COVID-19: Torches of Freedom | Cassandra Voices

COVID-19: Torches of Freedom


‘Harold Evans used to say that an investigation only really began to count once the readers – and even the journalists – were bored with it’
Alan Rusbridger: who broke the news?

In New York city on Easter Sunday 1929, in a premeditated move, a group of women brought the annual parade to a halt and proceeded to light up cigarettes. In a choreographed response, the tobacco industry, guided by the legendary Edward Bernays, re-branded cigarettes ‘Torches of Freedom’.

This manipulated scandal had the desired effect of connecting smoking cigarettes with female empowerment. Within a few years, a woman’s ‘right’ to smoke had largely been conceded. Effectively doubling its market, the tobacco industry laughed all the way to the bank.

Such an apparently spontaneous public spectacle is arguably the gold standard in advertising, wherein an avant-garde movement is associated with a product or service – all while the consumer is blissfully unaware. Importantly, radical or even rebellious social groups often inform mainstream taste, as with the popularity of so-called ‘ghetto styles’.

This article explores how the pharmaceutical industry, in league with technology corporations and so-called stakeholder capitalism – which entails giving corporations more power over society and democratic institutions less – successfully associated global support for universal vaccine uptake against COVID-19 with a ‘left-wing’ political outlook, infused with youthful idealism.

In particular, global Black Lives Matter demonstrations appear to have been harnessed – without the consent of organisers – to popularise the use of face masks, which became the enduring global symbol of the pandemic. The fretful atmosphere these inculcated offered a chilling reminder that COVID-19 was constantly in our midst.

This arrived despite an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, 2020 dismissing calls for widespread masking as ‘a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic’. That same month the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine referred to 14 trials on the use of masks vs. no masks, saying these ‘showed no effect in either healthcare workers or in community settings’. Thereafter, even experts who questioned their efficacy were censored on social media.

Masks were supposed to play an equivalent role to the assumed purpose of vaccines: protecting others. They were made – and in some cases remain – compulsory in many settings in numerous states, foreshadowing similar laws enforcing vaccine compliance. In essence, the vaccine would set us free from an obligation to wear masks.

Summer, 2020

By the summer of 2020, with case numbers plummeting, many were wondering whether COVID-19 had become an endemic, seasonal respiratory infection. We learnt that France’s first known case was in December, 2019. Later, it was discovered to have been circulating in Italy from September, 2019 and in Spain from as far back as March, 2019, apparently without overwhelming medical systems.

But a whole industry had been waiting for a pandemic to occur, with the incentive of producing a vaccine for global use and, seemingly, an architecture of surveillance that had been publicly discussed from the outset. In contrast to the Swine Flu debacle, this opportunity would not be lost.

Moreover, it was being reported that PCR testing was inflating case counts (and thus mortality statistics) through false positive results. Publicity stunts that generated a wave of global hysteria were by then appearing increasingly absurd. Meanwhile, extraordinary predictions for mortality, suggesting we were contending with a challenge equivalent to the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1919 were proving seriously wide of the mark.

Spanish Influenza caused approximately 75 million deaths, whereas COVID-19 may have been responsible for a global death toll of 6 million, the vast majority of whom were beyond average life expectancy, at a time when the global population was about five times that of 1919.

Indeed, the early spike in deaths from (or with) COVID-19 in some countries can be attributed to hospitals transferring sick older patients into care homes, where outbreaks followed and only basic medical care was available.

The ‘Scientific’ Advice Changes…

After a period of social isolation brought about by unprecedented stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, there were no significant outbreaks of COVID-19 in the wake of large and often disorderly Black Lives Matters demonstrations triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25.

In response, some outlets claimed protestors’ use of face masks had prevented outbreaks. However, most of those in evidence were cotton fabric, which health agencies now acknowledge to be next to useless. Furthermore, masks had been worn as a defence against tear gas, or in order to preserve anonymity prior to COVID-19, as the feature image for this article from 2014 demonstrates.

Whatever the purpose, an impression was created of ‘caring’ mask-clad protestors demanding racial justice around the world. Subsequently, Joe Biden’s own lawyers helped Whole Food workers mount a legal challenge to allow them to wear Black Lives Matters-branded facemasks while on the job. More revolutionary aspirations – including to disband the police – were conveniently ignored by lockdown-enthusiasts who craved enforcement.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that demonstrations were seized on by an alliance of vested interests that exert control over a swathe of media, new and old.

