This story originally appeared on Alaska Public Media and is republished here with permission.
Dozens of Alaskans shared frustration and anger over pandemic restrictions, COVID-19 vaccines and what they see as the medical community’s suppression of alternative treatments for the virus at a gathering this week at Anchorage Baptist Temple.
The event Monday was billed as a listening session on COVID-19 mandates, though some speakers touted conspiracy theories about the origin of the coronavirus or veered into Christian symbolism. The event was sponsored by several Republican state lawmakers, including Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.
Reinbold told the crowd that she would continue pushing legislation to block COVID-related mandates and she encouraged audience members to organize a Facebook group to share their stories.
“I think we’re headed for totalitarianism and authoritarianism if we don’t, I mean — we’ve seen the warning signs,” Reinbold said. “We have to encourage one another and be positive. No violence, please. Let’s just be positive, peaceful, persistent and insistent.”
Over four hours Monday night, around 50 speakers told Reinbold and the other legislators about frustrations and anger with mainstream medicine, politicians and the media.
Many spoke of losing jobs due to vaccine mandates and resisting mask rules. Some told heart-wrenching stories of losing loved ones to COVID-19 without being able to say goodbye due to hospital visiting restrictions. Many demanded the end to employer vaccine mandates and easier access to unproven COVID-19 treatments like ivermectin.
Ivermectin is mostly used as an antiparasitic but it has gained popularity in some right-wing circles that argue evidence of its benefits in treating COVID-19 is being suppressed. Scientists are still studying the drug but, so far, the Food and Drug Administration says the drug isn’t effective at treating the coronavirus. The agency has also warned against taking ivermectin without a prescription. Major hospitals in Alaska say they are not prescribing the drug to treat COVID-19 patients.
Some speakers on Monday accused doctors of killing patients by denying them ivermectin. They called out doctors like Leslie Gonsette who have spoken out publicly in favor of mask mandates and against COVID misinformation.
“Dr. Gonsette and her peers not only want the right to kill their own patients, but now feel it’s their right to kill the patients of other doctors, patients who have chosen to seek out different medical advice and treatments of which is their right as a free person in our society,” said Joni Baker. “This is murder, not medicine.”
Several speakers veered into false conspiracy theories, accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, of engineering the coronavirus. Some also accused the medical community of creating the vaccine as a “bioweapon” designed for population control and some compared vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany.
“Sometimes we draw parallels to what preceded the evils that happened in Nazi Germany. And people accuse us of being salacious and hyperbolic,” said Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, an event co-sponsor. “But when you’re dealing with extreme evil, and when you’re dealing with authoritarian tyranny, I mean, what do you compare it to?”
Several speakers tied their fight against vaccines to biblical imagery.
“Do not trust people who take Hippocratic Oath in front of double serpent,” said massage therapist Mariana Nelson. “There is something wrong about that. Look at their logos, look at their symbols, what is a symbol of a pharmaceutical company? They’re all having same agenda and they do not deserve God’s mercy.”
Some speakers also shared online groups for collecting information about vaccine side effects and websites where clients can purchase ivermectin.
About 110 people attended the event in person. It was also streamed online on empoweringalaskans.com, a website linked to Reinbold’s office. An aide to Reinbold didn’t respond to requests about the website.
Reinbold told the crowd on Monday that she was denied use of the Legislative Information Office for the listening session and was forced to meet at Anchorage Baptist Temple. In an email, Tim Clark, an aide to Juneau Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan, chair of the Legislative Council, wrote that Reinbold’s request to use the LIO was denied because the event happened outside of normal office hours and would have required extra security.
“She was given the option of holding her meeting during regular business hours at which members of the public could testify in-person or via teleconference, but she chose not to do so,” wrote Clark.
Other sponsors of the listening session were Sen. Roger Holland, R-Anchorage, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, and Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski.
Alaska Public Media’s Jeff Chen contributed reporting.