Examining the anti-vaccine movement — a podcast from Brandy Zadrozny

I don’t usually do this, but I wanted to post the transcript from the outstanding Brandy Zadrozny podcast about how the anti-vaccine movement treated Tiffany Dover who fainted after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine 18 months ago. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss wrote an in-depth article about Dover soon after it happened, and we have updated it as we have gotten more information. Not to give away a spoiler, but she’s still alive.

I have posted the full transcript of episode 4 because it gives you a history of the anti-vaccine movement and the various “truthers” who pass fall information about it. I’m not going to edit the transcript, but I will add in my commentary here and there (it’ll be in bold type) and links for more information, something you can’t get from a podcast. This is very long, but it’s filled with great information. I have made minor edits to spelling and punctuation to make it more readable.

I’m someone who prefers reading content to listening to podcasts or watching YouTube because I like clicking on links or researching more. If you’re like me, then you’ll love this.

Desiree Jennings


LES TRENT, CORRESPONDENT, “INSIDE EDITION”: She’s the beautiful cheerleader whose heartbreaking story is shocking the nation.


BRANDY ZADROZNY, NBC NEWS HOST, “TRUTHERS” PODCAST: “Inside Edition” October 2009, Correspondent Less Trent is reporting from Ashburn, VA.


TRENT: Twenty-five-year-old Desiree Jennings (surprisingly, I never wrote about her claims, but my good buddy Orac did) showed me how she can’t walk without twisting, jerky movements. But she walks backward normally. Doctors say she has a rare one-in-a-million neurological disorder that was triggered 10 days after she got a seasonal flu shot.



ZADROZNY: Desiree Jennings worked in marketing at AOL, and she was a cheerleader ambassador for the football team now known as the Washington Commanders. She wore the uniform and interacted with the fans in suites on game days, but she hadn’t quite made the squad.

A few months before this network report she’d gotten her annual flu vaccine.


TRENT: Desiree got a flu shot on August 23rd, 10 days later she came down with what doctors have diagnosed as Dystonia, a rare neurological disorder. Her jerking and twisting are the result of uncontrollable muscle contractions, there is no known cure.


ZADROZNY: In the “Inside Edition” tape Desiree’s walking down a sidewalk, stomping, then sort of squatting nearly falling with every step. Her arms flail, it looks exhausting. Except when she runs.


TRENT: She runs with a normal stride. And as I ran with her, she even spoke normally.

And now you can talk.

JENNINGS: Yes, weird, it’s fixed as soon as I start running.

TRENT: I mean, you sound — you sound —

JENNINGS: I know, it’s great. Isn’t it?

TRENT: You sound amazing.


ZADROZNY: It was all very strange and very visual. As “Inside Edition” and other shows quickly learned she made great TV. This is ABC’s “20/20”.


ELIZABETH VARGAS: Good evening, imagine having your body suddenly taken over, controlled by symptoms so mysterious, so bizarre that you become a laughing stock on the Internet and the target of suspicion.


ZADROZNY: Doctors were instantly skeptical about Desiree’s claims, and many said so publicly.

Here’s a clip from “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News on a night Juan Williams was filling in. The guest is Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a TV medical analyst.


DR. LEIGH VINOCUR, TV MEDICAL ANALYST: The head of their neurology department had called me because a couple of movement disorder experts had been looking at this video.

And they all really feel that this is possibly psychogenic, meaning that it isn’t caused by the flu, it isn’t caused by the vaccine. In fact, he told me they’re using it to illustrate for the neurology residents a psychogenic disorder, a movement disorder —

JUAN WILLIAMS, “THE O’REILLY FACTOR” GUEST HOST, FOX NEWS: Wait, wait, wait, wait. When you say psychogenic, are you saying she’s crazy or that this is made up in her mind?

VINOCUR: Well, no, I’m not saying that but I’m saying people sometimes have these reactions to any kind of illness where they get psychosomatic symptoms that are real symptoms.


ZADROZNY: Most doctors who went on TV to talk about Desiree Jennings were really careful to say how safe the vaccine was, and how rare a situation like Desiree’s would be.


WILLIAMS: If you were talking to me —


WILLIAMS: — you’d say, Juan, get the flu shot?

VINOCUR: You need to get the flu shot. You need to protect yourself from —


ZADROZNY: But there was another group that really wanted people to believe the opposite. And they were already on a roll, they had even made it onto “Oprah”.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”: I’m here with Jenny McCarthy (McCarthy was the impetus for me to start writing about vaccines) who’s become one of the most vocal advocates for parents of children with Autism.


ZADROZNY: Desiree’s story had attracted the attention of Generation Rescue, a nonprofit led by model and actress Jenny McCarthy.


JENNY MCCARTHY, FOUNDER, GENERATION RESCUE: I had made a pact with God though. The day Evan became diagnosed with Autism I said if you show me the way, God, and show me how to heal my boy I will continue to teach the world how I did it.


ZADROZNY: McCarthy and Generation Rescue were pushing two big, discredited theories about Autism. That it’s caused by vaccines, and that it can be cured. Here’s McCarthy on “Larry King Live”.


