Kansas foes of COVID-19 vaccinations push for political protection from mandates

Revival covers constitutional arguments, discredited role of vaccinations in autism

By: - September 21, 2021 10:08 am
Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican, said he was working to force a special legislative session to consider bills blocking mask and vaccine mandates for COVID-19 and to open up use of off-label medications during the pandemic. He spoke Monday at the Freedom Revival in the Heartland at City Center Church in Lenexa. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican, said he was working to force a special leg. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LENEXA — Sen. Mark Steffen won’t take no for an answer in a quest for a special session of the Kansas Legislature to pass bills blocking workplace COVID-19 vaccination mandates and removing barriers to off-label use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in wake of the lingering pandemic.

The Hutchinson Republican said during the Freedom Revival in the Heartland that he gave up begging for the special session to work with Rep. Tatum Lee of Ness City on an attempt to force the issue. They plan to gather signatures from two-thirds of the 40-member Senate and 125-member House to trigger a special session. The idea is to convince enough lawmakers of the need to convene before scheduled start of the next session in January. The agenda would feature bills appealing to conservative, faith-based activists attending the church revival who were troubled by government’s commitment to a vaccination solution to COVID-19.

“The people who aren’t willing to sign this paper saying we’ll come back, we’re going to let the grassroots know. Between now and January, we’re going to sic ’em,” said Steffen, who is an anesthesiologist.

Sen. Mike Thompson, of Johnson County, said
Sen. Mike Thompson, of Johnson County, said he was convinced of the need to call a special session of the Kansas Legislature to thwart attempts to compel businesses to order employees be vaccinated for COVID-19. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The state senator argued the current Republican leadership of the House and Senate appeared too soft. The same might apply to Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who became the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor after former Gov. Jeff Colyer dropped out of contention, he said.

It’s likely Schmidt will meet Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in the November 2022 general election in Kansas.

Steffen said it was important a deal be struck to guarantee the right wing of the Kansas GOP placed one of their own as the lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with Schmidt. His top choice would be Sen. Mike Thompson, a Johnson County Republican and former television weather forecaster.

On heels of Steffen’s remarks in the Lenexa sanctuary, Thompson chose not to address the call to make him lieutenant governor. He did assure an audience of hundreds that he was profoundly skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine and committed to adoption of state laws forbidding people to be forced by government to wear a mask or get shots.

Thompson, a frequent critic of Kelly’s handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 5,900 Kansans, said local government officials had bungled their jobs as well. City and county leaders should have put an end to all the requirements and mandates long ago, he said.

“The local guys have not been handling this. The public health officials have not been handling this. They don’t want to hear the facts. It is purely about control. It is purely about money. I’m sick and tired of it,” he said.

The daylong program Monday sponsored by the anti-vaccination organization Kansans for Health Freedom offered a concentrated sample of activists, politicians and health professionals with a keen interest in minimizing government’s role in dictating individual health decisions, especially about vaccines. Very few participants wore face masks. The large church served to encourage speakers to express their faith in God.

Many drawn to the gathering believed that science demonstrated vaccines mandated by government had the potential to trigger autism in children. This has been disputed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics and the UK’s National Health Service.

Kelly Stewart is the Wichita mother of a 7-year-old daughter, Maggie. Stewart said the girl was healthy until receiving a vitamin K shot as an infant. Maggie went into respiratory distress and was flown to a neonatal intensive care unit. Maggie is autistic and grapples with sensory and speech processing challenges.

Physicians and scientists who advocate mass vaccination of children should bear responsibility for harm done to young kids, she said.

“They’re supposed to be there to provide and protect us,” Stewart said. “They told us the shots were safe and effective.”


Constitutional lecture

Kris Kobach, a Republican candidate for Kansas attorney general, said the pandemic revealed the strength of anti-vaccination freedom fighters as well as the “inner authoritarianism” of government officials who relished the idea of issuing edicts, commands and orders.

He predicted President Joe Biden would impede international travel by U.S. residents by requiring travelers from other nations to have proof of vaccination for COVID-19 before entering the United States. It’s likely other countries will reciprocate by denying entry to unvaccinated Americans, he said.

Kris Kobach, a Republican running for attorney general, said the most difficult threat to anti-vaccination forces was finding a way to block private businesses from requiring employees get a COVID-19 shot. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Kris Kobach, a Republican running for attorney general, said the most difficult challenge to anti-vaccination forces was finding a way to block private businesses from requiring workers get a COVID-19 shot. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kobach, a former secretary of state who lost campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, said he would be the type of attorney general making certain Kansas was first in line to file lawsuits against the Biden administration opposing federal COVID-19 mandates. Biden has ordered federal employees to get vaccinated or be subject to regular testing. The president also proposed companies with more than 100 employees compel personnel to be vaccinated.

