Hard as it is for me to believe when I thought about it last week, I’ve been writing about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his antivaccine propaganda for over 14 years. Indeed, two and a half years before I was one of the founding bloggers of this very blog, I made my first “splash” as a blogger with my very first viral post (or what passed for “going viral” back then) with my deconstruction of his antivaccine conspiracy- and pseudoscience-laden article “Deadly Immunity“, which was published in 2005 as a “joint investigation” by Rolling Stone and Salon.com, to their eternal shame. (Salon.com ultimately removed the article from its website; Rolling Stone, to its enduring shame, did not, although you need a subscription to be able to access it.)
Sadly, in the interim, RFK Jr. has not gotten any better; if anything he’s gotten worse with his antivaccine propaganda and proselytizing. For example, he’s behind an easy-to-debunk but difficult-to-counter myth that today’s generation of children is the “sickest generation” (which was parroted by candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, Marianne Williamson) thanks (mostly) to vaccines, of course. This summer, he was a key figure in the opposition to California SB 276, now law, which was designed to clamp down on bogus medical exemptions being sold by antivaccine doctors to parents wanting to evade the requirements of SB 277, the California law passed in 2015 to eliminate nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates. Indeed, I rather suspect that he was behind the meme that antivaxers have been promoting lately that they represent the “new civil rights movement”. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Indeed, antivaxers’ claim to be persecuted like African-Americans 50 or 60 years ago is risible in the extreme. For the most part, the antivaccine movement that’s made the news the most, counts RFK Jr. as one of its leaders, and has been the most politically influential, is mostly made up of affluent white people with a sense of entitlement. Also, I can’t help but note that there’s a big difference between being vilified for your views, which endanger children, and being vilified for your race, which you’re born with and can’t control.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if antivaxers realize that they have a perception problem; specifically the perception that the movement is far too white. That’s why I decided to write about how RFK Jr. made the news again last week. First, it was for teaming up with, of all people, Rev. Al Sharpton for an event hosted by Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network. The event was called the Harlem Vaccine Forum, but it really should have been called the Harlem Antivaccine Forum. Here’s the original poster. (I’ll show you the updated poster later.)
— Vincent Iannelli, MD (@AboutPediatrics) October 3, 2019
As you can see, there are a lot of familiar names there, all of antivaccine activists: RFK Jr., Gary Null, Mary Holland, Sheila Ealey. Then there are some less familiar names: Curtis Cost (he gets his own little picture in the lower left corner; so he must be important), Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine, Dr. Shakira Moore, and Mitchell Cohen. Let’s dive in!
Attempt #1: A scheduled and rescheduled “Harlem Vaccine Forum”
The first iteration of the Harlem Vaccine Forum was originally scheduled for September 14, but postponed until October 19. One of the participants, Curtis Cost is the author of a book entitled Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Global Community, and his blog is entitled—you guessed it!—Vaccines Are Dangerous. The day before the original date for the forum, Cost took to his blog and announced:
My apologies to everyone who was planning on attending the Harlem Vaccine Forum this Saturday, September 14. I found out this afternoon that Mr. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke with Reverend Sharpton today and they both decided that they wanted to be part of this forum, but neither could attend this Saturday so it was decided to postpone the event for a few weeks. With Mr. Robert Kennedy and Reverend Sharpton along with the other great speakers and parents I will have lined up, it will be a very dynamic event with massive news media coverage. We are looking at October 19 for the new date. I should have confirmation on this date later today or early next week. I will post the new date and time on my website: www.vaccinesaredangerous.com.
Apparently Rev. Sharpton did very much want to appear at the Harlem Vaccine Forum alongside a lineup of antivaccine cranks, including Curtis Cost. When I first read this, my first thought was that I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of Curtis Cost before, given that he’s written a book called Vaccines Are Dangerous. Perusing his blog revealed photos of him palling around with Andrew Wakefield and—of course!—RFK, Jr himself.
This is as good a time as any to look at the lineup of the Harlem Vaccine Forum, starting with Curtis Cost, given that looking into his background was educational for me. (After all, how many times have I written about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on this blog and my not-so-super-secret other blog?) First of all, all you need to know about Curtis Cost and vaccines is that he’s featured favorably on that repository of all quackery and cranks, Whale.to. In the Whale.to entry, it states that Cost is a “Professor”, but I was unable to find any evidence that he is, in fact, a professor of anything.
