A march by opponents of vaccine mandates will take place Sunday, January 23 on the National Mall. The event, called “Defeat the Mandates: An American Homecoming,” plans a march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where a rally will include speakers including anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
While some participants and speakers, like Kennedy, are veteran foes of vaccines, a spokesperson for the march says it’s best described as an anti-mandate march: “Just because you have issues with the Covid vaccine does not make you anti-vaccine,” says the spokesperson, who requested to be identified as Trevor FG. Trevor FG says the group has more than 36,000 signups; a permit application filed with the National Park Service on behalf of Kennedy’s group Children’s Health Defense—which AP reports has dramatically expanded its reach during the pandemic—says it expects 20,000 people.
The preliminary speakers list for the event includes a great number of interesting types, including Robert Malone, a doctor who claims “mass formation psychosis” explains why a majority of Americans believe in the vaccines’ efficacy and support measures like mandates for air travel and restrictions on gathering en masse. Other speakers include ivermectin champions like doctors Pierre Kory and Paul Marik; Fox Nation host Lara Logan, who recently compared Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele; tech entrepreneur turned anti-vaxxer Steve Kirsch; and filmmaker Del Bigtree, who produced an anti-vaccine documentary directed by disgraced British physician Andrew Wakefield.
There’s a range of political beliefs among the speakers. Vaccine mandates, says Jeffrey S. Morris, a professor and the director of the University Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Division of Biostatistics, help to “feed their common sense of an oppressed minority. They’ve definitely formed a tight community, and they have a few big names in there that give them credibility in a lot of people’s eyes.” Morris, who blogs about Covid research and science-flavored misinformation, says some prominent anti-Covid vaccine voices are people with science backgrounds who operate outside the bounds of the scientific community and are often “playing around with the statistics” to reach findings that support their beliefs.
More speakers are coming, Trevor FG says, including pro athletes. On Thursday a press release from the group said 6,000 federal workers would join the march along with firefighters and other first responders who oppose vaccine mandates. Several musicians are slated to participate in the rally, including Joseph Arthur and former American Idol contestant Jimmy Levy.
The impending rally has unnerved some in District’s hospitality industry, whose employees must enforce Mayor Muriel Bowser’s new mandate. That order, which goes into effect Saturday, January 15, requires most patrons at bars, restaurants, cultural venues, and gyms to show ID and proof of vaccination before entry. A graphic on social media says protesters intend to enter DC venues to “challenge” the mandate, behavior Trevor FG says organizers definitely do not encourage. Thursday’s press release asked participants to “be respectful to those affected local businesses including dining establishments and hotels forced to operate under DC’s mandate.” The march’s website encourages march attendees to stay in Arlington.