Tracking the Real Genocide”
reviewed in Claustrophobia
In this well-written and readable pamphlet, Dave Gilbert, who as the introduction points out, “is serving a life sentence on charges of participating, as white ally of the Black Liberation Army in the 1981 Brink’s expropriation and shoot-out with police”, not only carefully debunks the pseudo-science behind AIDS conspiracy theory but shows how AIDS conspiracy theory detracts from the work of HIV prevention, education and treatment ; work that remains grossly underfunded both here and abroad. By side-tracking such efforts, the conspiracy theory – that AIDS was created in a government laboratory – and its offshoot – denialism, that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, whatever the motives of some of its advocates, diverts energies ” . . . searching for the little men in white coats in a secret lab – which we will never find – which only leads us away from confronting the colossal crimes of malign neglect that are right in front of our faces, that can be documented, that are completely rooted in racism, homophobia and profiteering.”
As Gilbert admits, when AIDS first surfaced in the late 80s, he at first felt sympathetic to theories that AIDS was a man-made virus. After all, the U.S. government has a proven track record of inflicting medical experiments on ordinary citizens, especially Blacks and Latinos; the Tuskeegee syphilis study – a study in which, over several decades, poor Black men in the Deep South were infected with syphilis and allowed to go without treatment so the effects of late stage syphilis could be studied, is only the most notorious. Certainly, it seemed credible that the state had invented HIV as a form of biological warfare. Why should these people be trusted?
But as Gilbert read more on the hard science behind both allegations and talked at length with people who had a solid grounding in genetics and microbiology, the theorys began to unravel. And if you don’t have a background in some of the science issues, it’s a commendable strength of this pamphlet that Gilbert manages to break down the complexity of the underlying science into digestible and easily understood chunks. For example, Gilbert carefully refutes arguments for HIV’s genesis in a laboratory-based gene splicing, showing in detail why this sort of splicing is scientifically impossible and goes on to disprove as well theories that HIV is spread by casual contact or insects; a party-line of many conspiracy theorists.
Yet another red flag is raised when you look at the hidden agendas of the main propagators of conspiracy and denialist theory. As Gilbert points out with extensive documention, the conspiracy and denialist theorists are not neutral investigators but have close ties to far-right think-tanks linked to such organizations as the Larouche group and John Birch Society. Of course, this doesn’t automatically disprove the validity of their theories but it more than implies that these people are not objective, critical inquirers involved in some dispassionate search for truth- they have their own axes to grind that have little to do with any genuine concern over the communities most affected by HIV.
There is one last reason which Gilbert cites in refusing to grant credibility to conspiracy and denialist theories. Not only have the overwhelming majority of the scientific establishment come out decisively against both premises, but more crucially, so have the majority of frontline AIDS activists – many of whom themselves are living with HIV and therefore have every reason to critically examine all theories of HIV and its treatment.
Yet HIV is not just a science issue; these discussions have consequences in real life beyond the abstract debates in academic science journals. If HIV is not the cause of AIDS, then there is no need to practice safe-sex or clean needles. If AZT – a first generation anti-viral drug used to treat HIV – is only “poison,” then why bother to give it out; a line the neo-liberal ANC president of South Africa has used to justify withholding drugs that could prevent mother-to-infant HIV transmission. Although recinded under intense pressure recently, the damage has been done: this is a policy that will already lead, disasterously, to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of poor South Africans over the next several decades. Here is a prime example of the real-life impact of HIV denialists and the political uses their arguments are put to: as a pseudo-scientific veneer to disguise the ANC’s unwillingness to invest in public health when the goal of the current regime is to make South Africa attractive to international investors by slashing the public sector.
Even though AIDS conspiracy theories have died down in recent years as more and more of the scientific evidence has overwhelmingly run counter to these theory’s false assumptions, Gilberts pamphlet still deserves to be widely read because, tragically, many of the communities most affected by HIV still accept aspects of conspiracy theory, leading, in turn, to avoidable death and suffering – which is where the real genocide lies. We should be sympathetic to this distrust of the state which lies underneath people’s adherence to conspiracy theory on the street level, particularly in the Black community, while rejecting the disinformation campaigns, political agendas and outright lies of the HIV confusion peddlers.