Online “Boot Camp” Teaches Anti-Vaxxers How to Spread COVID Conspiracy Theories April 1, 2021

Online “Boot Camp” Teaches Anti-Vaxxers How to Spread COVID Conspiracy Theories

It’s no secret that conspiracy theories and misinformation concerning COVID-19 are rampant (however much we might wish we didn’t have to live with this cursed knowledge). But it gets worse.

Some anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists are actively trying to boost the spread of anti-vaxxer pseudoscience by teaching like-minded people how to argue convincingly for their anti-science position… and despite the precarious economic times, people are forking over good money for the chance to learn.

That’s according to CBC journalists Katie Pedersen, Eric Szeto, and Asha Tomlinson, who took part in one such course for a Marketplace investigation. The course — Mastering Vaccine Info Boot Camp, offered by Ohio osteopath Sherri Tenpenny — has existed since 2017, but its current iteration is focused specifically on COVID-19 and the vaccines against it that have become available in recent weeks.

If Tenpenny’s name sounds familiar, that’s no surprise. She’s listed as one of the “disinformation dozen” in a report jointly produced by the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch because of the host of false and misleading claims she’s been spouting since the start of the pandemic. It’s only the latest move in a long career spent capitalizing on the anti-vax trend.

Most recently, Tenpenny has argued that protective face masks harm the wearer, that the vaccine will cause fatal auto-immune disease in its recipients, and that vitamins and homeopathy can cure COVID-19 patients.

(Perhaps now is a good time to note that Tenpenny earns a referral commission by selling vitamin deficiency tests to her anti-vax acolytes.)

In addition to Tenpenny’s unsupported theories about vaccines and immunity, course participants received a crash course in persuasion from her business partner Matthew Hunt, who offered up strategies to overcome resistance to the anti-vaccine message.

That’s a dangerous cocktail in a time when false narratives about COVID-19 have become so common, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has called them an “infodemic” — a plague of bad information that has hampered people’s ability to make good health choices and fostered distrust of major public health institutions.

While the Mastering Vaccine Info Boot Camp appears to be strictly secular, it’s worth observing that Tenpenny herself has some distinctly conservative Christian leanings. Joe. My. God. notes that she’s “viciously anti-LGBT” — and indeed, her Twitter feed serves up complaints about trans-inclusive language, the gay-friendly pope (ha!), and schools that acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people. She also calls abortion “one of the vilest forms of evil” and asks her followers to “pray for our children both the born and the unborn.”

Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make a person anti-science. But when your Christianity walks hand-in-hand with both bigotry and anti-vaccine propaganda, it’s cause for serious concern.

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