After having written about Plandemic, the video featuring disgraced scientist Judy Mikovits that went viral last week, I was pointed to material that, if anything, revealed that Mikki Willis, the filmmaker responsible for this bit of conspiracy mongering propaganda attacking Anthony Fauci, had exercised restraint. What do I mean? Simple, I was pointed to other sources that reveal that Judy Mikovits is far more out-there than even the 26-minute video I deconstructed shows. So I thought it would be worth it to do a follow-up post to discuss Mikovits’ conspiracy theories a bit more, because, believe it or not, there’s more there to unpack.
More on Dr. Mikovits’ Anthony Fauci conspiracy theory
The first place I will visit is the website of the organization founded by the person who wrote the foreword to Mikovits’ book that she was promoting in Plandemic, Plague of Corruption: Restoring Faith in the Promise of Science, namely Children’s Health Defense, the antivaccine organization founded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a man well-familiar to regular readers of this blog. As an aside, at this point I can’t resist mentioning how many comments on Twitter and after the first version of the post over at my not-so-secret other blog took me to task for referring to Judy Mikovits (and RFK Jr.) as an antivaxxer, retorting that Mikovits and RFK Jr. have both said that they are not antivaccine. I must say, these people must think that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a democracy. I mean, seriously. RFK Jr. is a man who’s compared the vaccination program to the Holocaust not just once but at least three times that I know of and blames vaccines for making the current generation of American’s youth the “sickest generation” (they’re not) while Mikovits has been a feature on the antivaccine circuit, including the yearly antivaccine quackfest known as Autism One, since 2010 at least. Not only that, but the co-author of her book is Kent Heckenlively, one of the more radical antivaxxers out there, a man who fantasizes about a tribunal to force people like Bill Gates and other high profile promoters of vaccination programs, to “confess” their “crimes,” saying, “I will accept your unconditional surrender”. (I politely declined.) The point is, of course, that antivaxxers almost always deny that they are antivaccine, so much so that I almost have more respect for the antivaxxers who proudly admit that they are antivaccine. At least they’re being honest with themselves and others.
In any event, RFK Jr. has been promoting Mikovits’ book since it was released last month. In one of the posts on the Children’s Health Defense website, Mikovits elaborates on her accusations against Anthony Fauci. As I said last time, I almost have to give her credit for clever opportunism. Yoking her story to the “Fire Fauci” political movement was a stroke of genius, at least strictly from the point of view of self-promotion. Sadly, it worked, as her book shot to number one on the Amazon sales charts. In any event, here is a video that one might view as a precursor to the segment in Plandemic in which Mikovits accuses Fauci of all sorts of horrible things:
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. (I can’t help but wonder what Ruscetti thinks now of his protégé.) 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:
Mikovits: When Frank Ruscetti was out of town, I received a call from Dr. Fauci and he demanded that I give him our manuscript on the isolation and confirmation of HIV, while it was still in press. I refused to do that because it’s unethical. These manuscripts are confidential and only authors can give him a copy.
Mikovits: He threatened to fire me for insubordination but still I refused. It’s unethical.
Mikovits: When Frank Ruscetti returned a few weeks later, he gave the manuscript to Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Fauci purposely delayed the publication of our manuscript in order that his crony, Dr. Robert Gallo, could copy our work and submit a competing manuscript and get it into press before ours.
I described in detail why this story doesn’t pass the smell test and is most likely utter BS, given that when this happened Mikovits was a technician in Ruscetti’s laboratory and at most out of college only three or four years. At most.
There’s more, though, which is why I’m discussing this video. Here’s more of the annotated transcript:
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 government grants. Entering Mikovits’ name into the database easily found every NIH grant she had ever had, the relevant one being “New Strategies to Decipher the Pathophysiology of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome“, with the grant organization 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 through the NIAID, the Institute Dr. Fauci leads.
Notably, Dr. Mikovits is listed as principal investigator of this grant for only two years, but the grant is for five years. For years three through five, someone named Vincent Lombardi is listed as the principal investigator. So what happened? If you know the 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 agree to let NIH grants follow a researcher to a new institution if she switches jobs, that agreement doesn’t apply if a researcher is fired for cause. In that case, the institution will assign the grant 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, necessary. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that Fauci even knew about it, as this sort of reassignment is handled at a much lower level than Institute director.
What about Mikovits’ last claim, that Fauci prevented her from getting a job in government research from 2012 onward? That claim is just silly. Fauci doesn’t have that power. The reason Mikovits couldn’t get a job in research after that is most likely because she had had a major paper retracted, 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?
Mikovits jumped on the COVID-19 conspiracy theory bandwagon early
One thing I didn’t realize is just how early and enthusiastically Mikovits had jumped on the COVID-19 bandwagon. As I searched around, I found this podcast interview on the Autism One website. In it, she starts right out comparing COVID-19 to AIDS in that, according to her, leaders were lying about how it was transmitted, and how it originated. She repeated the conspiracy theory that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, came from the now-infamous research laboratory in Wuhan, China, going on and on about how “convenient” it is that there were already test kits and candidate vaccines for the coronavirus. To her it doesn’t matter if the virus was engineered or not, just that to her it obviously came from that lab, not the Wuhan fish market commonly attributed.