MCCARTHY: The American Academy of Pediatrics I begged and have sat down with and said, why are you — why are you not sitting down with our doctors and our scientists who are treating and recovering children with Autism. And they refuse to this day to sit down.


ZADROZNY: Generation Rescue thought that Desiree’s case mirrored those of children with Autism. They started raising funds for Desiree on their website. They put out a statement challenging the doctors who were questioning her story.

The group’s President Stan Kurtz offered to pay for a specific treatment they had in mind if Desiree agreed to be in a documentary. Here’s Kurtz on a local Fox station.


STAN KURTZ, FORMER PRESIDENT, GENERATION RESCUE: And the story is just — anyone that sees it, it’s just so compelling. Jenny was crying over it.


ZADROZNY: This account comes from news reports and a lengthy decision in something called Vaccine Court. It’s technically the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, created in 1986 when there were concerns that vaccine makers might leave the market because of bogus liability claims.

Congress shielded them from liability lawsuits and set up Vaccine Court to hand out compensation to people who experience actual vaccine injuries, which are extremely rare.

Desiree accepted Generation Rescue’s offer and they sent her to Dr. Rashid Buttar, a North Carolina osteopath known for his anti-vaccine views, his unproven therapies and his exorbitant prices. Buttar diagnosed Desiree with heavy metal poisoning.

In a video cited by the Vaccine Court report, Dr. Buttar said he was impressed by Desiree, and that she could be an advocate, quote, “Like another Jenny McCarthy.”

We reached out to Dr. Buttar, Generation Rescue, Stan Kurtz, and Jenny McCarthy. They didn’t respond.

Desiree’s celebrity status in the anti-vaccine movement began to fall apart when reporters started asking harder questions. Four months after its original story “Inside Edition” went back to Ashburn to take another look at Desiree.


DEBORAH NORVILLE: It is one of the most talked-about stories we’ve ever had on “Inside Edition”. Well, we have an update today on Desiree Jennings. An update that raises just as many questions as before.


ZADROZNY: A camera crew staked out her house, and recorded Desiree looking fine, playing with her dogs outside. They followed her to a fabric store and ambushed her in the parking lot.


TRENT: We’ve been trying to reach you and you have not been returning our phone calls.

JENNINGS: Oh, I’m sorry.

TRENT: What’s going on?

TRENT: It looks like you’ve made a complete recovery.

JENNINGS: Well, I wouldn’t say complete recovery, I still have a lot of cognitive issues.

TRENT: We need to point out one other thing, when we first saw Desiree in this shopping center parking lot she seemed to be walking normally. But as she left to get into her car she was walking sideways. She says it was because of the Dystonia.

JENNINGS: All right, don’t catch me driving because I don’t think I’m supposed to be driving.


ZADROZNY: Soon after that report the people who had rallied around Desiree and promoted her story seemed to just disappear. Without explanation, Generation Rescue refused to pay Dr. Buttar’s bills, and they removed Desiree’s story from their website. Things got contentious.

In the Vaccine Court report, Desiree said that Generation Rescue had, quote, “Commandeered my injury to turn it into a poster story for their cause against vaccines.”

Desiree’s case concluded in 2019, after eight years. The Vaccine Court special master, basically the judge, dismissed her case.

She found that the evidence, experts, and medical facts all showed that Desiree’s condition was psychological. They decided she wasn’t necessarily faking but whatever was going on it wasn’t an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine.

Desiree paid a price. She says she had a hard time finding doctors who would treat her. She changed her name to escape the media and online harassment.

But the anti-vaccine activists who took up her cause, they didn’t pay any price at all. Jenny McCarthy is now a judge on Fox’s celebrity talent competition “The Masked Singer”. She appeared via video at an anti-vaccine rally in April.


RALLY SPEAKER: She’s a mom that cares, Jenny McCarthy.

MCCARTHY: I am so sorry I couldn’t be there with all of you. But I am 100 percent with you in spirit.


ZADROZNY: Dr. Buttar was reprimanded by the North Carolina Medical Board in 2010 and 2019 for unprofessional conduct in treating other patients. But he’s still permitted to practice and still serving up nonsense to make people doubt vaccines.

During the pandemic, he amassed half a million followers on YouTube with videos where he claimed that COVID is a bioweapon, and that vaccines cause infertility. And when Tiffany Dover fainted, he offered his own expert opinion.


DR. RASHID BUTTAR, OSTEOPATHIC PHYSICIAN: She says, I’m sorry, I’m getting a little light-headed.

And then she passes out and then a bunch of people rush in. And this is on live TV, trying to show why everybody should get the vaccine.


ZADROZNY: This is from a live stream to his followers after Tiffany got her shot. He didn’t believe her explanation.


BUTTAR: Now, again, they’re relying on the ignorance of the masses who say that it’s vasovagal response and it happens quite often.

Let me tell you something about vasovagal responses. Vasovagal responses happen —


ZADROZNY: Buttar has never said he was wrong about Desiree, and he’s not likely to offer any mea culpas over Tiffany because the anti-vax movement doesn’t do apologies or admit defeat. It doesn’t have to. If one argument starts to fall apart there’s always another angle just up ahead and another story to fold in.


