When the COVID-19 coronavirus first reached the United States earlier this year, radical right-wing pastor and ardent conspiracy theorist Rodney Howard-Browne continued to hold in-person services at his The River church in Tampa Bay, Florida, because, as he said, “we’re raising up revivalists, not pansies.”
Howard-Browne, who was among evangelical leaders who laid hands upon and prayed over President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2017, repeatedly used those services to spread wild conspiracy theories about the pandemic, dismissing it as a “phantom plague, and warning that any COVID-19 vaccine will be used to “kill off many people.”
In March, Howard-Browne was arrested for continuing to hold services in violation of local stay-at-home orders. He was then forced to hold his services online, where he continued to promote an endless array of conspiracy theories about the virus. The charges against Howard-Browne were eventually dropped and he resumed holding nightly four hour long services at his church, which have now gone on for months.
During a service held on July 26, Howard-Browne continued his practice of promoting baseless conspiracy theories from the pulpit, claiming that efforts to defund the police are part of a plan to allow the United Nations to invade the U.S., confiscate guns, and force everyone to take a COVID-19 vaccine that will kill them.
“There is nothing that is happening today that is by accident,” Howard-Browne said. “From the rioting, from the looting, from the pillaging, from stirring up a racial war to try to disband our police department so that they can bring in a United Nations police force of 500,000 people that are not loyal to the American people and they’re not loyal to the Constitution, so they can force exactly what they want to take place in America, which let me tell you will be gun confiscation, ultimately. That’s why they’re trying to push this thing with COVID-19. They’re trying to drag it out so they can put masks on every single person because that is the forced compliance that will come, and then everybody will have to get a vaccine.”
“If you go and get the vaccine, you’ll be dead within a couple of years,” he continued. “This is tyranny that has been forced upon the American people by medicine. … The last stand is the church. … Let me tell you, here is one pastor that is not gonna play dead and I’m not rolling over. I don’t care if I have to get arrested again. And I actually don’t care if I have to get killed. We will not compromise.”