Thursday, July 31, 2008
Alternative AIDS Activist Witnesses Semmelweis Awards
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
If you saw the July 17 edition of the Gay & Lesbian Times — the one that was on the stands during San Diego’s Pride events this year — and opened the center pages, you saw a two-page, slick-paper, full-cover ad offering a decidedly non-mainstream view of AIDS and HIV. The ad’s headline asked, “Gays, Straights, Blacks, Whites, Science, Medicine, Media: Have We All Been Deceived?” It argued not only that we’ve been deceived by a ceaseless propaganda campaign that for the last 24 years has drummed it into our heads that the sole cause of AIDS is a virus known as HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus], but that hundreds of thousands of people were killed unnecessarily from the toxic effects of the medications routinely prescribed to people testing “HIV positive” whether or not they’re actually sick.
The ad quoted Kevin de Cock of the World Health Organization as saying that, contrary to years of scare warnings from the AIDS establishment, there will most likely never be an AIDS epidemic among white heterosexuals. This, however, only means that Queers and people of color will continue to be the prime targets of the AIDS establishment, via high-powered campaigns to get them to take so-called “HIV tests” and start on anti-HIV drugs immediately if they test “positive.” The ad argued that “persons giving or taking HIV tests are never told that there are 70 known factors that are proven to often cause false positive results,” that the much-ballyhooed 99-plus percent accuracy of the tests is based on how often they don’t find HIV antibodies in people the researchers assume are not infected, and “there is no established accuracy for finding HIV.”
Ads like these have become something of a tradition in pre-Pride issues of the Gay & Lesbian Times. Like the ones in earlier years, this ad was the work of Michael Geiger, who signed it as a representative of “J.E.D.I.” — League of Justice, Equality and Dignity International. Geiger first encountered the scientific critique of the HIV/AIDS model in the 1990’s when he was researching a movie he planned to make, a Romeo and Juliet-style love story in which his star-crossed lovers were divided not by feuding families but by different HIV statuses. But once he started reading the work of people critical of the HIV/AIDS model — scientists like UC Berkeley professor Peter Duesberg and journalists like Celia Farber — he became convinced they were right, abandoned his film project and instead dedicated himself to exposing what he believes are flaws, inconsistencies and downright lies in what the HIV mainstream has to say about AIDS.
In mid-May Geiger became the only outside person to attend the ceremonies in Washington, D.C. at which Duesberg and Farber were given awards by the Semmelweis Society International — named after a 19th century medical pioneer, Ignaz Semmelweis, who was driven from the profession and institutionalized for his insistence that doctors should wash their hands between patients to keep from transmitting one patient’s disease to another. Like Semmelweis himself, whose ideas were considered outrageously radical in his own time but now are accepted common sense, the honorees of the Semmelweis Society are mostly doctors who have challenged medical orthodoxy and found themselves subjected to rigged “peer review” processes and often stripped of their licenses to practice.
Giving awards to a research scientist and a journalist was a bit of a departure for the Semmelweis Society, but in defending the awards Semmelweis president Dr. Roland F. Chalifoux said, “The overt hysteria deployed against those who are simply proposing the clinical and fully scientific review of new ideas should alarm public servants and elected officials who are responsible for supporting the First Amendment right for rational discourse. American taxpayers have not been told the whole truth about the still-unidentified HIV virus, and its arguable relationship to the disease of AIDS, while ignoring the known toxicity of the drugs currently used to fight AIDS. … Dr. Duesberg has an idea, a contrarian idea; to be sure, it is an idea, nothing more, but nothing less. Celia Farber’s ‘crime’ is to have reported this contrarian idea, into a First Amendment Free Speech Protected Society, or so we all thought.”
Michael Geiger reported on his trip to Washington, D.C. to watch Duesberg and Farber receive the Semmelweis award at the July 1 meeting of the San Diego branch of H.E.A.L. [Health, Education, AIDS Liaison], an international network of educational organizations devoted to building public awareness of scientifically rational alternatives to the belief that HIV causes AIDS. This interview is adapted from his presentation.
Michael Geiger: As soon as I heard about the awards, I got my plane ticket and went to Washington. My family’s back there as well, so I just made a trip of it. First, I really wanted to meet Peter [Duesberg], because I’ve talked to him often on the phone and I’ve sent him some lab equipment for his lab. And Celia [Farber] as well; I’ve talked to her several times and they just seemed like wonderful people. To me, they’re heroes, because of everything they’ve been through.
Reappraising AIDS publicity director Beth Ely and myself got there before Peter and Celia had arrived. The guys from the Semmelweis, including Rev. [Walter C.] Fountroy, who’s the founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, were already seated in there having their meeting, and they were making arrangements for the Semmelweis whistle-blower and clean-hands awards.
Semmelweis is a society of doctors who have been subjected to sham “peer review.” That means they blew the whistle in their workplace and then were brought up on bunk charges as their workplace attempted to get rid of them. Many of them had amazing stories to tell about drugs that had been brought in by one of the doctors that worked at a hospital, totally unknown to the FDA, not approved by anyone, and he’s going to experiment on the hospital’s patients on these drugs. And would you like to buy some stock in it, and get in early?
