A man was charged with making graphic threats to Fauci, warning he would soon be ‘hunted, tortured, beaten, [and] enslaved’

Fauci
  • A man faces felony charges after making violent threats to infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., was accused of sending graphic insults and death threats to Fauci’s email from December 2020 to July 2021.
  • Connally appeared to be disgruntled regarding Fauci’s guidance on getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
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A man faces felony charges after he emailed graphic insults and death threats to top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in a federal court in Maryland.

Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., was accused of sending multiple violent threats to Fauci’s National Institutes of Health email from late December of last year until late July of 2021.

Connally called Fauci, who serves as the current Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a “lying sack of s—” and “a sickening, compromised satanic freemason criminal,” citing the complaint.

Connally appeared to be disgruntled regarding Fauci’s guidance on getting the COVID-19 vaccine. One email from late April read that Fauci and his wife “will have the teeth smashed out of its worthless k— skull if you say ONE MORE WORD about ‘mandatory vaccines.'”

Fauci had previously expressed support for mandating vaccines at a local level, including at schools and businesses.

“I do believe at the local level there should be more mandates,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” earlier this month. “We’re talking about life-and-death situation. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people. There’ve been 4 million deaths worldwide, so I am in favor of that.”

Some emails threatened the lives of Fauci and his family, with one message from late April reading that they will “be dragged into the street, beaten to death, and set on fire,” according to screenshots included in the documents.

Special Agent Brett D. Rowland, who works with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), filed the affidavit on Tuesday, charging Connally with making threats against a federal official and interstate communications containing a threat to harm.

Investigators with the HHS began “protective operations” around Fauci in March of last year when he became the point person for guidance amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Part of those protective operations involve the vetting of threats received by various means, including mail, voicemail, and emails,” Rowland wrote in the criminal complaint. The operations led to the probe of threatening emails allegedly sent by Connally.

Attorney information for Connally was not immediately available and he could not be reached for comment. Representatives for the HHS did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Fauci says polio and smallpox would still be spreading in the US if anti-vaxx misinformation had been as popular in the past

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Dr. Anthony Fauci in Washington DC on February 25, 2021.

  • Dr Anthony Fauci in a CNN interview addressed anti-vaccination misinformation.
  • If there was the same pushback against smallpox vaccines in the past the disease would still be around, he said.
  • Vaccination rates in the US have stalled as Fox News hosts and GOP lawmakers push anti-vaccination propaganda.
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The White House’s top medical advisor, Dr Anthony Fauci, has said that the US’ campaigns to innoculate people against diseases in the past would not have been successful if anti-vaccination misinformation had been as popular as it is now.

Fauci, who is one of the top experts in infectious diseases in the US, made the comments as vaccination rates in the US stall, and conspiracy theorists backed by top-rated hosts on the right-wing Fox News network and Republican lawmakers seek to erode faith in the shot.

In an interview with CNN Saturday, host Jim Acosta asked Fauci whether history could have played out differently if public health authorities in the past had had to battle the waves of misinformation currently spreading in the US.

Acosta asked if he thought “we could have defeated the measles or eradicated polio if you had Fox News, night after night, warning people about these vaccine issues that are just bunk.”

Fauci said: “We probably would still have smallpox, and we probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now,” Fauci said.

On Friday President Joe Biden singled out Facebook for criticism, saying the social media platform was “killing people” by allowing COVID-19 misinformation to spread on its platform.

The White House has missed its target of vaccinating 70% of the US population by July 4, and the huge surge in people initially seeking the injection has leveled. Infection rates driven by the more infectious Delta variant are rising, with White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients saying last week that 4 states with relatively low vaccination rates were driving 40% of new cases.

Fox News hosts and some GOP lawmakers have stepped up a campaign to erode faith in the vaccines in recent months, which experts told Insider in February was likely partly a bid to damage Biden’s vaccination strategy and score political points.

Fauci has become a hate figure for some right-wingers. A PAC linked to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has even started selling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merchandise.

