Public health experts fear that their messaging could further harm the country’s response to the pandemic.
The protest on Friday in Sacramento urging California’s governor to reopen the state resembled the rallies that have appeared elsewhere in the country, with crowds flocking to the State Capitol, pressing leaders to undo restrictions on businesses and daily life.
But the organizers were not militia members, restaurant owners or prominent conservative operatives. They were some of the loudest antivaccination activists in the country.
The people behind the rally are founders of a group, the Freedom Angels Foundation, which is best known in California for its opposition to state efforts to mandate vaccinations. And the protest was the latest example of the overlapping interests that have connected a range of groups — including Tea Party activists and armed militia groups — to oppose the measures that governors have taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Activists known for their opposition to vaccines have also been involved in protests in New York, Colorado and Texas, where they have found a welcome audience for their arguments for personal freedom and their suspicion of government. But their growing presence at the protests worries public health experts who fear that their messaging could harm the United States’ ability to turn a corner following the pandemic if Americans do not accept a future vaccine.
“One of the things that we’re finding is that the rhetoric is pretty similar between the anti-vaxxers and those demanding to reopen,” said Dr. Rupali J. Limaye, who studies behavior around vaccines at Johns Hopkins University. “What we hear a lot of is ‘individual self management’ — this idea that they should be in control of making decisions, that they can decide what science is correct and incorrect, and that they know what’s best for their child.”
Heidi Muñoz Gleisner, one of the three women who hosted the rally in Sacramento on Friday and were arrested by the police, said the stay-at-home orders that are now expiring in many states had mobilized people who span a variety of groups focused on individual liberty.