Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Thursday, September 2, 2021. It is a warm, gray early fall day; the current temperature is 78˚F under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 68% and the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 2 MPH, the feels-like temperature is 77˚F. Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers and a high of 86˚F. Tonight. scattered rain showers will continue. The low will be 75˚F. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 47 or Good.
Earlier this week, I learned that Caleb Wallace, a 30-year-old resident of San Angelo, Texas, died of complications from COVID-19. He is one of the 27,175 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past 28 days, and one of the 642,093 men, women, and children who have been killed by the pandemic since the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) reached our shores early last year.
What makes Wallace’s death worth noticing is that he was a conservative anti-mask activist who led a local group of like-minded Texans who opposed the use of masks in public areas and mandates to mitigate the effects of the COVID pandemic
Per Texas anti-mask movement leader dies of COVID-19 (The Hill, August 29, 2021):
Caleb Wallace, 30, who created the San Angelo Freedom Defenders, a group that held a rally to combat “COVID-19 tyranny,” died after spending more than a month in the hospital, according to a message posted by his wife, Jessica Wallace, on a GoFundMe page to raise money to cover his hospital bills.
Caleb Wallace checked into the Shannon Medical Center on July 30 after contracting COVID-19, according to The New York Times.
Earlier that month, he organized a rally for people who were frustrated with the COVID-19 mitigation measures that had been put in place to contain the current surge in infections.
Caleb Wallace reportedly started feeling symptoms associated with COVID-19 — shortness of breath, high fever and a dry cough — on July 26, and they worsened the next day, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times.
He initially refused to go to the hospital and get tested for the virus, instead opting to take ivermectin — an anti-parasite medication used mostly in livestock that the Food and Drug Administration recently urged people not to take to treat COVID-19 — along with high doses of Vitamin C, zinc aspirin and an inhaler.
On July 30, however, a relative took him to the hospital, where he remained until his death.
After spending nearly a month in a hospital, including time in intensive care with a ventilator, Wallace died on August 28, leaving behind a young (and pregnant!) widow and three young kids. Now Jessica Wallace is stuck not only with funeral expenses, but a whole mess of hospital bills that she can’t afford to pay without a GoFundMe campaign.
I feel sorrow for Mrs. Wallace and her children. They didn’t ask for this tragedy, and I am 100% certain that the young widow probably wishes her husband’s death was not a topic of public discussion.
However, it’s hard for me to feel any sympathy for Caleb Wallace. I wish I could, but when I see how obtuse, how fanatical his resistance to COVID mitigation methods such as masks was, all I feel is a sense of outrage and resentment.
Call me insensitive. Call me hard-hearted or mean-spirited. But I can’t feel sad for the narrow-minded, suicidal attitude of folks like Caleb Wallace who not only question the guidance from medical experts but are literally dropping like flies – after overrunning our already strained healthcare system and taking up room in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) that could have gone to other folks with an urgent need for intensive care, including (but not limited to) those who haven’t been vaccinated yet but have done everything else to “flatten the curve” and mitigate the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
I mean, according to The Hill, Wallace was not content with simply refusing to mask up on his own, but he also encouraged others to do the same.
Caleb Wallace was a staunch critic of wearing masks to curb the spread of the virus, frequently questioning the science behind face coverings and dismissing them as an effective way to fight the pandemic.
He organized a “Freedom Rally” in July 2020 for people who were “sick of the government being in control of our lives,” the San Angelo Standard-Times reported.
Protesters at the event reportedly carried signs that criticized the use of face coverings, businesses being closed, the science behind COVID-19 and the media.
The group he founded was meant to “to educate and empower citizens to make informed choices concerning local, statewide, and national policy and to encourage them to actively participate in their duty to secure God-given and constitutionally protected rights,” the San Angelo Standard-Times reported, citing the group’s Facebook page.
“Show me the science that masks work,” Caleb Wallace wrote on Facebook in December 2020, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times.
Maybe, just maybe, I’d feel less angry if Wallace’s death were an isolated incident. An aberration, if you will, in the American community at large.
Alas, it is not.