There’s also a link there to an interview with him dated October 1995 by Susan Davis, who was described as an animal rights activist and anti-vivisectionist. Think about that. That’s nearly two and a half years before Andrew Wakefield dropped his turd of a case series in The Lancet, in which he tried to relate bowel dysfunction in autistic children to the MMR vaccine. What is instructive about this interview is just how many antivaccine tropes that Cost regurgitated are still in use today. For instance, here’s the “toxins gambit”:
All types of toxic chemicals and substances have been placed in vaccines. Kidneys from monkeys in the production of the polio vaccine, embryos/eggs in the measles vaccines, horse and pig blood, aborted fetus tissue, mercury which is a toxic metal, formaldehyde (proven to cause cancer), and many other substances, that any rational person would realize are revolting, disgusting and have very serious implications for the human body. People don’t know about these chemicals placed in vaccines. They need to know this. They have also developed genetically engineered vaccines, where they genetically alter viruses and create vaccines out of them. It’s bad enough to take a naturally occurring organism and place it into a person’s blood system. It’s absolute madness to alter naturally occurring viruses and place them in a person’s body, because they have no idea what the long term implications are. There is no way for them to know, unless they put these chemicals out, give them to millions of people, and watch the results. So, basically, the American public is being used as guinea pigs on a massive scale.
There’s also the “vaccines have no warranty” trope, which is a precursor to the claim that vaccine makers have no liability, and Cost tried to link vaccines to the same diseases and conditions that antivaxers attribute to vaccines today:
Some studies have linked vaccines to cancers and brain damage, to say nothing of the more subtle side effects such as arthritis, ear and eye problems. For a list of side effects, anyone can refer to the Physician’s Desk Reference and look up the various vaccines. It gives you a detailed list of side effects associated with vaccines: side effects such as autism, seizures, mental retardation, hyperactivity, dyslexia, convulsions, paralysis, sudden infant death syndrome, blindness, death, premature aging, multiple sclerosis, blood and skin disorders, allergies. These are documented.
The medical establishment gets away with constantly saying that these side effects are small and that the chances of them happening are limited. In fact, doctors have gone so far as to not even tell parents which pharmaceutical company produced which particular vaccine, or the batch number of that vaccine, which by law they have to do. You have to realize that no doctor wants to be sued or put in the position where they are challenging the AMA.
Actually, Cost did mention a vaccine complication that I don’t recall having heard from another antivaxer before, namely premature aging. I suppose one might consider the claim that the flu vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease (one of the earliest antivaccine claims I ever encountered, a claim parroted by Bill Maher long ago) might sort of qualify as a variant of this one, but not really. In any case, I couldn’t help but be amused by Davis’ question asking Cost if he considers himself a pioneer. This was 24 years ago, and Cost was spouting antivaccine tropes still in use today. In that respect, he was a pioneer—the wrong kind of pioneer, but a pioneer. Indeed, his book, Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Global Community is a revised and updated version published in 2010 of his previous book Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Black Community, originally published in 1992. And, yes, there’s a movie. It just goes to show that antivax misinformation and pseudoscience never dies. It just mutates. Indeed, Curtis Cost was also promoting conspiracy theories in which vaccines are a plot to harm black people, a conspiracy theory that the Nation of Islam continues today, to be exploited by RFK Jr.
Basically, Curtis Cost was an antivaxer back when Andrew Wakefield’s antivax grift was just a greedy gleam in his eye as he listened to a barrister seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers for “vaccine-induced autism” offer him hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce “research” that he could use in court. No, seriously. Cost was spouting the “toxins gambit” long before I ever coined the term and before Wakefield ever became a household name in the UK for his antivaccine activities.
