Everyone remembers Kellyanne Conway, Senior Counselor to the President in the Trump administration and previously campaign manager, famous e.g. for popularizing the phrase ‘alternative facts’. Now, Conway said a lot of dumb and strange things, but as an official Trump spokesperson tasked with trying to defend whatever nonsense falling out of Trump’s mouth, it is hard to see how she could have avoided that. It is nevertheless worth noting that Conway said some weird things also before joining Trump’s team: In 2012, for instance, she tried to support Todd Akin after Akin famously made a complete fool of himself in a notoriously striking manner. We’ll just note her name and move on.
We can’t, by contrast, overlook Larry Cook. Cook is the founder of the Stop Mandatory Vaccination Facebook group, participant at the 2016 Conspira-Sea Cruise and something of a hero of the antivaccine movement, as well as one of the movement’s most certifiably insane members. Now, Cook has no medical background whatsoever. Instead, Cook has a BA in video production and photography, and he spent some years developing magazines on “natural living” and self-publishing a book about ADHD (presumably not recommended) before becoming the Executive Director of the California Naturopathic Doctors Association (Cook’s background made him as good a fit as any), a position he held for four years before resigning to devote his time to “educating” folks about vaccines on social media: “I believe my mission is to educate as many parents and others as possible about the dangers of vaccination [vaccines are not dangerous], the lack of efficacy of vaccination [false, of course], and why natural immunity is superior to vaccination [profoundly silly in a dizzying number of ways],” says Larry Cook.
His Stop Mandatory Vaccination Facebook page apparently reached a total membership of some 360 000 people before Facebook took action; the group got closed down in November 2020 (together with his Twitter account). The facebook page was a hub of wild-eyed conspiracy theories – much QAnon stuff and COVID misinformation in its later phases – and received some media attention when a four-year-old boy died after her mother had taken advice regarding the flu from the group rather than from nice people with genuine knowledge of how things work (the group recommended avoiding Tamiflu, which had been prescribed to the child, and instead recommended using ineffective nonsense naturopath bullshit such as breastmilk, thyme, and elderberry). It also got some attention for its violent rhetoric, threats and harassment campaigns (also this).
The group was also a major source of targeted anti-vaccine Facebook ads, and according to an NBC analysis, Cook’s group was – and might remain – one of three major sources of false claims on vaccination shared on the internet, the others being the fake news site NaturalNews and the Children’s Health Defense. After the Facebook closure, Cook apparently created a website specifically about COVID-19, Qanon and parenting, though it doesn’t seem to have enjoyed the same level of success.
To support his campaigns, Cook raised over $100,000 through multiple GoFundMe campaigns before GoFundMe banned him. He also receives significant funding from his own Amazon storefront, where he promotes anti-vaccine books (like his own The Beginner’s Guide to Natural Living) and films and takes a cut of the sales (usually undisclosed), and raises an unknown amount through his website, where he accepts donations through PayPal that “go directly to me”. “I and I alone decide how to use the funds,” says his website, but some of the money has funded anti-vaccine ads, advocacy and “secret projects”. He has also planned launching a dating site for people with anti-vaccine views.
Cook’s other group, the Medical Freedom Patriots, is explicitly rightwing and trying to mobilize a far-right target audience, reflecting the general political tendency of the antivaccine movement (also this).
Cook’s views are extreme even by anti-vaccine standards. According to Cook, vaccines are a “200 year old mistake”; they are not only “filled with poison” (false) but are also “unnecessary” (false) because they “do not work” (false). But what about disease outbreaks, you may ask? According to Cook, disease outbreaks don’t really exist: disease outbreaks are a “manufactured problem” the idea that news about epidemics are manufactured by governments to incite people to vaccinate was a mainstay on his Facebook page, as were claims that the public health measures taken to minimize the impact of COVID were aimed at preparing mass forced vaccination or that the 1918 flu epidemic was caused by vaccines). As for dangers, Cook is quick to remind us that “any vaccine given at any age can maim or kill, and often does. There is NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE VACCINE”; at least Cook doesn’t even attempt to pull the “I am not antivaccine but pro-safe vaccine” gambit most antivaxxers favor. And of course there are conspiracies all the way down in order to, as Cook puts it, “cover up” the stories of all the children who die after being vaccinated; it’s “a medical mafia conspiracy.” Members of the conspiracy apparently include everyone who disagrees with him or who correctly believes that vaccines are safe and effective. According to Cook, vaccines are also to blame for mass shootings.
More recently, Cook has red-pilled on QAnon, as he admitted in a 2020 interview where he appeared flanked by a giant Q in one corner and an American flag with the QAnon hashtag #WWG1WGA in the other. In the interview, Cook described how QAnon gave him a context for his distrust of mainstream medicine and his sense of being persecuted and silenced: “When you wrap your head around the idea that it’s the deep state that is facilitating the vaccine mandates,” he said, “all of a sudden it makes complete sense.” It doesn’t, of course, but Cook’s mind has never cared much about sense. Indeed, mandatory vaccinations is an expression of the deep state’s “luciferian” agenda of “controlling everyone on the planet;” they’re “all part of the deep-state plan,” since “when you inject poison into someone, you can incapacitate them very quickly, especially if you’re doing it at birth … as soon as a soul comes in – incarnates.” Vaccinating children is in fact a “deliberate assault designed to suppress their consciousness, designed to shut off their connection to God.” Combatting vaccine mandates is, as such, just one part of the battle to “take the deep state down completely”.
