Last week, I wrote about Plandemic, a viral video featuring disgraced scientist turned antivaxxer turned COVID-19 “Fire Fauci” conspiracy theorist and grifter Dr. Judy Mikovits. You’d think that, after a 6,000-word takedown of that 26 minutes of disinformation-filled conspiracyfest of a video there wouldn’t be anything left for me to say, but, hey, it’s Orac. There’s always something left to say! In this case, the reason is that, as bonkers as Plandemic was, it turns out that the director of the video, Mikki Willis, apparently restrained the ever excitable Dr. Mikovits to make her appear far more reasonable than she actually is during the video in which she promoted her book Plague of Corruption: Restoring Faith in the Promise of Science and kept referring to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “plandemic.”
I learned this from three other sources, a podcast interview on the Autism One website from February which showed that, even three months ago and early in the pandemic, Mikovits had skillfully pivoted from antivaccine nonsense (at the time, she was spreading HPV vaccine pseudoscience) to COVID-19 grift (although at the time the virus and disease had not yet acquired their current names SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, respectively). The second source is a video she made for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.‘s antivaccine group Children’s Health Defense to promote her conspiracy theories about Anthony Fauci. The third source is her appearance at an online quackfest known as the Health Freedom Summit. This last one requires registration to have access to the videos free for a few days. If you want permanent access to the two days worth of videos from quacks and antivaccine “luminaries” like RFK Jr., Del Bigtree, James Lyons-Weiler (who, I note, was in on the COVID-19 grift in January), and more, it’ll cost you $69. Free is good enough for me, as I don’t care if the video goes away the instant I hit “publish” on this post. I’ll give you a brief preview, though, just a taste to make you (hopefully) want to keep reading. Mikovits thinks that chemtrails and plutonium are fueling the pandemic, along with vaccines, glyphosate, and retroviruses (of course).
A plague of misunderstanding of how NIH grants work
The first part I want to look at is the rest of Mikovits’ conspiracy theory about Anthony Fauci, related in her video for Children’s Health Defense posted last month when her book was released:
The video starts out doing just what the Plandemic video did, pumping up Dr. Mikovits as an authority by listing her degrees and work history, finishing by listing her as a “target of Dr. Anthony Fauci”. Dr. Fauci, of course, has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984 and has emerged as a key figure in the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that he is one of the federal officials trying to keep the federal response as science-based as possible, he has been the target of conspiracy theories and political attacks, of which this is yet another one. The video goes on to accuse Fauci thusly:
In Washington DC Fauci’s tactics are an open secret. Intimidation. Bullying. And reckless disregard for the health and safety of the American people.
Dr. Judy Mikovits was one of the most skilled scientists of her generation. She had a 20-year collaboration with Frank Ruscetti, a pioneer in the field of human retro virology.
Seeing an antivaccine organization accuse anyone of a “reckless disregard for the health and safety of the American people” fried yet another one of my irony meters. Once again, we see the claim that Mikovits is “one of the most skilled scientists of her generation”. As I said last time when I discussed her, I’ve been unable to find anything to support this characterization of Mikovits. It’s also rather odd to refer to a 20-year collaboration with Dr. Ruscetti. While it’s true that Mikovits worked in Ruscetti’s laboratory at the NIH for most of a 21 year period (1980 to 2001), the first several of those years she only had a bachelor’s degree and worked as a technician, for four or five years she was a graduate student, and the remaining years were spent as, in essence, a postdoctoral fellow in Ruscetti’s laboratory. This was not a collaboration of equals. Mikovits was always Ruscetti’s subordinate, at least while she was at the NIH, although the two did collaborate from 2006-2009, the time period when Mikovits was director of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease and doing the later-retracted research reporting that a retrovirus (XMRV) was associated with and might cause chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s also frequently claimed that her PhD thesis revolutionized the treatment of HIV/AIDS, saving millions of lives. I’ve yet to be able to find evidence that this claim is true, either.
In this video, Mikovits repeats the same accusation she made in Plandemic. Since I’ve already discussed how ridiculous her accusation was that Fauci would have tried to bully a lab technician fresh out of college to provide her with a manuscript in press last week, I’ll skip this part and move on to the second accusation against Fauci, one that was also made in Plandemic but that she elaborates on more here:
Mikovits: In 2006 I co-founded and developed the first neuroimmune disease institute to study the cause and treatments of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome became epidemic in the 1980s. Doctors dismissed the ailment as psychosomatic “yuppie flu.” CFS primarily struck women. The medical community assumed they were physically and emotionally fragile and cracked under the pressure of corporate jobs.