From NBC News, I’m Brandy Zadrozny and this is “Tiffany Dover Is Dead”.


Today Desiree is feeling much better than she did in 2009. We connected over email. She didn’t want to be interviewed on tape. Desiree told me that she controls her symptoms with diet and lifestyle changes and daily medication. She still thinks the flu vaccine was part of why she felt so poorly. But she doesn’t blame it entirely. She said she’s not anti-vaccine and received the Moderna vaccine in 2021.

About what happened, Desiree told me that she was taken advantage of by the media, by the anti-vaccination movement and Dr. Buttar, who she called, “A money hungry egomaniac.”

Dr. Buttar has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

When I asked her about her formal allies in the anti-vaccination movement she told me, quote, “These people were never my allies, each had their specific agenda.”

That’s the playbook that this movement runs on: seize on a novel story, write it as far as it will go, discard, repeat. (It’s the zombie tropes, you can’t kill them, because they keep coming back.)

Barbara Loe Fisher


VACCINE ROULETTE: Since 1933, studies have shown that the whooping cough, or pertussis, vaccine causes brain damage. The controversy isn’t really over the fact that it happens, but how often it happens and whether it happens often enough to deem the vaccine more dangerous than the disease itself.


ZADROZNY: This is the opener to “Vaccine Roulette”, a 1982 documentary produced and aired by WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. and later featured on the “TODAY Show”.

The film linked the pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine to brain damage which is a catch-all term. It did this through bad science and 11 minutes of visceral anecdotes of disabled children.


VACCINE ROULETTE: When she was 4-months old, she — on the same day she had her vaccination she had her first seizure. She was shaking and she was turning blue, and she appeared to have breathing problems.

The Yankovich’s (ph), who live in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said they knew it was the DTP shot that damaged Abra (ph).

UNKNOWN: She’s a joy to be around because she’s such a sweet-natured girl. But we have been told that she probably will never walk on her own and she probably will never talk.


ZADROZNY: The American Academy of Pediatrics called the film, quote, “A distortion and total lack of balance of scientific fact.”

But facts didn’t stand a chance. Thousands of parents flooded the station’s switchboards with their own unexplained tragedies. It kicked off a panic. Congress held hearings. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed seeking billions of dollars.

Over the next several years, scientists tested and ultimately disproved claims that the Pertussis Vaccine caused widespread brain damage. But by then, the activists had taken up new theories linking vaccines to all kinds of maladies. They did something else too, they organized.

One of moms who called into the switchboard was a woman named Barbara Loe Fisher (more from Orac and me). She went on to start a group called the National Vaccine Information Center, the first and for a long time the mightiest anti-vaccine advocacy group in modern America.

Here’s Fisher on FOX News in 1999.


BARBARA LOE FISHER; CO-FOUND AND PRESIDENT, NATIONAL VACCINE INFORMATION CENTER: We have a doubling of the rate of learning disorders, a tripling of diabetes, a 273 percent increase in Autism in the State of California alone. Arthritis is becoming so common that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that by — in the next 20 years one-in-five Americans will be suffering from arthritis.

And what Congress is taking a look at is whether or not there is an association between the use of many, many vaccines in early childhood and the development of chronic disease later in life.

JON SCOTT, FOX NEWS: But you can’t necessarily make that connection without — with proof, can you?

FISHER: Well, I think that — certainly there is suggestion that this could be true —


Andrew Wakefield

ZADROZNY: Fisher was being interviewed because Congress had started looking into vaccine injuries again. After a bombshell article (since retracted) in the medical journal “The Lancet” written by a physician named Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The article originated the claim that a standard childhood vaccine caused autism (it does not cause autism period). Wakefield gave a press conference and an interview to British network ITN.


DR. ANDREW WAKEFIELD, BRITISH ANTI-VACCINE ACTIVIST: Measles, mumps and rubella, given together, may be too much for the immune system of some children to handle.


ZADROZNY: Wakefield had fabricated research. His study was flawed. But that wouldn’t come out until much later.

And the immediate effect of his paper was huge. A whole new constituency, parents of kids with Autism, was flooding into the ranks of the anti-vaccine movement. Their chief spokesperson, Jenny McCarthy.


MCCARTHY: Without a doubt in my mind I believe vaccinations triggered Evan’s Autism.


ZADROZNY: She defended her belief in Wakefield’s theory in a 2008 interview on CNN.


MCCARTHY: So I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.


ZADROZNY: And she headlined a rally in D.C. that same year with her then-husband, Jim Carrey. It was called “Green the Vaccines”.


MCCARTHY: This is not an anti-vaccine group. We are an intelligent group of parents that acknowledge that vaccines have saved many lives. What we are saying is that the number of vaccines given and the ingredients, like the freaking mercury, the ether, the aluminum, the antifreeze, need to be removed immediately after we saw the devastating effect it took on our children.


ZADROZNY: We should note here, as you heard McCarthy say, anti-vaxxers don’t like the term anti-vaxxer (no they don’t, and we don’t care that they don’t). They say it’s a smear and that their views are more nuanced. They prefer other labels: pro-informed consent, anti-mandate.

But I don’t buy the rebrand. When I use the term anti-vax, I’m talking about people who distrust vaccines and who work to make sure others do too.

More than a decade after publishing, “The Lancet” retracted Wakefield’s paper. Public pressure had been building for years. Other more rigorous studies had shown no link between the MMR vaccine and Autism.

And a series by British journalist Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield had several undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and that he made up data.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, “ANDERSON COOPER 360”: And now tonight the medical journal, “BMJ” is calling his study more than just bad science. Its editors say it is quote, “An elaborate fraud that has done long-lasting damage to the public’s health.


ZADROZNY: Wakefield lost his license. Here he is on Anderson Cooper’s show in 2011.


COOPER: You’ve been stripped of your clinical and academic credentials. You’re no longer a doctor. Your medical license has been taken away. Correct?

WAKEFIELD: That is incorrect, Anderson. I am still a doctor. You cannot take away my degree. They have taken away my license to practice in the U.K. That is irrelevant.


ZADROZNY: The Wakefield scandal was a major blow to the movement. The mainstream press stopped giving him airtime.

So they focused on the Internet, where they could quietly create new content and promote new stories without the pushback. That’s how it was for a decade. And then COVID hit, and anti-vaxxers seized the moment.


It’s fair to say that the arrival of a global pandemic was a dream scenario for the anti-vaccination movement. Suddenly everyone was paying attention to vaccines. A lot of people who maybe hadn’t thought twice about other vaccinations were starting to have questions.

By December 2020, the month that Tiffany Dover got the shot and fainted, a quarter of the American public reported being vaccine-hesitant. And leaders were emerging with answers of their own.

Robyn Openshaw



ZADROZNY: How are you?

OPENSHAW: Good, I was trying to get in with my phone and that was —


ZADROZNY: In February I interviewed Robyn Openshaw, she’s a wellness blogger and online supplement seller. She markets herself as green smoothing girl.


OPENSHAW: I’m the green smoothing girl and today I have the best free gift for you. I have made you 1,001 smoothie recipes. Now —


ZADROZNY: Openshaw has 223,000 followers on Facebook. And while she used to focus on wellness and a fairly out-there brand of alternative medicine, COVID has made her a committed anti-vaxxer and a Tiffany Truther.

You might remember her from our first episode. She’s the activist who put a bounty out on Tiffany.


OPENSHAW: Here’s that lie that really, really bothers me. Tiffany Pontes Dover, raise your hand if you know who she is. I will give anyone $100,000, and you can split it with her if you can bring her to me alive.


ZADROZNY: That was Openshaw in November at a conference called A Day with the Experts. She and the other speakers took to the stage in a Florida church hall to give speeches, downplaying COVID and hawking unproven cures. They all stood in front of a huge, green, neon sign that read, truth.


OPENSHAW: Write her name down, find her. There’s a $100,000 bounty to produce Tiffany Pontus Dover alive. Totally dead serious about this.


ZADROZNY: Openshaw is pretty dug in on her version of events.


ZADROZNY: What is more believable? That it’s like a nurse in Tennessee who, like, the world went crazy on her instead of — like, you or I are probably more performative and more comfortable in front of cameras, and maybe she wasn’t, and her family isn’t.

And so, they retreated back wherever, you know, their small town and got off the Internet, and didn’t want to talk to 100 citizen journalists who were all trying to blow up their phones or whatever?


OPENSHAW: Could be —

ZADROZNY: But wait, wait, wait. But wait. But what’s more, that or that there is some sort of like big conspiracy between the media, the drug company, the hospital, and all of her family to hide that something happened to her?

I feel like mine sounds more reasonable. No?

OPENSHAW: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what sounds reasonable. It matters what the truth is.


ZADROZNY: Early in the pandemic, Openshaw showed up at the homes of public health officials in Utah to protest against masks and vaccines. She eventually escaped to Florida, where she lives on the beach.

When I spoke to her on a video call I asked if she really meant it about the bounty for Tiffany Dover.


OPENSHAW: It’s not for dramatic flair.

ZADROZNY: OK. So you —

OPENSHAW: Find her alive. If she’s alive, then she should go live and address those questions and claim $100,000.


ZADROZNY: Openshaw was pretty open about the fact that, to her, Tiffany’s importance was less about her as a person and more as a totem.


OPENSHAW: She’s just an example. OK? This whole thing isn’t about Tiffany. That’s one data point of hundreds that at some point you go, something is fishy here.

ZADROZNY: So she’s like a representative of a larger — yes.

OPENSHAW: She’s just one. I don’t spend all day trying to chase people down in that little town of Tennessee. It’s one of the hundreds and hundreds of data points that a lot of us find the mainstream media narrative very unsatisfactory.


ZADROZNY: Openshaw doesn’t spend all day trying to chase down Tiffany Dover because that’s not her cause. Her cause is spreading the idea that vaccines are dangerous.

