Fragile Faith? A Covid-19 Theology Post…

One of the currents I’ve identified in the covid protest movement, at least in Bermuda, is what I’ve elsewhere termed the ‘Crusader’ component. While not restricted to Christians, it is the Christian variety which is dominant in Bermuda. What I want to do in this post is enter into a rare foray into theology and both summarise my understanding of the Crusader viewpoint and offer a counterpoint to their position. At the very least, I hope it will provide some food for thought.

I want to stress here that my aim here isn’t to belittle anyone’s individual beliefs. Rather, I hope that this post will help some in the community better understand a strong current within the anti-vaccine and general covid protest movement. At the same time, I hope to provide an alternative theological perspective for the religious among us to consider;

For this post I am going to approach the issue of covid-19 and vaccinations from the three main Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For clarity, the scripture I will rely on for these are:

For the Old Testament – The Complete Jewish Bible at Chabad.org.

For the New Testament – The New American Standard Bible

For the Quran – Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford World’s Classics.

The ‘Crusader’ Perspective

Now, while there are of course different religions that fall under this ‘crusader’ position, the ones I have encountered here in Bermuda are biblically based. My perception is that there are two main groups that are expressing this position – the Rastafarian community and the Evangelical Christian community. Now, while Rastafarianism is it’s own Abrahamic religion separate from Christianity, they still utilise the Bible as their holy scripture, and I’ve found that both groups are generally basing their common position on the same aspects of scripture. These seem to be:

Genesis 1:29 – And God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.”

Ezekiel 47:12 – But by the stream, on its bank from either side, will grow every tree for food; its leaf will not whither, neither will its fruit end; month after month its fruits will ripen, for its waters will emanate from the Sanctuary, and its fruit shall be for food and its leaves for a cure.

Psalm 91 – He who dwells in the covert of the Most High will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty. I shall say of the Lord [that He is] my shelter and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust. For He will save you from you from the snare that traps from the devastating pestilence. With His wing He will cover you, and under His wings you will take refuge; His truth is an encompassing sheild. You will not fear the fright of night, the arrow that flies by day; Pestilence that prowls in darkness, destruction that ravages at noon. A thousand will be stationed at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not approach you. You will but gaze with your eyes, and you will see the annihiliation of the wicked. For you [said] “The Lord is my refuge”; the Most High you made your dwelling. No harm will befall you, nor will a plague drawn near to your tent. For He will command His angels on your behalf to guard you in all your ways. On [their] hands they will bear you, lest your foot stumble on a stone. On a young lion and a cobra you will tread; you will trample the youn lion and the serpent. For he yearns for Me, and I shall rescue him; I shall fortify him because he knows My name. He will call Me and I shall answer him; I am with him in distress; I shall rescue him and I shall honor him. With length of days I shall satiate him, and I shall show him My salvation.

Revelations 13:16-17 – And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.

Revelations 22:2 – …in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Taken together these various verses can be grouped into four main themes:

1 – Healthy Diet – This is what informs a lot of the argument that instead of vaccines, masks, social distancing, hand sanitising and lockdowns, all that is needed is for people to practice proper diet, ideally a vegetarian based diet. A lot of illness, including covid-19, is in this way ascribed to poor diets leading to poor health; an extension of this theme is the importance of healthy lifestyles, namely exercise.

2 – Herbal Remedies – Instead of vaccines (in particular) but also pharmaceuticals in general, what is needed is herbal remedies – that is ‘natural’ cures.

3 – Masks & Vaccines = Mark of the Beast – This informs a lot of the opposition to the wearing of masks, getting vaccinated and providing proof of vaccination (in Bermuda’s case Safe Key). This ties into the wider apocalyptic belief of covid-19 being an evil conspiracy directed by the Anti-Christ.

4 – Faith Is All You Need – All you really need is to be devout and firm in your faith. If you are, then God will protect you; there is no need for medicine or vaccines. Only faith in the Most High. As an aside, this does not necessarily mean that those who succumb to covid-19 or illness generally are not worthy. Rather it is a personal plea against fear and despair, a expression of praise and gratitude to God as the sole source of hope and salvation.

Judaism

There are three primary parts of scripture that are important for a pro-vaccine and pro-public health Jewish perspective. Naturally, in as much as Christianity includes the Jewish scripture as part of its own religious scripture, they can help inform a Christian perspective too.

Before I discuss these pieces of scripture though, I think it is useful to consider the rabbinical approach to scripture. In this approach the scripture is not to be taken literally – rather, it’s about studying and engaging with the text with the focus on identifying the essence; the ‘spirit’ of the law, rather than the ‘letter’ of the law. Essentially, in studying the text one is asking oneself two questions: (1) what did the text mean in its time; and (2) how can we create interpretations that will give us lessons for our time?

In this, there is a famous story from the Talmud known as The Oven of Akhnai. To paraphrase this story, a group of rabbis are discussing a realtively obscure point about the design of a new oven and its susecptibility to ritual impurity. One particular rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus argues that the oven is ritually pure, but the remaining rabbis take the opposite position. Rabbi Eliezer attempts multiple arguments to convince his fellow rabbis, but fails. Eventually, in desperation, Rabbi Eliezer exclaims ‘If I am right, this carob tree will prove it!’. At that instant the carob tree uproots itself and moves itself some distance. While Rabbi Eliezer takes this as a source of divine support for his position, the remaining rabbis respond that a carob tree cannot offer proof in a debate of law.

Rabbi Eliezer then exclaims ‘If I am right, this stream will prove it!’ At that point the nearby stream begins to flow backwards. The rabbis respond that one does not cite a stream as proof in matters of law.

Rabbi Eliezer responds with the exclamation ‘If I am right, these walls will prove it! At this point the walls of the hall begin to collapse, but Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah reprimands the walls for interfering in a debate among scholars, and out of respect the walls cease to collapse.

Finally, Rabbi Eliezer in frustration exclaims ‘If I am right, heaven will prove it!’ At this moment a divine voice speaks out ‘Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, he is right in his opinion always?’ To this, Rabbi Joshua retorts by citing Deuteronomy 30:12-14, ‘The Torah is not in heaven.’ His position is based on the premise that God gave the Torah to humanity and specifically instructs those who follow it to look to the Torah as their source and guide. The Torah says here: It is not in heaven that you should say ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?’ Rather [this] thing is very close to you; is is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.

The essence of Rabbi Joshua’s position is that the Torah is a document from which law must be created through the human activity of debate and consensus, through the application of critical thinking and logic, as opposed to blind following.

To this, God responded with a smile and said to the collected rabbis ‘My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over me.’ The Torah may be a gift from God, but having been given to humanity, it is for humanity to interpret through reason and logic; miracles may be wondrous, but not even the voice of God trumps human reason at that point. Furthermore, each generation must interpret the underlying meaning of the scripture relevant to their time and place.

It is on this basis that rabbinical Judaism approaches scripture. For instance, the creation outlined in the Book of Genesis is not to be taken literally, but rather to challenge the believe with the question of ‘How should we treat people if everyone is created in the image of God? What are our responsibilities to this world if God has called it good?’ In rabbinical Judaism, questioning is encouraged; indeed, much of rabbinical literature is based on the question ‘how do we know this?’ and the resulting explanation of reasoning.

Now, back to the matter at hand…

Leviticus 19:16 – You shall not go around as a gossipmonger amidst your people. You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow’s blood. I am the Lord.

Deuteronomy 4:9 – But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.

Deuteronomy 22:8 – When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].

There are two main themes that arise from these three bits of scripture:

1 – God helps those who help themselves – You have a responsibility of taking care of your own health and avoiding harm when it is possible to do so. On this basis, yes, you have a responsibility to eat well and enjoy an active lifestyle as part of ensuring your health. However, when there is the possibility to take a vaccine to reduce potential harm from a disease, you are obligated to do so. Failing to do so is a failure to watch over yourself and avoid harm – it is, in effect, doing harm to oneself.

2 – You have a responsibility to others – A feature of Judaism is that it emphasises responsibilities before rights. You do not have a right to life, but you have a responsibility not to kill. One may well infer the right to life from this, but the emphasis is on responsibility to others. You are not to take inaction when you can take action to avoid harm to others. From a vaccine perspective, you are not obligated to take the vaccine solely from the perspective of avoiding harm for yourself, but also to avoid harm to others. By taking the vaccine you minimise the risk of harm to yourself, but also to others, through reducing the rate of transmission (especially to those more vulnerable) and also reducing the impact elsewhere – such as the hospital and preventing or reducing the capacity of the hospital to help others who are in need. You are as guilty of causing harm to others by not taking action to avoid the potential of that harm.

Indeed, these are considered Mitvah’s – commandments – and have been historically interpreted explicitly in relation to vaccines. The Jewish community historically practiced a precursor of vaccination called variolation, which involved inhaling, or inserting into open wounds, the ground up scabs of smallpox patients in the hope of inducing a degree of protection against smallpox itself. This was based on the concept of distancing oneself from danger (Leviticus 19:16); Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz, one of the most prominent rabbis of 17th century Europe, especially linked this to a duty to distance oneself from the danger of smallpox and other infectious diseases. Once the first smallpox vaccine was available, rabbis encouraged its use, citing both the responsibility to avoid danger to oneself, but also as a responsibility to others. The rabbis even addressed the concern about the potential risks of the vaccine, with Rabbi Abraham Hamburg in 1785 putting forward the position that even if 1 out of a 1,000 die from the vaccine, it is still the responsibility to take the vaccine on the basis of avoiding harm to oneself and reducing harm to others.

There are also Talmudic arguments that build on these themes, notably the Treatise Sanhedrin 109b and Baba Batra 8a concerning community responsibility, both of which have been applied to public health and vaccination obligations. For the interest of space I only refer to them here; readers may seek them out for further consideration.

Christianity

Christianity, originating as it did as essentially a sect of Judaism, of course can be informed by the positions I highlight above for Judaism. As such, I will restrict myself in this section solely to aspects of scripture within the New Testament itself.

Luke 10:33-35 – But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

1 Corinthians 10:24 – Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbour.

Phillipians 2:3-7 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

2 Timothy 1:14 – Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which was entrusted to you.

James 2:8 – If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ you are doing well.

The key themes from the above are:

1 – You have a responsibility to guard against ill health (God helps those who help themselves) – As with the discussion in the Judaism section above, one is obligated to look after ones own health, and take steps to avoid danger. When it comes to infectious disease, you have a responsibility to take preventative measures to avoid the danger it represents – including masking, social distancing and vaccination. To not do this is an offense, not just against oneself but, in as much as one contains an element of the divine, against God itself.

2 – You have a responsibility to others – As with the discussion on Judaism, one is responsible not just for one’s own welfare, but also for the welfare of others, even strangers and persons unknown to you. This includes looking out for others and taking steps when possible to avoid harming others. Applied to infectious disease, one has a responsibility to public health in minimising transmission and the risk of harm to others – be it through masking, social distancing and vaccination.

