Wisconsin Pharmacist Who Sabotaged Covid Vaccine Thinks Sky Is Just God’s Privacy Screen
Wisconsin pharmacist Steven Brandenburg was arrested in late December and charged with intentionally sabotaging 570 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. He believed COVID-19 was a big, fat hoax. It's not, but Brandenburg is apparently an unhinged conspiracy theorist who believes crazy things. He also reportedly wanted people to receive the vaccine he spoiled and falsely believe they were protected from the virus. This would make him an unhinged domestic terrorist, as well. This is all “alleged," of course, as the FBI is still investigating, but what federal authorities have uncovered so far is ... well, "shocking" isn't quite the right word if you've paid much attention over the past few years. We'll go with “horrifying."
The Daily Beast obtained a newly unsealed FBI search warrant application that was filed when the bureau wanted to analyze Brandenburg's iPhone, laptop, and a thumb drive. The application revealed that dismissing COVID-19's existence, like your kooky Aunt Dottie, was just the start of Brandenburg's delusions: He insisted the coronavirus vaccine was “microchipped" and could "turn off people's birth control and make others infertile." It's possible he doesn't understand how microchips work. His coworker, pharmacy technician Sarah Sticker, told investigators Brandenburg was "convinced the physical world around him was not what it seemed." This implies they had workplace conversations that played out like a scene from The Matrix.
"Some of the conspiracy theories Brandenburg told [the coworker] about included: the earth is flat; the sky is not real, rather it is a shield put up by the Government to prevent individuals from seeing God; and Judgment Day is coming," the 26-page filing says.
The “earth is flat" and “Judgment Day is coming" are tiresome nonsense theories, but there's something uniquely bananapants about believing the government erected a fake sky to preserve God's modesty while he's walking around in his robe or reading the newspaper on the toilet.
Brandenburg reportedly terrorized his wife with this crap at home and targeted Sticker at the office. She claimed he brought a .45-caliber handgun to work "in case the military came to take him away." The police seized several firearms at Brandenburg's house. (Wisconsin could probably use better gun laws.)
Sticker discovered Brandenburg had on December 24 and 25 removed vaccines from a refrigerator at Advocate Aurora Health Systems. He confronted her after he'd learned she'd turned him in, and that had to be terrifying.
"If I lose this job, I lose my kids," Brandenburg allegedly told Sticker, who said she feared Brandenburg was becoming "desperate" or "unhinged."
For the record, Brandenburg might have lost his kids regardless of whether he kept his job. His wife, Gretchen, told a judge he was storing bulk food and guns in different rental units, fearing “that the government was planning attacks on the electrical grid and the nation's computer networks." We shouldn't try to make rational sense of conspiracy theorists, but it's hilarious that they believe they can hold off an all-powerful tyrannical government with a stockpile of firearms and dehydrated hash browns.
Brandenburg scared his wife so much she feared for her and her children's safety and she left town. He still tried to blame his crimes on his self-inflicted troubles at home. He wasn't thinking straight, he claimed, and “spontaneously" tried to sabotage vaccines that were vital to public health.
"Investigators asked how this could be a spontaneous act when Brandenburg did it two days in a row," says the warrant application. "Brandenburg did not have an answer."
Sticker told investigators she saw Brandenburg "researching the vaccine on his work computer and looking to see if there was a mechanism on the boxes that tracked the vials' temperature." That's some very “spontaneous" premeditation and consciousness of guilt, if true.
Brandenburg has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard, and he's facing up to 10 years in prison.
What's scary is that Brandenburg's alleged paranoid delusions and conspiracy theories are quickly becoming normalized in conservative circles. Republicans won't dare dismiss them out of hand. Georgia House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from the GOP's QAnon caucus appeared to express a belief in Jewish Space Lasers, but Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas could only say that “the people of her district elected her."
Are Greene's various conspiracy theories different from Brandenburg's? Again, "Jewish Space Lasers."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."