One is struck by the oddly biblical turn it has taken. While most of America is dutifully masking up, there remains that quadrant in the Southeast where resistance to wearing masks and avoiding public gatherings runs high, and many people are in denial about Covid-19, having followed Trump down the road to hellish infection rates. That this region coincides roughly with the “Bible Belt” means that it includes the nation’s highest concentration of people who find a deeper meaning in Plagues, usually involving God’s wrath. Thus, for example, a desperate Pat Robertson tried to explain the pandemic as God’s punishment for gay marriage—really? again?—but the truth is that millions of people have made a conscious choice not to heed the guidelines of scientists on how to avoid spreading the virus, or at least how to protect oneself. A piece in The Times linked resistance to mask-wearing to a macho culture in the South that links their use to weakness or femininity. It is indeed amazing how often the word “faggot” came up on anti-masking protest signs and stickers. So here are few cases from the files.
“Mike Pence spoke to 2,100 people jammed into an anti-lgbtq megachurch in a Covid hotspot,” read an Lgbtq-Nation.com headline, which pretty much said it all. The June 28th event was held at the First Baptist Dallas megachurch to celebrate “Freedom Sunday.” Masks were not required, and soon enough Covid rates were spiking in Dallas. The head pastor is the stridently anti-gay Robert Jeffress, who believes that same-sex wedding cakes are a sign of the Antichrist and that all “non-Christians”—which includes Catholics and Mormons—will soon perish in a rapturous “holocaust.” Finally, keep in mind that the Vice President of the United States spoke at this event. The fact that he’s also the head of the national Covid-19 Task Force seems almost beside the point.
Then there’s the strongman president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, a big fan of Trump who has also downplayed the severity of Covid-19 and ridiculed measures to contain it—with similarly catastrophic results: Brazil’s infection and death totals are second only to those of the U.S. While Trump is himself a germaphobe (ironically), Bolsanaro is not, so he kept up the public events, unmasked—until he contracted the virus himself. Before falling ill, he announced that “I trust hydroxychloroquine”—big mistake! (He did eventually recover.) He had also stated that “wearing masks is a faggot thing.” It seems fair to riposte that not wearing them, and adopting policies that are killing your own people, is a fascist thing.
In the Everyday People category is a transphobic veteran named Richard Rose who survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan but died three days after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Rose became something of a social media star for his right-wing antics—jokes about rape, ridicule of Black Lives Matter, support for God and Trump, and derision of all precautions related to Covid-19. So, one day he was tweeting “There are only two genders” and the next (or soon thereafter) he was battling the virus, without success.
Mr. Schneider’s beautifully stated commentary was well-taken. I live streamed the “Freedom Sunday” broadcast from First Baptist Church, Dallas and was aghast at the blatant disregard for health protocols. I live in rabidly “evangelical” northeast Florida and have observed that individuals not wearing masks, and vehemently expressing their “God-given right” to not wear them, are religious zealots. What a paradox that so many of the unmasked segment who self-identify as “God’s elect” have died from Covid-19.
It’s a wonder those of us who were raised Southern Baptist survived the experience.