ICYMI: Extremists Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley Won’t Stop Spreading Anti-Vaxx and Anti-Mask Disinformation

LANSING — Yesterday, Republican gubernatorial candidates and prolific TikTok users Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley earned national attention for the ways they’ve used the platform to spew their extremist views to wide audiences. 

A new piece by The Verge uncovers the dog whistle strategies the snake oil salesman and insurrectionist have both been employing for months to “[cast] doubt on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effectiveness of masks” and “[question] the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

Through posting a constant stream of content appealing to conspiracy theory-seeking audiences while “sidestep[ping] TikTok’s moderation systems” by referring to the vaccine as a “medical procedure” and rebranding anti-vaccination as “pro-medical freedom,” Kelley and Soldano have managed to amass huge followings and millions of views.

“Through the use of Tik Tok and other social media platforms, snake oil salesman Garrett Soldano and insurrectionist Ryan Kelley have catapulted themselves out of the fringes and into legitimate contention for the governor’s office,” said Rodericka Applewhaite, MDP spokesperson. “It’s been an effective enough tool to make Soldano the current top fundraiser, and we’ll never know the extent of how much his toxic anti-vaxx and anti-mask rhetoric prolonged this pandemic, along with Kelley and the other extremists running to lead the state.”

See below for excerpts from The Verge on how Soldano and Kelley are “testing TikTok’s limits on misinformation” and read the full report here.

The Verge: Michigan Republicans Run Afoul of TikTok’s Vaccine Misinformation Rules
By Makena Kelly

As the Michigan governor’s race heats up, a handful of candidates are turning to TikTok to build followings ahead of the 2022 election. Two Republicans have already found sizable audiences, but they’re also testing TikTok’s limits on misinformation, espousing possible 2020 election fraud and spreading false vaccine information on the platform.

Garrett Soldano and Ryan Kelley are both running in Michigan’s Republican primary for governor, hoping to replace current Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Soldano, a chiropractor from Kalamazoo County, is one of the leading fundraisers, raising more than all other candidates combined, according to Michigan Live last month.

Both candidates have built large followings on TikTok, Soldano and Kelley boasting over 74,000 and 35,000 followers, respectively, as of publication. Both have created dozens of TikToks casting doubt on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effectiveness of masks. They have also posted videos questioning the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, calling for a “full forensic audit” of the election results.

Many of Soladano’s videos suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines are not as effective as advertised and that the pandemic isn’t as deadly as people proclaim. In one video with over 2.5 million views, Soladano falsely states that older PCR tests couldn’t detect the difference between COVID-19 and cases of influenza. “Maybe that’s why flu just disappeared,” he said. Another video denigrating Fauci and Whitmer was removed by TikTok.

“If COVID is so scary then why in the hell aren’t they closing the southern border?” Soladano asked in one video. “Common sense,” he continued, holding up a sign that says “mic drop.” […]

There’s reason to think Soldano may have been kicked off the platform for violating those policies — but the ban didn’t stick. In a video posted earlier this year, Soldano wrote that he would be uploading all of his old videos because his previous account “was banned for LIFE.” […]

In an apparent effort to sidestep TikTok’s moderation systems, Soldano has avoided using the word “vaccine” in his videos. “I can’t use the ‘v’ word because TikTok will take me down, so I’m going to call it a ‘medical procedure,’” Soldano said in a video posted earlier this month. In another video, he writes “vac…. cination.”

Kelley, a real-estate broker and lifestyle vlogger, has previously organized protests against Michigan’s COVID-19 orders and attended the January 6th US Capitol protest as well. (Kelley says he never entered the building.) Kelley’s videos also cast doubt on expert advice like that from the Centers for Disease Control. In several videos, he calls for “medical freedom” and for Michigan to outlaw mandatory vaccinations. He frequently tags his videos with #medicalfreedom which populates hundreds of videos from users protesting vaccine mandates or suggesting that they won’t receive the shot. […]

Kelley avoids using “vaccine” as well, opting for language like the “jab” when discussing masks and the coronavirus pandemic. […]

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