California emerges as new front of anti-vaccine

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Written By: Manny Fernandez © 2021 The New York Times Company The New York Times
Los Angeles, United States of America

LOS ANGELES — An out-of-work stand-up comic originally from New Jersey. An actor and conservative podcast host wearing a white laboratory coat. A gadfly who has run several unsuccessful campaigns for Congress in l. a. . And a minimum of a couple of who had been in Washington the day of the Capitol riot.

They were among the motley crew of so-called anti-vaxxers who recently converged on the doorway of the mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium to protest the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

The loosely formed coalition represents a replacement faction in California’s long-established anti-vaccine movement. and therefore the protest was the newest sign that Californians became the unlikely standard-bearers for aggressive criticism of the vaccines whilst virus cases still spread within the state.

California, which has averaged 500 daily deaths tied to the virus over the past week, will soon become the state with the most important number of coronavirus deaths, surpassing NY .

For months, far-right activists across the country are rallying against mask-wearing rules, business lockdowns, curfews and native public health officials, casting the government’s response to the virus as an intrusion on individual liberties. But as masks and lockdowns become an increasingly routine part of American life, some protesters have shifted the main target of their anti-government anger to the COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week at Dodger Stadium, an equivalent small but vocal cord of demonstrators who previously staged anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests within the l. a. area disrupted a mass vaccination site that provides a mean of 6,120 shots daily. About 50 protesters — some carrying signs reading “Don’t be a lab rat!” and “COVID = Scam” — marched to the doorway and caused the l. a. local department to pack up the city-run site for about an hour.

The disruption illustrates the increasingly confrontational bent of a number of the state’s vaccine opponents, who have long claimed that mandatory school vaccine laws represent governmental overreach. Many were already skeptical about vaccine science, having read online disinformation sites that claimed infancy vaccines caused autism, an allegation long refuted.

In California, the anti-vaccine movement has been popular for many years among Hollywood celebrities and wealthy parents, gaining momentum as state lawmakers passed one of the nation’s toughest mandatory vaccination laws for youngsters in 2015. Previously, parents had opted out of vaccinations by seeking exemptions claiming that vaccines conflicted with their personal beliefs, but the law eliminated that option. the recognition of these exemptions led to immunization rates that dropped to 80% or lower at public and personal schools and preschools in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and other affluent l. a. area communities.

“Anti-vaccine attitudes are as old as vaccines themselves,” said Richard Carpiano, who may be a professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Riverside, and who studies the anti-vaccine movement. “The other thing that gets tied into this is often the wellness movement, this concept that natural is best. There’s a broader quite mistrust of massive Pharma, and about medical aid and medical professions. there’s this real marketplace for the discontent that these groups can really quite seize upon.”

In the COVID-19 era in California, vaccine opponents have found themselves increasingly in alignment with pro-Trump, working-class people sometimes wanting to embrace extreme tactics to precise their beliefs.

Anti-vaccine activists within the state have long been aggressive sometimes. But within the past two years, and within the months of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an uptick in confrontational and threatening tactics.

They assaulted a lawmaker in Sacramento and threw menorrhea onto legislators within the Senate chambers at the state Capitol in 2019, and last spring they helped pressure the chief health officer in Orange County to resign by publicly revealing the official’s home address. Last month, a fortnight before the stadium vaccination protest, a gaggle of girls threatened lawmakers at a budget hearing at the Capitol, telling senators that they were “not taking your shot” which they “didn’t buy guns for nothing.”

“I think the thing that’s most concerning is that they’re escalating,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, and Democrat who wrote vaccination legislation. Pan was struck within the back in 2019 by an anti-vaccine activist and was the likely target of the blood-throwing incident within the Senate chambers that year.

“This movement not only puts out mis- or disinformation about vaccines or lies about vaccines, which in itself are often harmful, but they’re also aggressively bullying, threatening and intimidating people that try to share accurate information about vaccines,” he said.

