This episode will premiere on Thursday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“People have taken in the feeling, the experience of being afraid all of the time. And so even if they’re told that they can be safe now without the mask, they still want to wear them. They insist on wearing them.”
I sit down with Dr. Mark McDonald, a psychiatrist and author of “United States of Fear: How America Fell Victim to a Mass Delusional Psychosis.”
The pandemic of fear was worse than the COVID-19 pandemic itself, McDonald argues. The ones harmed the most are children. They were bombarded for two years by incessant messaging—from parents, teachers, peers, television, and beyond. Going to school became dangerous. Children were told to stay home, stay safe, and avoid any risk and danger to themselves or others. Many have internalized the fears of their parents, argues McDonald. This is despite studies showing that otherwise healthy children are at very low risk from COVID-19, and children are also significantly less likely to spread the virus than adults.
“I don’t know if these kids are going to grow up normally. I don’t know if they’re ever going to be able to challenge themselves and take risks when they’re adults because they never did when they were younger.”
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Mark McDonald, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Mark McDonald: Thank you Jan. Glad to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. McDonald, you wrote “United States of Fear: How America Fell Victim to a Mass Delusional Psychosis.” I want to start with this, because mass delusional psychosis, this type of terminology has been brandished about quite a bit recently. What does it mean, mass delusional psychosis? Also, it sounds like a big statement to make.
Dr. McDonald: It is. I’ll put it simply. What I mean by mass delusional psychosis is a large group of people, a society, and specifically the United States, America, all individually deciding, whether consciously or not, to stop thinking rationally at the same time. That’s what I mean by it. In terms of describing it, I came to that conclusion by witnessing and by observing behaviors, both in my day-to-day life and also in my practice, since I treat children, adolescents, and adults in a psychiatric clinical practice. These behaviors were fundamentally bizarre to me. They didn’t make any sense. They were not grounded in reality.
I’m not talking about political positions. I’m talking about basic day-to-day behaviors. It just didn’t make sense. And they were happening all over the country, I later discovered. So, I came to the conclusion that there’s something going on. It’s not one person, it’s not two people, it’s not a subset of people, and it’s not people of a certain age or a certain ethnicity or a certain degree of intelligence. It’s all across the board throughout the entire country. Many people, 50, 60, 70 per cent of the people are just not thinking clearly anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: How did this manifest? What were the hints that you saw? There’s even debate today about what constitutes rational thinking itself?
Dr. McDonald: Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum or what your ideology is about life, there are certain fundamental truths and realities that we all have to agree on. I say this to my patients in my practice. I say to them when they come in, “Look, we may see things differently. We may have different feelings, orientations about life, but if we can’t agree on certain fundamental points of reality, then we can’t have a conversation. If I don’t understand your language, and you’re speaking Chinese, I don’t speak Chinese. I can’t communicate with you. That language doesn’t match my language. We’re seeing things from a completely different linguistic perspective.”
It’s the same way with life, and the same way with how we orient ourselves to keeping ourselves safe. There’s different degrees of keeping ourselves safe. We can all move in different directions. Some people are more risk-averse, and some people are less risk-averse. But if we can’t agree, for example, that there is absolutely no rational or medical reason to be wearing a surgical mask while you’re walking around outside in a park by yourself—if we can’t agree on that, then there’s a breakdown in conversation. There’s a breakdown in reality. In my view, you are basically at the level of a psychiatric inpatient, meaning somebody who cannot see, think, or hear things clearly enough to be able to make informed decisions about basic things in their life.
Mr. Jekielek: I have to ask this. We’ve been told we should wear masks in all sorts of contexts, including outside, and that that would make us safe. And of course, this is part of what you discuss in your book. A lot of people who have chosen to do this are thinking they’re doing something quite rational, because they’re listening to the authority that told them so.
Dr. McDonald: This is actually one of the mechanisms that I think is so important to focus on and to explain because many people don’t think about it. They slid over it. Let’s say that you’re being told that it’s critical for you to wear one, two, three facial coverings over your mouth and nose when you go outside and walk around in a park by yourself. You do it and say, “Well, I’m being rational because I’m being told to do it.” There’s something you’re missing. There’s a step in between those two, and that is your emotional state. My view is that people, Americans, largely speaking, became irrational, regardless of whether what they’re being told is true or not. That’s not the point. They became irrational and they started to follow orders because they were scared. I believe that fear is really the mechanism by which people lost their ability to think rationally.
