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Del Bigtree

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Del Bigtree
Del Bigtree at a conference.png
Bigtree in 2018
Born
Del Matthew Bigtree
OccupationTelevision and film producer
Years active2003–present
Known forAnti-vaccination activism
Notable work
Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe
Websitethehighwire.com

Del Matthew Bigtree, known professionally as Del Bigtree, is an American television and film producer as well as CEO of the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network. He produced the film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, based on the discredited[1][2][3] views of Andrew Wakefield and alleges an unsubstantiated connection between vaccines and autism.

Bigtree's appeal as a public speaker and a recent influx of funding has made Bigtree - who has no medical training - one of the most prominent voices in the anti-vaccination movement.[4][5]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bigtree propagated conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, and urged his audience to ignore the advice of health authorities.[6][7][8][9][10]

Television producer[edit]

Bigtree grew up in Boulder, Colorado and is the son of Jack Groverland, a minister at the Unity of Boulder Church. He attended the Vancouver Film School and eventually found employment in the television industry.[5][11]

He briefly worked on Dr. Phil and was credited as a field producer for five episodes. After a gap of two years, he served on the production team of the medical talk show The Doctors for which he produced 30 episodes over five years, although he has no medical training.[5][12]

It was while he was working on The Doctors that Bigtree learned of Andrew Wakefield's controversial opposition to the MMR vaccine and his later-discredited claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hid proof of a link between vaccines and autism.[4] Wakefield was looking for help to produce a film based on his conspiracy theories. Bigtree decided that he could be the one to help and left the show to produce, write and appear in Wakefield's film.[12]

Anti-vaccination activism[edit]

Bigtree produced the film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, based on the discredited[1][2][3] views of Andrew Wakefield on an alleged connection between vaccines and autism. The film debuted in 2016 and was widely panned by critics. The epidemiologist Ian Lipkin wrote that "as a documentary it misrepresents what science knows about autism, undermines public confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and attacks the integrity of legitimate scientists and public-health officials."[5][13]

However, the film, its promotional bus tour, and funding from the Selz Foundation[5] quickly established Bigtree as an important voice of a re-energized American anti-vaccination movement. He has since spoken at multiple anti-vaccine events in which he repeats false information about the risks of vaccines and alleges governments are engaged in a vast conspiracy to hide the truth.[5][14]:1[15][16] His anti-vaccine advocacy has been described by medical professionals as fearmongering.[5][17][18]

When Bigtree got involved with Wakefield, several states, including California where Bigtree resided, had begun to consider legislation that would restrict the types of exemptions for which parents could apply to have their unvaccinated children attend schools. Bigtree strongly opposed such bills and has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum for wearing a Star of David at an anti-vaccination event in an attempt to compare the treatment of those opposed to vaccination to the persecution of Jews.[19][20][21][22] Often in collaboration with Wakefield and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Bigtree still lobbies legislators to convince them to keep vaccination exemptions in place.[23]

Bigtree is the public face and the chief executive of the anti-vaccination group Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), for which he received a salary of $232,000 in 2019. Under his leadership, ICAN promotes the conspiracy theory that government officials collude with the pharmaceutical industry to cover up grievous harms from vaccines. Bigtree hosts a regular stream webcast in which he frequently repeats anti-vaccination messages. The webcast is produced by ICAN and often features Kennedy. Before it was shut down in 2020, the YouTube broadcast of The Highwire attracted 174,000 subscribers.[5][16][24][25][26]

In New York State in 2019, Bigtree was a keynote speaker at several anti-vaccination events targeting the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and in Rockland County during a measles epidemic fueled by low vaccination rates.[5][18] Bigtree gave an anti-vaccine speech as headline speaker at a natural health product conference in Toronto in 2018, but a repeat performance was canceled in 2019 after The Globe and Mail started asking questions.[14]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

Like other anti-vaccination leaders, Bigtree adapted several of the more popular anti-vaccination themes to the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting distrust in expertise, misrepresenting research results and encouraging the public to let the disease run its course.[27]

He used the Highwire webcast to propagate a number of conspiracy theories, such one postulating that the virus responsible had been made in a laboratory by the pharmaceutical industry. The weekly webcast quickly became a rallying point for anti-vaccination activists and conspiracy theorists early in the pandemic, according to Professor Dorit Reiss, who studies online COVID-19 disinformation.[28] Going against the advice of health authorities, he recommended to his viewers not to wear masks, to refuse the vaccine when it is developed and to make efforts to actually infect themselves with the virus,[6][7][8][9][10][29] favoring not so much herd immunity as natural selection, with weaker humans dying like the "sick get eaten by the wolves. That’s how we’ve thrived." He accused Anthony Fauci of leading a cabal of conspirators of wanting to vaccinate the whole world population under a false pretence.[27]

In October, 2020, he speculated to an audience of anti-vaccination activists that the new COVID vaccines may cause diabetes, lupus and other autoimmune diseases, despite the lack of evidence to support those claims.[30]

Bigtree spoke at the January 6, 2021 pro-Trump rally preceding the riot at the Capitol. He took this opportunity to attack federal health authorities and to contest the results of the 2020 presidential election. Other anti-vaccination activists were also present at this "Stop the Steal" rally, such as Ty and Charlene Bollinger.[31]

In July 2020, YouTube closed his account and channel for violation of its community standards against pandemic misinformation, and Facebook removed selected videos from Bigtree's account. In August 2020, Bigtree announced that his videos were now distributed on Roku media players, despite the company's prohibition against content that is found to include "false, irrelevant or misleading information."[32][33] He also found a receptive audience on Rumble, a video-sharing platform that doesn't have misinformation policies.[28]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes[34]
2003 Partners Yes No No Video short
2005 Bitter Sweet Yes Yes Yes TV movie. Also appears as an actor.
2007 Sex and Sensuality Yes No Yes Short film
2007-2008 Dr. Phil Yes No No 5 episodes, field producer
2010-2015 The Doctors No No Yes 30 episodes
2016 Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe No Yes Yes Anti-vaccination documentary

