Organizers are supposedly expecting thousands of protesters for an anti-vaccine mandate rally in Washington, D.C. this weekend, NBC News reports, a sign that the vaccination resistance "that gained traction on social media during the pandemic is spilling even further into politics and real life."
The rally, largely organized in Facebook group "Defeat the Mandates DC" and on some internet forums, has raised at least $200,000 in crowdfunding, per NBC News. The Facebook group itself has also grown in size within the last week. Leaders say they are expecting "tens of thousands of attendees" to begin protesting at the Washington Monument at 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.
Though the rally has been marketed as anti-mandate — not explicitly anti-vax — "organizers on Facebook have been quick to promote their links with anti-vaccine organizations," including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Children's Health Defense fund, who filed the permit for the event. Researcher Kolina Koltai told NBC News this presumably purposeful lack of big, bold anti-vax language is intended to subvert censorship on social media platforms and garner more support.
"As policies have changed on Facebook, we've seen anti-vaccine groups rebrand to 'pro-medical freedom' or 'pro-choice,'" Koltai said. "They're using terms that they know are not going to get censored."
Futhermore, the event's scheduled speakers include Dr. Robert Malone, "a virologist who has recently emerged as a new leader of the anti-vaccination movement after appearing on Joe Rogan's podcast in December," NBC News writes. Malone has insisted the rally is solely intended to decry mandates.
In any event, the rally should bring together some of the "most high-profile anti-vaccine activists," NBC News notes, per Koltai.
"It's a who's who of grifters and people who made a profit off the pandemic," she said. Read more at NBC News.