“The federal government has no authority whatsoever under the United States Constitution to impose a vaccine mandate,” Kobach said.

Kobach, who taught constitutional law at University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Kelly would have a difficult time sustaining a vaccination mandate in Kansas because of constitutional liberties related to religious freedom and due process.

The Democratic governor has said repeatedly she wasn’t interested in advancing a vaccine mandate. She has been a consistent proponent of vaccinating eligible youth and adults to minimize spread of COVID-19 and help keep businesses, schools and other entities open.

“Even though our current governor would probably love to mandate we all get the vaccine, you haven’t seen it yet because we have a lot of constitutional arguments,” Kobach said.

He said opponents of vaccine mandates were on shaky ground when it came to private companies requiring employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus. It’s harder to challenge a business relationship with employees than to challenge government intrusion, he said.

“Pass the tofu,” Kobach said. “That’s where we’re headed right now.”


Big fat ‘Nothingburger’

Del Bigtree, who worked on the CBS show “The Doctors” and produced the vaccine awareness documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” said physicians should be placed on trial for crimes against humanity for their flawed work during the pandemic.

“With all the medical malpractice you’ll hear about today, with all the denial and argument about hydroxychloroquine (and) putting people on ventilators — killing nine out of 10 of them on ventilators — the gravest destruction ever to happen in a hospital, … they could still only push this virus to a death rate of less than a quarter of 1%,” Bigtree said. “This was a Nothingburger.”

Ben Tapper,
Ben Tapper, an Omaha, Nebraska, chiropractor, said opponents of government-mandated vaccinations must get off the couch and bring their activism to bear in the political process or risk uncomfortable COVID-19 orders. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Bigtree worked on the 2016 documentary film with Andrew Wakefield, who lost his medical license in the United Kingdom based on allegations of fraudulent research linking vaccines and autism. He published a report in The Lancet purporting to show a connection in 1998, but that article was withdrawn in 2010. Wakefield and Bigtree argued in the documentary there was evidence the CDC manipulated or destroyed evidence of a tie between autism and vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella.

Lee Merritt, an orthopedic surgeon from Iowa, told the revival that taking the COVID-19 vaccine was a bigger risk than being infected by the coronavirus. She also said wearing masks was an occult symbol of submission.

She speculated COVID-19 could be associated with implementation of 5G technology, which some believe could harm human health. A more likely explanation for the pandemic, Merritt said, is that COVID-19 was formulated as a bioweapon that appeared extremely deadly before settling into something akin to a psychological operation.

“If you think we’re fighting a virus, you’re going to be a victim,” she said. “If you understand that we’re fighting a war, then you have a chance at survival.”

Ben Tapper, a chiropractor from Nebraska, said Americans needed to wake up to the reality that many of their health problems stemmed from poor life choices and contributed to chronic disease such as cancer, obesity and heart disease. Americans need to quit placing pharmaceutical drugs and vaccinations on a pedestal, he said.

He pushed back against the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s inclusion of him among a dozen prolific distributors of anti-vaccination misinformation and conspiracy theories on the internet. He declared censorship of ideas online as the work of tyrants.

“Evil and tyranny doesn’t sleep,” Tapper said. “We can no longer choose comfort and convenience. We need good people to rise.”


Warlike perspective

Karladine Graves, a family medicine physician in Kansas City, Missouri, said the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to do God’s work by engaging in a faith battle for health freedom.

Doug Billings,
Doug Billings, host of the podcast “The Right Side,” said the United States was the battleground of a spiritual war. He urged people to reject vaccine mandates in the workplace, wait to be fired and file a lawsuit against former employers. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

“Each and every one of you have been called to be a warrior. Not a spectator,” she said. “We are in the greatest war this earth has ever seen.”

She urged the audience not to be intimidated by physicians or pharmacists reluctant to confront coronavirus in a manner that respected views of true believers. If headed to a hospital, she said, be prepared to demand certain baseline tests. She warned the crowd not to let medical professionals deny access to medications such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Don’t be afraid to hire an attorney to advance personal treatment demands, she said.

“We are on a quest to save humanity,” the doctor said. “Don’t let them take your reasoning. Don’t be intimidated by the enemy.”

Doug Billings, host of “The Right Side” podcast, focused on the campaign to upend political moderates in the Democratic Party. He said the Republican Party’s adherents weren’t the kind of people who responded to adversity by damaging property and rejecting God.

“The other side, the liberal left, doesn’t know what we’re talking about when we talk about overcoming adversity, challenges and tragedies,” Billing said. “Then, you have a generation of people who will burn and topple cities and statues and try to crucify Jesus in the public square.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.