Multiple online influencers known for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines have been appearing on shows supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory, where they have continued to spread this misinformation.
Supporters of QAnon -- some of whom have been tied to violent incidents and participated in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol -- have also played a significant role in spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic since it began. In recent months, as coronavirus vaccines -- which are safe and effective -- have been released, QAnon supporters have turned their attacks on the vaccines, spreading numerous false claims about them.
In recent months, anti-vax influencers have appeared on multiple different QAnon shows, apparently noticing in QAnon supporters an audience primed to be receptive to their message. At least two are part of the so-called “Disinformation Dozen,” influencers identified in a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as the originators of an estimated 65% of vaccine misinformation spread on Facebook and Twitter.
Andrew Wakefield & Lori Gregory
In late March, Andrew Wakefield -- a disgraced anti-vaxxer who helped catalyze the anti-vaccination movement due to discredited work suggesting a link between vaccines and autism -- appeared along with anti-vaxxer Lori Gregory on RedPill78, a QAnon show currently streaming on Twitch.
During Wakefield’s appearance, host Zak Paine falsely claimed that the vaccines were “directly correlated” with “an explosion in autism,” and in response Wakefield mentioned the coronavirus and suggested that the COVID-19 vaccines were killing people. Wakefield also falsely claimed the vaccines could alter people’s DNA, urged people to take the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine instead of getting a coronavirus vaccine, and without evidence claimed vaccines can cause diabetes. These comments seem to violate Twitch’s community guidelines, which prohibit “encouraging others to commit acts that would result in serious physical harm to groups of people.”
In March, one of the “Disinformation Dozen,” Charlene Bollinger, also appeared on RedPill78.
Bollinger is an activist who has engaged in “health-freedom activism” that includes attacking vaccines. And before the insurrection she also helped organize efforts for “Stop the Steal,” an effort based on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
During her RedPill78 appearance, Bollinger called vaccines “dangerous,” said the coronavirus vaccine was the “worst shot by far,” and praised veterans for refusing to get it. In response, Paine asked if the coronavirus pandemic had made it easier for Bollinger to “bring the truth to the masses” about vaccines. Bollinger also claimed to have spoken with Trump about vaccines, and she pushed Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), a bleach product, as a cure instead (it is not), lauding QAnon influencer and bleach promoter Jordan Sather while doing so.
Bollinger again appeared on the show in April, this time with her husband Ty, and she told Paine that the show, which she said she “love[d],” provides “hope and solutions” while the supposedly false “savior of the vaccine” is a “lie.” Paine later told her that they were part of the same “community.”
RedPill78 is not the only QAnon show the Bollingers have appeared on. The couple also appeared on QAnon show X22 Report, and Charlene Bollinger said she was a “big fan” of the show. The host asked the Bollingers their feelings about coronavirus vaccines, and the couple proceeded to make a number of false claims, including that vaccines contain “nanobots,” that they cause seizures, and that they can destroy people’s DNA. The episode has received over 90,000 views on Rumble.
Another member of the “Disinformation Dozen,” physician and anti-vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny, has also appeared on multiple QAnon shows.
In both March and April, Tenpenny appeared on QAnon show BardsFM. She praised the show, saying it has a “massive audience” of “patriots” (and suggested she’s a member of the show’s audience), while host and QAnon supporter Scott Kesterson called Tenpenny a “brilliant mind,” a friend, a “powerful voice in the anti-vax movement,” and a “truth teller.”
Besides using the show to promote her content, Tenpenny pushed a wide variety of false claims about the supposed harms of the vaccines, such as calling them a “genocidal, DNA-manipulating, infertility-causing, dementia-causing machine.” She also called the vaccine makers “satanists” and “psychopaths,” indirectly invoked the Holocaust while criticizing Israel’s mass vaccination campaign, and agreed with Kesterson that the vaccines were somehow removing God from people.
