Former model and New Age filmmaker Mikki Willis published his disinfo-mentary, Plandemic, on May 4th, 2020. As reported in the New York Times, the 26-minute anti-vax video was shared in a large QAnon Facebook group the following day. Just over five hours later, Christiane Northrup, a retired OB-GYN, shared Plandemic to her Facebook following of 500K. (For decades Northrup was celebrated as a hero of women’s alternative health, but in the COVID era she has emerged as a grande dame of pseudoscience.)
The misinformation of Plandemic has been thoroughly debunked. Snopes reviewed star interviewee Judy Mikovits’s work and criminal controversy. Dr. David Gorski, provided a thorough breakdown of the film’s distortions. Dr. Jennifer Kasten focused on Mikovits’s claims about masks and her denial that SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. Someone anonymously compiled a timeline of the available journalism here, and my podcast colleague Derek Beres also offered a good untangling.
Any one of these rebuttals renders Willis’s film an incoherent mess. But fact-checking alone can’t address the emotional contagion that helped propel Plandemic towards 8M views in under a week.
I’m a cult researcher focused on the emotional manipulation that constellates around charismatic male leaders in neo-spiritual groups. So, I should say up front that I am not arguing that Willis is running a cult, as defined, for example, by the International Cultic Studies Association. There’s no indication that he has gathered in-person followers, for example. But I will show that Willis uses a key cultic technique, and argue that using cult analysis can provide insight into how and why Willis is compelling to those who follow him. Spoiler: it’s not because of the disinformation.
From my research perspective, Plandemic is only one part of a spectacle that can lock a leader and and their followers into a highly-charged trauma bond. The other shoe dropped on May 6th, when Willis posted this selfie video to his feeds: