Del Bigtree is an anti-vaccine activist credited with worsening a measles outbreak, and he is also a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist who has encouraged people to intentionally contract the deadly disease and then treat symptoms by taking Vitamin C until they get diarrhea. Even though Bigtree routinely promotes deadly medical misinformation through his various online broadcasts, his commentary regularly features ads from some of the most recognizable brands in the United States.
Bigtree is the host of a podcast, The Highwire with Del Bigtree, that Apple makes available for streaming through iTunes. In recent weeks, he has falsely claimed on his podcast that more than 300,000 people in the United States may have been killed by COVID-19 vaccines, that getting a COVID-19 vaccine makes a person a “magnet” to contract the most “deadly” variants of the disease, and that the COVID-19 vaccine “doesn’t work.” He has also hosted guests who have falsely claimed that wearing a mask means “limiting oxygen into the lungs and into the brain” and that wearing a mask causes cancer via “oxygen deprivation” but that cancer can be treated with Vitamin D.
Media Matters watched Bigtree’s podcast and found that it often features advertisements from major U.S. brands, including Progressive, Lexus, ZipRecruiter, Rocket Mortgage, Geico, Lowe's, NBC, Capital One, and ColorChoice.
Bigtree, who has no medical credentials, is a leading figure in the anti-vaccination movement through his anti-vaccine nonprofit organization Informed Consent Action Network. A 2019 profile in the online parenting magazine Fatherly labeled him “dangerous” and said he “may be the most connected node in the anti-vaccine activist network.”
Bigtree made national headlines in 2019 when he interfered with efforts to contain a measles outbreak in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish community. As the outbreak was ongoing, Bigtree led rallies in heavily impacted areas where he encouraged people to resist calls for vaccination and spread misinformation, including the false claim that vaccines cause autism in children. The Washington Post identified Bigtree as one of the best-funded leaders in the anti-vaccine movement and reported on his claim outside of a Brooklyn anti-vaccination rally that “they should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles. It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.” Bigtree also received attention -- and condemnation -- in 2019 for placing a yellow Star of David badge on his coat during an anti-vaccine speech, referencing Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews. He has since turned his attention to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines against the disease that offer a chance to rein in the pandemic.
Last year, YouTube banned Bigtree from its platform after he repeatedly encouraged viewers to intentionally contract COVID-19 and pushed other dangerous medical misinformation, including promoting the claims of holistic medical practitioners, one of whom advised COVID-19 patients to take Vitamin C “till bowel tolerance,” which he explained meant “until you get diarrhea.”
In recent episodes of his Apple podcast, Bigtree has:
- Misrepresented a study he falsely attributed to Harvard Medical School to claim more than 318,000 Americans may have been killed by COVID-19 vaccines “in three months” and that more than a million will be killed by COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year. After making this claim, Bigtree issued a warning: “If you make any attempt to force this ridiculous, horrifyingly dangerous product onto me or my children, or any of my friends, look out. We are ready to go to battle on this.” The episode featured ads from ZipRecruiter, StihlDealers.com, and Rocket Mortgage.
- Touted his 2016 film Vaxxed, which helped popularize the false belief that vaccines cause autism in children. The HighWire episode featured an advertisement from Geico.
- Argued that “a lot” of reports of COVID-19 death tolls around the world are “lies” in an April 2021 podcast where he attacked the idea of wearing a mask to slow the spread of the disease, including calling Florida judge Dale Cohen a “mask Nazi” because he previously issued an adverse ruling against Bigtree’s guest for that day’s program, who is involved in a child custody visitation dispute that has become entangled with her anti-mask views. The program featured ads from ADP, Dunkin’ Donuts, and American Family Insurance.
- Featured the false claim that “there is one thing for sure, masks do help in limiting oxygen into the lungs and into the brain.” The episode featured advertisements from Progressive and Lexus.
- Falsely claimed Johnson & Johnson has “admitted” its COVID-19 vaccine is “dangerous” while claiming he knew the vaccine was dangerous but was “holding this information back” so that “we could really use that in court.” The episode featured ads from Napa Auto Parts.
- Promoted an anti-vaccine rally held in Connecticut in episodes featuring ads from Geico and Lowe's.
- Distorted a non-peer reviewed study to claim that “the vaccine is a disaster” and that receiving a vaccine makes a person a “magnet” to contract a “deadly” variant of COVID-19. The episode featured an advertisement from NBC.
- Falsely stated that “the vaccine doesn’t work” and that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and other proponents of COVID-19 vaccines “are all riding on a sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean, or hell as it would be if this ends up costing the lives of millions of people around the world.” The episode featured ads from Progressive and Capital One.
- Used the COVID-19 pandemic as a prompt for a guest who claimed that wearing a mask causes cancer through “oxygen deprivation” and that Vitamin D “is healing” to cancer, among other unscientific claims. An ad for ColorChoice ran during the episode.