Covid lie spreaders: How a small cabal of anti-vaxxers are cashing in
Super-spreaders of Covid lies: How a small cabal of anti-vaxxers are cashing in while risking countless lives with celebrities targeted at home and children terrified at the school gate
- Michael Chaves, 55, a former paramedic, has a Youtube channel where he peddles conspiracy theories about Covid vaccines
- Mr Chaves and a group of anti-vaccine protesters marched to the home of Jeremy Vine on Tuesday, to serve him a ‘writ’ for a comment he made about footballers getting vaccines last week
- But Mr Vine is not the only person to be harrassed by anti-vaxxers in recent weeks- pupils across the UK have been left ‘terrified’ by activists who have screeched at them not to take the jabs
- And three men have been cashing in from spreading Covid conspiracy theories- Andrew Wakefield, Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Del Bigtree
To most people who meet him, Michael Chaves appears an unassuming, married 55-year-old former paramedic who spends his time in the office, at the gym and walking his dogs in the park.
But online, he boasts a significant following peddling ludicrous conspiracy theories about Covid vaccines.
On his channel ‘Mad Mix Conspiracies’, thousands of followers tune in to hear Chaves claiming the pandemic is a hoax and that the jabs — which have saved millions of lives globally — are deadly.
In one video, for example, Chaves claimed: ‘The [Covid-19] tests are purely about collecting people’s DNA.’
On Tuesday, Chaves finally reached the national audience he no doubt dreams of when he and a merry band of fellow anti-vaccine protesters filmed themselves marching to the home of BBC Two presenter Jeremy Vine, to serve him a ‘writ’.
Mr Vine’s crime was a comment about the Covid vaccine on his show last week. During a discussion about whether unvaccinated footballers should be banned from playing, Vine said: ‘I guess we either allow this or we end up holding people down and jabbing them by force.’
In context, it was perfectly clear that Mr Vine was not calling for compulsory vaccination — but that didn’t stop anti-vaxxers from splicing the remark and posting it on Twitter and the encrypted messaging app Telegram, where it has been viewed tens of thousands of times.
Within days, a mob was at Mr Vine’s door, handing his shocked wife a ‘Notice of Liability’, a phoney legal document described as ‘clearly nonsense’ by one lawyer. It warned Mr Vine: ‘You are a participant . . . in the deceit/fraud called the ‘Covid pandemic’.’
Mr Vine is not the only person to have been harassed by anti-vaxxers in recent weeks. In the past fortnight, pupils in Manchester, London, Leicester, Liverpool, Lichfield and Telford have been left ‘terrified’ by activists at school gates who have screeched at them not to take the jabs and handed their ludicrous ‘notices of liability’ to staff. Teaching unions have called for teachers to receive police support.
Last night, Health Secretary Sajid Javid condemned the ‘appalling’ protesters targeting pupils and teachers, saying their misinformation was ‘irresponsible, dangerous and costing lives’.
By now, many of us are all too familiar with the bizarre beliefs held by these vaccine-refusers: that coronavirus can be transmitted by 5G networks; that the pandemic was planned to cause a ‘great reset’ of the world economy; that the vaccines contain microchips, and so on.
On his channel ‘Mad Mix Conspiracies’, thousands of followers tune in to hear Michael Chaves (pictured) claiming the pandemic is a hoax and that the jabs — which have saved millions of lives globally — are deadly
Chaves, who boasts 9,000 Telegram subscribers, believes he is fighting a secret conspiracy that is lining the pockets of Big Pharma and world governments.
How ironic, then, that he and his soldiers are, in fact, working to spread falsehoods and perpetuate a booming industry enriching a small number of people in what we might call Big Conspiracy.
Most anti-vaxxers seem unaware that their vitriol and falsehoods are swelling the coffers of an industry worth at least £26 million. The puppet masters are laughing all the way to the bank.
The anti-vax mob’s views are so ridiculous, most British people sensibly ignore them. But to do so may be dangerously complacent.
‘I have teenage daughters who now have to watch their father putting a camera on the front of the house and fitting a grille on the letter box in case someone attacks us,’ Mr Vine told the Mail.
