In the past few months, multiple anti-vaccine investigations have unsurprisingly failed to produce any substantive evidence of alleged crimes warranting massive tribunals. In response, one might expect conspiracy theorists to come to the realization that maybe Covid-19 vaccines weren’t actually a mass depopulation plot and stop calling for public hangings. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. To understand why, I unfortunately think we need to return to Hillary Clinton’s emails.

A bit of history

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, WikiLeaks began publishing emails from the hacked email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. To be sure, those emails shed light on some shady aspects of Clinton’s charitable foundation, her ties to big money, and her candidate’s operations. Yet for those who believe that she is a cold-blooded reptilian who orders executions of her political enemies and  drinks children’s blood to maintain her youthful vibrancy, the emails at first appeared underwhelming.

A lot of the emails centered around boring logistics: Podesta making plans to pick up his wife’s prescriptions, giving cooking advice to his co-workers, meeting up with his brother for dinner, and getting invited to fundraisers. The latter two emails happened to involve pizza, including mention of the now-infamous restaurant “Comet Ping Pong Pizza.” And so the Pizzagate conspiracy theory was born. In brief, adherents believed that every mention of cheese pizza in the emails was code for child pornography and Comet Ping Pong Pizza was actually hosting Satantic ritual abuse of children in its basement. This all, of course, culminated in an armed man showing up at the pizzeria to liberate the kids from the basement. But there was no abuse, no pornography, and no imprisoned kids; in fact, there wasn’t even a basement.

All this is to say that conspiracy communities do not necessarily need evidence for their claims. In fact, the very lack of evidence can often be the most galvanizing. They thrive on the idea of secret knowledge and investigations, but are not necessarily interested in what the resulting documents actually look like. And lately, leaders of anti-vaccine and Covid conspiracy theory movements have really been failing to deliver results, yet their followers don’t seem to care that their bold promises of future revelations keep falling flat.

The “Fauci Files”

One of my favorite examples in this genre was the release of the “Fauci Files,” a subplot of the larger “Twitter Files” manufactured news cycle. For those unaware, the Twitter Files consisted of Elon Musk giving a group of people access to internal documents on Twitter prior to his purchase of the company, which they then proceeded to misread and misrepresent in long threads. In December of 2022, Musk began to promote the forthcoming release of an installment focused on former NIAID Director Anthony Fauci.

The project ran into a few hiccups, with Musk stating a month later that it had to be delayed because a “key researcher can only travel to Twitter in early Feb.” But surely it would be worth the wait. After all, Musk at the time implied that legal action should be pursued against Dr. Fauci. A case (Murthy v. Missouri) was also working itself up to the Supreme Court alleging that the government, including Dr. Fauci specifically, was running a massive censorship regime to oppress oppositional voices on Twitter. So, to reiterate, the stakes were extremely high to give us something good.

Here’s what “key researcher” Paul Thacker finally came up with in April, four months and two trips to Twitter later:

Thacker tweet 1 investigations

The Epoch Times took this as evidence that Dr. Fauci lied under oath, quoting Great Barrington Declaration co-author and Murthy v. Missouri plaintiff Martin Kulldorff who called this finding “explosive.” As someone who has helped run social media accounts for several organizations and individuals, I found this quite amusing. Please don’t tell them about all of the times that Nancy Pelosi has texted me to ask for a donation while she was simultaneously on the floor of the House giving a speech. Or the time that Herman Cain posted a tweet downplaying the dangers of COVID-19 12 days after he died of it. And, even if Dr. Fauci did help draft a couple of tweets, pointing that out does nothing to establish his alleged involvement in a mass social media censorship campaign (again, a key claim in a case that was recently heard by the United States Supreme Court).

It is unclear to me why Thacker needed to travel to Twitter to find this publicly available information, although maybe he needed multiple visits to uncover this one email from a former Twitter employee where she says something positive about Dr. Fauci.

Thacker tweet 2 Investigations

Incidentally, Musk stated a full week prior to the Fauci Files’ release that it was time to “move on” from the Twitter Files as “there’s not a lot…that’s left,” so users like @pepedownunder and @TruthWarrior_77 may be excused for missing the Fauci Files’ publication and inquiring about them a full nine months after their release.

