Monday, September 12, 2005

AIDS hoax crusader Christine Maggiore

In answer some of the questions last Thursday about the anti-HIV campaigner Christine Maggiore, here are a few more facts and links:

She first test positive in 1992, and is apparently still going strong today. She published a book in 2000, What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong?, and her filmmaker husband has made a documentary about her,
Documentary: "The Other Side of AIDS," featuring, among other celebrity supporters, the band Foo Fighters. I have pasted the skeptical Newsweek story seen in class below, but more positive coverage of Maggiore can be found at Virus Myth and Gadfly. I haven't been able to determine Maggiore's status as of right now, but she was apparently diagnosed with actual AIDS in 2002, a development she tries to 'splain away here.

The Foo Fighters apparently have other conspiracy interests besides AIDS denial. They recently played a concert at Roswell's abandoned Air Force base and their band name is taken from the term used by World War II fighter pilots for strange balls of light they saw in the skies over the Pacific.

From Newsweek online, 2000:

The HIV Disbelievers

Christine Maggiore is a different kind of AIDS activist—one who tells people to forget safe sex and stop taking their lifesaving drugs. Why?

One sweltering California afternoon a few weeks ago, Christine Maggiore was sitting in her cramped office, still jet-lagged from the long flight home from South Africa, where she’d attended the International AIDS Conference.

SHE HADN’T YET found time to answer the “hundreds and hundreds, perhaps literally thousands” of e-mail messages she’d received from people she’d met there who were looking for AIDS literature or doctor referrals, or simply wanting to pat her on the back. “All your work and dedication is appreciated!!!” a typical message declared. She doesn’t know when she’ll find time to catch up—her whole life is behind schedule because of her AIDS work. “My fiancé and I have been trying to find time to get married for years!” she says.

But Maggiore, who heads Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives in Burbank, Calif., is not your typical AIDS activist. In South Africa, some scientists spit nasty epithets at her. Protesters marching outside the meeting hall threatened to plug her and her galvanized followers with bullets. Why? Because Maggiore takes the strange contrarian stance that HIV, which has been blamed in the deaths of 18.8 million people worldwide, doesn’t cause AIDS at all. She exhorts people to stop taking their medications and stop worrying about spreading their virus.

Today Maggiore is the most prominent foe of what she calls “the HIV equals AIDS equals death paradigm,” having sold or given away 28,500 copies of her self-published booklet since 1995, in addition to the copies in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. She founded Alive & Well, which has spun off chapters around the globe and is affiliated with dozens of like-minded groups representing perhaps tens of thousands of followers.

Their message has resonated among a number of gay men who, exhausted by 20 years of medical vigilance and daily toxic drug regimens, are increasingly receptive to Maggiore’s exhortation to “live in wellness... without fear of AIDS.” And they have reinvigorated long-simmering AIDS conspiracy theories. According to a 1995 survey of 1,000 African-American churchgoers, one third believed HIV was concocted by the government for racial genocide. When she spoke before a crowded room in Harlem in 1998, spellbound members of the audience likened her to the abolitionists, interrupting her with cries of “John Brown lives!”

“If you told me five years ago I would be promoting the notion that HIV does not cause AIDS, I would have said you were nuts. I believed adamantly that HIV was a killer and these drugs were saving lives,” says Michael Bellefountaine, 34, a friend of Maggiore’s who decided against taking anti-HIV medication years ago. Now he attributes his survival to being drug-free. Last month he attended a protest in San Francisco and chanted, “HIV is a lie! It’s toxic pills that made them die!”

AIDS educators already hold Maggiore and her acolytes responsible for an upswing in new infections. San Francisco authorities just announced that new HIV cases in 1999 were nearly twice as high as in 1997. “People are focusing on the wrong thing. They’re focusing on conspiracies rather than protecting themselves, rather than getting tested and seeking out appropriate care and treatment,” says Stephen Thomas, who directs the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health.

HIV renegades sometimes seem as if their main goal is mayhem, not constructive discourse. For instance, the San Francisco chapter of ACT UP, once a major force lobbying for more money for AIDS research, is now run by dissenters who stage protests against other AIDS leaders—regularly bathing them in cat-box litter or spit. On Aug. 9, police charged two ACT UP members with assault and battery for allegedly striking city health department director Mitchell H. Katz and covering him with Silly String during a public meeting. Similar antics now prevail among a half-dozen ACT UP branches. “They’re crazy,” says Larry Kramer, who founded ACT UP in 1987. “They’re undoing all we’ve fought for.”

Picking over a black-bean wrap at her kitchen counter recently, Maggiore described herself simply as a person who asks questions others are overlooking. The fact that she provokes hostility only emboldens her. She sees only intolerance and recalcitrance among her detractors—they “smack of parental authority and religious authority,” she said. Her brother Steven, 41, calls her a modern-day Copernicus.

But she soon made it clear that her disregard for HIV is not just an intellectual gambit when her talkative 3-year-old son, Charlie, wandered into the kitchen after a midday nap. She talked about how she conceived him naturally and gave birth without drugs routinely given to prevent transmission. She continues to breast-feed him today, according to the family’s pediatrician. Her family supports her in this, even though HIV can be transmitted through breast milk and judges have charged mothers in similar cases with child endangerment.

Maggiore and Scovill, Charlie’s father, say they’ve never been curious to test the child for HIV (Scovill does not know his own status). Their pediatrician is not as sanguine. “I would not be opposed to testing his blood,” admits Dr. Paul Fleiss, who says the boy has been very healthy. “But she is.”

“He’s a perfectly healthy little boy,” says Scovill, bending to offer his son a macaroon. Charlie was skeptical. “They’re really good,” the father insisted patiently. “And for some reason they decrease viral load!” With that, both parents had a good laugh at the silly AIDS goblin. Such is the power of belief.

© 2000 Newsweek, Inc.