The role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation appears pivotal. The Foundation is the second-largest contributor to the WHO budget, and put over $10 billion into universities in 2020 as well as at least $250 million into journalism in the first half of 2020 alone.

Unprompted by the publication of any scientific study, the WHO changed its advice on wearing masks on June 5, 2020 shortly after the Black Lives Matters demonstrations. Most national health agencies – long subject to regulatory capture – followed suit, although a few countries declined to alter long-standing advice.

In the U.S., NIAID director Dr Anthony Fauci claimed he had previously told a white lie to the effect that wearing a mask offered no protection in order to prevent a run on stocks. But emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal he was giving the same advice in private — against mask use.

Manipulation of mortality statistics can also be traced to a WHO document from April, 2020 entitled ‘International Guidelines for Certification and Classification (Coding) of COVID-19 as Cause of Death’. This set out strict new rules for the registration of COVID-19 deaths that differed fundamentally from registration for other causes.

The guidelines define a COVID-19 mortality as ‘a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma).’

The achievement of universal vaccine uptake – no matter how limited its usefulness – offered dizzying possibilities to the super-rich intent on engineering a new world order, which was openly being referred to as the Great Reset.

Political Identification

There was also a direct political purpose for stoking fears around COVID-19, which goes some way towards explaining the involvement of actors beyond the pharmaceutical sector. Application of ‘the science’ against COVID-19 would undermine right-wing Populist movements around the world, which had been to the fore in challenging globalisation – alongside chauvinistically asserting national and religious identities.

The political quiescence of the radical left in a period of authoritarian lockdowns led by rapacious global corporations arrived following the defeats of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., and a concomitant decline in investigative journalism. Fresh from seriously undermining Corbyn with bogus charges of antisemitism, the once-progressive Guardian became a leading conduit for fearmongering coverage of COVID-19. It now provides fawning interviews with Bill Gates, whose Foundation subsidises the newspaper.

Nonetheless, in the era of the internet political allegiances retain a tribal dimension that can be exploited. Thus, at the outset of the pandemic when lockdowns were first mooted many identifying as left-wing assumed that in ‘following the science’ and/or ‘listening to the experts’ they would be preventing the medical system from collapsing.

But as the Greek socialist Panagiotis Sotiris put it: ‘What is missing here is something that used to be one of the main traits of the radical left, namely, an insistence that science and technology are not neutral.’

In fact, from the outset there were huge divisions, and arguments, in the scientific community over the efficacy of lockdowns, masks and vaccine passports. But these debates were largely concealed from public view through online censorship of authoritative academic sources.

2020 was also the year of the U.S. Presidential election during which the Democrats used the pandemic as a weapon against incumbent Populist President Donald Trump, who actively antagonised those identifying as left-wing.

In order to defeat Trump, the Democrat establishment seems to have entered a Faustian Pact with Big Tech, ‘stakeholder capitalism’ and Big Pharma.

One still hears partisan support for vaccines against COVID-19 being expressed by those identifying as left-wing. Most seem oblivious to the world’s ten richest men doubling their fortunes during the period, while the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fell; besides the enrichment of pharmaceutical companies.

It is axiomatic that young people are drawn to idealistic ‘left-wing’ ideas – any man who is not a socialist at age twenty has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age forty has no head. This was also the cohort that would be most difficult to persuade to take a vaccine.

Therefore, apart from allaying individual health concerns, taking a COVID-19 vaccine was sold as an exercise in civic virtue. Hold outs were decried as selfish and put other people’s lives at risk, even unAmerican, while ‘anti-vaxxers’ were portrayed by a prominent (however hypocritical) left-wing ideologue Fintan O’Toole as a motley crew of ‘egoists, paranoiacs and fascists.’

Generally ignored in this coverage is in that in the U.S. vaccination rates lagged among people of colour, and that leaders of the Black Lives Matters movement were steadfastly opposed to vaccine passports.

‘We Realised We Could’

In a revealing interview with The Times Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, whose unpeer-reviewed paper in March, 2020 proved pivotal – ‘due to the professor’s WHO ties’ – to the introduction of lockdowns in the U.K. and elsewhere, revealed amazement at the influence he wielded. After the British government followed Chinese policy in introducing a lockdown he observed: ‘It’s a communist, one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.’

