“Even in Hitler’s Germany … you could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.”
You’ve gotta admire the perverse logic behind the “Defeat the Mandates” march in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. For a gaggle of anti-vaccine fanatics, “alternative” public health weirdos, and general pro-COVID right-wingers to hold a massive close-quarters demonstration in the midst of the ongoing Omicron variant surge is, if nothing else, deeply ideologically consistent.
On the other hand, just about everything else about Sunday’s COVID conclave was a sloppy mudpie of a mess.
Billing itself as “An American homecoming” (??), the march-turned-rally featured “recording artists, prominent doctors, journalists, pro athletes, actors, and premier thought leaders” on hand to give “a series of inspiring talks and musical performances” about the downright un-American tyranny of one extremely specific, extremely timely vaccine requirement (and none of the other ones people subject themselves to on a regular basis). There was also discussion of the rage-inducing fact that some stores make customers strap a thin layer of fabric across their face when they go shopping.
Those expecting new and insightful takes on what is now year three of our uniquely American failure to address a global pandemic would likely have been disappointed by Sunday’s rally, which — despite co-opting the language and aesthetics of a peace-and-love hippie Be In, was largely attended by the same motley crew of anti-vax (and by extension, anti-government) conspiracy theorists you’ve seen at other lower-profile events. As Vice’s Anna Merlan laid out in meticulous detail, the rally’s “we’re not anti-vaccine, we’re just pro freedom” narrative was undercut by the fact that it largely featured a who’s who of conspiracy theorists, podcast celebrities, and horse-dewormer enthusiasts. To the extent that the rally’s organizers hoped to present their event as an inclusive elebration of good ol’ American freedom, their embrace of notorious anti-vax figures like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. proved otherwise.
Indeed, it was Kennedy, son of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who claimed that living under the U.S. COVID response was worse the living under the Nazi regime, because “even in Hitler’s Germany you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.”
Grotesque, antisemitic false equivalencies between a global pandemic and the Holocaust notwithstanding, it’s worth noting as well that Kennedy’s analogy is almost entirely factually wrong. Anne Frank hid in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, not Germany, and — contra Kennedy’s apparent point — she was captured, only to be taken to a concentration camp where she died of a widespread communicable disease.
This, in a microcosm, is what Sunday’s rally was all about: an ahistorical, panic-inducing, conspiracy-mongering hootenanny where the proudly unvaxxed could mass in close proximity to one another and feel good about themselves and their choices.
Relatedly, last week saw more than 14,000 people die from COVID-19 related illnesses across the United States — a record high.