Stew Peters as he appears in the film. Screenshot via Rumble.
In the anti-vaccine world, some things are certain: every few months, a new, shriekingly alarmist claim about COVID vaccines will make the rounds. And while many people will pick up and spread the latest narrative, others will bitterly push back, convinced their movement is being sabotaged from within. The latest demonstration of this cannibalistic impulse comes via Died Suddenly, a viral anti-vax documentary. After a rush of traffic and attention, some anti-vaccine personalities are complaining that the film is designed to make their movement look bad.
Died Suddenly is the project of a far-right podcaster and COVID conspiracy theorist named Stew Peters, and it’s been, as far as these things go, a genuinely viral sensation in a certain corner of the media marketplace. Among other things, Marjorie Taylor Greene has tweeted about it, and Google Trends shows a pronounced spike in searches for the term “died suddenly” around the time the film was released. The film has more than 12 million views on Rumble, the alternative video platform backed by conservative venture capitalists including Peter Thiel and J.D Vance. The film also has a verified Twitter profile. Briefly—really, as briefly as we can—the film’s main claim is that COVID vaccines are causing people to suddenly drop dead, and that the proof is in the type of blood clots that embalmers are seeing in the bodies they prepare for burial. (If you’re already seeing the major logical issues in this line of argument, well, you’re probably not the film’s target audience.) Vaccines, the film insists, are also creating miscarriages and fetal abnormalities, and overall represent a “bioweapon” and a depopulation scheme by global elites. “We have to defeat it,” one of the purported experts in the film insists. “Because if we don’t, these monsters will destroy humanity.”
As countless debunking articles have pointed out, the blood clot claim has several clear issues. Embalmers aren’t usually medical professionals, and wouldn’t be in a position to know someone’s medical history or cause of death. The embalmers featured in the film and positioned as whistleblowers also don’t seem aware that post-mortem blood clots are common. And blood clots that lead to death are caused by a host of medical issues, including smoking, cancer, trauma, pregnancy and surgery; the CDC estimates that an American dies of a blood clot every six minutes. (The fact that we are citing the CDC here will be taken as proof, of course, that the author of this piece is in the pulsating red pocket of Big Blood Clot.) The film isn’t without unintentional, morbid levity: It implies, for instance, that a basketball player died after collapsing on the court, but that player, Keyontae Johnson, is very much alive, and his collapse mid-game happened in December 2020, before COVID vaccines were even available. (For a more thorough rundown of the film’s false claims, see here and here.)
This was Stew Peters’ second feature-length bite at the conspiracy apple. He previously produced a film called Watch the Water which insisted, incoherently but quite forcefully, that both COVID and COVID vaccines are derived from snake venom. The film proved powerfully unpopular with much of the conspiracyverse, and Peters’ star and sole source for these claims, a former chiropractor, later claimed that his words had been taken out of context, somehow. As the backlash grew, the people who at first seemed willing to swallow the snake venom whole quietly moved on.After a few months, Peters tried again, and at first, things seemed to be going much better with the premier of Died Suddenly. Several major conspiracy purveyors shared the film or boosted it approvingly on Telegram and Twitter, and the anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense shared it on their in-house video platform and in a newsletter, where it was billed as “the film they don’t want you to see.” The newsletter sent out by Gab.com, the frothingly conspiratorial alternative social media site, has also repeatedly linked to the film. One of the film’s interview subjects and dedicated promoters is Steve Kirsch, the tech entrepreneur millionaire whom MIT has described as a “misinformation superspreader.”
But ripples soon appeared on the water. A couple of weeks after sharing a link to the film, for example, old-school conspiracist and lizard guy David Icke shared a post on Telegram, written by a lesser known anti-vaccine figure named Dr. Josh Guetzkow, who identifies himself as a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Guetzkow called the film “typical trash from Stew Peters.” “The film taints and tarnishes the material on clots and other important information by covering it with a lot of garbage,” the author wrote. He complained that the opening credits to the film are seeded with references to other conspiracy theories, including Bigfoot, UFOS, and “what appears to be the Loch Ness monster.”“What was the point of interspersing the montage with all this conspiracy theory fodder?” the author wrote. “Was it to plant in the reader’s mind that what they were about to see was on par with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster?”The author also pointed out that Peters was the guy behind Watch the Water, adding, “He and his team are either terrible at vetting reliable information or they are engage in a deliberate campaign to discredit the health freedom movement.’This quickly became the emerging narrative among a number of major anti-vaccine and conspiracy figures: that Died Suddenly was so badly researched it had to be controlled opposition, designed to discredit the movement. The self-proclaimed Health Ranger, Mike Adams of the ultra-conspiratorial website Natural News, claimed that the film was being “exposed for more misrepresentations each day,” fuming, “Did the Stew Peters network even bother to fact check any of these clips? Inexcusable.” Adams’ post on Telegram was shared by Larry Cook, another major anti-vaccine figure. Yet another anti-vaccine site, which calls itself—with a distinct lack of attention to Google search rankings—The Covid Blog, went a step further, writing that “the only logical explanation” for the film and its backers was that they “deliberately released this sensationalized production for the sole purposes of interference, deflection and discrediting truth about this entire COVID-19 charade. They also must be working with government and mainstream propaganda agents.” While this is all extremely funny, it’s also instructive. The anti-vaccine world is desperate for legitimation, eyeballs and attention. But it’s also a profoundly unserious group of people who will seize on the first thing that feels true, and abandon it—and turn on each other—just as quickly. And yet, even with all the highly entertaining recrimination, sniping and backbiting, the film has the power to do real harm, introducing just enough doubt to keep people from taking basic steps to keep themselves safe from COVID and other serious illnesses. And it’s only a matter of time before the next vial of snake venom appears, held in the outstretched hand asking for the public’s money, attention, and trust.