Activists urge an end to pandemic restrictions, citing concerns about a possible vaccine

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Activists packed the North Lincoln County Annex to protest perceived government overreach in public health responses to the coronavirus pandemic during an Oct. 21 meeting of the board of commissioners.

Voicing concerns that future vaccines will alter their genes and that current mask mandates restrict their freedoms, the protestors delivered statements, a petition and affidavits of harm to county officials.

In a prepared statement, Catherine Kahle, a resident of Trego, alleged that mask requirements are only meant to distract Americans from a program of forced vaccination that will “change what it means to be a human being.”

“[The COVID-19 vaccine] will modify our DNA and genome, create a way to scan us to ensure we’ve definitely been vaccinated with this vaccination, and meld us with artificial intelligence,” she said.

To back up her claims, Kahle referenced a presentation by osteopath Carrie Madej. Madej posted a video to YouTube in June alleging that coronavirus vaccines will change recipients’ DNA and “hook us all up to an artificial intelligence interface.”

The BBC reported that Madej’s claims were not backed by any evidence.

Kahle also accused unaccountable health officials of setting themselves up as a tyrannical fourth branch of government. She claimed that coronavirus relief funds from the federal government would fund an “elaborate control system where we are all technologically suffocated.”

Contact tracing, according to Kahle’s theory, is another “control grid” awaiting further activation and empowerment.

“The elite class who desire world government, the destruction of the United States communism are the ones who want us to act out of fear and hand over the very last remnants of our freedom via health ‘experts,’” she said.

Other residents who submitted written testimony expressed similar points of view. Kathleen Johnson, a resident of Fortine, alleged that the World Health Organization is under investigation for “lies regarding the entire Chinese virus scandal.” Johnson questioned the amount of federal funding given to Lincoln County and its uses locally.

Kahle claimed that Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of emergency in Montana violated state code. Since there were no cases or deaths attributed to COVID-19 when he made the declaration, Kahle argued the virus was not an imminent danger.

Although there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Montana, Bullock issued a state of emergency on March 12, the day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

As of Oct. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recorded about 223,393 deaths from the coronavirus within the U.S. Montana has seen 283 deaths — three of which occurred in Lincoln County — due to the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Kahle claimed that Bullock’s state of emergency also violated the state code since researchers have not isolated the coronavirus. Thus it is not a specific communicable disease, she said.

Researchers with the CDC first received a clinical specimen of SARS-CoV-2, the virus known as the novel coronavirus, on Jan. 22. According to a press release by the CDC, researchers had generated enough of the virus to distribute to medical and scientific researchers by Feb. 2.

Kahle argued that face-covering mandates are unconstitutional since they infringe on the individual and the natural right to breathe fresh air.

“If we don’t have the ability to breathe fresh air and to make our own medical choices as to what goes into our bodies, such as vaccines, then we are not free. We’re simply not,” she said. “We’re all slaves; we’re chainless slaves making a mockery of the free country that our founders fought, bled and died for.”

Bullock’s directive requires residents in counties with more than four active cases of the coronavirus to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. It also applies to outdoor gatherings with more than 50 people where social distancing is either unfeasible or ignored.

To issue the mandate, Bullock drew authority from state code, which allows the governor to control the occupancy of premises and the movement of persons within an emergency area.

Dr. Brad Black’s July 21 health order, which applies specifically to Lincoln County, follows the governor’s mandate, but omits the case count threshold. This means the order remains in effect until Black lifts it, regardless of the number of active county cases.

Black’s mask order stems from his authority under Title 50 of the Montana state code, which gives health officers wide-ranging powers in times of “imminent threat” to public health.

The petition presented at the meeting demands that commissioners “cease and desist terrorizing citizens and business owners with fear-driven propaganda and unconstitutional draconian dictates and actions regarding to COVID-19.”

While they applauded commissioners for repealing what they saw as a fraudulent declaration of emergency within Lincoln County, petitioners also asked commissioners to “reclaim their authority” from health officials and repeal Black’s mandate.

Commissioners voted the rescind the declaration of emergency in June, when the county had gone nearly two months without an active COVID-19 patient. At the time, commissioners worried that the coming wildfire season would necessitate a new declaration of emergency.

In the affidavits of harm and liability also presented to commissioners, residents described medical issues that were caused or exacerbated by masks. Health complaints included uncontrollable coughing, trouble breathing, anxiety, lack of oxygen and loss of consciousness.

The petition garnered 638 signatures, which Kahle said represented three percent of the county population. She cited a dubious figure that only three percent of American colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War.

That percentage is derived from pension files and other surviving government documents that has been used to estimate that 80,000 American colonists served under arms in the war. Historians, though, argue that the data does not include everyone who served in the Continental Army or those who fought against the British Empire in militias, just those who filed the paperwork.

The percentage also is a reference to the Three Percenters, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “one of three core components within the antigovernment militia movement.” The group, with chapters across the country, disputes its reputation as antigovernment.

It’s not clear what, if anything, county commissioners or the petitioners could do going forward. Commissioners lack the authority to reform Black’s public health order. While the county health board is responsible for appointing the health officer, legal experts were unsure if the board could replace him under current conditions.

According to state code, Lincoln County electors could request, by petition, an election to repeal an ordinance. The petition would have to be approved by the county election administration and garner signatures from at least 15 percent of the local government’s qualified electors to require an election.

Even if Black’s mandate was repealed, Bullock’s directive would still apply to Lincoln County. Health department officials have reported active case counts in the double digits for the past few weeks.

To change state law, petitioners must submit a draft of the amendment text, a statement of purpose, and statements explaining a “yes” or “no” vote to the Montana secretary of state. Petitioners would have to gather signatures equal to five percent of votes cast for the governor in the most recent gubernatorial election to put a measure on a statewide ballot.

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