The Unbelievable Grimness of HermanCainAward, the Subreddit That Catalogs Anti-Vaxxer COVID Deaths

The Herman Cain Award concept is simple and ugly. A single entry to the subreddit consists of anywhere between two and 16 screenshots of a social media profile (usually Facebook, with last names scrubbed out) belonging to someone who died after aggressively rejecting precautions that could have protected them and others. The idea is to track the individual’s journey from COVID theory, so to speak, to COVID practice: what a person posted or commented about masks or shots, or those who advocated for either before getting sick, and how they and their community narrated their disease once they were ill. As the forum has grown, entries have started following a fairly standard format: The first few screenshots typically feature the individual in question deploying a remarkably consistent set (there are 30 or so) of memes. Some vilify Dr. Anthony Fauci or champion the right to be unvaccinated. Others warn people they’re experimental rats or offer scripts that will properly punish wait staff for daring to inquire about vaccination status. Some deride masked liberals as “sheep” and the unvaccinated as proud free lions or refer to immigrants as vectors of disease or compare vaccination requirements to the Holocaust. Most of them treat the pandemic as a joke and frame ignoring it as brave or clever or both. The final few screenshots typically announce the disease, its progress, and the eventual death announcement, frequently followed by a GoFundMe for the family. If someone is merely hospitalized, the flair on that entry reads “Nominated.” When they die, it changes to “Awarded.”

Despite reading loads of statistics and case histories and news articles about the pandemic, r/HermanCainAward became my most thorough source on what it’s like for a person to die from COVID. I understand the disease more deeply because I have read so many viciously curated “stories” in which ordinary people blathering about politics end up narrating their decline from it—with help from their families—as optimistically as they can. They are younger than COVID patients used to be. Trying to put a positive spin on things. Soliciting prayers. Generally avoiding conversions. They do not expect to die. It’s relentless reading. And it keeps ending up the same way. Only health care workers have seen this many people decline and die.

A new category has recently been gathering steam in the subreddit: the IPA (Immunized to Prevent Award). People post photos of their new vaccination cards, saying that reading the r/HermanCainAward finally convinced them they didn’t want to “win.” They get enthusiastically cheered on by commenters. “I’m not anti-Vax,” one such comment reads, “I was just afraid and confused by all the misinformation out there. Genuinely frightened and confused. Taking a quick 5 minute look at this Sub-reddit brought me back down to earth. I’ll be getting my first round of the Pfizer Vaccine early next week. Thank you for existing.”

Best in Moderation

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