A History Lesson, and Some Context as to why VAXXED is so Dangerous and Problematic.
If you’ve been following my social media for the past week or two, you probably know that I went to protest the premiere of VAXXED 2 in Toronto this past weekend.
... and, if you were following my social media a few years ago, you may remember that I went to a VAXXED event in Minneapolis. It was absolutely horrifying, and I ended up doxxed and harassed by those associated with the event, as well as the fans they sicced on me.
Between some discussions I had at the protest, and a subsequent media interview, it’s become quite apparent to me that a lot of people are missing some pretty important knowledge of history. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I think it’s time to disseminate some education here.
Buckle up, kids. We’re going to talk about Nazis.
First, a couple of caveats:
For one, I want to state up front that I am talking about actual Nazis. This is not Godwin, this is not “people who disagree with me”, this is an important part of history that is often glossed over or completely avoided when talking about WWII and the Holocaust. Also: it is ABSOLUTELY pertinent to any discussion as to why VAXXED - and many autism orgs / fundraisers / etc are super problematic.
Secondly: I am posting this, fully aware that I’ll probably end up doxxed and harassed by those involved, once again. If you are reading this now and firing up an angry comment or email to me, or post about this... please stop, finish reading, and think about it before you do. Ask why an actual history lesson - and the very real parallels to current life - would trigger you to harass a woman in the very marginalized group being affected. Ask yourself, realistically ... WHO would you have been, back in the mid-late 1930s, knowing everything that happened down the road.
Third: People have been talking about “Freedom of Speech” a lot when it comes to VAXXED. The thing is, not all speech is protected. Ironically - as we're discussing a movie - one of the most popular examples of speech that isn’t protected involves a movie theatre. From both a public health issue perspective (Preventable diseases coming back. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly like to avoid an iron lung if possible!), AND a historical perspective - as I’m about to get into - VAXXED is morally and functionally no different than falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre.
Fourth: Just... all the content warnings on this one. Nazis, abuse, eugenics, filicide.
Before I take you WAY back in history, I want to go just a few years back - to that VAXXED event in Minneapolis. It was at a public park near my house, and - though it was far from my first exposure to anti-vaxxers - it was my first exposure to that particular production and ... fandom. My husband and I went, to see what it was about.
There was a large tour bus there, and they were calling it something like a “rolling monument to those lost to autism”. I forget the exact wording, but that was the gist of it. Parents were invited to write the names of their kids who had been “vaccine injured” right on the outside of the bus. There were the usual propaganda pieces and homemade signage about how Big Pharma is evil, and plenty of dehumanization of autistic people. There was one kid in a wheelchair, almost completely obscured by all of the homemade, disgusting signage that had been affixed to their wheelchair - their care givers had seen fit to basically turn them into a rolling protest display, the child was absolutely secondary to the “message” they wanted out.
... but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
They had fold out rental chairs laid out, as you would for an outdoor wedding or similar event. I assumed it was just to hear the producers speak about the movie, or whatnot. NOPE.
It was a memorial service - for kids “lost to autism” ... eulogies and everything.
Now, not only is that concept utterly repugnant, it managed to get even worse - the children being eulogized were in attendance, watching their own memorial. But hey, they were given goodie bags to entertain them during their own memorials, so that was considerate ... or something.
Think about that for a minute. Think about having a parent - or parents - that are SO put off by your neurology, that they would not only attend an event and support a movie propagandizing the idea that autism is a boogeyman worthy of bringing back all kinds of preventable diseases... but that those parents would actually eulogize you - in front of your face AND a crowd of strangers - as if you didn’t even exist. As if you were literally dead to them.
I haven’t even been able to recount the incident to anyone without choking up. It was absolutely horrifying, I’ve been through the aftermath of having my house - and neighborhood - destroyed by a tornado. Between the city and the vultures that followed the storm, I thought I'd seen the worse of humanity.
I've been to LA, through reality tv. The producers, and what they did to elicit dramatic enough reactions for their bloodthirsty audience? I definitely thought I’d seen the worst of humanity there. I've written about that whole ordeal extensively.
... But watching these people eulogizing living children, with those very children in attendance? That shook me in a way nothing before that day ever had. It chills me right to the bone even today, just thinking about it.
The thing is, this movie - and that event - aren’t lone issues, and they didn’t happen in a vacuum. They’re both part of what has been a long, well funded, and drawn out campaign of dehumanization of autistic people. As an autistic self advocate, I see the manifestation - and results - of this dehumanization on a near daily basis. Some examples:
- The use of autism as a scare tactic. This is usually to raise money / earn profits, such as with VAXXED and Autism Speaks.
