October 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A prominent Christian nationalist group falsely asserted in August that vaccinations intended to protect people against COVID-19 have killed as many as 100,000 Americans.

The American Family Association (AFA), a Religious Right organization based in Tupelo, Miss., issued an email Aug. 23 relying on claims by Thomas Renz, an Ohio attorney who has been peddling conspiracy theories about the vaccines.

Renz represents a fringe group called America’s Frontline Doctors, which spreads anti-vaccination misinformation. Renz, citing claims of an unnamed “whistleblower,” is suing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We submitted to federal court, based on a whistleblower’s testimony or declaration, that there were at least 45,000 [deaths] at the time that we submitted it,” Renz told the AFA. “Since then, I’ve got a number of people who are statistics gurus and analysts and such that have been looking at that, and obviously the number has gone up since then, but they’re estimating that even at the time, the number was quite a bit higher. I think it’s very safe to say it’s well over 100,000.”

Renz also asserted that officials in several states are “lying about the way that they’re reporting the numbers.”

The website First Draft, founded in 2015 to combat the spread of misinformation online, labeled the claims of widespread deaths due to COVID vaccines “a conspiracy theory.”

“The reference to a so-called ‘whistle­­blower’ has also been a com­mon tactic in spreading misinformation,” reported First Draft. “Following the 2020 election, numerous ‘whistle­blower’ or ‘insider’ complaints were used to advance the stolen-election myth.”

The AFA, which has an annual budget of $21 million and owns a string of radio stations, has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the outbreak of the pandemic.