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What Have We Learned?

What Have We Learned?


I am no expert. But when lockdowns descended in March 2020, I immediately sensed something was terribly wrong. A top military officer later characterized the Covid response as “the largest psychological operations campaign waged in our lifetimes.” 

The military would know about such campaigns, as they have entire departments devoted to psychological warfare.  As enforcers and believers surrounded me, how did I sense right away that something like a cult had taken over? I wanted to believe and to belong. But I couldn’t. It would have been much easier if it all made sense to me. However, anything like a cult or cult-like thinking viscerally repels me. 

Many signs and messages and people appeared over these past few years, and I was not always sure how or why they appeared. Often, I felt like I was riding on grace without a road or map. Staying open to see, I prayed a prayer I have often used – “God, please show me, show me what I need to know.” Another prayer that I have used in past harrowing times proved useful: God, give me strength, clarity, and endurance.

I was in my classroom with other teachers nearby in theirs when the Virginia governor announced something grave, with rumors that he was going to close all schools. Students had already been sent home. It was as though someone said a nuclear bomb exploded or that zombies invaded the countryside, but we didn’t see any dead bodies or zombies or smoke or rubble. What were we to do in this eeriness from our empty classrooms?

We pumped hand sanitizer into our palms more often than usual and wondered what would happen next. Probably as one of many emerging bureaucratic mandates, custodians had distributed extra bottles to everyone. Within days, we were all told to stay home. We did our best to use computers to reach students from home, but mostly school ended for the year in 2020, almost three months early.

It never made sense to me. I didn’t like Facebook (FB), but it had helped some with loneliness before, and I corresponded with interesting people all over the world that I would not have met otherwise. I felt like there had to be people out there who were questioning like me. In a weird paradox, the same internet that created with coordinated speech terrible mass conformity to lockdowns and injections, when almost all networks spoke the same phrases to promote fear, was also a place where we could find alternative opinions.

I scanned FB for people who were not putting their pictures inside “Stay Home, Save Lives” graphics or “Stay the F Home.” I glanced at profiles for dissident and independent thinker qualities. Former rebel groups and what I thought were independent-thinking groups were silent. The world was crumbling, psychological warfare ramping up, but I sensed that I could not possibly be alone in my disbelief, so I sought others. I clicked on “Add Friend” request buttons. From various sources, I found different links and information, various sites, and new people and started keeping notes.

At my boyfriend’s, now husband’s house, I came across a video of James Corbett, who described language use in the descending doom, how the unfolding powers used language in strange and manipulative ways, which fascinated me. Often, to survive hard times, I have stepped back, intellectualized, and taken an anthropological view of horrors, even while in the midst of them. A month into lockdowns, I quickly wrote an essay on what I saw happening and sent it to the editors at Off-Guardian magazine, where Corbett had published. I may have tried a few US markets but encountered silence as I did with most Covid period essays.

I didn’t know these Off-Guardian writers and editors previously but learned on their site that they created it several years ago after the Guardian editors banned them from making comments on its Open Comments section. Show me, I had asked God – like stones forming a pattern to find my way in the dark or bread crumbs leading to a house of refuge. Editor Tony Sutton asked to reprint my essay in the Canadian magazine, Cold Type. Sutton also reprinted an essay I wrote in June 2020 on armed Michigan protestors. Adbusters magazine published one of my early essays during the summer 2020 riots, that madness when all restrictive distancing mandates were suddenly abandoned, and politicians and bureaucrats excused the riots and rioters.

I messaged a new FB friend and asked him what he thought about what was going on, commented on how strange it was, and wondered when it would end. He noted that almost all politicians fell in line with the narrative; however, Ron Paul was one of the only public figures speaking against lockdowns, he said. I went to Paul’s site, read essays on lockdowns, and listened to some talks. Early on, I found Jeffrey Tucker online, as another almost solitary voice.