In the interview with CNN, Fauci expressed his bafflement at the hostility directed at him.

“Taking an individual who stands for public health, for truth… and to use my name in a derogatory way to prevent people from doing things that’s for the benefit of their own health, go figure that one out.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is selling ‘Don’t Fauci My Florida’ merch as the state reports some of the highest number of COVID cases in the US

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Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is selling campaign merch that mocks COVID-19 expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • The new T-shirts and koozies read “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”
  • Florida is battling some of the highest COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amid some of the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, and infections in the US, Florida’s GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, is mocking White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci with campaign merchandise released this week.

DeSantis’ campaign team rolled out T-shirts and koozies reading “Don’t Fauci My Florida” on Monday, in the latest Republican stunt against COVID-19 measures.

The one-term governor is running for reelection in the 2022 Florida gubernatorial race, but the GOP rising star is also seen as a potential Republican frontrunner in the 2024 presidential election.

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, DeSantis has positioned himself as a vocal opponent to lockdown measures, keeping most of Florida’s schools and businesses open in spite of public-health experts’ calls for social distancing.

Other T-shirts and hats on the DeSantis campaign site read “Keep Florida Free” while certain beer koozies sport a key DeSantis quote that reads “”How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

DeSantis’ campaign did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

It’s not the first time DeSantis has slammed Fauci, who also serves as the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In early June, when COVID cases in the state had plateaued as vaccinations became widely available, DeSantis said Florida was faring so well economically because the state did not follow Fauci’s advice.

Fauci has been a vocal proponent of face masks, vaccinations, and social distancing in the face of the pandemic – measures that many conservatives have rallied against, helping to turn Fauci, a medical expert, into a polarizing political figure over the last year.

“We’re going to end up probably having like $10 million in reserve once the new budget takes effect,” DeSantis said in June. “That would not have been possible if we had followed Fauci. Instead we followed freedom. And that’s the reason Florida is doing better.

But the virus outlook in the state has turned worrisome in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, Florida had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the US and the second-highest number of daily reported cases per capita, falling only behind Arkansas, according to The Washington Post COVID-19 tracker..

Fauci, for his part, has brushed off the conservative backlash towards him, previously calling the response “bizarre.”

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Olivia Rodrigo visits the White House to help boost COVID-19 vaccine push among younger Americans

Olivia Rodrigo
Pop star Olivia Rodrigo speaks at the beginning of the daily briefing at the White House on July 14, 2021.

  • Olivia Rodrigo visited the White House to meet with President Biden and Dr. Fauci in a push to vaccinate younger Americans.
  • Rodrigo spoke at a Wednesday White House press briefing, expressing excitement at the vaccination push.
  • Biden is pushing to inoculate more Americans, with vaccination rates having stalled in recent weeks.
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Pop star Olivia Rodrigo on Wednesday visited the White House to meet with President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, in a push for younger Americans to receive vaccinations to fight against COVID-19.

Speaking from the White House press briefing room podium, Rodrigo, who will record videos to promote the vaccine, expressed excitement at the opportunity to reach a younger audience.

“I am beyond honored and humbled to be here today to help spread the message about the importance of youth vaccination,” she said. “I’m in awe of the work President Biden and Dr. Fauci have done and was happy to help lend my support to this important initiative.”

She added: “It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members encouraging all communities to get vaccinated, and actually get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before, given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find them at vaccines.gov.”

Rodrigo’s visit is designed to serve as a bridge to Gen Z, or the generation generally regarded as the estimated 72 million Americans born between 1997 and 2012.

Once the videos are completed, they will be featured on the actress and singer’s social media channels, as well as the White House social accounts.

Read more: Democrats are readying $3.5 trillion in spending. Meet 13 experts deciding who gets the money.

Rodrigo, whose home congressional district in Southern California could potentially be altered through redistricting, released her critically-acclaimed debut album, “Sour,” in May, which has produced the hit singles “Drivers License,” “Deja Vu,” and “good 4 u.”

