Remember the scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood are sitting in the Bluesmobile and come across a Nazi rally taking place on a bridge? Jake says with utter disgust, “I hate Illinois Nazis,” before driving over the bridge, forcing the Nazis to flee and jump into the river below. That’s basically the way I feel towards Michigan antivaccine activists. What’s even worse, though, is when out-of-state antivaccine agitators show up to give aid and comfort to our own homegrown antivaccinationists, which is what happened this week.
Yes, antivaccine nutjobs have invaded my state. Del Bigtree, producer of Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propaganda film VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, has been in my state, the last couple of days along with his partner in pseudoscientific propaganda, Polly Tommey, somehow all unbeknownst to me until last night. I guess that’s what I get when I have grant deadlines. After all, there was no Insolence yesterday, and that’s definitely something that doesn’t happen very often on a weekday. I blame it on a combination of a Wednesday night function that I had to attend, a 7 AM meeting yesterday, and a deadline this week. It happens occasionally. But I know now, and I have one thing to say to Del Bigtree: Get the hell out of my state and stay away from my state’s legislators with your “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory, your antivaccine movie so blatant in its messaging that it’d make Leni Reifenstahl pause and say “Can you tone it down a bit?” and your relentless attempts to convince a group that can least afford lower vaccination rates, African-Americans, that the CDC covered up evidence showing that the MMR vaccine increases the risk of autism in their boys.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so startled that Bigtree has decided to visit my state. We do, after all, have our own crop of antivaccine activists whose idiocy has contributed to pockets of high personal belief exemption rates, low vaccine uptake, and subsequent measles and pertussis outbreaks. We have antivaccine “luminaries” such as Mary Tocco and groups like Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines (MOMV), not to mention antivaccine legislators like my very own state Senator, Patrick Colbeck. Also, given that Del Bigtree and his wandering band of antivaccine loons have been touring the country and lobbying legislators like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, I suppose there’s no reason Michigan should be immune to this sort of nonsense.
Bigtree and Tommey were in town on Wednesday for a VAXXED “Sign and Share Event” (whatever that means) at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Troy, MI. It’s actually a great place for such an “event,” given that it’s in the heart of one of Detroit’s more populous suburbs in close proximity to many of the wealthier northern suburbs where affluent mommies think that the only thing that could possibly cause their special snowflake children be anything less than perfect must be something external, like vaccines. Unfortunately for me (besides my not knowing about it until after it was over), this particular event took place between 10 AM and 3 PM on a weekday, making it utterly impossible for me to attend. Oh, well. Fortunately, for me, antivaccine activists like Del Bigtree and Polly Tommey can’t resist posting video of everything they do on Facebook, and this time they don’t disappoint, starting with this video:
In this video, Bigtree is in a car with Carol from Michigan for Vaccine Choice, an antivaccine group I haven’t yet taken a look at yet. In the video, Bigtree discusses meeting with Senator Vincent Gregory, whose district covers several of the northern suburbs, including Farmington Hills, Southfield, Farmington, Ferndale, and more. This swath of northern suburbs encompasses much of the area where I’d guess that much of Detroit’s antivaccine contingent resides. Bigtree exults that his meeting with Gregory was one of the best meetings he’s ever had with a Democrat and how Gregory promised he’d get Bigtree’s antivaccine concerns heard by the Congressional Black Caucus in Detroit. This is, of course, disappointing, and, if any of you out there are Vincent Gregory’s constituents, I would very strongly urge you to contact his office to provide an opposing voice to Del Bigtree’s lies and pseudoscience, pointing out that you are a constituent and you vote.
If the video, in which Bigtree is arriving at the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing, is to be believed, Bigtree was scheduled to meet with a number of legislators, including Senator Phil Pavlov, Representative Hank Vaupel, and Represenative Mike Callton. Pavlov represents the 25th District, which encompasses much of the Thumb area of the state, while Representative Vaupel represents a district that includes several exurbs northwest of Detroit and Caldon represents a rural district west of Lansing. Again, if any of you reading this are in Pavlov, Callton, or Vaupel’s districts, please contact their offices to counter the antivaccine conspiracy theories and pseudoscience that Bigtree no doubt laid on them.
Most disturbingly, Bigtree also posted a video of Representative Tom Hooker, who represents a district south of Grand Rapids:
Sadly, Hooker is clearly a wingnut. He spouts off about “parental rights” and “parental choice” in the usual way that antivaccine activists do, such that the child is basically viewed as the parents’ property instead of an autonomous being with rights of his or her own, such as the right to good medical care, including standard of care preventative medicines such as the CDC-recommended vaccine schedule. He blathers on about “big pharma” in a typical conspiratorial manner. He even invokes one of the most brain dead antivaccine arguments there are, an argument that fundamentalist Christians make about the HPV vaccine:
Obviously, as a parent and a grandparent myself, it’s important to me that parents have their rights protected and, you know, their choice of what’s best for their kids. I think of the immunization Gardasil. If my children are raised in a godly Christian home, they don’t need Gardasil, because they’re going to make the wise choices, and again, the advertisements they’re putting on on television to the parent (“You could have protected me and let me have an immunization as a child”) takes the responsibility away from the kid, who should be making the responsibility for having sex outside of marriage.
The stupid, it burns with a thermonuclear intensity. One more time, Gardasil does not cause, nor is it associated with, promiscuity, the claims of absolute idiots like Tom Hooker notwithstanding. Of course, Hooker is just parroting a common lie favored by the religious right, of which he is clearly a member and which makes up a large proportion of his district in western Michigan. Somehow, he manages to weave in the common lie about Obamacare promulgated by right wingers about “death panels,” claims that Margaret Sanger wanted to abort black babies, Particularly irritating to me, Hooker somehow found a way to rope nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners into his nonsensical argument, characterizing their existence as a removal of doctors’ rights. I mean, holy hell! Practicing medicine is not a “right.” It is a privilege, and nurse practitioners do not degrade medical care. They enhance it.