- The murders of autistic children, and they way those murders are covered by the media, treated by the “justice” system, and commented on by the masses. The next time you see coverage of an autistic child murdered in the media, take note of the tone. Take note of the comments section. See how sympathetic both are to the murderer, and see how they talk about the murder victim.
Spoiler: Most of the time, the comments section is riddled with garbage like “Oh, that poor mom, she must have been under SO much stress” and “That kid must have been a MONSTER to push her to do that!”.
Yes, when talking about a parent killing their child... we autistics usually have to brace for such things. We read about the loss of our own, knowing that THAT is what we have to look forward to in the comments and general framing. That our lives mean so little - that we are seen as so unworthy of life - that we will be expected to watch our young - even 4-5 year olds - blamed for their own murders.
On the subject of VAXXED, specifically: Polly Tommey -VAXXED’s producer - has spoken publicly in support of those who murder autistic children, going so far as to say she will never judge those who do so HERE is a link to that video.
Fun fact: The murder of autistics - and other disabled people - by their care givers is SUCH a common thing, that every year on March 1, we observe Disability Day of Mourning. Yes, there is a specific occasion to mark the many, many such murders.
- Any time there’s a mass shooting, the media speculates that the shooter may be autistic. I believe that’s been the case in ONE of the incidents, and as such is definitely not a common denominator. (Of course, we can’t talk about the actual common denominators in those situations. Best just go with an easy boogieman!)
- This one falls under the earlier mention of child murder, but really deserves its own mention. Autism Speaks - the largest and most powerful autism org in the world - put out a video a few years ago. In it, a woman was saying horrible things about her autistic daughter, right in front of her. At one point, she openly discussed how she considered driving off a bridge with that kid - committing a murder-suicide - but that the only thing that stopped her was thinking about her other, allistic kid. HERE is the video for that. Note that she’s not at all disturbed by what she’s saying - you can tell she is speaking about this because she knows she will find support for those feelings.
Of course, that’s on top of Autism Speaks’ other disgusting videos, such as “I am Autism”, which used dark imagery and ominous music, talking about autism like it’s a sentient monster out to wreck lives and marriages. HERE is that link.
- One of the last things I did while still living in Minnesota was to draw public attention to a measure that one senator was trying to bring into law. It was for the mandatory registry of autistic people, hidden in a public safety bill (along with a bunch of anti-vax nonsense). It was horrifying as a possibility then, and it was even more horrifying to learn that several states already had such registries. In at least one case (ND? NJ? I forget), the law explicitly stated that medical professionals who failed to report autistics were at risk of losing their licenses over it.
Now, no one with any grasp of history at all is going to see that as a good, well-intentioned thing. It’s actually the reason I’ve been recommending that Americans avoid getting diagnosed - such registries could harm them greatly in the future - schooling, housing, child custody fights... or worse.
I could rant for days about the myriad ways that we are constantly subjected to dehumanization, but that last point seems like a good place to bring it back to Nazis:
It means “Life unworthy of life”. While people seem to think that the holocaust just started out of nowhere, and POOF there were gas chambers... this one phrase is foundational to the start of it all.
Back in 1920, two professors in Germany published a book with the term in the title, which translated to “Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life”. It was about how mentally ill, autistic, intellectually disabled, and etc people were not only unworthy of living, but that they - we - were burdens to society, and that it was in society’s best interest to get rid of them.
Chillingly, it used some of the very same terminology that is common for warrior parents to describe their children - not only “burden”, but “empty shell (of a child)”, etc.
Hitler took the idea and ran with it. A campaign was started, supporting the idea that the disabled were burdens to society, etc. You can still find propaganda posters for this online (I can’t bring myself to share them here)
First, hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly sterilized - mentally ill, autistic, or physically disabled people, for the most part.
Quick note: The fact that forced and coerced sterilization of “undesirables” wasn’t limited to Germany, but was a legal and respected practice in other countries - including Canada and the USA - seems to not be common knowledge. Disabled people have been sterilized on this continent against their will up until the 90s at least. In Canada, First Nations women have been coerced into sterilization as a condition of seeing their babies as recently as 3 years ago. We’re by NO means innocent when it comes to such things... but hopefully we can learn from the past.
After the forced sterilization, the Nazis moved on and expanded the scope of their eugenics. What would later become known as “Aktion T4" began when two parents wrote to Hitler and asked him to allow the “mercy killing” of their child. They referred to that *5 month old child* much in the same way that many refer to autistic kids - as a “monster”. The child’s name was Gerhard Kretschmar, and he was the first disabled person euthanized by the Nazi regime.
