Inside the Anti-Vaxxer Civil War

Yahoo News/Octyober 19, 2022

By Zachary Petrizzo and Will Sommer

Dr. Robert Malone became a star among COVID-19 vaccine skeptics last December when he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Even among opponents of the vaccine, Malone stood out for his claim that the responses to the virus were driven by a phenomenon he called “mass formation psychosis”—essentially, the idea that society had been hypnotized during the pandemic.

The Rogan appearance turned Malone into perhaps the most visible vaccine critic in the country, and it sparked controversy for Rogan’s employer, Spotify. After the episode, musician Neil Young pulled his music from the streaming giant.

Despite Malone’s popularity with anti-vaccine activists, he’s still managed to piss off many of the biggest anti-vax conspiracy theorists over his refusal to back their nuttiest suppositions. Two of the loudest voices in that community—right-wing shock jock Stew Peters, and pro-Trump personality Dr. Jane Ruby—have settled on the story that Malone is actually working with the CIA.

The rift appears to have started after Peters produced a supposed exposé called “Watch the Water.” Borrowing themes from Dr. Strangelove’s conspiracy-addled general, Peters’ film baselessly alleges that snake venom has somehow been planted in the nation’s water supply and within COVID-19 vaccines to inject recipients with satanic DNA.

Malone was quick to denounce the film. He said Peters’ theory lacks any scientific evidence and is flat-out wrong. Malone has even described Peters as a “conspiracy theorist”—fighting words in the anti-vax community.

And so, Peters has been punching back.

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In recent weeks, the far-right radio host has begun telling a story about a time Malone supposedly made contact with ex-CIA official Michael Callahan. According to Peters, Callahan called Malone on Jan. 4, 2020—from Wuhan, China.

Callahan “warned” Malone that he "had to get [his] team spun up” to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I have been sustaining just continuous attacks from the conspiracy theorists. Stew is just one of them,” he told The Daily Beast. However, when it comes to the CIA agent accusations, Malone said those statements from Peters’ are “unfounded” and “not grounded in reality.”

“I don’t think Stew would know a real CIA agent if it bit him,” he said.

While the name-calling and insults have grown more intense recently, Malone insists that Peters remains committed to “bending facts” and “distorting reality” while calling Peters’ past life as a bounty hunter questionable.

In a Telegram post recently, Peters constructed another attack line. Peters questioned why Malone isn’t “in the lab trying to concoct an antidote, to the thing that you have created, that you know acknowledge is killing—fill in the blank number of people around the world?”

In response to the allegations, Malone hired Steven Biss, a popular defamation attorney for right-wing figures like former Rep. Devin Nunes. In a Sept. 26 letter to Ruby and two allied conspiracy theorists, Biss demanded retractions of claims like Ruby’s allegation that Malone’s “connections…are 100% CIA.” Biss also requested an unspecified financial payment to Malone in the letter to make up for the deep-state insinuations. If the accusations aren’t pulled back by the end of October, Biss warned in the letter, Malone will sue.

Biss, who has struggled with several of his lawsuits filed on behalf of conservative figures, is already suing one media outlet on Malone’s behalf. In August, Biss filed a complaint suing The Washington Post for more than $50 million over a January article about Malone’s vaccine claims.

Ruby didn't return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

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