QAnon believers and other conspiracy theorists have inundated a Chicago hospital with threats after a prominent COVID-19 denier who sought treatment for the disease died Monday.
Veronica Wolski, 64, was well-known in the Chicago area for disseminating anti-vaccine and pro-QAnon messages via large banners posted in highly-trafficked areas.
She became a political lightning rod in conspiracy circles after she contracted COVID-19 and suffered complications. Her backers loudly demanded Resurrection Medical Center treat her with ivermectin, a drug commonly used to deworm livestock. The drug has some human applications, but it is not approved for use in treatment of COVID-19 (federal health agencies, in fact, recommend against it).
Lin Wood — a far-right attorney Twitter permanently banned earlier this year after he predicted the execution of then-Vice President Mike Pence by firing squad — seized upon Wolski’s hospitalization to boost his own publicity. He used social media to urge his followers to contact staff at the hospital and demand Wolski be treated with ivermectin.
Hundreds of people have since called and emailed the hospital, according to NBC Chicago. Some have threatened violence.
In a post on Telegram after Wolski’s death, Wood told his followers they had a “responsibility” to stop “medical murders” and to “go to war.” Hospital staff reportedly called the police in response to bomb threats.
A spokesperson for AMITA Health Medical Group confirmed Wolski died early Monday but declined to elaborate on the nature of the calls the hospital has been receiving.
Similar scenes are playing out at hospitals across the country. Extremist groups are seeking to agitate their followers after efforts to coerce medical professionals into administering ivermectin have fallen flat.
In Vancouver, Washington, the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer promised a “call to action” this week after failing to secure a court order that would have forced doctors at a local hospital to give a COVID-19 patient ivermectin.
The man, Rodger Gundersen, died Sunday night, a spokesperson for PeaceHealth Medical Center confirmed. Patriot Prayer’s leader posted on social media after his death, accusing Gundersen’s doctors of murder.
PeaceHealth told HuffPost the hospital “strongly opposes” the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 as it has not been shown to be effective in clinical trials, and its long-term side effects and possible interactions with proven, existing treatments are unknown.
The hospital said patients and surrogate health decision-makers who desire ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 have the option to transfer to another facility.
Jared Holt, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab who researches domestic extremism, said the trend is troubling.
“There has been increasing hostility toward medical professionals as more unvaccinated people, particularly those with varying degrees of influence in anti-vaccine activism, are hospitalized and even dying after catching COVID-19,” Holt wrote in an email to HuffPost.
“Rather than confront their own irresponsible health choices, these movements have instead coped by alleging wrongdoing by the medical workers tasked with trying to save their lives,” he said. “It’s a terrible development that is putting workers at hospitals ― who are already sacrificing a lot to help in the ways they’re able ― in risk of danger.”
Unvaccinated people are four and a half times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their vaccinated peers and 11 times more likely to die from it, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week.