The conspiracy theorist behind an anti-vaxx group called the “Vaccine Police” has promised to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for refusing to halt vaccinations of children against the coronavirus.
As the Daily Beast first reported, Christopher Key, the pretend officer in question, went on right-wing radio host Clay Clark’s show on Wednesday to tell listeners, “I am the vaccine police... We have shut down pharmacists. We have shut down boards of education. And we will be arresting the governor of Louisiana on February the 7th if he does not stand down and not vaccinate the children of Louisiana.”
“We will do this legally, we will do this lawfully, we will do this out of love,” Key added, because “right now they are trying to start a civil war, Clay, and they are coming for our children... This is not a vaccine. This is a bioweapon.”
“I 100% agree with you,” Clark responded.
Edwards, a Democrat, recently announced that the covid-19 vaccine would be added to the list of mandatory inoculations for K-12 students in Louisiana, joining shots protecting against diseases like tetanus, polio, measles, meningitis, and whooping cough. The decision predictably resulted in backlash from conservative state legislators, who with the rest of the mainline Republican Party have banded together in an alliance of ideological and political convenience with anti-vaxxers.
Nearly 800,000 coronavirus infections have been reported throughout the state since the start of the pandemic, according to Louisiana Department of Health data, and just shy of 15,000 people have died. Only 50% of Louisiana’s population is fully vaccinated. The state health department found that unvaccinated individuals currently account for 69% of new infections, 82% of deaths, and 85% of hospitalizations.
Conspiracy theorists in the U.S. and Canada have in recent years become obsessed with the idea of citizen’s arrests as a way of dealing with perceived traitors, particularly when it comes to coronavirus policies they don’t like. In 2020, anti-vaxxers camped out around Parliament of Canada in Ottowa, aiming to “arrest” any unprotected legislators they could get their hands on. Incidents in the U.S. have included threats against a local health department in Michigan, an arrest in Arizona after three men showed up on a school campus with zip ties, and arrests of 14 men who planned to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020 (with a sympathetic sheriff floating the citizen’s arrest defense).
Citizen’s arrests obviously do not work this way, regardless of whatever legal babble is offered up to justify illegal detentions. State laws vary, but generally limit the practice to temporary detention of a person witnessed or reasonably suspected of committing a crime. It is extremely ill-advised in almost all situations. Anyone conducting such an “arrest” in the U.S. could potentially face consequences ranging from false arrest lawsuits to kidnapping charges, especially if no crime actually occurred. Of course, any attempt to detain Edwards in the first place would require Key to get past the governor’s bodyguards, the Louisiana State Police Protective Services Unit.
In a statement to Gizmodo via email, Louisiana State Police Captain Nick Manale wrote, “Louisiana State Police continually monitors for potential threats while working closely with our local, state, and federal agencies to ensure public safety for our citizens and elected officials.”
Key, who is from Alabama, is a sort of sports supplements peddler turned traveling anti-vaxx sideshow under his “Vaccine Police” moniker and travels from city to city while live-streaming. Despite his fondness for declaring himself to be the police, he falls somewhere on the scale of legal authority below (the former) Officer Big Mac, who could at least plausibly tackle the Hamburglar. Key wears a costume apparently intended to resemble a police official, such as a golf shirt with the words “VACCINE POLICE” emblazoned on his left breast and a badge on a lanyard. In some photos uploaded to Facebook, Key is shown brandishing semi-automatic rifles. His reference to shutting down pharmacists appears to relate to an incident earlier this year in which Key temporarily inconvenienced staff at a Walmart pharmacy counter.
According to the Washington Post, Keys and several followers arrived at a Walmart pharmacy in Springfield, Missouri, in August, threatening pharmacy staff that vaccinations are “crimes against humanity” and “if they do not stand down immediately, then they could be executed. They could be hung in this state.”
“If you allow one more shot in one more person’s body, you yourself will be executed in violation of the Nuremberg Code,” Key said during a livestream as he singled out a Walmart employee, the Post reported. “We don’t want that to happen to any of you guys at all. We love you guys. We want to keep you safe.”
Key cleverly switched his tactics to pretending to actually be there for a covid-19 vaccine once police arrived, according to the Springfield News-Leader, but was told to leave the premises. Everything he said about the Nuremberg Code, a set of research ethics principles laid out by a U.S. court during the post-WWII trial of 23 German doctors who committed medical atrocities during the Nazi era, is completely irrelevant because covid-19 vaccinations are not medical experimentation.
On his website, Key describes himself as unemployed and takes personal credit for supposedly defeating a mask mandate at a school district in Alabama. Earlier this year, the National School Boards Association mentioned Key in a letter to Joe Biden asking for federal assistance to investigate and put a halt to violent rhetoric and threats against school board members debating coronavirus policies.
“I was recently fired from my job of six years for being a patriot and standing against a tyrannical school board in Alabama,” Key wrote. “Because of these efforts, the mask mandate was lifted, and kids will not have to provide proof of inoculation to return to in-person learning in the fall.”
Key didn’t immediate returned a request for comment from Gizmodo, but we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Update: 12/24/2021 at 6:00 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with a statement from the Louisiana State Police.