Next up, keeping with the idea of first looking at people about whom I’ve never written before (or of whom I’ve never heard before), let’s move on to Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine, who is also on the bill for the Harlem Vaccine Forum. He’s listed as a “doctor of hygienic sciences” and author. I also found Valentine’s blog, where he describes himself thusly:
Hygienic Scientist; Naturopath; Metaphysician; Clinical Hypnotherapist; Polymath, Lecturer; Free-Thinker… The founder, director and pastor of the Temple of the Healing Spirit; Self-Healing Education Center, The Institute for Self-Mastery; and The University of Kemetian Sciences. A certified member of the International Association of Counselors and Therapists (I.A.C.T.), he received his doctorate in Hygienic Health Science and Classical Naturopathy from The Life Science Institute of Texas, now merged to the Fit for Life Sciences Institute-College of Natural Health in Canada. A former member of the American Natural Hygienic Society, Valentine is currently a hygienic science and metaphysical health consultant to doctors and lay practitioners as far away as Azania (South Africa), Canada, Trinidad, Jamaica, England, Ghana, Japan and the Philippines.
Hygienic Science, also known as “The Life Sciences”, is the study of the oldest and purest form of the Nature Healing Sciences. It incorporates the dietary and healing philosophies inherited from our ancestral masters of Kemet.
Studying the Hygienic approach to health, healing and wellness, students learn that present day systems promoting the practice and principles of “holistic health” (i.e.” Alternative Healing,” Herbology and “Integrative Medicine”) follow the same philosophy and protocols of treatment based therapies used by orthodox medicine, which is a system of heroic treatment we call “the practice of Poisonopathy”. Instead of using pharmaceutical drugs, “alternative” methods utilize herbal remedies, tonics and vitamins to medicate the body and mask symptoms.
Entry level students learn the fundamental principles of Classical Naturopathy. They also learn how to recognize, respond to and assist in the healing processes initiated by the universal intelligence of the cell, addressing the true causes of dis-ease, removing the obstacles to healing, and imparting knowledge to empower the client to take personal responsibility for his or her health.
Reading this, I wondered: What could such a man possibly have to say about vaccines? After all, naturopaths are known to be overwhelmingly antivaccine, with few exceptions. Is this true of Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine? What do you think? All it took was for me to do a little Googling of Valentine’s name and the word “vaccines”, and I found antivaccine gems like this, “Vaccines That Kill”:
Then, over at Valentine’s Facebook page:
Nothing like comparing vaccines to genocide!
Then there’s this:
So Valentine believes that vaccines have “been scientifically proven DEADLY to the Creator’s Supreme Creation … The Human-Body Temple!” Yes, that’s pretty darned antivaccine to me.
Here he Valentine refers to vaccines as “toxic vaccine cocktails”:
Let’s look at just one more. Here’s Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine on a podcast with Curtis Cost.
Here’s the description:
The first hour will feature two amazing nutrititional [sic] and health advocates, Curtis Cost and Dr. Phil Valentine. Curtis Cost in a world renowned author and lecturer. His message is the dangers of vaccines and the unaccountability of the pharmaceutic industry. Dr. Phil Valentine is a famous autthor, [sic] lecturer, health advocate, Spiritual Reader, Counselor, and Elder of impeccable knowledge, genius, and insights. He too will reveal the unknown diabolical agenda for mass genocide through the forced application of deadly vaccines.
You get the idea. Valentine is plenty antivax.
Others appearing at the Harlem Vaccine Forum whom I haven’t written about before include:
- Mitchell Cohen, who’s an anti-Monsanto activist and writer, who wrote a book The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup: The Politics of Pesticides, because, of course, there is considerable overlap between antivaccine and anti-GMO activists.
- Rev. Walter Sotelo, who is listed as an advocate for religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates and has spoken at a number of antivaccine rallies in New York.
- Dr. Shakira Moore, a “holistic” practitioner.
The rest of the speakers at the Harlem Vaccine Forum are antivaxers whom I’ve written about before multiple times, in some cases lots of times:
- Gary Null, whose lawyer sent me a cease and desist letter threatening to sue me for defamation in August but backed off when I had my lawyer respond. He also has a pending Freedom of Information Act request for my university emails, including any with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. Of late, Mr. Null has been ranting a lot about skeptics and Wikipedia
- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who likes to proclaim himself as “fiercely pro-vaccine” even as he compares vaccination to the Holocaust, pulls publicity stunt “challenges” to “prove that vaccines are safe,” riles up antivaccine protesters, and falsely claims that, thanks to vaccines, today’s generation of children are the “sickest generation“. He’s so antivaccine that even his own family has called him out publicly. RFK Jr. is as antivaccine as they come.
