Proud Boys return to DC with new target
Members of the Proud Boys march in Manhattan against vaccine mandates in New York City (AFP)

For a second cold January day in as many years, thousands of demonstrators, including throngs of far-right Proud Boys, descended upon Washington, D.C. This time, the right-wing marchers came to protest vaccine mandates, even as America struggles to ward off the third wave of COVID-19.

While the omicron variant continues to rage, about 25,000 protesters gathered Sunday on the National Mall, chanting anti-vaccine slogans, donning pro-Trump memorabilia, and holding up signs that called for violence, according to The Washington Post. Many of their signs displayed messages like "Vaccines are mass kill bio weapons" and "Trump won," echoing Donald Trump's baseless claim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Nearby, a bus – plastered with pictures Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and Microsoft founder Bill Gates – was parked on the side of the road, with the word "WANTED" above the three figures' heads.

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Other demonstrators compared vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany, an increasingly popular trend among conservatives, holding up signs with messages like "I am not a lab rat" and "Stop the vaccine Holocaust."

During a speech held at the rally, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a veteran anti-vaxxer, claimed that vaccine mandates are worse than the policies of Nazi Germany, saying: "Even in Hitler's Germany, you could hide in the attic like Anne Frank did."

Other speakers included physician Robert Malone, a prominent purveyor of vaccine misinformation; TV producer Del Bigtree, the CEO of the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network; and members of public employee associations like Medical Freedom and the D.C. Firefighters Bodily Autonomy Affirmation Group.

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Matt Tune, a 48-year-old organizer of the rally, told the Post that he wanted to "change the current narrative…which is basically saying that we're a bunch of weirdos and freaks who don't care about humanity. And that's not true at all."

"The goal is to show a unified front of bringing people together — vaccinated, unvaccinated, Democrats, Republicans, all together in solidarity," Tune added.

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The rally also saw attendance from members of the Proud Boys, a far-right neo-fascist group known for promoting and engaging in violence. Members of the group briefly engaged in a verbal back-and-forth with counter-protesters near the Reflecting Pool, though police reported no arrests or incidents of violence throughout the course of the event.

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The rally comes amid the nation's ongoing battle to contain COVID-19. According to The New York Times, approximately 63% of Americans are fully vaccinated – a number that continues to climb slowly despite the rapid onset of the omicron variant in early December. Meanwhile, roughly one in five Americans are completely unvaccinated. Experts have repeatedly advised Americans to get vaccinated not only to protect themselves but to lessen the risk of mutation.