From QAnon adherents to full-blown white supremacists, far-right extremists appear to be uniting in their quest to undermine the COVID-19 vaccine.
As the Biden administration has steadily improved the scale and efficiency of the vaccine rollout over the past few months, administering more than 2 million shots a day since early March with the intention of having 200 million vaccines completed by the end of April, extremist organizations have continued to push anti-vaccine propaganda aimed at undermining the government’s progress. According to The New York Times, “bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chatrooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.”
The far-right narrative that vaccinations are tools of excessive government control has also spread through QAnon channels, many of which are using fearmongering, fake news, and disinformation campaigns to stop followers from taking the vaccine.
“If you took the [Johnson and Johnson] vaccine, according to my readings, you have three years at best to live,” one adherent wrote on a popular QAnon Telegram channel with more than 68,000 subscribers. “Do the research. I would recommend if you don’t know God and His redemption, learn it soon and live for Him.
Across a variety of QAnon channels on Telegram, adherents have shared fears that their family members in schools, government offices, and the military will be forced to take the vaccination. One adherent claimed that the Army was pressuring her son to take the vaccine, while another revealed that she had removed their children from school with the intention of homeschooling them because she does not “trust the schools not to vaccinate them without my consent, or detaining them until I agree.” Others bragged about being the only person at their job to reject the vaccine.
“I’m a public school teacher,” the QAnon adherent stated in a message that was forwarded to several other channels. “Almost all of my colleagues have been injected. I have not.”
QAnon channels were among the far-right groups to spread disinformation about celebrities dying from COVID-19 vaccinations. These include false claims about the deaths of boxing legend Marvin Hagler, former MLB player Hank Aaron, and most recently, rapper DMX, who died last week from a reported heart attack. While the rumor that DMX took the COVID-19 vaccine days before he suffered a heart attack can be tracedback to an unnamed family member on a gossip magazine known for inaccurate information, the story spread across QAnon channels, where some viewed it as a victory for their cause because “millions of inner city residents will not be getting their vaccine shot” out of fear. The DMX story was later pushed by MurdertheMedia, the far-right citizen journalist outlet whose staff/contributor list includes Proud Boys Hawaii leader Nicholas Ochs, as well as a white supremacist Telegram channel reportedly operated by the leader of the New Hampshire chapter of the Proud Boys, Todd M. Clark.
The aforementioned white supremacist Telegram channel has repeatedly peddled vaccine disinformation over the past few months, including false stories about vaccine deaths, and claims that governments around the world will begin to take authoritarian action against non-vaccinated individuals.
While extremist organizations have focused on fearmongering and disinformation campaigns to counteract vaccine administration, several far-right politicians focused on the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine passport, including controversial Reps. Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene, the latter of whom stated on Twitter that the passport should be called “Biden’s Mark of the Beast” and insisted she would not comply with the proposed measure.
Meanwhile, Lin Wood—the MAGA lawyer turned QAnon celebrity who is currently seeking a GOP leadership role in South Carolina—took a religious approach to peddling disinformation on Telegram by insisting he will not take the “CCP Flu Vaccine” because he trusts “God’s promise of protection.”
It is worth noting that even though the United States is set to meet the demand for COVID-19 vaccinations by the summer, it does not necessarily mean that the country will be able to achieve herd immunity. According to recent studies, experts believe that roughly 70 percent of Americans need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be reached, which means that the government will need to focus on convincing those who do not want to take the vaccine to take it. Yet as anti-vaccine disinformation campaigns continue to spread across social media, it will become increasingly difficult for government officials to convince a large segment of the population to take the vaccine.
It is this potential vaccine wall, where supply will outmatch demand, that far-right activists and organizations are counting on.
“We will come out victorious,” one QAnon adherent said. “Failure was never an option.”