Antivaxxers invade San Diego Comic-Con

Unfortunately, this weekend kind of got away from me, with my obligatory Monday post for my not-so-super-secret other blog taking longer to write than I expected. However, there was one thing that popped up that I couldn’t resist commenting on, particularly because it gave me a chance to revisit a similar thing from a couple of months ago. The “thing” last week, as a couple of months ago, was a video. The video was by Josh Coleman, and, truly, it was cringeworthy. You see, apparently antivaxers decided to try to infiltrate San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, all wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Truly, you have to see it to believe it. It’s actually called V For Vaccine: The San Diego Takeover:

The video begins with a man dressed up in a Guy Fawkes mask intoning:

Good evening, San Diego. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. We need to discuss the state of ignorance in this nation and across the globe. Your government, scientific, and medical community has failed you. They have failed to inform you of the very basic truths of vaccines. They have exploited your fear and ignorance, and this has made it easy for them to strengthen vaccine mandates and eliminate exemptions that have been in place for decades. This is the beginning of the end of your ignorance. Activists right now are flooding the area with easy-to-digest truths about vaccines, armed with science so big and messages so short, a rapid glance, and the information is absorbed. We shall continue education to demonstration until every man, woman, and child has appropriate knowledge of vaccine program. Your government, your media cannot stop our words of truth. Words will always retain their power. That power will enlighten society, giving them the ability to make informed decisions and the conviction to finally fight to retain their human rights.

My first thought upon viewing this display at Comic-Con was: Self-important, much? I know that Coleman, through his use of Guy Fawkes imagery, was merely cosplaying the character V from the movie V for Vendetta. As you might recall, V for Vendetta was originally a comic book series, and that series served as the basis for the movie. The character is portrayed as a mysterious anarchist, vigilante, and freedom fighter and is instantly recognizable by his Guy Fawkes mask, long hair and dark clothing, much like the dark clothing worn by the antivaxers in the video. In the comics and the movie, V is fighting to overthrow the totalitarian government of a dystopian version of the UK. So right away from this imagery, you can see yet again the fantasy, so common among antivaxers, of being the revolutionary underdogs fighting against a tyrannical government.

We’ve seen this fantasy before on more than on occasion, the most memorable of which (to me, at least) was when mild-mannered former lawyer turned schoolteacher Kent Heckenlively fantasized about, well, I think it’s worth repeating again:

You should probably know I worship at the altar of The Lord of the Rings. As a cinematic evocation of loyalty, friendship, and courage I believe it has no equal. I tell my son that if someday in the distant future I am not around and he wants to explain to his children or grandchildren what his father hoped to be, he should pop in the DVD and let them view the trilogy. When I watch I imagine myself as Aragorn, taking the Dimholt Road under the mountain, clutching the sword, Anduril, Flame of the West, offering a deal to the souls of the dishonored dead if they would join me in battle. I picture myself as Aragon, astride my horse in front of the Black Gate, telling my troops, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! Then I jump off my horse, and with the setting sun behind me, a reckless, almost manic glint in my eye and a crooked grin, I am first to charge into the enemy army.

As I mentioned at the time, that’s one of my favorite scenes in both J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation. In it, Aragorn had gathered his forces to march on the Black Gate of Mordor to challenge Sauron to battle, not with any hope of victory, but as a diversion to distract the Eye of Sauron and to allow the hobbits Frodo and Sam to cross Mordor and reach Mount Doom, there to destroy the ring.. Aragorn, Gandalf, and his companions fully expected to die in the effort, and it looked as though they would when the battle was joined. They were saved because Sam and Frodo did reach Mount Doom and the ring was destroyed, thus destroying Sauron’s power and causing his armies to flee. Similarly, V in V for Vendetta carried out bombings and violent attacks against the tyrannical government, fully expecting to die in the action, which, to no one’s surprise, he ultimately did. A lot of heroic fantasy of the sort beloved by Comic-Con attendees has similar themes, and Guy Fawkes himself is most associated with the failed Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up British Parliament in 1605. Fawkes himself was captured and tortured in the Tower of London until he confessed his role in the plot and gave up his co-conspirators, after which he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, but ultimately cheated the executioner by jumping off the gallows platform and breaking his neck.