She is also known for her roles as Nina “Nini” Salazar-Roberts on the Disney+ series “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and as Paige Olvera on the Disney Channel series “Bizaardvark.”

Rodrigo currently boasts over 14 million followers on Instagram and roughly 9.4 million fans on TikTok, in addition to 1.3 million Twitter followers and over 6 million YouTube subscribers.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was thrilled at Rodrigo’s visit, noting that the star herself offered to come to Washington, DC.

“We need to reach people, meet people where they are and speaking to young people – people who are under the age of 18, many of whom as we’ve seen across the country are huge Olivia Rodrigo fans – hearing from her that … getting vaccinated is a way to keep yourself safe, a way to ensure you can see your friends, a way you can ensure you can go to concerts, a way you can ensure that you can live a healthy life is an important part of what we’re trying to do here,” Psaki said.

She added: “I will say, not every 18-year-old uses their time to come do this so we appreciate her willingness to.”

Rodrigo’s trip to the White House was first announced on Instagram on Tuesday after Biden posted an old photo of himself on the social media platform.

“I know this young person would’ve gotten vaccinated, but we’ve got to get other young people protected as well,” the president wrote in the caption. “Who’s willing to help?”

Rodrigo responded: “i’m in! see you tomorrow at the white house!”

“You bet!” Biden replied.

This visit comes as the president has doubled down on efforts to vaccinate more Americans, but especially younger Americans, as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread across the country.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the White House is thinking of additional ways to fight back against vaccine-related disinformation, which has allowed hesitancy to linger among many vulnerable populations.

According to the most recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly a quarter of children aged 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, the lowest of any eligible age group.

As of Wednesday, roughly 159.7 million American adults were fully vaccinated, representing 48.1% of the total population, based on CDC data.

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Fauci said there should be vaccine mandates at the local level but that the federal government will not mandate them

Fauci
  • The White House missed its goal of vaccinating 70% of US adults by July 4 amid vaccine hesitancy.
  • Fauci said he supports vaccine mandates at the local level, like at schools and businesses.
  • He also said the vaccines are as good as approved, but that formal full approval may help combat hesitancy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday he believes there should be more COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the local level, though he continues to say the federal government will not mandate them.

Fauci, the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was speaking on CNN’s State of the Union when Jake Tapper asked him if he supports local vaccine mandates at places like schools and businesses.

“I do believe at the local level there should be more mandates,” Fauci said. “We’re talking about life and death situation. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already and we’re still losing more people. There’ve been 4 million deaths worldwide, so I am in favor of that.”

Read more: How anti-vaxxers are engineering a wave of legal battles to fight mandatory workplace Covid jabs

Fauci said he believes part of the reason groups are hesitant to mandate vaccines is because they have not been fully approved. The coronavirus vaccines used in the US have received emergency use authorization, which can be used by the Food and Drug Administration during public health emergencies. But Fauci said the data behind the vaccines is robust.

“The amount of data right now that shows a high degree of effectiveness and a high degree of safety is more than we’ve ever seen with emergency use authorization,” he said. “These vaccines are as good as officially approved, with all the Is dotted and the Ts crossed.”

Fauci said they haven’t received full approval due to processes that have to take place at the FDA but that “it’s as good as done.” He predicted that once they are formally approved, there may be more local mandates.

About 59% of American adults are fully vaccinated, with the US falling short of the White House’s goal to have inoculated 70% of adults by July 4. Vaccines are widely available but public health officials are working to combat vaccine hesitancy, particularly among Republicans.

At a Conservative Political Action Conference event in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, a crowd cheered about the US failing to meet its vaccination goal. Speaking on CNN, Fauci called the reaction “horrifying.”

