Tara Haelle at NYT:
Renée DiResta, a researcher at Stanford, found through Twitter analysis that there was “an evolution in messaging.” The movement discovered that a focus on freedom “was more resonant with legislators and would help them actually achieve their political goals,” Ms. DiResta said to me. Anti-vaccine Twitter accounts that had been posting for years about autism and toxins pivoted to Tea Party-esque ideas, leading to the emergence of a new cluster of accounts focused on “vaccine choice” messaging, Ms. DiResta said.
At the anti-vaccine Health Freedom Summit in 2020, several anti-vaccine activists spoke. Jennifer Larson, who believes vaccination caused her child’s autism, described how she had worked to gain the trust of Minnesota legislators. She and another vaccine opponent, Mark Blaxill, had formed a political party in 2011 to run candidates who oppose vaccine mandates and “medical injury,” but the two-party system was too entrenched. So they pivoted to supporting major-party politicians who would champion their causes.
“If they say something that might be considered controversial, we have a community of people who will run to have their back and support them,” Ms. Larson said at the gathering. “If you can, get involved … Get to know them, get them to trust you.”
That became the anti-vaccine playbook across the nation. And in state after state, vaccine opponents have gradually leveraged their state and local Republican parties to their ends, riding the “freedom” wave that has become so central to party messaging today. Hence the seamless marriage between anti-vaccine activists and groups protesting mask mandates and lockdowns.