Anti-vaxxers are recruiting 'Stop the Steal' believers at 'conspiracy conventions' to promote their cause: report
Trump supporters at Stop the Steal rally outside Minnesota State Capitol. (Photo credit: Chad Davis)

On Wednesday, TIME Magazine reported that the anti-vaccine movement is increasingly allying itself with far-right conspiracy theorists, including Trump supporters who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen, in order to promote their cause.

"The anti-vaccine movement, once a fringe cohort, has repositioned itself as an opposition to mandates and government overreach," reported Vera Bergengruen. "The distinction has attracted legions of supporters by tapping into the anger, exhaustion, grief and frustration of millions of Americans as the pandemic enters its third year."

According to the report, the messaging mingled at the recent "Defeat the Mandates" rally in Washington, D.C.

"The spectacle was part Trump rally, part conspiracy convention, part protest," said the report. "Groups of teachers and nurses mingled with firefighters and church groups. The yellow Gadsden flags adopted by the Tea Party a decade ago mixed with Trump 2020 placards, 'Stop the Steal' signs and 'F— Joe Biden' flags. A group of men wearing the insignia of the far-right Proud Boys lingered on the edges of the crowd, near a group of women wearing flower crowns and flashing peace signs as they took selfies with a 'Mama Bears Against Mandates' board."

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"Organizers of the rally cast the event in the tradition of the 1960s civil rights movement, complete with hippie peace signs and tambourines," noted the report. "Yet the calls to action included some disturbing warning notes. In the context of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and rising threats to public officials, the exhortations to 'reclaim our country' and 'refuse to comply' carried the implication of violence on the horizon. Some speakers threatened the press and Dr. Anthony Fauci, invoking the Nuremberg trials of leading Nazis. Leaning against a tree, a woman in a pink headband and sunglasses held a sign declaring in bold black and red letters: 'Shoot those who try to kidnap and vaccinate your child.'"

Historically, vaccine conspiracy theories were fairly nonpartisan; plenty of right-wingers opposed vaccines, but vaccine resistance was also famously common in wealthy, liberal suburbs — at one point, some suburbs of Los Angeles had vaccine rates as low as South Sudan's. Now, however, the issue is much more polarized.

"Just 26% of Republicans say they consider vaccine mandates acceptable, according to a CNN poll last month, compared to 82% of Democrats," said the report. "This partisan divide is evident in the vaccination data itself: unvaccinated adults are three times more likely to lean Republican than Democrat, according to a November analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation."

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