The Antivaxxer DisInfo Pandemic

Have You Seen this Flyer? Nationally-funded group sows misinformation & distrust among neighbors.

Don’t Tread on Philly has been organizing all over the City, from a neighborhood pub in East Falls to Eagles tailgating at FDR Park – even downtown, where their signs dotted the crowds at this year’s Mummer’s Parade. If you haven’t encountered them yet, you will. Their radical advocacy has been picking up steam, seeking bigger targets to advance their agenda of fear and disinformation.

The anti-vax movement has had a long history of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and classism. These ideologies have been at the heart of their agenda from its inception. Its current iteration in Philadelphia is no different.

Don’t Tread on Philly ostensibly stands for personal liberty over mask and vaccine mandates in the City. They say that current public health policies are racist and claim the mandates will lead to Jim Crow-style segregation. They’ve got an active Facebook page that takes care to remain politically neutral and speak in only the vaguest terms necessary to skirt misinformation flags. Their website is slick, and packed with information that absolutely does NOT support the claims they’re making. Not even close.

Anti-vaccine protesters falsely equate segregation and racism to the consequences imposed on unvaccinated people to protect Philadelphians from their decision to endanger themselves and those around them during a protest along the Mummer’s Parade route through Center City, in Philadelphia, PA on January 2, 2022.
 Anti- Vaccine Protesters Chant “Let’s Go Brandon,” with Mummer’s passing by during a protest along the Mummer’s Parade route through Center City, in Philadelphia, PA on January 2, 2022.

By cherry-picking data from the reputable sources like The Department of Health, DTOP distorts information to exploit the legitimate suspicions many black and brown communities have about modern and historical medical racism. With misdirection and exaggeration, they perpetuate myths and rumors about vaccine side effects, and obscure the actual harms that COVID-19 is inflicting in these communities.

“This is a tried-and-true tactic of vaccine opponents, they grossly misrepresent some sort of research or data set to promote whatever their narrative is, in this case, it’s that mandates are racist,” said John Gregory, health editor at NewsGuard, which rates the credibility of news sites and tracks vaccine disinformation.

DTOP entirely ignores astounding disparities in hospitalizations and deaths along racial lines. African Americans make up 30.7 percent of hospitalizations and 6 percent of deaths, whereas Latinos make up 56.6 percent of hospitalizations and 89.4 percent of deaths. For comparison, whites make up just 9.4 percent of hospitalizations and just 4 percent of deaths in Philadelphia.

DTOP also ignores the economic impact COVID has had on communities of color who, btw, make up almost 80% of cases in Philadelphia. This has ravaged small businesses and destroyed support networks, devastating families financially, leaving behind trauma that could take generations to heal.

Fortunately, African Americans are now getting vaccinated at a very high rate. As efforts increased in Black and Latino communities (and barriers were removed), the disparities between those communities and white communities decreased. In fact, data show that in older age groups, communities of color across the board are being vaccinated at a much higher rate than whites. DTOP appears to be making every effort to sway this trend.

Who is behind DTOP?

The faces you see when you click DTOP’s “Who We Are” link

While this organization is styled to look like a grassroots effort, don’t let the packaging fool you. They’re well-connected to antisemitic, antidemocratic organizations and support structures, including the new Libertarian Party, MAGA world, QANON, Children’s Health Defense/Robert F. Kennedy Jr (banned from Instagram for misinformation). DTOP also has connections with American Frontline Doctors, whose members include medical “professionals” who infamously blamed COVID on sex with demons in your dreams and claimed the vaccine was made from alien DNA.

Much of DTOP’s disinformation is pulled directly from the so-called “Disinformation Dozen,” twelve people that researchers identified as sources for 65% of antivax shares on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They include anti-vaccine activists, alternative health entrepreneurs and physicians. Some of them run multiple accounts across the different platforms. They often promote “natural health” aka snake oil remedies, while selling paranoia and distrust. Indeed, anti-mandate rabbit holes can be portals to deeper, more sinister conspiracy theories.

Lying By Omission

Despite their purported interest in truth, DTOP fails to mention that vaccine mandates work. Without them, companies like United Airlines would’ve faced Delta and Omicron waves with half of their staff unprotected. Instituting a requirement led to almost 99.7% compliance, and despite occasional breakthrough infections, there’ve been zero employee deaths. Vaccine mandates reflect a new care and consideration for workers  — Tyson Foods, for example, introduced theirs along with other wellness perks and benefits.

In Philadelphia, health officials say the city’s indoor dining mandate supports business by keeping staff and customers alive in what we know is a high-risk environment. “The most dangerous situation is when someone is unmasked and around people from other households, eating or drinking indoors,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. Thanks to our high vaccination rate (80%) and indoor masking, Philadelphia’s COVID rates are lower than most counties in PA, but with cases and hospitalizations rising, it’s crucial to hold the line.

Kids in the Crosshairs

Vaccines revolutionized medicine and changed the course of human history. They’ve saved countless lives since Pasteur created the field of immunology in the 19th century.

Vaccine mandates for school-age children have eradicated smallpox and polio, and controlled highly infectious diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chickenpox so that cases now are rare. Which is why DTOP’s next target seems to exceptionally reckless and deluded: they’re planning to attack the Philadelphia school system.

Buzz on DTOP’s telegram channel indicates members are considering plans to launch a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and possibly one other school. They’re also organizing with groups as far away as Washington DC and Tennessee in their effort to “say no to tyranny” and encourage parents to protect their child’s right to die of a preventable illness.

According to information on DTOP’s telegram channel, core members of DTOP are organizing to sue the City of Philadelphia and an undisclosed school. They plan to announce more details at a “March Against Mandates” rally scheduled for Saturday, January 29, 2022. Philly members are networking with other groups from as far as Tennessee and Washington, D.C. in their effort to “say no to tyranny” and encourage parents to protect their child’s right to die of a preventable illness.

If DTOP successfully manages to dismantle school mask requirements and vaccine mandates for students (many that have been in place for decades), our already at-risk communities could be slammed by resurgences of long-eradicated diseases that could devastate our youngest and most vulnerable populations.

For more information about the vaccine mandate and getting vaccinated, follow the links below, and also please explore the links in this article to dive deeper into this fascinating issue affecting all of us. Sources provided as per protruthpledge.org. Comments and questions welcome below.

Black Doctors Consortium

Black Women’s Health Alliance

Center For Health Equity

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CVS

Philadelphia Health Department Vaccine Info

ED. NOTE: We link to DTOP’s social media sites because we want our readers to see what propaganda looks like, and we trust them to be able to tell lies/disinformation from truth/science. In case it’s unclear from this post, we do not endorse DTOP. 

About Cory Clark 28 Articles
Cory Clark is a Photojournalist and writer focused on Human Rights and other social issues. His work can be found in hundreds of media outlets from Philly Magazine to Fortune. He has been a long time freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Association French Presse. Cory, his wife, and son are residents of East Germantown.

4 Comments

  1. Fun fact: The current push Anti-Vaxxers are pushing on their supporters, is to get them to drink pee. How about that for a fuck you to the rubes?

    • Ah, yes, we love word play too! While the group stresses they are anti-mandate not anti-vaccine, they are funded/connected to undeniably anti-vaccine groups, including many dangerous right-wing conspiracy theorists. Also, regardless of whether DTOP’s problem is with mandates or vaccines, the group is still spreading distorted facts and disinformation. Thank you for your comment, stay safe out there.

    • This group is most definitely anti vaccine. I have worked closely with them for a few years as they become more radical and more radical.

      They are a faction funded by a PAC trying to desotry the credibility of the libertarian party

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