Thousands descend on DC for anti-vaccine mandate rally

Coronavirus Vaccine

Protesters gather for an anti-vaccine rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(The Hill) — Thousands of demonstrators protesting vaccine mandates descended onto Washington, D.C., on Sunday, mostly maskless, with some sporting far-right and pro-Trump memorabilia and others drawing comparisons between the vaccine and the Holocaust.  

The Metropolitan Police Department told The Hill there have been no arrests or police reports as a result of the gathering around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial as of late Sunday afternoon. But some locals worried the crowd could devolve into chaos, with some recalling the recent anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack, which was preceded by a rally of pro-Trump supporters protesting the certification of the 2020 election, according to WUSA.

Rally organizers predicted that roughly 20,000 people would attend the event, however The Washington Post reported that a seemingly smaller crowd of a few thousand had gathered by Sunday afternoon.

According to the Post, many of the attendees sported right-wing, pro-Trump apparel. Others were reportedly screaming at people to remove their masks.

On social media, signs and imagery could be seen decrying federal health officials and prominent public figures who have pushed vaccinations.  In a video posted on Twitter, a bus could be seen with pictures of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyPresident Joe Biden‘s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and Microsoft founder Bill Gates plastered on the side with the word “WANTED” written above their faces.

Some signs appeared to call for violence against others, with one sign reading “Shoot those who try to kidnap & vaccinate your child.” Many signs referenced biblical passages and Christian figures in their protest of vaccinations.

Videos of the rally show a woman who was seen carrying a large yellow star, which was worn by Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe to identify them, while other images captured signs such as “I am not a lab rat” and “Stop the vaccine Holocaust.”

The protest takes place as most of the U.S. is currently experiencing a new wave in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant. According to health data from the CDC, the U.S. currently has a seven-day average of more than 716,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The current seven-day average for COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. has already surpassed the peak in average deaths that was seen during the delta variant surge, though it is lower than the peak in deaths that was seen before vaccines were made widely available.

This week, D.C. implemented a new rule that requires multiple types of businesses to check that patrons 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This mandate applied to restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues nightclubs. 

A host of anti-vaccine activists spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been banned from some social media platforms including Instagram for spreading false claims about vaccination.  

Robert Malone, an anti-vaccine scientist, told the crowd that it was “irrelevant” whether or not it “made sense” that vaccinations protected the “elderly and frail,” and pushed the false claim that vaccinations do not work against the virus.

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