“They are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives,” he said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Fauci said it’s ‘horrifying’ that CPAC attendees cheered about the US’ lagging vaccination rate

Screenshot of Jake Tapper and Anthony Fauci on CNN
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper it was “horrifying” to see CPAC attendees cheer about lagging vaccination numbers.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said he was horrified to see CPAC attendees cheer that the US was unable to vaccinate 90% of people.
  • A crowd cheered when a CPAC speaker said the US government wasn’t able to “sucker” people into getting vaccinated.
  • “I don’t think that anybody who is thinking clearly can get that,” Fauci said Sunday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday he was horrified when attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) appeared to cheer about the US failing to reach its vaccination goal this month.

Video of a CPAC discussion at its second conference of 2021 in Dallas posted to social media appeared to show the crowd cheering on the US’ inability to vaccinate most of its population.

“They were hoping – the government was hoping – they could sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated. And it isn’t happening,” said Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who The Atlantic earlier this year dubbed “the pandemic’s wrongest man.”

Berenson was interrupted by cheers from the audience before he continued, claiming that younger people were avoiding getting vaccination because of potential side effects.

“It’s horrifying,” Fauci said Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“They are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives,” he added. “I mean, if you just unpack that for a second… it’s almost frightening to say hey, guess what, we don’t want you to do something to save your life. Yay. Everybody starts screaming and clapping.

Fauci added: “I just don’t get that, and I don’t think that anybody who is thinking clearly can get that.”

President Joe Biden in March set a goal of having 70% of the US adult population vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4. The US did not meet that milestone, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 68% of the US adult population has been partially vaccinated against COVID-19, receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. In total, about 55% of the US population is partially vaccinated. About 48% of the US population is fully vaccinated against the disease, according to CDC data as of July 10.

Vaccine hesitancy has created new concerns about COVID-19 spikes as the more contagious Delta variant becomes the dominant COVID-19 strain in the US. States with lagging vaccination numbers, like Arkansas, have seen an uptick in new cases as the variant takes hold.

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Getting vaccinated is ‘the most patriotic thing you can do,’ Biden said, as the US missed its goal to inoculate 70% of adults by July 4

biden speaks july 4 white house
President Joe Biden at a Fourth of July BBQ event at the White House South Lawn.

  • Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated at his July 4 speech at the White House.
  • It came as the US missed its target of getting 70% of adults vaccinated by July 4.
  • The highly-infectious Delta variant is also rapidly spreading across the US.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden said during July Fourth celebrations on Sunday that getting vaccinated is “the most patriotic thing you can do.”

Speaking on the White House South Lawn on Sunday, Biden said America was “coming back together” after “emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation.”

But he still urged caution, saying: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

His speech came as the US missed its target of giving at least one vaccine dose to 70% of eligible US adults of July 4. The most recent numbers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which came on Friday, put that figure at 67%.

The missed deadline comes as the US is experiencing a growing number of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant, a more infectious strain of the coronavirus that has recently spread across the UK and India.

Read more: How anti-vaxxers are engineering a wave of legal battles to fight mandatory workplace COVID-19 jabs

In a Sunday appearance on NBC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-diseases expert in the US, said there was a “disparity in the willingness to be vaccinated” so “there are some states where the level of vaccination of individuals is 35% or less.”

“Under those circumstances, you might expect to see spikes in certain regions, in certain states, cities, or counties,” he added.

As Insider’s Yelena Dzhanova previously reported, five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, and Utah – have been particularly badly hit by the Delta variant.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, also warned that the Delta variant is “outpacing” the rate of vaccinations worldwide, The Guardian reported Saturday.

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Fauci urges anti-vaxxers to ‘realize that the common enemy is the virus’

Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci says COVID-19 death rates are high largely due to unvaccinated people.
  • In a “Meet the Press” interview that aired Sunday, Fauci said these deaths are “avoidable and preventable.”
  • He also urged anti-vaxxers to realize that the “formidable enemy” is the coronavirus.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the Delta variant continues nationwide, Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging Americans – and anti-vaxxers in particular – to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview that aired Sunday, Fauci called the coronavirus pandemic a “formidable enemy” that’s “tragically really disrupted our planet now for about a year and a half.”

