No matter how high the death toll from COVID-19 climbs, countless MAGA Republicans — from governors and members of Congress to right-wing media figures — continue to engage in forms of coronavirus denialism, whether it's promoting anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories or railing against social distancing and protective face masks. Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes, in his August 30 column for The Bulwark, laments that even as well-known MAGA Republicans die from COVID-19 left and right, coronavirus deniers can't be swayed.
"Not even the COVID deaths of 637,000 Americans have shaken the walls of invincible ignorance, selfishness and narcissism," Sykes writes.
The 637,000 figure that Sykes quotes in his column has since increased. According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, 4.5 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide — and that includes more than 639,000 in the United States.
Referring to the right-wing media figures who downplayed the severity of COVID-19 only to be killed by it, Sykes asks, "Why does this keep happening?" And the conservative columnist offers plenty of examples, including Phil Valentine and Jimmy DeYoung (a Christian fundamentalist) in Tennessee and Dick Farell in Florida.
Sykes notes that Valentine played an anti-vaxxer parody of the Beatles' "Taxman" on his show titled "Vaxman" — before COVID-19 killed him at the age of 61. Farell used to slam Dr. Anthony Fauci as a "power-tripping lying freak" for promoting vaccination then became sick with COVID-19 and died.
DeYoung promoted anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories on his show (which catered to a White evangelical audience) and died from COVID-19 in mid-August. And another anti-vaxxer Sykes mentions in his column is the late Florida-based radio host Marc Bernier, who called himself Mr. Anti-Vax and tweeted, on July 30, that government officials who encouraged vaccination for COVID-19 were "acting like Nazis." Bernier died from COVID-19 in late August.
Sykes also mentions H. Scott Apley, who was a member of the Texas Republican Party's board and a member of Dickinson, Texas' city council. Apley promoted a mask burning event in Cincinnati, and he died from COVID-19 on August 4 at the age of 45.
"This is not an occasion for schadenfreude, because each story is a tragedy," Sykes writes. "Families have been devastated, children left without parents. But they raise the nagging question: why has this happened so often? Of course, it's possible these are just random anecdotes, but they feel like a dark and tragic pattern — almost as if natural selection was trying very hard to make a point."
According to Sykes, "The through-line of each of these stories is that the victims were not merely skeptics — they were active spreaders of disinformation. They also may have been spreaders of something worse. They were influencers who mocked medical experts, flouted their defiance, and encouraged their listeners and followers — and the people around them — to do the same. And they are not alone. Similar messages continue to broadcast daily on talk radio and broadcast on Fox News."