antivaxx movement in the US – unless that’s Robert Kennedy jr. – and certainly a recognized vaccine misinformation superspreader, Delores Matthew Bigtree is a champion of misinformation-based FUD techniques to contradict facts and consensus about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Bigtree first rose to prominence as producer of the infamous conspiracy flick Vaxxed, for which he teamed up with Andrew Wakefield. Prior to that, he was a producer for Dr. Phil and The Doctors, which he claims to be the “best medical talk show in the world” because it featured woo and vaccine skeptics who agrees with Bigtree. Bigtree, who calls himself a “medical journalist” is not a scientist and has no credentials or background whatsoever in any scientific field, which of course doesn’t prevent him from lecturing pediatricians and others who, contrary to him, know the basics of medicine, to “learn to read,” to “learn to diagnose vaccine injuries,” to stop being “morons”. There is a succinct portrait of Bigtree here.
Like most antivaccine activists and conspiracy theorists, Bigtree likes to try to denythat he is anti-vaccine (a variant of the but-head gambit) but “pro-safe-vaccine”, while running massive misinformation campaigns and promoting virtually all the familiar talking points, denialist tactics and conspiracy theory gambits to try to undermine public trust in the well-documented safety and efficacy of vaccines. Unfortunately, the media repeatedly falls for the tactic, and gives him, for balance fallacy reasons, interviews where he is labeled “vaccine skeptic” or “controversial” instead of the more accurate “unhinged antivaccine conspiracy theorist”. According to Bigtree, the question he is really focusing on is: “When we say vaccines are safe, how do we determine that?” Well, there are clear and available answers to that question. He is not really interested in the answer. And that’s precisely what makes him anti-vaccine and not merely ‘pro-safe vaccine’.
Meanwhile, he expresses unconditional support for parents who killed their child through medical neglect because those parents were also antivaccine.
Vaers and anti-vaccine PRATTs
Among his large repertoire of antivaccine PRATTs you’ll find blaming vaccines for increased infant mortality in the U.S., the non-existent rise – he’s not just confusing correlation and causation: there is no correlation – in developmental disorders (Bigtree has claimed that there was no autism prior to 1938/1944) and in chronic illness in children (a common lie among anti-vaxxers), misrepresenting scientists and lying about what they said, asking why we are worried about the unvaccinated if vaccines work, claiming that herd immunity is a myth, claiming that safety trials for vaccines are a joke (they are most certainly not) and – but of course – misusing the VAERS database, claiming without any indication of evidence that VAERS is under-reported by more than 99% and using this number to re-calculate some VAERS data to suggest that adverse reactions in all categories, such as deaths and hospitalizations, are “in the ballpark of” 100 times higher than reported. In reality, serious conditions are vastly over-reported to VAERS. Now, Bigtree has of course been confronted with his misuse of the VAERS database, and has even been forced to admit on camera that he lies and distorts the information from VAERS. He also tries to argue that famous people who demonstrably did not die from vaccines because we know how they died, died from vaccines.
Indeed, Bigtree seems to have promoted versions of the majority of the more common antivaccine gambits – at least among those that can be semi-coherently expressed. Of course, given that he has no expertise or background in science or medicine, he tends to get even basic facts wrong. He has for instance also claimed that vaccines are a medical experiment and that it is a direct violation of the Nuremberg code, which is extremely silly and historically wrong. Here is a discussion of the misunderstandings he relies on in order to question the studies used to license the MMR vaccine. And like all antivaxxers, Bigtree has to rely on conspiracy theories to fill the gaps in his arguments: since childhood vaccines do not contain mercury, for instance, Bigree appeals to hidden ingredients.
Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, produced by Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield, was marketed as a “whistleblower film”. It missed the whistleblowers – Andrew Wakefield doesn’t count – but was instead a standard “… propaganda film by a known scientific fraud whose UK medical license was revoked featuring a viewpoint trumpeting a long-discredited idea that MMR causes autism grafted onto a conspiracy theory about the CDC ‘covering up’ the evidence that vaccines cause autism that has no basis in fact …” It did attempt to capitalize on what antivaxxers refer to as “the CDC whistleblower controversy”, a misleading characterization of what happened that doesn’t remotely match the facts, but a lie that could be said to be the one on which Del Bigtree built his career. There are brief and evenhanded reviews of the movie here and here, a somewhat more comprehensive one here, and a very comprehensive review here. Since the latter review does the job better than we could or have the space to do, we will just encourage you to check it out.