“Getting away” with imposing lockdowns – that appear to be causing ongoing excess deaths – was predicated on the assumption that a vaccine, or vaccines, against COVID-19 would be invented within eighteen months or longer.

A subsidised vaccine against COVID-19 would be all the more lucrative if it was not simply a one-off treatment, and as long as states were offering a captive market, through coercion if necessary.

It also represented a unique opportunity to trial new technologies. Unsurprising, the industry, and their supporters, were highly resistant to any suggestion of a safe, off-patent treatment being used instead.

Since the nineteenth century, the pharmaceutical industry has been implicated in a host of scandals, including the recent opioid epidemic. Oliver Wendell Holmes, dean of Harvard Medical School concluded in 1860 that ‘if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the seas, it would be all the better for mankind – and the worse for the fishes.’

Moreover, in a history charting advances in longevity, The Changing Body (2012), Floud et al argue that ‘it would be easy to exaggerate the importance of scientific medicine when one considers that much of the decline in the mortality associated with infectious diseases predated the introduction of effective medical measures to deal with it.’

Of course medications such as antibiotics continue to save many lives, but as David Healy put it ‘we are living off scientific capital accumulated in an earlier age.’

Peter C. Gøtzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Centre has argued that the industry’s conduct today closely resembles organized crime syndicates. He wrote perceptively: ‘Drugs always cause harm. If they didn’t, they would be inert and therefore unable to give any benefit.’

A recently published work entitled The Illusion of Evidence-Based Medicine: Exposing the crisis of credibility in clinical research (2020) by Jon Jureidini and Leemon B. McHenry argues:

Pharmaceutical spin doctors are the contemporary counterparts of the sophists of fifth century Greece. The essence of sophistry is to shape public opinion by skilful mastery of persuasive speaking without regard for any considerations of truth. Pharmaceutical marketing is a form of sophistry, whereby the serious attempt to discover efficacy or safety in medicine is subjugated to the goal of promotion. Medical rhetoric has usurped medical science – an embarrassment in an age allegedly devoted to evidence-based medicine (p.126).

Qualitatively Different

Attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccines were also scaffolded on tried and tested paediatric vaccines against common infectious diseases such as measles. Parents are encouraged to vaccinate their kids not just for their own sake, but for the sake of all children.

The COVID-19 vaccines were, however, from the outset qualitatively different to most traditional vaccines, which generally produce a herd immunity that diminishes childhood morbidity – and even mortality – from infectious diseases, notwithstanding at times spurious claims of adverse reactions.

All COVID-19 ‘vaccines’ produced so far are qualitatively different to most – with rare exceptions – traditional vaccines that are designed to prevent an infection from occurring.

At the very least, one would have expected the trials to determine whether a COVID-19 vaccine would seriously diminish illness; yet as British Medical Journal associate editor Peter Doshi observed in October, 2020: ‘The world has bet the farm on vaccines as the solution to the pandemic, but the trials are not focused on answering the questions many might assume they are.’

He continued:

None of the trials currently under way are designed to detect a reduction in any serious outcome such as hospital admissions, use of intensive care, or deaths. Nor are the vaccines being studied to determine whether they can interrupt transmission of the virus.

Moreover, the companies were busy covering their tracks, meaning efficacy, and long-term safety data, would be difficult to determine. In January, 2021, Peter Doshi and Donald Light in the Scientific American objected to the undermining of ‘the scientific integrity of the double-blinded clinical trial the company—and other companies—have been conducting, before statistically valid information can be gathered on how effectively the vaccines prevent hospitalizations, intensive care admissions or deaths.’

This came after Pfizer pleaded an ‘ethical responsibility’ to unblind its trial and offer the vaccine to those who received a placebo. Yet Doshi and Light argue that ‘there was another way to make an unapproved vaccine available to those who need it without undermining a trial. It’s called “expanded access.” Expanded access enables any clinician to apply on behalf of their patient to the FDA for a drug or vaccine not yet approved. The FDA almost always approves it quickly.’

The information in the public domain was easily manipulated by servile media. In April, 2021 a Lancet article by Ollario et al referred to the ‘elephant (not) in the room’, wherein vaccine efficacy was being reported overwhelmingly in terms of a relative risk reduction. This gives percentages of around 95% efficacy, whereas the absolute risk reduction of developing a serious illness was in the region of just 1%.