He alluded to anti-vaxxers who have been at best hesitant to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“Whatever the reasons,” he said, “some of them are ideological, some of them are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science or what have you. But, you know, we just need to put that aside now. We’re dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic. And we do have the tools to counter it. So for goodness’ sakes, put aside all of those differences and realize that the common enemy is the virus.”

The variant has been detected in all 50 states, and health officials all over – including Fauci and others across city, state, and federal levels – continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Five states in particular – Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, and Utah – are susceptible to the Delta variant.

More than 605,000 people have died from the coronavirus since its inception in the United States, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. About 47% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, JHU data says.

President Joe Biden said he hoped at least 70% of all adults in the country would receive at least one dose by the Fourth of July holiday this year. Twenty states have already hit the 70% partial vaccination rate among their adult populations. But nationwide, the White House conceded Biden’s goal would likely fall short.

In the same interview, Fauci said deaths from the coronavirus are at this point “avoidable and preventable.”

“The overwhelming proportion of people who get into trouble are the unvaccinated,” Fauci said. “Which is the reason why we say this is really entirely avoidable and preventable.”

Nearly all of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 in recent months were unvaccinated, according to a report from the Associated Press.

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Fauci says the ‘disparity in the willingness to be vaccinated’ could lead to Delta variant spikes

Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a “Meet the Press” interview that anti-vaxxers might bring up Delta variant rates regionally.
  • The Delta variant has been detected in all 50 states.
  • Health officials continue to urge Americans to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

People who don’t get vaccinated against the coronavirus are increasing the likelihood of Delta variant spikes across the country, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday, Fauci, the nation’s leading coronavirus expert, said the Delta variant could spike in different regions, even as overall vaccination rates go up and new COVID-19 cases go down.

There’s a “disparity in the willingness to be vaccinated,” Fauci said. “So there are some states where the level of vaccination of individuals is 35% or less. Under those circumstances, you might expect to see spikes in certain regions, in certain states, cities, or counties.”

“And in some places, some states, some cities, some areas where the level of vaccination is low and the level of virus dissemination is high – that’s where you’re going to see the spikes,” he said.

Already, the variant has been detected in all 50 states, and health officials all over continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Five states in particular – Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, and Utah – have been hardest hit by the Delta variant.

In some states, specific counties are seeing drastically higher rates of confirmed coronavirus cases. Health officials there attribute the spike to the Delta variant.

Colorado, for example, is overall seeing a decrease in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. But regionally, the Delta variant is causing spikes. Mesa County in Colorado has had a 34% increase in the number of positive coronavirus cases within the last two weeks, according to a COVID-19 tracker from The New York Times.

The Delta variant “is more effective and efficient in its ability to transmit from person to person,” Fauci said Sunday. “It’s clear that it appears to be more lethal in the sense of more serious – allow you to get more serious disease leading to hospitalization, and in some cases leading to deaths.”

More than 605,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. About 47% of the total US population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, JHU data say.

“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing anything nationwide,” Fauci said of Delta variant spikes. “Because fortunately, we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated. So it’s going to be regional. And that’s the thing that will be confusing when people look at what we do. We’re going to see, and I’ve said, almost two types of America.”

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How Americans waged war on the scientists trying to save them

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Protesters gather outside Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mansion to protest a stay-at-home order on April 18, 2020.

  • The pandemic ushered in a new breed of attack on scientists and public-health officials.
  • Unlike previous anti-science movements, the war this time was more personal.
  • Lasting resentment towards scientists could hinder the US’s ability to handle future public-health crises.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Renae Moch never expected that she’d feel scared to leave her house. As the public health director of Burleigh County, North Dakota, she was accustomed to warning residents about the dangers of vape pens or a bad flu season without much pushback. Then the pandemic hit.

Moch found herself being called a “Nazi” and “tyrant” on social media. People protested with signs and bullhorns outside her office. At city commission meetings, attendees would boo audibly or grumble under their breath when she spoke.

