Agencies will do what is in their power to either swiftly provide you the record, or make it harder for you to get. There are ways to combat their denials without having to sue. Sometimes there is a requirement to sue. Florida only allows attorney fees to be recovered as part of the settlement if the city is found “at fault” or in violation of not providing the record. The reciprocal is true for them also; except they will bill you an outrageous amount of money to defend and protect the record they are denying.
After all, the records are incoming forms, data, emails, reports, and other things that the public should be able to see. The stuff they DON’T want you to see is what is damaging to them and they will protect those records if they can. You would imagine that anything should be able to be inspected, but it is NOT! There is a 375 page manual that gives the clerks what they can and can’t do. Use it to your advantage and arm yourself with knowledge.
Axon Audit Trail
Company who supplies Tasers, Body camera, and restraint devices
EXIF Data for body camera
Software for Internal and external communication complaints that don’t make it to IA
Software for complaint tracking
What can be requested
Anything and everything can be requested and you may be provided something that otherwise wouldn’t be released if an uneducated record holder has it in their possession. So even though it’s exempt, don’t hesitate to ask for it. Here are several types of records I receive and ask for. Below is a short list of items that can be requested. There are many more that are capable of being requested but this should give you an idea. You literally can ask for anything but it is up to the clerk to check to see if they can legally withhold it for any exemption. Remember there’s no statutory penalty for releasing an exempted record. I will go over exempted records later. The following are releasable record examples:
Beat The System!
Government may try to prohibit your request, delay it, and then not even fulfill it. The following is the best practice when doing a request. Keep it short, sweet, get one item fulfilled and then request another. This will allow for free fulfillment and faster reply. There are several other things you can do to get them to comply faster and provide more information. Remember, at the other end of the computer, phone or desk is a person who will like you or hate you. The first line of the 119.01 FSS states “It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.” This is similar to the Bill of Rights. In fact, the public records are listed in the Constitution of Florida Section 24.
Eric McDonough who runs True Homestead and Facebook page has been a huge inspiration at learning about public records. Doc Justice as he is known has several lawsuits and some pending, one in which he just won out of the south Florida area. He has lost some cases but as crafty as he is those cases he lost in helps his future cases by rulings of judges. I’d hate to play chess with this guy. We’ll do an interview with him in the future. You must see his work! Go give him a follow.
Basics of your request
· Submit in writing (keep description concise)
· Request receipt confirmation (accountability)
· Phone call follow-up and get name of call taker (if no reply)
· Request one item at a time (this triggers a fast response)
· Once first request fulfilled submit another (second items will come slower)
· Request for previously released items (body cameras, reports, etc.) These have already been redacted for someone else
· Build a rapport with the record holder
· Ask to be put on the media list for release
Tips to get it fast and free!
One way to prevent you from a record is to charge you a lot of money for it. These costs can be justified if you ask for a ton of records. Most departments in Florida provide a set amount of time they are willing to provide records for free.
That’s why I mention using a short and sweet method. This will allow for free fulfillment and faster reply.
Slamming 20 requests into one email will have them tally up the total time to get ALL of your records While I do not believe this is legal, since each record may only take 5-10 minutes to get, they combine the total request into time and bill you for that. The bill should be for the lowest paid person who can handle those requests. Most of the time it is $15-30/hr. Doing one single request will get it done quicker and they usually fulfill it pretty fast. But don’t trust them!
If you get a bill, you can combat the fee in several ways. Question the cost, submit a second request for the hourly rate of the person they are citing is preparing it, request the cost of materials such as DVD, Thumb Drive etc. Public records is not a profit generating service. Florida statutes 119.07 (4)3 Cover fees, specifically states for copies “For all other copies, the actual cost of duplication of the public record.” Speaking of DVD’s specifically a copy of an existing record copied to DVD shall only be the cost of the disc itself. You will find several agencies in violation already charging no charge for the review of a 5 minute body camera but charging $10.00 for the DVD. This is a violation of the statute. The 100 Pack of Verbatim DVD is $24.99 or $0.25 each.