Importantly, relative risk reduction only considers ‘participants who could benefit from the vaccine, the absolute risk reduction (ARR), which is the difference between attack rates with and without a vaccine, considers the whole population.’

Peter Doshi has since publicly argued these ‘products which everyone calls MRNA vaccines are qualitatively different from standard vaccines.’


In November, 2021, Paul D. Thacker in the British Medical Journal brought to light a whistleblower’s account of poor practices at a contract research company carrying out Pfizer’s trials. Brook Jackson raised questions about data integrity and regulatory oversight which, once again, gained little or no traction in mainstream ‘progressive’ media.

The real scandal is that often coercive attempts to persuade the entire adult – and in many cases child – population was not based on a cost-benefit analysis.

Recently, a peer reviewed article in Vaccine – the premier journal for vaccine research – found the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were associated with a 16% higher risk of serious adverse events.

The study was limited to an analysis of trial data the companies had submitted to the FDA and did not evaluate the vaccines’ overall harm-benefit. The authors argue that

The excess risk of serious adverse events found in our study points to the need for formal harm-benefit analyses, particularly those that are stratified according to risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes. These analyses will require public release of participant level datasets.

A young, healthy person faces a vanishing risk of hospitalisation from COVID-19.

However, throughout the pandemic industry-aligned ‘fact checking’ initiatives served to undermine scientific integrity. The tactic of so-called fact checkers is to highlight absurd claims from random sources that serve to undermine informed criticism of the lockdown-mask-vaccine policy.

Apart from its political ramification, the vaccine was, and is, a cash cow. It is instructive that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which in an apparent appeal to left wing sentiment was to be sold ‘at cost’, never received U.S. authorisation, and the manufacturers have since announced that it will be sold for a profit.

The failure to interrogate vested interests reflects a serious decline in contemporary journalism, especially from publications previously associated with progressive viewpoints, many of which now depend on philanthro-capitalist handouts. We have reached an absurd juncture where a centibillionaire such as Bill Gates is attacked for being ‘left-wing’.

Sell to Anyone

The COVID-19 pandemic realised former Merck CEO’s Henry Gadsden dream of making drugs for healthy people, which Merck would be able to ‘sell to anyone’, as he candidly revealed to Fortune magazine in the 1970s.

This could not have been achieved without the active collaboration of technology corporations and stakeholder capitalism in an era of surveillance capitalism. The censorship and disinformation used to bring the world to a halt in 2020, and beyond, represents a unique attack on democracy and worked to the benefit of a global financial elite.

As Jon Jureidini and Leemon B. McHenry anticipated ‘the ideal of an open, democratic society is threatened by an oligarchy of corporations’ (p.23).

However, at least much of the evidence that was used to permit coercion is slowly being decoded by investigative journalists such as Paul D. Thacker and research scientists of the calibre of Peter Doshi. We can remain optimistic that the truth will eventually out, at least on the margins, despite continued social media censorship.

Nonetheless, the willing dissemination of disinformation in once-reputable publications has been increasingly normalised. Thus, the first and enduring casualty of the war in Ukraine has been the truth.

On September 10, 2022 the Guardian reported that ‘the much-publicised Ukrainian southern offensive was a disinformation campaign to distract Russia from the real one being prepared in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine’s special forces have said.’ Strikingly, the authors do not refer to the Guardian previously publicising that disinformation.

COVID-19 generated a conveyor belt of disinformation that has cast doubt over the reliability of contemporary journalism, and revealed how medico-scientific discourse can be captured by vested interests. It is vital for the future of humanity, as we confront environmental challenges, warfare and crushing poverty that scientific rigour, coupled with values that can be traced to Aristotle, are reasserted.

Feature Image: Black Lives Matter demonstration in Oakland, California, December 2014.


About Author

Frank Armstrong graduated with a BA (International) from UCD majoring in history, during which time he spent a year at the University of Amsterdam on an Erasmus scholarship. He later earned a barrister-at-law degree at the Honorable Society of King’s Inns, and gained a Masters in Islamic Societies and Cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, before taking a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education. Prior to setting up Cassandra Voices his writing was published in the Irish Times, the London Magazine, the Dublin Review of Books, Village Magazine, and the Law Society Gazette, among others. He is the editor-in-chief of Cassandra Voices.

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