- Sheila Ealey, who appeared in VAXXED, Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propaganda film masquerading as a documentary, and has since been appearing at antivaccine events in African-American communities (e.g., in Compton) to promote antivaccine views.
- Mary Holland, Esq., is an antivaccine lawyer who’s been featured a few times on this blog. For instance, she once conducted a “study” of questionable ethics that wasn’t approved by an IRB to “prove” that vaccines are harmful.
Indeed, Mary Holland recently laid down some antivaccine misinformation about the Harlem Vaccine Summit in a local newspaper, mainly invoking the “health freedom” and “parental rights”. Naturally, she’s claiming that the effects of the recent change in New York State law that eliminated religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates disproportionately affects African-Americans and other minority communities. Why? By her rationale, it’s because they tend to be less able to homeschool their children. I suppose that’s what passes for recognizing one’s privilege in antivaccine circles.
As you can see, this event was clearly scheduled very much as an antivaccine event. What is surprising is that it flew so long under the radar before it was noticed, but noticed it was.
Attempt #2: A canceled and resurrected “Harlem Vaccine Forum”
Last Tuesday night, I learned that the Harlem Vaccine Forum had been canceled:
An event hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights organization and poised to raise dangerous anti-vaccine viewpoints in Harlem this weekend was canceled by the group on Tuesday, after physicians and public health officials argued that the event was harmful and targeted the African American community.
“We said both sides must be heard — we haven’t taken a position yet,” Sharpton said, asked about the National Action Network’s decision to host the event in the first place. Sharpton clarified that he was not hosting the event and was not even sure whether he’d attend.
Knowing the history of the event, I knew that Rev. Sharpton was lying, given that he had discussed the best date for the event with RFK, Jr., so that they could both attend.
I was also a little annoyed at the Buzzfeed reporter who wrote the article, Azeen Ghorayshi, for characterizing this event as a “both sides” forum. As I pointed out above, this was anything but. Its headliner was going to be one of the most famous antivaxers in the world, RFK Jr., and every single other participant in the forum (I’m talking to you, Mary Holland and Gary Null, for example) is as antivaccine as he or Curtis Cost is. I couldn’t find one participant who could even be described as neutral on vaccines, much less anything resembling pro-vaccine.
That’s why I laughed out loud when I read this:
“In 2019 the antivaccine ringleaders targeted the Orthodox Jewish community to flood them with a phony pamphlet, hold teleconferences, robocalls, and town hall meetings with fake information about vaccines,” Peter Hotez, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News by email. “Now they have their sights set on Harlem to ignite an even bigger measles epidemic on the African American community there. Why Rev Sharpton would attack his own community in this way defies common sense or explanation.”
Asked about NAN’s decision to cancel the event on Tuesday, spokesperson Rachel Noerdlinger said: “When it was ascertained that it wasn’t enough of a cross-sector to have a balanced conversation on both sides, it was pulled.”
That the forum apparently “wasn’t enough of a cross-sector to have a balanced conversation on both sides” by design never occurred to Noerdlinger, but, then, that’s what spokespeople do: Spin, spin, spin.
The hilariously disingenuous statement by Rachel Noerdlinger notwithstanding, it was good to see that Rev. Sharpton has at least some sense of shame. Light is frequently the best disinfectant when it comes to the germ of antivaccine pseudoscience. Bad publicity works, as, apparently, can criticism from famous scientists. Certainly, an antivaxer who goes by the ‘nym Fed Up Democrat thinks that Dr. Peter Hotez’s speaking out was critical in getting Rev. Sharpton to cancel, because apparently Dr. Hotez knows Rev. Sharpton from having appeared on his television show.