Law Suits for 119 statute violations is not difficult, but difficult.Lawsuits are a possibility when it comes to being denied a record. Many attorneys may not take your case since the damages are insignificant to those of injury lawsuits. A smart attorney will take this on contingency if he or she is knowledgeable and then get their monies repaid on the backside plus a multiplier allowed by law.The attorney can not share the attorney fees with you but they can share a settlement with you. If you do find an attorney that will sue, try your hardest for a settlement so that your time and effort will be compensated by the settlement otherwise the attorney will retain the costs of his work with the courts awarding of the fees.
A writ of mandamus must be filled to get attorney costs.
A person who has been denied the right to inspect or copy public records may bring a civil action against the agency. In almost all cases, a person should bring this civil action by filing a petition for a writ of mandamus in circuit court. This is an extraordinary writ that commands a government official or entity to perform an act. In cases involving the requested production of public records, the writ of mandamus would command the custodian of the requested records within the state agency to turn over the requested records. If a writ is issued, the court may also award reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees to the petitioner.
In order to get attorney fees awarded you must prove:
The agency unlawfully refused a record to be inspected copied or provided and the person initiating the lawsuit provided written notice to the custodian of public records 5 days before filing the suit.
This goes back to the fundamentals – use e-mail, a written letter or their form to submit your record. While the forms and written requests are not required, it is if you’re going to sue. In order to sue you must give the records custodian that written notice. Do it, don’t argue that you don’t have to put records requests in writing. It fortifies your case and shows a paper trail.
Mediation is part of the process that is an informal program with the office of the attorney general. It’s an alternative to the courts involvement. If you are set on getting the record then mediation is your next option. Please note the mediator can provide a recommendation but the agency can ignore that recommendation all together. You can reach that division at Open Government Mediation or call (850) 245-0140.
I am currently in the process of initiating a lawsuit with the City of Sanford. I wanted to see body camera footage of an incident that was involving The Armed Fisherman and his open carry activism. There were 5-6 officers on scene and I wanted to see the shortest one which was around 7-8 minutes long. Not expecting to be denied the video without first paying a $150.00 fee to begin the work. This fee is claimed to be a deposit to begin the redaction. I am extremely familiar with their redaction software as you all know with my law enforcement background. The clerk handling the request, Alisha, stood by their policy. In fact, provided me a policy and procedure to take these $150.00 fees for body camera requests. I felt they were unreasonable, calling her and explaining with the human element behind it and they still have not provided the body camera footage. I have an attorney representing me in this. I just want to view these videos. They are in public, and with real time redacting as you view there should not be any cost according to the cities 15 minute free policy.
I will update this post as I determine more information is beneficial. Here’s the form she had provided to me. This form establishes pattern of practice of what I believe is a violation of Florida Statute §119. This is a special fee for the record and is excessive to me preventing me from obtaining an otherwise record that almost ALL law enforcement have provided at no charge or the actual cost of duplicating it. I have asked for an estimate but as of 8/20/2021 have not recevied the estimate.
You can see more about the City of Sanfords records here: https://www.sanfordfl.gov/departments/police-department/police-records. Remember this is not legal advice. If you’d like to help support the cause visit the support page
If this sort of thing is unchallenged, it’ll continue and grow. Cities will lease public parks and even sidewalks to private companies, and then pay the private companies to maintain them. Thus, they’ll be able to control who can be on that property and what protests or speech will be allowed.This is definitely their way of trying to get around our First Amendment rights. The city owns the land, but it’s managed by a private company!!! This must be challenged in court.
Just saw a press conference where the officials said they would crack down on visitors for anything they deem unwanted, not illegal, because they can.
The battle over the right to record police is far from over. That’s because a case pending over a routine traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado, where police interfered with a citizen journalist recording, could have a huge impact on a controversial legal precedent which shields cops from legal liability.
End Qulified Immunity Protections, & Civil Asset Forfeiture. Hold Cops Accountable.
Cops who break the law must be held accountable for their illegal actions !!!
This is also why you need to tell the cop that he is about to violate your rights and will lose his qualified immunity. Otherwise he can claim he didn’t know that law or right and use the qualified immunity as a defense.
Get it right in your heads people. “To protect and serve” means themselves.