See a parallel? There does seem to be an antivaccine fantasy of heroic death fighting in the service of the cause. Del Bigtree expressed this very same fantasy, only without the elements of science fiction and/or historical fantasy, when he spoke in Michigan three years ago:

If we do not fight now, then there will be nothing left to fight for. And I think that is where everyone in this room, I pray you realize how important you are in this historic moment. We will never be stronger than we are right now. We will never be healthier than we are right now. Our children are looking like this, a generation of children, as we’ve said on The Doctors television show this is the first generation of children that will not live to be as old as their parents. Are we going to stand…are we going to sit down and take it? Or are we going to stand up and say: This is a historic moment, that my forefathers, those from Jefferson all the way to Martin Luther King, the moments where people stood up and something inside of them said I’m going to stand for freedom and I’m going to stand for it now. That is in our DNA. It is pumping through me, and I pray that you feel it pumping through you, because we must look back. Our grandchildren will look back and thank us for having stood up one more time and been the generation that said, “We the People of the United States of America stood for freedom, stand for freedom. We will die for freedom today.

See what I mean? You might think this Guy Fawkes thing is just an affectation, that it’s just cosplay, but it symbolizes a deeper truth about antivaxers, namely that a disturbing number of them really do view themselves as harried freedom fighters defending their children against a totalitarian menace. This is especially worrisome given that I’ve been seeing more and more insinuation of violence, as in this post by antivaxer Larry Cook:

There’s lots more where that came from.

Given that background, the rest of the video is actually rather boring. It just shows multiple shots of antivaxers in Guy Fawkes masks and black clothing wandering around downtown San Diego near the convention center with signs, while ominous music playing in the background. The “truths” on their signs consist of antivaccine misinformation, some easily debunked, some needing a longer explanation. I didn’t see one claim on any of the signs being carried by the antivaxers that I haven’t discussed before, such as the claim that vaccines are made with aborted fetal cells; vaccines aren’t tested against saline placebos (no matter how many placebo-controlled trials of vaccines we point out this one never dies); vaccine mandates violate bodily autonomy; and many more that I’ve written about. Amusingly, for the most part the people attending Comic-Con ignore them or at most give them a bemused or puzzled look. What did disturb me is that there were quite a few antivaxers.

This Tweet makes it look as though there might have been as many as 60 or more antivaxers there cosplaying V and carrying signs:

Infowars claimed that there were “hundreds of vaccine educators” cosplaying V, but even Rob Dew’s photo in the upper right hand corner of his Tweet doesn’t show that, although I did count around 60, which is disturbing enough.

This brings us to what happened nearly two months ago, although with a lot fewer protestors. When the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction opened at Disneyland, antivaxers were there, too, but dressed as Star Wars characters and proclaiming themselves the “resistance“:

With the introduction scrolling up the screen, just like in the Star Wars movies:

The second most visited location on the planet Earth, a place called Disneyland, announced the largest single land expansion in history. On May 31, 2019 the opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland park was expected to draw crowds estimated between 150,000 – 200,000. A small group of freedom fighters took this opportunity to spread truth about the sinister mandatory vaccination laws plaguing the nation. These activists stood in front of all entrances to Disneyland holding signs exposing the truth about the vaccine program. No one entering the park that day could avoid moving past these activists and the truth they came to spread in hopes to restore freedom to the galaxy….

Again, all I can say is: Self-important much? Also, I can’t help but revel in the irony. After all, Disneyland was ground zero for a major measles outbreak four years ago, an outbreak that first led to the State of California eliminating nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Were the antivaxers intentionally targeting the site of an outbreak that presaged the efforts going on now to restrict nonmedical exemptions to vaccines mandates? Who knows? I’m not sure if they’re sufficiently self-aware to do that.

As you can see, in this instance, there were a lot fewer antivaxers than at Comic-Con. (Maybe it was easier and cheaper to buy a bunch of Guy Fawkes masks for the Comic-Con stunt; Star Wars costumes, particularly storm trooper costumes, rapidly get expensive.) You can also see that this video is even more boring than the Comic-Con video, which worries me. It implies that Coleman might be getting better at making video for these events.

Of course, what I really wanted to know is: Why? Why did antivaxers think that Star Wars fans and Comic-Con attendees would be susceptible to their message? Personally, I question whether Comic-Con attendees would be that susceptible. It’s been my experience that most people who are sufficiently into science fiction and fantasy to the point of attending a convention like Comic-Con or traveling to Disneyland to be among the first to see a new Star Wars attraction tend to be pretty science-based and pro-vaccine, at least more so than average. What I really suspect is that maybe Josh Coleman is into science fiction and fantasy. So, as Kent Heckenlively does with Aragorn, Coleman fantasizes about being in the rebellion in Star Wars or being V in V for Vendetta, the hero fighting for freedom and justice.

Coupled with the not-infrequent violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement, seeing how much antivaxers identify with rebels, heroes, and terrorists fighting despotic regimes or even a Dark Lord and how they act out those fantasies by cosplaying Star Wars characters and a character like V worries me, and I don’t think my concern is unreasonable.