Dr. Mikovits discovered that 67% of women affected with CFS carried a mouse virus–called XMRV– Xenotropic Murine Leukemia related Virus–that appeared in healthy women only 4% of the time. XMRV is also associated with cancers like prostate, breast, ovarian, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Many women with XMRV go on to have children with autism.
Of course, one notes that no one was able to replicate this finding and that, ultimately, Mikovits’ results were spurious and almost certainly due to contamination. Children’s Health Defense also conveniently fails to note how Mikovits treated the chronic fatigue syndrome patient-derived cells, but not control cells, with a chemical that activated their retroviruses.
Mikovits: Then in 2011, our research strongly suggested that it entered the human virome through a contaminated blood supply and vaccines.
Other researchers linked the first CFS outbreak to a polio vaccine given to doctors and nurses that resulted in the “1934 Los Angeles County Hospital Epidemic.” That vaccine was cultivated on pulverized mouse brains. Retroviruses from dead animals can survive in cell lines and permanently contaminate vaccines.
That last line cracked me up, because the reference cited basically ends up with a mea culpa admitting that the finding of XMRV in blood samples from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome was the result of laboratory contamination. As for the supposed “first outbreak” of CFS due to a polio vaccine, the reference linked to is discussing epidemic myalgic encephalitis, an alternate name for chronic fatigue syndrome. While it’s true that there have been outbreaks of CFS associated with viral illnesses, including polio, none of this demonstrates that retroviruses cause the syndrome, much less that vaccines containing retroviruses do. I can’t help but note that there are no studies cited to support her claims, not even her own.
Unsurprisingly, this “brave maverick doctor” was going to sound the alarm, but claims to have been stifled by Anthony Fauci:
Mikovits: We recognized that this mouse retrovirus was causing an alarming national health crisis. That is if the blood supply and vaccines were heavily contaminated with mouse retroviruses of many strains.
As Dr. Mikovits and her team prepared to sound the alarm, Dr. Fauci used his power to silence her.
Mikovits: What Tony Fauci, Ian Lipkin and Harold Varmus did was pressure me to be silent and withdraw our manuscript. I refused again.
Anthony Fauci gave his own career and the vaccine program priority above the health and safety of all Americans.
Mikovits: When I refused to be silent, Dr. Fauci stepped in and ordered that my computers and notebooks be confiscated and orchestrated the retraction of our Science paper.
Dr. Fauci abused his power and misused his office.
Mikovits: He then removed all of my funding and prevented me from getting a job in government research from 2012 forward.
Hundreds of millions of Americans may have received vaccines contaminated with XMRV.
Anthony Fauci has failed us
Are you prepared to trust him?
Yes, because Mikovits is a crank.
Let’s unpack these claims a bit. Her conspiracy theory has evolved in a convenient manner to include Dr. Anthony Fauci. What is she talking about? I don’t know for sure, but I can make an educated guess. What tipped me off is the claim that Fauci “removed all my funding”. There’s a tool that those of us who apply for government research grants know about called NIH RePORTER. It’s a searchable database of all NIH grants ever awarded going back around 20 years. Entering Mikovits’ name into the database easily found every NIH grant she’s ever had, the relevant one being “New Strategies to Decipher the Pathophysiology of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome“, with the grantee being the Nevada Center for Biomedical Research, which was where the Whittemore Peterson Institute was housed. This was an R01 grant whose start date was September 1, 2010, which implied to me that it was based, at least in part, on preliminary data that resulted in Mikovits’ 2009 Science paper. This grant, unsurprisingly given that it was examining possible viral causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, was administered by the NIAID, the Institute Dr. Fauci has led for 36 years.