But why did Rev. Sharpton lend his name and organization to hosting an antivaccine event with the likes of RFK Jr., Mary Holland, Curtis Cost, and Gary Null in the first place? Maybe Curtis Cost is a friend, and Rev. Sharpton did it for him. It could be that Rev. Sharpton is not antivaccine but antivaccine conspiracy theories appealed to him on the basis of the long history of poor treatment of African-Americans at the hands of the medical community in the United States (e.g., the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), a history that’s led many African-Americans to be understandably very suspicious of the medical community. Unfortunately, antivaxers know that history. They know how suspicious many African-Americans are of doctors and the medical profession, and they use that suspicion as an “in” to promote their message to the African-American community. Of course, more disturbing would be the possibility that Rev. Sharpton is actually antivaccine, and that’s why he was willing to team up with RFK Jr. to hold an event like this. (I really hope that this wasn’t the case.) The fact that he canceled the event so rapidly and lied about his involvement tells me that at least he has a sense of shame.
In any case, there was much rejoicing, as the pro-science community thought the event had been shut down after Rev. Sharpton’s cancellation, but antivaxers are nothing if not persistent and sometimes even resourceful. Within a day of the cancellation, I learned that RFK, Jr. and his fellow antivaxers were going to soldier on in a different location on Saturday without him or his National Action Network:
HARLEM VACCINE FORUM
Saturday, October 19th, 1:00- 3:30 p.m.
Location Will Be Disclosed Here and on Social Media at 7:00 p.m. Friday Night
New York City, NY
The Harlem Vaccine Forum is still on and will be held in a new location in New York City (convenient to public transportation). CHD is disappointed that the venue had to be changed at the last minute but we are still delighted to host this event!
Compulsory vaccination raises critical human rights issues, including the right to practice religion freely, parental rights, informed consent, the right to education and the right to health. The forum provides a way to discuss these pressing issues and New York State’s decision to repeal the religious exemption to vaccination.
Speakers include: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Sheila Ealey; John Gilmore; Dr. Phil Valentine; Curtis Cost; Dr. Lawrence Palevsky; Reverend Walter Sotelo; Mary Holland; and many more.
This event is free and open to the public.
And soldier on they did, as you will see, at a new location:
The Harlem Vaccine Forum: Antivaccine pseudoscience and conspiracies galore!
Antivaxers are, of course, always eager to publicize their activities; so helpfully they livestreamed the event on multiple Facebook pages. You can watch their antivax confab in Harlem if you wish, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It lasted over three hours, and even I couldn’t handle that much antivaccine propaganda. So I merely sampled it. Here’s part one:
Here’s part two:
And here’s the audience. I can’t help but note an—shall we say?—unexpected paucity of melanin for an event held at a Harlem church:
Hilariously (or maybe distressingly), the antivax confab went on so long that the church ended up asking the participants to wrap it up because they had exceeded the allotted time that they had paid for. See the 30-35 minute mark here:
Also see the 18 minute mark or so in part 2.
This led RFK Jr. and the rest to go out on the street:
In this post, an antivaxer commented:
No, they cut off the mic and told everyone to leave because we were slightly over time. Bobby offered to cover the cost, but they just got mad at us and yelled at us to get out.
because he dared speak about the corruption on this issue of a certain political party. That pastor knows what side his bread is buttered on. The irony of timing of the shut down and what Bobby was speaking about was not lost on me.
In another place, antivaxers claim that it was “overcapacity”:
Maybe. Or maybe it was because the church pastor didn’t realize that this was an antivax confab when he made the last minute deal to rent the place to RFK Jr. and wasn’t going to let them go beyond the bare minimum it took for the church to honor its contract. Or maybe the church had an event scheduled in the evening that it needed time to set up for, such as Saturday evening church services or a wedding? The event was scheduled for 1 PM to 3:30 PM. Saturday afternoons are a popular time for weddings, and a late afternoon wedding makes it convenient to have the reception at dinnertime, after the wedding. Who knows? No doubt the conspiracy theories will flow. I was also not surprised at the sheer sense of entitlement of the organizers and attendees. This manifested itself in outrage when the church told them that the event had run too long and the church’s lack of interest in more money to continue the event beyond the allotted time.