The conspiracy flick was initially chosen by antivaccine loon Robert De Niro for screening at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, but was dropped when the organizers realized it would put the festival in a bad light. Antivaxxers reacted to that with the fully expected nonsense, with cries of “censorship” being among the less lunatic (Mike Adams, for instance, tried to claim that – literally – the nazis must have been behind the decision as part of an effort to promote the nazi depopulation agenda).
Bigtree has suggested that God made him make the movie. Given his skill at tailoring his message to his audiences, the claim tells you more about his audiences than about him. He is also the producer of a sequel, VAXXED II: The People’s Truth.
Bigtree is tireless. He gives an impressive number of talks, focusing to a large extent on various conspiracy theory conferences like AutismOne (a report on his 2019 appearance here, the Red Pill Expo (notable mostly for truther conspiracy theories), the Vaccine Injury Epidemic event (a report on his appearance here, and the even more insane chiropractic conference “Freedom for Family Wellness 2018 Summit Washington, D.C.”. Here is a report from the antivaccine quackfest One Conversation (where Bigtree emphasized his expertise and authority by citing his work as a producer on the The Doctors TV show, before running through all of the usual antivaccine nonsense tropes). Hereis a report on his appearance at VAXCON21, an event organized by the Chiropractic Society of Wisconsin. He also shows up at virtually every national antivaccine rally or demonstration, such as the rather feeble Revolution for Truth march on Washington.
Moreover, he lends his “authority” to virtually every other antivaxx organization, such as Informed Choice Washington, for which he stated, in a video, that the CDC knows that flu vaccines during pregnancy causes abortion but hides it. Flu vaccines during pregnancy do not cause abortion, and the CDC does not hide studies, as opposed to Bigtree, who neglects to mention the existence of any study whose results don’t line up with what he wants the results to be.
Of particular note are his efforts to promote antivaccine conspiracy theories to orthodox Jewish communities in New York that had already experienced severe outbreaks of measles [there’s a fact check of Bigtree’s claims in the link]. As usual, Bigtree skilfully targeted his message, in this case focusing on the narrative that all humans are born perfect and that the Earth is designed to take care of us without pharmaceutical interventions – in addition to the usual litany of antivaccine misinformation, including claiming that the measles vaccine is causing measles because a percentage of measles patients are vaccinated (yes, it’s that basic numbers game, and Bigtree probably knows it but assumes that a sufficient number of his listeners don’t). Also notable are Bigtree's joint efforts with the extremist conspiracy group Nation of Islam to promote antivaccine misinformation in Black communities. More recently, Bigtree has teamed up with Qanon promoters, e.g at the 2020 conspiracyfest AMPFest.
Off stage, he tends to walk around government buildings hoping to sway lawmakers. For instance, when President Trump set up a meeting between prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the NIH in 2017, Bigtree was there, too, to pepper officials with dumb and annoying questions. Prior to that, in 2017, Bigtree and a couple of other antivaccine nutters met with Jason Chaffetz to discuss their proposals for instance that “the power to police vaccine safety is taken away from the CDC” and rather given to “vaccine safety advocates” like themselves, and to repeal the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which antivaxxers (and especially their lawyers) hate. He is also involved in many antivaccine activist efforts to disrupt committee meetings on immunization policies and inundate participating politicians and scientists with inane questions and talking points.
And yes: He is tireless. Here, for instance, is a roundup of his 2016 efforts to talk to state legislators in Michigan – he seems to have been most successful, not surprisingly, with certified conspiracy theorist, wingnut and antivaxxer Tom Hooker.
Bigtree is the founder and CEO of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), an anti-vaccine advocacy group that currently functions as the legal and propaganda arm of his antivaccine empire, and which is very much focused on consent and equally much opposed to informed. The group putatively supports science-based inquiry, but only to the extents that such inquiry yields the results they have already decided should be the results. ICAN hosts a weekly video broadcast of misinformation called The Highwire, which apparently garners tens of thousands of views (here is an example of their work). HighWire’s Facebook page also promotes Bigtree’s media appearances on Infowars.
The main goal for ICAN is, as Bigtree puts it, to find out what the government is hiding from the American consumer. From 2016 to 2017, they spent more than $670,000 on legal fees associated with Freedom of Information Act lawsuits intended primarily to harass scientists and people working for government institutions.