In Republican-majority states such as Wallace’s Texas, COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising steadily. Governor Gregg Abbott and his lieutenant governor Dan Patrick are both staunch conservatives, supporters of Donald Trump, and opponents of mandates for both masks and vaccines. The results, not surprisingly, have been disastrous, to say the least.
Here, per the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) COVID-19 Dashboard, is the current state of affairs in the Lone Star State:
Cases in 28 days: 453,722
Deaths in 28 days: 3,924
Total cases: 3,639,659
Total deaths: 57,381
In Texas, there are only 330 ICU beds for a population of 30 million. The spike in cases and deaths – worsened by the fact that the coronavirus mutates and adapts and is now in its more lethal Delta variant – is caused more by human hardheadedness and willful ignorance than anything the virus – which, after all, is not sentient – can do on its own.
We have known for over a year and a half that COVID-19 is caused by a virus. That it spreads through the air. That it is transmitted from human to human with ease. And that it is lethal. (Not Ebola virus lethal, but still…)
We also know that the effects from the coronavirus can be mitigated by taking appropriate measures, such as wearing masks properly, washing hands constantly, minimizing trips to stores and other places where people gather, and staying six feet away from other individuals. Vaccines work, too, but only if you get them, and with new mutations of the virus emerging every so often, booster shots might be necessary to improve their efficacy.
And yet….there is still a chorus, led mostly (but not exclusively) by die-hard conservatives like Caleb Wallace or radio host Marc Bernier, who died from COVID-19 just hours apart on August 28.
Per CNN Chris Cillizza’s The compounded tragedy of conservative radio hosts dying of Covid-19:
On Saturday night, Florida conservative talk radio show Marc Bernier, an outspoken opponent of masking and vaccines to combat Covid-19, died of Covid-19. Earlier in the day, Caleb Wallace, a prominent opponent of masks as a means to slow the spread of Covid-19, died of Covid-19.
Wallace was 30 years old. Bernier was 65.
The two deaths are simply the latest in a string of incidents in which crusaders against mask-wearing and vaccines have died — or been hospitalized — after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
Bernier, in fact, was the third conservative talk radio host who opined against masks and expressed skepticism about the vaccine to die from Covid-19 in recent weeks. Earlier this month Dick Farrel, a Florida-based talk radio host, passed away from the coronavirus. Just last week, Nashville-based host Phil Valentine, 65, died from the virus.
If Stephen King had written a subplot about conservative “Captain Trips” deniers in his apocalyptic classic The Stand back in 1978, I don’t know if readers would have said ole Steve-O had jumped the shark. Seriously. How can adults with a modicum of education, intelligence, and communications skills be so irrational, obtuse, and plainly irresponsible?
The problem with conservatives like Bernier, Wallace, and Valentine is that they see (well, in the case of this trio, saw) everything through a purely political lens. Right vs. left. Conservatives vs. liberals. Good vs. evil. (In this context, “good” being conservatives, “evil” being liberals.)
Take a gander at the late Phil Valentine’s take on COVID-19 mitigation efforts from his blog, It’s Just Common Sense:
No matter what the so-called experts tell you, masks simply don’t work. They actually give you a false sense of security. People believe they’re bullet-proof from COVID if they just wear a mask, so they get too close to people with COVID for too long and they come down with it themselves.
Understand one thing. There are only two things that will protect you from COVID: time and distance. If you stay away from people and limit the time you are in contact with people to five minutes or less you greatly reduce your risk of contracting this virus.
But local and state governments, much like Cuomo back in June, still don’t get it. They close or greatly curtail restaurants. In Nashville there are over 5,000 restaurants. There has not been a single COVID outbreak at any of them. Isn’t that amazing? Don’t trust me. Check with the Metro Health Department. They release, periodically, the places where COVID is spreading. Not one restaurant is listed. There are several bars. That makes sense. You’re closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes. Where are you ever closer than six feet for over 15 minutes at a restaurant, except with the people you came with? Exactly. It’s just common sense.
Phil Valentine was an educated man from a well-to-do middle class family. His father, Tim Valentine, was a six-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina. He studied broadcasting at Connecticut School of Broadcasting after attending East Carolina University. Both his writing style and his longevity as a talk radio personality in Nashville, Tennessee show that he was skilled at the use of language. He was also staunchly pro-Trump and faithful to his conservative political beliefs.
