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Sunday, January 23, 2022

A handful of anti-vax racketeers are bilking the nation

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Mercola is far from alone in selling deadly lies for a buck. While the No. 2 member of the Disinformation Dozen may be the perennially sorry excuse and long established child-killer Robert Kennedy Jr.,  the third slot belongs to Ty & Charlene Bollinger. Like Mercola, the Bollingers have pushed the idea that the entire pandemic is a fake while simultaneously fleecing their believers for a set of DVDs and books that promise “the truth” about everything from COVID to cancer. In between, they’ve made false claims about the COVID-19 vaccine being fatal, amplified the long-debunked link between all vaccines and autism, and seriously leaned into the ‘Bill Gates microchipping your brain’ nonsense. (Disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield, the man behind the original autism scam, features in some of the information spread by the Bollingers and other members of the Disinformation Dozen). 

Going down the list, there’s:

  • Rashid Buttar, who promotes the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine “increases the risk of getting HIV” and that “becoming sterile is almost a certainty.” 
  • Erin Elizabeth, who created multiple lies about the safety of both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine while promoting hydroxychloroquine—along with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
  • Sayer Ji, who spread claims that hidden data from Pfizer’s vaccine trials showed the vaccine kills “40 times as many people as the disease” and that the point of the vaccines is to “lower the number of people on Earth.”
  • Kelly Brogan, who promotes the theory that the entire pandemic was planned solely in order to get that mind-controlling vaccine into the population.
  • Kevin Jenkins, who calls vaccines a “conspiracy to wipe out Black people” and who accused Hank Aaron of being a race traitor for taking the vaccine.

What’s the common link? These people aren’t pushing conspiracy theories based on compounded lies because they believe them. They’re doing it because there’s money in it. Whether that means pushing fake “cures” like Mercola and Elizabeth, their own “secret” insights like the Bollingers and Jenkins, or “alternative health” like Ji and Brogan, these people have something to sell. And they don’t care who dies so long as it leads to the profit and attention they want.

The Disinformation Dozen may dominate false claims circulating on social media, but they are far from alone. As Reuters has noted, former Pfizer scientist Michael Yeadon has become a go-to source for false claims about the vaccines after co-authoring a paper suggesting that all COVID-19 vaccines could cause infertility in women. As evidence for this, Yeardon offered … no evidence. That didn’t stop Yeardon’s paper from becoming a touchstone of the anti-vax right, including members of the “dozen.” Yeardon has become the Wakefield of the COVID-19 vaccine: someone who has what looks like respectable credentials, but who serves the role of promoting anti-science conspiracies.

Spreading lies and peddling snake oil isn’t the only way scammers are making money off of inserting themselves into dangerous schemes to slow the use of vaccines. As The Washington Post reports, there’s also forgery. That includes forgers like the Chicago-area pharmacist who has also sold more than 100 CDC vaccination cards over eBay. That account is just one of hundreds selling thousands of blank, forged, or completely fake cards. The decision to use paper cards was made by Trump officials and when the first vaccines rolled out in 2020, the system was already somewhat locked in place. But there seems to have been no thought put into how easily the cards could be counterfeited (or what a bad idea it is to pass around paper objects in the middle of a pandemic). 

A completely digital solution to virus passports—one that could be viewed online or displayed on a smartphone—was considered. That system was even pushed by private businesses who were interested in using the passport to provide access for customers. It simply wasn’t used. And now states like Texas and Tennessee have made it famously easy to forge a paper vaccine record by handily posting templates for the cards to their state web sites.

Widespread voter fraud is not a thing. Despite this, 47 states are trying to pass laws making it more difficult to vote, claiming that they’re doing it to avoid the perception of fraud. Meanwhile, even as nations around the world begin testing vaccine passports as a way of safely opening borders and transportation, the U.S. is now stuck with a system that makes it incredibly simple to commit fraud. As a result, the value of any vaccine passport system in the United States has been hugely diminished even before it’s been implemented.

Finally, what may be most frustrating about all of this is that the electronic platforms hosting this fraud, from Facebook and Twitter to eBay, seem to be doing almost nothing about it. Mercola’s account is still active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, despite dozens of violations of those site’s supposed rules (and tens of thousands of forwards and retweets). So are most of the others in the Disinformation Dozen. That shouldn’t be all that surprising, since Robert Kennedy Jr. and his anti-vax conspiracy organization Children’s Health Defense has maintained an online presence for years, all while spreading lies that lead directly to the death of kids. eBay has made token gestures at wiping away the fake vaccine cards, only to have them appear again in ads that are worded slightly differently. In fact, the availability of these fakes seems to be increasing. With Texas and Tennessee handing out the templates and eBay doing little to enforce its own rules, this is just found money for anyone with a printer and some card stock.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that all these practitioners of manslaughter via greed are getting their opportunity to make a profit from their lies. After all, their rights are protected by groups like the United Medical Freedom Super PAC that formed to promote anti-vax causes in the last election. The founders of that group: Ty & Charlene Bollinger. 

On the other hand, the United Medical Freedom Super PAC may not really be much of a threat, politically. Based on data from OpenSecrets, the PAC took in money and spent it. It just doesn’t seem to have given any to candidates. But then, what do you expect from a PAC created by scammers to promote scammers?



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