Indeed, RFK Jr. himself took to Instagram later on Saturday:
View this post on Instagram
Silenced Again! Riverside Church shut my Truth Seminar down just as I was gearing up to a stemwinder. They cut power to my mic,called the police and pushed us out of the hall. We had an overflow crowd of 400 awokens. Finished up on the sidewalk. Watch the Livestream on CHD website. See you on the Barricades!
I must admit, though, I found it utterly hilarious that all the antivaxers on the bill were so long-winded that their bloviations ended up cutting off their keynote speaker before his speech was finished and getting them all kicked out of the venue! Now that’s some bad planning! One man even could be heard mentioning it in the video for part 2, complaining about “five moms” who “all said the same thing” that took up so much time that RFK Jr. ran out of time, asking why they couldn’t have had just three instead?
But what about the content itself? I’m going to admit again right here and right now that I didn’t watch the whole thing. Rather, I surfed it and picked out interesting bits to comment on. Much of what I saw was the same nonsense that I’ve heard a million times before from antivaxers, the same pseudoscience, the same conspiracy theories, the same everything, with Curtis Cost as the MC. I also saw pandering to the African-American audience, such as when Mary Holland, the first speaker, invoked Frederick Douglass, wondering what side he would be on regarding the issue of vaccine mandates, claiming that he spoke out against vaccine mandates. Unfortunately, it’s true. Frederick Douglass did tell a reporter in 1882 that he believed that mandatory vaccines encroached on people’s liberty and freedom of choice, stating that compulsory vaccination had long offended his “logical faculty” as a man opposed to every species of arbitrary power. Of course, back then medicine was much more primitive and one might understand a former slave feeling that way. Of course, a white privileged lawyer invoking slavery to label vaccine mandates as an offense against freedom is the height of irony and lack of self-awareness.
Next up was Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, an antivaccine pediatrician that we’ve discussed before. He started out using a bogus example of a car manufacturer who can’t be sued for defects in the cars it manufactures and whose car the state mandates that everyone buy. All I could think listening to this was: How is one of these things not like the other? Also: Parents can sue for compensation. The law just requires that they go through Vaccine Court first. He also complained about how other pediatricians have told parents not to come back to see them if they continue to see Dr. Palevsky. I can see how that would appeal to antivaxers, but in reality if I were a pediatrician I would very much hesitate to see a patient who’s going to see such a quack for vaccine and other medical advice as well.
Next up were several parents, including Sheila Ealey, who, alas, has become a de facto ambassador to the African American community for Andrew Wakefield and other antivaxers. Eventually, we got to more of the headliners, starting with Phil Valentine, who started out saying, “Greetings to all you antivax deplorables”. He was actually a little funny, in that he used self-deprecating humor, at one point saying that he was here to “report on the latest conspiracy theories from the antivax lunatic fringe”, although he quickly added, “soon to be heretics from the high handed religion of vaccination”. Later in his talk he invoked the Nuremberg Code, which of course is a code regarding the ethics of research involving human subjects. Antivaxers love to invoke it, largely because it allows them to let the Nazi and Holocaust analogies flow freely with respect to vaccine mandates, but it doesn’t really apply to standard-of-care nonexperimental treatments.
At this point, part 1 ended, and Cost announced that there would a ten-minute break, with the promise that RFK Jr. and Gary Null would speak next. At the beginning of part 2, RFK Jr. took the stage. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t say anything that I haven’t heard before from him. (I really have listened to too many of his speeches.) He started out discussing how it was mercury in vaccines that first got him, as an environmentalist, involved in “vaccine safety”. It’s true, of course. His “Deadly Immunity” article was all a conspiracy theory in which the CDC knowingly covered up evidence that the mercury in vaccines then caused autism. Recall that, up until 2002, many childhood vaccines used the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal. After that, the thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines, and it wasn’t long before it was removed from all childhood vaccines. Autism prevalence continued to climb with nary a blip, perhaps the best natural experiment refuting the claim that mercury causes autism one can imagine. That didn’t stop RFK Jr., though. Although RFK Jr. did cling to the thimerosal/autism conspiracy theory for a lot longer than most antivaxers, even Generation Rescue (which has since apparently pivoted to a more general autism quackery grift), he did eventually pivot to a more general set of “vaccines are bad” pseudoscientific claims, including the toxins gambit and many others.
RFK Jr. also bragged about having access to officials “at the highest level of government” and with the heads of many government science and regulatory agencies because of his family name, name dropping, for instance, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. Indeed, RFK Jr. bragged about talking to high CDC officials and heavy hitters in the world of vaccine science like Dr. Paul Offit, and how unimpressed he was by their arguments. Unbelievably, RFK Jr. claimed that none of them could provide him with a coherent or convincing argument with respect to the science. He even claimed that they lied to him, a claim that I call BS. He claimed that, for instance, when he asked Dr. Offit why there were all these warnings against eating fish because of mercury when at the same time the government was saying that it was safe to “inject mercury”, Dr. Offit responded that there are two kinds of mercury, good mercury and bad mercury. Knowing Dr. Offit personally, I highly doubt he said it like that. He might have used similar terminology, but I really doubt he was that flippant or simplistic. That’s just not how Dr. Offit rolls. It is correct, though, that elemental mercury is not the same, chemically speaking, the same as ethyl mercury (thimerosal). In any event, I was amused that RFK Jr. was dwelling on an old antivax claim, the refuted hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism, a claim that’s not even relevant any more given that it’s been 17 years since there’s been significant mercury in childhood vaccines. Children born the year mercury was taken out of vaccines are now close to finishing high school! That being said, I did not in the least appreciate RFK Jr. accusing Dr. Offit of lying. Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Offit can be mistaken about some things, just like any other human being can be. For example, claims in a recent book that Rachel Carson’s criticism of DDT resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions in Third World countries due to malaria. He’s excruciatingly wrong about this, but he’s not a liar. Quite the contrary, in my interactions with him, at least, he’s always been honest and polite to a fault, a true class act.
In any event, it was just RFK Jr. being RFK Jr.: A crank with no honor.
White antivaxers target African-Americans
As I mentioned above, the most vocal and activist antivaxers tend to be overwhelmingly white and fairly affluent. They also tend to be entitled and have a massive victim complex. Unfortunately, that’s why it’s not surprising that the antivax webpage Hear This Well is making some truly offensive analogies:
Have these people never heard of a contract? Presumably RFK Jr. or his representative for Children’s Health Defense signed one. Presumably that contract specified a start time and an end time for their access to the venue. Having dealt with these sorts of contracts occasionally in the past, I know that there’s often some flexibility, but the church was under no obligation to extend the time, even for more money. Again, I wonder if perhaps the pastor knew when he signed the contract what he was renting the church’s space for and had had second thoughts in the interim between signing the contract and the actual event.
Particularly offensive, though, was their comparing themselves to the civil rights movement and to victims of violence and discrimination due to race or sex. I mean, really. Getting kicked out of a church because you went over the allotted time you paid for is nowhere near like having acid thrown at you or being denied opportunities because of your gender. Their claimed “right” not to vaccinate is not anything like the right to equal treatment under the law and to freedom from discrimination that blacks, minorities, women, and LGBTQ people have been fighting for.
In fact, white antivaxers have tried to take advantage of minority communities on more than one occasion in the recent past. Remember, it was antivaxers in Minnesota, overwhelmingly white, who spread misinformation that convinced the Somali immigrant community in Hennepin County that vaccines cause autism and led them to refuse vaccination, creating multiple large measles outbreaks. During the political battle over SB 277 in California, the law that eliminated nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates, RFK Jr. teamed up with the Nation of Islam to promote his message to African-American communities. It’s an alliance that continues to this day and now appears to include the Church of Scientology, with which the Nation of Islam is closely allied. After the release of VAXXED, the antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary, Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and other antivaxers went to Compton to try to recruit African-Americans to the antivaccine movement.
Antivaxers know that African-Americans have ample reason to distrust the medical system and seek to take advantage of that understandable distrust. Now they’re doing it again. What’s disappointing is that Rev. Al Sharpton was all ready to aid and abet this effort and only backed out because the national press noticed. Fortunately, given that the turnout appeared to be, by and large, the same people in the New York City area who always turn out to these events, they appear to have failed. Unfortunately, as you can see from the posts quoted above, that failure has already provided the seeds for conspiracy theories about how “They” shut this conference down.