World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland
World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland, 2023. Photo credit: Pierre Albouy / WHO

For the anti-government far-Right, international cooperation is poisonous.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted its 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) from May 27 through June 1 in Geneva. This event had been set as the deadline to approve a proposed pandemic treaty, an ambitious undertaking WHO member nations had been working on for the past two years in order to codify what had been learned from the failures of COVID-19 responses and be better prepared for the next pandemic.

The Friday preceding the WHA, however, it was announced that, despite extra negotiation meetings in the month leading up to the assembly, the WHO nations had failed to agree upon a finalized draft proposal. 

This was celebrated on Twitter/X by members of the far-Right, including MAGA ally Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).   

Referring to the pandemic treaty, Johnson expressed gratitude to the American Sovereignty Coalition (ASC) for raising “awareness of this attempted power grab by new world order globalists.” The week ahead of the WHA, the ASC hosted “The Sovereignty Summit” in Washington, where it lambasted the pandemic treaty as “an illegal power grab” on the part of the WHO. In their press release for the event, they thanked Johnson for his “indispensable help and participation.” 

Johnson previously hosted an international COVID-19 contrarian event with figures in the US anti-vax movement and members of global far-right political parties, including Alternative for Germany (AfD), as part of the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

WHO Is the Target

Frequent Johnson collaborator and member of the anti-vax group The Unity Project, Dr. Robert Malone, as well as the right-wing, anti-public health outfit the Brownstone Institute, were listed signatories of the ASC’s declaration calling for a US exit from the WHO over the pandemic treaty. 

This declaration wildly claims the WHO is “effectively controlled by the Chinese Communist Party” and “underwritten and malignly influenced by other hostile special interests, including Bill Gates and Big Pharma.” It further complains that, under the pandemic treaty, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus could flag “so-called ‘disinformation’ to be causing so-called public health emergencies.” The WHO has been outspoken about the dangerous infodemic superimposed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Brownstone Institute is an offshoot of the Koch-tied Great Barrington Declaration, the economy-first, herd immunity COVID-19 strategy embraced by the Trump administration, which was called “unethical” by Ghebreyesus. As reported by Health Policy Watch, Brownstone was one of the partners listed on the event website for the “We Are the Change” rally and march in Geneva against the pandemic treaty. 

Malone, who spent the pandemic grossly exaggerating his role in the development of mRNA vaccine technology and fear-mongering about the COVID-19 vaccines, promoted that rally and march on his Twitter/X account, while decrying the threat of “globalists.”

In addition to Malone, American speakers at this June 1 event included Dr. Ryan Cole, the America’s Frontline Doctors founding member who had his Washington state license restricted over his spread of COVID-19 misinformation; Steve Kirsch, the anti-vax tech millionaire who took stolen patient data from New Zealand; Bret Weinstein, the former evolutionary biology professor turned ivermectin-promoter and AIDS denialist; and James Lindsay, the anti-Critical Race Theory and anti-LGBT activist who has worked closely with the far-right astroturf group Moms for Liberty

In early May, Johnson discussed the issue of “national sovereignty and health autonomy” posed by the treaty with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign communications director, Del Bigtree, on the latter’s conspiracy-friendly program The Highwire.

Also in early May, Johnson spoke about efforts to stop the pandemic treaty with Tony Perkins, the president of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council and the immediate past-president of the Council for National Policy (CNP), which has helped orchestrate the far-right takeover of the GOP. The pro-Trump, hydroxychloroquine-pushing America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) was created in a partnership with the CNP to bolster Trump’s second presidential campaign.   

The Long Reach of Bannonism

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAGA movement — which has been rubbing noses with independent presidential candidate Kennedy — has been waging war on American scientific institutions like the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. And this is part of a larger far-Right attack on American institutions like the courts, education system, election administration, etc. 

The MAGA anti-government movement is also deeply nationalistic and isolationist, as that is the central ethos of its disinformation-spewing kingpin Steve Bannon’s geopolitical ideology. And former CNP member Bannon — who is headed to prison on a contempt of Congress conviction for defying a subpoena from the House January 6 select committee — has been active internationally.

So has Bannon’s spoiler candidate, Kennedy. Kennedy’s anti-vax organization, Children’s Health Defense, partnered with the UK-based, ivermectin-promoting World Council for Health for a joint venture, The Great FreeSet, calling for a rejection of the WHO and specifically hitting out at the pandemic treaty. World Council for Health leader Dr. Tess Lawrie is listed as a member of the US-based The Unity Project alongside Malone and Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice. 

The WHO is not the only international group targeted by this movement. As I discussed previously, AFLDS listed founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab, as well as US health officials and politicians, alongside the WHO’s Ghebreyesus in their “Deadly Disinformation Dozen” enemies list last summer. 

The opportunistic far-Right used the global pandemic and a disinformation campaign to sow division and push their anti-government, nationalist, isolationist ideology — with deadly consequences for the US and beyond. 

For example, the hoarding of vaccines in rich countries like the US — which leads the world in the manufacturing of online vaccine misinformation — created a major equity issue. The “massive global failure” that has been the COVID-19 pandemic response is exactly the reason why we should strengthen international partnership around global health. 

The misbegotten grievances of ideologues, which are sure to reappear when the complete proposal is finalized, are not to be taken seriously — but the damage they have done must be. 

Ahead of the WHA, scholars from Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health published an article for Think Global Health hitting back at some of the misinformation that had been spread about the now-postponed treaty. They asserted:

  1. The pandemic agreement does not give WHO control over member-state health policies. 
  2. The pandemic agreement does not force countries to hand over vaccines. 
  3. The pandemic agreement will not weaken intellectual property rights protections. 
  4. The pandemic agreement does not encourage censorship.
  5. The process to negotiate the pandemic agreement has been legal.

There is room for reasonable debate over specific points in the treaty if done in good faith, and that should continue by WHO delegates as they continue working on the proposal. On the final day of the WHA — and the day of the “We Are the Change” rally — the WHO announced members had committed to finalizing the pandemic treaty proposal within a year and voted on key amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations. While this falls short of the original treaty goal, these updates serve to strengthen health systems in the face of another pandemic. 

The misbegotten grievances of ideologues, which are sure to reappear when the complete proposal is finalized, are not to be taken seriously — but the damage they have done must be. 

Over the past four years, these COVID-19 contrarians have proven themselves to be not only untrustworthy and unforthcoming about their political connections and agenda, but dangerous to global public health and democracy. 

The pandemic treaty is a key opportunity to learn from the recent past and safeguard the future against repeating such failure. Beyond that main goal, it is an opportunity to show the sycophants of Bannonism that, while they may have been able to take over right-wing politics in America, they cannot hold the world hostage to their ideology.


  • Allison Neitzel

    Allison Neitzel, MD, is physician-researcher and founder of the independent research group MisinformationKills, which has investigated the dark money and politics behind public health disinformation with a focus on the pandemic. Her book on the topic, Misinformation Kills: How Politics and Dark Money Hijacked COVID, is due for publication later this year.

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