By: Guest Writer
If you have not heard of Brian Festa, allow me to introduce you. Brian Festa is the co-founder of CT Freedom Alliance (CFA), a highly active anti-vaccine group in the state of Connecticut. CFA has been working very hard to kill HB5044, a bill that aims to remove the religious exemption option to vaccinations. Before last week I was unfamiliar with both Brain Festa and CFA. You see, I am a huge proponent of vaccines. I have been involved in the vaccine debate and discussion as an activist for more than a year. My efforts have involved correcting misinformation online, and even helping several people on social media overcome their vaccine hesitancy and decide to get vaccinated! So, it was only natural that when I learned of a bill proposing the removal of religious exemptions in my state, that I would want to become involved. One way I have done this is by helping legislators on social media when they get bombarded with misinformation and threats from anti-vaxxers. It was in the comment section on Representative Liz Linehan's Facebook page when I had my first interaction with Brian Festa, on a thread that has since been deleted. On the thread, Brian, claiming to be a lawyer, (I did not believe this at first, but alas, he is a lawyer) claimed that because of vaccine exemptions, Connecticut did not have vaccine mandates, nor had the state had vaccine mandates for decades. I kid you not! There, on a public post thread was this lawyer not understanding what vaccine mandates are and that they do exist, regardless of exemptions. At that point he became a blip on my radar, though I did not give him much thought seeing as I did not know or care who he was, or that he was a co-founder of CFA.
I decided it could be beneficial to show and encourage support of HB5044 by writing an article for my local Patch.com page. In this article I covered a few important points such as, why this bill should be passed, why vaccines are important, how religious exemptions are nonsense, and especially how anti-vaxxers have harassed, threatened, and even assaulted some legislators. The part that seemed to have worked Brian Festa up into such a furry though was when I discussed how anti-vaxxers inflate their numbers of support or opposition when bills like this come up in session. Myself and other vaccine advocates have seen the padding of their numbers in New York, New Jersey, and now Connecticut. In my article, I drew attention to screen shots I had showing CFA Facebook group members organizing for opposition testimony and emails to this Connecticut State bill from Connecticut residents, but more specifically from out of state residents. The images that ruffled CFA and Brian's feathers the most were unredacted screen shots of a one member proposing they pay homeless people or "labor ppls" to come and stand outside to make appear their opposition numbers were larger than what they actually had show up in the capital.
I published this Patch article at 10:05 p.m on February 22, 2020. I then shared the link on my Facebook page before I went to bed. At some point the Stratford Patch Facebook page shared my article as well. It was at this point that anti-vaxxers began posting a plethora of replies accusing the Patch of "Poor journalism!" and making such accusations as "she probably made the post herself!" But.....the best one, found in the reply section to the article, was a rebuttal written by Brian Festa, himself. This rebuttal read,
"I take particular exception to the fact that she calls out my organization, The Connecticut Freedom Alliance, LLC, accusing us of attempting to hire homeless people to attend the public hearing on February 19,2020. We did no such thing. It is true that one member posted that on our Facebook page as a suggestion, but it was a suggestion we did not take. As a group that believes strongly in our First Amendment right to free speech, we permit all members to post whatever they want, so long as it does not amount to hate speech, threats of violence, or libel. But the fact that a member makes a post does not mean we endorse the content of that speech.
Ms. Hunt also accuses us of spreading "misinformation." She does this, however, without any evidence to support her claim. Instead, she relies on flawed DPH data and talking points to assert that 134 schools are falling below the herd immunity threshold. We have drilled into the DPH data, and discovered that the department has presented a narrative that is clearly false. DPH is claiming religious exemption is causing 134 schools to be "under 95% MMR", but 26 of those schools have no religious exemption , and 63 have less than 5% of students with religious exemptions. So what is going on?"
Brian claims, wrongfully, that the case did not establish the right of the government to remove religious exemptions. Of course, he would have known this if he bothered to click on the link provided in that source. He is not a constitutional lawyer and he obviously isn't an authority on the subject. In ever class there is that one student who comes in last. In Brian's case he might be that one student. This becomes more apparent as he attempts to argue with typical anti-vax talking points, suggests anecdotes are more reliable that science, that Del Bigtree is an authority on anything vaccine related, and he comes off as oblivious to the fact that, for the right price, anyone can find an expert to say what they want them to say.
What is often overlooked is that those who didn't survive measles in the past are not here to tell their story. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine does not require lifetime boosters for measles since the vaccine is 97% effective at creating immunity against the disease in just three doses. There is no substantial risk of severe reactions from the vaccine, which again, was covered through the sources in my original article. Almost all measles outbreaks are due to those who are unvaccinated. I can't help but to wonder how many of those infected were permitted to go unvaccinated due to religious exemptions.
His rebuttal was eyeroll inducing to say the least. I left alone and didn't reply, it wasn't worth my time. He is not my target audience.
Brian was not quite done with me though. Later in the evening on Feb 23, 2020, I was sent a link by several people. The link was to a video posted to the Facebook CFA page by Brian Festa. Since he posted this video to the page it was a public post and anyone could view this video. Sadly, it has since been removed. However, What's The Harm suspected the video might end up dirty deleted so they downloaded the video from Facebook and uploaded it to their YouTube channel. Brian should know that the internet never forgets.
The video is slow to start because he wants to wait for more people to jump on, which means he recorded this live on Facebook. At about the 2:45 mark Brian's rant begins. He yells at the camera about how he knows they are "winning" because why else would myself or What's the Harm attack CFA unless they were "winning. He calls me out by name, What's The Harm, a woman named Selina, Democrats, and claims What's The Harm's Twitter is registered outside the United States, as if that would matter. It is registered in New York State, not that it makes a difference. In the video, he then concludes that it is in fact the opposition who is guilty of inflating our numbers because we pointed out how his group members wanted to pay homeless people and encourage those out of state to lobby as though they are residents of Connecticut.
I am sorry Brian but according to these screen shots below, doth lawyer protests too much, methinks.
WE KEEP RECEIPTS.
Brian Festa, the CFA, and all the other misinformation anti-vaccine pages do inflate their numbers with their "call to actions" by asking followers from around the globe to contact state legislators, encouraging out of state residents to show up at hearings or give testimony on state issues that do not pertain to their state. If the real numbers represented the anti-vaccine movement for that state in question, they know they'd be laughed right out of the building. More bodies means more votes for them.
They are only effective because they effectively cheat.
That said, as he gets closer to the end of the video, he becomes visibly more upset. He then starts in on me.
Let me just say that I am not the head of the Stratford Patch, I'm not employed by them, nor am I a journalist. I am also not a member of my local democratic Committee chapter. Even though I am not a lawyer nor do I fancy myself as one, I sure do understand what a legal precedent is.
At 8:08 in the video he becomes rather unhinged when he tries to play it all off as though we are a help to him and his cause by saying,
"that is great, that is great news, I'm actually very, very happy, uh, What's The Harm, keep it up, keep up the good work."
Why thank you, Brian. We will keep up the good work.
A little advise from one non lawyer to an ineffective one:
Remember how beautifully your cease & desist letter was smacked down before you think to send another one out over your limited understanding of slander.
1,600 is a drop in the bucket when it comes to overall voters.
We weren't too late, we won't back down, we aren't scared, we see everything and we are everywhere. Us "bitches" haven't lost. You'll never see us coming.
In the immortal words of Brian Festa
"The jig is up"
What's The Harm?