Islam

There are multiple Hadiths (traditions of the Prophet) that speak to embracing science, medicine and a pro-active approach to health, all of which can be applied to a pro public health and pro-vaccine position. However, while there are certainly more authoritative Hadiths than others, and one can certainly rely on them, I have decided for the purposes of this article (partly in the interest of space) to rely primarily on the Quran itself here. Of that, there are three parts of scripture that I feel are particularly worth considering.

Al-Baqara 195 – Spend in God’s cause: do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands, but do good, for God loves those who do good.

Al-Ma’ida 32 – On account of [his deed, Cain], We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land – it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind. Our messengers came to them with clear signs, but many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.

Al-Ra’d 11 – Each person has angles before him and behind, watching over him by God’s command. God does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves, but if He will harm on a people, no one can war it off – apart from Him, they have no protector.

Additionally, Islamic scholars of jurisprudence, in interpreting the Sharia based on the Quran, have identified the concept of wiqaya (prevention/protection) to be a key law and principle. Other key concepts of Sharia that have been identified drawing on the Quran are izalat aldharar, the principle of preventing harm, and maslahat al-ummah, the principle of public interest.

The key themes that Islam emphasises here are:

1 – Responsible for ones own welfare – It is your duty to avoid harm to self, and as such one is responsible for taking preventative action to avoid harm as much as is reasonable. As such, yes, one should practice an active lifestyle and a healthy diet (and avoid the opposite), but one should also engage in mitigating the risk of infectious disease. This applies to reducing the risk of transmission and the potential harm to self – which in practical terms for covid-19 means social distancing, masking and being pro-active as regards vaccination. Indeed, this also calls for using money to support those causes.

2 – God helps those who help themselves – As a prerequisite for expecting the help of God one must help oneself first as much as possible. It’s fine to pray to God for assistance, including in the face of infectious disease, but that does not mean you take no steps of your own to protect yourself first, including vaccination. It is only after you have taken all possible steps available to you that it is left in God’s hands.

3 – You have a responsibility for the life of others – If you take actions – even through negligence – that bring harm and even death to others, you are committing an offense; similarly, if you take steps that prevent harm and death to others, you are committing a blessing. It is your responsibility to take actions in the interest of public welfare to reduce the risk of harm and death in your community, including when it comes to public health and infectious diseases.

Some Final Thoughts

Scripture is open to interpretation, and I’m aware that different people will interpret aspects of scripture in very different ways – sometimes in direct contradiction to my own. My personal view is that the Abrahamic religions, at their heart, are about responsibility to the divine in oneself and a responsibility to others – everything else flows from this, including the responsibility to mitigate harm to oneself and the community as a whole. One may even expand this further to nature itself, and see the responsibility of humanity to be stewards of Earth as a whole on behalf of future generations.

Similarly, scripture is not to be taken in a literal sense, but the essence to be understood and applied to ones own time and place. The core essence that I speak to above is to inform this approach.

Ultimately, the key points that the Abrahmic scriptures emphasise, in my opinion, are:

1 – Responsible to self.

2 – Responsible to others.

3 – God helps those who help themselves.

What I do hope that this article achieves is to help some understand the perspective of some who are involved in the protest movement in Bermuda around covid-19, both towards public health actions and the vaccine itself. Whether one likes it or not, some of this protest is rooted in strongly held religious convictions that influence their perception of public health actions and medical science. It is doubtful that my counterpoint interpretation of various scripture will change those views, however I do hope it contributes to a wider awareness and discourse on the matter, both theologically and philosophically, regardless of ones personal beliefs.

Covid Rage – Causes, Threats & Options

The very first word in the Western literary canon is rage/wrath (μῆνῐς – menis – in the original Greek).

Indeed, while often thought of as being about the Trojan War, the Iliad can alternatively be known as the story of the wrath of Achilles.

Interestingly, the Iliad more or less starts with a plague afflicting the Greeks, and the tensions that arise from it. Obviously our situation with covid-19 is a bit different, but it’s a good starting point for this post.

There’s a lot of anger in the community being caused by covid-19.

The disruptions caused by covid-19 have affected us all, and all in different ways. And each successive wave brings with it different emotions and motivations for them.

In our current fourth wave anger seems to be increasingly simmering beneath the surface – and, at times, bubbling right over. Let’s look at how that’s manifesting and why.

From the Vaccinated

For many who have been dutifully following public health regulations and have become vaccinated, there is anger towards the unvaccinated community. It’s not hard to understand the basis for this anger. It is primarily the unvaccinated members of our society that are both fueling this current wave and causing the main disruption as a result. How you might ask? Because it is primarily the unvaccinated that are in hospital, and it is the stress this causes to the hospital, and the collective action to reduce that stress, which is the primary basis for the disruption of the fourth wave.

Yes, vaccinated persons can get covid-19. However they are statistically less likely to catch it. And even if they catch it, they are statistically less likely to suffer severe symptoms. This doesn’t mean they can’t develop severe symptoms and even require hospitalisation – and some may even die from it. It just means that statistically they are less likely to. That being said – and something we need to keep in mind as the fourth wave continues to unfold – (a) a vaccinated person with high risk factors for covid-19 (senior age, immune-suppressed conditions, etc.) is generally still more vulnerable to covid-19 than an unvaccinated person with no such risk factors (such as a 30 year old healthy individual); and (b) due to the greater number of people that are vaccinated (67%) versus unvaccinated (33%) it is quite possible that the absolute numbers needing hospitalisation and even dying from covid-19 will be vaccinated, however the key is to look at the relative numbers.

So, yes, the reason workers are being sent home, the reason so many people are under quarantine, is mostly a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of a further spread of the outbreak, not so much to protect the majority of vaccinated persons, but to protect the vulnerable members of our community – which today is both the 33% of the population that is unvaccinated AND those vaccinated persons who are still particularly vulnerable to covid-19. It’s not hard to imagine that if all who could get vaccinated (at a guess, 95% of the population) had been vaccinated, that these disruptions would not be necessary. Yes, there would still be precautions for those who can’t medically vaccinate or who, while vaccinated, are still vulnerable, but the hospital wouldn’t be stressed and the disruption to our daily life would be minimal for the majority of the population.

At the same time, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the healthcare workers, especially those on the frontline of contact tracing and caring for unvaccinated patients in the hospital are particularly suffering from both compassion fatigue and moral injury. They know more than any of us that, while they’re professional and will take care of the patients needs, that the unvaccinated patient simply didn’t have to be there this time. In previous waves, it was understandable – we didn’t have the vaccine in the first two waves, and in the third wave we were still in the early stages of our vaccine rollout, so patients needing hospitalisation was understandable. Today, for the vast majority of unvaccinated patients, they’re there by choice.

From the vaccinated point of view, those unvaccinated needing hospitalisation, triggering the disruption to our daily life, the increased risk of businesses failing, financial stress, general stress, longer-term health impacts from missing out on check-ups, non-emergency surgery and physiotherapy, are the reason. They are seen as selfish, deluded and ignorant of the wider social and economic consequences of their choice.

How this anger is being, or will manifest itself, is hard to say.

Only an extreme minority will say they shouldn’t be treated, but one can easily see people arguing that they should bear the cost in terms of paying higher insurance premiums or even get the bill from businesses losing out on custom. Mostly people will simply articulate their anger on social media and move on. In cases where an unvaccinated person went to work despite being ill and infected others, directly or indirectly, especially if those so infected are high risk (say, pregnant, recovering from cancer, elderly), one can imagine direct in-person hostility. The various public faces of the Qonion movement are likely to serve as lightning rods for public anger though – and it is curious that since the fourth wave started the main faces of Qonion have been keeping a low profile. More widely, it is likely we will see more voices calling for vaccine mandates or greater restrictions for unvaccinated persons.

From the Unvaccinated

To the unvaccinated, they are feeling anger from many fronts, partly in reaction to the growing anger being directed towards them with people blaming them for the fourth wave. In this they will be defensive and argue that people shouldn’t be angry at them for choosing not to be vaccinated, regardless of the wider social and economic costs of their decision. Many will probably double down – it wouldn’t surprise me at all if those most feeling the heat, those in hospital, double down and proudly declare to their nurses that they’re proud purebloods – which is perhaps a topic for a post in itself…

Indeed, my guess is that, while the main faces of the Qonion movement are laying low at the moment, they’ll be back with gusto soon enough. I expect them in particular to take advantage of absolute numbers as opposed to relative numbers, like I noted above, to argue, falsely, that the vaccines don’t work.

The primary reaction from most of the Qonion movement will likely be to deny the facts on the ground and basically claim that the statistics provided are false. We already see this where anything from Government or the ‘mainstream media’ is treated with contempt, and that only ‘facts’ provided from within the movement and their international wider Qanon movement can be trusted. Denial, deflection and delusion are the hallmarks of the likely reaction. But so is the potential for anger and for anger to be manifested in violence…

More concerning is the risk of actual violence. In their various protests, and in particular during the whole stand-off around Ms. Cannonier earlier this summer, it was not uncommon to encounter members of Qonion utter threats, both veiled and direct. Indeed, Mr. Eugene Dean, a prominent spokesperson for the Bermuda Freedom Alliance, regularly gave voice to calls for an uprising against the government while standing outside Ms. Cannonier’s house.

Overseas, we have seen cases of violence from Qonion’s affiliates – be it the murder of a worker enforcing masking in Germany, a nurse being assaulted in Quebec, threats against public health officers, and more. Already we know our contact tracers are facing verbal abuse, and, after the Prime Minister of St. Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves, was injured by anti-vaxxers in August, veiled threats were common on social media in reference to our own politicians.

The very narratives of dominant representatives/voices within the Qonion movement frame the situation in such a way that increases the potential for violence. Consider for example the following – which even a causal review of the Qonion narratives reveals:

  • Those resisting public health regulations and the call for vaccines are ‘freedom fighters’.
  • The government is ‘tyrannical’ and pushing ‘an agenda’ – they reject that this agenda has anything to do with health (‘we know that’s what they say it’s for but we reject that notion and so ask what is the real agenda…’).
  • The government is in league with global elites to fulfil the plan of the elites.
  • The government is engaging in child abuse.
  • The government is persecuting the ‘freedom fighters’ through censorship and threats.

In general, the ‘struggle’ that the ‘freedom fighters’ are engaged in is conceived of in apocalyptic terms, a biblical struggle of good versus evil, with the government and those supporting public health actions and vaccines being cast on the side of evil and as child abusers. Particularly singled out as big bads are Marxists. Mr. Bean’s interview rather neatly encapsulates these narratives, but you see them present in the statements of the Bermuda Freedom Alliance and their spokespersons, especially Mr. Eugene Dean (highlighted above), and are common currency by adherents, both on social media and in real life.

Once you cast the struggle in these terms and portray your ‘enemies’ as embodiments of evil, as child abusers, hell bent on oppression and enacting a sinister plan on the behalf of global elites, once you dehumanise your opponents in this way, it becomes very easy to justify violence towards your enemies.

Essentially, the groundwork for violence has been laid by these narratives. The kindling is there and it just needs a spark.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that the Bermuda Freedom Alliance, for example, is going to formally engage in or support violence, even if they have played with veiled threats of such.