The doctor who was dealing with that one was drummed out of the hospital he worked at and brought up on what are called these sham “peer review” charges, taken to a peer-review trial and then drummed out of his place of work, including having lost his license to practice medicine in the state of Texas, after having brought this up, because obviously whatever was going on was going on further than just that hospital.
So they had these 18 other people, and Celia and Peter there. Shortly before we got there, Semmelweis been targeted with a mass e-mail campaign from the Treatment Action Group [TAG], a pharmaceutical industry-funded, drugs-promoting group out of New York, lambasting the Semmelweis members, saying, “How can you do this? These people are killers, they’re murderers, they’re baby-killers, their science is completely wrong, they have no evidence for anything they say, of course HIV causes AIDS,” etc., etc.
The Semmelweis members, because they’re used to this kind of attack on them, relate to things like that in a very different way from most people. They start to question, “O.K. Why is this person saying this? What’s his agenda?” And it wasn’t too difficult to figure out what that was.
Zenger’s: Could you talk a little about the Semmelweis Society: what it is and how long it’s existed.
Geiger: I’m not sure how long it’s existed, but it’s composed of a couple of hundred doctors — so far — that have been subjected to sham peer reviews. One of their major spokespeople is a guy named Gil Melkovsky, who’s out of the Alliance for Patient Safety. He was also a doctor, [victim of] sham [“peer review”], and he’s got his little Alliance for Patient Safety thing going up somewhere outside of L.A.
After Gil saw Celia’s article in [the March 2006] Harper’s, he called Celia and said, “Do you really want to further this?” Shortly thereafter he started looking into the HIV/AIDS thing. Because he’s the vice-president of the Semmelweis Society and the president of the Alliance for Patient Safety, and he’s also a very strong and very outspoken man, when he wants to do something, people listen. He’s a very bright, very intelligent go-getter that doesn’t tolerate people’s B.S.
So he got it put before the Semmelweis Society and presented it to them. They agreed that there should be a category put in for journalists who have tried to expose wrongdoing and have been trashed because of their attempt to bring out the truth, same as the doctors there go through. They also verified, not that Peter Duesberg’s work is correct, but that Peter Duesberg, as a scientist, had been sham-“peer reviewed” by his fellows at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] when he presented his evidence that HIV was not the cause of AIDS, and was drummed out of the NIH and never funded again. So they chose this year to give Peter and Celia awards, to round out their 18 already stated awards cases to 20.
A couple of doctors who were Semmelweis members,, including an HIV treatment specialist who’d also been subjected to a sham “peer review,” drummed up a lot of resistance with the other members, saying, “Don’t do this, it’s a mistake, Duesberg’s nuts.” But the rest of the members, said, “We’re not doing it because Duesberg is right or wrong. We’re doing it because he presented evidence, and the evidence should at least be looked out without him being drummed out, without him being stripped of funding.” So they all agreed that he should get the award because he’d been shammed. Whether his research was correct or not was beside the point. They’re not there to judge the research. They’re just there to judge whether or not he’d been shammed, and they found he had. So they continued to give him the award.
Ordinarily, the Semmelweis award ceremonies are presented in front of members of Congress, but they were concerned that there could be all kinds of protesters there because of all the ruckus against Peter and Celia. They were also concerned that their awardees were going to be completely overshadowed, and all these people who had been prepared to come here, who’d been waiting for this moment for their stories to be told to the public, for their stories to be told to Congressmembers and Senators and other people, suddenly nobody’s going to hear their stories. All anybody’s going to hear is Duesberg and AIDS and Celia Farber.
So they decided to hold off on Peter’s and Celia’s awards and give them to them privately, afterwards. I’m grateful to have been the only person in the audience when Peter and Celia got the very first recognition, in any way, shape, form or type, from any group in the United States that wasn’t just an AIDS dissident group, for their work. To me that was a momentous occasion, and that was the biggest reason I went down there. They were finally being recognized that fraud had been done to them, they had been shammed, and what they were saying may damned well be right.
When I got to the Semmelweis Society, before Peter and Celia had got there, Gil Melikovsky turned to me and said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m Michael Geiger.” And he said, “Who’s Michael Geiger?” And I’m thinking I’m going to really mess these guys up: “I’m Peter Duesberg’s boyfriend, and don’t tell his wife Siggi because it’s our secret!” Meanwhile, as soon as I said that, eyes popped, jaws dropped, everybody was speechless and just looking at me like, “What?” And suddenly a couple of guys in there started snickering, and Gil yelled out, “That can’t possibly be! He’s married and he has a son and there’s no way!”
Another person said, “You really should talk to the Reverend here,” meaning Reverend Walter Fountroy, the [nonvoting] Congressman who was the founder of the Black Caucus.
Zenger’s: Also the leader of a national organization against same-sex marriage.