Like Desiree Jennings, Tiffany’s story is just a means to an end. And these days, there are lots of stories out there.

Steve Kirsch

One of the biggest promoters is another newbie to the movement, a tech entrepreneur named Steve Kirsch. He invested in the optical mouse, and he’s used his personal fortune to build the Vaccine Safety Research Foundation and position himself as an expert on vaccines.

In October, he called into the public comment period at an FDA Advisory Committee meeting. He had made a slide show.


STEVE KIRSCH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COVID-19 EARLY TREATMENT FUND: Hi. I’m Steve Kirsch, Executive Director of the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund. I have no conflicts of interest.

Slide two, why are kids dropping like flies right after getting vaccinated? If they didn’t die from the vaccine, then what killed these kids? Next slide.


ZADROZNY: Kirsch’s group has a tactic. They cut promotional videos telling wrenching stories of what they are vaccine-related injuries. This one is about a 13-year-old girl named Maddie de Garay who lives in Cincinnati.


UNKNOWN: President Biden, this is Maddie. She’s 13 and wants to be a nurse. When the COVID vaccine became available, she volunteered for the Pfizer clinical trial. She wanted to help.

This is her now.


ZADROZNY: We see a young girl in a series of family photos and home videos: playing in the mud, dancing on her front lawn, having birthday cake with her family.

Then, a sharp cut. A close-up of the girl’s face as she cries out in pain. She’s wrapped up in bandages, tubes in her nose.

Another cut. Her limp body is hoisted into a wheelchair.

Another cut. The girl in a hospital gown. It ends on a shot of her legs shaking uncontrollably.

We spoke to a P.R. rep for the de Garay family and asked for records that might verify the cause of Maddie’s injuries. The documents they provided showed a diagnosis that Maddie’s parents disagreed with, functional neurological disorder (FND).

FND is a complex and sort of mysterious disorder. Very basically, it’s when a malfunction in the brain manifests some neurological condition or disability.

The de Garay’s lawyer, Aaron Siri (we’ve dealt with him many times), who also represents the country’s largest anti-vaccine organization, the (Del Bigtree’s) Informed Consent Action Network (Dorit Rubinstein Reiss’ latest critique), or ICAN, says that Maddie’s doctors in coordination with Pfizer investigators misdiagnosed her and downplayed her injuries.

The suggestion is that they know the vaccine harmed her but don’t want to admit it.


VSRF AD: There are others across the country like her, but they are ignored by the FDA and the media. You said it was safe. Maddie stepped up to help America. Who’s going to step up to help Maddie?

VSRF AD: Paid for by the Vaccine Safety Research Foundation.


ZADROZNY: Here’s what we do know. Vaccines aren’t zero risk. Sometimes they have side effects: a fever, headache, pain in the arm, fatigue. In some rare cases, the reaction can be severe.

COVID vaccines have caused myocarditis, or heart-swelling, especially in young men and boys. Most cases are mild, and recovery has been quick. And your chances of getting myocarditis from COVID itself are much higher.

About five in a million vaccinated people have experienced anaphylaxis, an extreme allergic reaction where your airway constricts. And the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has called dangerous blood clotting, or thrombosis, in four cases per million doses. Again, the risk is magnitudes greater from COVID infection, but it’s real.

In September 2021, 37-year-old Jessica Berg Wilson died from this rare blood clotting. Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, 12 days after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Jessica’s family said she didn’t want to get vaccinated, but she relented so she could volunteer at her daughter’s school. The obituary was understandably angry. The family wrote that the vaccine had cost Jessica her life. It cost her children the loving embrace of their caring mother.

Jessica’s uncle spoke at her funeral. He posted the eulogy online.


UNCLE OF JESSICA BERG WILSON: Jessica died as a direct result of an experimental vaccine (it is NOT an experimental vaccine), a vaccine that she vehemently opposed taking. Jessica felt coerced. She felt robbed of her ability to choose. Her ability to say no — to say no to a medical procedure she did not want — was taken from her.


Anti-vaccine protests

ZADROZNY: By the end of April, Americans had gotten some 575 million of the COVID vaccines. Jessica is one of nine deaths in the U.S. that the CDC has identified as caused by one of them. Specifically, in each of those cases, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Meanwhile, we’re nearing 1 million confirmed U.S. deaths from COVID, which is why doctors continue to say that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks.

But obviously, injuries — real and not — are persuasive. No one knows that more than the king of the modern anti-vaccine movement, a scion of American royalty, the man with the golden name, Kennedy.

In January, the new Anti-Vaccine Coalition organized a march in Washington, D.C. They called it Defeat the Mandates. And it was meant to be kind of a coming out party that would bring together the country’s different strands of vaccine resistance.

Small problem, at the time, D.C. restaurants and hotels were required to check proof-of-vaccination, so a lot of people had to stay across the river in Virginia. That’s where we started our day, talking to marchers on a Metro ride into the District.


CARRIE, PROTESTER: I’m Carrie. I came from Orlando, Florida this morning, flew up.

