The ‘Health Freedom Movement’ Enters the Covid Era by Disseminating Medical Disinformation 

Image from the Truth Over Fear Summit.

“Are imperfect people welcome in the health freedom movement?” asks an email sitting presumptuously at the top of my inbox, piquing my interest just enough not to delete immediately. Below the banner sits a picture of a small medical spray bottle, offering something called “heavy metal detox” with a list of benefits including better sleep, better mood, and better bowels. It’s an ad for a dietary supplement called ‘Pure Body Extra,’ containing zeolites, which are aluminum and silicon compounds, used most frequently in industrial processing as drying agents in the production of detergents as well as water and air purifiers. They’re also marketed as health supplements, with claims that they can cure cancer, autism, herpes, and hangovers through balancing body pH and removing heavy metals. There’s no data to support these claims and the FDA has sent cease and desist letters to several distributors over misleading claims about the medicinal uses of zeolites. This supplement and many others are enthusiastically promoted by the Health Freedom movement, where opposition to public health meets conspiracy theories about the New World Order meets spiritual and religious claims about personal wellbeing and societal freedom. 

The email from the organizers of the Health Freedom Summit included another ad for a book about how the medical industry invents pandemics to make money, and then answers the question about whether imperfect people are welcome in the movement with an affirmative. It’s a movement of “wounded, suffering individuals who have battled demons and miraculously wake up every day and work for our freedoms despite being humiliated and set back (even by people they thought were on their team).” 

The organizers go on to explain that God uses imperfect people for his work, and we are therefore all capable and indeed called to join the Health Freedom movement as an “essential worker.” While co-opting the language of community service employed by governments in the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers of the Health Freedom Summit give us an example of an essential worker in the Health Freedom movement: Lin Wood, purveyor of QAnon and election-rigging conspiracy theories and erstwhile attorney for former president Trump. 

A video of Wood speaking at Clay Clark’s “Reopen America” tour is embedded in the email, alongside details of the next event: the Truth Over Fear Summit II: Covid-19 and the Great Reset, referring to the pandemic and the idea that it was spread intentionally/as a hoax to manufacture the conditions for an economic change to socialism. Billed speakers included “plandemic” video star, Dr Judy Mikovits, well-known anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Catholic cardinals, an attorney investigating coronavirus lockdowns, other doctors who oppose the WHO/CDC/AMA and other bastions of “conventional medicine,” anti-vaccination advocates, a “restaurateur, patriot” who kept his business open in defiance of lockdown regulations, a concentration camp survivor, and a host of other academics, attorneys, activists, and conspiracy theorists. The event was to be hosted by Patrick Coffin, a Catholic social media activist. An introductory video claims that the Health Freedom movement isn’t about left vs. right politics or traditional vs. progressive values, but Good vs. Evil. However, the summit was cancelled by Kartra, a business software provider for webinars, which deplatformed the online event on its launch day. It was later republished by Patrick Coffin Media, LLC.      

Warrior moms battle invisible enemies

What unites people, products, and practices under the banner ‘Health Freedom’? Broadly, opposition to what they define as ‘mainstream’ healthcare and policy, particularly regarding regulation of vaccinations, supplements, and alternative therapies. More specifically, it’s a sense of fighting a war for bodily freedom and medical agency. The actions of Kartra in deplatforming the summit reveals a front of this war, as its soldiers fight censorship in the form of cancelled social media, webinars, and YouTube accounts. Labeling it the Health Freedom movement is also effective marketing, pushing back against negative ‘anti’ labels and leveraging the perennial American concern with freedom, or lack thereof. 

The Truth Over Fear Summit II was preceded by the Health Freedom Summit, an online event held in February 2021 with speakers promoting anti-vaccination, anti-mask, and pro-homeschool views. Speakers included Paul Thomas, a Portland doctor who recently had his medical license revoked for endangering patients by refusing to vaccinate them; Andrew Wakefield, the originator of the debunked scientific article that claimed a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism; JP Sears, a new age comedian who has recently begun making videos mocking mask wearing and social distancing; and Margareta Griesz-Brisson, a German neurologist who claims that masks are child abuse. Other talks cover the dangers of Covid-19 vaccines, strengthening personal immunity, and how to “monetize your movement,” with extra content on how to protect yourself from Child Protective Services and prevent your children from being “trafficked” into the foster care system. 

