Some left-wing 'crunchy anti-vaxxers' are falling down 'far-right rabbit holes': report

Some left-wing 'crunchy anti-vaxxers' are falling down 'far-right rabbit holes': report

President Joe Biden and members of his administration have been describing the current COVID-19 surge in the United States as a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," stressing that most of the people dying from COVID-19 at this point haven't been vaccinated. Many of the anti-vaxxers who have been frustrating Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are far-right extremists, but there are left-wing anti-vaxxers as well — and New England-based journalist Eoin Higgins takes a look at them in an article published by The Atlantic on September 22.

"Videos of angry red-state demonstrators pushing back against school boards and other local authorities in public hearings and repeating outlandish, baseless misinformation have made the rounds in traditional media," Higgins explains. "But in the hills of western Massachusetts and in neighboring regions of Upstate New York, a traditionally left-leaning area, these theories also hold purchase. I grew up in the region and started my journalistic career there. I've been arguing with residents, many of whom are close friends, about vaccines for more than a decade."

Higgins goes on to outline some ways in which liberal or progressive anti-vaxxers in her area differ from the far-right anti-vaxxers who identify with former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.

"The anti-vax faction here has its roots in the left-libertarian politics of the Back to the Land movement, which flooded the area with the disaffected urban upper middle class in the 1970s and '80s," Higgins observes. "That influx of hippies and students, most of whom came from New York City, brought with it a political belief in naturopathy and a mistrust of institutional authority. Today, these crunchy anti-vaxxers are coalescing into a loose political group that is targeting COVID health measures and restrictions as indicative of governmental overreach and medical tyranny."

Higgins continues, "They're also, predictably, falling down far-right rabbit holes. For more science-minded people who have roots in the region, seeing old friends turn to outlandish, anti-science conspiracy theories can be disheartening."

The New England resident points to journalist Enid Futterman, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as an example of a left-wing anti-vaxxer in his part of the country. Futterman told Higgins, "I do support Bernie Sanders…. I do see a disconnect between me and a lot of Democrats, which is sort of shocking, but true."

Nonetheless, Higgins writes that it would "be a mistake to assume that anti-vaccine sentiment is now a left-wing idea." Anti-vaxxers on the whole, according to Higgins, are still more likely to be far-right Trump supporters than liberals or progressives.

"As opposition to vaccines becomes a more partisan issue, however, progressives who are vaccine-hesitant will face a decision," Higgins writes. "Do they remain on the left, even as the politics around the conspiracy theories they embrace lead them out of their ideological comfort zones? Or do they dispense with progressivism in favor of a view of the world that holds that public health is subordinate to personal choice? In the hills where I grew up, those caught in the middle are trying to avoid confronting the contradictions."


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