ZADROZNY: What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?

CARRIE: Flight attendant. Yes, so still being mandated, still being forced.

JESSICA, PROTESTER: I’m Jessica, I’m — we work for the same airline. So I just had a baby. I have a 3-year-old, and I’m facing unemployment because my company wants to force me to get something injected into my body that I don’t want.

And I just wanted to be here to show my opposition and to take a stand with likeminded people and show everybody that we’re not just going to roll over and take it.


ZADROZNY: We got out at the Smithsonian Metro Station and made our way to the Washington Monument.

For a cold day in January, it was a decent crowd. There was a lot happening.



UNKNOWN: Let’s go Brandon!

ZADROZNY: God, there’s so many different characters here. It’s like you have hippies, you have MAGA, you have like hardcore Trumpers, and like homeschoolers and religious people. And it’s just like —


ZADROZNY: You could make out what had drawn the protesters by the things they carried, a lot of signs.


UNKNOWN: That all of you are here today. We have a circle of —


ZADROZNY: You’ll see the — a sign with Fauci — a portrait of Fauci with the Hitler mustache. I did.

UNKNOWN: — freedom. You have the freedom. You, and you alone have the autonomy —


ZADROZNY: A lot of flags.


UNKNOWN: Make a little noise if you love freedom.


ZADROZNY: A lot of flags. Oh, there’s an Infowars sign and a Gadsen flag —


UNKNOWN: It sounds like you like freedom. I said make some noise if you love freedom.

ZADROZNY: And then an American flag and a Gadsen flag.


ZADROZNY: A lot of people brought their families. Hi, how are you all doing?

UNKNOWN: Good. How are you?

ZADROZNY: Good. My name’s Brandy Zadrozny. I’m a reporter for NBC News. Can I ask your name and where you’re from?

KATIE, PROTESTER: I’m Katie, I’m from Arlington, Virginia.

JENNIFER, PROTESTER: I’m Jennifer, I’m from Indiana.


KATIE: My mom.

ZADROZNY: I was going to say, are you all related?

KATIE: Yes, we sure are. Yes, you —

ZADROZNY: We marched with a few thousand others toward the Lincoln Memorial for the main event.

There’s a strong hippie vibe here, which makes sense. Since it’s getting pretty loud here, we should probably —

I talked to as many people as I could. I ran into a lot of first timers.

UNKNOWN: I am so glad I came. I feel so good. I never, ever stepped out and done anything like this before. It — just the stories brought tears to my eyes.



ZADROZNY: Most of the speakers were new here too.


KIRSCH: I am here to save my kids. I have —


KIRSCH: I have two children. They’re in college and they’re being forced to take the booster.

UNKNOWN: Don’t do it.

ZADROZNY: That’s Steve Kirsch.


KIRSCH: It’s wrong. It’s wrong and the schools will not answer any of my questions. I even offered them $1 million just to go and have a discussion with them so they could answer my questions on camera. They all refused.


ZADROZNY: There were so many speakers, French doctors, including Dr. Robert Malone who pushed ineffective treatments, right-wing media personalities and social media influencers, groups of firefighters in full gear and nurses in scrubs with banners and bull horns.

Maddie de Garay was there, with a dozen other people who said they had been injured by vaccines. There were comedy and musical acts too.


FRANNIE KELLEY: Do you smell weed?

ZADROZNY: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes.


ZADROZNY: All kinds of freedom.


Robert F Kennedy Jr

ZADROZNY: But it was obvious who everyone at the march was really there to see.

J.P. SEARS: It is an absolute honor to welcome Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR., CHAIRMAN, CHILDREN’S HEALTH DEFENSE: The minute they hand you that vaccine passport every right that you have is transformed into a privilege contingent upon your obedience to the arbitrary government dictates.


KENNEDY, JR.: It will make you a slave.



UNKNOWN: The New World Order.

KENNEDY, JR.: Then what do we do about this?

UNKNOWN: We are going to resist (ph).

KENNEDY, JR.: What do we do?

UNKNOWN: We fight.

KENNEDY, JR.: We resist.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).


ZADROZNY: RFK, Jr. grew up living the life of a Kennedy, all the privilege and all the tragedy. He was 9 when his uncle, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and 14 when his father, Bobby Kennedy, was shot to death in Los Angeles.

He went to prep school, and went on to Harvard and UVA Law. He became a prosecutor and then an environmental lawyer. Here he is talking to Bill Maher in 2015.


KENNEDY, JR.: I got dragged into the vaccine issue kind of kicking and screaming, because I was going around the country —


ZADROZNY: A note here, Kennedy has a condition called spasmodic dysphonia, it’s an involuntary tightening of the larynx. It can make his speech hard to understand.


KENNEDY, JR.: And almost everywhere I stopped, or I spoke, I — there were women there. Very eloquent, articulate, grounded people who were saying, look, you have to look at the biggest vector (ph) of mercury in American children now is coming from vaccines, and we need you to look at the science.


ZADROZNY: Kennedy was convinced. He started writing and speaking about vaccines, wrongly claiming that mercury in a vaccine preservative was hurting children and the government was plotting to keep it a secret.