In the introductory video, organizer Alana Newman talks about how she and a small team of “warrior moms” created the virtual summit in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their goal is to respond to fear of viruses and other “invisible enemies.” They offer the opportunity to get information from “credible sources” to help you make your own decisions about your health while the “other guy” humiliates, chastises, and forces treatments on you that you’re not comfortable with. 

The Health Freedom Summit isn’t new, there was one in 2015, but at that time the topics of discussion were opposition to GMOs; the benefits of a raw food diet and organic farming; the value of essential oils for health; the importance of maintaining a high vibrational frequency; functional medicine; traditional Chinese medicine and qigong; and more of the new age spirituality diet and health advice that I describe in my book. Move forward to 2021, and health freedom has become a concept that brings together right-wing libertarianism, conservative Christianity, and new age spirituality, especially regarding vaccinations and Covid regulations. 

Health libertarianism dates to the antebellum period when the concern was bodily freedom and a constitutional right to medical freedom. In the 20th century, the term health freedom has been invoked in diverse controversies including access to abortion, life-ending drugs, unapproved cancer treatments, and medical marijuana. The crux of the issue for many years has been access to treatments beyond government-regulated and approved medicines. Advocates worked to get vitamins and supplements exempted from FDA regulations regarding safety and efficacy. Libertarian Party leader Ron Paul introduced the Health Freedom Act in Congress in 2005 defining supplements as not equivalent to drugs and therefore not regulated by FDA, which created the situation today where zeolites can be marketed as heavy metal-reducing cancer-panaceas without any evidence to back up those claims. 

The main thrust of health freedom activism was aimed at deregulation of supplements until the 2010s, when opposition to vaccination became more pronounced and then exploded in the past year with the introduction of Covid-19 regulations. Anti-vaccination advocacy has mutated with Covid. A pre-existing self-defined “movement” against pharmaceutical companies, biomedicine, public health, and public schools that denies germ theory and opposes vaccination in favor of “natural immunity” has proliferated in response to a deadly pandemic. 

The concept of natural immunity individualizes and personalizes health through advancing the idea that good health requires the right diet, exercise, and spiritual growth. Good health is a personal responsibility that requires individual discernment. Any infringement on this by the requirements of social services or public health agencies is an attack on corporeal freedom. This sentiment has been radicalized and popularized by opposition to Covid-19 regulations, especially lockdowns and mask wearing, which are seen as an attack on the principle of natural immunity promulgated by the Health Freedom movement. 

Health freedom appeals to many across religious and political lines: Catholics, evangelicals, and new age spirituality are all represented in, and appealed to through, the Health Freedom movement. The principle of individual freedom is a value above all other values, often referenced in terms of personal comfort. The Health Freedom movement leverages structural failures of government and public health policy in the pandemic, employing the language of “privilege” for those who support policies to mitigate Covid-19. For example, in a poem reposted on the Health Freedom Summit Facebook page called “it was a pandemic, for the privileged,” the social costs of lockdowns are mourned—increased rates of domestic violence, mental illness, small business closure—while denying that those who support public health measures have suffered at all because they are “privileged,” living in suburbs, and unaware of the government tyranny perpetuated under the guise of these measures.

As with the inclusion of a concentration camp survivor in the Truth Over Fear Summit, the “privileged” are associated with those who “had never fled Poland,” inferring that supporting health measures to mitigate Covid-19 is a form of Nazism. The Health Freedom movement casts vaccination as eugenics and population control aimed at the most vulnerable for the profit of healthcare and pharmaceutical corporations. Their rhetoric positions them as the underdog fighting for freedom against the oppressor. 

However, the effects of large portions of the population remaining unvaccinated or unmasked disproportionately impacts historically oppressed communities through the perpetuation of Covid-19. The rhetoric of the Health Freedom movement obscures the actual impact of their advocacy, which exacerbates social inequality through reifying ideals of individual choice in healthcare. Those with the highest incomes have the best access to healthcare; they’re the least impacted by the continuing spread of Covid-19 and its variants. They’re also the most able to pay for unnecessary supplements, organic food, and expensive gym memberships to support their natural immunity. You might say they have the most freedom to begin with.