Later, I found Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, whom I had admired since hearing her speak when I was in graduate school in my 20s. On FB, she posted questions on Covid numbers and noted that pharmaceutical companies that stood to profit massively from vaccines, funded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was promoting masking, “distancing,” lockdowns, and then injections. I happened upon Scott Jensen, family physician and former Senator from Minnesota, who described a letter he received from the CDC instructing doctors how to complete death certificates, when he had never received such a letter before. Montana physician Dr. Annie Bukacek also spoke on death certificate manipulation.

These discoveries were while most everyone around me behaved like this all made sense, and that we just had to comply a little longer, then governments would release us from lockdowns. I had very few people to talk to.

In the past, with peace activism, work I had done since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I would have shared openly and widely what I found. I would have shared in emails to friends, colleagues, and family, and on social media, but I did so only surreptitiously during this time. I decided early on that I would keep searching but would do my best not to lose friends.

This time felt dangerously different. I published more essays, but when in person with friends or family, I diverted and changed the subject rather than argue. Discussion didn’t seem to work. As mandates wore on month after month, I searched online for districts where I could move to teach that didn’t demand face coverings for students and staff. I wished I could flee and take my son with me. 

To support them and connect with dissidents as I found them, I shared their links or actions widely in comment sections and messages. I wrote letters to editors of papers that were ignored. I sent FB messages, widely but carefully because, as a single mother, I had to keep my job to make house payments and to support my teenage son, who was still at home. People were losing their jobs for clicking the “like” button on a social media post. Some believers spewed vicious cruelty and vitriol when anyone questioned masks, lockdowns, school closings, or forced shots.

Early public crucifixions showed me that we were in perilous times, like nothing I had ever lived through before. I began to ask early in lockdowns – and still ask – who made millions or billions for their actions and speech, and who had their licenses threatened, their livelihoods jeopardized, or even their lives threatened in this period? Who spoke with voices of conscience regardless of the costs? Who was rewarded for their activism, and who was persecuted? Why? Which bureaucrats have cushy, high-paying jobs now in retirement plus government pensions that taxpayers fund?

Mark Crispin Miller, NYU teacher and expert in modern propaganda, gave his media studies students articles with varying perspectives on the effectiveness of face masks, then a student spread hate about him on the internet, calling for his firing. His department abandoned him. Miller did what good teachers have always done, what I have done – give students provocative reading with divergent perspectives to encourage their critical thinking and discussion. 

When regenerative farmer, author, and long-time self-proclaimed non-conformist Joel Salatin made an irreverent joke on his blog about Coronavirus, “I want Coronavirus,” he said, to get it over with and develop immunity, the comment made national news, while his former devoted followers dragged him to the town square to crucify him. Mother Earth News canceled his long-running column. I had not read Salatin’s work before, but this fiasco compelled me to read his blog and public comments in which former followers, often referred to as “foodies,” those same followers who made long drives to get their special food from him or farmers like him (grass-fed beef or pasture-raised poultry or free-range eggs) called for his death and his head on a stake – for his speech.

Something terrible was happening, and it wasn’t about a virus. Similarly, when Governor Kristi Noem did not lock down South Dakota in 2020, someone on Facebook commented that her head would look good mounted on his wall. No one objected. Others piled on to condemn her. Shocked and appalled, I wrote an essay about this violent speech, which was published in Global Research and the Columbus Free Press, but as darkness deepened, I asked editors to remove it. I worried for my son’s privacy and safety. Friends and neighbors were turning against each other for their thoughts and expressed opinions; “distancing” orders, lockdowns, and shot mandates fractured families.

Friends helped. Which kinds? I pondered that question. One friend I walked and talked with (she came to my house, when others wouldn’t because governments told us not to gather) had escaped a repressive religious cult with her family several years previously. She and her husband also were working with an addicted adult daughter, who, sadly committed suicide in spring 2023. Another dear friend, who helped sustain me, had survived a life-threatening assault as a young woman and also lived with the life-threatening disease of alcoholism with the aid of 12-step fellowships.

