Enter the Anti-Vax Dragon's Den
The ever-talented grifters in the "alternative" health industry are looking for an infinite amount of your money
"Hello Unjected fam — it's Shelby and Heather. We're here to give you a very important message about what has transcribed at Unjected-dot-com in the last couple of days."
Speaking directly to the camera, with an assortment of crystals laid out before them, Shelby Thomson and Heather Pyle had some bad news for the fam. It turns out that an “an unscrupulous web developer” who was given a stake in the company had tried to “sabotage the site and its pioneering and courageous founders,” per the press release they had just sent out.
“We were unable to secure the code to the Unjected website,” Heather said. Shelby takes over: “What we know is that the developer may have access to your emails. However, he does not have access to all the banking information.” (The press release says this evil web developer “captured the payment processing service.”)
Not to worry, the pair told their fam, even after all that has “transcribed” they are keen to get back on their feet. With the help of a gracious benefactor from the altruistically-named “The Wellness Company,” the world’s best damn dating site for unvaccinated people would soon return to helping people find “unaltered love.”
Unjected and The Wellness Company are just two pieces of the new Wellness Industrial Complex, a well-financed effort to drag the paranoid frustrations of the pandemic anti-vaccine movement into a more permanent installation.
Welcome to Vaxi-gone Valley.
Bug-eyed and Shameless is, incredibly, a year old. Thank you so much to everyone who has subscribed, particularly those who opted to become paying subscribers. If you signed up for an annual subscription last year, your renewal is probably on the horizon. You can, of course, turn off the auto-renewal at any time. But I appreciate the hell out of everyone who continues supporting this weird little endeavor.
When I first started the newsletter, I promised myself I would give it one year, and see if it was worth it: Whether people would enjoy the newsletter, and whether it was the best use of my time.
Twelve months on, I’m happy to say it’s been a success. Read to the end of this week’s newsletter for more on year two of Bug-eyed and Shameless.
I’m a bit obsessed with the business and politics of the anti-vaccine movement.
I’ve dug into the big business of hawking overpriced junk supplements, and how it keeps the Infowars empire alive. (Dispatch #11) I looked at the emerging network of quack doctors and their mounting political influence in Alberta and Florida. (Dispatches #24 and #49) And how the anti-vaccine movement is finding new anxieties to exploit to keep followers coming back for more. (Dispatch #42)
This week, I thought we’d do a little turn through Main Street, USA (the U stands for Unvaxed) and look at a cross-section of the economy that has risen up to support the various doctors, influencers, and organizers who made their bones spreading COVID-19 misinformation.
Spoiler alert: The same names are going to keep popping up.
The Unjected dating platform is, like so many of the projects that manage to spring up in this space, a pretty organic effort. It was incorporated in mid-2021 by two moms in Hawaii. It got some earned media when Apple banned them from the app store not long after their launch.
Since then, their record has been…mixed. While the website boasts hundreds of thousands of unjected love-seekers, in reality they probably had just about 3,500 users. But the site had branched into some odd places, hawking sperm, egg, and blood donations from those who had avoided the COVID-19 vaccine. It also ran a Craigslist-style listings board, for various other anti-vaccine entrepreneurs.
It seems many of those users were will to shell out $15-per-month for that resource. Their website reports 110,000 members, but The Daily Wire — thanks to a major security flaw which allowed anyone full reign over the website — reported their internal database showed just 3,500 members. (If we assume those are the paying members, that’s about $50,000 in revenue monthly. Not bad!)
The website, before it fell victim to the founders’ disputes with their webmaster, unsurprisingly peddled some nonsense remedies for COVID-19, a variation on the Zelenko Protocol for COVID-19 prevention and treatment: Ivermectin, on top of a bunch of unnecessary supplements. Ivermectin, they write, has a “wonder drug” that was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015. “Though inappropriately slandered in the media, Ivermectin has been proven to show exponential benefit in the treatment of Covid-19.”