Qualified immunity isn’t a matter that will be addressed by police reform. It’s part of the holding accountable of elected officials.
If cops didn’t break the law. These people who record them would not need to record the cops
In “this day and age…” Why do cops NOT know the law?
That cop who try to obstruct them from recording definitely has more issues under the radar and he’s a ticking bomb.
this is America cops should lose their pensions three strikes and they’re out!!😎
That would be three justice systems.
One for police, one for the wealthy, one for the rest of us.
And PlEASE leave a comment for copwatcher Abade aka Liberty Freak, his law suit may become case law that protects your right to record the police! So make sure to give him some kindness and support as he will be turning himself into law enforcement and will be incarcerated for a few months. So this is your chance to share your thoughts with him before he goes inside. Thank you! -taya
What an incredible episode!!! I especially love it when you break things down and illustrate clearly how our system has “run amuck” and been abused to undermine & sabotage itself.
“Qualified Impunity” is such a clever, creative and accurate play on words. I would love to see that term widely adopted because I would hope that this shift might become a catalyst for reform by bringing a better understanding of just how broken our system is; and how close we may be to losing our democracy itself! It is being attacked and undermined in so many ways right now from so many sides…
If ignorance of the law is no excuse for civilians ignorance of our rights should be no excuse for the law!
Since this video was from Colorado it would make sense to mention that, at the time of this report, a new police accountability law was about to go into effect. Since then several cops, notably Loveland PD, have been held accountable with this law. As for my opinion I would like to say, no one has done more to end qualified immunity than corrupt cops all over the US.
If cleaning up neighborhoods changes the culture by changing the way people feel, then cities have an interest in leaving them neglected to justify dumping more money into police presence. It’s business as usual.
There are three types of versions of laws, the one for the poor aka the “criminal class” and then the one for government officials/LEOs, and finally the one for the elites/the rich who line the pockets of said govt officials & LEOs
I think we now know why the police are no longer required to learn the law before claiming to “enforce the law”.
Not knowing the law lets the police officers claim “I didn’t know the law” and the courts say it was an “honest mistake” and let them off with a warning to do better.
Oh and…….”qualified immunity” sounds like a “Jim Crow” law. It’s sickening that such a perversion of our Constitutional Rights is allowed!
Something to keep in mind. Until privatized, for profit, publicly traded prisons are done away with none of this tyranny will end.
I’ve always said that one of the main goals of 1st Amendment auditor’s is to remove the sovereign from the state 👍💯👍
Driver: I’m just defending myself here. You really have nothing to fear from me. I’m not out to get you. So can you kindly just cite or warn me and we can go on our way?
Wait, qualified immunity gets it’s power by proving that the law enforcement officer was ignorant of the law? Make it make sense somebody please.
The radical anthropologist was that rare figure: a scholar who was also an activist.
In the third edition of the college-level textbook Macroeconomics, the economists Andrew Abel and future Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke blithely assert that “since the earliest times almost all societies … have used money.” They say that money arises from the inefficiency of barter—of trading one good for another—because “finding someone who has the item you want and is willing to exchange that item for something you have is both difficult and time-consuming.”
The evolution from barter to money is an old story in economics, repeated down the centuries in one form or another, to the point that even children are aware of it. It also happens to be only that: a story, and one with precious little evidence to back it up outside the heads of those who tell it.
While some economists imagine primordial villages and basic agricultural systems where birds are exchanged for flowers to illustrate the history of money, Abel and Bernanke come up with something much more immediate: The economist is hungry.
Barter systems would indeed make it difficult for an economist to eat lunch. Would a restaurateur exchange his goods for a lecture on monetary policy? Perhaps not, and the meal goes unsold and the economist goes hungry. Thankfully, the economist has students to whom he can sell his knowledge for dollars, which then function as a medium of exchange with which he can purchase his meal. The restaurateur is paid, the economist is satiated, while the students have learned something worthwhile.