According to themselves, they scored a major hit in 2018 by forcing the government to submit to a FOIA that, according to Bigtree, revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services had failed to comply with a 1986 law mandating it meet with Congress every two years to brief them on vaccine safety. Apparently that shows that vaccines are somehow bunk and that the HHS, since they failed to immediately find the reports, had skirted the law for 30 years. Reality, of course, resists Bigtree’s spin. First, the reports were actually required within two years of the law’s implementation, not every two years, as Bigtree believed, and they were indeed procured and are indeed public (here and here if you wish). That, really, was all of it. No seriously. And they spun it for years.
But then, spinning nothing to make it look like victories is the core of ICAN’s game. In 2021, ICAN claimed that “The CDC Finally Capitulated To ICAN’s Legal Demands and Removed the Claim that ‘Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism’ From Its Website!”. And here is what really happened (hint, the CDC absolutely did not at all remove the accurate piece of information that vaccines do not cause autism from their website, despite ICAN’s idiotic attempt to waste the CDC’s time – they changed one headline … and then they apparently changed it back a few hours later, possibly because they were tired of the utterly idiotic spins by crackpot organizations like ICAN; here is the page in question.) Here is a discussion of ICAN’s 2019 attempt to show a FDA coverup of problems with vaccines prior to licensing. Bigtree has to lie through his teeth to make his claim, but make it he does.
Another main goal of ICAN is to promote non-medical vaccine exemptions in public schools and various forms of vaccine hysteria, including the thoroughly falsified notion that vaccines have a causative role in autism (currently, it’s usually the “aluminum adjuvants” – even for hardcore antivaxxers mercury doesn’t really work as a scapegoat any more; Bigtree doesn’t seem to quite have managed to let it go, though). According to Bigtree, campaigning against school mandates is important because “School is all about the development of their brain, the development of their mind. That’s what school is for. And you look at one of the major side effects of these vaccines is destruction of the brain, destruction of the mind. So yes, you’ve got your child in school, but they’re not thriving there because you’ve injured their brain with a vaccine.” But he doesn’t like to be called “anti-vaccine”, cause that looks bad. He does emphasize that antivaccine advocates must take the high road, though, and rather ambush lawmakers and stalk them when they don’t want to talk to you.
Indeed, much of ICAN’s efforts go into attempts to harass doctors and others who speak out in favor of vaccines, including parents who have lost their children for various reasons (antivaxxers tend to blame such tragedies, regardless of their nature, on vaccines, and thus use them to blame the parents for vaccinating their children, like this).
ICAN is largely financially supported by Bernard and Lisa Selz through their Selz Foundation, which by 2019 had donated more than $3 million to anti-vaxx causes, in addition to $200 000 to Andrew Wakefield's legal defense. (The Selzes also funded Vaxxed through the AMC Foundation.)
ICAN is affiliated with the law firm Siri & Glimstad LLP, which has worked hard (especially lawyer Aaron Siri) to intimidate organizations that consider vaccinations as a requirement for employees.
In 2019, Bigtree was sworn in as “Commissioner for the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Weaponisation of the Biosphere” for the absolutely insane New Age conspiracy group “The International Tribunal for Natural Justice” together with G. Edward Griffin, Sue Grey, Hulda-Clark-wannabe Sandra Rose Michael and Robert O. Young, no less. Yeah, that’s the kind of company in which he belongs.
A lot of Bigtree’s misconceptions about vaccines were laid out in a letter he sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in which he detailed his “concerns” over “vaccine safety”, including the tired and nonsensical “too many too soon” gambit, appeals to the purported lack of double-blind placebo studies (he has no science background, remember), some VAERS dumpster diving to falsely bolster the number of vaccine injuries, and demanding that the vaccine committees be replaced with “vaccine safety advocates” (i.e. antivaxxers). He also threatened the HHS with a civil suit if they didn’t comply with his nonsensical and conspiracy-theory-fueled demands. Though Dr. Melinda Wharton, the director of the National Vaccine Program Office, responded with a rather good slapdown, it is disconcerting to see that Bigtree is taken seriously enough to be judged worth responding to. There is a discussion of the letter and Wharton’s response here. Not content with the reply, partially because it cited facts he does not like because they don’t fit the narrative he wants to tell, Bigtree wrote a follow-up. It’s just as ridiculous, and discussed here.
Like many denialists and conspiracy theorists, Bigtree enjoys a vast martyr- and persecution complex. For there is a vast conspiracy out there: the “pharmaceutical industry is coming after you”, says Bigtree, and unless antivaxxers unite and speak up, they will get the right to “forced vaccination” of every US adult.