I won’t go on a full tangent about the proven inutility of ivermectin in treating or preventing COVID-19, except to say that not even companies that manufacture it have faith in its efficacy for treating COVID-19. But I am always amused by how anti-vaxxers oscillate between appeals to authority and the automatic distrust for any institution. The scientists who discovered the anti-parasitic drug did, in fact, win the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine. William Campbell, one of those researchers, subsequently admonished anyone trying to use his discovery for their own quack ends in the most scientist-y way possible.1
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The website recommended Chinese star anise for “shedding & complications due to injections” and pine needle tea to protect “from spike proteins.”2
It’s that bit that really set off down a rabbit hole this week. Fear of those spike proteins is, increasingly, the defining pseudo-scientific fear of this evolving anti-vaccine movement.
Let’s just get a bit of the (rudimentary) science out of the way. The actual spike protein in SARS-CoV2, the thing that allows it to infect healthy cells and cause COVID-19, is a problem. And, indeed, there’s some research, although it is not yet conclusive, suggesting that long COVID is caused by lingering spike proteins in the body.
But these folks are considerably more obsessed with the spike protein in the mRNA vaccines. One claim, promoted by the Unjected crew, claims “in vaccinated males the sperm has been completely replaced by the spike protein of the COVID syringe!” In essence, they argue that copies of the spike protein delivered by the messenger RNA have some magical property to alter your DNA and fundamentally change your biology. I know, if you’ve read this far, you know that’s wrong. But these claims fundamentally, perhaps purposefully, misunderstand how the vaccines work. Even scientists who take a more skeptical view of the vaccination campaign say they simply do not have evidence that the vaccines cause anything more than rare, milder, complications akin to those caused by contracting the virus itself.
But, of course, if you’ve been plugged into the COVID-19 misinformation machine for the past three years, you have been indoctrinated into a nearly-religious belief system. And this is precisely why Unjected existed: To bring together people who follow the same influencers, listen to the same podcasts, and cannot tolerate being around people who refuse to validate their faulty research.
On the Unjected Show (because of course there’s a podcast), Heather and Shelby — and some like-minded quacks — take calls and dish out the pseudoscience.
On one show, a 25-year-old calls in with a problem. “I got a really bad case of COVID last year,” he says. “Since then I’ve had a lot of sluggishness.”
One of their guests, a pharmacist, fields the caller’s question. “I really believe that the really most potent thing you can do is a fasting protocol,” he says. Sometimes the best thing to do is to skip eating for a day or two, he opines. “But the second thing you have to do, is you have to add some products.” On the screen appears a bottle of “Spike Support” offered by The Wellness Company.
The Wellne$$ Company
Unjected is coming back, they are excited to announce, thanks to the enthusiastic support of Foster Coulson, founder of The Wellness Company.
Coulson, in the Unjected press release, lays pretty clear his goal: “Health sovereignty through a true parallel system.”
The company is a one-stop-shop for all your anti-vaccine needs. You can order a vaccine exemption letter for just $250, or get your vaccine injury diagnosed for just $75-per-visit. You can “get back to that pre-COVID feeling” by buying a $65.99 bottle of “Spike Support Formula.”
Before you can actually buy the formula, you’re greeted by a video of a lecture from Dr. Peter McCullough. “This spike protein is a killer,” he warns in the video. And it’s the vaccines that are responsible, he insists. The only cure? The Wellness Company’s Spike Support Formula.
It’s impossible to say just how much money is being made in sales of this magical elixir. But Alex Jones as taught us that there are billions of dollars in this fear-based pseudo-scientific supplement business.
The Wellness Company has some smart folks behind it, too. Its founder, Foster Coulson, comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs from Port Alberni, British Columbia. The family business is aviation, firefighting, forestry, and hospitality, mostly around Vancouver Island. And now, apparently, wellness products. (Strangely, however, I can’t find any corporate registration for the company, in either the U.S. or Canada. Strange.)
The snake oil is mostly mix of Selenium and homeopathic nonsense that you could assemble yourself through Amazon for less than half the price.3 But the secret ingredient is nattokinaise, an enzyme isolated from a Japanese soybean paste. To back up their absurd claims, they have a single study which shows the enzyme works in breaking down COVID-19 in a cell culture in a lab. It has never been tested on humans. And, what’s more, the fundamental thing they’re working to cure is nonsense: They’re using this soybean paste enzyme to treat these imagined spike proteins that, except in rare cases, are no longer in the person’s body.
