COVID Anti-Vaxxers Aren’t a MAGA Death Cult — It’s Worse Than That

Deathbed regrets from vaccine resisters speak volumes about the brokenness of conservatism

Tim Wise
7 min readAug 3, 2021


Last year, as the initial round of COVID raged and much of MAGA nation refused to mask or socially distance, it was common to hear folks refer to the Trumpian right as a suicidal death cult.

Most recently, MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Stephen Colbert agreed with the designation during a discussion on the latter’s program. According to both, refusal to get a vaccine as the Delta variant surges, and the seeming willingness of Trump’s followers to continue risking illness or worse, qualifies such persons as members of a death cult.

There were, of course, the requisite Jim Jones analogies.

But as much as I respect both Reid and Colbert (the former is a friend whose show I’ve been on several times), this position has always been wrong.

The truth is worse — and here I am speaking specifically of those who are resisting obtaining the vaccine, rather than those whose access is limited by location, poverty or issues with mobility to a vaccine center.

Stories are spilling out every day — outpourings of regret from persons who steadfastly refused to get the vaccine, now awaiting intubation, coming to realize they were wrong.

That they are bellowing contrition and asking for prayers in the hopes they won’t die proves this is no suicide cult.

Few of the 900-plus at Jonestown drank the Kool-Aid only to sputter at the last minute, “Oh wait, you mean it’s cyanide?! Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

The members of Heaven’s Gate didn’t don their black Nikes, take phenobarbital, tie plastic bags over their heads, cover up with shrouds, and then start praying to see another sunrise.

They laid down to die, expecting to be spirited away in a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet and have everlasting life.

That is a suicidal death cult.

This is different, something more dangerous, sociopathic, and sadistic — not suicidal but homicidal.



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)