But the only people who pay Ben Bernanke directly for his thoughts are investors. Students do not. Perhaps instead they borrow money to pay for the lecture, along with other lectures, a place to live, and the associated administrative costs of providing lectures to students. The interest on the debt eats up most of the students’ subsequent income from the job market, leaving them with no chance of ever paying off the principal in a reasonable timeframe. The debt will stick with them forever, even shaving off dollars from their Social Security checks, and make the normal mileposts of adult life—marriage, children—difficult or impossible to achieve. Fed up with their narrowed prospects, they join a group of activists who have taken up space, literally, in the shadow of New York’s financial institutions and they start talking about what they have in common: their debt. And they decide to do something about it.
Now this story, like the one the economist tells about the origin of money, is a stylized one used to illustrate broader truths about the world. But unlike what economists have said about money, it largely accords with known facts, and for that we have to thank the radical anthropologist David Graeber, who died earlier this week at the age of 59.
“We owe David so much,” the filmmaker and debt organizer Astra Taylor told me, noting immediately how he would have disapproved of using the language of obligation to encapsulate his life’s work.
Graeber had a long and distinguished career as both an activist and academic when the publication of his magnum opus, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and his work helping organize Occupy Wall Street in 2011 made him that rare thing: a serious scholar and organizer who garnered respectful profiles in Bloomberg Businessweek and the Financial Times. He spent the last decade-plus at Goldsmiths and the London School of Economics after Yale controversially cut him off from tenure, which he suggested was due to his being “quite active in the Global Justice Movement and other anarchist-inspired projects.”
“The thing to understand about David is that he really was someone who equally had a foot in social movements and intellectual scholarly production,” Taylor said. “There are people who are known as leftists through their writing and the internet and never do anything that qualifies as organizing.”
Graeber was a link not just between grassroots movements and the academic world, but between generations of leftist social movements. He was a veteran of the anti-globalization protests in the 1990s who helped start Occupy, one of the facilitators of a debtor movement that would influence the policy agendas of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He was a supporter of the United Kingdom’s anti–tuition fee protests in 2010, which would be the seed of the Momentum movement and Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendance to the leadership of the Labour Party.
The question Debt sought to ask was one that seemed natural in the wake of a debt crisis that would claim millions of homes and thrust much of the industrialized world into first a sharp economic crisis, then a self-destructive series of austerity measures designed to stem the tide of sovereign debt.
What was debt? What was its history, where did it come from, and how did it take such a central role in our personal and economic lives? Why was our language of obligation and morality the same as the one used to describe our credit card bills? Why does the Lord’s Prayer ask God to “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”?
To even begin to answer this question, Graeber had to start with money and the bad history used to explain it. Generations of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians had tried to find the origins of money (John Maynard Keynes referred to his own studies of money as his “Babylonian Madness”), but economists, especially in their textbooks, resorted to fancy.
These just-so stories about how money emerged from barter can evoke a kind of childish primitivism (“You have roosters, but you want roses,” one textbook says) or use imaginary historical examples. Even the stalwart progressive Joseph Stiglitz uses “what appears to be an imaginary New England or Midwestern town,” Graeber writes, to explain how money can replace barter, in the form of farmer Henry selling his firewood to “someone else for money” and then buying shoes from Joshua.
Graeber, in contrast, identifies the origin of money as “the most important story ever told” for economists, tracing it back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and even to Aristotle. This was “the great founding myth of economics,” he writes, that money was not in fact the creation of governments. It followed that economics was its own form of inquiry, separate from other ways of thinking about social life.
Graeber points out this account “has little to do with anything we observe when we examine how economic life is actually conducted, in real communities and marketplaces, almost anywhere—where one is much more likely to discover everyone in debt to everyone else in a dozen different ways, and that most transactions take place without the use of currency.”
Whereas the traditional account puts barter before money and money before debt, Graeber reverses this, noting that barter tends to only emerge in pre-industrialized societies when exchange happens outside of a familiar cultural context.
In the historical record of ancient societies in Mesopotamia, for example, there are prices of things that may be denominated by “money” (what an economist would call the “unit of account”). But merchants “mostly did much of their dealings on credit,” and “ordinary people buying beer from the ‘ale women’ or local innkeepers did so by running up a tab, to be settled at harvest time in barley or anything they had on hand.”