However, it’s not hard to see the potential for ‘lone wolf’ actions involving loose cannons who have absorbed the above narratives, see themselves as ‘heroes’ and ‘freedom fighters’ and, under pressure from the fourth wave and its aftermath, act out on this fantasy. We already see healthcare workers, especially contact tracers, being subjected to abuse. We have already seen some members involved with the Qonion movement threaten the Premier, and it’s hardly unusual to come across threats towards the Premier and the Minister of Health in the comment sections of social media during press conference updates on covid-19.

For most people this will be experienced in the form of increasingly angry social media posts or the occassional in-person argument (though most people will walk away not seeing the utility of engaging). But one cannot rule out the increased risk of a Pizzagate incident, a Jo Cox incident, or even a January 6th Capital event.

Your average person doesn’t really have to worry about any of this potential violence though.

The anger will be focused on those persons that their narrative sees as key representatives of the ‘evil’ plan. The Premier and the Minister of Health are obvious persons, but so would the entire Cabinet and those persons identified as PLP activists. And just as anger in the US Qanon movement is directed towards Dr. Fauci and healthcare workers, the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Oyinloye and healthcare workers are likely targets. Marxists too no doubt…

On the bright side though…

I don’t want to leave on too pessimistic a note though. I don’t see the potential for violence as particularly high. Angry threats and bluster, certainly, especially on social media.

And nor do I think it is inevitable. Only that the potential is there and that those who have spun the narrative that has loaded and cocked the proverbial gun are just as, if not more, responsible than any individual who actually pulls the trigger. And I think it is important that we consider the potential soberly.

How do we defuse it? I don’t fully know. I have no illusions that posts like mine are going to influence any hardcore Qonion. But there are less committed persons who can still be convinced, and those who are still on the fence. It is easier to prevent falsehoods taking root than it is to deal with them once they’ve become entrenched beliefs like we see today. But there is still the potential to help prevent them taking root further – thus my recent series of posts. The challenge is that the pandemic, especially the lockdowns, while good at mitigating the immediate public health threat, did help these extremist beliefs and narratives to take root.

Those responsible for narrative in question have the potential to help walk things back – if they wish and aren’t completely convinced by their own narrative. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath on the potential for them to help walk things back though.

The most important potential for helping contain and reverse this situation comes from, in my opinion, civil society groups (such as the unions) and public intellectuals helping both counter the extremist beliefs in the first place, and offer an alternative narrative in it’s place.

There are legitimate grounds to criticise the healthcare system (and especially big pharma), entrenched racial power structures (locally and globally), the role of the State, media and political actions. Many of the roots of the extremist beliefs in question do have genuine origins – which is why they have found fertile soil to grow in. The challenge is that rather than engaging in the actual problems they engage in simplistic explanations that play fast and loose with the facts and make leaps of logic. By addressing the legitimate issues that serve as the germ of truth on which these conspiracies build upon, and providing an alternative narrative – and not one that maintains the status quo but challenges it from a progressive position – the threat of rightwing populism can both be defeated and progressive radical change enacted in its place.

For an interesting alternative point of view, which I don’t fully agree with but it provides some insights worth considering, see this recent post from Tim Wise.

Ref, vaers the yellow card?

Ref, vaers the yellow card?

Observers, especially on social media, may have noticed that the Qonion movement is engaging in scare tactics around adverse reactions to the covid-19 vaccine. Essentially, they are arguing that there are major adverse reactions to the covid-19 vaccine, including mass deaths, and they are using this to discourage those still on the fence from taking the vaccine. Their motives for this vary, but for the purposes of this post are not relevant.

One particular tactic they are using to bolster their position on this – and to flesh out their scare tactic – is relying on the USA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), as well as more recently the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme (essentially the UK equivalent to VAERS). In this they are citing the various adverse reactions to the covid-19 vaccine that are being reported in VAERS and the Yellow Card as gospel and evidence of adverse reactions, are extrapolating them to Bermuda, often embellishing with stories from Bermuda along the lines of Nicki Minaj.

Screenshot from the Bermuda Freedom Alliance Facebook page demonstrating their use of this scare tactic.

So, let’s take a look at VAERS and the Yellow Card and see if there’s anything in them that those sitting on the fence about the covid-19 vaccine need to consider – and this applies to those who have taken one shot of the vaccine but are hesitant now to take their second shot.

What is VAERS and the Yellow Card Scheme?

VAERS is a US national vaccine safety surveillance program overseen by the CDC and FDA. At the most basic, it collects and analyses reports of adverse reactions after vaccination. It is not new, established in 1990, and generally receives about 30,000 reports a year. The vast majority of reports describe known and mild side effects, such as fever. The scientists at both the CDC and FDA monitor VAERS to identify those events that require further studies to identify if the reported effect is genuinely due to the vaccine in question, and, if so, the probability of the event occurring.

Importantly, anyone can submit a report to VAERS. It is not solely healthcare professionals or vaccine manufactures that make submissions into it. Anyone can. It is essentially raw data that requires analysis and should not be taken as definite. What the scientists do is they look for unusually high numbers of reports of an adverse event after a particular vaccine or a new pattern of adverse events. If these are identified, then scientists conduct focused studies to determine if the adverse event in question is or is not a side effect of the vaccine.

If a new side-effect is identified, information about the side-effect is added to the package insert that lists safety information and accompanies the vaccine. If the side-effect is determined to be serious, and the risks of it outweigh the benefits, then the recommendation to use the vaccine is withdrawn.

What’s important to stress here is that an adverse event reported to VAERS does not necessarily mean they are side-effects caused by the vaccine in question. It may or may not be – thus the need for further investigation to determine if they are. A side-effect is when the adverse event has been shown to be linked to the vaccination by scientific studies.

I can’t stress this enough – just because something is reported to VAERS does not mean it is caused by the vaccine in question. Quite often they are chance events with no medical/causal link between the vaccine and the adverse event reported. Also, there is the risk of certain persons weaponising VAERS for ideological reasons – such as anti-vaxxers deliberately reporting false adverse events for the purpose of undermining confidence in vaccines.

The UK’s Yellow Card Scheme is essentially the same as the USA’s VAERS, with the exception that it has a wider scope. While VAERS is focused solely on vaccines, the Yellow Card applies to all medicines and medical devices, including vaccines (and even herbal remedies). Similar to VAERS, anyone can report an adverse reaction to a vaccine, and scientists study these to determine which require further studies to determine the veracity of the reported adverse reaction. As with VAERS, if, after further studies, a side-effect is identified, this is added to the safety profile for the vaccine. Similarly, if the risk of the identified side-effect is determined to outweigh the benefits of the vaccine, the vaccine can be withdrawn.

Importantly, as with VAERS, the adverse effects reported to Yellow Card are pure unverified raw data and do not mean that the adverse effect reported is indeed caused by the vaccine as opposed to chance.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

This really cannot be stressed enough. Humans are great at identifying patterns, and while this has been vital to the success of human evolution and civilisation through the development of technology, it isn’t perfect. It’s not unusual at all for our brains to make a connection that actually isn’t there. That’s why humans sometimes see images in clouds, faces in inanimate objects or generally add the proverbial two and two together and get five – such as this classic case about nigh lights and short-sightedness.

The raw data provided by VAERS and the Yellow Card do potentially provide a useful scientific tool ONLY in terms of identifying patterns that merit further research. The raw data itself is essentially meaningless. It is only the focused studies that are conducted based on patterns found from the raw data which are of use in determining whether the reported adverse effect is real (and if so, how common) or unrelated to the vaccine in question.

A very useful article for readers (especially the discussion of the Weber effect) interested is this one that looked at deaths reported to VAERS between 1997-2013; basically, over 2,149 deaths from vaccines were reported to VAERS in that time-period, but by researching the individual deaths recorded, zero were found to be actually attributable to any vaccine. There may have been a correlation, but there was no actual causation.

Give Qonion A Yellow Card!

There is no denying that databases such as VAERS and the Yellow Card Scheme are valuable tools for researchers. They provide a potential early warning system to detect adverse reactions, especially those that are too rare to show up in standard clinical trials.

However, like any tool, it can be misused.

They are vulnerable to weaponisation – both by anti-vaxxers submitting false reports to them, and by anti-vaxxers cherry picking unverified raw data and presenting the scary reports as proof that a vaccine (in this case covid-19 vaccines) cause serious harm and/or death.

This latter is the most common amongst the Qonion community, and it deserves being given a yellow card and being called out for what it is – a scare tactic based on cherry picking and logical fallacies.

If you’re worried about taking the covid-19 vaccine, please discuss with an actual doctor, including your concerns about reports of adverse reactions. But please, don’t give in to the Qonion scare tactic and take the unverified data as gospel.

Common Cold Clarity

In the midst of this fourth wave, and my being on staycation, I’ve been enjoying some nature walks and sitting off in nature. On one of my walks I passed two people also sitting off by the water, beer in hand, discussing the current outbreak. Beyond the usual pleasantries I didn’t join the conversation, mostly because it was hot and I was thirsty. Nonetheless, I thought it useful to address the key question that seemed to be animating their conversation.

Basically, they were discussing the fourth wave and whether or not to get the vaccine (they were both I’d guess in their 20s). One of them said he didn’t trust the vaccine because the common cold was caused by a coronavirus, and there’s no vaccine for that, so he didn’t trust that the vaccine for covid-19, a coronavirus, was legit. So, let’s explore that…

Is the common cold caused by a coronavirus?

As is often the case in science/medicine the answer is nuanced. It’s not a straight up yes or no. In this case the answer is ‘sort of, can be, but…’

Despite us all collectively referring to it as a single illness ‘the common cold’, what we’re actually referring to is the symptoms of an illness that can be caused by about 200 different viruses. As all of these can cause the same symptoms, we generally don’t discern between them in common conversation. Indeed, only researchers studying them really bother discerning between them. Your doctor is as likely as a random person on the street to simply call it the common cold.

Okay, so back to these 200 different viruses that can cause what we call the common cold. Of these, some are, indeed, coronaviruses, relatives to covid-19 (or SARS-CoV-2). However, the vast majority of these viruses (around 180 of the 200 or so) are not coronaviruses but actually a type of virus known as a rhinoviruses (which means, roughly, ‘virus of the nose’ which kind of indicates where you’re most likely to find them…). Of the remaining 20 or so viruses that can cause the common cold, in addition to some coronaviruses there are other types of viruses such as adenoviruses and enteroviruses.

So, essentially, some coronaviruses can cause the common cold, but most common colds are actually caused by rhinoviruses. In theory, after many years (decades, probably centuries or more), covid-19 will become a coronavirus that causes the common cold, but at the moment it is novel to our immune systems, which is why it’s so problematic to us, whereas the existing common cold coronaviruses are ones our immune system has had millennia of experience dealing with – thus why their symptoms, while annoying, are usually mild (but, of course, can cause complications for some, nonetheless).

Okay, but why don’t we have a vaccine for the common cold?

This is also a question that doesn’t lend itself to a simple answer. It’s nuanced.