It’s not long before she gets back to retroviruses, going on a rant about how supposedly thirty million Americans have been infected with XMRV through “contamination” of vaccines and blood products. I must grudgingly admit that Mikovits is clever. She’s taken the finding that her detection of XMRV in cells taken from the blood of CFS patients was a laboratory contaminant and cleverly pivoted to say that it’s such a common contaminant that it’s in vaccines as well and responsible for all the health conditions for which antivaxxers blame vaccines.
Of course, to her it’s 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 coronavirus 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.
Back in February, she was planning on meeting the VAXXED bus in San Diego and had apparently latched onto Gardasil as her preferred vaccine to rail against. Particularly amusing is the part where she complains about not being allowed to be an expert witness in Vaccine Court any more. To my mind, the only bizarre aspect of Mikovits’ experience with Vaccine Court is that she was ever accepted as an expert witness in the first place. As I listened to her rant about how all the smoking and air pollution were more contributory to deaths from coronavirus in Wuhan in January than the virus itself, as she claimed that the virus was never isolated from sick people. Truly, she was a head of the curve when it comes to coronavirus conspiracy theories. Indeed, she’s exhausting to listen to, and, I must confess, I didn’t make it through the entire hour of her interview.
Tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, made palatable
One major reason why the Plandemic video could go viral is that it’s slickly produced. A professional filmmaker, Mikki Willis, took a woman whose media appearances tend to devolve into really wild conspiracy theories and toned her down to make her sound reasonable and appear authoritative. He sanded the rough edges off and, above all, edited out the really nutty stuff, leaving a lot of stuff that was out there but at least had the patina of plausibility if you didn’t look too deep. If Plandemic had featured Mikovits ranting about how the Chinese doctor who raised the alarm on the pandemic and died of coronavirus was actually murdered by the Chinese government and how coronavirus is a distraction take people’s attention away from the “revelation” that the WHO and CDC “admitted” that there’s no vaccine safety testing, my guess is that it wouldn’t have gone viral in the way that it did.
Tara Haelle wrote a very good explanation of why the video was so effective and compelling to so many people:
The people producing this video know what they’re doing, and they’re very good at it. On a subconscious level, no matter what words are being said, this video feels factual simply because of how it was produced. It’s intentionally manipulative. It’s a textbook example of effective propaganda. (That’s the line. Next is the sinker.)
This video successfully employs “pathos” and “ethos” to persuade people
Aristotle introduced a concept over two thousand years ago that remains more relevant than ever: modes of persuasion, or rhetorical appeals. The three main appeals speakers can use to persuade others are ethos, pathos and logos.
Ethos is an appeal to the authority and credibility of the speaker. As Haelle notes, the first 8-10 minutes of the video is designed to get the audience to trust Mikovits as an authority, to present her as an honest expert, a scientist persecuted for telling the truth over the objection of powerful forces. Never mind that it’s not true, that she did terrible science and likely falsified data. First impressions are important and hard to overcome, even with factual disconfirming evidence.
Even more important to persuasion is pathos:
Pathos is an appeal to emotion. The video appeals to viewers’ emotions by portraying Mikovits as a victimized underdog and by repeatedly using stock video of harrowing images, such as patients dying from AIDS and malnourished children in Africa. The video claims people are dying because they cannot get the appropriate treatments they need, appealing to viewers’ sense of injustice. The video even uses stock images of a SWAT team arrest to make it look like she was arrested at home in a major operation—but that’s unrelated stock footage. In fact, Mikovits turned herself in without incident.
Logos is an appeal to facts and logic. Of course, what the film does is appeal to misinformation that sounds plausible and then barrels headlong into a Gish gallop:
Instead of reasoned arguments with supportive evidence, the film uses a common debating strategy called the Gish gallop. This technique overwhelms the audience with so many assertions and arguments at one time, without regard to how strong or true they are, that it’s impossible to keep up with them or refute them all. It’s usually pointless to try because it’s the nonstop bombardment of statements coming at you that makes it effective. (This is partly why debunking this video isn’t a productive use of time.)
Here’s where I disagree, and, to be honest, Haelle appears to be giving mixed messages, saying that debunking the video isn’t a productive use of time but then referring to several comprehensive takedowns and fact checkings, mine included, at the end of her article. Personally, I think it’s highly useful to point out the specific lies, misinterpretations of data, and things left out that would have provided context, but I think I get where Haelle’s coming from in that she seems to mean that it’s not really a productive use of time for the average person seeing Plandemic posted on social media by a friend to get into a lot of the specifics of why it’s deceptive.
In any event, if there’s one thing Plandemic teaches us, it’s that in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic misinformation and disinformation have been supercharged because people are scared, angry, and hungry for information that will alleviate their fear. Conspiracy theories serve that purpose, and the ease with which this Gish galloping misinformation-packed video went viral should concern us all. After all, this video’s going viral was not an accident. It was planned.