“I would get accused of fear-mongering and lying to people and making things out to be much worse than they are,” Moch told Insider. The messages came in all forms, she said: letters, emails, phone calls.

Distrust of science isn’t new in the US. The anti-vaccination movement dates back to 19th century New Englanders who opposed the smallpox vaccine. Climate-change deniers have been vocal since the 1980s. But the pandemic intensified a new type of attack – one that focused not on the research itself, but on experts and health officials as people.

“A lot of the attacks were not necessarily based on the science,” Moch said. “A lot of the backlash and attacks were personally against me.”

anti science protest
An anti-mask rally in New York City on March 20, 2021.

Norbert Schwarz, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, said opposition to scientists in the US is “a bit more virulent this time around because it’s so closely tied up with political polarization.”

One reason for this, Schwarz and other experts think, is that the pandemic arrived at a time when a broad segment of the US – primarily working-class conservatives – was already expressing increased distrust of big institutions, including the healthcare industry. Scientists, then, were an easy target.

“Populist movements are anti-elitist and there’s nothing more elitist than the science thing,” Schwarz told Insider. “These guys do things that are not quite clear to you. They have fancy titles, and they live in better houses, and they have better jobs and bizarre things like tenure, and they can’t be fired, and they’re usually liberal.'”

Moch said many of the responses to her public-health guidance seemed to question her authority.

“It was like, ‘Who are you and what gives you the right to tell us that we have to do this?'” she said. “It was a difficult period.”

Even with the pandemic now tapering off in the US, psychologists don’t think the anti-scientist trend is over.

“We have this sort of zeitgeist phenomenon in the country where people are losing faith in these big institutions,” Peter Ditto, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, told Insider. “Science is going through kind of a crisis.”

More than 180 public-health leaders resigned in less than a year

In the fall of 2020, North Dakota experienced a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases. Moch encouraged Bismarck’s city commission to instate a mask mandate, but residents railed against it. At a contentious commission meeting in October, Moch listened to people denounce masks for four hours.

One woman said she refused to “blindly follow the herd and put a piece of cloth over my face,” even after she’d lost two close family friends to COVID-19.

Moch considered resigning.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why in the heck am I doing this? Do I want to continue? Why am I subjecting myself to this?'” she said.

Had Moch quit, she would have joined a long list of public-health officials who did just that during the pandemic. From April to December 2020, more than 180 state and local public-health leaders across 38 states resigned, retired, or were fired, according to a joint investigation from the Associated Press and Kaiser Health News. In North Dakota, where Moch lives, three state health officers have resigned since May 2020.

Even if there is consensus in science, there is dispute. That means for many people that scientists don’t know what they’re doing.

In Orange County, California, Nichole Quick left her job as chief health officer in June 2020, after public backlash to her proposed mask mandate. Residents brought a banner depicting Quick as a Nazi to a Board of Supervisors meeting. At another meeting, one woman read Quick’s home address aloud and threatened to bring a group to “do calisthenics in masks on her front doorstep” as a form of protest.

Tisha Coleman, a public health administrator in Linn County, Kansas, was sued last year for telling a resident to quarantine. At a November county commissioner’s meeting, one resident equated Coleman’s proposed mask mandate to “peaceful slavery.” The county never implemented the rule.

Tisha Coleman
Tisha Coleman stands in front of her office on December 7, 2020.

Like Moch, Coleman chose to stay in her post, even as she faced harassment – and even still after her mother died of COVID-19.

“I could give up and throw in the towel, but I’m not there yet,” Coleman told the Associated Press in December.

Trump stoked a revolt against scientists

During the Ebola crisis in 2014, conservatives in the US called for tighter travel restrictions than Democrats did. At the time, psychologists theorized that conservatives were more inclined to react strongly to a perceived danger.

“Conservatism is a strategy to protect a society from harm from both outsiders and diseases,” journalist Brian Resnick wrote in The Atlantic in 2014. “Ebola hits this exact conservative nerve – it’s a deadly disease from a foreign country.”

