Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Anti-vaccine protest in London.

Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protesters holding banners stage a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London, England on July 24 2021. (Photo: Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Far Right's Deadly Embrace of Anti-Vaccine Stupidity

COVID-19 is a deadly virus. Why on earth would anyone go to bat for a pathogen?

John Feffer

 by Foreign Policy In Focus

You’d think that the whole world could unite against a deadly virus. COVID-19 has already sickened over 200 million people around the world and killed over 4 million. It has now mutated into more contagious forms that threaten to plunge the globe into another spin cycle of lockdown.

Avoiding global catastrophe from the more infectious delta variant of COVID-19 doesn’t require a huge commitment from people and governments. Richer countries just have to ensure more widespread availability of vaccines. And individuals have to get vaccinated.

The far right has jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon, seized control of the wheel, and is driving the vehicle, al-Qaeda-style, straight into oncoming traffic.

COVID-19 is not an asteroid on a collision course with the planet. It’s not an imminent nuclear war. It’s an invisible enemy that humanity has demonstrated it can beat. It just requires a bit of cooperation.

So, what’s the problem?

Actually, there are three problems. The first has to do with supply, since the richest nations have cornered the market on the vaccines and have been criminally slow to get them to poorer countries. On the entire continent of Africa, for instance, less than 2 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The second problem, on the demand side, is the commonplace resistance to the newfangled, in this case a vaccine that was developed very quickly, hasn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and has some side effects that are harmful for a very small number of people. Hesitation is understandable. But not when placed against the obvious lethality of COVID-19 and the clear benefits of herd immunity.

The third problem is political. The far right has jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon, seized control of the wheel, and is driving the vehicle, al-Qaeda-style, straight into oncoming traffic.

Both in the United States and globally, the far right has long been infected by various harmful delusions—the superiority of white people, the fiction of climate change, the evils of government. As the far right has spread, thanks to vectors like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orbán and Narendra Modi, those delusions have mutated.

Now, with its anti-vaccine opportunism, the far right is circulating a new delta variant of global stupidity: virally through social media, in a shower of spit and invective on the street, and through top-down lunacy from politicians and political parties. COVID-19 and all of its variants will eventually burn themselves out, though at who knows what cost. The latest versions of global stupidity promoted by the far right, however, are proving far more resistant to science, reason, and just plain common sense.

Hijacking the Anti-Vax Movement

The Brothers of Italy is a neo-fascist formation that is now polling the highest of any political party today in Italy. With 21 percent support, this pro-Mussolini throwback is just ahead of the far-right Lega party. Throw in Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy party at 7 percent and the hard right looks as if it could form the next government in Italy whenever the next elections are held.

How did the Brothers of Italy grow in several months from a few percent to the leading party in the polls?

Led by Giorgia Meloni, a woman who predictably decries Islam and immigrants, the Brothers of Italy started out as a booster of vaccines, which seemed like a pretty safe position in a country that has suffered so much at the hands of COVID-19.

But Meloni abruptly shifted the party’s stance when the Italian government, currently led by technocrat Mario Draghi, introduced a “green pass” that allows the vaccinated to eat in restaurants, go to bars, and enter various public places like museums. Meloni called the pass “the final step on the road to the creation of an Orwellian society,” which “limits the freedom of citizens, further devastates the economy and de facto introduces a vaccine mandate.”

Limits the freedom of citizens? The freedom to infect other people with a deadly virus?

Effectively, Meloni wants to grant all citizens the same right that James Bond famously possessed: the license to kill.

Unfortunately, such nonsense has support outside Italy as well.

In France, the government of Emmanuel Macron has instituted a similar health pass as well as mandating that all medical professionals get vaccinated. The response has been ferocious, with several demonstrations of over 100,000 people mobilizing around the country.

It might seem at first glance that the French protestors are just ordinary folks who are sick and tired of government intrusions in their lives, similar to the Yellow Vest protestors from 2018. But the organizers of these anti-vax protests are the usual suspects from the far right like Florian Philippot, a former top aide of the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen. National Rally and the equally rabid Debout La France have come out against Macron’s policies. Unfortunately, some leading members of the left-wing France Unbowed party have also endorsed the rallies. As in the United States, French anti-vaxxers are resorting to anti-system conspiracy theories up to and including QAnon.

