When Judy Mikovits co-wrote a 2009 research paper that linked the mysterious condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus that came from mice, thousands of sick patients hoping for relief rallied behind her. The scientific riddle was solved, they thought.
Less than two years later, those hopes were dashed when follow-up studies failed to replicate the findings and the respected journal “Science” retracted the paper. Researchers posited that the study’s inaccurate conclusions were the result of contamination of the lab samples, and the theory that a virus might be the source of the still-mysterious condition died.
But Mikovits’ conviction that her theory was correct, and her belief that the top scientific minds in the United States conspired to ruin her career never faded.
She has now again accused the scientific establishment of conspiracy. In a film called “Plandemic,” and in a recently published book that topped the Amazon bestsellers chart this week, she makes a false claim: that the doctors and experts shaping public policy in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic have silenced dissenting voices and misled the public for sinister reasons.
She falsely claims that wealthy people intentionally spread the virus to increase vaccination rates and that wearing face masks is harmful.
The coronavirus-related theories Mikovits presented defy accepted science and wilt under scrutiny, according to dozens of experts who spoke up after “Plandemic” trended this week.
The film is so questionable that social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo on Thursday scrubbed it from their sites. A Vimeo spokesperson, for example, said that the company “stands firm in keeping our platform safe from content that spreads harmful and misleading health information. The video in question has been removed . . . for violating these very policies.”
It was the latest chapter in the saga of Mikovits’ troubled career.
In the years after the 2009 study was retracted, Mikovits was fired from her job leading a research institute, arrested for theft and sued by her former employer. Meanwhile, she doubled down on debunked theories linking retroviruses that originated in mice to medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and autism.
In response to an inquiry from The Washington Post, Mikovits said she could not participate in an interview until after Mother’s Day but offered up a PowerPoint presentation that she claimed backed up the allegations she made in “Plandemic.”
She acknowledged her past legal troubles – including the arrest – in the film, but suggested her woes stem from an alleged conspiracy to crush her once-promising career and destroy her credibility as a scientist.
Mikovits also flung false and wild allegations at several high-profile scientists in “Plandemic,” including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. In the weeks before the “Plandemic” trailer launched, she had been positioning herself as an expert and an anti-Fauci voice in interviews with conspiracy-hawking and far right-leaning websites like the Epoch Times and the Gateway Pundit.
The film and Mikovits’ allegations fit into a broader campaign to discredit Fauci, propagated among some of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters.
Mikovits, who graduated with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from George Washington University, spent 22 years working for the National Cancer Institute. She left that job in 2001, and The New York Times reported in a 2009 profile that Mikovits moved from Maryland to California to work for a drug company that later failed. She ended up bar tending for a yacht club, the Times reported, before she was recruited to helm a privately funded research clinic, Whittemore Peterson Institute, which was dedicated to finding the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.
After other scientists failed to replicate Mikovits’s research on chronic fatigue syndrome, her employers at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada fired her in October 2011, “Science” magazine reported, though they said the termination was not related to the retraction.
Then, her employers filed criminal and civil charges against her for allegedly stealing research materials and data when she left her job.
In “Plandemic,” Mikovits tells the story of how she was arrested at her home in Southern California, briefly jailed and charged with being a “fugitive from justice.” The PowerPoint she shared with The Post includes a slide with an image of a news story about her arrest that includes minimal information about the allegations against her. In the film, she suggests that she was not accused of a crime and that the arrest was intended to intimidate her.
But the local prosecutor in Washoe County, Nevada, charged her with allegedly stealing computer data and other materials from her former lab at the Whittemore Peterson Institute. The criminal charges were eventually dropped in June 2012, after the Whittemore family encountered its own set of legal troubles that discouraged the Washoe County prosecutor from pursuing the case.
Before the charges were dropped, a lab employee reportedly signed an affidavit claiming that he had removed notebooks from the lab and stored them in his mother’s garage before delivering them to Mikovits, The New York Times reported.
“Mikovits informed me that she was hiding out on a boat to avoid being served with papers from [the Whittemore Peterson Institute],” the employee said in the affidavit, according to The Times.
After her legal mess, Mikovits wrote her first book with anti-vaccine advocate Kent Heckenlively in 2014, called “Plague.” Their second book, “Plague of Corruption,” was published by Skyhorse Publishing this year and was listed as No. 1 on Amazon’s bestsellers list as recently as Friday morning, beating out presales for Stephanie Meyer’s upcoming addition to the massively successful “Twilight” series.
Across the Web, skeptics of the coronavirus pandemic have rallied behind the book and the conspiracies promoted in “Plandemic.” The film trended on Twitter and racked up 1.8 million views on Facebook before the platform removed the video, The Post reported.
University of Colorado at Denver professor Jennifer Reich, who studies the anti-vaccine movement, explained why so many people are willing to believe the unsupported claims Mikovits has made about the coronavirus pandemic.
“The claims Mikovits makes highlight uncertainties people feel right now,” Reich told The Post in an email. People who do not have “firsthand knowledge” of a pandemic victim may question the statistics officials have been reporting on infection and death rates.
More than 75,000 people have died of covid-19 in the United States, which Reich called a “staggering number,” but that translates to about 230 deaths for every 1 million people, she said. That means many people in the U.S. have not seen the impact of the pandemic in their communities, and some of those people are resistant to “trust expert views on the significance of this pandemic and sacrifice a great deal individually.”