Karam Bales looks at the COVID-19 pseudoscience and the anti-vaxxer conspiracies that propelled the former Conservative MP out of his party
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The decision of former Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen to join Lawrence Fox’s “anti-woke” Reclaim Party is the culmination of a long descent down a rabbit hole of disinformation. Examining those who’ve influenced him demonstrates how disinformation found fertile ground for conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The roots of a coordinated disinformation campaign are evidenced in an hour-long conference call organised by the secretive Council for National Policy Action group on 11 May 2020 that was leaked to the Associated Press. Working with an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees the aim was to reopen the economy to bolster Trump’s presidential campaign.
Shortly afterwards America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLD) were launched, holding a White Coats Summit where their founder Simone Gold announced there was “no scientific basis that the average American should be concerned” about Covid.
AFLD went on to promote hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as covid treatments, joining a growing network of overlapping organisations including Pandata. In June 2022 Gold was sentenced to prison for her participation in the Capitol Hill riots.
The undermining of public health began with misrepresenting the risk of COVID 19 followed by claims the pandemic was already over due to herd immunity. The majority of cases were said to be artefacts of PCR testing and restrictions were implemented for ulterior motives. The Great Barrington Declaration in October 2020 acted as a rallying flag and new campaign groups were formed including the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of politicians with Bridgen, loosely modelled on the highly influential Brexit lobbying group, the ERG.
Having opposed lockdown and supported the Great Barrington Declaration, Bridgen’s involvement with the disinformation network increased when the HART group launched in January 2021. Leaked chat messages previously reported by the Byline Times, reveal Bridgen attended HART’s private launch event alongside a select group of politicians and journalists.
In January 2021 HART began producing weekly briefings for politicians, providing alternative facts to oppose covid measures. The authors of these reports included Clare Craig, Joel Smalley and Michael Yeadon who are members of Pandata and other groups.
The leaks showed HART members sharing an assortment of conspiracy theories including 5G, vaccines causing magnetism and the World Economic Forum. Smalley and Yeadon have both advised AFLD and Yeadon claims covid vaccines are designed to reduce the world population to a billion people; he is a co-signatory of a letter questioning the existence of viruses.
It appears most members of the CRG made pragmatic use of HART in order to oppose state intervention based on libertarian ideology.
Only a small number of the Covid Recovery Group continued to cite vaccine harms after the JCVI approved a second dose for children at the start of the Omicron wave, mainly those actively involved in the Pandemic Recovery APPG chaired by Esther Mcvey with Jemma Moran of HART as secretariat, and Christopher Chopes Vaccine Damages APPG. The majority of the CRG was content with supporting the vaccine-only strategy and has focused on undermining restrictions like lockdowns in the event of another pandemic.
Bridgen’s descent into conspiracy theories coincided with his association with the cardiologist Aseem Malhotra; the subject of a multitude of complaints to the General Medical Council.
On 27 September 2022, Malhotra published a paper with Clare Craig in his own journal calling for the immediate halt to Covid vaccination. The paper was released via a press conference by the World Council for Health (WCH), founded by Tess Lawrie as an umbrella organisation for groups promoting a range of alternative treatments from ivermectin to protection from 5G.
Lawrie was a member of Pandata and HART before forming the British Ivermectin Research Group (BIRD). BIRD is the sister organisation to Pierre Kory’s Frontline Covid Critical Care (FLCCC) organisation in the US, they promote alternative treatment protocols for covid, long covid, and “spike detox”.
At the launch Malhotra claimed there was a “willful blindness” to vaccine injuries, likening the situation to Germans ignoring Nazi atrocities. Other speakers included Lawrie and Ryan Cole of FLCCC and also linked to AFLD. Malhotra was interviewed by Pandata’s Ivor Cummins in a documentary released at the same time and spoke at Chope’s APPG.
A few weeks later Joseph Ladapo, the Surgeon General for Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis’ published a paper raising concerns about Covid vaccines, particularly for young men. The paper’s authors are anonymous, however as reported by Politico a copy of the document reveals Ladapo deleted a section of the analysis showing no increased risk of death and altered the conclusion’s wording to claim a significantly increased risk of cardiac death after mRNA vaccination.
Ladapo appeared at AFLD’s first White Coats Summit in July 2020 and has defended his involvement with the group while DeSantis’ new covid ethics committee includes Great Barrington Declaration authors Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorf, both members of Pandata and Collateral Global in the UK. Bridgen spent the Christmas period in the US meeting Republican politicians.
Shortly after losing the Conservative whip, Bridgen and John Mappin, a supporter of QAnon and founder of the far-right student group Turning Point UK, hosted a conspiracy theorist’s dinner party at the exclusive Carlton Club with Malhotra as a speaker. Attendees included Toby Young, Lawrence Fox and Nigel Farage.
The latest campaign is the Perseus Report which accuses the MHRA’s regulation of medicines of “systematic failures” blaming covid vaccines for “excess deaths across all ages”, and a number of vaccine injuries including “menstrual disorders”. The authors are anonymous, however, it’s supported by HART and a number of organisations founded by HART members.
Malhotra is promoting himself internationally by appearing on the popular internet news channel, Highwire, hosted by Del Bigtree’s Bigtree was named in the Centre for Countering Digital Hate’s report on the most prolific anti-vaxxers, to announcing he’s working on a film with the support of Joe Rogan whose shown he recently appeared on. Speaking events include South Africa, FLCCC’s Education Conference and an upcoming Australian tour. On 9 May he posted a picture of himself meeting with Priti Patel.
Bridgen has been named as a speaker at WCH’s upcoming “Better Way” conference in Bath. Speakers include Lawrie, Pierre Kory and Paul Marik of FLCCC, and HART’s David Flemming, founder of a number of groups including the Covid-19 Assembly that raised funding for an audit of all covid deaths that hasn’t been conducted. Covid-19 Assembly members include Young, Kulldorff, Beverly Turner of GB News and former Cambridge Analytica psychologist Patrick Fagan of Pandata and HART.
Bridgen’s radicalisation shouldn’t be seen in isolation, those who influenced him continue to influence others and still benefit from the veneer of credibility provided by those politicians and journalists platforming them.
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