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Stop the steal believers move on to stop the vaccine

A review of alternative social media shows a growing organized effort to disrupt vaccination efforts.

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Editor’s note: This article links to content to validate our research and findings. They are in no way an endorsement or an attempt to validate disproven conspiracy theories.

[SEATTLE] – (MTN) Weeks after Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States, ardent believers of “stop the steal” have moved to a new message – stop the vaccine. While a shrinking fringe clings to the idea that Trump is or will be President, a loose affiliation of far-right, neo-fascist, and QAnon followers has taken to the Internet using various tactics to interfere with national vaccination efforts.

Within hours after the polls have closed on November 3, groups were forming to support the message of “stop the steal.” Amy Kramer, a Tea Party activist, created a Facebook page before election coverage had even finished. Before Facebook removed the page, she had amassed more than 360,000 followers. Facebook and other social media channels removed pages as quickly as they popped up, so the movement became more decentralized. 

A review of Telegram, Parler, and the darker corners of Reddit shows a begrudging acceptance of the 2020 election among the believers and architects of stop the steal. It isn’t clear if that motivation is because the message of an illegitimate election no longer resonates among a widening group of Republicans or if organizers are chasing donors. The new mission is to erode trust, discredit the government, and slow down the vaccine rollout. 

For far-right and neo-fascist groups such as Boogaloo and Proud Boys groups, the message is about government overreach. They see vaccination efforts, which are voluntary even among military members, as government overreach and control. For these far-right militias and anti-government groups, the anti-vaccination message is the actions of a controlling government.

British conspiracy theorist David Icke has produced a video called Murder by Vaccine. Icke is better known for his theory that lizard people run the planet. In a rambling 1 hour and 10-minute production, Icke tries to build a case that the COVID vaccine permanently alters human DNA with lethal consequences.

For QAnon adherents, the message is a hodge-podge of beliefs. Among them are ideas steeped in the distortion of Biblical prophesy that receiving a vaccination is getting the mark of the beast. QAnon followers have been wrestling with the “great awakening” concept since former President Donald Trump endorsed getting the COVID vaccination. On social media, some have accused the former President of being part of the deep state, while others have accused him of being paid off by Bill Gates.

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm of misinformation at the same time that numerous groups either are actively trying to build distrust or inherently distrust the government. Anti-vaccination physician and founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, Dr. Simone Gold, was arrested on January 20 for her part in the Capitol insurrection. Her organization includes Doctor Stella Immanuel, who infamously stated she believes in “demon sperm” as the cause of sexually transmitted diseases and alien DNA.

America’s Frontline Doctors pushed hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID. An idea embraced by the Trump Administration resulting in millions of purchased doses using federal and state tax dollars. Some states have attempted to force distributors to repurchase the doses, with Oklahoma leading the charge.

The more sinister efforts are happening at the state and local levels. On Telegram, groups have organized to take advantage of vaccination schedules.

In some regions, a hodge-podge of disconnected systems finds and assigns vaccination slots. Different insurance networks, providers, government agencies, and pharmacies don’t share information across these systems.

Small but organized efforts are clogging the queues with fake appointments using fake information. On Telegram, one person in Michigan wrote, “Me and my coworkers creating fake appointments to keep people from getting the vaccine. Let’s make Biden look bad!”

Other groups have shown similar efforts, but it is hard to determine if this is online bravado or an honest attempt to disrupt and slow down distribution. Nationally, the number of no-shows for vaccination appointments is around 20%. While the Johnson and Johnson vaccine doesn’t require specialized handling, the Modera and Pfizer vaccines do and have a short shelf life.

A growing number of experts are becoming concerned that a fourth wave of COVID cases is building in the United States. Twenty-seven states show growing infection rates, with Florida leading the way. Variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and California are taking hold. Here in Washington state, 14 counties are outside of the requirements to remain in phase three opening, including Pierce County. Detected cases have almost doubled in the last two weeks, with schools on the brink of reopening and office workers returning to Microsoft and Facebook.

Among those recruiting new members into the anti-government movement, fear of COVID-19 and vaccine efforts is a fertile hunting ground. 

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