‘I’ve never done anything except report the exceptional successes of the vaccine programme and try to stop disinformation reaching my audience. But unfortunately the internet is the Wild West. It’s very hard to use facts against emotion.’ Chaves said so himself, in another video clip after the visit to Mr Vine’s home.
‘We’ve got every MP’s address . . . every councillor’s address . . . every judge’s address and . . . everyone who works for the mainstream media’s address,’ he boasted.
‘We’re going to go to their houses and they’re going to get served.’
He did not respond to the Mail’s requests for comment.
Days before Mr Vine was targeted, the same group descended on the home of Dr Hilary Jones, GP and Good Morning Britain presenter, shouting through loudspeakers for him to open the door.
Telegram groups of which Chaves is a member advocate similar protests at the homes of BBC presenter Nicky Campbell and singer and reality TV star Peter Andre.
Within days, a mob was at Jeremy Vine’s door, handing his shocked wife a ‘Notice of Liability’, a phoney legal document described as ‘clearly nonsense’ by one lawyer. It warned Mr Vine: ‘You are a participant . . . in the deceit/fraud called the ‘Covid pandemic’
Anti-vaxxers are becoming ever more emboldened and extreme — with tragic consequences. Only the day after Jeremy Vine was targeted, doctors raised the alarm at the mounting numbers of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care with Covid-19. Astonishingly, nearly a fifth of patients requiring the NHS’s most intensive life-saving care — ‘extracorporeal membrane oxygenation’, used to oxygenate blood outside the body when ventilators fail — are unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
One ICU doctor, writing anonymously in the Mail in August, revealed that 90 per cent of patients on ventilators in his ward were vaccine refuseniks.
Meanwhile, care homes are suffering a staffing crisis thanks in large part to a Government policy of mandatory vaccination.
About 40,000 out of 570,000 care-home workers in England are at risk of either quitting or being sacked due to their reluctance to take the vaccine.
It would cost the sector — already struggling to fill 100,000-plus vacancies — an estimated £100 million to replace them. Many will have devoured anti-vaxxer propaganda on social media.
According to a report published earlier this year by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British non-governmental organisation with offices in London and Washington DC, the anti-vax industry’s global social media following of 62 million people could be worth up to £800 million to platforms, generated by advertisers paying to reach users interested in vaccine misinformation.
Last night, Health Secretary Sajid Javid condemned the ‘appalling’ protesters targeting pupils and teachers, saying their misinformation was ‘irresponsible, dangerous and costing lives’
Meanwhile, the anti-vax industry — the network of businesses, political action committees, media marketing empires and their figureheads — has estimated annual revenues of £26 million.
So who are the ringleaders of those 62 million followers? A cabal of just 12 people CCDH has branded ‘the disinformation dozen’.
The NGO analysed the movement and found 12 anti-vaxxers are responsible for up to 70 per cent of content shared to Facebook, one of the main platforms on which fake news is spread.
Three of them are particularly influential: U.S. TV producer Del Bigtree, osteopath and entrepreneur Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr, nephew of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy.
They and the rest of the ‘disinformation dozen’ are the super-spreaders of Covid misinformation, who make money from public speaking and publishing books, films and anti-vax newsletters. Many of them star in each other’s podcasts and documentaries, direct their followers to each other’s accounts and businesses and advertise on each other’s websites.
Venerated among them is the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield.
In 1995, Wakefield published now-notorious claims in The Lancet medical journal that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was causing an epidemic of autism in children.
His research was later revealed to be fraudulent while, in a serious breach of ethics, he had concealed payments from solicitors who wanted to bring cases against vaccine manufacturers.
He was struck off the medical register and fled to the U.S. — where he restyled himself as the victim of a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry, the medical establishment and the media.
Now, thanks to the pandemic and the vaccines developed to tackle it, Wakefield has flourished at the apex of a movement claiming the same shadowy cabal are lying to the public about the harm these vaccines cause. He has been busy promoting his fourth slick anti-vax movie, released during lockdown: ‘1986: The Act’.