He joined up with an obscure anti-vaccine group, The World Mercury Project, and became its chairman. The World Mercury Project changed its name to Children’s Health Defense in 2017.

The pandemic has been good for business. CHD brought in $6.8 million in donations in 2020, double the previous year. And Kennedy himself has found a footing as the anti-vaccine movement’s rock star.

And at this D.C. march, Kennedy got on stage and just uncorked, full Truther mode. And not just about vaccines. He compared life in America unfavorably to life under the Third Reich.


KENNEDY, JR.: Even in Hitler Germany you could — you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You can hide in an attic like Anne Frank did (Orac again).


ZADROZNY: He riffed about an impending surveillance state helmed by Bill Gates.


KENNEDY, JR.: Today the mechanisms are being put in place. It will make it so none of us can run and none of us can hide.

UNKNOWN: I won’t (inaudible).

KENNEDY, JR.: That within five years we’re going to see 415,000 low-orbit satellites, Bill Gates and his 65,000 satellites alone will be able to look at every square inch of the plant 24 hours a day.

They’re putting in 5G to harvest our data and control our behavior, digital currency that will allow them to punish us from a distance and cut off our food supply.


ZADROZNY: He later had to apologize for the Anne Frank remark after his wife, the actress Cheryl Hines, came under pressure from fans.

But the people at the march, they ate it up. Because a guy with his credentials, the son of a civil rights icon, how could he be wrong about this new fight for freedom? They’re mad at the other guy.


SEARS: Our next speaker is Mr. Bill Gates (for anti-vaxxers, Bill Gates is a demon).


SEARS: Oh, Bill couldn’t make it. Sorry. Bill couldn’t make it.


SEARS: You all are a bunch of animals. I love it.


ZADROZNY: I wanted to talk with Kennedy, but when I requested an interview the director of media relations for Children’s Health Defense to me, quote, “Due to the demonstrated bias of your reporting, Mr. Kennedy will not be able to do an edited interview.”

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Making that kind of deal for access is against NBC News policy. We e-mailed a series of questions instead and he responded.

A warning, this is about to get very in the weeds, because that’s where the anti-vaccine activists go when you challenge them.

I asked Kennedy about Tiffany Dover. He’d written about Tiffany in February, about two months after she fainted. He said, quote, “The Tiffany Dover incident offers a template for how media and medical authorities act in concert to gaslight the public to suppress reports of vaccine injuries.”

He called the national media credulous to report Tiffany’s own words, that her fall was not vaccine-related. “To this day,” he wrote, “no one knows what really happened to Dover.”

I asked Kennedy if he stood by those comments, specifically the gaslighting thing, and if he’d seen the interview where Tiffany stood up and explained what happened.

He didn’t answer directly. Instead, he referred to a vaccine injury reporting system set up in 1988, called VAERS (it is not a useful database for analyzing vaccine adverse effects). He talked about VAERS at the March in D.C.


KENNEDY, JR.: This is what the press, like a bunch of stenographers and automatons —


KENNEDY, JR.: — will repeat again and again is, well, the VAERS system doesn’t work.

Well, it’s their system.

UNKNOWN: Criminals.

KENNEDY, JR.: It’s the only system they got (false, we have better databases that provide better data for vaccine safety and effectiveness). We didn’t make up the system. They made it up.


ZADROZNY: In his e-mail to me he made claims that doctors regularly chose not to report adverse events because of, quote, “abundant incentives,” and that, as a result, 99 percent of vaccine-related injuries go unreported.


KENNEDY, JR.: We found that VAERS is missing more than 99 percent — not 99 percent, more than 99 percent of vaccine injuries.


ZADROZNY: This 99 percent unreported line is another favorite talking point for anti-vaxxers.

The suggestion is that severe vaccine injury and death are all around us, but it goes uncounted. This statistic comes from one unsourced sentence, written in a 2011 health insurance company’s grant application.


KENNEDY, JR.: They studied one HMO, Harvard Pilgrim, which is up in New England —


ZADROZNY: But there are real issues with VAERS. Going to the database, which is public, you can see all kinds of post-vaccine reports that have nothing to do with the vaccines themselves: car accidents, suicides, and even made-up reactions.

In one famous example from 2004, a researcher entered a report saying that the flu vaccine had made his muscles grow in size, turned his skin green, and transformed him into the Incredible Hulk.


KENNEDY, JR.: I know you’re not used to hearing about scientific studies, but science actually is determined by doing studies.


ZADROZNY: As for Tiffany’s case, Kennedy wrote me quote, “Despite the presence of several doctors and medical personnel who witnessed Tiffany Dover’s collapse immediately after vaccination, apparently none of them made the obligatory report to VAERS.”

He called that a clear violation of the law that created the VAERS system. And he said it was, quote, “A serious ethical lapse.”

Actually, according to the instructions that the Department of the Health and Human Services provides, an adverse event from a COVID vaccine only needs to be entered into VAERS if it leads to severe injury, long-term hospitalization, disability or death.

