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Chapter Four

COVID Denial Radicalization on Facebook


Chapter Four

COVID Denial Radicalization on Facebook

Driven by a new variant, a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens lives and is overwhelming medical systems. At the same time, thanks to the platform provided by Facebook, a second major wave of COVID denial protests is also spiking. These two trends do not bode well for the health and safety of the American public.

One needs to look no further than southern Oregon to see the devastation of these two trends. In Oregon, the Delta variant caused the COVID-19 pandemic to rage back. On August 25, 2021, Oregon reported 2,777 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, more than 1,000 people in hospitals, and 20 new deaths.[66] In southern Oregon, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting particularly hard. Hospitals in the area are overwhelmed with COVID patients. The number of available Adult Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in the Southern Oregon area on that day was just one bed.[67]

Southern Oregonians faced down this fourth wave of the Coronavirus pandemic with a shockingly low 55% vaccination rate compared to the state average of 71%. Jackson County, where the city of Medford is located, reported 614 new cases for the week of August 18-24, 2021. On August 23, five hundred Oregon National Guard members deployed to help with nonclinical work and COVID-19 testing.[68]

At the same time, one group of local women took to Facebook in furtherance of a thinly concealed far-right agenda. April McDonald, Amy Rose, Megan Terk, and Cassidy Burns, together with far-right media wonk Ryan Mallory, formed Facebook groups like “Maskless Women of Southern Oregon (MWSO)” and “Maskless People of Southern Oregon” and pages for “Southern Oregon First” and “Faith and Freedom.” On August 25, 2021, they spearheaded a massive demonstration in Medford, Oregon, that lined the sidewalks with COVID denial protesters outside the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.[69]

IREHR can report that two of these organizers — Amy Rose and April McDonald — have been identified as key local organizers for Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights network. The two are listed as “area assistants” for the rapidly growing network. The four women helped organize opposition to masks and vaccinations at numerous school board meetings throughout Southern Oregon. Their Facebook pages show a demonstrable history of far-right, multi-issue activism, including promoting the #OccupyCapitols event on January 6 of last year and the state secessionist movement for a “Greater Idaho.”[70] These efforts exemplify the kind of danger COVID denial activism can pose when accelerated through the prism of Bundy-style insurrectionism. Protesting at hospitals straining under the weight of intensified Delta variant infections and corresponding hospitalizations is particularly appalling. One local television station noted that “Several mask-less people carried signs, some reading, “My body, my choice,” “stop medical tyranny,” and “I am not your lab experiment.”[71]

The Southern Oregon case is a prime example of how COVID denial provides a steady flow of newly radicalized activists into the far-right pipeline, filling the ranks of groups like the People’s Rights Network.

The Radicalization Path

The current spike in COVID denialism and activism opposing mask mandates, other related restrictions, and vaccines present a very real danger of radicalization. As IREHR has long documented, the mass mobilization against polices to stem the COVID-19 pandemic has been organized in large part through Facebook groups and developed alongside parallel organizing on these issues by a range of far-right groups, including Tea Party and militia groups, organizations like the Proud Boys, and the far-right People’s Rights network.

People’s Rights leaders in multiple states remained actively engaged in COVID denial mobilizations. At the same time, other groups joining the COVID fray have included conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the reactionary Turning Point USA, and white nationalist-led efforts by so-called “groypers.”

In recent months, the Posse Comitatus-style Constitutional Law Group promoted an anti-masker rally also being endorsed in the Unmask our kids Washington and UnMask Washington – Be Brave! (1,050 members) Facebook groups.[72] An activist from the American Guard, an organization with roots in racist skinhead activism, was recorded at a Fresno, California “medical freedom” rally.[73]

KrisAnne Hall, a far-right “constitutionalist” whose ideas have shaped groups ranging from the paramilitary Oath Keepers to People’s Rights and the Constitutional Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association, recently appeared at an anti-masker rally in Florida.[74] The Tea Party Patriots announced some 60 anti-mandate rallies in at least 20 states. The Proud Boys have been active in COVID denial mobilizations across the country.

The ongoing and active engagement of far-right groups in COVID denialism, and an extensive set of insulated Facebook groups built around these themes, create an environment rich for expanding radically anti-democratic ideas into these online networks. As such, the posts by members of these groups include far-right conspiracy theories, anti-immigrant themes, anti-Muslim ideas, reactionary racist frameworks, and calls to civil war and revolution.

This track also provides avenues for direct recruitment by far-right groups. For example, when their activists participate in Facebook COVID denial groups, or their material, ideas, and contact information gets circulated by other members of these insulated forums.

However, it should be noted that the various routes to radicalization described below by no means capture the breadth of this activity in Facebook COVID denial groups. The discussion below is based on a subset of the full complement of groups on Facebook. Furthermore, an assessment of the full extent of this type of content is hindered by Facebook’s insulation of these groups from public scrutiny.


Three: Facebook and the Far-Right Group Problem


Five: Routes to Radicalization


[66] Oregon Department of Human Services. “Oregon reports 2,777 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 20 new deaths.” Oregon Department of Human Services website. August 25, 2021.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Lenthang, Marlene. “Oregon National Guard deployed to aid hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.” ABC News. August 25, 2021.

[69] Ridgle, Tyler. “Vaccinewatch: Protesters Gather Outside Asante In Medford To Oppose Vaccine Mandates.” KDRV Newswatch 12. August 25, 2021.; See Chun-Began, Kristena. Facebook. Posted in Oregon Uniting for Liberty. August 13, 2021.

[70] Faith and Freedom. Facebook. July 12, 2021.

[71] Ridgle, Tyler. “Vaccinewatch: Protesters Gather Outside Asante In Medford To Oppose Vaccine Mandates.” KDRV Newswatch 12. August 25, 2021.

[72] Robinson, John. Facebook. Posted in UnMask Washington – Be Brave! August 13, 2021.; Gabriel, Megan. Facebook. Unmask our kids Washington. August 17, 2021.; Constitutional Law Group. Facebook. August 12, 2021.

[73] Ultimate Podcast Report. Fresno, CA – The Medical Freedom Rally & NYC. August 15, 2021.; Anti-Defamation League. Behind the American Guard: Hardcore White Supremacists. March 30, 2017.

[74] Hall, KrisAnne. Facebook. August 5, 2021.

Facebook and COVID Denial

How the platform is fueling another wave of far-right activism, insurrectionism, and violence, and what we can do to stop it.
A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

Copyright © 2021. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.