GOP senator compares treatment of unvaccinated to internment camps
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Sen. Ron Johnson, in an appearance on Janesville-area radio station WCLO earlier this week, compared the treatment of unvaccinated people to internment camps.

Johnson was a guest on the program, “Your Talk Show,” with host Tim Bremel to discuss the omicron variant of COVID-19 and to continue his fight against vaccination efforts and public health officials he refers to as “COVID gods” such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

His statement about internment camps came as he inveighed against the treatment of people who have decided not to get vaccinated.

“It’s not irrational for people that are aware of that information go, ‘you know, I think, cause I’ve seen a lot of my neighbors get COVID, and really well, it wasn’t all that bad, and I said, you know, I think maybe I’ll take my chances, and I don’t think I’m going to, I’m going to actually utilize my own freedom, my own health autonomy, and I’m going to choose not to get the vaccine,’ and now we are demonizing those people,” Johnson said. “Around the world, they’re putting them basically into internment camps. What is going on?”

Johnson’s appearance includes a number of misleading or wrong statements about how other countries have fared during the pandemic, the reporting system for vaccine side effects and public health officials’ response to omicron.

Johnson was basing his aversion to getting vaccinated on reported incidents in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database run by the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which tracks reactions to all sorts of vaccines. The problem with using the VAERS data to make conclusions about the COVID-19 vaccine is that anyone can make a report that is then included in the database without any further confirmation.

“We’ve had over 900,000 adverse events on the VAERs system with the COVID vaccine, 19,500 deaths, and our health agencies continued to say, ‘nothing to see here,’” Johnson said. “All I’m saying is that concerns me, we ought to look at that.”

Johnson said he’s concerned about the events and deaths the system includes from the COVID-19 vaccines, but doesn’t include the fact that these are often unconfirmed reports that anyone can submit and that in some cases healthcare providers are required to submit a report to VAERS even if they don’t believe the vaccine is the cause for a negative health outcome.

Johnson, who has repeatedly attacked public health officials and their guidance throughout the pandemic while promoting unproven treatments such as ivermectin, said he’s being persecuted for telling the truth.

“We can’t ask that question, we can’t get a second opinion, there’s only one narrative, and it’s the narrative put forth by the COVID gods,” he said. “And anybody like me, who provides a little more truthful information, they try to destroy us. So that’s what’s happening.”

This isn’t the only time Johnson has been under fire in recent weeks for public statements about public health issues. Earlier this month, the senator appeared on a podcast in which he said AIDS was “over hyped” by Fauci in the same way he’s treated COVID.

“Fauci did the exact same thing with AIDS. He overhyped it. He created all kinds of fear, saying it could affect the entire population when it couldn’t,” Johnson said on the Brian Kilmeade Show. “And he’s … using the exact same playbook with COVID, ignoring therapy, pushing a vaccine. The solution to this I’ve always felt was early treatment. We still haven’t robustly explored that and that’s a travesty.”

ON CNN, Fauci responded to Johnson’s accusations with incredulity: “How do you respond to something as preposterous as that? Overhyping AIDS? It’s killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that? Overhyping COVID? It’s already killed 780,000 Americans and over five million people worldwide.”

In his appearance on WCLO, Johnson claimed his comments about AIDS, on World AIDS Day, were taken out of context.

Johnson isn’t the only Wisconsin right wing figure to make comparisons between measures to slow the pandemic and internment camps. In May 2020, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide stay-at-home order, Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in her opinion that making people stay home to prevent the spread of a deadly disease was equivalent to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.


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