The distributors of the anti-vaccination film Vaxxed have sent a cease-and-desist letter to an Irish advocate for autistic people who’s been speaking out against the movie. According to a letter they sent her, Cinema Libre Studios is trying to prevent Fiona O’Leary from “making any statement to any person” regarding the film.
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Vaxxed is the anti-vaccination film made by Andrew Wakefield, the former gastroenterologist who claims the MMR vaccine is linked to autism. The movie was, as you might recall, scheduled to appear at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and then pulled after an enormous outcry. Since then, though, the film has shown in theaters all over the United States and Canada, to breathless audiences who see Wakefield as a personal savior and believe the government is engaged in a vast coverup of the fictional autism-MMR link.
The filmmakers—Wakefield and a reality TV producer named Del Bigtree—are now launching a tour for the month of August, “to stop in at the home districts where the members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reside,” they say. (The filmmakers say the ultimate goal of the movie is to get a Congressional hearing on vaccine safety. Vaccines are, for the thousandth time, extremely safe. No credible science exists to show they cause autism. Even a study funded by an anti-vaccination group found no link between vaccines and autism.)
The filmmakers are also interested in showing the film in Ireland and the UK, which has alarmed O’Leary. She’s an Irish mother of five, a woman with Aspergers Syndrome and the founder of an organization called Autistic Rights Together, which focuses on self-empowerment for people with autism. For years, she’s objected to unproven treatments for autism, including campaigning for years against Miracle Mineral Supplement, which is, essentially, bleach, and which was promoted for years as a treatment for autism and a host of other ailments that can’t actually be cured by drinking bleach. (The person who created the product, Jim Humble, reportedly claims to be a billion-year-old space god from a distant galaxy, if we need more insight about how credible it is.)
The film, O’Leary tells Jezebel, “is spreading misinformation and harm.” She’s tweeted and written Facebook posts about the movie; she’s also promoting a longshot petition addressed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. It reads, in part:
VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM!
VACCINES SAVE LIVES!
Thousands of Babies and Children are dying because of NOT receiving life saving Vaccines!
The Autistic Community want this movement to be STOPPED as they are inciting HATRED towards Autistic people and also inciting VIOLENCE!
We want the relevant bodies to ACT on this serious issue and STOP this movement which is putting thousands of children’s lives at risk!
O’Leary explains that she addressed the petition to Paxton because a state attorney general has previously taken action against someone promoting an autism treatment: Kerri Rivera was barred from marketing MMS, the bleach solution, in Illinois.
It is exceedingly unlikely that O’Leary, from Ireland, would succeed in doing actual harm to the movie with a Change.org petition, but Cinema Libre nonetheless sent her a threatening letter, trying to enjoin her from speaking about it or any of the people in it to anyone:
As the blog Skeptical Raptor points out, the letter from Cinema Libre came two days after O’Leary made a Facebook video criticizing the film and the anti-vax movement as a whole.
(O’Leary also notes that a Change.org petition, supposedly from someone in Australia, has been launched against her, criticizing her personally: “All of her so called ‘advocacy’ revolves around hate campaigns, online and offline bullying and relentless self publicity,” it reads, in part.)
It’s not actually possible, from a free speech perspective, to prevent someone from talking about your movie at all to anyone. It’s interesting, too, that of all the critical things that have been written about Vaxxed, Cinema Libre is setting its sights on a woman in Ireland running a fairly small organization.
But Cinema Libre CEO Philippe Diaz confirmed to Jezebel that the letter is real and, he says, the first defamation warning they’ve ever sent to someone.
This letter is real and it is the first one we have ever had to send. We absolutely welcome opposite points of view, as we hope that the resulting dialogue will ultimately initiate a legitimate investigation into the issue at the heart of this film, that has been suppressed for far too long.
It is important to recognize that Mrs. O’leary has gone much farther than simply publishing her point of view but has actually attempted to prevent the film from being distributed in the UK and in Ireland and interfered with the exploitation of the film in the US.
We completely respect Mrs, O’leary’s right to exercise freedom of speech. However, a deliberate effort to interfere with the distribution of the film is unacceptable to us, the distributor, and will be prosecuted.
If Mrs. O’leary wants her right of free speech to be respected, then she should respect other people’s right as well. And showing the film is our right.
Thank you for your interest.
O’Leary says she doesn’t plan to stop speaking against the film, although she says the letter was deeply upsetting: “I’ve no money for lawyers.”
“It’s horrible for me,” she added. “And my family. I think they thought I would crumble, that they could bully a mother and autistic advocate. It didn’t work.”
Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.