Where debt emerged in Sumeria, so did novel forms of social domination, whose eventual effects were so dire as to necessitate harsh management of its lenders. Those early Sumerian loans to peasants quickly led to peonage, with farmers “forced into perpetual service in the lender’s household.” Fields would go unsown or not be harvested as farmers would leave their homes in order to avoid collection. The result was periodic debt amnesties.
The book covers everything from Neil Bush’s divorce to speculation that the major world religions were responses to the coin-using great empires of the “Axial Age” of 800 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. (“It would be foolish to argue that all Axial Age philosophy was simply a meditation on the nature of coinage, but …” runs one especially expansive passage.) There is a reexamination of Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs being spurred on by his own debt, and vignettes about the functioning of debt and money in Madagascar, where Graeber did field anthropological research.
Debt’s deep dive into the whole history of civilization had a paradigm-shifting political point. Graeber wanted to show that “war, conquest and slavery … played a central role in converting human economies into market ones,” and that “historically, impersonal, commercial markets originate in theft.”
He wanted to show that not only did money not arise from barter but also that states and markets worked hand in hand in its creation. And more than that, he wanted to interrogate an economic and historical worldview that tried to “reduce all human relations to exchange, as if our ties to society, even to the cosmos itself, can be imagined on the terms of a business deal.”
He ended Debt with a call for “some kind of Biblical-style Jubilee: one that would affect both international debt and consumer debt.” This would not only
relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also … would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.
Thanks to Debt’s almost absurd good timing, as well as his own involvement in Occupy, Graeber became one of the most prominent leaders in the post-Occupy anti-debt movement. Or rather, in the spirit of an anarchist activist, he enabled others to take the lead. Graeber’s efforts in helping start what would later become the Debt Collective were more like being “a facilitator or putting a band together,” Taylor, one of the group’s leaders, said.
The initial group that Graeber helped organize, Strike Debt, instituted a “rolling jubilee,” buying up medical debt and forgiving it. The group evolved to organize challenges to student loan debt incurred at for-profit colleges and has claimed to have helped eliminate over $1 billion of debt. Its efforts garnered the respectful attention of The New Yorker, which described the jubilee as “one of the few Occupy offshoots that has had a tangible effect on people’s lives.”
The ideas in Debt also have been picked up by the Keynes-inspired thinkers that make up the school of Modern Monetary Theory, who see the state as a tool to mobilize the economy’s resources for the common good, unlimited by its ability to tax or take on debts and deficits. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referenced MMT when it came to funding the Green New Deal, and a leading MMT thinker, Stephanie Kelton, worked with Sanders. One of the brightest stars in the MMT firmament, Nathan Tankus, is an avid reader and admirer of Graeber.
“If we end up winning the fight over debt, money, and deficits and manage to fundamentally reshape this society it will have been in no small part of because of Graeber’s work,” Tankus said.
And while he is credited with coming up with the slogan “We are the 99 percent”—perhaps Occupy’s most enduring rhetorical legacy—he claimed that he could only be held responsible for “the 99 percent,” while “two Spanish indignados and a Greek anarchist” were responsible for “We,” and only later did a “food-not-bombs veteran put the ‘are’ between them.”
This impulse to go beyond himself, to submerge himself in the collective, wasn’t foreign to his scholarly work, either. At the time of his death, Graeber was working with archaeologist David Wengrow on a history of social inequality. It’s supposed to cover the last 42,000 years.
As the coronavirus began pushing the nation into lockdown in March 2020, Joshua Coleman, an anti-vaccine campaigner who organizes anti-vaccine rallies, went on Facebook Live to give his followers a rallying speech. He laid out what he thought the pandemic really was: an opportunity.
“This is the one time in human history where every single human being across this country, possibly across the planet, but especially in this country, are all going to have an interest in vaccination and vaccines,” he said. “So it’s time for us to educate.”
By “educate,” he meant to spread misinformation about vaccines.
The approach that Mr. Coleman displayed in his nearly 10-minute-long appearance — turning any negative event into a marketing opportunity — is characteristic of anti-vaccine activists. Their versatility and ability to read and assimilate the language and culture of different social groups have been key to their success. But Mr. Coleman’s speech also encapsulated a yearslong campaign during which the anti-vaccine movement has maneuvered itself to exploit what Mr. Coleman called “a very unique position in this moment in time.”
