Eudora resident Carrie Wallace joined hundreds Saturday at the Capitol to protest federal vaccination mandates for COVID-19 and to urge the Kansas Legislature take swift action in response. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Carrie Wallace stood out among people expressing outrage Saturday with imposition of a federal mandate for government employees and contractors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and the intense pressure campaign to compel inoculation of children.
Wallace, a Eudora resident in a Grim Reaper-infused black cloak and carrying a sickle weapon, brought an absurdly large vaccination needle to a rally outside the Capitol before offering testimony in the statehouse to the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates. She was among 80 people who signed up to share thoughts about the nation’s response to COVID-19, President Joe Biden’s executive orders and personal definitions of medical liberty.
“What I personally believe to be true has led me to change jobs, pull my children out of public school and devote so much of my time to understanding as deeply as possible what the mandates could mean for our society and for rule of law in the United States of America,” she said. “I am fully radicalized, if you will, against the unholy trifecta of big government, big pharma and big media.”
She said it was no longer clear whether Americans could trust politicians to adhere to the U.S. Constitution or the Kansas Constitution. The “unjust” actions of people at different levels of government during the pandemic undermined public confidence in medical and political systems, she said.
“If you know these vaccines to be dangerous to the people and our rights, it is between you and God what you choose to do now,” Wallace told lawmakers. “You will show your loyalty to whomever you serve, and it was never going to be another way.”
The special committee was formed by Republican leaders of the Kansas Legislature after the most fervent conservative GOP members began lobbying to force a special session to take up coronavirus bills. Time is running out for the Legislature to organize a special session, which could cost $65,000 per day. The Legislature convenes for the 2022 regular session in January.
Those offering testimony Friday and Saturday almost universally objected to Biden’s vaccination directive. Many shared distrust in government and lack of hope the Legislature would adequately push back against the federal government on COVID-19 policy.
Biden’s decision to require federal employees, government contractors and people working at large companies to be vaccinated has generated criticism from people who don’t want the vaccination and still uncertain whether a medical or religious exemption could apply. Some don’t want their employers to scrutinize their medical history or evaluate their religious beliefs, an are willing to be fired for their views.
Action by federal regulators to lower the age of vaccination to five years old sent a shockwave through people testifying before the committee, with several suggesting the risk was so great that it amounted to assault or murder.
While the legislative committee worked through COVID-19 testimony in three-minute increments on the third floor of the Capitol, Kansans for Health Freedom and others in the anti-vaccine movement hoisted homemade posters, waved flags and delivered campaign-style speeches at a rally outside.
The guest list included Kris Kobach, a Republican in a three-way race for the party’s nomination in 2022 for attorney general in Kansas. He is best known for serving as the state’s secretary of state and for losing recent campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.
“I’m so excited to see you all here taking a stand, getting outdoors and fighting for your constitutional rights,” Kobach said. “This is an organic, grass roots uprising of the people who say, ‘No, you can’t do this to us. We are going to say no. We are going to choose. It’s our choice.’ That’s what this is all about.”
Kobach said the federal government didn’t have authority to order any person to be vaccinated and federal agencies couldn’t arbitrarily compel people to abide by health mandates. He indicated many members of the state Legislature didn’t appreciate finer points of law that support a counter offensive against federal government COVID-19 mandates.
“Just because somebody has a little pin on his lapel and is a legislator, that does not make him an expert in the constitution,” said Kobach, who taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school. “For that matter, just because President Obama taught a class in constitutional law that didn’t make him an expert either.”
Al Terwelp, representing the Libertarian Party of Kansas, said the organization was convinced government had no authority to interfere with a person’s bodily autonomy, their freedom of movement, voluntary commerce or freedom of association. That equated to opposition to vaccine mandates, mask orders, stimulus packages, essential and nonessential businesses and shutting down parts of the economy, he said.
“This must be the line in the sand,” Terwelp said. “We have seen nothing but government avidity to segregate, discriminate, violate and punish. We believe the future holds nothing but more danger to our liberty. We believe that the president’s executive order to mandate vaccines is blatantly unconstitutional. Our president is operating on assumed powers. That is an absolute usurpation.”
