By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
No good deed goes unpunished. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to President Biden—as well as six presidents before him—is under persistent siege by this nation’s right-wing propaganda machine over his work in fighting the Covid-19 virus and its variants.
At the end of November, Lara Logan, a host on Fox Nation (a streaming service of Fox News Media), equated Fauci’s devotion to saving people’s lives with the Nazi Josef Mengele’s murderous experiments on prisoners.
Employing Trump’s technique for spreading excrement while disclaiming responsibility, Logan said: “this is what people say to me: that [Fauci] doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele. Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all across the world are saying this, because the response from COVID, what it has done to countries everywhere, what it has done to civil liberties, the suicide rates, the poverty, it has obliterated economies. The level of suffering that has been created because of this disease is now being seen in the cold light of day.”
Logan—who should not be called a journalist—does not name even one person making that comparison. And never mind that it is the disease, not Dr. Fauci, that has caused the “level of suffering” which she pretends to decry. Fauci is the man trying to help Americans and the world survive the disease. That, of course, won’t keep Logan and those of her ilk from deliberately conflating the two in an effort to demonize him.
In October, Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul both claimed Fauci had lied to Congress about U.S.-funded research at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. Paul called for him to be fired, while Cruz called for Attorney General Merrick Garland to prosecute him.
In April, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had led the parade, introducing a bill to reduce the salary of the present NIAID director to zero, and audit the correspondence, financial statements and policy memoranda within his office during the Covid outbreak “and for other purposes.” The bill states that the Act would only apply until a new director is appointed and confirmed. And just in case the target of this proposed legislation was not clear, the bill states that the Act may be cited as the “Fire Fauci Act.”
One must wonder whether Greene and Donald Trump together contrived this method to get the former president his revenge on Fauci for daring to correct Trump’s Covid-19 disinformation. Though this travesty of a bill will surely die in the Democratic House, it conceivably could be resurrected if the Republicans take control in 2022.
Reactions to the Fauci Attacks
Dr. Fauci responded to the Rand Paul and Ted Cruz attacks with equanimity. On a November 28 episode of CBS’s Face the Nation, Fauci said, "So anybody spins lies and threatens and all that theater that goes on with some of the investigations and the congressional committees and the Rand Pauls and all that other nonsense, that's noise." When asked about Cruz’s call for his prosecution, Fauci laughed and said, referencing the January insurrection Cruz supported, "I have to laugh at that. I should be prosecuted? What happened on January 6, Senator?"
Seeing the attacks on him as a proxy for an attack on science, Fauci added, “If they get up and criticize science, nobody's going to know what they're talking about. But if they get up and really aim their bullets at Tony Fauci, well, people could recognize, there's a person there."
Fauci has also made short shrift of Lara Logan, calling her statement “absolutely preposterous and disgusting.” On December 2, he told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, “It’s an insult to all of the people who suffered and died under the Nazi regime in the concentration camp,” and expressed astonishment that Fox News has not disciplined her.
Various Jewish institutions immediately condemned Logan’s Mengele comments. The Auschwitz Museum wrote on Twitter: “Exploiting the tragedy of people who became victims of criminal pseudo-medical experiments in Auschwitz in a debate about vaccines, pandemic and people who fight for saving human lives is shameful. It is disrespectful to victims & a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told The Washington Post “there’s absolutely no comparison between mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts to what happened to Jews during the Holocaust.” He added, “This includes making outlandish and offensive analogies suggesting that somehow Dr. Anthony Fauci is akin to Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, known for his gruesome medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners.”
Finally, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said Logan’s comments were “utterly shameful,” that “an apology is needed,” and “Josef Mengele earned his nickname [the Angel of Death] by performing deadly and inhumane medical experiments on prisoners of the Holocaust, including children. There is no comparing the hell these victims went through to public health measures.”
Though the statements of the Auschwitz Museum, ADL, and AJC are correct and their outrage understandable, they are still focused more on the insult to the dead than the gross insult to Dr. Fauci. And that misses the point and purpose of Logan’s analogy: to smear Fauci’s reputation, erode public support for him, and thus destroy Fauci’s ability to lead NIAID in its work.
In some quarters, the smear campaign is working. According to USA Today, a Hill-HarrisX poll conducted from October 26-27 found 52 percent of registered voters polled felt Fauci should resign.
But Dr. Fauci is going nowhere. Taking the attacks in stride, he said to USA Today, “If you keep lying about someone and keep spreading preposterous accusations, there're going to be some people, if they hear that often enough, [who] are going to believe it." He added, "But that's just the way it is. I can't change the fabric of society about social media and how it works."
Determined to press on nevertheless, Fauci does not appear to be concerned about the attacks on him, but about the danger of discrediting science, and thereby discrediting what is needed to prevent and treat disease and preserve peoples’ health. This, he fears, could disrupt society long after he is gone.