Florida Man

And it’s not just Musk’s coterie overhyping an imminent epic reveal of public health malfeasance and then (much more quietly) coming back months or years later with nothing to show for it. Around the same time that Musk was teasing the Fauci Files, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that he was calling for a grand jury to “investigate crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Fourteen months later, the Grand Jury released its first report, a 33-page document that includes “vaccine” and related words exactly 29 times:

  • 21 times in the introduction, to explain the charge of the grand jury and how it examined whether there was “criminal activity or wrongdoing” with respect to COVID-19 vaccines
  • 2 times to explain assumptions underlying mathematical SIR models of disease transmission and note that COVID-19 vaccines may be assumed to both reduce susceptibility and risk of severe disease
  • 2 times to highlight how some nonpharmaceutical interventions disrupted administration of international vaccination programs against diseases like measles
  • 3 times to discuss the CDC’s changing guidelines about masking (in response to new data about infection and transmission amongst vaccinated people as the delta variant began to spread)
  • 1 time in the conclusion, to note that “[t]here is a case to be made that…lockdowns enabled others in high-risk groups to ‘bridge the gap’ until 2021 when they had access to vaccines.” Notably, this claim (which the report suggests the Grand Jury may follow up on at a later date) would mean that both lockdowns and vaccines helped to save lives in Florida.

Everything else in this report is pointedly not about vaccines: It rehashes old grievances about shelter-in-place orders, masks, and other nonpharmaceutical interventions. Even those who agree with the gist of this report (that COVID-19 wasn’t as deadly as they said and that the measures implemented to prevent its spread were not worth their costs) should agree that it doesn’t remotely address the particular concerns that Governor DeSantis seemed to think it would. To be fair, the grand jury is expected to make multiple reports and has requested an extension through the end of this year to complete their investigation, so they may just be waiting on those to get to the alleged mass criminal conspiracy.

But it does seem worth comparing this pretty weak showing to Florida grand jury reports on, for example, the Parkland shooting (which called for the removal of four members of Broward County school board members) or federal immigration policies (which concluded that crimes were being “enabled by government agencies”). Even the 2006 grand jury investigation into Jeffrey Epstein, which culminated in a plea deal that has been panned as “completely unprecedented” in its leniency, led to a prostitution charge.

Much ado about nothing

In this case, we’re talking about the (purported) crime of the century, ranging from fraud that killed millions to the most egregious case of governmental censorship in US history. One of the richest men in the world gave internal company documents to his idea of a top investigative journalist and the Governor of one of the most populous states deployed state resources — all to get to the bottom of this. And there is still nothing.

As someone who always believed these theories were a load of hogwash, I may be biased, but I find the anti-climactic outcomes of these investigations to be pretty compelling evidence that there is no there there. Still, the absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. I think there are two other explanations that adherents to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are likely to gravitate toward.

The first is that the grand jury and Fauci Files flopped because the folks involved didn’t do a good enough job. In fact, David Gorski of Science-Based Medicine has pointed out that Musk’s hand-picked journalist has a history of errors. At least one Covid conspiracy theorist, Trump HHS science advisor Paul Alexander, was thinking along these lines when he republished a Substack post calling the Florida grand jury “a grift, a clown show, which was set to fundraise off ‘health freedom’ sentiment for [Desantis’] political run.” (Alexander added his own commentary involving something about “moma [sic] breast milk teat suckers”). So here is one thing that Alexander and I agree on: The influencers in the Covid conspiracy movement do not deserve your money and do not have your best interests at heart. But I also think that won’t be the takeaway for their biggest fans.

The other option is one that can keep the conspiracy alive and keep powering its influencers: Maybe the people behind these crimes are just too good at covering everything up. After all, the grand jury report notes that the CDC, FDA, and US Army all declined to participate in the proceedings. So we need to keep digging, and we need you to keep doing your part at home. Members of the anti-vaccine community can stay engaged and connected with one another as they trade theories to fill in the (numerous) evidentiary gaps.

Keeping it real

Like the doomsday cult members who double down when the clock hits 12:01 and the flood is nowhere to be seen, true believers will only become more convinced when combing over Thacker’s thread or skimming the findings out of Florida, if they even saw those. Even so, it’s important that we follow up as anti-vaccine investigations continue to fall apart — especially when they were publicized prior to any findings being released by mainstream news outlets, with little to no coverage of their laughably null and irrelevant conclusions. It’s also important to remain clear-eyed that the latest flops from the anti-vaccine movement likely will not change many minds. In fact, they may just strengthen existing convictions that were never based on evidence in the first place.



  • Mallory Harris recently defended her dissertation in Biology at Stanford, where she studied the effects of human behavior on infectious disease dynamics.

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Posted by Mallory Harris

Mallory Harris recently defended her dissertation in Biology at Stanford, where she studied the effects of human behavior on infectious disease dynamics.