But in the case of the coronavirus, the idea that scientists were trying to dupe the public swelled among conservatives, leading many to fear a loss of liberty more than the virus. President Donald Trump, of course, played a major role in shaping that narrative. He had already painted himself as the David that would put the Goliath industries of science and medicine in check, and also regularly suggested that Democrats were exaggerating the virus’ severity as a political stunt.

“That’s really what general populist politics is about: ‘The elite are somehow screwing the folks out there and I’m here to defend you,'” Ditto said.

Donald trump mask
Donald Trump holds up his mask during the first presidential debate.

A Cornell University analysis found that Trump was the largest driver of coronavirus misinformation during the pandemic. He touted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential COVID-19 treatment without much evidence, and used racist misnomers like “Chinese virus,” or “kung flu” to push blame onto a foreign country – a time-tested move from the populist handbook.

“The president needed to use the pandemic in a way that would minimize it,” Dan Romer, research director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, told Insider. “His point of view was, ‘let’s get the economy rolling,’ because his ace in the hole for the election was that the economy was doing quite well.”

Thomas Jepsen, a 28-year-old who was born in Denmark then moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2016, said he used to believe China had deliberately released the virus into the population. The pandemic, he thought, was China’s way of teaching Trump a lesson.

“I just saw it as extremely well-timed to disrupt an election,” he told Insider.

That was before Jepsen got COVID-19 himself.

Many Americans saw scientists as in the pockets of ‘big pharma’

A June 2020 survey from the Pew Research Center found that one quarter of US adults believed at the time that there was some truth to the idea that powerful people intentionally planned the coronavirus outbreak. Conspiracy theories like these can make people feel like they have a valuable secret in circumstances they can’t control, Schwarz said.

“It gives you a certain sense of superiority,” he said. “You are ‘in the know,’ and these other guys are just sheep who get fooled.”

Moch said she heard North Dakotans claim that hospitals wanted people to test positive for COVID-19 so they could admit them and make money. Another common refrain, she said, was that doctors had a financial incentive to falsely attribute deaths to COVID-19.

bozeman montana covid protest
A sign at an anti-mask protest in Bozeman, Montana.

Schwarz said he’d encountered similar distrust of doctors years before the pandemic – in focus groups ahead of the 2016 presidential election. One response stood out, he said: “‘Why am I with Trump?’ some guy says, ‘Because I’m sick and tired of my doctor speaking down to me.'”

Jepsen said the nature of the US healthcare system bred distrust on his part.

“You just feel like you’re being thrown around from a system to a system, filling out papers,” he said. “Then eventually you’re seen by a doctor for about seven minutes and 15 seconds before they tell you exactly what you knew already.”

That impression, he added, made it easy to believe that the coronavirus wasn’t as deadly as scientists suggested – and that masks, by extension, were unnecessary. Pharmaceutical companies, he reasoned, were in on it too, in order to profit off vaccines and treatments.

“I saw a lot of big pharma companies potentially standing to gain from mass fear,” Jepsen said.

A lack of clear, consistent messaging didn’t help

In October, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator at the time, visited Moch’s city of Bismark. In a rare public indictment, Birx said the city had the worst coronavirus protocols she had ever seen and urged residents to utilize masks and social distancing.

deborah birx
Dr. Deborah Birx takes notes during a meeting between Donald Trump, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis at White House on May 13, 2020.

But Moch said that for the most part, people paid Birx little attention. That could be, in part, a result of the federal government’s inconsistent messaging. Until April 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged the public from wearing masks, partly to save them for healthcare workers. One study estimated that requiring masks for public-facing workers in the US starting March 14 could have saved 34,000 lives.

“It’s easy to criticize the public-health community in this particular case,” Romer said. “I don’t think they do as good a job of explaining to the public why they’re making recommendations. And if you don’t explain it well, then – big surprise – people don’t necessarily buy it and that makes them susceptible to alternative explanations.”