But these good doctors aren’t greedy. That’s why they're offering helpful membership: For just $9.99 per month, you can get sweet discounts on the store or, better yet, for the low-low price of $199 per month, you can get unlimited virtual care from The Wellness Company’s expert team of experts.
Experts in starting new wellness companies, that is.
The board and leadership team for the Company includes Peter McCullough, a cardiologist who is involved in every major anti-vaccine company; and Paul Alexander, fired from the White House COVID-19 task force for advocating a genocidal herd immunity strategy.
Because the broad anti-vaccine movement is an inherently and fundamentally a mission-driven movement — that is, they believe themselves to be right, moral, and good — they can justify some seriously scuzzy behavior.
Take their relationship with various like-minded media outlets. The Wellness Company advertises with a raft of anti-vaccine, conspiratorial, and far right news sites: The Daily Clout, The Gateway Pundit, The Rebel, and The Epoch Times, for starters.
In each of those cases, the websites run obsequious content about The Wellness Company. Only sometimes marked as sponsored content, they gush about the snake oil salesmen and their quack doctors. The Daily Clout publishes videos about “Legendary Dr. Peter McCullough on Global Medical Corruption,” alongside a code for 10% off at The Wellness Company. The Gateway Pundit runs articles masquerading as news which contain testimonials for their spike support elixir. The Toronto-based Rebel, who at least marks the content as sponsored, runs actual fake news from the company with headlines like “The Liberal Party Wants You Barred from Public Spaces If Unvaccinated.” (“The good news is there’s a new company to help you stand against this medical tyranny and redefine health care in Canada.”)
So much of this is based in fear. Sponsored content on The Rebel warns: “Dr. McCullough on Communist China's latest bioweapon — how you can stay safe.” The ‘how’ is, of course, The Wellness Company’s magic beans.
This is how the symbiotic relationship works. When Infowars does it, at least it’s an in-house vendor. Here, you’ve got notionally independent news organizations (I use that term with some eye-rolling) trading advertising dollars for effusive coverage of a company and its troublesome leadership. What’s more, it is a set of media outlets who cannot stop squawking about the media’s supposed love affair with big pharma.
“Physician,” heal thyself.
There is, as we know, a growing industry of far-right, conspiratorial, and anti-vaccine media outlets.
But I simply haven’t seen the growth that I expected to see from those platforms. An explanation isn’t hard to come up with: They’re garbage. Few outlets have managed to staff a newsroom that can reasonable attract quality writers, researchers, and editors. The ones that can, The Epoch Times for example, have seemingly found more success by diversifying out from a traditional news outlet — or, at least, pretending to be one.
The Times has done particularly well with its feature-length documentaries and by turning itself, functionally, into a lobbying organization. They are actively and enthusiastically behind Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s unhinged run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Where the real growth in this space is, however, is on the influencer level.
Drew Pinsky — a.k.a Dr. Drew — had been a prominent radio host and TV quack, in the style of the grotesque faux-medical industry of Dr. Phil and The Doctors, begat to us by Oprah. Despite going all-in on COVID-19 misinformation, Pinsky has managed to keep his allure as a supposedly-reputable doctor. He was on second two of The Masked Singer, for crissakes.
With 148,000 subscribers on Youtube alone, nearly 100,000 on Tiktok, and more than 200,000 on Rumble, Pinsky has cultivated a pretty significant following. Earlier this spring, he had on Dr. Robert Malone, who credits himself with inventing the mRNA vaccine technology and now warns of its supposed dangers. (A significant chorus of scientists have painstakingly dismantled his claims.) Dr. Drew and Dr. Malone had a friendly chat about how the pandemic and vaccine rollout were all a “psyop.” Over the conversation, Malone implies Anthony Fauci may have intentionally released HIV in order to get grant money. Normal stuff.
The Dr. Drew show: Sponsored by The Wellness Company.
Malone has a remarkably successful Substack: Over 300,000 subscribers, tens of thousands of them paying. Bryam Bridle, a Canadian veterinarian who became a recent anti-vaccine rock star by showing up at the Freedom Convoy occupation of Ottawa, also runs a Substack with tens of thousands of subscribers.