For instance, he complained about being “99% censored” by ABC World News Tonight when they failed to show the entirety of their interview with him. The reason is presumably because, according to Bigtree and no shred of evidence whatsoever, “all of television” has been bought out by the pharmaceutical industry.
And of course, people who criticize him – like most people who are aware of and care about facts and evidence here – are just like Nazis. In March 2019, after a speech on the alleged dangers of government mandated vaccines, Bigtree brandished the Star of David because requiring vaccines in public schools is exactly like putting you in death camps because of what ethnic group you belong to. After being condemned by groups that for very good reasons found the comparison tasteless, he refused to apologize, saying that “honestly, I was doing what I thought I was raised to do, which was stand up for minorities” – how comparing genocide to his own wish not to be vaccinated is a matter of standing up for minorities is … unclear, and that he thinks it is, is telling.
Antivaxxers in general can’t seem to be able to refrain from employing that rhetorical tool, no matter how idiotic and tasteless it is (and how appropriately lunatic it makes them look). Apparently the issue that merits the comparison is governments somehow taking away “choice”, “privacy” and “control” over bodies; like most antivaxxers Bigtree’s extreme narcissism renders him unable to distinguish between the choices he makes for himself and the choices he imposes on others (like children). In his own words:
“…but now we’re watching the most powerful lobby in the country and in the world poisoning our children. And our government is helping them. What are we going to do about it? We have the power. But we have got to stop being afraid to talk about it. […] I can imagine those same conversations were happening in Nazi Germany among the Jewish people. Let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to bring it into my reality. It’s still 20 miles away. I’m still allowed in this theater, not that one. All I have to get is this little star. All I have to do is to sign this little thing saying that I’m not going to vaccinate because I think they’re dangerous – and they are dangerous. I’m just going to sign this paper. I’m going to let them put me in a log. At some point, they have gone too far.
[…]Anyone who believes in the right to bear arms. To stand up against your government. I don’t know what you were saving that gun for then. I don’t know when you planned on using it if they were going to take control of your own body away. It’s now. Now’s the time.”
Bigtree has also supported comparisons of vaccines to rape, slavery, apartheid and human trafficking. By contrast, he has likened himself to the Founding Fathers, leading the charge against the tyranny of mandatory vaccinations.
Bigtree has consistently and repeatedly spread COVID misinformation and fear-mongering about the coronavirus vaccine.
He has, for instance, been a central proponent (with Joe Mercola) of the the myth of the “casedemic”, according to which the massive increase in COVID-19 cases being reported in 2020 was an artifact of increased PCR testing and false positives. He was also a major proponent of “catch this cold” right away to get it over with, since COVID-19 is not dangerous except to those who deserve to be endangered, such as people with chronic conditions or other lazy ‘useless eaters’ – victim blaming is rather typical of antivaccine activists. (Bigtree has been admirably forthright about the sentiment, explicitly arguing that we should just use natural selection like caribou: the “sick get eaten by the wolves. That’s how we’ve thrived.”)
Of course, conspiracy theories are crucial to Bigtree’s message on COVID: the government and the media are lying to you because they are purportedly in the pockets of “big pharma.” “CDC and FDA really like to hide facts,” claims Bigtree, because they don’t treat his misunderstanding and the various conspiracy theories he has picked up on dingbat websites as facts. He was also an early proponent of the idea that there’s a “global agenda” motivated by money and led by Dr. Fauci to force a vaccines on everyone in the world. Early in the pandemic, Bigtree also claimed that scientists’ concern about specific viruses is irrational because there are millions of viruses and bacteria, and declared the attempt to find vaccines “stupid”. No, he doesn’t understand – or at least his intended target audience doesn’t understand – how any of this works. There’s a decent analysis of his rhetoric from early in the pandemic here.
Meanwhile, Bigtree and ICAN have been waging a rather comprehensive legalistic war on state health departments’ efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccination based on attacking them for “false advertising”.
Currently, Bigtree is trying to use the political polarization surrounding COVID responses in the US to recruit new people to the antivaccine movement, with more than a little success.
Bigtree is the son of Jack Groverland, minister emeritus at Unity of Boulder, and grew up unvaccinated because his parents thought vaccines were against God since our bodies were designed by God to thrive. He has also been involved in GMO fearmongering.
Oh, and then there is this episode.
Diagnosis: We’ve just scratched the surface. Del Bigtree is tireless and productive, and he is good at what he’s doing – which, of course, is how he’s become one of the absolute leaders in the antivaccine movement. A serious threat to civilization and human welfare.