When, near the end of the interview, Hooker brought up the “aborted fetal tissue in vaccines” distortion, I lost it. The only thing I could think at that point was to be grateful that this utter moron is term-limited. Unfortunately, because he’s term-limited and in his last term, if you’re one of his constituents it probably won’t make a difference if you contact him. Also, he’s a complete religious right wing nut. Even so, if he is your state representative, it’s probably worth trying anyway.
Basically, it’s the same old nonsense that Bigtree has been pushing about vaccines, starting with VAXXED itself.
Bigtree spends a lot of time arguing for “health freedom,” portraying “vaccine choice” as an integral part of health freedom, where the parents have the right to refuse vaccination for their children. Of course, as I’ve mentioned in this very post and more posts than I can remember, the problem with this argument is that it completely ignores the autonomy of children. Children are not the property of their parents. They are not extensions of their parents. They are autonomous beings who have an existence outside of their parents and who have the right to medical care, including the right be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, regardless of the misguided beliefs of their parents who refuse to vaccinate. Not surprisingly, Del Bigtree traces his antivaccine activism (I know, I know, he doesn’t think that he’s antivaccine) to the introduction of SB 277, the California bill that is now law that has eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates.
Hilariously, he even basically tells the audience that God told him to make this movie. It’s a cheesy story that hits all the notes his audience expects. He’s at a low point in his office, all depressed because SB 277, the bill (now law) in California eliminating nonmedical exemptions looked well on its way to passage and he couldn’t get the higher ups at his job on The Doctors interested in doing
vaccine injury “vaccines cause autism” pseudoscience stories. So he prayed, saying that he wanted to do something to battle the vaccine lobby and CDC and asking God for a sign if that’s what he wanted him to do. Then—surprise!—“60 seconds later” he got a call from a publicist asking him if he wanted to meet Andrew Wakefield. How Wakefield had heard about Bigtree and decided he wanted Bigtree to produce his movie isn’t really described, but the rest, as they say, is history.
For added persecution complex goodness, Bigtree then added a vignette in which he described talking to his father about his plans to make VAXXED with Andrew Wakefield, to show the “CDC whistleblower” and “prove that vaccines cause autism” (another big surprise, that was his purpose from the very beginning). His father, taken aback, counseled him to stay out of it because he has a career and family now and this project could destroy his career. (Smart man, Bigtree’s father. One wonders how he produced such a dim bulb of a son.) In any case, he ends up telling his father he was “chosen” for this moment and even tells the audience that he told Andrew Wakefield and Polly Tommey that “we will only win if God is on our side.” (Grandiose, much, Del?)
That sense of grandiosity even goes to his film VAXXED, which he describes as an ICBM aimed at the heart of the vaccine lobby. When I heard him say that, all I could think was that likening his movie to a nuclear missile tells me a lot about his personality and that, if you think you have a “nuclear bomb” to talk about using it so offhandedly suggests a certain callousness. Indeed, one notes that in this whole talk Bigtree never ever mentions autistic children, never considers them as people. It’s all about him, him, him, and his talk was all about the parents, parents, parents. It was all “parental rights” and nothing about children’s rights to good health care.
He caps it all off with a conspiracy theory about how pharma wants to force adults to get all their booster shots and vaccines, saying outright that the “pharmaceutical industry is coming after you.” He invokes the Healthy People 2020 initiative, one of the goals of which is to achieve 100% vaccination, claiming that the only way to get there is “forced vaccination.” He paints the issue as our “freedom hanging in the balance,” falsely equating school vaccine mandates with fascism and finishing his talk comparing himself and his audience to our Founding Fathers and their fight against the British to achieve freedom and self-determination, saying:
If we do not fight now, then there will be nothing left to fight for. And I think that is where everyone in this room, I pray you realize how important you are in this historic moment. We will never be stronger than we are right now. We will never be healthier than we are right now. Our children are looking like this, a generation of children, as we’ve said on The Doctors television show this is the first generation of children that will not live to be as old as their parents. Are we going to stand…are we going to sit down and take it? Or are we going to stand up and say: This is a historic moment, that my forefathers, those from Jefferson all the way to Martin Luther King, the moments where people stood up and something inside of them said I’m going to stand for freedom and I’m going to stand for it now. That is in our DNA. It is pumping through me, and I pray that you feel it pumping through you, because we must look back. Our grandchildren will look back and thank us for having stood up one more time and been the generation that said, “We the People of the United States of America stood for freedom, stand for freedom. We will die for freedom today.
I’m sorry (actually, no I’m not), but as Bigtree finished his speech, all I could think of was this iconic scene from Animal House:
Even more appropriately, it even has an allusion to conventional warfare versus nuclear weapons.
Bigtree did do one thing that is helpful, though. On the website of the Michigan Vaccine Freedom PAC, there is a helpful list of Michigan legislators who support “vaccine choice.” Interestingly, they are all Republicans save one. There’s only one Democrat on the list, Steve King. There are also two Republicans on the State Board of Education, Nikki Snyder and Tom McMillin, and, to my shame, there is a member of the Wayne State Board of Directors, Kim Schmina. Fortunately, I learned of these legislators and can make sure not to vote for any of them. For those of you in Michigan, I hope you’ll follow my lead. If you’re not in Michigan, I hope you’ll investigate and find out which legislators are sympathetic to antivaccine loons like Del Bigtree and Polly Tommey.