The predictable polemic of ‘Plandemic’

The predictable polemic of ‘Plandemic’

By: pallavi sethi&
shreyashi roy&
alexander smith&
May 31 2023

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The predictable polemic of ‘Plandemic’

Image source: Twitter

On May 5, 2023, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus announced that COVID-19 no longer constituted a public health emergency of international concern. COVID-19 still exists, and the threat of new emerging variants remains, but the disease is no longer a threat. For the makers of one documentary series, however, it was never a threat, but a carefully concocted plan by global elites. 

Plandemic 3, the latest in a series of dubious documentaries claiming – among other falsehoods – the pandemic was planned, releases on June 3, 2023. The previous installments were released in May and August 2020, funded by donations. Director Mikki Willis – a former model and actor who has also produced a film on ivermectin – includes several clips from various events, along with interviews with several figures on all things COVID-19.

Both films went wildly viral, and fact checkers rushed to counter the multiple false claims and narratives. Plandemic 3: The Great Awakening, in its own words, “assembles forbidden puzzle pieces to reveal the big picture of what’s really happening in America and beyond. The Great Awakening is intended to be a lighthouse to guide us out of the storm and into a brighter future.” It accompanies this with a tagline on a slick website stating it’s “100% Censored, 0% Debunked”, which is inaccurate, to say the least: it is widely available to view, and both films have been comprehensively debunked by organizations such as Politifact, Reuters, and also wrote in depth on both parts.

The trailer for the latest offering provides a brief glimpse into the themes, which center on two beliefs: that events like the pandemic and climate change are part of a larger conspiracy orchestrated by a global elite; and that the public will awaken and mobilize to counter these nefarious schemes. It is clear that Willis is tapping into the anti-vax community’s broader belief system by dabbling in climate change denial this time around. 

It’s not a pandemic, it’s a PLANdemic

The original Plandemic focuses on sole interviewee Judy Mikovits, who the voiceover claims "has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation.” It adds that she published a “blockbuster article in the journal Science,” which “sent shock waves through the scientific community.” 

In truth, however, Mikovits is a scientist best known for her discredited work on chronic fatigue syndrome. Her 2009 paper in the journal Science was withdrawn in 2011 when follow-up studies failed to replicate the study’s findings, and Mikovits herself later admitted that her findings were incorrect. In September 2011, she was fired as research director of Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), arrested, and charged with stealing laboratory notebooks that did not belong to her, before being successfully sued by her former employer. She explains in Plandemic that this was “an alleged conspiracy to crush her once-promising career and destroy her credibility as a scientist.” 

Prior to the release of the documentary, Mikovits co-authored two books that were well-received in conspiratorial circles, but it was Plandemic that raised her profile; according to The Verge, ​​Mikovits gained more than 130,000 Twitter followers in a month. Despite her claims being frequently debunked, Mikovits remains active on social media and continues to spread vaccine skepticism. 

Plandemic’s core belief is that the COVID-19 outbreak was planned by billionaires to enforce worldwide vaccinations, accusing world leaders and medical experts, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, of being complicit in its spread. This claim has been debunked, but Willis expounds upon it in the sequel.

Plandemic 2: Plan harder 

The second film, Plandemic: Indoctornation, includes more “experts,” but heavily features financial analyst David E Martin, a conspiracy theorist known for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines on a dedicated YouTube channel. He has also used the channel to attack fact checkers for their Plandemic-related debunks. In May 2023, he claimed at an International Covid Summit held at the European Parliament in Brussels that the coronavirus was "intentionally released” as a bioweapon by the United States in Wuhan to trigger a pandemic and increase public acceptance of vaccines, an oft-repeated claim that has no basis in fact

The sequel also features Dr. Meryl Nass, an internal medicine specialist and a consultant for Children’s Health Defense, a group that campaigns against vaccinating children. According to AP, there are at least two complaints against Nass for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, and she has also claimed falsely that COVID-19 vaccines cause reproductive harm. In January 2022, the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine suspended Nass’ medical license for 30 days, saying “allowing Nass to continue practicing medicine “constitutes an immediate jeopardy to the health and physical safety of the public who might receive her medical services.”

Another interviewee making various false claims about vaccines in Plandemic 2 is Mary Holland, President and General Counsel for Children’s Health Defense (CHD), a font of misinformation. CHD is led by anti-vaxer and health conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr., and was banned from ​​Instagram and Facebook in August 2022 after repeatedly violating rules prohibiting misinformation about COVID-19.