Protesters who attended and helped organize the Dodger Stadium demonstration said they didn’t plan to enter the location and didn’t block the doorway. They blamed firefighters for overreacting to their presence and shutting the gates and said their goal was to teach those expecting vaccinations but not prevent them from driving inside to urge their shots.

One of the protesters, a 48-year-old actor whose given name is Nick and who asked that his surname not be published due to death threats the group had received, said he didn’t believe that any of the protesters were a part of previously established anti-vaccine groups within the state. “This has all stemmed as a result of this whole COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “It started with the mask-wearing and evolved to now worrying over the vaccine. It’s all about civil liberties.”

The lead organizer, Jason Lefkowitz, 42, a stand-up comic and server at a Beverly Hills restaurant, said the catalyst for the stadium protest was the death of Aaron , the baseball legend who died at the age of 86 on Jan. 22.

Aaron was vaccinated for the coronavirus in Atlanta on Jan. 5, and anti-vaccine activists, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have seized on his death to draw a link. The Fulton County doctor has said there was no evidence that he had an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine.

“I’m not a violent person,” Lefkowitz said. “Nobody in my group is violent or physical or anything, but there are tons of individuals that don’t want to require this vaccine or be forced into it.”

No one was arrested, but city officials, including the captain, were disturbed by the symbolism and therefore the global headlines — that a little group of vaccine opponents had temporarily packed up one among the country’s largest vaccination sites and was walking and chanting mask-free among older residents waiting in their cars for his or her vaccine appointments.

“The optics of it’s that it appeared that the protesters were ready to symbolically interfere thereupon line and that I think that we have a greater public responsibility to make sure that that symbolism isn’t repeated,” Chief Michel Moore told the l. a. Police Commission at a virtual meeting.

Protesters were getting to return to Dodger Stadium and were more energized by the eye than discouraged by the social media criticism. Lefkowitz said that after the hearth Department shut the gates, he immediately took it as a positive sign for his group.

“They’re indirectly helping us, because now I’m like, ‘Oh, this is often getting to make the news,’” Lefkowitz said.

The ease with which many of the protesters have slipped from anti-mask to anti-vaccine ideology was on display in one Facebook live stream.

A protester at the location, Omar Navarro, a frequent Republican challenger to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told his Facebook viewers that he was “100% certain” that voter fraud led to President Joe Biden’s victory; touted the trouble to recall the Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom; and called Democrats “the real virus.”

“They want to deceive us,” Navarro said within the video. “They want to regulate us. they need to place this muzzle on our face, this mask, which I don’t use.”

One of the foremost prominent anti-vaccine activists in Southern California, Leigh Dundas, a lawyer, spoke at a rally in Washington the day before the Capitol riot and posted videos on social media as she stood outside the building on Jan. 6, shouting, “This is 1776 everywhere again!”

In May, Dundas led a push to force out Orange County’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, over her mask order, which was unpopular within the historically conservative county. Quick received death threats and was given a security detail. During a Board of Supervisors meeting, Dundas ridiculed Quick’s credentials, announced her home address, and said she was getting to have people “do calisthenics in masks on her front doorstep, and when people start dropping like flies, and that they will, I’m getting to ask every single first responder during a 30-mile radius to roll lights and sirens to her front entrance .”

Quick resigned nearly a fortnight later.

Kenneth Austin Bennett, the activist who attacked Pan, the senator, was charged with misdemeanor battery and was scheduled to be re-arraigned during a few weeks. Rebecca Dalelio, who was arrested after throwing blood from the Senate gallery, was charged with felony assault on a public official and felony vandalism and features a preliminary hearing this month. A spokesperson for state Sen. Toni Atkins, the Senate president pro tempore, said a report was filed with enforcement after the ladies made the threatening gun-related remarks in January.

Pan said the shortage of arrests at the Dodger Stadium protest suggested that anti-vaccine extremists would feel emboldened.

“There’s a history of individuals being bullying and intimidating, and there’s little or no consequence for doing this, then they escalate, and that they escalate, and that they escalate,” he said.