So to go back and justify the behavior as rational, because you’re told to do it is kind of a false argument. As we often say, it’s like being told that you need to support the extermination of Jews because the General in Nazi Germany told you to do so. Therefore, it’s rational. That really doesn’t work. Morally, we revolt against that, all of us. It shocks the conscience. We may not have that kind of revolt when we’re just told to put a mask on. “Well, it’s just a mask.” How many times have we heard that in the last two years? “It’s just a mask.”
Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s not just a burqa either. We would not allow American women to be covered head-to-toe in black cloth like they do in the Islamic world, largely speaking, because we find it dehumanizing. Whether we’re told that it’s done for good reason or not is irrelevant. We would say no. Why? Because we’re not scared to say no. But we have been incredibly, incredibly frightened and intimidated in the last couple years from just thinking for ourselves and using our rational faculties. We’ve turned them off. We don’t use them anymore. Now, we make our decisions based upon fear. Therefore, we are compliant.
Mr. Jekielek: In the last few weeks, we’ve made a 180 degree turn around policy. Most masking policies are gone. Bizarrely, there’s still masking policies for toddlers in New York, but there seems to be an emergence out of this state of masking, state of lockdowns, and state of mandates. A lot of people are thinking, “Okay, I guess we’re done.”
Dr. McDonald: This sounds great. We’re all free. We’re all safe. Mandates are over. No more distancing, no more testing, no more facial coverings, no more plexiglass shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, et cetera. Great. Wonderful. We’ll just move on. We’ll move forward. The problem with that is that behavior has fundamentally changed. People have become not just compliant with the rules, they’ve actually taken them in unconsciously. As an example, just in the last few days, there’s been mass protests among large groups of students on the East Coast and on the West Coast regarding the removal of forced masking in schools. Teenagers up in the Seattle or Portland area actually went on strike just a few days ago to protest the removal of forced masking in their schools—protest the removal of forced masking. That is bizarre.
Now we’re told we’re all safe. We don’t have to wear masks anymore. You would think, “We were told we were unsafe, so we wore them.” Therefore, it’s rational to think “We’re safe now, we don’t have to wear them.” But it’s not working like that. People have taken in the feeling, the experience of being afraid all of the time. So even if they’re told that they can be safe now without the mask, they still want to wear them. They insist on wearing them. There’s now a group of mothers who are filing a lawsuit to force all the other kids in their kids’ classrooms to wear masks, because their children have some form of immunocompromised-disease status. This is a very bizarre inversion of how we used to think about life in America, about keeping yourself safe, and keeping your family safe. It was never about forcing everyone around you to keep you safe. That’s really what we’ve come to.
The mandates are gone, great, we’re all applauding. But don’t be so quick to celebrate, because the impression, meaning the imprinting, of this kind of fear-driven behavior has now become so strong. It’s become almost permanent. I really am concerned about what the next crisis will bring, the next demand for us to change our behavior. Now that the government, corporations, and media all know that we will simply blindly follow whatever they tell us, what’s going to be the next stage? This is what really concerns me. We’re not moving forward. We are just in a holding pattern for the next crisis.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk briefly about masking, because we’re talking about it as if it’s obviously not useful. Maybe you can give us a sense of what the scientific literature says about masking.
Dr. McDonald: Actually, it’s quite simple. Before March of 2020, there was not one serious scientific study anywhere in the world, not one, that had actually shown that masks, when worn outside of medical settings helped protect anyone from the transmission of a respiratory illness. Not one. They all showed up after the government began to order us to wear them, all of them. Even the ones that showed up were not actual real studies of in vivo masking. They were all theoretical. They were all programmed studies. They were projections. They were conjectures. They were using dummies. They were using different spray velocity analysis—all these really fancy terms to try to convince people that if you were to wear this mask, you’re going to have the same benefit as we had in this laboratory setting.