The short answer is that we actually do have effective vaccines for many of the viruses that cause the common cold, and we’ve had them for decades. However, because there are about 200 viruses you would need to vaccinate again AND the symptoms of the common cold are generally mild, it’s simply not economical to vaccinate against all 200 viruses. We have enough trouble getting people to get annual flu shots, let alone covid-19 vaccines – can you imagine trying to encourage people to get 200 annual vaccine shots? It’s just not happening.

Now, that being said, if one could create either a vaccine that focuses on something universal to all the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, so you just need one vaccine and you’re good for 180 out of 200 of the viruses, that would be economically viable. Or you can create a single vaccine which includes in it the individual vaccines for tens of the common cold viruses, that, too, would be economically viable.

And researchers are, indeed, working on both of those possibilities. At the moment the ‘holy grail’ approach of a universal rhinovirus vaccine isn’t anywhere close to happening, but some working vaccines capable of vaccinating against up to 50 individual common cold viruses have been developed.

Still, there’s a lot of hurdles to make these approaches economically viable, and as the common cold in general is a mild illness and while it does have an economic cost to society (in capitalism measured in terms of loss of productivity) of about $40 billion annually, the investment needed to vaccinate against ‘the common cold’ is more prohibitive. Covid-19 however has an economic cost (in it’s first year) of about $10 trillion, and is caused by a single virus (albeit with variants), making it far more viable an investment for developing a vaccine.

And this is especially so seeing as the coronavirus has long been identified as having the potential for the pandemic we have experienced – remember the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak? It didn’t quite reach the extent that covid-19 has, but was also caused by a coronavirus. And then we had the MERS outbreak in 2012, also caused by a coronavirus. Since them, researchers have been studying coronaviruses and developing vaccines for them. The result? When covid-19 hit we didn’t have to start from scratch. We had about 80-90% of the work already done and just needed to fill in the gaps specific to the new coronavirus. And we poured huge amounts of capital and labour into that task. Which allowed us to produce a covid-19 vaccine relatively quickly.

Key takeaways?

  1. The common cold is caused by any of 200 different viruses.
  2. Some of those viruses are related to covid-19, being coronaviruses, but most (180) are actually rhinoviruses, not coronaviruses, and there’s other types of viruses also in play.
  3. We do actually have vaccines for individual common cold viruses, but it’s not practical to have 200 annual common cold vaccinations.
  4. Researchers are working on workarounds that would be economically viable and practical, but we’re not there yet.
  5. Researchers knew coronaviruses had the potential for creating a pandemic since at least the 2002-2004 SARS-1 outbreak (covid-19 is technically SARS-2) so we’ve been working on the basics of a vaccine for about 20 years – as such, we didn’t start from scratch in 2020 in developing the covid-19 vaccine, even though it was a novel virus.

Dude, where’s my flu?

I’ve written about this elsewhere on social media, but decided to create a blog post for it so I can just refer to it rather than writing it all out as needed. A stitch in time and all that.

A common question I’ve heard from some Qonion is what happened to the flu? I’m not entirely sure of why they are asking this, but my best guess is that they are trying to dismiss a lot of persons listed as being covid-19 positive and/or in the hospital or dying are not actually sick with covid-19 but actually just have the flu. To that degree it is a sister to the Qonion refrain that covid-19 is no more serious than the flu (actually, covid-19 is much more serious than the flu).

They seem to be focused on the absence of reporting on influenza cases, or the apparent reduction in influenza cases compared to pre-covid-19. So I thought I’d clarify a few things that you can keep in mind whenever you hear or come across this argument.

Flu Season

It’s not flu season in Bermuda yet. Flu season in Bermuda is roughly in line with the US flu season, generally October to May, with peaks in December through to February. As such, those raising the question about the lack of flu cases before October can easily be answered by pointing out that it’s not flu season, so hardly a surprise that there’s no flu cases. Not that you can’t get flu outside of the flu season, it’s just much less likely. Having said that, October is coming up, so you would expect to see public health messaging soon with a focus on encouraging people to get the flu shot. Not only is this to reduce the risk of illness and death from the flu in general, but as we’re still dealing with covid-19 for the foreseeable future, there is a strong public health desire to reduce the overall strain on our healthcare system. In general, flu shots are available in Bermuda from late September on, and I encourage readers to take advantage of their availability.

Public Health Precautions Work On Flu Too!

It is true that the world, and Bermuda, has seen a large decline in flu cases from March 2020 to the present, in both hemispheres (flu season in the southern hemisphere is roughly May to October). This is quite easily, simply and logically explained by pointing out that the same public health measures taken to deal with covid-19 are the same public health measures that would also deal with the flu. Namely, wearing of masks, handwashing, hand sanitizing, social distancing, lockdowns and remote working, as well as reduced travel. The same measures used to reduce the rate of covid-19 transmission also reduce the rate of influenza transmission. What was novel since March 2020 was that the seriousness of covid-19 meant we collectively really ratcheted up these public health measures. If we were to regularly wear masks, remote work, reduce travel and clean our hands regularly for flu outbreaks, we would have seen much smaller flue outbreaks pre-covid-19. No one at all should be surprised whatsoever that rates of influenza were greatly reduced in both 2020 and 2021 (so far). Reduced international travel is certainly a key role in this – remember the flu season in the North is October to May and in the South it’s May to October. What happens is when the environmental conditions for flu disappear in one hemisphere it keeps going in the other hemisphere. When you remove or greatly reduce travel between hemispheres, you sort of create a circuit breaker for flu transmission in general.

Flu Shots!

In 2020 there was a lot of public health resources invested in increasing the uptake of flu shots. I haven’t seen the exact rates for Bermuda, but it’s likely our rates followed that of the UK and the USA. The reason for this increased push to get people to take the flu shot? Covid-19. Basically, the covid-19 vaccines were not readily available at that point and from a public health perspective there was a fear of a second and even a third wave of covid-19 during the flu season, and the combination of a health system already struggling to deal with covid-19 cases also having to deal with flu cases, as well as the potential for persons to suffer from both covid-19 and the flu at the same time, wasn’t exactly a rosy picture (and indeed, our second and third covid-19 wave occurred during regular flu season). So from the public health perspective it made complete sense to push the existing flu vaccines to greatly reduce the influenza part of that threat equation. The flu shots are pretty effective for the flu – about 40% to 60% effective in reducing risk of flu illness. As a result, through a combination of higher than normal flu vaccination rates and the public health precautions in place for covid-19, that also work for the flu (see above), it’s absolutely not surprising that flu rates would have been less in 2020-2021 to date than previous years.

Schools

School children play a major role in flu outbreaks, and flu season in general. As a result of covid-19 we have seen a lot of schools go to remote learning, and when able to do in-person learning they were applying covid-19 precautions (social distancing, handwashing, hand sanitizing, regular cleaning of facilities, masks, etc.). The result was to largely remove schools from the equation of flu outbreaks, meaning greatly reducing their role in the 2020-2021 flu season.

Less Flu Post Covid-19 Easily Explained

Quite frankly, that we have collectively seen less flu since covid-19 really hit the West in March 2020 is easily explainable. You just need to reflect on it and it’s easy to understand why flu rates were down. There’s no conspiracy involved – just simple cause and effect, in this case, actions as a result of covid-19 had the side-effect of also reducing flu rates.

The Sting In The Tail – The Flu Strikes Back?

Having addressed why flu rates have been down since covid-19 hit our shores it is useful now to turn to the question of what happens next? And there we come to some potentially bad news…

With less influenza variants around due to the reduced flu season (thanks to the reasons above), this does mean that there has been less potential for mutations (the opposite is the case with covid-19, which is why we’re seeing successive waves of variants). This means it is theoretically easier for the 2021-2022 flu vaccine to be more effective than usual. Which is good. The flip side however is that due to the reduced flu season, less people than normal have encountered the flu, meaning our collective immune system is a bit rusty with this annual virus. Which means we are potentially at risk of seeing a particularly bad flu season, a sort of revenge of the flu, simply because our immune systems are less ready for the flu than we would be normally.

This can, of course, be largely headed off if a large number of the community takes advantage of the flu shots. The flu shots give our immune system the heads up they need to prepare. The challenge is that those who didn’t take the flu shot last year are more vulnerable to the flu this year, so if anything we need to see an increase in flu vaccination rates for the 2021-2022 flu season – a tall order, considering last year saw an abnormal uptake and since then the anti-vaxxers have come front and center into public health debates.

My prediction? Well, I feel we’re in line for a very bad flu season. And I feel we are at risk of the ‘twindemic’ of both a covid-19 wave and flu season peaks coinciding. Those most vulnerable to a future covid-19 wave in the midst of the upcoming flu season remains the unvaccinated persons, however the threat of our hospital being overwhelmed like it is currently while also having to deal with an unusually bad flu season is high.

All I can say is I hope I’m wrong. Both on the 2021-2022 flu season being bad and on successive covid-19 waves during the upcoming flu season. Myself, I’m not going to take any chances, and I encourage readers to take advantage of the soon to be available flu shots.

8Andrew Starling, Marilyn Starling and 6 others2 commentsLikeCommentShare

Qonion – Peeling Back The Layers

This post is an initial rough sketch of looking at the composition of Bermuda’s covid protest movement. It is not meant to be exhaustive and is based solely on my personal observations of this movement. From my perspective, they’re essentially the Bermuda version of the Qanon phenomenon, and they do, after all, share many of the positions of that movement.

All groups – political parties, pressure groups – generally are composed of different factions. They are not necessarily monoliths, even if they are single-issue organisations. They are composed by individuals, but often one can discern certain clear ‘groupings’ within them. Of course, there are often overlaps between groups, and the groups themselves are not necessarily representative of similar or wider groups. For example, not all Christians are part of this group, just that a group of Christians can be identified as a grouping within the wider Qonion movement.

What’s the utility in trying to identify the groupings involved in Qonion? I think it’s important to identify that this group is composed of diverse interests, they come to their criticism of vaccines or public health restrictions from different perspectives and backgrounds, and understanding that helps guide how one might approach representatives of the group, or the group more generally in our socio-political mileux. It’s also useful to see how this cocktail might evolve as they cross-pollinate each other.

I stress this is not exhaustive, but it’s a first rough sketch.

Right-wing Libertarians

This group is ideological and are opposed and hostile to pretty much any State actions, including the very notion of public health. To them health is completely an individual matter, the survival of the fittest, etc. They view any public health restrictions, such as lockdown, curfews, masks, etc., as a direct threat to their civil liberties. They only see ‘their’ rights and not the wider aspect of rights and responsibilities. They are driven by their ideological position. This group includes what may be described as the Sovereign Citizen movement, slogans of which have been found at various Qonion protests here.

Political Actors

This groups is composed basically of persons who have or are involved in politics. This includes persons who have run as candidates for parliament, who have, or are, serving in the Senate or the House of Assembly, as well as activists for political parties (based on their self-identification during the October 2020 election). While this crosses all parties – I can think of Qonion’ers in both the OBA and the PLP – I think it is fair to say that the FDM is a key component here, both in terms of their official positions articulated by their Leader, and the key role of their second most prominent candidate, Eugene Dean, doubling as a leading spokesperson for the Bermuda Freedom Alliance. Of course politics and ideology overlap greatly (and, indeed, the FDM’s positions in the 2020 election skewed right-wing libertarian), however this group is not necessarily ideologically driven. There can be more cynical political reasons – identifying and cultivating a fertile voter base for future elections; applying pressure internally to effect change within a party, including pushing for a leadership change – which comes along with ‘spoils of war’ in terms of Cabinet positions and other positions of patronage at your disposal.