Notably, Dr. Mikovits is listed as principal investigator of this grant for only two years, but the grant was for five years. For years three through five, someone named Vincent Lombardi is listed as the principal investigator. So what happened? If you know Mikovits’ story, it’s obvious. Mikovits was fired from the WPI in September 2011, which would have been during year two of the grant. At this point, it’s necessary to understand that NIH grants go to institutions, not people. While it’s true that there is a “gentleman’s agreement” among universities in which universities generally let investigators take NIH grants with them if they switch jobs and voluntarily sign off on transferring it to the new institution where a researcher takes a new job, that agreement doesn’t apply when a researcher is fired for cause. In that case, the institution will keep the grant and assign it to a new investigator to serve as PI for the remainder of the grant period. That’s almost certainly what happened here. No intervention from the NIAID, much less Dr. Fauci himself, was necessary. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that Fauci even knew about the change in PI for this grant, as this sort of reassignment is handled at a much lower level than Institute director.
It’s a common misconception that NIH grants go to individuals, largely because universities and most institutes receiving them nearly always let individual researchers take the grants with them when they change jobs. Even some scientists don’t realize that the institution is not obligated to let an investigator take a grant to a new job. Moreover, in the standard study section process, which grants are funded is based on merit, based on the priority scores given the grant applications submitted during a given application cycle. In fact, in her Health Freedom Summit video (discussed in the last section), Mikovits rants even more about how Fauci took “her grant” away from her to punish her. No he didn’t. She was fired; so what almost certainly happened is that her former employer reassigned the grant to a different principal investigator, because it was never “her” grant to begin with.
What about Mikovits’ other claims about Fauci, that he had orchestrated the seizure of her computers and lab notebooks? That’s so ridiculously over-the-top that I laughed out loud! Fauci prevented her from getting a job in government research from 2012 onward? That claim is just silly. Fauci doesn’t have that power. He could make sure she’s never hired at NIAID, but that’s about it. It’s also possible that if the NIH found that she had committed fraud or other misconduct with the grant it could have barred her from receiving NIH funding. Such bans are rarely more than five years though. I know of cases where a PI committed research fraud and was only barred from receiving NIH grants for five years.
Of course, the real reason Mikovits couldn’t get a job in research after that was most likely because she had had a major paper retracted due to bad science and suspicion of research fraud, had been fired from her previous job and prosecuted for having stolen research notebooks and flash drives with research data from her former employer. Even though she was not convicted, she did lose a civil suit over the theft. In other words, what university, government agency—or even private company—would want to hire someone with such a record, especially someone who had started to rise to prominence in the antivaccine movement? As a researcher she was tainted goods. If she hadn’t found antivax grift, she might have had to go back to bartending.
Early COVID-19 conspiracy mongering: Coronavirus is part of a cover-up!
As far as Mikovits’ early COVID-19 grift, I’m not going to go through the whole Autism One podcast interview, because she repeats a lot of the nonsense that she’s been repeating all along. Instead, I want to focus on just one part, while mentioning that, to her COVID-19 is all a big scam, a deception, for the CDC to cover up its “plague of corruption” over XMRV-contaminated vaccines. Basically, she claims that the CDC his hyping COVID-19 as a threat, as it hyped Ebola and H1N1 before it, to distract the public from all the health problems caused (she says) by “contaminated vaccines” and, of course, to pave the way towards forced vaccination. I’m not kidding when I characterize her interview as a “rant”. Just listen for yourself if you don’t believe me. To her, the coronavirus is part of a worldwide cover-up:
Yes, they’ve unleashed a virus that can be dangerous to some people. There’s no doubt about it. There’s a coronavirus, but those coronaviruses are always out there. God only knows when this virus hit the population. They just needed a cover-up of the December 2019 revelation caught on tape at the WHO International Summit on Vaccine Safety, where the CDC, the WHO, the FDA officials all admitted no safety testing at all on vaccines, any of them, in the 21st century schedule, in the schedule that they’re taking away human rights, taking away our ability to go to school. It’s severely injuring our children, causing death, destroying families’ lives, and nobody’s paying for it, except for the victims of the plague of corruption. Isn’t funny that the doctor at this Chinese facility is dead? He didn’t die of coronavirus. They killed him!
Indeed, it’s hard to keep up with all the conspiracies, although it is easy to point out that, no, WHO, CDC, and FDA scientists did not “admit” that there was no vaccine safety testing for any of the vaccines on the current schedule. They just didn’t. Seriously, though, I wonder if Plandemic would have gone as viral as it did if Mikki Willis hadn’t judiciously edited the really wild stuff that Mikovits routinely says out of the video and kept her much calmer than she is in this interview, where she’s ranting her way into full tinfoil hat conspiracy territory, repeating the phrase “plague of corruption” many times.