After all of that, after all of those silly little backfilled studies came out to try to support this completely irrational policy, we started to see real data coming in across the country. The data that came in showed that in schools where masks were required, versus those schools where masks were not, there was actually zero difference, absolutely none, in terms of the transmission of disease, in other words, the number of kids getting sick. There was absolutely no change. There’s nothing to counter that yet. Today it’s been two-years-plus, and we still don’t have any evidence whatsoever that wearing these masks in large scale open settings is actually helping reduce the transmission of this disease. None. Zero.
Mr. Jekielek: I watched a video of a group of adults and children in masks in front of New York City Hall singing about how they want to have masks. I thought to myself, we’ve really hurt society. As you know, we were talking about this just before. How do you help people overcome a situation like this?
Dr. McDonald: The first thing that you need to do as an individual is to acknowledge that you’re living in a state of fear. I consider this to be a sort of addiction. We were trained in medical school to interview patients who come to us who are heavy smokers or heavy drinkers to not try to explain to them why their tobacco or their alcohol is hurting them, and not to throw data at them. “You’re going to die earlier. You’re going to develop cancer at a higher rate.” This doesn’t really appeal to people who are addicted to drugs. The first thing you have to ask them is, “Is this causing you a problem? Is this making your life more difficult? Is this costing you something now?”
“I used to be a soccer player, doctor, and with all this smoking and huffing and puffing, I can hardly breathe. I can only play for 15 minutes and I have to sit out. I really want to play the full game.” “Okay, well, it sounds like this smoking is causing you some problems. Let’s talk about ways that we can help reduce your smoking so you can go back and play soccer the way you used to.” “That sounds great, doctor.” That’s the way that you motivate. It’s called motivational interviewing—motivate people to move forward and get rid of their fears, or in this case, the drugs.
First and foremost, it’s really important for people to start accepting that these behaviors, avoiding people, putting on masks, staying away from social gatherings, canceling weddings and funerals, are not helpful. This is actually causing harm and it’s bothering them. If it doesn’t bother you, why would you change? That’s the first step. I am not looking for a government, top-down approach to fix this problem. I’m thinking about it from the ground up, because this started with an individual. It was certainly pursued and furthered and fueled by large institutions and government, but ultimately, this is an individual issue and each individual has to face it, has to confront it and move forward on his or her own.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating to hear you discuss this. It makes me think about your philosophy of psychiatry, which you start discussing in your book. It would be great if you could tell us how you think about this.
I think about my practice in the same way that I think about providing opinions, recommendations, observations to society at large, because for the most part, they are the same. I tell my patients when they come in, “Look, you’re here for a problem. There’s a behavior or there’s a feeling that you’re having trouble with and it’s causing you some suffering. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” But I tell them that for us to work together successfully, we have to start from the same reality. If the world that I live in and the world that you live in are completely different, if there’s absolutely no overlap, there’s no way for us to even talk about things. So we have to accept that there are certain basic positions that we all have to take which are necessary for a healthy life.
For example, if a girl comes to me and says, “I can’t accept that I have two arms. I need to have only one arm, that’s actually better and preferred. Please explain to me, doctor, how I can go about supporting my new one-armed lifestyle after I get the surgery.” I would respond, “Well, I can’t agree with your premise. It’s not a fundamentally healthy desire to have only one arm and I’m not going to support you cutting the other one off.” If she and I can’t start from the point that there is something inherently wrong with her premise, then I can’t really help her.
Now, she could come back eventually and say, “I really want to cut my arm off, but I know it’s not good for me.” What do I do with that thought?” Now we can start. Now we can work on something. I can have a woman come into my office who’s wearing 16 masks on her face and say, “I know that I can hardly breathe. This is driving me crazy, but I just can’t stop wearing them,” as one woman did say to me. That’s fine. We can work on it. But if a woman comes into my office and says, “I don’t want to get rid of this mask, because I know I’m going to get sick and die. If you tell me to get rid of it, I’m going to leave the office because you’re a bad doctor.” I’m not really sure what our starting point is. So reality and fantasy have to be understood and agreed upon first before we can actually do any work.