Days before Mr Vine was targeted, the same group descended on the home of Dr Hilary Jones, GP and Good Morning Britain presenter, shouting through loudspeakers for him to open the door
Facebook and Instagram accounts created to promote the film regularly share misinformation related to Covid-19 vaccines.
One such post on Instagram shows a video about mothers who supposedly died after having the jab. The clip says it is ‘in honour of the mothers who have died due to a Covid-19 vaccine’, followed by photos and names of real women who allegedly died and the ‘children they left behind’.
Wakefield denies making a profit from his ventures, or that they are propaganda. ‘The term ‘anti-vax propaganda’ is false’, he told the Mail this week. ‘I make factual films based upon provable, documented facts. The content of these films has never been litigated on their factual content.’
He denied spreading ‘misinformation’, and said ‘[these are] matters of legitimate and valid scientific, legal and medical debate’.
But anti-vax companies connected to him have multiple sources of revenue, and even sell licences to screen his latest film.
Wakefield’s appearance at the ‘Global Health Freedom Summit’, an anti-vaccine conference against the ‘Plandemic’ that took place in February, was accompanied by a webpage offering ‘screening licences’ for his new film.
‘Hi, this is Andy,’ says Wakefield during a clip on the summit’s website. ‘We seek to educate you by helping you support your community . . . You can build awareness and help protect lives . . . we’re calling it ‘doc-in-a-box’.’
A ‘platinum licence’ for unlimited screenings costs £729 and, as Wakefield’s associate says in the promotion to aspiring vaccine sceptics: ‘You’re paying for the screening licence, but you can earn a great income if you do it right by hosting a screening.’
The website also sells Wakefield’s other films, including the 2016 ‘Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe’, which repeats his debunked claims about vaccines and autism.
Days before Mr Vine was targeted, the same group descended on the home of Dr Hilary Jones, GP and Good Morning Britain presenter, shouting through loudspeakers for him to open the door
His production company, 7th Chakra Films, receives funding from Crystal Clear Films Foundation and promotes a PayPal link to the same organisation.
Company accounts list Wakefield as a manager of Crystal Clear Film Foundation, which in 2019 made gross revenue of £354,000.
His podcast also solicits donations for the Foundation, which Wakefield says is a ‘charity’ with which he has no involvement.
What’s more, Wakefield spoke at an event last year, ‘Truth About Vaccines’, which made allegations that ‘with the current hysteria about coronavirus, there are multiple Big Pharma companies chomping at the bit to get a slice of the ‘billion-dollar pie’ projected to be generated from a vaccine’.
He was a promoter of and speaker at VR Revealed: Covid And The Vaccine, which aired similar content.
Wakefield refused to say whether he made any money from these appearances. But an undercover investigation by Canadian broadcaster CBC into an anti-vax event last year found he had charged $3,000 Canadian dollars for a speaking appearance.
He certainly does not appear to be struggling.
Only the day after Jeremy Vine was targeted, doctors raised the alarm at the mounting numbers of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care with Covid-19
In 2019 he was living in a millionaire’s enclave in Miami while dating supermodel Elle Macpherson. The couple have since separated, and Wakefield spends a lot of time on a yacht.
In April, in a sycophantic video on The HighWire, a platform run by fellow anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree, Wakefield wished Bigtree a ‘Happy Birthday’, adding: ‘I’m living on the boat now . . . I’ve got to stop behaving like I’m 24 when I’m 64.’
Bigtree has also evidently done well thanks to anti-vaxx misinformation. According to the CCDH, he earns £170,000 per year as executive director of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), one of the largest anti-vax groups in the U.S.
Anti-vax organisations linked to Bigtree made £2.5 million revenue in one year, and he charges £2,200 per speaking engagement. A spokesman for ICAN and Bigtree denied that his organisations are responsible for any misinformation.
Bigtree and Wakefield are both close to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who earns £186,000 a year in his role as chairman of the Children’s Health Defence — one of the largest health activist groups in the U.S. and avowedly anti-vaxx.
