How the evangelical Christian right seeded the false, yet surprisingly resilient, theory that vaccines contain microchips
Anti-vaccine rally protesters hold signs outside the Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas on June 26, 2021. MARK FELIX / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
The baseless conspiracy theory that vaccines contain microchips is believed by thousands.
The narrative has deep roots in the far right movement.
Prominent figures fueled theory in the era of COVID-19 and helped fuel US reluctance to use vaccines.
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The right-wing evangelical Mat Staver already appeared in a one-hour live stream on the World Prayer Network in August.
In it, he told the audience that vaccines against COVID-19 were not intended to save the world from the pandemic, but to radically depopulate it.
The baseless theory has no evidence to support it, but it has nonetheless been shown to be tenable.
"This is depopulation, population control, to reduce the population of the planet and to control everyone, by force and to have a tracking mechanism to determine whether or not you have received one of these particular injections", said Staver.
He linked the fictional conspiracy with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has become a hate figure for right-wing anti-vaccine activists during the pandemic.
In an email to Insider, Staver denied believing in the microchip theory but made no attempt to reconcile it with the time he had publicly endorsed it.
The belief that COVID-19 vaccines are used to stealthily implant tracking mechanisms or microchips has become widespread during the pandemic.
According to a July poll by YouGov for The Economist magazine, about half of those who resist the syringe believe the microchip claim. With about 80 million Americans not yet vaccinated, that leaves millions of believers in some version of conspiracy theory.
Some have traced the conspiracy theory down to a question and answer posted by Gates on Reddit on March 18, 2020 in the early days of the pandemic.
He predicted that one day "digital certificates" would be used to determine who was recovering from the coronavirus and who was vaccinated. The reality of today's COVID passports is not far from this prediction.
His words were distorted by those who claimed they were evidence of a secret scheme to monitor and control people and made money.
But the conspiracy theory has older and deeper roots, experts told Insiders.
A network of right-wing Christian activists and preachers helped fuel fears that one day public health measures could be used as part of a conspiracy to covertly monitor people.
It meant there was fertile ground for conspiracy theorists to sow doubts about the vaccines developed during the pandemic. Multiple polls suggest that Republicans and white evangelicals are among the least willing to get the shot, and overlap with the most receptive audiences to microchip theory.
Andrew Whitehead, a Christian rights expert who teaches at Indiana University, said, “One reason why some Christian right groups and individuals hold anti-Vax views is because of their skepticism, or even their outright rejection of science as trustworthy Source of authority.
“In their view, science competes with the supremacy of biblical authority. However, not all of the claims of science, but only those that they consider to be religiously challenged or politically motivated. Vaccines and especially the COVID-19 vaccine are in that area. "
Vaccines and the "mark of the beast"
Peter Montgomery, Senior Researcher at People for the American Way, has spent decades observing right-wing Christian groups and their ties to the Republican Party.
He said that many of the Christian right believe that humanity is at the end of days.
They see public health measures like vaccine passports as evidence of the "mark of the beast," evidence of widespread allegiance to Satan who foretold the Apocalypse in the Bible.
Mat Staver in 2015. AP Photo / Timothy D. Easley, file
"For many evangelicals who believe we are living in the 'end times', there is a lot of rhetoric and thought about the vaccine and the idea of vaccination passes or companies that require vaccination," he said.
"They associate everything with the 'mark of the beast'." According to this way of thinking, an implanted microchip would be the ultimate example of such a sign.
It's a claim he sees in the rhetoric of Republican lawmakers who have opposed public health action.
MP Marjorie Taylor Greene described the Biden government's plans for a vaccine passport as "The Mark of the Beast" in a video in March.
A decade ago, Staver's Liberty Counsel, who provides legal counsel for challenging federal laws on religious grounds, made links between vaccines and microchip plots.
A Liberty Counsel attorney alleged at a public event in 2010 that the Obama administration's swine flu vaccine (H1N1) may be part of a microchip-implant conspiracy.
According to Montgomery, a Christian right-wing student, the statement was a typical twist on conspiracy theory circulated among right-wing evangelicals and quoted by preachers in pulpits, on radio broadcasts, and on television.
It resurfaced during the pandemic where it found a huge new audience.
Staver, he said, was one of the most prominent opponents of vaccines and other public health measures when the coronavirus hit the United States.
In April, Staver appeared on an evangelical podcast claiming vaccines were part of a conspiracy to "force submission to experimental gene therapy," an allusion to a conspiracy theory that claims that the vaccines manipulate DNA.
A month later, he was on the Voice of Christian Youth America radio station, claiming on CrossTalk for no reason that pregnant women miscarried because they were around people who had been vaccinated.
Other right-wing Christians have also helped spread the microchip conspiracy theory.
An investigation by The Verge in July found that an online sermon by Baptist pastor Adam Fannin played a role in popularizing the theory in the early days of the pandemic.
And deep ties between the far-right evangelical movement and the conspiracy theory movement QAnon have also helped bolster conspiracy theories against vaccines, said Joe Ondrak, chief investigator at LogicallyAI, a British company that uses AI to track down disinformation.
"The 'mark of the beast" is also heavily incorporated into QAnon conspiracy theories, "he said, noting that both movements involve the belief that satanic elites conspire against common Americans.
In an email response to questions from Insider, Staver denied believing that vaccines are used to implant microchips.
"That's wrong. That's not my opinion," he said.
When asked if the vaccines cause infertility, he said that "it is unknown whether they cause infertility as this issue has not been part of clinical trials and the data will not be available for some time."
The CDC said there is no evidence that the vaccines affect fertility and there is growing evidence that it does not.
The agency initially limited its advice on taking the vaccine during pregnancy, but updated its position in August 2021 to clearly recommend it, citing new data.
Staver went on to argue that there have been many credible reports of side effects from the vaccines.
"We talk to a lot of health care workers and doctors to see what they see in addition to the data," he said without giving any details.
"Of course, not everyone has adverse events, but the adverse events cannot be ignored and must be investigated instead of just ruled out."
Adverse effects are already subject to monitoring as described by Staver.
The CDC noted that it, the FDA, and other agencies are monitoring such events. It has occasionally reacted to them, leading to guidelines like the April hiatus in the launch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was lifted after 11 days.
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