What are your thoughts on mandatory vaccinations? Could they somehow be a start to government control, martial law, new world order and mark of the beast related topics?
Peggy Popham gets her flu shot every year, despite her daughter Laura’s opposition to vaccines. “I’m 70 and I’ve gotten sick before,” said Popham. “I don’t have a great immune system.” Popham, who spoke to Yahoo News by phone while quarantining at home in Asheville, N.C., acknowledges that the same factors put her at risk for the coronavirus. “Of course,” she said, she’s worried about contracting COVID-19. But she’s more worried about a possible vaccine for it. “Absolutely not,” she said. “I would not take the vaccine.”
That’s a view shared by nearly one in five Americans, according to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, which found that an additional 26 percent weren’t sure if they’d take it. Some of them no doubt have been influenced by the anti-vaccine disinformation that has been spreading for more than a decade on social media — although that has been directed primarily at routine childhood immunizations and their hypothesized link to autism. Popham’s reasons aren’t medical: They are religious and political.
Popham believes that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert on the administration’s coronavirus task force, is part of the “deep state” along with Bill Gates, another prominent villain of coronavirus conspiracy theorists. She believes their interest in developing a coronavirus vaccine is “driven by money” as well as “a socialist agenda” designed to “get control of us.” Based on research she’s done online, Popham thinks it’s likely that the vaccine will include some sort of human tracking device.
“It will keep track of us,” she said. “Kind of like in the end days, as the Bible says, you’ll be numbered.”
Popham, who described herself as a lifelong Republican, said that while her beliefs about the coronavirus vaccine “have a lot to do with my political views,” they also “go along with my faith.”
And although she suspects the worst of Fauci, rattling off bits and pieces of several conspiracy theories and debunked claims that have proliferated across the internet in recent weeks, she considers her views well grounded, and rejects the extremist position that the entire pandemic is a gigantic hoax — although she believes the death count, now over 85,000 in the United States and more than 300,000 worldwide, is “exaggerated.”
“I might sound like a fanatic, but I’m really not,” she said. “I’m normal.”
She is, in fact, not out of the mainstream of the large segment of the American population whose views of current events are informed by the Bible, and who interpret every significant political and social development as a possible harbinger of the return of Jesus Christ. Though she is keeping an open mind on whether the coronavirus is the end-times plague, she sees “a lot of correlations” between the “agenda” driving the coronavirus vaccine and the “Revelation prophecies in the Bible.” The coronavirus pandemic created the perfect environment for apocalyptic Christianity to fuse with antigovernment libertarianism, New Age rejection of mainstream science and medicine, and internet-fueled gullibility toward baroque conspiracy theories about secret cabals ruling the world through viruses.
Prominent evangelical pastors, including one who has since died of COVID-19, have promoted baseless claims about Bill Gates, implantable microchips that could be used to control the population under the guise of tracking COVID-19 infections and immunity, and a link between coronavirus vaccination and the mark of the beast, a signifier, in biblical prophecy, of submission to the Antichrist. Such ideas have since spread beyond evangelical circles.
Jared Yates Sexton, an associate professor of writing and linguistics at Georgia Southern University, described his religious upbringing as “a split between Baptist and Pentecostals.” He also emphasized the role persecution and martyrdom continue to play in the evangelical identity, “even though they have a large power base in America, and they’ve determined large swaths of American political history.”
In fact, Sexton suggested that “one of the reasons why they have the dedicated political base that they do and … why they support [Trump] the way they do is because they truly believe they’re engaged in an end-times war, and everything from ‘happy holidays’ to vaccinations extends from that.”
Evangelical support for Trump, and Popham’s enthusiasm for the president, is undiminished — even though he has been an advocate for rapid development and deployment of a coronavirus vaccine, which he has speculated could be ready by the end of the year, much sooner than many medical experts believe.
Popham, who listed QAnon, a fringe internet conspiracy theory, and the far-right One America News Network (as well as the BBC) among her go-to sources for information online, said her views on the coronavirus pandemic are rooted in long-held concerns about the “deep state,” which she said is basically the “one world order.” Though she said she’s been spending more time online during the current lockdown, she said social media hasn’t so much influenced her views as it has “confirmed them,” indicating she’s observed that many more friends, members of her church and her Republican women’s group have started posting things that align with her beliefs.
Though Popham said she personally believes state lockdown orders are simply meant to keep people safe, such orders have been a source of outrage for many others, including several evangelical pastors, who claim that social distancing measures that prohibit in-person church services amount to an unconstitutional infringement of religious freedom. In fact, some of the earliest protests against lockdown measures were led by pastors like Rodney Howard-Browne, who was arrested in March for holding services at his Tampa megachurch in violation of Florida restrictions against public gatherings.