From there, Aktion T4 snowballed.
Parents - having been sufficiently convinced that their disabled children were burdens, monsters, and “unworthy of life” would give up their kids willingly, to be killed.
Then, the murders moved on to become completely involuntary, with the disabled being murdered without the request/permission of their families. Asylums became death sentences, several euthanasia centers opened. The Nazis experimented with mass murder, honing the ideas and techniques that would eventually be used in the Holocaust death camps, including the implementation of gas chambers.
Eventually - through more dehumanization campaigns - Lebensunwertes Leben was extended to include more and more groups: those Hitler saw as “racially impure”, following the “wrong” religion, and/or loving the “wrong” people.
Parallel to everything that was going on with the disabled people and euthanasia asylums, Hitler was also working on dehumanizing Jews and other groups. A few years after Aktion T4 got going, the death camps started up.
You see, the concentration and death camps didn’t start out of nowhere. They couldn’t - people would likely have fought back. Hitler was HUGE on marketing and propaganda, and knew that the campaigns of dehumanization were necessary to make the mass killing of people more acceptable - even desirable - to the masses. The holocaust happened as the conclusion to a long, drawn out path of propaganda, manipulation, and dehumanization.
Over the years, he managed to convince people that there were humans who were unworthy of living, and that killing those people would benefit society. Each step was incremental, training the masses to accept atrocities on an ever-increasing level. The thing is, once people are convinced that *any* group is disposable, they’re going to be much more susceptible to the idea that other groups are also disposable. If you are capable of seeing groups of fellow humans as less than human, and unworthy of life... that kind of thing isn’t easily contained. Once “this person is different from me, and unworthy of life” becomes something that people agree with, where do they draw the line, exactly? It’s like a virus.
This history lesson is important to put things in context: We're not angry because they're "saying mean things about us". We're terrified because we've seen this all before. We KNOW where this goes. The language may have changed, but the terminology hasn’t.
... and that’s something everyone should heed. In this day and age, we’re seeing dehumanization campaigns taking place all around us. We have a world leader - of one of the WWII Allied countries, no less - referring to actual, arm band wearing Nazis as “very fine people”. We’re seeing brown people in cages - treated worse than dogs - with many saying that they deserve it. There is an acute lack of empathy in the world these days, and - to a patterns person with a good grasp of history - it’s beyond concerning.
So when you see us, other disabled people, or any ethnicity being dehumanized, pay attention to what’s happening. Know that this has all happened before. In the 30s, it didn’t stop with the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who were murdered en masse.
As we know, the Nazis went on to kill millions of others - Jews, Roma, GLBT+, Non-Christians, and more.
... and, honestly, the idea that these current dehumanization campaigns are going to stop with the very group being targeted in each campaign? That’s completely lacking in any acknowledgment of history, and in human tendencies. I'll say it again: Once you can be convinced that one group is less than human...
Now, do I think that every parent supporting this film is a dyed in the wool, goose stepping Nazi? No, of course not - no more so than the parents caught up in Aktion T4. I actually have some degree empathy for them, and see them - many of them - as victims of VAXXED, as well.
The producers of that movie, much like Autism Speaks, use fear and dehumanization as powerful, predatory marketing tools. They prey on fragile people who are shaken by a diagnosis that they have been conditioned - by those same dehumanization campaigns - to see as the worst possible thing for their children. If people didn't hate autistics and weren't afraid of autism, Autism Speaks would not have the power it does, and VAXXED would not be making the money it does. Fear is an INCREDIBLE motivator... and it's often used to manipulate people to further horrible agendas - as history clearly shows.
When you see autism used as this boogeyman, when you see people say “better dead than autistic”, when groups like VAXXED and Autism Speaks frame our lives as being unworthy of life, and us as being nothing but burdens... I just want you to remember that this has all been done before.
While none of us has the power to go back in time and stop things from having happened, we DO have the opportunity to learn from that past - IF we know about it - and use that knowledge to prevent recurrence.
Now that I think about it... this post is a bit of an inoculation of sorts. And, much like with actual vaccines... one that’s only going to work if mass amounts of people make use of it.
Links to My Previous Posts on Autism
Autism Awareness Day - A Few Thoughts from my Spot on the Spectrum Autistic Thoughts on Mainsteaming. Interacting with Autistic Children - A Guide for Charity Appearances Symbols Matter, Words Matter - Autism Acceptance Month 2017