Peter Kay is an independent journalist working in the Bay Area covering politics, policing, and extremism. You can support their work by subscribing to their Substack and sending tips to $peterkayreports on cashapp. Follow them on Twitter @PeterKayReports
This weekend, antivaxxers held “End the Mandate” rallies around the country—the largest of which was in Washington D.C. on Sunday. The D.C. rally only drew a few thousand people despite a large stage and highly organized activist infrastructure and aggressive outreach. The events around the country were notable for their attendees’ antisemitism—both in the classical variety and Holocaust trivialization—numerous people, including speakers in D.C., compared their conspiracy theory-addled refusal to get the COVID19 vaccine to the plight of Jews during the Nazis’ systematic genocide campaign. Speakers on the stage also threatened to kill journalists and attendees advocated killing people who facilitate vaccinations for children.
California had several rallies this weekend by antivaxxers, including two in the Bay Area—one in Oakland on the 22nd and one in Danville, a posh town half an hour east of Oakland, the next day. The Oakland rally was notable because right-wing conspiracy theorists have had very little success in the city. Other than the boog boy-pandering campaign of Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen rallying at Lake Merritt in 2020 and some post-Milo Berkeley alt-righters trying to troll a coffee shop in 2018, there has been very little overt far-right activity in Oakland. The Danville rally was notable only because it was well-received by presumed locals driving by, often in giant SUVs and trucks, and because the attendees seemed eager to be hostile to anyone who disagreed with them.
The Oakland rally was in front of The Pergola at Lake Merritt.
Beginning at 1 p.m., the initially small group stood with their tent, which was placed in such a spot that any passerby would have to either walk through the maskless gauntlet or step off the sidewalk and onto the grass to avoid. They were easy enough to avoid at first, but after an hour or so the crowd grew to at least 50 antivaxxers, at least one of which was wearing a Bitcoin t-shirt like some kind of bad joke.
The previous night saw high winds that scattered branches and debris across the lakefront—and the day was full of strong, irregular gusts. Almost as soon as the antivaxxers set up their tents and banners and sound system, much of it got blown away by the wind and had to be chased after.
At the main tent, the group offered copies of conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s latest book, “The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health,” for purchase.
A rendition of "Mask Pollution Isn't The Solution." pic.twitter.com/yyLb6pdFId— James Croxton (He/Him) (@jwcroxton) January 22, 2022
Across the street, Aaron Davis Warren, known locally as “Drummer Boy Aaron,” wailed on a full drum kit and kept messing up the antivaxxers’ tempo.
This guy was going absolutely insane on this drum set down the block, much more interesting than the rally pic.twitter.com/UiK7XNZx7s— Peter Kay 🏴✡️♿️ (@PeterKayReports) January 22, 2022
After a couple of more songs, nature tried to stifle their concert by knocking over a mic stand with a gust of wind.
Then, around 1:40 p.m., the antivaxxers met their ultimate obstacle: a drum circle. People drove cars onto the sidewalk in front of the Pergola and, ignoring the antivaxxers, unloaded their drums and quickly drowned the conspiracy theorists out.
More drummers showing up. That’s how you know these protestors aren’t from here, this drum circle is present every Saturday at this time. pic.twitter.com/2mSn5RZHiL— Peter Kay 🏴✡️♿️ (@PeterKayReports) January 22, 2022
As the drum circle at The Pergola grew both larger and louder, pedestrian traffic through the antivaxx crowd got heavier. A few stopped—probably to look at the human guinea pig holding a sign saying “not your guinea pig” and someone else with an Elmo mascot head holding a ridiculously large syringe. Most continued on towards the beat of the drums and ignored the crowd.
The next day, an anti-mask and anti-vaccine crowd gathered in front of the Starbucks Reserve in Downtown Danville around 2 p.m. The advertisement for the rally appeared to give an indirect, deniable nod to the J6 Capitol rioters; it read “Rally in solidarity with the freedom fighters in Washington, D.C.” While the support rally in Danville was obviously pegged to the D.C. one at the same day and time, it’s hard to miss the echoes of “free our political prisoners” and other pro-J6 slogans in the rhetoric—especially since right wingers have taken to holding pro-Capitol riot rallies recently.
Taking up all four corners of the intersection, the group waved both handmade signs and American Flags. A megaphone went off every time a passing car honked in support—and they got a lot of support.
All four intersections have been taken over by anti-vaxx/anti-mask signs. pic.twitter.com/uqyBR6omIR— James Croxton (He/Him) (@jwcroxton) January 23, 2022
Similar to the prior day’s event, the rally was strategically placed to take up the whole of a busy intersection. If you wanted to get through the area on foot, you either had to visibly skirt around or plunge right through a group of people who refuse to wear masks or get a vaccine during a deadly pandemic. LCRW has seen associated groups of antivaxxers do the same thing at the bike path bridge in Berkeley since winter last year and in Hollywood since 2020. Our staff isn’t in the business of declaring such labels, so we’ll let the readers decide if they consider this a low-rent form of bioterrorism or not.
By 2:30 p.m., the crowd grew and began to include burly men with Gadsden Flags—those “don’t tread on me” snake ones that are now a common symbol on the far-right. The crowd was mostly typical MAGA—mostly white, upper middle class and ready to turn aggressive on a dime. BMWs and Lexuses with “Let’s Go Brandon” stickers and even one with a big “TRUMP WON” flag in the back window scurried into the parking lot and beamed as they took flags and signs out of their cars. One man had a shirt with the NPC Wojak meme wearing a mask and getting stabbed with a needle.
LCRW reporters left the scene early, sensing the crowd was becoming hostile to random passers-by. It was probably a good call. A local independent reporter later said an associated right-wing group assaulted them at another event. The last thing we heard while leaving was someone yelling “Why don’t you put on a mask, snowflake?” or “Why don’t you take off your mask, snowflake.” It was a little hard to hear, but it was one of the two.
Abner Hauge contributed to this report.