Health Freedom Summit: Pollution, plutonium, and conspiracies
I now come to her Health Freedom Summit video interview. It’s the second interview of Day One, if you really have the stomach to register under a throwaway email address to have access for three days. As was the case for Plandemic, the video starts out by touting her credentials, describing her as a great scientist of her generation (which she wasn’t and isn’t) and asking her about her experience working for a time during the 1980s at the BSL4 facility at Fort Detrick, MD, which was the center of the US bioweapons program during the Cold War. A BSL4 facility is a facility with the highest level of pathogen containment; such facilities house the deadliest viruses and bacteria for research.
One thing that comes through during the entire interview is that Mikovits has a very high opinion of…Mikovits. For instance, she started to say that she had developed the first immune therapy, interferon-α, before correcting herself and saying that she was “part of the team” that had developed interferon-α. Her persecution complex is very strong as well, going way back to the 1980s. For example, she notes that she worked at Upjohn Pharmaceuticals for a while, claiming that she was hired to demonstrate that its then-new genetically modified bovine growth hormone was safe for human cells. She claims that bovine growth hormone and GMOs “actually did harm human cells,” which is how she explains why her tenure at Upjohn was so brief and she left to go to graduate school.
The conspiracies and dubious claims come fast and furious after that, and as the video goes on Mikovits gets more and more animated, to the point that at times she’s indistinguishable from the crank ranting on a park bench. One particularly bizarre thing she says early on involves making a big deal out of the difference between disease (COVID-19) and the causative coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), stating that COVID-19 means “Coronavirus Infectious Disease 2019” but “does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 causes that disease.” In essence, she denies that SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, stating that going on about how it supposedly doesn’t fulfill Koch’s postulates or the Bradford-Hill criteria for causality. She further denies that the disease started in the Wuhan fish market, embracing the conspiracy theory that the disease came from the Wuhan virology laboratory. (There’s no good evidence that is true, and, in fact, there is no sign that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered or modified in a lab, just based on the analysis of its nucleotide sequence. This was established quite conclusively a couple of months ago.)
Next up, Mikovits shows more than a bit of racism, claiming that most people who got COVID-19 early on had never had contact with Chinese people, mentioning how maybe it makes sense that that’s how Americans first got it in New York or Los Angeles, but not in Ventura, going on about how she doesn’t remember the last time she came in contact with a Chinese person. (Really?) Apparently she’s never heard of community spread. She also repeats her dangerous claim not to wear a mask, saying:
Viruses don’t float through the air, infectious particles. And I don’t mean RNA. So when they do that throat swab and that nasal swab and they amplify using polymerase chain reaction PCR, they take a very little piece of the virus, a little piece of the nucleic acid, RNA, and it’s not very big, and then they amplify it logarithmically, like a zillion times. But they had to scrape the cells in your throat in order to get the RNA out, which is not an infectious particle. It’s RNA. They had to scrape your throat to find that RNA and then amplify it a zillion times, how can a healthy person like you and me, who aren’t coughing, get that out of my nose, across six feet?…You can’t spread it the way they say it spreads. So the masks are hurting the people wearing them, and I can’t say that enough.
This is a virologist? Apparently she’s unaware that newer tests can detect the virus in saliva and that we humans spray saliva droplets just by talking. Apparently she’s also unaware of the difference between a tiny number of viral particles being able to start an infection and needing more material to get sufficient RNA to detect unique nucleic acid sequences from the virus. There truly is no facepalm big enough for this, but I’ll bring the biggest I have at the moment:
Even cluelessly, Mikovits not only says don’t wear a mask, but that if you’re having problems you just need oxygen. Gee, as if doctors didn’t think of giving oxygen to a hypoxic person whose blood oxygen level is low because his lungs are injured and aren’t exchanging gas as well as normal. I think the facepalm is in order again:
At this point, Mikovits goes on a truly puzzling rant in which she first says that her husband can’t wear a mask because he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, attributing it to a bout of pneumonia that he suffered in his 30s. (His COPD must be pretty bad if he can’t wear a mask.) After this, she goes on about how “lots of things cause pneumonia,” from bacteria, to viruses (mentioning influenza, coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and others), claiming that they’re calling a lot of other things COVID-19, accusing doctors of lying about COVID-19 and trying to exaggerate the number of cases and deaths. (One. More. Time. If anything, we are grossly undercounting the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.) As for the multiple causes of pneumonia, viral pneumonia has very different characteristics from bacterial pneumonia, something we as physicians learn rather early on in medical school.