The documentary makes several unfounded claims, all of which have been discredited or queried. Dr. Nass, for example, advocates the lab leak theory, which is still under debate. It also suggests the CDC previously filed a patent for coronavirus as a method of control, which it did not. Bill Gates and vaccines are a frequent target; Plandemic 2 claims Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation administered HPV vaccines that subsequently caused deaths in India, which is a misrepresentation of the truth. Keeping with the Gates theme, the documentary repeats the popular trope that vaccines are a tool for population management, which is not true.

Trailer tales  

Willis has been busy promoting Plandemic 3: The Great Awakening, and the trailer, released on May 23, has already racked up over 2 million views on Twitter. This time, the controversial director has teamed up with Del Bigtree, founder of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), one of America's most prominent anti-vaccine groups. The Great Awakening will be exclusively streamed on Bigtree's website, the Highwire, which frequently publishes anti-vaccine misinformation and attracts more than 300,000 monthly visitors.

Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, has previously researched ICAN. Reiss explained to Logically Facts how the organization regularly misrepresents the legal definitions of court decisions to spread false narratives: "ICAN uses FOIA requests as a query, asking questions that likely do not have government records." Reiss further explained that "when the government, predictably, says they do not have such records (because many of CDC's statements on scientific matters are based, for example, on scientific literature rather than government records), ICAN misrepresents that as showing there is no evidence - where all the answer shows is that there is no specific record." While ICAN publicizes its petitions submitted to the government, it fails to inform the public about the government's response to such questions. 

In the trailer, Willis dubs lockdowns as "synchronized tyranny" to control the masses. Lockdowns were not a sinister plot to strip away people's rights but a measure that has been shown to be effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Conversation notes that countries like New Zealand, which implemented lockdown measures early in the pandemic, had fewer deaths than the U.K., where the lockdown response was delayed. 

Willis attempts to explain what he sees as the global elite's supposed totalitarianism. The trailer comprises several out-of-context clips of world leaders and politicians discussing the Great Reset, a much-debunked conspiracy drawn from antisemitic tropes that powerful elites control everything from lockdowns to health, transportation, and the climate. 

As the trailer progresses, we witness several bad-faith actors who promote harmful misinformation about vaccines and the pandemic, including Mattias Desmet, a professor at Ghent University, and the late Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, who claims, without merit, that elites use "fear and isolation to induce psychosis" and "mass formation." However, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist researching misinformation at the University of Bristol, told Logically Facts that Desmet's claims lack evidence as he has not published any research on the concept in peer-reviewed literature. "All his publications are qualitative and clinical, and he has no record of being capable of capturing societal phenomena at scale." Despite being widely discussed, "mass formation psychosis" is not a medically accurate term, with John Drury, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Sussex, telling Reuters he had "never heard of this concept."

A “Great Awakening?” 

The trailer ends with protests and rallies against COVID-19 measures across the United States, portraying the solidarity of those who have been "slapped awake." However, it is evident from both the trailer and previous films that Plandemic 3 intends to vilify public health experts and politicians who implemented measures to control the virus, while adding a new element of climate science denial. 

The Plandemic series does its best to present its conspiracies as legitimate findings through rigorous scientific research – the opening moments of the first Plandemic are dedicated to positioning Mikovits as a qualified expert, cherry-picking her professional achievements and portraying her as a maverick doctor who broke away from the medical establishment because she knew too much. Willis makes Mikovits a martyr for their cause and presents her as possessing some kind of forbidden knowledge. This can all be very attractive to someone looking for answers, and from the trailer, we are likely to see more of the same in Plandemic 3. 

There is no shortage of anti-vax content online, but the Plandemic series stands out due to its production value. The cinematography and musical score add the illusion of legitimacy to its claims. Writing for Forbes, Tara Haelle points out that Plandemic uses cinematic conventions associated with factual documentaries. While a claim may be made with the cadence of presenting a fact, it often has no factual basis. By using a familiar visual and musical language, Plandemic appeals to the viewer's emotions. Haelle writes that the original Plandemic “appeals to viewers’ emotions by portraying Mikovits as a victimized underdog and by repeatedly using stock video of harrowing images, such as patients dying from AIDS and malnourished children in Africa.” This emotional appeal is supported by its dramatic music and imagery – but it’s important not to be taken in by this, particularly ahead of the latest installment.

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