I also asked Kennedy about a comment he made about Hank Aaron, the legendary baseball player.

Quick backstory, Aaron got the COVID vaccine at a press event in early January 2021. He died a few weeks later at age 86. The medical examiner in Fulton County, Georgia, where he lived, said he died of natural causes.

Kennedy gave a statement on his website. He said Aaron’s tragic death is part of a wave of suspicious deaths among the elderly, closely following the administration of COVID vaccines.

Kennedy told me, quote, “I never said that Hank Aaron died of a vaccine injury.” He went on to attack the “New York Times” and NBC News for believing what the medical examiner was saying about Aaron, which included a reference to, quote, “physical examination of his body.”

Kennedy said in his email to me that the M.E.’s office had admitted to him that they hadn’t actually examined Aaron’s body.

So we called them ourselves. This is the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Karen Sullivan.


KAREN SULLIVAN, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: (Inaudible) investigated (inaudible), responded to the scene and gathered the information about Mr. Aaron’s medical history, his activities just the night prior to being found.

And given his age and his medical history and — the senior investigator, in his examination of Mr. Aaron’s body, there was nothing to suggest his death was anything — was really anything other than natural causes.

And the physician said that they would sign Mr. Aaron’s death certificate when presented by the funeral home.

And so, in that case we released Mr. Aaron’s body, as the family had a funeral home, so that Mr. Aaron’s body never had to come to the — this office.


ZADROZNY: We asked it was accurate to say the death was unrelated to the COVID vaccine.


SULLIVAN: That’s — that’s my medical opinion. I mean there’s nothing to suggest that there’s any anaphylactic reaction. You know, no swelling of the lips, no history of trouble breathing or wheezing, no complaints about feeling unwell.


ZADROZNY: So an investigator had seen his body, had examined the scene, and we had wasted an afternoon tumbling along through the mental gymnastics of an anti-vaxxer.

And in the end, this whole question about examining the body it’s pointless anyway because RFK believes that vaccines kill people without leaving physical evidence.


KENNEDY, JR.: And I knew Hank Aaron.


ZADROZNY: He explained this in March in a radio interview on WRKO-AM in Boston.


KENNEDY, JR.: It’s part of a wave of deaths that occurred immediately after COVID vaccination. I didn’t say that it’s from the vaccine because nobody can tell that. You — even if you did an autopsy you cannot tell, because most vaccine injuries have no fingerprint.


ZADROZNY: Clearly though, calling Aaron’s death suspicious and linking it to the timing of his vaccination, it’s meant to suggest that a vaccine killed him.

I asked Kennedy if he stood by it. Again, he attacked the media, NBC News and me.

“Your network and many others continue to maintain this public deception,” he wrote. “This is a good example of gaslighting that you requested. Now that you are aware of this deceit, your choice to correct the public record or to continue promoting vaccine misinformation will be an interesting measure of your own integrity. Based on your past performance I have a pretty good idea of what you will do,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The most notable thing to me about Kennedy’s answers is how bold they are and what that says about the confidence of the anti-vax movement right now. And I see why. Vaccines are front and center. Upstanding figures like firefighters are refusing to take them. People do seem more open to the possibility of a dark global plot and joining a new resistance.

But there’s a strain of trutherism (ph) that is actually deeply worried about this moment. They see another plot at work. Call it a plot within a plot. These are the PSYOP truthers. That’s PSYOP, as in the military abbreviation for Psychological Operations.


UNKNOWN: Don’t worry about Tiffany Pontes Dover, she is a crisis actress.


ZADROZNY: This is from a YouTube channel named TiffanyDover PsyOp. These folks believe that everything that happened with Tiffany — her interview after she fainted, her retreat from social media, and the mainstream press coverage, including this podcast — is all part of a much larger plan.


UNKNOWN: This necklace is odd, too, because she seems to be wearing it for nine years. And do you wear the same necklace for nine years? So I don’t know if it’s a glitch in the CIA software when they were making this account, but it definitely appears to be a deep fake.


ZADROZNY: The PSYOP crowd thinks Tiffany is either alive or that there’s never been a Tiffany Dover and the women we saw faint was an actress playing a part.

The theory holds that this whole thing is just one big drama designed by the deep state and big pharma and its whole point is to lure anti-vaxxers into hyping up the story that the vaccine killed her.

They believe the PSYOP’s final stage is when the government trots out Tiffany or the women playing here and that it humiliates them and deals a death blow to the movement.


UNKNOWN: This is PSYOP and this is your proof. This is all the proof you need right here. If you can’t see it, I don’t know what to tell you.


ZADROZNY: There’s no evidence that this is real, obviously. And there’s also absolutely no evidence that, this time, being wrong about a particular story would destroy the movement’s momentum. It’s survived Desiree, it survived Wakefield, it’ll survive Tiffany.

But I got to say, as I report this story out, part of me was kind of rooting for the PSYOP, not because I wished for any grand comeuppance for RFK or any of the others who’ve used Tiffany’s story for their own purposes. I was rooting for it because it would mean that in the end Tiffany would come out of the shadows and talk.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!