A consequence of Cook’s redpilling is that his campaigns have become more overtly political, since “Democrats are lockstep with the deep state”, and Cook’s “role is to educate the rest of humanity . . . who’s on the side of justice and truth and who’s on the side of God”, the latter being primarily Trump and the “Q Team.” In accordance with his own self image, his fight has become one of epic proportions: “You shut down the deep state and we can have heaven on Earth,” says Cook.
COVID is part of the same satanic deep state plot: “It’s a plandemic,” says Cook: “It was planned, it’s a false flag … Q would say these people are sick. They want complete control of our planet … And if that means killing … millions of people, they could care less.”
During the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, Cook predictably used his social media channels to try to spread massive amounts of misinformation about that disease, too.
And with anti-vaccine nonsense comes quackery. Cook’s 2023-updated “vaccine injury treatment guide” (on “how to help their children who are vaccine injured, have ADD/ADHD or autism, or have other issues related to vaccine injury or similar concerns”) provides a fair overview of Cook’s commitment to insane quackery. It is discussed here. The recommendations include, in addition to a number of claims about nutrition that are unlikely to be harmful but won’t do shit for any of the things Cook recommends you use it for:
- DETOX using zeolite based Pure Body Extra (cell detox / full body) and Pure Body (gut detox). Cook provides links for purchasing the products. He doesn’t state whether or not he receives kickbacks. The products are hideously expensive and pure quackery, but parents in difficult situations are easy targets for such scams.
- Mild Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment; but of course: quacks love hyperbaric oxygen, and it does nothing to target what quacks, including Cook, claim that it targets.
- Autism biomed quackery. According to Cook, “[f]or the most part, autism is extreme vaccine injury” (it demonstrably is not, and his recommendations include, among other nonsensical ideas, “chelation therapy to remove heavy metals,” and “B12 and glutathione injections to help repair detoxification pathways”.
- CEASE Therapy, which is absolute insanity but according to Cook, a “highly effective and all natural homeopathic detoxification”; also “I just want to remind you again to replace the word ‘autism’ with ‘vaccine injury’ because it is very important to recognize that autism, in most cases, is in fact, extreme vaccine injury.”
Of course, Cook also recommends that you avoid conventional medicine, which he thinks is mostly a scam and at best designed to manage symptoms, not treat the “root cause”, which is nonsense but a common quack talking point and also somewhat ironical given that e.g. homeopathy explicitly denies there being root causes underlying the symptoms they claim their pseudoreligious not-even-alchemy will be useful in treating. The most disturbing element of Cook’s guide, however, is his instructions on what to do after a child dies – which they might if you follow Cook’s recommendations (heck, Cook has promoted Kerri Rivera and MMS! – with strategies designed to find a way to blame vaccines, including strategies to try to falsely blame deaths from “shaken baby syndrome” or SIDS on vaccines.
The extreme nature of his views are reflected in his tactics. Cook believes that a lot of children who are not injured by vaccines are in fact vaccine injured. Like many other anti-vaccination activists, Cook has actively been seeking testimonies from parents who lost young children to e.g. sudden infant death syndrome (which is not caused by but may be prevented by vaccines) and accidental asphyxiation and who thought – or were led to think by Cook and his group – that vaccines were really to blame (they’re not). Much of the success of his Facebook page were due to the circulation of those stories, which are emotionally effective especially among people with little knowledge of medicine. The story of Catelin Clobes, who accidentally killed her infant child while co-sleeping, but went on to blame vaccines and become a rising star in the antivaccine movement, is an illustrative example; details here. Cook and his group also buy ads that target women who live in areas with measles outbreaks, to ensure that any lawmaker effort to restrict vaccine exemptions will face protests from a group of organized, angry and delusional parents.
Indeed, Cook and his followers would also contact (harass) grieving parents who did not think their children suffered any ‘vaccine injury’ to try to convince them otherwise (and share curated versions of their stories on the Facebook page even if they failed to convince the parents). The tactic includes harassing parents of children who died from vaccine-preventable diseases, up to and including death threats.
Cook and other antivaxx activists affiliated with his Stop Mandatory Vaccination group have also made efforts to identify and threaten parents who encourage others to have their children vaccinated, and has pushed a variety of intimidation campaigns on social media – including intimidating, harassing and threatening grieving parents who discuss how their children died from complication of preventable diseases. Vaccine-promoting doctors have also been viciously targeted, including receiving death threats, fake negative reviews of their practices, and so on. And although Cook officially claimes not to condone such attacks, he also says that people promoting vaccination “can expect push back and resistance”.
Of course, and not unexpectedly when we are dealing with conspiracy theorists at this level, some conspiray theorists – like Leonard Horowitz and Sherri Kane – believe that Cook is part of the conspiracy and secretly pro-vaccine. So it goes.
Diagnosis: One of the craziest and most dangerous people in the US. Kids die; and kids will continue to die, because of the efforts of Larry Cook. Though barely coherent, his combination of antivaccine and QAnon conspiracy theories are apparently attractive to a significant portion of the American population, and his violent, barely coherent rhetoric is apparently effective with them.