By Aaron Blake / The Washington Post
Fox News host Tucker Carlson uncovered a major supposed scandal in the U.S. military on Monday night: Its leaders are apparently trying to rid its ranks of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of soldiers, starting with those who have too much testosterone.
Those goals would seem to run counter to the effectiveness of our nation’s armed forces, but that’s what’s happening, according to Carlson, under the guise of stomping out the coronavirus.
Carlson has run many conspiratorial segments on coronavirus vaccines that defy logic and gloss over or ignore actual scientific concepts. But Monday night’s might take the cake.
In the service of deriding vaccine mandates, Carlson launched into a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory that the military is requiring them to weed out the undesirables in their ranks.
“The point of mandatory vaccination is to identify the sincere Christians in the ranks, the freethinkers, the men with high testosterone levels, and anyone else who does not love Joe Biden and make them leave immediately,” Carlson claimed. “It’s a takeover of the U.S. military.”
Carlson called the mandates “a new political purity test.”
His evidence for this? The comparatively low coronavirus death rate for active service members. According to Defense Department numbers, just 46 members of the military have died of the virus since the start of the pandemic, out of more than 1 million service members.
This is an old trick for Carlson and many other vaccine skeptics and anti-vaxxers. Pointing to the relatively low death totals for those who fare better when they contract the virus; generally younger, healthier people. Why should those people vaccinate when they are at far less risk?
The answer is abundantly obvious, though it’s rarely even broached as an alternate explanation in these arguments. It’s that vaccination isn’t just about you; it’s about those around you and society as a whole. Vaccines require widespread adoption to succeed. (That’s why many other vaccines for less deadly diseases are mandated, including in the military.) People who contract the virus pass it along more easily to others who might not be so fortunate, often because they’re older or less healthy than the athletic 20-somethings who serve our nation in uniform.
And you needn’t look too far to see how that can play out.
Military members, after all, don’t serve in a vacuum. They have families, and they serve with civilians and contractors. And the coronavirus stats for them are available on the same webpage as the one with the 46 military deaths that Carlson cited.
How have they fared?
While there are about half as many civilians as active service members, they account for more than six times as many deaths; 304 in total, out of about 700,000 civilians.
How bad is that? Well, according to Carlson, it would seem to constitute a crisis.
In the same segment, Carlson argued that the real crisis was not the coronavirus, but rather military suicides.
“Suicides, by contrast, kill many, many times more (military members),” Carlson said. “In just a few months last year, 156 servicemen killed themselves. So military suicide is an actual crisis that the Pentagon might want to address.”
There is no question that military suicides are a crisis; and a growing one. But it’s one the military has indeed sought to address frequently. And if that’s the threshold Carlson is using for a crisis, he might want to re-evaluate his overall argument.
According to Defense Department data, there were 377 suicides among active duty service members in 2020. In a force of about 1.4 million, that means about 1 in 3,700 died by suicide.
By comparison, for civilians and the coronavirus, we have 304 deaths out of 700,000. That’s over a longer period of time — about 21 months — but the annual death rate is similar: about 1 in about 4,000.
What if we had a tool available that we knew could sharply reduce suicides, but required widespread adoption? Perhaps the military might consider mandating its use.
Carlson’s argument gets arguably worse from there. He again returns to the idea that the vaccines aren’t just unnecessary for the military, but that they might be killing lots and lots of people. He cites a purported military PowerPoint presentation which he says “falsely claims that only three people have died of taking the COVID vaccine. Reports collected by the Biden administration itself indicate that number is actually in the thousands.”
This is utterly false, as has been pointed out ad nauseam when Carlson and others have brought this up before. It refers to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which collects unverified claims of vaccine side effects from the public. Anybody can submit a claim of a side effect, and those claims can then be evaluated. To date, only three deaths have actually been connected to the vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it “has not detected any unusual or unexpected patterns for deaths following immunization” beyond those three.
Beyond the shoddy logic and false use of data, though, is the message it all sends. Carlson isn’t just claiming the vaccines are unnecessary for service members; he’s baselessly alleging a massive plot to weed people out of the military. This is Alex Jones-type stuff. And he’s spotlighting those with supposedly desirable characteristics: high levels of testosterone in men, strong faith and the ability to think freely for oneself.
The message it sends to those on the fence about the vaccine: It’s manly to resist! It shows how godly you are! It makes you a freethinker!
If only it had anything to actually back it up beyond the ramblings of a guy who, at best, pretends he doesn’t understand how vaccines work.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.