Valentine was, almost to the end of his abbreviated life, skeptical about everything medical experts said about COVID-19. Especially about masks and vaccines. Only at the very end did Valentine admit he was wrong about vaccines and encouraged his listeners, in a public statement, to get their shots ASAP.
Too little, too late.
I truly can’t wrap my head around conservatism, especially the more radicalized version exemplified by Trump supporters who believe all sorts of conspiracy theories and only consume “news” (I call it propaganda) from Fox News Corporation, Breitbart News, One America News Network, and any broadcasting company that employs guys like Marc Bernier and Phil Valentine. I understand the roots of conservatism – it’s a worldview that is centered around a core of wealthy, almost exclusively white, business elites who seek only to maintain their hold on political, social, and economic power. As the name of the philosophy itself implies, conservatism is a rejection of change and progress, allegedly in the name of preserving old, long-established moral values, but really to keep control of everything and prevent the riff-raff from displacing the anointed elite.
Valentine, Wallace, Bernier, and all the other right-wing anti-mask, anti-vaccine agitators might have honestly believed their cause was just. I don’t doubt Wallace did; he strikes me as the sort of man who didn’t go to college after high school and was susceptible to being indoctrinated. Whether Valentine understood the dynamics of conservatism – which I believe is a fear-based philosophy – or not, I’m not sure. But surely he was smart enough to understand the science behind COVID-19 mitigation methodology…but because Donald Trump politicized a public health issue, he chose to put feelings over facts instead.
I feel sympathy for Valentine’s widow and three children.
For Valentine? Not so much.
After all, this is a guy who wrote this after the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters:
It’s amazing the similarities between the angered Trump people this go-around and the Hillary folks last time. I get it. There was obviously voter fraud. The only pertinent question all along is was there enough voter fraud to change the election? We may never know. The courts won’t hear it. The media won’t report it. So, what are we to do? Burn down the country because we think the election was stolen? Well, that’s exactly what the left has been doing. Why are some people on the right prone to do the same thing?
I’ve been fielding nasty emails all morning over the position I took on the Capitol riot. People keep telling me “the system has failed” and “it’s time for a revolution.” Who are you going to shoot first? These are mainly people blowing off steam. I’m told there’s no other way to change the system other than through some sort of violent overthrow. They tell me the leftists control both the mainstream media and social media, and they’re right. But violence isn’t the way to change that. The free market is.
It’s hard for me to feel sad for a man who helped Trump perpetuate the “Big Lie” about the 2020 Presidential election. It really is. Keeping that myth alive even after 50 or more federal judges – many of them appointed by Trump – rejected the former President’s lawyers false claims that the election results were fraudulent was irresponsible and immoral, not to mention detrimental to our fragile democracy.
And it’s not like Valentine was unsympathetic to the Capitol breachers. He might have criticized their methodology (I don’t know because I never listened to him), but he was no stranger to getting his audience riled up enough to intimidate a legislative body, either.
Here’s a tidbit from Valentine’s Wikipedia biography:
In 2001, Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist proposed a state income tax to overcome a budget shortfall. Tennessee lawmakers were at an impasse when Republican senator Marsha Blackburn tipped off Valentine that a vote on the measure was imminent. Valentine, a vocal opponent of a state income tax, urged his listeners to swarm the Tennessee state capitol to voice their opposition. More than 2,000 of his listeners stormed the capitol, honking automobile horns, yelling and breaking windows in what became known as the Tennessee Tax Revolt.
Again, I know I sound terribly mean and uncharitable and all that, but folks like Valentine and Caleb Wallace did a lot of harm to public health in Texas and Tennessee by promoting anti-mask, anti-vaccine opinions that, in the end, killed them and left their families to pick up the pieces.
As so many people on social media say about anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who end up six feet under, “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
Texas anti-mask movement leader dies from COVID-19, The Hill, August 29, 2021
The compounded tragedy of conservative radio hosts dying of Covid-19, CNN.com, August 30, 2021