Tenpenny has also appeared on another QAnon show, Patriot Streetfighter, where host and QAnon supporter Scott McKay told her that “we all love you for the work that you’re doing” and that he had “mad respect” for her. Besides using the show to promote her content, Tenpenny also repeatedly attacked the vaccines, urged people not to get them, called them “killing shots,” and agreed with McKay that the the vaccine effort is a “global murder machine.” She also told McKay that she speaks with Kesterson “frequently.” The episode has received nearly 70,000 views on Rumble.
Another known pandemic misinformer, Judy Mikovits — the star of the viral and misinformation-filled video Plandemic — appeared on Patriot Streetfighter in March. Besides falsely suggesting that masks were harmful and promoting her book, she claimed to have heard of someone dying from the coronavirus vaccine and called the vaccine “bullshit.” The episode has received more than 70,000 views on Rumble.
Erin Marie Olszewski
Another anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist, Erin Marie Olszewski, appeared in April on the MG Show, co-hosted by QAnon influencer Jeffrey Pedersen (known online as “inTheMatrixxx”), while they both were attending a far-right conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like other influencers, Olszewski used her appearance to promote her content and call the coronavirus vaccines a “sinister” effort that’s “harming people.” In turn, Pedersen lauded her “courage.”
Kate Shemirani & Kevin Corbett
Anti-vax influencers outside of the United States have also seen an opportunity to reach a friendly audience by appearing on programming from the QAnon community. In the United Kingdom, Kate Shemirani, one of Britain’s biggest coronavirus and anti-vax misinformers, and Kevin Corbett, who spoke at a widely attended anti-mask protest in London, appeared in April on British QAnon show The Charlie Ward Show.
During their appearance, Shemirani promoted her content, and the duo spent much of the entire episode making a variety of false claims about the supposed harms of the vaccines. Both Corbett and Shemirani compared the vaccines, whose makers they called “satanists,” to genocide and the Holocaust. The host and guests also praised each other, with Ward suggesting what they were saying was “massively important,” and Shemirani calling Ward a “legend.” The episode has received more than 150,000 views on Bitchute.
Anti-vax influencers, QAnon, and election misinformation
Notably, some of the anti-vax influencers also used these appearances on QAnon programs to push or support conspiracy theories related to QAnon as well as “Stop the Steal.” During Bollinger’s March RedPill78 appearance, for example, she claimed that “satanists” and a “cabal” were trying to “bring down America.” In her April appearance she mentioned adrenochrome -- a substance QAnon supporters claim elites harvest from the blood of children -- while also calling celebrities “satanists.” And on her X22 Report appearance, Bollinger falsely claimed that President Joe Biden is a “fake president” and a “puppet” and that Trump “won by a landslide.”
When Tenpenny was on Patriot Streetfighter, she claimed that people learned that “we are all fighting the same beast” when they saw the “election being stolen” via “Dominion super servers” (referring to a common but debunked conspiracy theory). She also nodded as McKay mentioned adrenochrome. Similarly, Olszewski on her MG Show appearance claimed that “they already stole our election,” and Pedersen gave her a bracelet that he implied had on it the QAnon slogan, “where we go one, we go all.”
The appearance of anti-vax influencers on these QAnon shows demonstrates not only the growing ties between anti-vaxxers and QAnon but also the dangers of overlapping conspiracy theories. Helping anti-vax influencers connect with QAnon audiences will undoubtedly spread misinformation about COVID and other topics, as many of the viewers are already primed to believe conspiracy theories.
Furthermore, the growth of these programs on alternative streaming platforms, which usually have more lax moderation policies than the biggest social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, suggests that the belated and noncomprehensive removal of these QAnon programs from YouTube -- where most of these shows originally cultivated their audiences -- was not sufficient to stop their influence. QAnon programs were able to move their followers onto other platforms, and it appears anti-vax influencers have begun to see this audience as one they could use to further their own anti-vaccine agendas.