Geiger: I went and sat down next to Rev. Fauntroy, because I had no idea who he was. I didn’t know he was even a Congressman. I didn’t know he was the founder of the Black Caucus. I just thought he was a Black preacher, and probably a doctor from Semmelweis, a Dr. Rev. or whatever, Fauntroy. I went in and sat next to him, because one of the issues that I’ve had is really the homophobia that’s been so prevalent in the Black community, with their “down low” crap and their flogging Black homosexuals from the pulpit as abominations of God and all this, because we’ve gone through this within the white community with the evangelists. The Blacks were a little late on that, but now they’ve started picking up their own “homophobia from hell” routine.
So I really felt, if I had an opportunity to talk to a Black Reverend and discuss this issue, now was the time. I sat down next to him, and told him, “I’m a Gay man who’s been around the Gay scene before the word ‘AIDS’ meant anything but a teacher’s assistant. And I’d like to share with you my experience of it. Beginning in the late 1970’s, when Anita Bryant came on the scene with her anti-homosexual crusade, and then the Moral Majority joined in on that, and then all of a sudden there’s hundreds of thousands of Moral Majority guys that are screaming, ‘Homosexuals are all going to hell,’ and God hates us all, and the whole country got swept up in that. College students were wearing T-shirts that said, ‘Bury a fairy’ and ‘Kill a queer.”
I said, “The message to us Gays, as we stood up and stood for our own equal rights, was horrifying.” I also said to him, “You as a Black man, Reverend, have more dignity bestowed on you by our society than I do as a Gay man. You can love who you want, marry who you want; I can’t. You can serve in the military and get the educational benefits and all the other benefits of the military, and I can’t.” I said, “I’m treated, in our society, as less of a human being than you are.”
As a Black man who had been one of the right-hand men of Dr. Martin Luther King and was in the hotel room when King got killed, I presume he understands oppression, and he understands a lack of dignity bestowed on a group. I told him, “We Gays have been cut down by the blades of intolerance, of this homophobia. We’ve been told God hates us because we’re Gay. And this has caused so many Gay men to feel that their hearts have been ripped out of them as they get disowned by their families and told, ‘Don’t ever talk to me again. You’re not my son.’
“Gay men, a lot of Gay men, get completely self-destructive. They can get suicidal. They can seem really happy and laughing while they see you, but when they’re sitting by themselves, they wish they were dead. It’s that painful. So many of them turned into drug addicts and just couldn’t get enough drugs, couldn’t do enough drugs to escape the emotional pain. So many of them turned into sex addicts and couldn’t get enough antibiotics to deal with all the STD’s they got, and the antibiotics tore up their systems.”
I said, “Reverend, can you expect that people who are living this way, who are stressed out of their minds, who are self-loathing, who are disempowered, who are told that God hates them, who are told by their families, ‘Don’t ever talk to us again, you are not my son,’ turning into drug addicts, totally self-destructive and wishing they were dead, do you expect that these people are going to be healthy?” And he said, “No, of course not.” I said, “Well, that’s what AIDS is. That’s what it is. And when you add to that people being scared to death by getting an HIV test, and you have to carry them out of the doctor’s office after they get their test, and the first thing they do is run to get the most toxic of all drugs to try to ‘save’ them, of a chemotherapy to be on for the rest of their life, the very drug that’s going to take them out. This is what we call AIDS in the United States.”
And then I said, “In Africa, go to Soweto. Go to a Soweto ghetto and what you’ll see is shanties, hundreds of thousands of shanties, shanty after shanty after shanty, of a woman living in a shanty with no food, no clean water, no job, no money, five screaming malaria-ridden infants playing in the sewer out in front of her shanty with no future, no hope: can you expect that she, under that kind of stress and duress, is going to be a healthy person?” He said, “No, of course not.” I said, “That’s what we call AIDS in Africa.”
He got it. He said, “You know, I understand. I always wondered why Thabo [Mbeki, president of South Africa and the first world leader publicly to question the HIV/AIDS connection] did what he did, but now I understand.” And he did. He also understood the homophobia thing. He’d been one of the people who was — he was a founding member of an alliance against marriage; I don’t know what it was called [the Alliance For Marriage], but whatever it was called, it was an anti-Gay marriage thing that he himself had been for.
Suddenly he was looking at his own part in furthering homophobia, in furthering the disempowerment of people, in furthering treating people like even less than he had been treated, further treating people this way in modern times when he himself knows what a struggle it is for a disempowered, marginalized group to have any sense of dignity and self-respect or acceptance, equal rights, justice, freedom. So he got it. He got it, and I was very glad. He suddenly saw me as a human being instead of one of them evil Gay people, and I think it changed him.
I’m totally convinced that eventually “HIV/AIDS” is going to be thrown out. I just hope it will be in my lifetime. I hope it will be in Peter Duesberg’s lifetime. The man is 71 years old, and he deserves to have some justice. I’m going to do whatever I can do to bring it down, whatever it takes. Whatever we can possibly come up with to do, whatever schemes or scams or dreams or whatever that we can do to bring it down, I’m going to work towards doing that.
An audio interview with Michael Geiger and David Crowe of the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society (ARAS) is available on the Internet at http://chicago.indymedia.org/media/all/display/29783/index.php