Mr. Jekielek: This is exactly what I’ve been thinking, because the folks in front of New York City Hall that I observed, and also some of the people that you discuss in your book will not agree on the premise that you just explained about the reality of the masks. In fact, there are probably even millions of people.
Dr. McDonald: The reason why people won’t agree on the reality is that they are tacitly, implicitly, starting from the point that the way they feel is what determines what is real. This is another problem that I see with patients and another fundamental point of agreement that we have to come to before I can start working with them, which is, how you feel, although it’s important, should not dictate what you think and how you act. If you allow your feelings to determine what is right and wrong, what should or shouldn’t be done, we’re stuck. We’re dead in the water. If it feels better to you to eat pizza and ice cream all day, and you will not budge from that position— if that’s why you’re eating it and you must eat it, then I can’t help you with your diet. If you say, “I feel really good about eating it, but I know it’s causing me problems. I know it’s not right.” Now we have somewhere to go.
Dr. McDonald: Over the last few years, I’ve seen this huge transition across the board, across all society, and I see it in my practice as well—a change from, “I feel this, but I know to do something different,” to, “I feel this, therefore I’m going to do the following. I feel unsafe, therefore you must put a mask on your face or you’re a bad person. I feel unsafe, therefore I should stay home and not go to school and you must allow me to do that and not punish me, not take away my credits, not bar me from graduating because of the way I feel.” I’m making these very simple examples, because they can become very complex. But at their core, they’re really about arrested development, or you could say regression.
Babies think and feel like this. Babies see the world and they feel something. Therefore the world must respond to them in kind. As we get older, as we develop, as we grow and progress and become an adult, it really means setting aside your feelings, becoming less narcissistic and acknowledging that there’s another reality out there that may not conform with your feelings. We have to find some way to navigate that. We have tossed that out the window now. Everything is subjective. Everything is relative. Everything is feeling-based. Everything is narcissistic. That is what is psychologically driving a lot of these very irrational mass behaviors and mass protests that objectively speaking just don’t make any sense.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve heard tons of anecdotes of people almost becoming hysterical when they see behavior that they feel is unsafe, like for example, someone not wearing a mask. We keep talking about masks. This has been one of your big topics over the past few years, but people don’t really know how to deal with that in general.
Dr. McDonald: A lot of people have serious issues now. Because we are unclear about where to take a stand, we go along with it. We allow that minority of people who are emotionally unwell, who are hysterical, who cannot think at all, to dictate how we ourselves now live and work and even go to school and treat our families. Not only do we not want to make the effort, we don’t want to stand up. We don’t want to fight back. We’re worried about the cost to us. We say, “It’s just a mask.” We’ll just wear it and then go back out and take it off. Also, we really are not very clear about what is real and what is not. But to some degree, we’ve started to buy into the premise that if they feel really strongly, then we should probably go along with it.
This is also a consequence of the failure of men in our country to stand up and express leadership and strength in the face of histrionic, dramatic, and overly-emotional behavior. When we don’t have a strong core presence of masculinity in the country, we allow emotionality to take over. In that vacuum of leadership and strength, we actually encourage histrionics. That hyperemotionality often comes from women who are naturally more emotional than men, which is fine. They don’t have a place to limit those feelings and those emotions anymore. They don’t even have a place to express themselves, so they spill over into the public sphere. This is why the “Karen” phenomenon developed.
Dr. McDonald: For the most part, people just go along with it. They just say, “Well, what can you do? She’s having a strong feeling right now,” rather than stepping up as a group and saying, “This is unacceptable. You have a problem. We sympathize with it, but you need to get help. You do not have the right and you certainly are not virtuous in going around and trying to control your environment because you can’t control your feelings.” This is functionally damaging to our society and we have to fix it.
Mr. Jekielek: The premise that you’re suggesting is something that isn’t broadly accepted in society today, that men have very different biological predispositions to behavior. Of course, there’s a bell curve, but the premise that men are so different from women is not something that many people even watching the show might accept.
