“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (1) – 5/5/20
Dr. Annie Bukacek, a public official who sits on the Flathead City-County Department of Health board and a well-known anti-vaccination proponent who was investigated for Medicaid fraud in 2009 following allegations she had billed for time spent praying with patients, has taken a unique-for-medical-professionals stance on COVID-19 that has gone viral—no pun. That message, recorded on video on April 2 in a Kalispell Hilton Garden Inn, was delivered in front of the Liberty Fellowship congregation, an anti-government, anti-LGBTQ, anti-globalism church group comprised by a mix of constitutionalists, militia members and separatists; the group regularly congregated in defiance of Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay at home directive before the April 26 relaxing of said policy. Bukacek’s notorious claim? The “alleged death rate” due to COVID-19 has been inflated by the government to exert control over the people: “based on inaccurate, incomplete data, people are being terrorized by fearmongers into relinquishing … freedoms.” Her beliefs are backed by the likes of known conspiracy theorist David Icke, notable for his belief the world order is maintained by “reptilian elites,” aka lizard people, and the video, which has millions of views on various platforms, has been shared by numerous far-right online enclaves including Alex Jones’—champion of the belief the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which claimed 20 elementary school children, was a hoax—InfoWars. Bukacek has even compared the shutdowns to Nazi rule, and Chuck Baldwin, pastor for Liberty Fellowship, calls Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House health adviser, “Big Pharma Fascist.” Before Bullock’s directive was lifted, Bukacek met with numerous protest leaders and coordinators across Montana, promoting many on her own social media channels. According to Rolling Stone, “Bukacek’s central claim that COVID-19 is being cited as the primary cause of death to inflate the overall death count … appears to be based on the idea that CDC guidelines indicate that medical examiners should list COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death in instances wherein victims have had other conditions, such as hypertension or COPD (which make them more susceptible to COVID-19 complications to begin with).” Dr. Sally Aiken, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said the CDC’s guidelines are “to list COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death, because it was the disease which initiated the chain of events that directly lead to death.” Studies suggest COVID-19 deaths have actually been underreported, but Bukacek’s viral messaging has no less fanned anti-lockdown sentiment in states still coping with ongoing lockdowns, perhaps exacerbating already existing foundational disagreements. “This seems to be a clear opportunity to create antagonism between neighbors,” said Cherilyn DeVries, who heads up the Flathead chapter of Love Lives Here, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network. “As soon as this disease hit, we started posting and letting people know: These tense, uncertain environments are when extremists have historically come into our community. They prey on divisions, and they try to radicalize people, wedging in their talking points in the midst of controversy.” As of May 5, an online petition to keep Bukacek on the Flathead City-County Health board had reached 4,500 of its 5,000-signature goal.