Italists

Okay, I totally made up that name. It’s based, however, on the concept of ‘ital, which derives from Rastafarianism and the concept of vitality, eating naturally and avoiding harmful inputs into the body (such as alcohol, etc.). This is not exclusive to Rastafarianism, and indeed overlaps with the next group to a large degree. I just couldn’t think of a better name for this general group. In general, this group subscribes to the concept that if you eat right and avoid unhealthy foods (in general, processed food, sugar, meat) as well as ‘unnatural’ products, such as processed drugs and medicine (so, aspirins, vaccines, etc.) the body will be fine. Their reaction to the pandemic is to oppose vaccines (processed and unnatural) and advocate healthy eating and exercise; nothing else is needed. In as much as the Rastafarians were a persecuted group in Bermuda and the Caribbean (and many would argue continue to be so), and in as much as there is a strong Rastafarian current in this grouping (but not necessarily), there is also a ‘healthy’ suspicion of authority in this group.

New AgeI

This is a bit of a mixed group, but in general it includes what I would generally call yoga enthusiasts and crystal crusaders. They share a lot of the perspectives on Italism (above) in terms of healthy living, just they add in enthusiasm for yoga and the healing powers of crystals. This group often holds a degree of suspicion of ‘Western’ medicine and an advocacy for ‘Eastern’ medical traditions, including Ayuvedicism, Chinese medicine, Japanese (Reiki) medicine, Hadith/Prohpetic medicine, herbal medicine and various (it’s a large continent) traditional African medicine and Caribbean folk medicine. Alternative medicine in general.

Ickeans

Okay, I’ve made that term up as well. I’m using it as short-hand for persons prone to conspiracy theories in general, not necessarily those who subscribe to the beliefs of David Icke (though there are quite a lot of them in Bermuda). These people are always talking about this or that conspiracy theory, be it the Illuminati, the Freemasons, reptilians, Davos, Bill Gates, 5G or whatever the latest conspiracy is. Often they hold more than one conspiracy to be true, or blend them all into one single one – covid-19 is currently providing quite a unifying theme in that regards.

Save the Children! Just Stop the Bully!

This is an interesting group. Basically, they believe that there is a conspiracy to abuse children by elites. This takes different forms, but from what I can tell, in Bermuda’s Qonion’s, the current takes the form of seeing masking, social distancing, remote learning and vaccine availability for minors as a form of child abuse; in our local Qonion protests you’ll see it manifesting as ‘Just Stop The Bully’ signs, which is a group that seems active between Bermuda and Barbados for some reason. It’s possible that this current is also behind the new Us For Them Bermuda group that recently formed to protest against children being required to wear masks as part of public health measures in schools.

Crusaders

Again, this isn’t just Christians – there are Muslims and other faith groups represented in this group. Just, in Bermuda, the Christian variety is dominant and prominent. The basic aspect of this group is that they believe all they need is faith. They don’t need a vaccine or a mask or anything else. Their faith is all they need. At the more extreme end this group believes the pandemic is largely a Satanic or Jewish conspiracy. You can probably guess that there is some overlap in this group with the Ital group and the Ickean group – indeed, a lot of the Ickean conspiracy thinking (especially around Davos) share an undercurrent of traditional anti-semitic tropes. Also to a degree the New Age group in terms of Prophetic/Biblical medicine as distinct to modern medicine – see for example the Jehovah’s Witness medical beliefs. This group is often the ones offering up prayer and calling for a return to a more Christian theocracy – the pandemic being seen as punishment (a biblical plague if you will) for this or that offense, such as marriage equality for example.

Organisational Structure?

The above seem to be the groupings I’ve been able to observe as distinct currents within the Qonion movement.

The movement itself seems rather flexible in structure. The most organised group being the Bermuda Freedom Alliance (part of a global ‘Freedom Alliance‘ network), although, of course, they don’t represent everyone. My impression is that the Political Actors provided the main organisational backbone to the movement. They have experience organising, and also have funding behind them. A lot of the promotional material by, at least the Bermuda Freedom Alliance (such as their ‘Beyond the Pandemic’ video series), but also the Stop The Bully group seem rather professionally done, which indicates the group having some funding backers behind them. This has, of course, led to some seeing the Bermuda Freedom Alliance as a proxy of the FDM. I don’t know if that’s the case, but there are certainly overlaps (ideological and personnel) between the two groups, so it’s easy to see why that question is raised.

Omar and the Bean’s Talk

While I am trying to avoid discussing local politics on this blog, I do feel the need to address some matters relating to public health which are coming to a head in Bermuda of late – especially as we’re in the midst of our fourth wave.

As such, I thought I’d take some time and look at various aspects of what one may generally categorise as the anti-vaxx protest movement. This post itself restricts itself to simply replicating an interview that was held in the advance of the covid protest on Sunday, May 2nd, 2021.

In the run-up to this event, Mr. Marc Bean (leader of the Free Democratic Movement) was interviewed by Mr. Omar James of a local Facebook page “The People’s Group“. While the description of this group is that it is “dedicated to creating an open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process” it is currently dominated by what I consider covid or vaccine skeptics.

While there are a plethora of covid or vaccine sceptics throughout Bermudian social media at the moment, the interview with Mr. Bean provides a useful starting point for reviewing this phenomenon. It does not cover all of the key points argued by these persons, however, it is notable in providing many of their key points and comes from someone who – whether you agree with him or not – is a community leader. Indeed, his interview was widely shared and celebrated by covid or vaccine sceptics, and it is likely that through it the interview will help solidify the narrative or ‘movement’. As such, I thought it would be useful to take a look at what is being said.

I need to stress a few things here:

  1. This is going to be a long post. You might not read it all at one time, but feel free to read it in chunks. I debated writing it in a series, however I decided it best to keep it whole.
  2. Originally I envisioned fact-checking or contextualising the speech in situ. However, that would more than double the length of the post, so I’m just providing the transcript of the interview here so I can refer to it in posts as needed.
  3. I’m not interested in attacking Mr. Bean or the FDM in this or subsequent posts. Their utility is simply to provide a useful resource of themes common within this covid protest movement; those are the targets of my critique, not the individuals or organisations itself, with, I suppose, the exception of the formal protest organisation, the Bermuda Freedom Alliance. I’ll look to, in future posts, address some key issues raised, namely: (i) The Great Reset Conspiracy; (ii) Rights & Responsibilities; (iii) Covid Creation Conspiracies; (iv) Communism & Covid; (v) The Composition of the Covid Protest Movement. All of those are somewhat captured in this interview in terms of source material. So this post is more a foundational resource for future posts.
  4. For abundance of caution, I am not endorsing anything in this interview. Quite the opposite.

You can watch the video here.

I have done my best to transcribe the interview. I am not a professional transcriber, however, I’m confident I’ve done at least a decent job, and you can compare the transcript with the actual video.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

OJ Greetings, everybody. This is Mr. James representing the people’s group. You can find us on Facebook, we don’t have a website just yet, we’re still in the early stages of our development as an organization, but we have a very special guest here today. The honourable and very respected Mr. Marc Bean, former Leader of the Opposition and current leader of the free democratic movement. How you doing today Marc?

MB Greetings Brother Omar, how are you my brother?

OJ I’m good, and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and have a conversation with me. Um.. well, before we get started just for anyone who isn’t aware. Can you explain what the free democratic movement is all about?

MB Sure, first of all thank you for having me on your show. It’s a privilege and an honour. The Free Democratic Movement was formed, um, upon Premier David Burt’s call for a general election in September 2020, and it was formed based on core principles. The core principles are freedom and liberty and those core principles of freedom and liberty, uh, should be exemplified within governance structures in the form of transparency and accountability and truth and justice and righteousness – most important – and so, um, when you apply those principles within the overall, um, context of freedom and liberty, um, it’s something that we find was very much missing in Bermudian society. Now, consequently, seven, eight months later, i.e. today, persons who didn’t have a clear understanding  process you didn’t have a clear understanding of what the aims and objectives of the free democratic movement was about and what the principles, actually represented, I think now, today, as a result of our experiences within Bermuda, by this current government, I think that there’s a much deeper and greater appreciation of what freedom and liberty is, especially in the absence of the very same principles and our day to day lives. Bermuda right now is under a, an environment lead by the current government, that has erased and is erasing, um, freedom and liberty from the citizens of this country, so I know, I think, people can now appreciate what the Free Democratic Movement represents. And what we represent is a complete antithesis of what this current government is practicing within the country today.

OJ Yeah, I liked it, I liked it, and, well, for some background on how this interview even came about, so, there was someone in our group that had posted, uh, you interview with the Royal Gazette, this was back in February; it was titled, uh, Bermuda went too far over covid-19, and I think, a funny thing about that article was, the first comment on that article, was actually talking about how everything was fine, and shops were open and everyone’s having a good time, but, since that time, as, you know, everyone as you know, this is April and now we’re on a second lockdown, and the government’s just, uh, imposed some new measures, that separates vaccinated people from unvaccinated people, so I think, the message that you just, the message that you just stated is really resonating with people, you know? And I think

MB Yeah…

OJ And I think like people really feel that their rights are being infringed upon, so I think that…

MB As they should…

OJ Yeah

MB Any right thinking self-respecting, um, person, whether male or female, would innately feel, when they, uh, their rights, are being trampled upon, and when they are not being treated fairly – and it’s something that is accentuated in an environment like today, where you have, you know, a so-called public health issue, being used as the pretext for removing these fundamental freedoms that we find in our constitution and every other civil society. Um, um, civil society, um, you know, um construct, and so people should feel very, very uncomfortable about it and they should be prepared to take actions to arrest what appears to be a clear descent and decline into the abyss, the abyss of social and economic chaos.

OJ Mm-mmm. I feel that. So, with the People’s Group, the organization that we’re trying to get off the ground, our mission statement is that we’re dedicated to creating an open and honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest. And we want to work towards that, because, another thing that you had mentioned was that you feel that, um, everyone, from the, the government, the backbenchers, the fifth estate, the media, and the voting public, were not doing a good job of holding the government accountable. So, that’s what we want our organization to be about, is holding the government accountable, so, like, do you have any advice for us on how we best achieve it?

MB Yes… Well, first I welcome you, and when you hold the government to account, make sure that it’s without partiality, so, regardless of which government is in power on the day, um, it’s incumbent when you’re the role of being, or providing, social and political analysis and commentary, that you try to present the facts and the truth as you see it, without bias. And so then you allow persons to make up their own minds. Unfortunately today, you find that many institutions have moved away from that integrity. And so I welcome and encourage you to, um, to raise or keep the standards very high and avoid some of the pitfalls that mainstream media has slipped into. Now, that slippage by mainstream media, some would say that might be just laziness. I don’t think it’s laziness, I think it’s, um, something, it’s cooperation and coordination on that part with the government of the day, with Government House and, and with other institutions, in particular international business, because these are the main groups that are advocating the, um, the status quo narrative of get vaccinated and basically bow down to the dictates of a group that want their desires to be implemented, against the wishes of others. So, you know, that’s something that is very concerning, and I think that you all should continue to, um, you know, hold fast to, to your integrity and principles, and make sure that you get the truth out to the persons, the people of this country, so they know exactly what’s going on, so they have the knowledge to make the appropriate decisions.