Changing CDC guidelines sparked confusion again just last month, when the agency announced that vaccinated people could ditch their masks indoors and outdoors, after months of slow-moving recommendations that discouraged vaccinated people from traveling, going maskless, or seeing unvaccinated friends and family.

Of course, communicating the science of a new virus isn’t easy. But Moch said many Bismark residents lost trust in the CDC, and by extension other public-health officials.

“Usually even if there is consensus in science, there is dispute,” Schwarz said. “That means for many people that scientists don’t know what they’re doing.”

The Fauci backlash

Few scientists have endured more rampant backlash than Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci revealed in August that he and his family had received death threats and that his three daughters had been harassed. He got a security detail.

“‘Fauci is like Hitler.’ ‘Fauci has blood on his hands.’ Are you kidding me?” Fauci told Kara Swisher, host of the New York Times’ “Sway” podcast, this week. “I mean, anybody who is just thinking about this in a dispassionate way has got to say, what the heck are those people talking about? Here’s a guy whose entire life has been devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s like Hitler? Come on, folks. Get real.”

But in many ways, Fauci is the embodiment of the scientific establishment: Erudite, measured, and careful with his words.

It was very easy to fall into the camp of believing that Fauci’s just a big fat liar.

“When I listen to Fauci, I can see how he talks to the public, while also having in the back of his mind his scientific colleagues who may frown at him if he overstates the confidence that he has in anything,” Schwarz said. “You can see Fauci being tripped up by the scientists in his head.”

Fauci Biden
Anthony Fauci listens as Joe Biden speaks during a tour of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health.

Trump, by contrast, relied on a simple message that never changed: that the virus wasn’t a major threat.

“Every time something is easier to process, you’re more likely to believe it,” Schwarz said, adding, “The more often you repeat things and the more others agree in your network, the more true it becomes.”

Jepsen, who identifies as a libertarian, said he at one point considered Fauci a puppet for pharmaceutical companies.

“It was very easy to fall into the camp of believing that Fauci’s just a big fat liar,” he said, adding, “if the big pharma companies manage to get a guy like Fauci to tell everyone to take a vaccine, then that’s beneficial for them.”

Just before Christmas, however, Jepsen developed a fairly severe case of COVID-19. He had a fever, struggled to breathe, and would get exhausted from walking up a flight of stairs. He had to cancel his plans to visit his girlfriend’s family for the holidays.

“The wake-up call came from me having the disease myself,” he said. “I felt untouchable previously. I’ll be happy to admit that. Realizing that’s not the case definitely was eye-opening.”

Distrust of scientists probably isn’t going away

Psychologists don’t expect anger toward scientists to disappear anytime soon. Schwarz said that even the threat of physical violence against scientists remains a disturbing possibility.

“It doesn’t take large amounts of people – it only takes a few to have a real risk to scientists,” he said. “And I don’t think that is going to go away. I think that will stay.”

Even after Trump left office, he continued to frame public-health officials as corrupt and conspiratorial – though the US’s vaccines are the products of his administration’s Operation Warp Speed. When reports of rare blood clots linked to the Johnson & Johnson shot surfaced, Trump suggested that the Food and Drug Administration had temporarily paused the J&J rollout “maybe because their friends at Pfizer have suggested it.”

johnson & johnson vaccine
Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Moch, however, is hopeful that the anti-scientist sentiment she experienced will abate. Many Bismarck residents ultimately acknowledged the threat of the pandemic, she said – albeit after they or their family members got sick.

“The ones that were taking care of patients with COVID, the ones that lost people to COVID, the ones that were severely ill and hospitalized, understand the severity,” Moch said.

Jepsen is among those who’ve had a change of heart. He wears a mask where it’s still required. He’s been vaccinated. He’s even started to warm to Fauci.

“I very much respect Dr. Fauci for the work that he’s doing,” Jepsen said. “But I would not want to be in his shoes because I imagine about half the country probably would want to ship him off to someplace not very pleasant.”

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