS CHRISTIAN FAITH IN HOW HE LOVED THE SINNER WHO WAS DR. WILLIAM THOMPSON, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME HE HATED THE SIN. I WANTED TO HAVE A GOOD DEAL OF SPACE DEVOTED TO DR. ANDY WAKEFIELD, WHO HAS SUFFERED SO GRATLY, BUT TO WHOM WE ALL OWE SO MUCH.
A GREAT DEBT IS OWED TO ROBERT KENNEDY, JR., WHO COULD HAVE HAD A QUIET, PEACEFUL LIFE, TRYING TO GET MERCURY OUT OF FISH, BUT INSTEAD CHOSE TO TRY AND GET MERCURY OUT OF OUR KIDS, AND CALLED DOWN THE WRATH OF THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES ON HIS HEAD. AND I WANTED TO WELCOME NEW RECRUITS TO THE FOLD, LIKE MINISTER TONY MUHAMMAD FROM THE NATION OF ISLAM, A TRUE WARRIOR AND LION OF THE LORD.
YOU SEE, IT IS NOT SCIENCE WHICH OPPOSES US. IT IS A FEW EVIL AND TWISTED SCIENTISTS WHO HAVE FORGOTTEN THAT SCIENCE IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE THE LIFE OF HUMANITY BETTER, NOT LINE THE POCKETS OF THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES.
HONEST SCIENCE, SCIENCE WHICH IS IN ACCORD WITH THE PRINICPLES OF HUMANITY, WANTS TO ALLEVIATE SUFFERING. THAT IS THE KIND OF FIRECE DEVOTION I FOUND IN DR. JUDY MIKOVITS. IT IS THE SAME KIND OF DEVOTION WHICH DRIVES DR. ANDY WAKEFIELD. I KNOW THERE ARE OTHER SCIENTISTS OUT THERE WHO CAN YET REDISCOVER THE BETTER ANGELS OF THEIR NATURE AND JOIN OUR CAUSE.
AND SO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, I BELIEVE THAT SCIENCE CAN GIVE US THE ANSWERS AS TO HOW TO RESCUE OUR LOST CHILDREN. I THINK OF MY OWN DAUGHTER, JACQUELINE, EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD, WITH WHOM I HAVE NEVER HAD A CONVERSATION. I RAISE MY VOICE AGAINST SOME OF THE GREATEST POWERS IN THE LAND BECAUSE IN DOING SO I HOPE MY EFFORTS WILL ONE DAY HELP HER FIND HER VOICE. IF THAT MAKES ME AN OUTLAW, IF IT MAKES FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS TURN AWAY FROM ME, IF IT MAKES ME A NON-PERSON IN THE EYES OF THE MEDIA, IF IT MAKES ME A DEPLORABLE, SO BE IT. I WILL WEAR THAT NAME AS A BADGE OF HONOR.
THIS IS A GREAT CAUSE IN WHICH WE FIGHT, PERHAPS THE GREATEST OF OUR TIME. WE FIGHT FOR NOTHING LESS THAN THE SURVIVAL OF HUMANITY.
The “greatest” fight of our time? A fight for “nothing less than the survival of humanity”? It’s just “evil and twisted” scientists who oppose us? (What’s next? Dr. Evil cackling and brandishing a syringe?) I’ll give Heckenlively credit. He sure does know how to exaggerate beyond all reality. I suppose that’s to be expected from someone who likes to fancy himself as the Aragorn facing down the Dark Lord Sauron’s hordes, even though his forces are hopelessly outnumbered, in the fantasy novel and movie The Lord of the Rings. It also fits with the overall tone of the march, which conflates “freedom” with the the ability to leave children unprotected against deadly diseases just because the marchers believe against all evidence that vaccines cause autism.
Meanwhile, Marco Cáceres, declaring the march as one of “few causes more fundamental,” is quick to lower expectations:
The Mar. 31 rally will not involve the big numbers that have been seen at more recent rallies on Capitol Hill but it would be a mistake to misinterpret that fact as truly reflective of the size of the ever increasing numbers of Americans who are becoming enlightened about environmental risks to their health. It is worth noting that a significant number of people who would otherwise be at the event will be at home caring for children and other relatives who have been sickened or injured by the toxins in our environment, foods, and pharmaceutical products.
Anyone who remembers the “Green Our Vaccine” rally knows that it attracted, at most, a few hundred people. The “Revolution for Truth” rally might attract a bit more, given that Donald Trump is in office, but it won’t be particularly big, either. That’s because, even in the age of Donald Trump, the antivaccine movement remains a pathetic group of cranks. Unfortunately, the amount of mischief and harm it causes belies its size.
And then there’s this, from an email on the Revolution for Truth organizing list:
Its going to be raining on Friday 3/31/2017!
As a result of the storm that is expected in Washington D.C. on Friday afternoon, we had to select a new venue for our Rally. Please plan accordingly for possible inclement weather in the morning. We will still meet at Lafayette Park at 9am to march to the Press Club starting at 9:30am.
After the protest at the Press Club, please plan to be at the JW Marriott in plenty of time for the 1:00pm start time to hear the incredible leaders who are joining forces to defend Health Freedom in America!
The current weather forecast appears to show a 90+% chance of rain, along with a thunderstorm. One hates to fall victim to the trap of anthropomorphizing the weather and ascribing causation to correlation, but it’s nonetheless tempting to think that Mother Nature is trying to tell these cranks something. On the other hand, I have to be careful. Saying something like this only feeds their twisted sense of self-importance.