OJ Got you. So, you know, I don’t really think of this as like an interview, where I’m asking you questions and, you know, you answer or whatever. I want it to be more like, just a conversation, right, so…

MB No problem…

OJ So, yeah, so I mean, I just wanted to sort of discuss a couple of things with you. So, so, um, expanding on to what you just talked about, about people getting together and holding the government accountable, what do you think about this, um, this protest that’s been planned for next week? It’s, we know everyone tried, or someone tried to plan a protest a few weeks ago that didn’t work out, but this one looks to be gaining a lot of steam. So, do you have any, like, thoughts on that? Do you think, or, any opinion on it at all?

MB Sure, it’s something that I encourage. I encourage persons who are not satisfied with the direction of the country to join with the organisers of the protests and let their voices be heard. Hopefully that will be a catalyst for pressure, so the members of parliament and the leadership of this country will recognize that people are not satisfied, and you should use it as an opportunity to peacefully protest, and express yourselves within your constitutional, um, um, construct. You are free to say what you like, but remember that liberty isn’t licensed, but certainly take the opportunity to, to protest, absolutely. I think that should be the start of, of changes that persons must demand, in order for their rights to be upheld. But this current government and this current Premier, right, is a master of protests. He actually rolled into leadership, right, within the PLP and, um, and within the government by carefully calculated protests. One example is the pepper spray incident in December 2nd. Many people would think that the pepper spray incident was something that emanated from either the British government or the One Bermuda Alliance government – that’s not true. I’m gonna let everyone know that the pepper spray incident is something that was coordinated and orchestrated, none other by your current Premier, David Burt, okay? So that’s an example of the sleight of hand that you will see in play and what you’re experiencing right now. What you see is not what you get. You have to be very much aware that, um, that you have leadership that is willing to deceive you, by any means necessary, in order to accomplish their aims and objectives.

OJ So, that’s real deep, because, you know, a lot of us, so a lot of people in my circles, that’s what we talk about, you know? I always tell people that, with any politician, and David Burt in particular, you need to look, and don’t look at exactly what he does, try to look forward into the future, and think, what does this action that he’s performing now, what, where does he stand to benefit from that? That’s what I try to do when I look at whatever David Burt’s doing now. So, when I look back at things like last year, when he, when he said that they expected 700 people to die if, you know, we didn’t follow the rules and all that, and immediately I knew that was a tactic, you know, a scare tactic to try to get people to do what he, what he wants them to do. And, you know, fast forward a year, we haven’t had anywhere near  700 deaths, but we’re still in a state of lockdown, we’re still, um, having new rules and regulations that people don’t agree with, like, sort of imposed on us. So, where do you see things going from here, with the government’s covert response, and what do you think they stand to gain by that?

MB I see that the government is going to double down in their efforts to, to, basically oppress the citizens of this country. And there’s a good question, why? Why would you actually want to do something to people that you actually knock on their doors and canvas and ask for their votes, and they actually offer you gingerbread and invite you into their living rooms and, and, invite you to their parties and to their social events, but, all of a sudden you’re switched up and you want to, somehow, put the yoke of oppression on your own people. Why? Well, usually the incentive for politicians, and non-politicians, to do something against your own self-interest is usually based around financial; it’s a financial incentive, somehow, some why. Now, I’m not about to go and say that David Burt is benefitting in one way or the other, in terms of finances, but the questions must be asked, who could he possibly be serving in this regard, when the majority of the people of this country are against the lockdown policies, the shutting down of the economy, the destruction of jobs, the increasing of unemployment. Why would you actually do that? Who could be, who could you be benefitting? Well, I will tell you that the people that he is serving are not Bermudians. Okay, some might be, but David Burt, like the majority of leaders in the world today are serving a global entity. Right, and that’s just a fact. Okay, and what is ironic, and I think is disappointing but not surprising is that in the case of David Burt and the Overseas Territories, i.e. Cayman and Anguilla and Turks & Caicos, it appears that the leadership in these Overseas Territories are going above and beyond their counterparts within the Caribbean and other areas, to try and prove to these powers that be, that they have the ability and willingness to lockdown their own people.

You see, you have, I know of one, um, Minister of Finance who was bragging in another country, not this country, but was bragging and boasting about how he’s going, he’s anticipating that by the time covid is over, after politics, he’ll be able to slide into a nice cushy position in one of these very same international organisations, i.e. the IMF, your World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the Bank of International Settlements, the OECD. Right, so, politicians have self-interest, right, at the forefront of their decision-making, and in this case, I find it extremely, extremely, disappointing that the, the, um, Overseas Territories, led by Bermuda, are going beyond any other jurisdiction in trying to put their people on lockdown. And so, um, that, that is, that’s something that the people of Bermuda have to recognize that you have been put into a socially engineered bubble by David Burt. You seem to think that what you’re experiencing now in Bermuda is the experience of others, of other people in other jurisdictions. Even the United Kingdom, today, isn’t locked down the way you are being locked down, okay, so the question is David Burt, what is the reason for destroying the private sector in Bermuda, using, uh, covid, as the rationale for doing so.

Why would you want to destroy capital? Why would you want to destroy and displace labour? Why would you want to destroy entrepreneurial ideas, you know, and risk taking? Why would you actually want to turn Bermuda on its head and send it back to the dark ages? What motivation could you possibly have? Don’t tell me that it’s about health, because up until this day, you haven’t said one thing, one thing positive or instructive to the people of this country in regards to their health and their wellness and their well-being, so it can’t be about, uh, health. So it must be another motivation, and I say that that motivation is insidious. It’s dark and insidious.

So, let me just sum up this way. Many persons, belatedly I would say, are now asking where is the voices, um, to defend the people? Where are the voices to defend the people? Where is the membership of the Free Democratic Movement? There seems to be a void, etc. etc. Well, I understand that, um, but, first and foremost, now, Bermuda is at the crossroads, because instructions and advice has been presented to the people of this country, by myself, and others, for years, and it was rejected, okay, so now we’re finding ourselves with our backs up against the wall. So, instead of gloating and saying ‘I told you so’, for the sake of our people and our children and our grandchildren, I’m going to give a simple piece of advice, that people can utilize now, to act upon, so we can bring the requisite changes that people so desire. And that is this. Democratically, you have 36 members of parliament. The Premier serves at the will and pleasure of a majority of that 36. That means that 19 members of parliament have the power to change who is the Premier. If you have 19, or 20 or 21 or above it, regardless of which so-called Party they represent, if they no longer have confidence in the direction of this country, then it’s their responsibility and obligation to get together, to consult with one another, get the numbers together, and go to Government House. When they go to Government House and they let her excellency the Governor know that they have lost confidence in the leadership of Premier David Burt, then the Governor’s obligation and responsibility is to then ascertain, um, whether or not these 19, or 20, or 21 persons is actually legitimate. She will more than likely have a discussion with each person; each person will have to sign a paper or form indicating their loss of confidence in the Premier, and then the next question would be, is there anyone amongst you who can command the authority of a majority in the House, that I can then appoint as the Premier of Bermuda. Some persons might be asked, well, who could that be? At this point in time, when you’re faced with a despotic leader, it is incumbent to focus on removal of that leader, and then allowing the democratic process to, to, to come to the fore, to determine who then can replace that person. Now, that could be a democratic process, constitutionally, as I’m speaking, or even, subsequently to the delegates conference of the PLP. But because of the handling of this, covid response, over the last year, I don’t think the responsibility to determine who will be the next leader should rest solely, respectfully, in the hands of the delegates of the Progressive Labour Party. So this is what I will say. Now that you understand that the members of parliament that you voted for, and you put into power, and you have blessed with a $3,000 to $10,000 a month salary to do God knows what at this point, you need to start holding them to account the same way David Burt is holding you to account on a day-to-day basis in Bermuda by putting you in lockdown. In other words, you have an obligation to call up your member of parliament, knock on their doors, and ask them how soon it’s going to take for you to act to remove this man as the Premier, because if you do not act, if you choose not to remove him democratically, then not only will we remember this in the next election, we’ll take steps – okay, you can take steps – to force by-elections, and ask these persons to remove themselves.

See, one thing I do know about, my political, my former political colleagues, they are human too, and sometimes they just need a little encouragement, okay, to stand upright and a reminder to represent you first. It’s encouraging, if you are tired of [the] governance in the country today, well, you can have a change of government in the next few days, but you have to put pressure on, remember, your respective members of parliament, and make their lives just as uncomfortable as your lives are today. What comes along with politics, this isn’t Mickey Mouse business, this is a matter of life or death, so if you’re going to ask me, Mark Bean, what is the direction that we need to take, then the people need to put on their shield and buckle and have the courage as, of men and women of valor and stand up for your children and grandchildren and force these so-called members of parliament, who call themselves honourable, to represent your interests to the end. And accept nothing less. Okay, that is your, that is your right, okay, that is your right, and it’s their privilege. And that is the message that I want to get across to the people of this country. There are others who are now, some, sounding the same clarion call that something is wrong with our country, and you know what is wrong with our country. We see a dictatorial approach being pushed on the masses, thinking and acting as if the people of this country are simple, while you’re only as simple as David Burt, as he thinks you are. If you don’t want to be simple, if you want to stand up for your rights, let him know that enough is enough! Let these members of parliament know that enough is enough is enough! Let her excellency the Governor know that enough is enough! Let the police commissioner and his command, and theirs under his command, know that enough is enough! Let the Colonel at the Bermuda Regiment know that enough is enough!

Bermuda is too small to be turned into a one-party dictatorial State, and you continue down this path at your peril. I warn you, the powers that be, Bermuda is too small okay, we all know where everyone lives. It’s too small to go along this path of oppressing the people of this country, destroying businesses, creating divide and rule between those who get vaccinated and those who didn’t get vaccinated. It’s time for us to break off the shackles of oppression, and the oppression, unbelievably, isn’t Henry Tucker, it isn’t the One Bermuda Alliance, it is not, even though they’re complicit, it isn’t the United Bermuda Party. Lo and behold as I think about Dame Louis Browne-Evans and Freddie Wade and Arnold Francis and Walter Robinson, I declare that the Progressive Labour Party today has been hijacked. This is not the Progressive Labour Party of my forefathers! My forefathers, your forefathers, are the Progressive Labour Party, are rolling in their graves today! They would never ever accept such behavior, and you shouldn’t either. That’s my message to the people of this country.

OJ Mark…

MB Fight for your rights.

OJ That was some heat, and that was big – I could applaud [clapping] for that because I couldn’t have said it better myself; I couldn’t have wrote anything better. [Both laugh] No, I’m serious; I mean, what people don’t understand is that we have the power to vote them in, we have the power to get them out. And if enough of you feel that way, then we need to start standing up for ourselves and…

MB Exactly!…

OJ  …and holding them to account…

MB Correct – put them under the same pressure that the people are feeling today…

OJ That’s right!

