The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Sarah Palin’s anti-vax talk shows Republicans have become a death cult

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in Montgomery, Ala., in September 2017. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
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Sarah Palin, rocket scientist, offered her thoughts on the coronavirus vaccine at a far-right conference in Arizona over the weekend.

“It will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot,” she proclaimed.

Unlikely, governor. Phase III trials have shown that the vaccines fail to generate a robust immune response when administered to dead people.

But Palin’s talk of dead bodies is on point. By discouraging vaccination, she and Tucker Carlson and the rest of the anti-science right are quite literally getting people killed. Studies show that those living in the most pro-Trump counties in the United States are dying from covid-19 at a rate more than five times higher than in the most anti-Trump counties.

Palin’s pronouncements should come with a surgeon-general-style caution: “WARNING: SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASES YOUR RISK OF DYING FROM COVID.”

The Fox News crowd bristles at the notion that the Trumpified Republican Party has taken on aspects of a cult. But it’s looking more and more like a death cult, as my friend Sidney Blumenthal puts it. Nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple died at Jonestown. Thirty-nine died in the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. But tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Republicans are dying unnecessarily from covid-19 because they refuse to get vaccinated.

Crowds protesting vaccine mandates chanted slogans, including “Let's go Brandon,” during marches on Oct. 28 and Nov. 21 in New York. (Video: The Washington Post)

Blogger Charles Gaba, who has been tracking coronavirus death rates by county, reported Monday that since June 30, there have been about 117 deaths per 100,000 people in the reddest 10 percent of the United States (as measured by counties’ vote share for Donald Trump in 2020) — nearly six times the death rate of about 21 per 100,000 in the bluest decile. Likewise, the 100 million people who live in the most pro-Trump 30 percent of the United States had a death rate of about 98 per 100,000 since June 30 — more than triple the 30 per 100,000 among the people who live in the least pro-Trump 30 percent.

In the early days of the pandemic, those in urban areas — Democratic strongholds — were disproportionately likely to die from covid-19. That leveled out in January of this year. Then, the vaccines became available, and the delta variant struck. In August, there were more than 7 deaths per 100,000 in the reddest counties for every 1 death per 100,000 in the bluest. This month, Gaba projects there will be 5.62 deaths per 100,000 in the Trumpiest 10 percent for every 1 death per 100,000 in the least-Trumpy decile of America. (Gaba’s data is consistent with other recent studies.)

The cause of the disparity, which persists when accounting for age and health-care access of the different populations, is obvious: As of Dec. 20, among the bluest 10 percent of the population, 68.8 percent are fully vaccinated. In the reddest 10 percent, only 41.9 percent are fully vaccinated. The pattern is consistent through all deciles of the population: the more pro-Trump, the less vaccinated the population — and the higher the death rate.

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Little wonder. In Washington, Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government to block a vaccine mandate, and they are still trying to force President Biden to veto their attempt to overturn the requirement. Republican-led states are fighting mandates and even incentivizing people not to take the vaccine. And Fox News and similar outlets have filled the airwaves with vaccine paranoia.

Turning Point USA’s Americafest, where Palin spoke this past weekend, was a revival meeting of the death sect. The group fights coronavirus vaccine mandates, and its leader, Charlie Kirk, told the gathering that the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, “should be in prison.”

The speakers included the usual suspects of the Trump-Fox nexus: Carlson and Palin; Reps. Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Jim Jordan; Sen. Ted Cruz; Jesse Watters, Greg Gutfeld and Jeanine Pirro; Donald Trump Jr.; Seb Gorka. Kyle Rittenhouse, recently acquitted after killing two people at a racial-justice demonstration, appeared on Monday.

Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) said a father who allows his young child to receive an experimental third dose of the vaccine is “a coward.”

Palin told the crowd to “stiffen your spine” in the battle against vaccine requirements. She claimed she had “natural immunity” because she had covid-19 early this year, and therefore, “I won’t do it and, um, they better not touch my kids either.”

Back in September, Palin had boasted on Fox News: “I am one of those White, common-sense conservatives, I believe in science, and I have not taken the shot.” And now she says she won’t take it — unless and until she’s a dead body.

Thanks to Palin and other death-cult leaders, countless Republicans have become exactly that.