This friend and I met for lunch in the middle of lockdowns at one of my favorite restaurants. They had put tables in the parking lot. Staff fear and paranoia and masks almost ruined going there, but I missed my friend. It felt like we were sneaking a meeting at the edge of a battlefield. I was so glad to be with her, to see her face when she sat down with a piece of T-shirt material in her hand. My friend is also a sharp attorney, who tracked Covid data and numbers from the beginning and shared her insights and skepticism with me. She wrote a letter to the school board in her district to obtain a mask exemption for her fifth-grade daughter – and she challenged mandates at board meetings.

“What is this supposed to do?” she asked, waving the thin piece of T-shirt material with ear loops, the mask. We shook our heads and laughed. Another dear friend, a retired cop, whom I talked to often on the phone during the dark and confusing times, had lost his wife, my friend, to suicide many years before. She had endured childhood sexual abuse from her father, a Christian missionary, and ostracism from the church and was never able to fully recover. He finished raising their children by himself. He wasn’t terrified of Covid and never bought the lockdowns, masks, or shots. Early in lockdown, he sent me a cartoon of Chuck Norris drinking from a cup that said, “Coronavirus” on it.

Humor helped throughout, including humorists like J.P. Sears and Anthony Lawrence from the UK with his police officer character arresting people for “park sitting” and “beach walking.”

I found many others, some of whom when you “Google” them or look at Wikipedia, are maligned, labeled, and slandered, even now, exposing deep flaws in Google searches and in Wikipedia. Peter McCullough early in lockdowns testified before the Texas Senate on early Covid treatments, which were suppressed; authors of the Great Barrington Declaration warned against harms of lockdowns; mouse inventor and tech millionaire Steve Kirsch, who was an early funder of Covid vaccine tests, spoke out when he concluded they were unsafe; and Sharyl Atkisson interviewed an Amish Mennonite farmer and a scholar on how Amish Mennonite communities fared through the crisis. “We made more money in the last year than we ever did,” the farmer said of the strictest lockdown period. 

In addition, I came across Alfie Oakes in Naples, Florida, who kept his cheerful, wholesome Seed to Table grocery store and eatery open and did not demand staff or customers mask their faces. Oakes received death threats for this, I read. While sharing links in comment sections and with allies I trusted, I also published articles. Gratefully, no one threatened my job, probably because I taught in a rural part of Virginia, close to the West Virginia line. Communities there have a long history of skepticism of government, I believe.

A news story in Fredericksburg, Virginia reported that Gourmeltz restaurant in Fredericksburg remained open with the bar open as well in spite of state orders to operate at half capacity or less, to space tables in bizarre ways, to mandate masks when walking, and to prohibit bar sitting. First responders, police officers, active-duty military members, and veterans gathered cheerfully with open faces at Gourmeltz. The state raided the restaurant in December 2022 and seized the owner’s liquor license, which the governor later restored. My husband and I drove there to eat. We also found a friendly outdoor bar in Fredericksburg that remained open, had live music, and didn’t demand face masking. Service members from nearby Quantico Marine Base frequented it.

Dissidents and outsiders saved lives and uplifted spirits during this dark period. We found each other and are still finding each other, making new and hopeful alliances. What are we learning? How are we repairing harms? Sadly, many, especially young people, still suffer trauma and fallout, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

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  • Christine Black

    Christine E. Black's work has been published in The American Journal of Poetry, Nimrod International, The Virginia Journal of Education, Friends Journal, Sojourners Magazine, The Veteran, English Journal, Dappled Things, and other publications. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Pablo Neruda Prize. She teaches in public school, works with her husband on their farm, and writes essays and articles, which have been published in Adbusters Magazine, The Harrisonburg Citizen, The Stockman Grass Farmer, Off-Guardian, Cold Type, Global Research, The News Virginian, and other publications.

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