MB You can’t go exercise outside of a mile of your house; you can’t go to the beach – are you joking? But at the same time, you can’t even get no work, but these politicians are sitting up comfortably. No. Listen, let me tell you something Omar, in the real world, as they say in Jamaica no go so bredren. There’s no way that can go down in any other country with right thinking people. There’s no way they can tolerate such behavior. You can’t allow some oppressor man. I don’t care what colour he is, I don’t care what he sounds like, you need to stand up and be honourable to your forebearers – do you know what they sacrificed? They sacrificed everything! To allow some joker to come along and dictate and destroy the people of this country? Come on bro, come on now, come on now. I’m going to, hey listen, that’s unacceptable, that’s unacceptable. So, if people want to hear a voice, then there’s, that’s one of the voices. But the people need to have the courage themselves. They need to show, as soon as you show that courage, speak out, our so-called leaders are going to flee. Mark my words.

OJ That’s right… So, before we roll out of here, right, I just wanted to get your opinion on, sort of, um, other countries and their response to covid. Because, in the States, for example, where they have a lot of these covid responses handled at the, at the local level, so each State has its own response…

MB Yes..

OJ You have two States, I’m only using this example, Florida and California. California is completely locked down, similar to Bermuda, but I don’t think it’s as bad to be honest, and Florida is completely open, and they’ve been open for the whole time. So, I’m looking at the numbers, and this is from a source that’s completely unbiased and doesn’t lean in any, either, direction, it’s just looking [on screen is a graphic; it doesn’t have a URL, but has ‘Health, Pharma & Medtech . State of Health’ with the figure title reading ‘Death rates from coronavirus (covid-19) in the United States as if April 26th, 2021, by State, per 100,000 people.’] at the numbers. And the death rate for each country [sic] is pretty, I mean for each State, it’s pretty much similar. Florida’s ranked the, with the 23rd highest death rate in the, of the 50 States, and California is 25.

MB Yes, so, what that tells me is that the so-called science that they’re depending on is fraudulent. It’s not real, okay. A lot of things that they’re pushing out there is just fraudulent. It’s not real. And, and, so I know that I spend a lot of time in Florida, and it was just the other day that we had Spring Break and then, the mainstream media was speaking about how, you know, there’s going to be massive covid outbreaks, you know, by the spring breakers, young millennials, who had descended upon Florida in March, once they realized that they could go and party and, to their chagrin, you know, to this day, there’s no reports of any deaths or any, um, negative consequences of this, you know, period in Florida, you know. So, it really makes you question, you know, what, what is the purpose of David Burt’s putting, you know, locking people up or fining people for having house parties, or even meeting at Camden, or anywhere in Bermuda for that matter, you know, under the guise that, you know, people are being irresponsible. This very fascist, Marxist mindset, like pointing and making you feel guilty for just being alive.

OJ Yeah

MB But then when you look at Florida, you see that, you know, you’ve got hundreds of dollars, you’ve got thousands and thousands of young people, right, up and down South Beach to West Palm Beach, and there are no reports of any so-called deaths from covid. Okay, so the science, it reveals that the science that they are speaking of is a media science. If you went into a country that had no media, covid wouldn’t exist.

OJ You know, I think… I’m not a conspiracy theorist, if anybody is watching. I believe covid is real, but I believe that the truth about covid is something that… people in the position of power take and they bend it to whatever will they want; if they want the numbers to help them oppress people, they’ll bend it that way. If they want the numbers to help them achieve some other gain, they’ll bend it in that direction. That’s what happens.

MB Let’, let’s, let’s put to rest any idea of conspiracy theories [or theorists] right, and let’s just talk, let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. On October 19th, 2019, at John Hopkins University, hosted by John Hopkins University Health Sciences I believe, sponsored by the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, you had a scenario planning exercise called Event 201. I would encourage everyone who is listening to this video to go ahead and Google Event 201. And when you sit down and listen, with your cold beer or your glass of wine, you know, you and your boo-boos, whoever, just take a listen to a scenario plan of a coronavirus outbreak. Alright, this was in October 2019, and the so-called coronavirus actually broke out of Wuhan, China, in December 2019. But you know what is eerily accurate? The predictions of this scenario plan. Don’t take my word for it – listen to it and you tell me how accurate that scenario planning exercise is in terms of how we are living today. Right, and, let me emphasize that this is an event that was sponsored by the great Bill Gates and his lovely wife Melinda Gates [NB – the intonation and facial expressions at this point make clear he is being sarcastic in my opinion], and their foundation that does so much great work around the world and the World Economic Forum, who’s president is Mr., Dr. Klaus Schwab and, and the World Economic Forum, if I could remind you that this is where David Burt went in 2016-17, and returned with his FinTech mandate that most people in Bermuda today are wondering about, well, what is the purpose, etc., etc.. Well, that is part of a much greater strategy that Mr. Schwab himself has termed the Great Reset and the Great Reset, basically is, seems, it appears to be a, a globalist approach to Marxism and fascism, where you have big business in, in cahoots with governments and a few other big entities, and it’s, uh, not about giving freedom to the population. It seems to be the population is on increasing, increasing, global control. And so, if you want to know what the agenda is, going right back to your first question, that’s what it is. And that’s who David Burt’s serving. Okay. And so that is the problem that we’re facing, today, is that we are under the control and under the influence of persons whose interest is not Bermuda or Bermudians. And I dare say whose interest don’t seem to be humanity. And so, if you want to know, or let’s debunk all the conspiracy theories, just go to the horse’s mouth, the person who’s putting his money where his mouth is, Mr. Bill Gates, who sponsored Event 201, and that would explain to you exactly where we are at and what to expect going forward in the future. The Free Democratic Movement is an entity that represents an antidote, the antithesis, to this overall centralized, globalized movement to reduce humanity to serfs and to take freedom and liberty and the spiritual birthright away from them. That’s what we represent. And, let me, let me end by saying this to the same powers that be – I’ve got a little message for you: In this big scheme of things, right, in this, in this battle right here, you lose. Alright, I’m just forecasting, before you get ahead of yourself and think that you’re winning, you’re actually losing this match, alright? Give thanks.

OJ Mark, thank you so much for stopping by, it was great chatting with you, having this conversation.

MB Yes bredren.

OJ Anybody listening, stop by the group on Facebook, People’s Group, we are open to everybody, no matter what your political slant, no matter what your opinion is, you’re for things, you’re against it, you like the government, you hate them, it doesn’t matter, just come and have a great conversation and, hey, look up the, um, Free Democratic Movement if you’re looking for a third option in the next election and, you know, check out Mr. Marc…

MB We wouldn’t… the FDM, the FDM is, is alive and well, quality more important than quantity, and we certainly would not be a third option at the next election, um, we would be in a position, by virtue of us being steadfast and consistent to our principles and our policies, people will be able to trust us, which is more important than anything today – that’s the most, that’s the ultimate political currency, and that is trust that comes along from truth and honour and, uh, as a result of that combination, we are confident that, at the right time, we will be well positioned to assume governance in this country, but it’s a governance that’s meant to arrest the, the, uh, the negative impact and this, this spiral that the country is, uh, within, at this point.

OJ Thank you so much Marc. Everybody have a good evening.

MB Bless.

The American Crisis – Some Characteristics of Rightwing Populism

The last week has been busy, preventing me getting back to this. And the week ahead is already looking like an even busier week!

Carrying on with the excellent work of Berlet & Lyons Right-Wing Populism in America (which I thoroughly recommend as a fantastic introduction and history of the phenomenon), they identify four more or less essential characteristics of right-wing populism, in addition to that which I provided an overview of in my previous posts. These are:

  1. Producerism
  2. Demonisation & Scapegoating
  3. Conspiracism
  4. Apocalyptic Narratives & Millennial Visions
The pillars of this mandapa are pretty heavily carved and topped with vyala brackets like capital.

I am going to try and give a summary of these, as I think they – along with the previous posts – are important in getting an understanding of the challenge that rightwing populism poses in our time. And, while the focus is on the USA, it is useful to reflect on this exploration into what rightwing populism is and see how it plays out in other countries. Aspects of this analysis are certainly informative when looking at the UK, Bermuda and elsewhere.

First though, I think it would be wrong to say that all four of these characteristics are always present; it’s more that these four characteristics are often present. Some rightwing populist groups might have three out of four for example.

Producerism

In general this refers to a belief that the real producers in society are faced with parasites both above and below; the above being unproductive elites who exploit the actual producers; the below being groups such as ‘the poor’ or defined ethnic or religious groups who are branded as lazy and immoral, who survive by leeching off the producers.

What constitutes the ‘producing’ classes vary, but in general, from my experience, those espousing these views seem to identify them with the middle class, entrepreneurs, farmers and Whites generally. The elites considered to be parasites identified in this view I have found to be bankers, speculators, monopolists, big landlords, most politicians, the civil service, union leaders and Jewish people. Similarly, based on my experience with those espousing these views, the people ‘below’ that are leeching off the producers tend to be people of colour, homeless people, those needing to use welfare, immigrants and Muslims.

I agree with Berlet and Lyon where they conclude that: “Producerism, with its baggage of prejudice, remains today the most common populist narrative on the right, and it facilitates the use of demonisation and scapegoating as political tools.”

Demonisation & Scapegoating

I feel these ones are pretty self-explanatory. However, there are two paragraphs in Berlet & Lyon which I feel are worth quoting in full here:

“Demonisation of an enemy often begins with marginalisation, the ideological process by which targeted individuals or groups are placed outside the circle of wholesome mainstream society through political propaganda and age-old prejudice. This creates an us-them or good-bad dynamic of dualism, which acknowledges no complexity or nuance and forecloses meaningful civil debate or practical political compromise.”

“The next step is objectification or dehumanisation, the process of negatively labeling a person or group of people so they become perceived more as objects than real people. Dehumanisation often is associated with the belief that a particular group of people is inferior or threatening. The final step is demonisation, the person or group is framed as totally malevolent, sinful and evil. It is easier to rationalise stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, scapegoating and even violence against those who are dehumanised and demonised.”

Scapegoating then being wrongfully blaming a person or a group for problems. It is denial through projection. Again, Berlet and Lyon provide a useful passage worth quoting:

“We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group re directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonised as malevolent wrongdoers. The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are let off the hook.”

“Scapegoating often targets socially disempowered or marginalised groups. At the same time, the scapegoat is often portrayed as powerful or privileged. In this way, scapegoating feeds on people’s anger about their own disempowerment, but diverts this anger away from the real systems of power and oppression. A certain level of scapegoating is endemic in most societies, but it more readily becomes an important political force in times of social competition or upheaval. At such times, especially, scapegoating can be an effective way to mobilise mass support and activism during a struggle for power.”

It’s not hard to see this at play in the American crisis. Be it the demonisation of Muslims, immigrants, social activists (BLM and ‘antifa’) for example. Nor is it surprising that, while this was always present in the USA, it really saw an explosive growth following the 2008 economic crisis, which still haunts us today.

Conspiracism

I know I’m quoting from Berlet & Lyon quite a bit…

“Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorises the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. Like other forms of scapegoating, conspiracism often, though not always, targets oppressed or stigmatised groups. In many cases, conspiracism uses coded language to mask ethnic or racial bigotry, for example, attacking the Federal Reserve in ways that evoke common stereotypes about ‘Jewish bankers’. Far-right groups have often used such conspiracy theories as an opening wedge for more explicit hate ideology.”

One need only think of Qanon, of the hysteria about antifa, about BLM as a Marxist plot, the ‘gay agenda’, 5G and anti-vaxxers, especially in reaction to public health advice around covid-19.

And sometimes people outside of the far-right (but this provides an opening for them) may use conspiracism to make sense of genuine inequity, but in doing so fail to recognise the actual power relations at work in society. As such, real life experiences of inequality can be the basis for conspiracism that actual blinds the believer from the true nature of the inequality they experience.

And this is, in a way, reinforced by the fact that there are actual conspiracies – one need only look at Watergate, the tobacco industry covering up knowledge about cancer, the FBI’s COINTELPRO of spying and dirty tricks, and so on. However, conspiracism differs from legitimate efforts to expose these actual conspiracies:

“First, the conspiracist worldview assigns tiny cabals of evildoers a superhuman power to control events; it regards such plots as the major motor of history. Conspiracism blames individualised and subjective forces for political, economic, and social problems rather than analysing conflict in terms of systems, institutions, and structures of power.”

“Second, conspiracism tends to frame social conflict in terms of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil that reflect the influence of the apocalyptic paradigm.”

“Third, in its efforts to trace wrongdoing to one vast plot, conspiracism plays fast and loose with the facts. While conspiracy theorists often start with a grain of truth and ‘document’ their claims exhaustively, they make leaps of logic in analysing evidence, such as seeing guilt by association or treating allegations as proven fact.”

“Conspiracists attacks can be directed either ‘upward’ or ‘downward’. Anti-elite conspiracism targets groups seen as sinister elites abusing their power from above. Counter-subversive scapegoating targets groups portrayed as subversives trying to overturn the established order from below or from within.”

I’ve mentioned some examples above already. Here’s some more – the 9/11 conspiracy, pretty much anything around Bill Gates, the reptilians of Icke, freemasons, unions, scientists advocating public health advice during the covid-19 pandemic, the Muslim Brotherhood, environmentalists talking about climate change. And so on.

Also, it’s not difficult how some members of the elite may wish to take advantage of some forms of anti-elite conspiracism to both distract from a wider and radical critique of capitalism, as well as to benefit their own faction (class interests) at the expense of rivals. Similarly, it isn’t difficult to see how the elite may benefit from encouraging counter-subversive scapegoating in as much as it distracts from the actual causes of social inequality and helps protect the elite from potential threats from anti-oppression struggles.

Apocalyptic Narratives and Millennial Visions

Apocalypticism in this sense means the anticipation of a righteous struggle against evil conspiracies. Millenialism here is a more specific form of apocalypticism, more directly related to certain Christian fundamentalist narratives.

While these can often be religious based, with various aspects of the Book of Revelation featuring prominently with this or that being attributed as the Anti-Christ, or this or that as the Mark of the Beast (most recently this is being attributed to the covid-19 vaccines), they can also take a secular form. The idea of a New World Order, of a global government would be an example of such a secular apocalyptic narrative.

It isn’t hard to see how this characteristic drawers on the previous themes of producerim, demonisation, scapegoating and conspiracism.

The American Crisis – What is rightwing populism?

It is difficult to fully define anything – there are always exceptions to the rule – and I am not a fan of dictionary explanations of certain things (there are many Whites for example who refuse to recognise structural racism, insisting instead only on a narrow dictionary definition of racism, restricting it solely to overt racial discrimination, for example).

However, it is important to get at least a general outline of what rightwing populism is, and more specifically how it manifests in the USA. This is what I attempt to do here.

I am going to follow the lead of Margaret Canovan where she argues that all forms of populism “involve some kind of exaltation and appeal to ‘the people’, and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist.” And I also agree with the sentiments of Berlet & Lyons (2000) in their excellent book (which informs much of this series on this matter) where they develop a working definition of populism as:

  1. Involves a celebration of ‘the people’; and
  2. Some form of anti-elitism.

They go on to distinguish a populist movement from populist appeals with the qualification that a populist movement uses populist themes to mobilise a mass constituency as a sustained political or social force.

There are of course both rightwing and leftwing forms of populist movements (and I suppose there may also be centrist populist movements). Additionally, they may be authoritarian or egalitarian in nature, and based on a charismatic cult of a central leader or a decentralised movement based around a motivating idea. They may be advocates of a new future system, or conservatives that romanticise a fabled past ‘golden age’ that they seek to reassert. Further, what falls under the concept of ‘the people’ can be inclusive or it can be ethnic or other identity based. Some may be based on an actual critique of real existing social structures (such as class or structural racism), or they may be based on absurd conspiracy theories (i.e. lizard people or Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

Additionally, populist movements may be repressive in nature or emancipatory. A repressive populist movement is one that mixes anti-elite rhetoric (and scapegoating) with efforts to create, maintain or intensify systems of social privilege and power. Such as race or sex. Often they involve channeling popular discontent away from emancipatory, positive social change and towards oppressing marginalised or vulnerable groups (ethnic or other minorities, immigrants – so, for example, against Filipino workers but away from the bosses who exploit them to depress the general wage of labour…).

Sara Diamond offers what I think is a succinct definition for determining a rightwing from a leftwing movement: “To be rightwing means to support the State in its capacity as an enforcer of order and to oppose the State as a distributor of wealth and power downward and more equitably in society.”

I also agree with Berlett & Lyon’s argument that a rightwing populist movement “is a repressive populist movement motivated or defined centrally by a backlash against liberation movements, social reform, or revolution. This does not mean that rightwing populism’s goals are only defensive or reactive, but rather that its growth is fueled in a central way by fears of the Left and its political gains.”

It is not hard to see much of the rightwing populist movement, throughout the USA’s history, as fitting the above. One need only look at the KKK as a reaction to Black empowerment during the reconstruction era, and since, especially during the civil rights era. Or the Tea Party (and Trumpism) as a reaction to the election of a Black President and gains made by the Democrats in the 2008 (such as the Affordable Care Act).

What do you think – is the above a good working introduction to what rightwing populism is?

For those interested, I strongly recommend Berlet and Lyon (2000) Right-Wing Populism in America – Too Close For Comfort (The Guilford Press). I picked it up early on in the Trump regime and have found it very informative; much of the early part of this series The American Crisis is indebted to the insights of this book.

Also cited above are:

Canovan, M. (1981) Populism. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.

Diamond, S. (1995) Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements & Political Power in the United States. The Guilford Press.

The American Crisis – Key Theses

There is a lot to cover regarding the American crisis, and my analysis will likely change as the crisis continues to develop and as I look more deeper into things. This post seeks solely to provide a skeleton look at my thinking at the moment. Subsequent articles will look to expand on these issues; I just want to put down in writing my current thinking and for readers to have a birds-eye view of it.

  1. The American crisis is in the immediate sense a result of the success of the neoliberal revolution against the social democratic state in Europe and its equivalent in the USA, the Keynesian compromise that grounded the social compact between capital and labour.
  2. Having said that, currents of rightwing populism have existed in the US since its creation. One can trace the thread of rightwing populism from the earliest colonial times, with the genocidal wars against the indigenous people, to the building of slavery, through to the civil war, the KKK, the racial massacres following WW1, the growth of the fascist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, McCarthyism, the struggles of the civil rights era, the economic nationalism of Pat Buchanan, the growth of Christian evangelism, the development of the militia movement in the 1980s and 1990s, the jingoism of the War on Terror, the emergence of the Tea Party movement in reaction to the election of Obama and right through to the Trumpian mess we have today.
  3. The essence of this rightwing populism in the USA is (i) mid-level groups who have a stake in traditional social privilege but feel their position is precarious while also resent the power of groups above them, ‘the elites’; and (ii) factions of the ‘elite’ who use forms of anti-elitism to either curry more power for their faction or as a tool to deflect potential threats to the social order (and thus their own – and for all elites – welfare). It goes without saying that a good chunk of this is based on White supremacy, as well as patriarchy.
  4. The failure of the USA left – already weakened by the McCarthyism of the Cold War – to counter the neoliberal revolution and to advance an alternative, has led to a vacuum within the working class which the right has exploited; it has produced fertile ground for rightwing populism to grow.
  5. The coup attempt of January 6th was more the heralding of a new era of rightwing activism. There will be further insurrectionary attempts in the near future (January 17th and January 20th in particular), followed by a move to the underground by the more militant elements (think domestic terrorist attacks along the lines of assassinations, bombings and occupations a la Malheur Refuge).
  6. The militant right is the immediate threat, and the left will have to mobilise to defend against it.
  7. However, the greater threat in the long-term is a return to a ‘business-as-usual’ Democrat regime. The social and economic pressures that birthed the rightwing populist threat must be addressed, otherwise one has the dilemma that Hercules faced fighting the giant Antaeus. No matter how defeated the giant was, once it touched the ground it was able to renew its strength and fight back. The American crisis cannot be ended with band-aids. It requires a radical restructuring of American society.
  8. As such, the left cannot be complacent and expect a return to normalcy under a Biden Presidency. The left must continue to mobilise within and without the Democratic Party. This means a focus to rebuild union power in the USA, while also building alliances (and in this there are lessons from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Corbyn’s Labour in the UK) with social movements such as BLM.
  9. The coming struggle is thus on two sides; the immediate threat is combating the rightwing populist threat, but the struggle against establishment Democrats and/or the construction of a new force must not be ignored.
  10. The Republican Party also cannot be ignored. In the immediate term they risk a fracture between the far-right and the relatively more moderate right.
  11. It is possible the Trumpian faction might spin-off completely to form a new party, not dissimilar to the rise of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in Germany which absorbed to more right-wing of the Christian Democrats.
  12. It seems likely that the more moderate faction will search for a new ideological approach. My intuition is that the project centered around Oren Cass, the American Compass, with it’s conservative labour approach is well placed here, and their ideology needs to be examined and countered.
  13. There are consequences for Bermuda here as well. Any advances in the US left struggle invariably will have ramifications for us. Wins in the USA give the left in Bermuda the energy to advance leftist struggles here. Furthermore, there are questions related to our constitutional relationship with the UK which the Trump era, in particular following the coup attempt (and the potential for a more successful coup in the future), that we need to prepare for. It is abundantly clear that a Brexit UK was happy to cosy up to a fascist in the White House for its own interests, and that has consequences for Bermuda to consider going forward.
  14. We must also consider what the coup attempt, and the continuation of the American crisis means globally, both in terms of economics and geopolitics. This must include the impact of Brexit and the rise of China.
  15. While the American Empire is in decline, it would be a mistake to write them off. The new regime under Biden will likely look to try and reestablish American hegemony, and this will have ramifications of its own, even if it is only temporarily successful.