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Deer, Brian. "General Medical Council, Fitness to Practise Panel Hearing, 28 January 2010, Andrew Wakefield, John Walker-Smith & Simon Murch" (PDF). briandeer.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 December 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  2. ^ a b The Editors Of The Lancet (February 2010). "Retraction – Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children". The Lancet. 375 (9713): 445. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PMID 20137807. S2CID 26364726.
  3. ^ a b Boseley, Sarah (2 February 2010). "Lancet retracts 'utterly false' MMR paper". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b Kucinich, Jackie (2019-04-12). "How TV's 'The Doctors' Spawned the King of the Anti-Vaxxers". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2020-04-21.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sun, Lena H. (June 19, 2019). "Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 4, 2019. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Merlan, Anna (2020-02-28). "Anti-Vaxxers Are Terrified the Government Will 'Enforce' a Vaccine for Coronavirus". Vice. Archived from the original on 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
  7. ^ a b Gorski, David (22 June 2020). "Antivaccine leader Del Bigtree on COVID-19: "Let's catch this cold!" Why antivaxxers and coronavirus conspiracy theorists are often one in the same". Science-based Medicine. Archived from the original on 25 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  8. ^ a b Mooney, Taylor (14 April 2020). "Anti-vaxxers spread fear about future coronavirus vaccine". CBS News. Archived from the original on 25 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  9. ^ a b Henley, John (21 April 2020). "Coronavirus causing some anti-vaxxers to waver, experts say". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  10. ^ a b Law, Tara (18 May 2020). "There Isn't a COVID-19 Vaccine Yet. But Some Are Already Skeptical About It". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 25 June 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  11. ^ "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe". KGNU News. August 18, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Coleman, Patrick A. (April 30, 2019). "Where Del Bigtree's Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Theories Come From". Fatherly. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  13. ^ Lipkin, W. Ian (2016-04-03). "Anti-Vaccination Lunacy Won't Stop". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-02-08.
  14. ^ a b Weeks, Carly (February 7, 2019). "Toronto health conference cancels appearance by anti-vaccine activist Del Bigtree". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  15. ^ Merlan, Maria (June 20, 2019). "Everything I Learned While Getting Kicked out of America's Biggest Anti-Vaccine Conference". Jezebel. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  16. ^ a b "The Anti-Vaxx Industry" (PDF). Center for Countering Digital Hate. Center for Countering Digital Hate. 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 December 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  17. ^ Gorski, David (May 6, 2019). "Deception by omission: Del Bigtree's ICAN calls the studies licensing MMR into question". Science-based Medicine. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  18. ^ a b Mole, Beth (June 6, 2019). "Measles cases hit 1,001 as anti-vaxxers hold another rally of disinformation". Ars technica. Archived from the original on July 4, 2019. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  19. ^ "Anti-vaccine activists are using a Holocaust-era yellow Star of David to promote their cause". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. April 5, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  20. ^ Mills Rodrigo, Chris (April 8, 2019). "ADL criticizes 'anti-vaxxers' for adopting Star of David badge". The Hill. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  21. ^ Dolsten, Josefin (April 6, 2019). "US anti-vaxxers use Holocaust-era yellow stars to promote their agenda". The Times of Israel. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  22. ^ Sun, Lena H. (April 1, 2019). "US measles cases surge to second-highest level in nearly two decades". Denton Record-Chronicle. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  23. ^ Allen, Arthur (May 27, 2019). "How the anti-vaccine movement crept into the GOP mainstream". Politico. Archived from the original on June 29, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  24. ^ Bigtree, Del. "Resources". The HighWire. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  25. ^ Zadrozny, Brandy; Nadi, Aliza (2019-09-24). "How anti-vaxxers target grieving moms and turn them into crusaders". NBC News. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  26. ^ "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Pro Publica. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  27. ^ a b Smith, Tara C.; Rubinstein Reiss, Dorit (7 November 2020). "Digging the rabbit hole, COVID-19 edition: anti-vaccine themes and the discourse around COVID-19". Microbes and Infection. 22 (10): 608–610. doi:10.1016/j.micinf.2020.11.001. PMC 7648494. Archived from the original on 2 February 2021 – via Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection.
  28. ^ a b Mak, Aaron (18 March 2021). "Where Anti-Vaccine Propaganda Went When YouTube Banned It". Slate. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  29. ^ Gorski, David (2020-02-10). "No, James Lyons-Weiler did not "break the coronavirus code"". Science-Based Medicine. Archived from the original on 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
  30. ^ "The Anti-Vaxx Playbook" (PDF). Center for Countering Digital Hate. Center for Countering Digital Hate. 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 December 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  31. ^ Devine, Kurt; Griffin, Drew (5 February 2021). "Leaders of the anti-vaccine movement used 'Stop the Steal' crusade to advance their own conspiracy theories". CNN. Archived from the original on 7 February 2021. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  32. ^ Johnson, Timothy (30 July 2020). "YouTube terminates anti-vaccine figure Del Bigtree's account after he pushed dangerous coronavirus and vaccine misinformation". Media Matters for America. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  33. ^ Johnson, Timothy (1 September 2020). "Anti-vaccine figure partners with Roku after YouTube banned him for sharing dangerous coronavirus misinformation". Media Matters for America. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  34. ^ "Del Matthew Bigtree". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019.