MINOT, N.D. — There is an entire movement of Americans who have committed themselves to the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.
Or, at least, an exaggeration perpetrated toward nefarious ends.
The vaccines are a plot to boost profits for Big Pharma, they're invested in believing.
Face masks are just another example of Big Government authoritarians looking to boss you around.
Enabling these unfortunate attitudes is that most Americans haven't had COVID-19, or if they have had it, suffered such light symptoms from it they may not have known they had it. It's easy to be dismissive of something you haven't had to deal with.
But every once in a while a loud pandemic denier will get a dose of reality.
Last week we learned that Daniel Pozarnsky, a Fargo-area chiropractor, had thankfully survived an awful bout with COVID-19. "I felt like I was dying, and I have never felt that before," he told reporter Kevin Wallevand.
Pozarnsky has a significant social media following. He also runs a podcast. He has used these platforms in the past to undermine public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines. It seems he's changing his tune.
"Karma's a b----," he wrote in a Facebook post after getting better. "I should have gotten the vaccine."
Kudos to Pozarnsky for the honesty. It's no easy thing to admit to being wrong, particularly in a public venue, and even more so in the fetid swamps of social media.
But how many people like Pozarnsky have been using their quasi-medical qualifications to rail against vaccines and masking? How much harm have these people wrought?
Pozarnsky is hardly alone in our region.
Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican state lawmaker from Bismarck and founder of the nutty Bastiat Caucus of angry and ideologically confused culture warriors, has leaned on his medical credentials to proliferate nonsense about masking.
Becker is a plastic surgeon, not an epidemiologist or virologist, but that hasn't stopped him from being Dr. Rick Becker, emphasis on doctor when he wants to use the masking culture war to promote his train wreck of a local television show:
North Dakota Rep. Rick Becker (left) is on Main Avenue in Bismarck with this sign. It's an imitation of a much-memed bit done on college campuses by political commentator Steven Crowder. pic.twitter.com/jgXPIyYZgg— Jeremy Turley (@jeremyjturley) January 4, 2021
Another Bastiat Caucus lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Hoverson of Minot, has been promoting an event in his community that will explain "why Covid vaccines/masks are unsafe, ineffective, unnecessary," in his words.
The event featured two "doctors" affiliated with an authoritative-sounding group calling itself the Midwest Public Health Coalition which purports to spread information about COVID-19 and the vaccines developed to protect against it.
I'm using the scare quotes because neither of them are physicians or health care providers. Per Hoverson's exhortation, one is a molecular biologist, and the other has a doctorate in child development, and neither of those areas of expertise are particularly relevant to COVID-19 or its vaccines.
Yet they'll headline an event in my hometown, duping perhaps dozens of people into eschewing the advice of actual physicians and health care providers when it comes to things like masking or the vaccines.
I used to be a fan of conspiracy theories. Not so much believing them, but being entertained by them. I listened to the radio show "Coast to Coast AM" with Art Bell, enjoying the late-night gabfests about aliens and hollow earth theories as a sort of performance art.
Now that the internet has empowered conspiracy-minded idiots to organize and have a real impact on society, it's not so fun anymore.
Yet one interesting thing I learned from my time as an aficionado of the weird is how many people espousing some of the craziest things you ever heard had what were, at least seemingly, valid credentials.
A man named Bill Kaysing is perhaps more responsible than anyone for the unfortunately enduring conspiracy theories about the Apollo moon landings. He didn't think they happened. His writings and speeches on the subject were lent credibility by his time as head of technical publications for Rocketdyne, now Aerojet Rocketdyne, which was involved in the Mercury, Gemini, Atlas, and Apollo space programs.
He claimed to have been party to documents proving that NASA staged not only the moon landings but the Challenger explosion as well.
He appeared on Oprah.
He was in documentaries.
Not because he was right — he was demonstrably wrong, as hundreds of thousands of experts, including several people who have actually been to the moon, can attest — but because he had a veneer of credibility and was saying something a certain faction of the public wanted to hear.
This is true of Becker and Hoverson and the Midwest Public Health Coalition, not to mention a host of other supposed "experts" such as anti-vaccine chiropractors and wellness advisors who feel comfortable inveighing against vaccines and masking despite having little in the way of actual expertise.
Why would they do this?
Because notoriety is like a drug, and pandering to contrarian notions is a good way to get noticed.
And, hey, skepticism can be a healthy thing, but only when it's in pursuit of truth.
That's not what people like Becker and Hoversen and the MPHC are pursuing.
They aren't doing this stuff to help you. They're doing this to help themselves. They don't care if it hurts you.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.