Fact-Checking the Bullies: Vaccine and Election Conspiracy Theories Are Deadly

Claim: "These conspiracy theories aren't anything like believing the moon landing was fake. The conspiracy theories about the vaccine and the election have had deadly consequences this year." - Harry Enten, CNN

My Rating: Mostly False

Here's why:

President Joe Biden and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy echoed these ideas in their statements in trying to rally the American population around a single nationalistic narrative. Although it could be true, as the narrative would suggest, that movements pushing certain conspiracy theories could unite people to take actions that could put people at risk, ideas, in of themselves, cannot cause deaths. Inquiring about topics and forming hypotheses to learn the truth is part of the scientific process, so when governments, the news media, and social media attempt to censor information and ignore people's concerns, thus interfering with the scientific and journalistic process, conspiracy theories grow stronger as people form underground communities to communicate what they view as true.

Waging a war against "misinformation" causes stronger anti-narrative movements. So, in part, the government and media are partially to blame for what they deem as avoidable deaths. Using Facebook, for example, as an intelligence agency of the government not only potentially violates the First and Fourth Amendments, but it causes further mistrust between the people and government. Widespread campaigns to classify certain conspiracy theories as dangerous and ridiculous are really just pieces of propaganda to dismiss perfectly plausible explanations for the situations in which we find ourselves.

For example, Operation Northwoods was a real planned military operation of the US government to commit acts of terror against the American people and blame it on Cuba to justify war with that country (yes, intentionally murdering Americans to justify war). The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was an operation to test the progression of syphilis by lying to and manipulating black men and letting them die of the disease.

From 2001 to 2013, the government (and particularly the NSA) was spying on Americans without any knowledge of the public (yes, it was covered up by thousands of government employees and contractors for that long through a need-to-know process and threats of consequences). When Edward Snowden revealed the information, it finally moved from the conspiracy theory category to the generally accepted one. Similarly, Dr. Fauci and Facebook tried to cover up or ignore ideas that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, despite the former's funding of gain-of-function research. Now that the US switched administrations, the lab leak theory is considered a very likely possibility, and Facebook no longer censors that information.

These are real "conspiracy theories" that eventually were proven true, so questioning information or being skeptical about the intentions of Big Pharma and government in distributing vaccines should be taken seriously and not silenced. Considering someone an idiot or evil because they do not comply with the narrative is shortsighted and lacks historical context. The more the government pushes these questions and concerns into the fringes and refuses to answer them, any deaths attributed to conspiracy theories should be partially attributed to the government and media.

Now let us dive into the actual facts surrounding the claims.

The first claim is that vaccine-hesitant people are killing others. This works for good rhetoric to shame people into receiving the jab, but is it really true? If, as the CDC, Governor Cuomo, Dr. Fauci, and the other experts who push the vaccines say, the vaccines are highly effective (up to 100% as is claimed), the people who are vaccinated are safe, and even if they get COVID (this is claimed to be extremely rare), the chance of hospitalization is significantly reduced. Really, the only people that the unvaccinated are threatening are themselves (this just leads some to believe that the government is desperately pushing the experimental vaccines for alternative reasons), and since we cherish (or used to) the idea of "my body, my choice," there really is not a reason to be shaming, bribing, or threatening livelihoods of those who decide not to go along with the crowd. Since the vaccinated are safe from the virus and its variants (again, this is what is claimed, and if the vaccines do not protect against variants, this needs to be communicated better with the lying ceased), the conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccines are not killing anyone.

The second claim is that the "Big Lie" and lack of investigation into fraud led to the January 6th riots that killed several people. Again, ideas do not kill, but mobilization around them can lead to deaths. From November to January, the media constantly parroted the idea that there was absolutely no fraud (something that they could not really know for sure at every locality) and that claims that former President Trump won the election were baseless. Regardless of whether widespread fraud occurred, when the nationalistic narrative unites against an idea that millions of people believe and rejects any attempt to test the hypothesis, people are going to protest with a potential for violence (BLM protests in the summer of 2020 may have been mostly peaceful, but violence, looting, and arson did occur, contrary to the reporting by most of the media). Ignoring people's grievances for periods of time often leads to resentment and thoughts that following established processes does not solve the problem, so again, the blame for the Capitol riots lies partially on the government and media and not just on right-wing groups pushing theories that are assumed to be false.

It is claimed that some people died during the riots, but in reality, only one person died from direct violence that occurred. According to the medical examiner’s report, the others died afterwards or from natural deaths. However, CNN and other networks continue to falsely claim that five people died and conveniently have not updated their reporting for the new information because facts do not matter as much as the agenda.

From the mainstream perspective, it is understandable why many would like to push the narrative that conspiracy theories kill because it furthers their agenda. People are afraid and will buy into any propaganda coming from the government and media because they are considered the authoritative sources of information in unknown times. When trouble strikes, critical thinking is less desirable to faith in institutions, and people turn towards religion or some dogmatic explanation. However, blind faith in institutions does not progress society as a whole, and we have seen nationalistic narratives take hold throughout history that have mobilized governments to take dangerous actions that otherwise would not be acceptable.

One could argue that conspiracy theories have inspired deadly actions or in-actions, but the government and media censoring and ignoring ideas that many Americans believe have been equally responsible, if we are to attribute deaths to ideas. Therefore, I rate this claim as misleading and mostly false.

Shaming people into getting vaccinated, masking, or social distancing does not give that person or group the moral high ground. As kids, we learned that bullying classmates was wrong, but in the new normal society, as long as the bullying is against those who adhere to conspiracy theories, refuse to believe the official narrative, and will not dress with a dirty rag on their faces or put an experimental substance into their bodies, it is perfectly acceptable, and maybe even encouraged.
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Published on July 18, 2021 12:17
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