Despite the size of these rallies, whipped up by the far right, a majority of French support the health pass and nearly 70 percent of the population has gotten at least one shot (compared to only 58 percent in the United States). But the far right sees the anti-vaccine movement as an opportunity to worm its way into the mainstream in France and elsewhere, such as the Querdenken movement in Germany, the anti-Semitic far right in Poland, and evangelical Christian organizations in the Philippines.

Toward this end, the far right has eagerly employed the services of such “useful idiots” as Robert Kennedy, Jr., perhaps the most famous face of the anti-vaccine movement. The Polish far-right party Konfederacja invited Kennedy to speak on-line to a Polish parliamentary group on vaccines. Kennedy also put his social media power behind a global day against vaccines that took place last October in 15 countries from Europe to Latin America, which a number of far-right parties helped to organize.

Originally in the United States, vaccine skepticism circulated mainly on the left, where suspicions of chemicals and corporations created a resistance to having just any substance injected into one’s arm. But then along came Donald Trump, the dark conspiracy theories of the alt-right, and ultimately QAnon, which focused latent anti-government sentiments against the medical establishment and its COVID-19 vaccines. Suddenly, videos like Plandemic were zipping around cyberspace, and prominent anti-vaxxers like “healthy lifestyle advocate” Larry D. Cook fell under the sway of QAnon.

Today, in a tired repeat of 2020, U.S. anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are again protesting in front of governors’ mansions, bringing their message to Disneyland, and shutting down school board meetings. If COVID-19 were a wealthy corporation that underwrote such disruptions, these actions would make at least some economic sense. If COVID-19 were a wildly popular musical group or a subversively attractive religious cult that governments were trying to suppress, the frenzy of crowds would be somewhat understandable.

But COVID-19 is a deadly virus. Why on earth would anyone go to bat for a pathogen?

The Far Right Has Its Reasons

Conservatives have traditionally supported the powerful pillars of society: the police, the army, the state. Today’s far right is not conservative. It detests the state. It prefers vigilante justice—everyone standing their ground with gun in hand—to the police and the army, since these latter are representatives of the state.

Effectively, the far right embraces the old Hobbesian concept of a “war of all against all,” which was the status quo before the emergence of the state. To achieve this “golden age” of general mayhem, the far right pursues any means necessary. It supports home schooling to destroy public education, privatization of state assets to weaken the government, and deregulation to tilt the playing field in favor of corporations.

And now, in the age of COVID-19, the far right is even willing to support germ warfare. For that’s what the anti-mask and anti-vaccine ideology amounts to: siding with the novel coronavirus against the sensible policies of the state.

One wonders: if the state issued a mandate that required people not to jump off cliffs, would the far right suddenly launch a Lemming Crusade simply to spite the state?

I can well imagine the segment on Newsmax.

Reporter: I’m here with patriot James Q. Public. He and his family are standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Tell me, James, why are you about to take a big step into the unknown?

James Q. Public: The government can’t tell me what to do. I believe in choice. And this is my choice.

Reporter: Do you think of yourself as a pioneer?

James Q. Public: Absolutely. This socialist government with its Five Year Plans sickens me. I take it one day at a time. One minute at a time.

Reporter: Your youngest child doesn’t look happy about your choice.

James Q. Public: Oh, he’s just a crybaby. He’ll get used to it.

Reporter: Get used to falling off a cliff?

James Q. Public: What makes you think we’ll fall?

Reporter: Well, uh, gravity –

James Q. Public: Come on, man, you believe in all that nonsense those scientists are trying to force down our throats? Vaccines? Climate change? Gravity? Okay, everyone, let’s go. One small step for the Public family, one large step for arrgghhh….!

It would all be grimly amusing, like some pandemic version of the Darwin Awards, if the far right’s Lemming Crusade wasn’t threatening to drag the rest of us off the cliff with it.

© 2021 Foreign Policy In Focus
John Feffer

John Feffer

John Feffer is the author of the dystopian novel "Splinterlands" (2016) and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His novel, "Frostlands" (2018) is book two of his Splinterlands trilogy. Splinterlands book three "Songlands" was published in 2021. His podcast is available here.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Right-Wing Justices Should Be Impeached for Lying Under Oath, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"We have a responsibility to protect our democracy," said the New York Democrat. "That includes holding those in power who violate the law accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Infuriating': Biden Rebuked for Continued Opposition to Supreme Court Expansion

"What does Biden 'agree' with doing?" Mehdi Hasan asked. "What does the leader of this country want to do to stop the increasingly fascistic assault on our democratic institutions and basic rights?"

Kenny Stancil ·

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·

Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·

'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo