A couple of weeks ago, I took a stroll around Lindo Lake in Lakeside, looking for people to interview for a story my colleague and I had uncovered: Deaths dramatically went up in Lakeside after the advent of the vaccine, even as they plunged almost everywhere else. I knew I needed to talk to anti-vaxxers, but I wanted to start with some easy interviews.
Spotted a lady getting out of her car, wearing a mask. This’ll do, I thought. “Actually, I’m an anti-vaxxer,” she said. OK, noted. She was in a hurry, so I moved on.
I spotted another, walking two tiny dogs. She had on a purple scarf, flowy clothes and carried herself with dignity. She looked like a Unitarian. Awesome.
“I think it was a fluke,” she said. “I don’t believe it. I think they did it on purpose.”
“Like the government released it?”
My efforts to not jump immediately into the deep end of anti-vax theory were hopeless. So I forced a smile and walked with this kind-looking lady and her dogs for the next 20 minutes.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was carrying around a fair amount of lazy thinking – courtesy of the echo chamber in which I spend much of my days. Most of my friends are liberal. Gasp! I’d told a lot of them about our findings in Lakeside – that deaths there more than doubled after the vaccine was released, while going down in the rest of the county – and so many people said some cutting version of: “Serves them right.”
To be honest, I made similar dark jokes myself. The gallows humor isn’t what bothers me. It’s something else; like looking in the mirror image of “owning the libs.”
So there I was, walking with this lady and her dogs in sweaters around a lake, talking to her about how Covid was perhaps released into the world by multiple governments as a way to control humanity.
I told her pretty quickly I was pro-vaccine, that I’d had it myself and I didn’t believe Covid was a tool designed for world domination. She said that was fine with her. And I told her it was OK she didn’t agree with me, either. I did this, at first, as a trick of the trade. I needed her to be open with me and so I wasn’t going to judge her. But then, because I stopped judging her out of professional necessity, I also just stopped judging her. It felt kind of nice.
First off, I had to admit that not everything she said was crazy. Legitimate reporting has pointed to the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Since then, more research has surfaced that indicates Covid probably came from nature and not a lab. But even Anthony Fauci said he is still keeping “a completely open mind” about where the virus originated.
I’m not aware of a single piece of evidence that suggests Covid is part of a plot for world domination. But, it’s pretty easy to see how the so-called lab leak theory would morph into such a thing.
She also didn’t trust big pharma. She believed, brace yourself, the industry puts profits over people. Anyone who knows anything about OxyContin knows this to be completely accurate.
Something else, she said: “Governments are greedy and power-hungry.” And they lie. Yes, yes and yes.
Anti-vaxxers are scary to many of us who believe in vaccines. They are gumming up the pipeline to a better world, the thinking goes. The unfortunate effect of that fear is that it can lead to a reliance on liberal talking points and visions of cartoon monsters.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. For every time she said something that resonated with me, she almost as frequently made some logical leap that had her twisted in pretzel knots. But it wasn’t that she was making sense that continues to stand out in my mind. It was her inherent humanity.
My colleague Jesse Marx and I have encountered this over and over again in our reporting. He spoke to a woman named Janet Keating, whose husband died from Covid. Both were truck drivers, both unvaccinated. Even the death of her husband didn’t shift her belief that vaccines, and not any virus, are the real danger.
If that won’t do it, nothing will.
What purpose does it serve to “own” that lady? What purpose to write her off?
I’m not saying she’s entitled to understanding. What I’m saying is that, in the long run, understanding might be a more effective strategy. Understanding might feel a little better.
The world is complicated and uncertain. The stories we tell ourselves, down to the one, give us a way to bear what is shifting and frightful. They contain almost as much comfort as truth. Some people, by necessity, are jumping to more wrong conclusions than others. But we’re all telling stories.