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The mangling and misappropriation of historical facts reached another dismal new low over the weekend, when anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggested the stubbornly unvaccinated are worse off than Anne Frank.
“Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did,” said Kennedy in a speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.
An analogy too absurd and gross to dwell on. Kennedy spread his misinformation with a microphone in broad daylight before a crowd protesting Covid-19 vaccine requirements.
Suffice it to say Frank hid quietly in a cramped attic in the Netherlands to avoid detection before she was discovered and killed by Nazis.
Watch this “60 Minutes” report that aired this month on the new theory, from a retired FBI agent, about who might have betrayed Frank. Pay attention to the visuals of the cramped attic where Frank lived, hidden, for years.
Covid-19 vaccines are estimated to have saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. President Joe Biden’s effort to require vaccines for most US workers has been halted by the Supreme Court, although multiple cities now require proof of vaccination status for indoor dining and other communal activities.
The comparison of Covid-19 public health efforts to the actions of Nazis has become a recurring theme, even though its repugnance never fades.
Recall that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green was shamed into visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington last year after she compared mask rules in Congress to the treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis.
She apologized, but didn’t learn a lasting lesson from her visit, since she used Nazi language weeks later to describe the Biden administration’s vaccine push.
Twitter later suspended one of her accounts after she spread false information about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.
Here’s a CNN fact check of a similar claim.
The vaccine and antisemitism. While Kennedy feels persecuted like the Jewish people, other vaccine opponents are fusing antisemitism and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
“I believe there is a sadistic effort underway to euthanize the American people,” Dave Bateman, co-founder of the software company Entrata, wrote in an email reported earlier this month by the Fox affiliate KSTU in Salt Lake City.
“I believe the Jews are behind this,” he said in the email, which was sent to business and politics leaders in Utah, including the governor, according to KSTU. Bateman later stepped down as chairman of Entrata.
Meanwhile, Facebook, despite its stated efforts to fight misinformation, was found to have hosted numerous ads in recent months comparing the rollout of vaccines to the Holocaust, according to a report by CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan.
This false idea that the vaccine is causing mass deaths has been pushed in other areas too. Gonzaga University took back basketball season tickets from its most notable basketball alumnus, John Stockton, after the Utah Jazz Hall of Famer refused to wear a mask during games. He previously spread the lie in a documentary that the vaccine was causing professional athletes to drop dead. There’s zero evidence to support that claim.
These are the facts about the vaccine. Here’s the truth, from CNN’s report about Stockton: “Severe adverse events after a Covid-19 vaccine are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health care workers are required to report deaths following vaccination, even if it’s not clear whether the vaccine was the cause. Such reports are also rare, the CDC says, and all reported deaths are reviewed for potential links to the vaccine.”
The anti-vaccine coalition, here and abroad. It’s a loud minority of people who are spreading false vaccine information, and it stretches from Kennedy, an environmentalist turned vaccine opponent, to Greene, the Republican firestarter.
The New York Times reports on a similarly diverse group of anti-vaccine activists in Germany, where the government is considering a vaccine requirement. Vaccine opposition has given momentum to the far right and a political party known for pushing anti-immigrant views.
“But the opposition is not limited to an extremist fringe,” according to the Times. “Anti-vax nationalists, neo-Nazis and hooligans are joined by hippies, so-called esoterics and many ordinary citizens spooked by two years of lockdowns, curfews and the prospect of a mandate.”
Later in the Times story, it refers to the “naturalists and a smattering of neo-Nazis” the writer encountered at a rally in Nuremberg.
Fights over how to teach history. For Fox News and Republican politics at the moment, it’s a different view of history, regardless of facts, that is frightening: opposition to the teaching of so-called critical race theory.
This issue helped elect Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Virginia. It’s also led to numerous state laws banning the teaching of critical race theory even though it’s not a formal curriculum for K-12 students.
One-upping these bans on reevaluations of history. Florida, at the urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is considering a bill that would seek to shield people from feeling “discomfort” over historic actions by their races, nationalities or genders.
It would be impossible to factually learn about American slavery – or the Holocaust – without feeling discomfort. That’s the point.