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How GOP Attorneys General joined forces with RFK Jr. to spread vaccine misinformation
On Tuesday, Popular Information broke the news that the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) accepted a $50,000 contribution from Children's Health Defense, an anti-vaccine propaganda group led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The donation, as Children's Health Defense admitted in a statement, was illegal. But it also reveals how Republican Attorneys General are working closely with a fringe group to spread misinformation.
In its statement to Popular Information, Children's Health Defense said it paid the $50,000 "fee" to RAGA in July 2021 in exchange for an opportunity "to be able to educate attorneys general on health policy issues." Paying for access to Republican Attorneys General appears to have paid off.
Children's Health Defense has found a prominent ally in Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), who, as a member of RAGA's Executive Committee, is part of the group's leadership. In December, Landry invited Kennedy to testify at a state legislative hearing on Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' proposal to require students to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Like other vaccine requirements in Louisiana, "parents could opt out for essentially any reason — medical, religious, or philosophical."
Landry said he "brought [Kennedy] with me" to "add a couple of words." Landry described Kennedy as "distinguished," spoke positively about the mission of Children's Health Defense, and encouraged the legislators to "listen very closely" to his views on COVID-19 vaccines.
Kennedy used his time, about 20 minutes, to "spread misinformation about the risks of the vaccine." During his appearance, Kennedy called the COVID-19 vaccine the “deadliest vaccine ever made,” a claim that is unambiguously false. The information Kennedy presented, with the aid of several large posterboards, was described by Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana's state health officer, as a "gross misrepresentation of the data."
Landry, meanwhile, "falsely suggest[ed] parents whose children are on Medicaid would not be eligible to fill out a dissent form to opt out of getting the vaccine."
Last Friday, Landry filed an amended complaint challenging the Biden administration's rule requiring health care workers to get vaccinated. The complaint does not just object to the mandate but argues that COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous and ineffective.
The lawsuit falsely claims there are "increasing warnings about the risks and side effects posed by the vaccines." The CDC page that the lawsuit cites to support that claim says "COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective" and recommends "everyone ages 5 years and older get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect against COVID-19 and its potentially severe complications."
The lawsuit notes that the "CDC has also identified nine deaths that have been caused by or were directly attributed to TTS [thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome] following J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccination." Left out of that is the critical context that "18.2 million doses of the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the United States." Meanwhile, more than 900,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and over 2,500 Americans are dying of COVID-19 every day. Further, there are other COVID-19 vaccines, preferred by the CDC, that have no increased risk of TTS.
Landry's lawsuit also claims "emerging research shows that standard COVID-19 vaccinations provide little protection against transmission of the Omicron variant." While vaccines are less protective against transmission of Omicron compared to other variants, they are highly protective against hospitalization and death. That fact is ignored in Landry's lawsuit, which suggests vaccines are essentially useless against Omicron, falsely claiming that "federal authorities have begun to walk back prior claims about the efficacy of the vaccines."
Kennedy picked up this false claim about vaccine efficacy in a tweet praising Landry's lawsuit:
The lawsuit does not represent only Landry's views. 15 other members of RAGA, including its chairman, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, signed onto the lawsuit.
RAGA and Kennedy embrace anti-vax Canadian truckers
Since the end of January, a loosely organized group of truckers in Canada have been demonstrating against vaccine mandates. Described as the Freedom Convoy, the protest group is spearheaded by Canada Unity, whose founder believes COVID-19 is “the biggest political scam in history” and has previously endorsed the QAnon conspiracy. Another group participating in the convoy alleges that the pandemic “was carried out, at least in part, by Bill Gates and a ‘New World (Economic) Order’ to facilitate the injection of 5G-enabled microchips into the population.”
Organizers launched a GoFundMe campaign to support their efforts and managed to raise nearly $8 million dollars. But what started out as peaceful protests devolved into the occupation of Canada’s capital, Ottawa. For almost two weeks, Ottawa has been shut down, “with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags.”
GoFundMe shut down the fundraising campaign after the company says it obtained “evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.” In response, GoFundMe announced that it was removing the campaign and would “refund all contributions.”
Initially, GoFundMe said donors would have to submit a request for a refund. Any remaining funds would be disbursed “to credible and established charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers and verified by GoFundMe.” A day later, GoFund Me updated its decision––and said all refunds would be issued automatically.
Nevertheless, numerous Republican Attorneys General — eager to show allegiance to the Canadian anti-vaccine protesters and their American supporters — are vowing to go after GoFundMe. On Saturday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) tweeted “We’re not done yet & will not tolerate shady practices.”
Landry appeared on a “Fox & Friends First” morning segment and said that he plans to ask GoFundMe “what is the difference between why they cut this money off and why they allowed money to go to groups like [Black Lives Matter].”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) tweeted that he will work with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) “to investigate [GoFund Me’s] deceptive practices.”
Moody told Fox viewers that “Gov. DeSantis was completely right in calling out that nonsense, possibly illegal behavior.”
RAGA has attempted to use the Canada protests for a fundraising pitch. In an email, RAGA describes the protestors as “grassroots patriots” and accuses GoFundMe of being “weaponized by authoritarian governments to extort conservatives.”
“Pitch in $10 to Defend Freedom,” reads the email.
Kennedy echoed the Republican Attorneys General on Twitter:
An article on Children's Health Defense's website described GoFundMe's actions as "pure theft."
Will RAGA return Children's Health Defense's illegal contribution?
Children's Health Defense has admitted that its $50,000 contribution to RAGA violated federal law. But, thus far, RAGA has given no indication that it plans to return the money. On Tuesday, the Democratic Attorney Generals Association called on RAGA to do so.
Popular Information also contacted RAGA again about its plans but did not receive a response.