She then relates how she jogged past a grocery store on the way home to do an interview, noting that she can’t go in their to buy food without donning a mask but she can get a flu shot there. (“I’ll take non sequiturs for $800, Alex.”) In any event, her whole thesis is that the COVID-19 pandemic is being driven by vaccines, asking why would she want to prevent the “Wuhan flu” by giving herself another kind of flu, repeating her lie that by wearing a mask you amplify the infection. To her, the evil agenda behind the “pandemic” is to push vaccines and kill old people and sick people like her husband.
But it’s more than that. To her the plandemic “can have to do with” pollution, 5G, GMOs, glyphosate, chemtrails, aluminum, and…get this…plutonium, which she describes as “dropping into our environment over time as we blow up satellites as, she said, was done last summer.” That’s right. Mikovits thinks that plutonium from satellites is one of the things fueling the pandemic. She cites a Russian radiation spill and claims that the symptoms of COVID-19 are not the sorts of symptoms that coronaviruses normally cause but rather that they look more like the symptoms of plutonium poisoning.
Picking up that ball of ridiculous conspiracy and running with it, Mikovits enthusiastically elaborates on her claim, stating that coronaviruses don’t cause high fever because RNA viruses don’t cause high fever, which made me laugh out loud. Again.RNA viruses don’t cause high fevers? The measles virus is an RNA virus. The influenza virus is an RNA virus. Ebola is an RNA virus. And this is a virologist? She denies that coronaviruses can infect the brain, and claims that the neurologic symptoms of COVID-19 are more akin to Lyme disease. She denies that asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 patients can spread the disease. Why? Because their immune system is clearing the disease. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. For one thing, we know that it’s not true that asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers can’t spread the virus, and for another thing, contrary to Mikovits’ claim that you clear the virus and are immune (making natural immunity better, of course!), we don’t yet whether that COVID-19 infection, be it asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic, or severe, results in long-lasting immunity to the virus.
Unsurprisingly, she also thinks that if you are exposed to glyphosate and don’t eat organic foods, you’re more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, and that it’s simple to treat it with oxygen, plus all manner of woo, including vitamin C, vitamin D, and all sorts of other nonsense. Dangerously, she claims that “kids aren’t getting the disease” because they’re getting the infection, clearing it, and developing “natural herd immunity,” which would actually protect all of us if we were to let children go back to school and spread the virus among themselves. (Seriously, she actually claimed that! Of course, she neglects to mention that the cost of “natural herd immunity” is death and disease on a massive scale.) I marvel again that she’s a virologist, because she cites the flu vaccine as an example of why vaccines don’t work because you have to get the flu vaccine every year, claiming that once you have had influenza you should be immune for life. (Apparently the concept of different strains of flu is now beyond her in her current state.)
At the point where she started describing the “plandemic” as a means of getting rid of the elderly and saying that she will not vaccinate and exterminate her husband or other elderly people, even I was having a hard time continuing to listen. Fortunately, the last third of the interview was just her repeating many of the same conspiracy theories about Anthony Fauci and her being “persecuted” for her bogus finding that XMRV caused chronic fatigue syndrome. I’m thankful for small mercies.
The bottom line: Plandemic was mild compared to the real Judy Mikovits
Mikovits is far more of a crank than even I had suspected. If anything, Plandemic presented her as far more reasonable than she actually is. All you have to do is to look at her ranting in the podcast interview. Normally, I’d view this as a good thing because it should be obvious to any reasonable people how far off the plantation Mikovits has wandered with her “plandemic” and her conspiracy theories, but, sadly, in this age of QAnon, I can no longer assume that. That being said, what made the “Plandemic” video so effective was that the filmmaker toned Mikovits’ tinfoil hat tendencies down enough and edited out the really nutty stuff, like the claim that plutonium is causing COVID-19 and that the disease is an intentional distraction from the “admission” by the WHO and CDC that vaccines aren’t tested for safety, keeping the more difficult to check stuff that sounds plausible and appealing to emotion, all to sell books and the mother of all conspiracy theories.