COVID-19 conspiracy theorists need our help
I've spent a fair amount of time—probably more than most B.C. journalists—hearing the complaints of those who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
I've watched their Facebook broadcasts. I've read their Twitter feeds. I've seen video of them speaking in front of politicians being hanged in effigy.
One of them even served me with a notice of liability, citing the Nuremberg Tribunal, as if I was the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal for quoting their comments and repeating medical research published in peer-reviewed journals.
I've tried to be respectful to them. I haven't laden my articles with inflammatory adjectives likening them to brain-addled loons.
Most of the time, I've let them do the talking because their own words are sufficient to show their mindset to our readers.
They come across as very fearful people, thinking that the government is out to get them, evil people are out to get them, and yes, even the media is out to get them.
It's also worth noting that several high-profile people in the movement have a fascination with firearms. They feel a need to protect themselves from evil—sometimes satanic evil in the form of the Canadian government—and they like demonstrating this in their social-media posts.
In Canada, there seems to be a split in the movement between those affiliated with the People's Party of Canada and/or the Action4Canada group, which has been advocating legal means to fight vaccine mandates, and an even more extreme wing that wants to engage in direct action by shutting down airports and the like.
Here's what I've concluded about this movement:
* Many believe there's a globalist conspiracy to deliberately wreck the economy to justify stealing their property. Some of them seem to think it's a globalist Jewish-led conspiracy. The latter group places inordinate attention on financier George Soros as the planet's true Dr. Evil.
* They don't all self-identify as right wingers. There are quite a few anti-establishment and anti-globalist types who self-identify as leftists and who have been associated with progressive causes in the past.
* Some believe that Dr. Anthony Fauci is an evil man conspiring with billionaire Bill Gates. Others think China deliberately foisted this virus on the world.
* Some think that corporations and the media are promoting vaccinations solely for the money. They'll retweet rubbish on social media like "Reuters and Pfizer are owned by the same company. Check that." I did. They're not owned by the same company.
* To them, proof that vaccines don't work is demonstrated by so many vaccinated people contracting the Omicron variant. They ignore data showing the rates of hospitalization between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. They won't acknowledge that taking a vaccine is like wearing a seat belt: you might still crash, but the effects will be far less damaging.
* They place enormous importance on the pronouncements of a tiny number of their so-called experts, like virologist Robert Malone or Canadian physician Daniel Nagase, utterly ignoring the countless thousands of other experts who disagree with them. It's reminiscent of the global-warming deniers fastening themselves to the skeptical climate-change pronouncements of M.I.T. atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen and ignoring the thousands of others who disagreed with him. We all know how that turned out.
* They think an infinitesimal percentage of people under 40 are being hospitalized due to COVID-19 when, in fact, hospitalization rates among the young have increased in the U.S. since the Omicron variant showed up. But even before that, a significant number of younger people were winding up in hospitals in B.C.
* They think that COVID-19 is either the equivalent of a head cold or the flu even as some members of their movement have fallen very ill and even died due to the virus. They don't acknowledge that COVID-19, through the Delta wave, has been a multifaceted disease that also attacks the circulatory system, internal organs, and the brain. It's too early to draw conclusions about the Omicron variant. Perhaps it will end up only being a respiratory infection.
* They hate being called "antivaxxers". Many insist that they just don't like these particular vaccines being used against COVID-19 because they believe side effects are vastly under-reported. So anyone who uses the term "antivaxxer" is immediately dismissed. As a result, I've taken to using the term "opponent of mRNA vaccines". They can't disagree with that.
* Some hate the term "antimasker". It took me a while to learn this, perhaps because leaders in the movement will ridicule wearing masks. They'll say that wearing face coverings simply means that people are breathing in their own exhaled waste and they're being poisoned. And you'll never see them wearing masks at their rallies. But they still hate being called antimaskers.
* Some actually believe soccer players are fainting in droves from heart attacks induced by the COVID-19 vaccine. The fact-checking Snopes.com website determined that these claims were unsubstantiated. "In most cases, these incidents were attributed to other causes (such as dehydration), and some cases involved athletes who had not been vaccinated," the website stated.
* The people in this movement have become a community. They meet regularly at their rallies, exchange high fives, and chat about their interests even as the speakers are rambling on in the background. Some get a buzz from being so-called citizen journalists. And they feel a sense of solidarity in a pandemic when so many of the rest of us are feeling isolated
They have a deep-seated us-and-them mentality when it comes to those who take exception to them protesting outside hospitals, restaurants, and even churches that implement vaccine mandates.
They feel they are on the side of righteousness; they're the heroes. And the others are wrong.
They think that if they simply provide average people with enough of their information, they'll see the light. But the people in power, the vaccine manufacturers, and their minions in the media are beyond hope because they're evil.
I'm worried about some of them whom I knew personally before this pandemic started. I don't want them to die of COVID-19 but I see that as a distinct possibility, particularly among those who are over the age of 50.
I've been trying to figure out how to convey my concerns to these people. I've considered writing a personal letter to a couple of them to tell them that they shouldn't be so afraid of a tiny jab in the arm.
It's hard to feel sorry for the vicious anti-Semites in the movement—and there are quite a few of them—but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that many people are joining the anti-mRNA vaccine protests because it reinforces their self-image of being good, engaged citizens.
I know that the research in peer-reviewed journals won't get through to them because some believe that Fauci is controlling what's being published (as if he has the time to focus on that, let alone have that degree of influence). Others see Pfizer as Evil Incarnate.
Here's the problem, though. These people who are so convinced that they are right are oftentimes also incredibly arrogant.
They think that they know more than people who've been studying viruses and vaccines for decades just because a guy named Malone, now being idolized in the right-wing media, says mRNA vaccines are dangerous for kids.
It's hard to get through to know-it-alls, regardless of the subject. But I also don't want these people to die prematurely, so I've been reading up on how to deal with arrogant people.
"Their lack of self-awareness could almost be comical if it weren't so sad and frustrating," A Conscious Rethink website states. "They often can't see just how ridiculous their claims are.
"But arrogance is typically not something that comes from maliciousness," it adds. "It often comes from problems with self-esteem and self-worth."
I've dealt with a lot of arrogant people in my life—and those words ring true to me. Beneath blustering narcissism often lies a fragile soul who's susceptible to lashing out at the slightest criticism.
As a result, I've concluded that ridiculing or confronting the mRNA vaccine opponents isn't going to help save their lives. Compassion, on the other hand, might provide better results, which will enhance the safety of those around them.
So here's my advice to those dealing with a loved one in the throes of conspiratorial thinking.
If the goal is to get them to climb off the ledge, the last thing that's going to work is to leave them feeling humiliated.
So, a good start might be to begin with some humility, admitting times in your life when you've been duped.
Sharing your own experience of being wrong can convey that this is okay—it's not the end of the world. And it's certainly better than leaving your kids without a father or a mother because you were so arrogant that you thought you knew more about vaccines than someone who's spent much of their lifetime in a laboratory.
In the words of cult deprogrammer and former cult member Diane Benscoter, it's "not going to be an easy process for them to get out of this with their dignity".
So go easy and go slow. It's not going to happen in a day. And by all means, avoid using trigger words like antimasker and antivaxxer.
People can change. It happens all the time.