In the crisscrossed, Q-addled conspiracy world where Donald Trump is held up as America’s great savior, and covid-19 vaccines are denounced as part of a poisonous plot to control the world, the former president’s own vaccination status — Trump privately got jabbed before departing the White House — has been an inconvenient truth.
This contradiction shot to the surface again this week when the disgraced ex-president, in the midst of an arena tour with disgraced ex-Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, told the crowd he’d gotten his booster shot.
When some audience members booed, Trump chastised his critics. He touted the covid shots as a key part of his administration’s legacy: “We did something that was historic,” he said. “We got a vaccine done.” The twice-impeached Trump then touted the millions of lives saved around the world by the jabs. “Take credit for it,” he told his followers. “Don’t let them take it away, don’t take it away from ourselves. You’re playing right into their hands.”
In fairness to the boo birds, the pro-booster message was an about-face for Trump, for whom consistency has never been a virtue. Over the summer he dismissed the notion of a third jab as “a money-making operation for Pfizer.” This message vibed with the anti-vax fever swamps, which have long decried Big Pharma for raking in profits by pushing vaccines that (they believe against all evidence) poison patients, instead of protecting them.
As the president’s new, unabashed booster endorsement rippled out across right-wing social media, it was met with an odd mix of confusion, contorted excuses, and denial so pure it’s as if the former president had never uttered a word.
On the social media app Telegram, Ron Watkins — whom many believe role-played “Q” in the QAnon conspiracy that held up Trump as America’s heaven-sent savior in the battle against satanic Democrats — sent out a message on the day of Trump’s comments. Watkins blasted “the insidious global campaign to use poisonous injections to ‘save’ every living man woman, woman [and] child.” Watkins didn’t respond to Trump directly, but later urged the “VF” (or Vaccine Free community) to “stand strong,” “never fear,” and “never comply.” Two days later, Watkins was back to unvarnished anti-vax hysteria blasting jabs and boosters as “Subscription Suicide Shots.”
Lin Wood, the high-profile, right-wing attorney who was a central player in the farcical legal campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election, also took to Telegram after Trump spoke. Wood, who has touted the QAnon worldview and calls himself a “public advocate against” covid jabs, told his followers to hold their fire on Trump for “recommending the ‘vaccine’.” Wood called covid “a planned bioweapon” and cautioned patience: “I believe We The People should wait until ALL the facts are known before passing judgment on the President’s wartime strategy and the tactics designed to achieve victory.” (Wood’s appeal for patience fits a pattern. Anons have long overlooked facts that didn’t fit their worldview with calls to trust a long term “plan,” whose logic cannot always be discerned in the moment.) Later Wood took to Telegram, decrying his trolls: “Looks like I stirred up a hornet’s nest… Hornets must not like the TRUTH!!!” He again defended Trump: “You don’t have to agree with every statement President Trump makes or position he takes…. Judge the entire body of President Trump’s world as president… He loves America, freedom, and We the People.”
General Michael Flynn, the Trump’s pardoned former national security adviser, was on Telegram on the day before the former president’s remarks opining that: “The vaccine doesn’t appear to work to prevent this covid madness, it appears to be causing it.” Flynn seemed to ignore Trump’s booster endorsement entirely. By the next day he’d posted a link to “news” item alleging Bill Gates and Tony Fauci had been “charged with genocide” in a filing before the International Criminal Court.
Larry Cook — a top anti-vaxxer who once rivaled Robert Kennedy Jr. in his online reach before getting kicked off Facebook — runs the “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” online community. (Rolling Stone profiled Cook as part of this examination of the crossover between the anti-vax and Q Communities). A QAnon adherent and longtime Trump booster, Cook describes the vaccines as “experimental poisons.” He rails on his “Covid-19 Refusers” site that the “Deep State” seeks to “destroy our children through vaccination” as part of an effort to “usher in a one world government and police state for total Luciferian domination of every Child of God.” He took no notice of Trump’s vaccine endorsement — and instead used Telegram to promote a “powerful zeolite detox” spray that’s sold through his website.
While MAGA and anti-vax leaders tried to excuse, dismiss or ignore the former president’s booster boosting, some in the rank-and-file of the far-right movement weren’t ready to forgive and forget, instead training their fire directly at the 45th president.
A message posted to a popular Telegram channel dedicated to “controversial media” and “uncensored views” read: “How quickly ‘Trumpers’ and liberal-conservatives forget that this entire COVID debacle, including vaccines and mass vaccination, was initiated and promoted under Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s watch.”
The post continued by arguing that Trump and the GOP don’t occupy the “moral high ground” on Covid and should not be trusted anymore than Biden and the Democrats: “Democrats are corrupt. Republicans are corrupt,” the post reads. “If you’re still on that merry-go-round then time to wake up and join us over here where TRUTH and FREEDOM is prioritised[sic] over party politics.”