‘I am offended’
Jeff Geesling, who contracted COVID-19 in November 2020, said government officials and their allies pushing vaccination mandates didn’t want to talk about natural immunity. Instead, he said, a vaccine that he considered unproven was thrust upon Kansans.
“This reminds me of a time earlier in history in the 1930s. A man by the name of Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany. We all know how that turned out,” Geesling said. “The current state of our country is reminding me of how things started there. If we aren’t careful we will end up like Nazi Germany and then wonder how we got there. Now is the time to take a stand and take our country back.”
A similar sentiment was shared by Augusta resident Bryan Luedeke, a Textron aviation employee who applied for a religious exemption to avoid a COVID-19 vaccination. He said the accommodation policy would require that he wear a mask, consent to daily screening and maintain physical distancing on company property.
“These requirements are representative and reminiscent of Nazi Germany and the mandate for Jews to identify themselves with an arm band,” Luedeke said.
On Friday, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican on the special committee, responded to testimony by stating she believed people who disagreed with vaccination mandates had to endure modern-day persecution and compared that experience to the Holocaust.
Sheila Sonnenschein, who testified after Geesling and Luedeke, said she was alarmed that anyone would draw a comparison between wearing a face covering or receiving a vaccine injection to the World War II genocide of European Jews. During the war, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered an estimated six million Jews in German-occupied Europe.
“I am offended as a Jewish person,” said Sonnelschein, who believes vaccinations save lives. “It is so upsetting to hear people compare having a vaccination mandate and a mask mandate to the Holocaust. In the Holocaust, people were murdered.”
Militia is ready
Cody Foster, a journeyman lineman at Evergy and a firefighter with the Inman Volunteer Fire Department, said that during the pandemic he strapped on his boots and went to work every day to keep lights on and his community safe. He said the federal government’s latest response to the ongoing pandemic meant he could be discarded in December because he was “dirty, unvaccinated and dangerous.”
“I’m calling on this committee, our representatives and our governor to stop this tyranny,” Foster said. “We need you to stand behind us and pass legislation to block this infringement of personal freedom. If we allow it to continue, there will be no stopping further government overreach.”
Devin Vrana, a chiropractor who brought two of her children to the committee hearing, said she was against COVID-19 requirements and asked lawmakers to stand up for constituents weary of being “lied to and forced against their will to comply with mandates and government overreach.”
“We can look around the nation and see government leaders using their voice and platform to uphold the Constitution and hold the line for all their people,” said Vrana, of Goddard. “We can see the Florida and South Dakota and Montana and South Carolina statements and policies being made to protect medical freedom. So, we know it is possible here in Kansas.”
House and Senate members in Kansas have a duty to push back against federal mandates that conflict with constitutional principles, Jay Atkin told the legislative committee.
He said neighborhood militias of Kansas would be prepared to stop federal forces sent to enforce a vaccination mandate.
“To attempt to force Americans to submit or lose their livelihood — life, liberty and property — is to invite violent retribution and resistance,” Atkin said. “Violating the very principles on which this republic is founded, the instigators are committing treason, acting tyrannical and will reap the rewards of their choices.”
‘Land of the sheep’
Shawnee resident Joann Atchity said she’d understood COVID-19, from the beginning of the “so-called” pandemic in 2020, as a mechanism to assume greater control of Americans and the world.
“In retrospect,” she said, “it is easy to see the decades of planning and preparation that has gone into this operation. We have been systematically conditioned and propagandized to willingly hand over our freedoms. We have been poisoned by fluoride in our water and glyphosate in our food. We have become progressively more and more wards of a ‘nanny’ state.”
Atchity, who was denied entry to Shawnee city and school board meetings for not wearing a mask, said fear of the coronavirus had been weaponized because frightened people struggled to “think critically and are easy to manipulate and control.”
“The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the sheep and the home of the afraid,” she said. “Our elected representatives have sold us out. State and local governments and school boards, have been told to follow orders or lose funding and possibly their jobs.”
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