Chances are that 2016 will go down as the year that conspiracy theories moved from the fringes and firmly to the middle of our national discourse. Earlier this month, a man entered a DC pizza restaurant with a gun, determined to investigate Comet Ping Pong’s non-existent connection to a child sex-ring. This “PizzaGate” conspiracy was born on Reddit just before the elections in a pro-Trump subreddit, explicitly naming the Clintons as ringleaders. Not a word of it was true, but that didn’t prevent Edgar Welch from entering the pizzeria and firing his rifle.
Children are often at the center of the most compelling conspiracy theories. The anti-vaccination movement has been fueled by these types of stories for over a decade.
In early 2015, a measles outbreak started in Disneyland and Mobius Loop, at four months of age, was the youngest victim. Though he and his entire family were up-to-date on their vaccinations, the measles vaccine is not administered until after a child’s first birthday. His illness spurred his mother, Ariel, to become involved in the pro-vaccine movement.
As a registered nurse with two degrees, Ariel was always an advocate for vaccination, but was unaware of how robust the anti-vaccine movement was until her child became ill. She went on to testify about his illness in Sacramento in support of SB227, a bill that eliminated the personal belief exemption that anti-vaxxers relied on to avoid giving their children vaccines.
Months passed and Ariel attended a Bernie Sanders rally with Mobius. There, she was approached by women with clipboards who asked her to sign a petition they had “to keep children safe”.