Over the last six years, anti-vaccine groups and leaders have begun to organize politically at a level like never before. They’ve founded state political action committees, formed coalitions with other constituencies, and built a vast network that is now the foundation of vaccination opposition by conservative groups and legislators across the country. They have taken common-sense concepts — that parents should be able to raise their children as they see fit, and that medical decisions should be autonomous and private — and warped them in ways that have set back decades of public health advances.
The power of anti-vaccine mobilization is particularly evident now in efforts to protect Americans against Covid-19. Only about 61 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated — not enough to provide national protection — even though the vaccines are free and are the best tool for keeping people out of overcrowded hospitals. But those who are baffled by the outsize influence of the anti-vaccine movement must understand how carefully its leaders have navigated their way to this point.
Vaccine hesitancy has existed in some form since the development of the first vaccine over 200 years ago. But the 2014-2015 measles outbreak, which began among mostly unvaccinated visitors at Disneyland in California and led to more than 125 cases, woke up the nation to the threat of that hesitancy. The only reason measles had gained a foothold was that pockets of the country with low vaccination rates had led to the erosion of herd immunity in those places.
In years leading up to that outbreak, vaccines had not been a partisan issue in the United States. But something was changing. Politicians like Chris Christie and Rand Paul called for respecting parents’ choice to vaccinate their children or not (although Mr. Christie later backpedaled a bit).
Meanwhile, public outcry followed the discovery that the outbreak began with unvaccinated children, with everyone from soccer moms to late-night television hosts lambasting parents who refused to vaccinate their kids. A coalition of parents led by Leah Russin, co-founder of the nonprofit group Vaccinate California, worked with California legislators like Richard Pan, a state senator and pediatrician, to push for a bill that would remove all nonmedical exemptions for school vaccine requirements, which had grown in recent years to allow pockets of low vaccination coverage to spring up.
But the mockery of “anti-vaxxers” in that uproar also mobilized the movement.
Anti-vaccine activists of all political stripes pushed back — hard — against the bill. When they found that inaccurate claims about vaccines didn’t sway California legislators, they shifted gears and asserted that removing nonmedical exemptions impinged on their freedom to raise their children as they wanted. In the late-Tea Party era, that argument had traction.
Renée DiResta, a researcher at Stanford, found through Twitter analysis that there was “an evolution in messaging.” The movement discovered that a focus on freedom “was more resonant with legislators and would help them actually achieve their political goals,” Ms. DiResta said to me. Anti-vaccine Twitter accounts that had been posting for years about autism and toxins pivoted to Tea Party-esque ideas, leading to the emergence of a new cluster of accounts focused on “vaccine choice” messaging, Ms. DiResta said.
Anti-vaccine activists used the measles outbreak and others to claim public officials would force “harmful” vaccines on people. They also found new ways to court politicians, especially those who take pride in bucking the system.
Just a week after the California bill had been filed, a well-meaning Republican legislator in Texas, Jason Villalba, filed a similar bill in Austin. But Mr. Villalba didn’t realize that anti-vaccine sentiment had been growing in his state, and his bill unwittingly “kicked the hornet’s nest,” said Rekha Lakshmanan, director of advocacy and public policy for a Texas-based nonprofit group, the Immunization Partnership. “All of a sudden we saw a kind of new generation of the anti-vaccine movement in Texas emerge.”
Though Mr. Villalba’s bill never got to a vote, it helped drive the new guard to form Texans for Vaccine Choice, which would become a PAC, to lobby against the legislation. Other influential conservative state PACs took notice and may have joined forces with Texans for Vaccine Choice behind the scenes. The group’s emphasis on parents’ rights and medical freedom were a natural fit, aligning them with Tea Party-type Republicans like Jonathan Stickland, whose ringing cry for any issue was “freedom.”
