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More on Typhoid Theresa Manzella Leading the Anti-Fact Brigade at the Montana Legislature

A few days ago, we reported that Republican Representative Theresa Manzella was spreading false information about vaccinations on her Facebook page. It turns out that this was not a one-off for Manzella, who has been researching ways to outlaw mandatory vaccination in Montana since 2015. Manzella, who admitted then that she didn’t know enough about vaccines to make informed policy, didn’t turn to the CDC or medical doctors for information; she turned to a Facebook conspiracy group called “Vaccine Injury Stories.”

This Facebook group, which has 23,000 members sharing absurd fear mongering about vaccination. It’s filled with tales of people killed by the flu vaccine, claims that a 16-year-old young woman tried to complete suicide because of a vaccination she received when she was an infant, and links to pages that might look like they came from reputable medical sources if your reading level was somewhere around 5th grade. It’s the kind of conspiracy page that’s so riddled with delusions that a brief look found multiple stories from alleged separate individuals posting the exact same pictures of children who had died because of vaccines and claiming it was their story.

It’s heartbreaking to read these stories, but it’s infuriating that a legislator would turn to a Facebook conspiracy group to get educated about public health.

A year ago, Manzella also claimed that “she wasn’t such a crazed conspiracy theorist after all” after sharing a post claiming that the “FDA Announced That Vaccines Are Causing Autism.” You’d think a big story like that would have been published in every newspaper in the country, but for some reason, it only made it to anti-vax sites and the feeds of gullible Facebook users.

Because, of course, it simply isn’t true that the FDA came to that conclusion.

In the end, I don’t know how much it matters that Theresa Manzella is aggressively ignorant, but any careful observer of the Montana Legislature knows that Manzella is hardly alone. Montana has elected a PSC Commissioner who might be the least informed person in the state of Montana and every year, the Legislature sees a pack of representatives who traffic in conspiracy theories about bike lanes and black helicopters. It’s not that they are ignorant, as it would be cruel to mock someone for circumstances beyond their control, but it is concerning that they seem to seek out ignorant answers to questions that have already been answered by science.

Our republican form of government depends on the values of the Enlightenment: rigorous search for the truth through the careful study of evidence, the application of reason, and a recognition that what is true is often complex. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic at all to worry that the election of people who reject all three—and the accumulated knowledge of the past three centuries of science—because they can’t read and think critically threatens the very foundations of our system of governance, not to mention the lives of children threatened by the kind of legislation Manzella and her Facebook experts hope to pass.

Montana, we can do better. We must do better.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Maurice Hilleman must be rolling in his grave. One early January day a few years ago, I was walking across the MSU campus in front of 2-3 WWAMI students. One of them said to her mates, “Isn’t it ironic? Montana has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country and yet the guy who discovered more vaccines than almost anyone was from Miles City.”

    From Wikipedia: “Maurice Ralph Hilleman (August 30, 1919 – April 11, 2005) was an American microbiologist who specialized in vaccinology and developed over 40 vaccines, an unparalleled record of productivity. Of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended in current vaccine schedules, he developed eight: those for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. He also played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses, and the cancer-causing virus SV40. . . . Hilleman was born on a farm near the high plains town of Miles City, Montana. His parents were Anna and Gustav Hillemann, and he was their eighth child. . . . Hilleman graduated first in his class in 1941 from Montana State University with family help and scholarships. He won a fellowship to the University of Chicago and received his doctoral degree in microbiology in 1944.” Not that I expect a Montana legislator to be impressed . . . or be glad the state helped fund his education.

  • After the Parkland Shootings – some Hamilton kids did a walkout. Theresa referred to one of the teenage girls as a ‘snowflake” on Twitter. She deleted it, but it is still kept by some.

  • I know Ms. Manzella personally from my many years of interaction with her in a horse group in the Bitterroot valley. This article only hints at that grandeur of her abject ignorance . She has not a clue what public lands do for the truly flaccid economy in her resident county. What scares me the most, besides driving through Ravalli County, is the fact that 70% of the voters there pulled the lever for her in the midterms as if banjo music emanates from every home in the county. Love the term “aggressively ignorant ” that I plan to use in the future with appropriate author credit. Keep the light on this legislative lose cannon.

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