Steve Kirsch, a former Silicon Valley executive, boasts over 200,000 subscribers to his Substack newsletter, blasting them with such confidently incorrect takes as “vaccines cause autism.” His takes, with all the trappings of real scientific rigour, often just ignore the fact that the scientific literature blows away his arguments. So he claims a coverup (“nearly all the world's autism experts know it. They just can't talk about it”) and makes sweeping declarations (“it’s unambiguous”) to convince his readers they have been lied to. Kirsch uses his Substack to point readers to the Vaccine Safety Research Foundation, which sells merch and begs for donations.
On the board of Kirsch’s foundation is the same cast of characters we keep encountering: Robert Malone, Peter McCullough, Bryam Bridle, and others.
The anti-vaccine hordes love to allege an infinite conspiracy to hawk dangerous medical experiments: From the virologists who developed COVID-19 and released to the world, to the political leaders who approved it, to the public health officials who went along with it, to the drug companies who profited from it, to the doctors who recommended the dangerous treatment. It is a plot of endless evil, cunningness, and efficacy.
And the only ones who could possibly stop it are a small gaggle of iconoclasts — a cardiologist, McCullough; a disgruntled biochemist, Malone; a veterinarian, Bridle; a tech executive, Kirsch; and their kinfolk.
These vaccine naysayers have traded on their credentials, as ill-suited as they are to discussing this virus and these vaccines, and made themselves endlessly available. The result is their near-ubiquity in anti-vaccine circles, and their remarkable industriousness in the ‘pureblood’ entrepreneurial space.
Outlets like Unjected and The Wellness Company are efforts to funnel money into this emerging market, and people like McCullough and Kirsch are there to catch the coins as they fall. Like anti-vax Plinko.
McCullough, for example, is the the director of no fewer than seven corporations: His own foundation, Kirsch’s non-profit, Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency, a real estate company, a consulting company, and CounterJab LLC. (It seems the latter company is a podcast that never really got off the ground. But the first episode featured a senior editor at The Epoch Times.)
For McCullough, his anti-vaccine turn is particularly rich considering he was part of exactly the shadiest elements of big pharma that he now rails against. Prior to the pandemic, he was billing tens of thousands of dollars a year to Astrazeneca, Janssen, and Merck, amongst others, to promote their new drugs.
It would be wrong to say that these guys are motivated exclusively by money. I think we have to face the reality that doctors and researchers, like any profession, have their own share of disgruntled practitioners, motivated more by ego than logic. They use their knowledge of biology and health to convince themselves — and others — that the established narrative, made possible by tens of thousands of experts working in a competitive and collaborative system, is faulty.
To do so, they need a system that elevates their own expertise, credentials, and impact whilst also giving the illusion of growth and momentum. The easiest way to do that is to generate revenue. The more dollars a movement can generate, the more people crowd into that movement, and the more existing enterprises pivot to capture that energy.
And if these guys get filthy rich along the way? Hey, that ain’t so bad.
Now that this machine is running, it won’t switch off. It will continue running off the fumes of the COVID-19 vaccine panic for as long as possible. But it will find a new invented fear to latch itself onto in the near future.
That’s it for this week!
I’ve been a bit MIA recently, under the weight of a stack of deadlines, dealing with a bit of mid-spring burnout, and facing a cyclical desire to be not-online.
Like I’ve been talking about in recent months, I’ve got some projects I’d like to launch through this newsletter — including an experimental podcast. I hope to make some progress on that front over the summer.
I’m also keen to hear what interests you: Are there topics you’d like to see explored in greater depth? Something I touched on in a previous dispatch that could use better investigating? A phenomenon I’ve not broached yet? Book recommendations?
I’m going to open a thread in the subscriber chat, so feel free to pop any ideas in there, or in the comments here.
Until next week!
“I utterly despise and deny the remarks attributed to me on social media on September 8, 2021. I reject both the substance and the tone of the remarks, and resent their presentation as a direct quotation. The tweet in question was not concerned with science. I am a biologist with no claim to expertise in the clinical evaluation of drugs against viral infections. Thus, I have not taken a stand in support of, or against, the efficacy of ivermectin against COVID-19.“
Every paragraph comes with the helpful CYA legal caveat: “*This is not Medical Advice and we recommend you always speak to your medical doctor or licensed professional.”
The Wellness Company store claims that buying each ingredient separately would run you over $100, but doing so would leave you with approximately five times the ingredients as this total scam.