As Director of NIAID for 37 years, Dr. Fauci has devoted himself to finding solutions to one viral epidemic after another: H.I.V., SARS, avian influenza, swine flu, Zika, and Ebola, among others. Throughout, he has shown singular dedication to defeating deadly contagions.
During Trump’s term, Fauci attempted to adhere strictly to science, politely disputing and correcting Trump’s disinformation about Covid-19 when necessary, but otherwise trying to stay out of the politics. Nevertheless, according to the New York Times, he was accused of inventing the virus and of being part of a secret cabal with Bill Gates and George Soros to profit from vaccines. Scurrilous lies like these do not invent themselves. Someone must create and disseminate them. My bet is on a propaganda machine.
Because of the attacks, Fauci’s family received death threats and, ultimately, in 2020, while Trump was still president, Fauci had to be provided a protective security detail.
The Bigger Picture
To call this man—who has made saving lives his life’s work and who, even now, persists in that work despite death threats—a “Joseph Mengele” is disgusting.
However, this assault is more than an attack on one man. It is part of an organized campaign, one arm of the many-armed octopus attempting to strangle our democracy. And those involved are employing their usual tactic of projection: accusing their opponents of what they actually are doing.
While callously killing off even their own constituency with their lies, they accuse Dr. Fauci and anyone trying to save people of being killers. While promoting Nazi-like Brownshirt groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and the others who march with torches shouting, “the Jews will not replace us,” they have the nerve to appropriate Jewish pain to attack Covid prevention efforts, and to equate public health measures with fascist incursions, and their inconvenience with the extermination of the Jews.
As enumerated in the Washington Post, Republican politicians at every level have been concocting analogies of any Covid prevention efforts to the Nazis. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado called those involved in door-to-door promotion of vaccination “needle Nazis.” Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina has claimed vaccine certifications are “papers please” passports that “smack of 1940s Germany.” Rep Scott Perry of Pennsylvia compared criticism of anti-lockdown advocacy and Trump’s hydroxychloroquine promotion to Nazi book burnings.
Arizona Republican Party Chairperson Kelli Ward gauchely promoted a tweet stating “What’s the difference between vaccine papers and a yellow star? 82 years.”
Not to be outdone, the Oklahoma Republican Party posted on Facebook an image of a Star of David with print reading “Unvaccinated.”
Several Alaska state GOP Representatives compared vaccination efforts to Nazi medical experiments and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said of mask-mandate critics who put on a yellow Star of David, that the use of a yellow star was a “credit” to the Jewish people. Maybe Bronson should ask the Jewish people how they feel about it.
Maine State Rep. Heidi Sampson said of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, “We have Josef Mengele and Joseph Goebbels being reincarnated in the state of Maine.”
Arizona state Senator Kelley Townsend shared an image of needles in the shape of a swastika.
Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh wore a Star of David and said: “It’s an echo from history. In the current context, we’re all Jews.”
The Washington Post’s list goes on and on. And yet, despite the almost identical substance of this rash of Nazi comparisons, the Post characterizes Republican party leaders as having “all but given up trying to rein in the extremists in their midst (to the extent they actually want to),” concluding, “So, increasingly, they just let it happen.”
One must ask why the Washington Post insists on pulling its punches and going soft on Republican party leadership. The party’s hands-off approach is not a matter of giving up on “trying to rein in the extremists.” Rather, their silence constitutes complicity with the extremists. They are not passively letting it happen. At a minimum, the refusal of Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell and others to act makes them a part of it.
But given the number and kind of statements made in such a short period from so many different Republican quarters, it is nearly impossible to conclude that this was other than an effort coordinated throughout the party—top to bottom—and with the same ultimate goal as the January 6 attack. They are simply pursuing that goal from another angle. And in making the bogus association of Covid prevention with Nazism, they themselves are employing the Nazi tactics that gained Hitler his power.
Ultimately, these attacks are not merely about vaccines, Dr. Fauci, or science.
To create a fascist dictatorship, you need villains. Enemies to be fought. You need to stoke hate, fear and anger. And you need to create chaos to confuse your opposition. The Republican party is expert at manufacturing such enemies, and turning truth upside down to incite violent hatred and anger. Vaccine mandates, masks, and Dr. Anthony Fauci are only the most current of their never-ending supply of straw-man villains.
The nation is being buried under the barrage. Responding with logic and reasoned explanation alone takes too long. By the time one counters a single lie, manipulation, or deception, there are 10 more to address. With the approach of the 2022 elections, which could solidify Republican extremist control, the nation cannot afford the “slow but steady wins the race” approach taken by many of our leaders. Now is the time for all good men and women, Democrats or not, to come to the aid of their country. They can begin by loudly calling the real Nazis—Nazis.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.