Del Bigtree (pictured) has also evidently done well thanks to anti-vaxx misinformation. According to the CCDH, he earns £170,000 per year as executive director of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), one of the largest anti-vax groups in the U.S
In 2019, Kennedy’s brother, sister and niece accused him of spreading vaccine misinformation, saying: ‘On this issue, Bobby is an outlier in the Kennedy family.’
Mr Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment, but previously said in a statement: ‘I am not anti-vaccine.
‘I want safe vaccines with robust safety testing.’
Then there’s U.S. osteopath Dr Joseph Mercola, who runs the world’s most popular alternative health news site, mercola.com. While not affiliated to Wakefield, Kennedy or Bigtree, Mercola peddles similar mistruths, and his social media pages make claims such as ‘Forced vaccination is part of the plan to ‘reset’ the global economic system’ .and ‘How Covid-19 vaccine can destroy your immune system’.
According to CCDH, anti-vaccination organisations linked to Mercola made £5 million in 2019, and his website sits at the centre of an empire that has brought him a net worth of £73 million.
But he denies claims of propaganda or profiteering.
While not affiliated to Wakefield, Kennedy or Bigtree, Dr Joseph Mercola (pictured) peddles similar mistruths, and his social media pages make claims such as ‘Forced vaccination is part of the plan to ‘reset’ the global economic system’ .and ‘How Covid-19 vaccine can destroy your immune system’
‘Dr Mercola has no business affiliation with Wakefield or Bigtree and has had no business discussions with any of the individuals mentioned,’ said a spokesman. ‘Dr Mercola rejects any assertion he is spreading misinformation.’
Beneath these multi-millionaire anti-vaxxers are various doctors and lawyers. These groups include Doctors for Covid Ethics, which in July broadcast an official-looking two-day online ‘symposium’ featuring sessions entitled ‘The False Pandemic’ and ‘The Going Direct Reset’.
Speakers included British biotech entrepreneur Michael Yeadon. (Neither Doctors for Covid Ethics nor Yeadon replied to requests for comment.)
In May, Doctors for Covid Ethics was one of the first organisations to issue a ‘Notice of Liability’, to the European Medicines Agency, ‘[calling] for a halt to Covid-19 vaccines on urgent safety grounds’.
The group offers a raft of template legal documents ‘to help you defend your human and democratic rights’.
These documents can be disseminated on to Telegram in secret groups, some with 40,000 members each, which literally ping every few seconds with ever more vitriol against the vaccine rollout, declaring ‘war’ against those who support it.
In 2019, Robert F. Kennedy’s brother, sister and niece accused him of spreading vaccine misinformation, saying: ‘On this issue, Bobby is an outlier in the Kennedy family’
Which leads us back to the writ served by Chaves and his crew to Jeremy Vine. ‘Right now, there are people gasping for breath in ICUs around the world because they’ve been fed daily anti-vax propaganda on social media,’ said Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH.
‘The anti-vax industry — and the Big Tech platforms that power it — are responsible for thousands of entirely avoidable deaths. It is revealing that many of the people pumping out anti-vax lies are becoming vastly wealthy in the process.’
Anti-vax organisations led by Kennedy and Bigtree, among others, have admitted in legal filings that they are reliant on mainstream social media platforms for reach and revenue, saying that ‘de-platforming’ has curtailed their ability to spread their anti-vaccine messages.
Social media companies are aware of the role they play, and appear to be taking steps to clean up their acts.
(Facebook said last night that it ‘doesn’t recognise’ the CCDH figures, and that it is ‘running the world’s largest online vaccine information campaign, labelling every post regarding the vaccines with accurate information’.)
No wonder the discredited Andrew Wakefield aims to establish his own social media platform as a ‘central hub for health freedom’.
The NGO analysed the movement and found 12 anti-vaxxers are responsible for up to 70 per cent of content shared to Facebook, one of the main platforms on which fake news is spread. Venerated among them is the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield (pictured)
With 62 million people behind the anti-vax cause, this is a chillingly realistic prospect.
The question is: how many of those 62 million fervent anti-vaxxers will survive the pandemic to keep fighting for their misguided cause?
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