Recently, this column suggested Gov. Mark Gordon could not effectively deal with Wyoming’s COVID-19 crisis unless he challenged the radical-right of his own party. Earlier this week, Gov. Gordon did. But, in today’s Wyoming Republican Party, good public service does not go unpunished.
Minutes after the governor announced a statewide mask mandate and limited business hours for bars and restaurants, state Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, was on Facebook, urging revolution. “This is an assault on your liberty and rights,” he ballyhooed. “It’s an unconstitutional edict and unfunded mandate on you.”
The politician who doubles as a pastor announced, “It’s time to go 1776 and practice civil disobedience.”
This is the kind of doltish behavior we can expect from the Republican Party, whose Central Committee recently called on the governor to end all coronavirus-related restrictions.
Gov. Gordon is not the only one faced with right-wing fanaticism when doing their jobs during these difficult days. The Wyoming Department of Health worked tirelessly for months on this pandemic, longer hours than President Trump, and with more science-focused resolve. The department effectively organized alongside their state and local partners.
And then, those committed professionals awakened one morning to read they had been betrayed by one of their own. Dr. Igor Shepherd was the Readiness and Countermeasures Manager for the Wyoming Department of Health.
During a recent speech before a group of Colorado “rights-without-responsibilities” pandemic deniers opposed to public health restrictions to protect others from COVID-19, Shepherd called the pandemic a scam and said people should know the vaccine is a Trojan Horse.
Reliable media reports published in the Casper Star-Tribune reported his words this way: “It’s kind of (a) strange and questionable situation about (the) COVID pandemic,” Shepherd said, calling the current global crisis a “so-called pandemic,” that had been invented by Russia and China as a tool to spread communism across the globe.
Incredulously, this WDH employee went on to say people should know that proponents of the vaccine had a dark motive. He used his professional title and position of trust to claim the vaccine had been developed as a “biological weapon and would reprogram a person’s immune system.”
Although Shepherd had the decency to resign his WDH position in the wake of this scandal, he became the conspiracy theorists’ cause celebre, his debunked views spread by right-wing bloggers across the land. One said, “He (Shepherd) fully understands that the plan of depopulation and mandatory vaccinations will be at our doorstep very soon, and is shocked that the American people are so passive concerning this enemy takeover. He believes that this fake pandemic is the means by which a communist global government will be ushered into existence; one that cannot be voted out.” (https://www.lewrockwell.com/2020/11/gary-d-barnett/dr-igor-shepherds-talk-about-the-horrors-of-a- covid-vaccine/)
We live in times when there has never been so much accurate information available at the click of a mouse. Likewise, we live in times when there has never been so much false and misleading information available at the click of that same mouse.
Wyoming’s hospital and medical systems are stretched to their limits, beds filled to capacity. People must decide who to believe between those who have a responsibility to others and those who don’t. It’s time for citizens who have toyed with the false claims that the virus is a hoax to open their eyes.
The Rev. Scott Clem is a false prophet, willing to use his religious and political soapbox to do harm. Regardless of his motive, this health emergency is not about your rights. It is about our responsibilities to one another. Neither is this crisis about conspiracy theorists like Igor Shepherd, who prescribe untruths, but accept no accountability for the harm they cause.
This is a crisis. People you and I know are suffering, some are dying unnecessarily. Doctors and nurses are putting their lives at risk. Don’t bet your life or the lives of those you love on the likes of Clem and Shepherd. Unlike those two, Gov. Mark Gordon and WDH professionals have your best interests at heart.