Likely under the tutelage of conservative grass-roots groups, the fledgling anti-vaccine PAC learned effective political electioneering. It backed a champion for its cause to challenge Mr. Villalba in the Republican primary, a far-right politician named Lisa Luby Ryan. When Ms. Ryan defeated Mr. Villalba, Texans for Vaccine Choice cried victory. That Ms. Ryan eventually lost the general election was beside the point. Anti-vaccine activists had shown they were a formidable force, and Texas Republicans learned it was “politically expedient” to stay silent when, for example, Mr. Stickland attacked vaccine scientists, as The Houston Chronicle editorial board wrote.
With vaccine refusal reframed as “parent choice,” Republicans could no longer risk appearing to oppose “freedom of choice” on any issue. More state anti-vaccine PACs and nonprofit groups formed, and social media allowed greater collaboration. The “freedom” messaging united anti-vaccine groups, particularly those in Texas and California, and withstood social media platforms’ growing attempts to stanch false claims.
New anti-vaccine organizations also began fund-raising in earnest, bringing in millions of dollars, both from wealthy donors and by selling fear. They use this money to create slick propaganda for larger audiences, such as a spate of anti-vaccine films like “Vaxxed,” which provided a blueprint for pandemic denialism films like “Plandemic.” And they donate funds to the politicians they hope to win over.
At the anti-vaccine Health Freedom Summit in 2020, several anti-vaccine activists spoke. Jennifer Larson, who believes vaccination caused her child’s autism, described how she had worked to gain the trust of Minnesota legislators. She and another vaccine opponent, Mark Blaxill, had formed a political party in 2011 to run candidates who oppose vaccine mandates and “medical injury,” but the two-party system was too entrenched. So they pivoted to supporting major-party politicians who would champion their causes.
“If they say something that might be considered controversial, we have a community of people who will run to have their back and support them,” Ms. Larson said at the gathering. “If you can, get involved … Get to know them, get them to trust you.”
That became the anti-vaccine playbook across the nation. And in state after state, vaccine opponents have gradually leveraged their state and local Republican parties to their ends, riding the “freedom” wave that has become so central to party messaging today. Hence the seamless marriage between anti-vaccine activists and groups protesting mask mandates and lockdowns.
As one example, by 2020, anti-vaccine groups joined anti-mask groups in Ohio to support a Republican-sponsored bill to curtail the Department of Health’s ability to issue quarantine orders and allow legislators to rescind health department orders. Though that attempt failed, Republican legislators eventually succeeded in 2021 in barring public schools and colleges from requiring Covid-19 vaccination before the vaccines had full FDA approval. States like Texas and Florida are now trying to stop businesses from requiring Covid vaccines.
“The most dangerous thing that could happen,” Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, told me he had worried in recent years, “is the Republican Party adopts anti-vaccine anti-science to the major platform. … This is the nightmare situation I’d hoped to avoid.”
Tennessee offers a glimpse of that nightmare.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s medical director in charge of vaccinations, was fired in mid-July after promoting vaccination to young people, an effort state legislators like Scott Cepicky, a Republican representative, found “reprehensible.” And then the state suspended vaccination outreach for all vaccines.
Dr. Fiscus says the anti-vaccine movement is partly to blame. “I think it’s been this insidious growth of their influence on susceptible legislators,” she said, “especially in Southern states where they have taken the ‘medical freedom’ kind of angle.”
Though Tennessee has since resumed most of those programs, the pause was a bellwether. Had widespread Republican opposition to Covid vaccination now apparently reached the point of interfering with routine childhood vaccinations?
Those of us who have followed the anti-vaccine movement for years know that’s been the plan all along. Although the movement’s leaders could not have known a pandemic was coming, they were more ready to take advantage of the moment with their messaging than public health experts and policymakers were to combat it.
The nature of the scientific process during a pandemic, with its unrelenting influx of new data and constantly evolving understanding of it, makes health communication incredibly challenging. That reality, combined with botched messaging from public health agencies, has emboldened vaccine opponents.
Americans hoping to fight the anti-vaccine movement must learn to use the same tools of political rhetoric and mobilization, to speak up against misinformation and to swarm lawmakers’ phone lines to oppose bills that harm public health. Republican legislators must defend the importance of public health more forcefully.
The Covid vaccine hesitancy running through the Republican Party threatens to do more than prolong this pandemic. It also threatens America’s ability to fight other diseases, of the past and the future.