What a crazy headline in the NY Times yesterday: Far-Right Extremists Move From 'Stop the Steal' to Stop the Vaccine. Polling I've seen shows that nearly 50% of white male Republicans say they won't get vaccinated. If it was as simple as all 50% of them dying, I'd be dancing in the street and thanking God for making the national gene pool more viable. But it isn't. That's enough to prevent herd immunity, to seriously infect normal people who have the misfortune to come in contact with them and to allow for the proliferation of potentially vaccine-resistant variants. Society is going to have to protect itself.
Now, back to that Times piece Neil MacFarquhar wrote yesterday. "Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online," he began, "have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks-- the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received Covid-19 vaccinations. Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like 'Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction-- and Could Wipe out the Human Race' or 'Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.' If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government. Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chatrooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations."
These groups tend to portray vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control. “If less people get vaccinated then the system will have to use more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us get the shot,” read a recent post on the Telegram social media platform, in a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys charged in storming the Capitol.
The marked focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by followers of QAnon, who had falsely prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents were marched off to jail.
“They rode the shift in the national conversation away from Trump to what was happening with the massive ramp up in vaccines,” said Devin Burghart, the head of the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors far-right movements, referring to followers of QAnon. “It allowed them to pivot away from the failure of their previous prophecy to focus on something else.”
Apocalyptic warnings about the vaccine feed into the far-right narrative that the government cannot be trusted, the sentiment also at the root of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The more vaccine opponents succeed in preventing or at least delaying herd immunity, experts noted, the longer it will take for life to return to normal and that will further undermine faith in the government and its institutions.
...In April, a conference with the tagline “Learn How to Fight Back for Your Health and Freedom,” is set to bring together Trump allies like Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell along with high-profile members of the anti-vaccination effort.
Maligning the coronavirus vaccines is obviously not limited to extremist groups tied to the Capitol riot. There is deep partisanship over the vaccines generally.
One third of Republicans surveyed in a CBS News poll said that they would avoid getting vaccinated-- compared with 10 percent of Democrats-- and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls found similar trends.
About 100 members of the House of Representatives, roughly one-quarter, had not been vaccinated as of mid-March, according to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader.
It is unclear where Trump will fit into the vaccine battle. The former president, who has been vaccinated, endorsed getting the shot recently, provoking some disbelief in QAnon and other chatrooms. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me frankly,” he said in an interview with Fox News.
Across right-wing channels online, certain constant memes have emerged attacking the vaccine, like a cartoon suggesting that what started with mask mandates will end with concentration camps run by FEMA for those who refuse vaccinations.
I'd hate to see it come to that but... society does have to protect itself-- and it is better than hunting them down and shooting them like rabid dogs. QAnon followers have gravitated to these crackpot conspiracy theories of course and their poison filters upward into the realm of crazy and poorly educated GOP elected officials, some of whom didn't go to real school but just Buy-Bull schools and others who were, like Lauren Boebert (Q-CO) dropouts and severely unfit for elective office. One of the nutcases on the right pushing this stuff for whatever reason-- and someone paid attention to by people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Mad Cawthorn as well as Boebert-- is David Icke, who, until he latched onto his anti-vaxxer psychosis, was best known "for pushing the idea that the world was controlled by shape-shifting alien lizards who inhabited a global network of underground tunnels."
Yes, we have people in elective office who buy this kind of thing-- and voters willing to elect them, not despite this but because of it. "In Idaho," wrote MacFarquhar, "the far-right activist Ammon Bundy helped to push for a proposed state law to ban any mandatory vaccines, although work stalled after the legislature suspended its work on March 19 for more than two weeks because too many lawmakers contracted the coronavirus.
The question is where this newly forged alliance goes from here.
The context of that question is what Paul Krugman dealt with in his column, The Decline of Republican Demonization, yesterday. His point is that this kind of anomie inside the GOP has caused it to longer be a serious party, jus-- at least in part-- a collection of crackpots.
The Republicans in Congress, asserted Krugman, have been so ineffective in arguing against Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-Rescue plan-- often to the point of near somnolence-- because they have just stopped being able to take policy seriously. Krugman wrote that "Jonathan Cohn, author of The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage, argues that the most important reason Trump failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act was that Republicans have largely forgotten how to govern. They no longer know how to think through hard choices, make the compromises necessary to build alliances and get things done. That same loss of seriousness, I’d suggest, inhibited their ability to effectively oppose Biden’s rescue plan. They couldn’t do the hard thinking required to settle on a plausible line of attack. So while Democrats were pushing through tax credits that will cut child poverty nearly in half and subsidies that will make health insurance more affordable, Republicans were focused on cancel culture and Dr. Seuss."
He reminds his reader that "both infrastructure spending and raising taxes on the rich are very popular. Democrats seem united on at least the principle of an invest-and-tax plan-- and these days they seem pretty good at turning agreement in principle into actual legislation. To block this push, Republicans will have to come up with something beyond boilerplate denunciations of socialists killing jobs. Will they? Probably not. In short, the prospects for a big spend-and-tax bill are quite good, because Democrats know what they want to achieve and are willing to put in the work to make it happen-- while Republicans don’t and aren’t."
We'll see. Krugman seems a lot more optimistic about the unity of the institutional Democratic Party than I am. But, he's certainly right about the Republicans. Serious lawmakers on the right are being drowned out by the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, Matt Gaetzes, Lauren Boeberts, Mad Cawthorns, Paul Gosars, Louie Gohmerts, Ron Johnsons, Tommy Tubervilles, Mo Brookses, etc. Oh, and Trump.