Dr. McDonald: Most people fundamentally know and accept and understand that there are core differences between men and women. We grow up, at least until recently, seeing those expressed and understanding them quite clearly. But because of a massive overwhelming media blitz and propaganda blitz in the last few years and to some degree in the last few decades, as I describe in my book, many people are now starting to doubt their own reality. What are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? That’s how people are starting to feel right now. This is really unfortunate. There’s a small number of people, a small percentage of Americans in this country who truly can’t think, who are truly utterly brainwashed and hopeless. But most Americans understand, fundamentally, that there is a man and there is a woman, despite what the recent Supreme Court nominee said, “I can’t define a woman, “ in response to the question, “What is a woman?”
I think she can, and I think we all can. We all know what a woman is and what a man is, but we’re afraid to actually say it, because we’re afraid of being called a misogynist, a patriarch, a toxic male, or a woman who doesn’t stand up for women, an anti-feminist. There’s a lot of fear. That is censoring our public discourse. It’s censoring our confidence in being able to state what is real. We’re entering into a kind of twisted alter-reality, similar to the story of, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” We all can see the emperor is naked. We all know it, but we look around and everyone is complimenting him on the fine silk fibers that drap his body. We think, “Gosh, well, they all seem to be seeing something else, so I guess I’ll go along with it.”
If you remember the story, the first person who actually points out that the emperor is naked is a child. Children know the difference. Children live more in reality than adults do now, because they haven’t been brainwashed like the adults have. This is one of the reasons why I love working with kids. You have to tell them the truth. You can’t lie to them. Now, sadly, that innocence, that connection with reality is being ripped away from them by adults who are now inculcating a false reality. They are making children afraid of being children. They’re making children afraid of being alive. They are telling three-year-old children, “If you don’t wear a mask on your face, you’re going to kill your grandmother.’ This, in my view, is actually abusive.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk about children a lot more. Before we go there, there’s something that caught my eye just today from Martin Kulldorff, who has been on the show a number of times. He writes, “Pro-lockdowners accused those favoring focused protection as denying COVID seriousness, as being Right-wing or just caring about the economy, while refusing to discuss how, in effect, lockdowns caused collateral public health damage. They were too scared to think.” I’ve been covering this topic of fear more now on the show. What do you think of this?
Dr. McDonald: I think he’s right on. When fear is the predominant emotion, it overpowers every other feeling. It overpowers love, it overpowers hate. It also paralyzes the rational faculties. It also makes it impossible to think. Imagine if you were in a car accident and your leg was severed and you’re lying there bleeding in the street. Someone comes up to you to offer assistance and that person gives you rational instructions on what you should do to help save your life. You wouldn’t be able to follow them. You’re paralyzed with fear. That’s why you need emergency medical help, because you can’t even make basic decisions of pulling out your phone and giving your wife or husband’s phone number so that you can call your family. You probably wouldn’t know what to do.
Imagine if an entire country, largely speaking, has been traumatized and then re-fed a message that it was necessary to be afraid day after day after day, month after month. Now we’re going on almost three years. It’s not going to be possible to think rationally. If you’re told every single morning when you wake up for a year-and-a-half, two years, that another X number of people died from a virus and that is added to the count, which is only going up every day, if that’s the first thing you saw on your phone, television, or read in your newspaper every single day for over a year-and-a-half, it would be very hard for you not to be afraid.
Just as it would be very hard for you, if every single day when you woke up, to be told another 18 people died in car accidents across the United States and that is added to the total. This year alone, there’s been over 35,000 people who have died in car accidents and here’s another 18. Then the next day it’s 26, then it’s four, then it’s 52. Eventually you would say to yourself, “You know what? I don’t think it’s safe to drive anymore. I better start walking or riding my bike. People are dying every day all over the country. This is really unsafe. And don’t tell me to go get in a car. Don’t make me unsafe. In fact, you shouldn’t get in a car either. Nobody should get in cars. We should ban cars right now because there are too many people dying.”
Without thinking too much about it, it feels kind of reasonable. It’s utterly irrational, but it feels right. This is what we came to with the social distancing, the masks, and ultimately the shots, closing schools, and closing businesses. Without thinking too deeply, it all felt kind of reasonable. Safety, protection, why not? We only allowed ourselves to do that. We only got pulled in to that degree, because we were so scared that we couldn’t even think beyond the first level to ask ourselves, “Does it actually make sense?” The question that he raised is, “What is the cost?” When you’re afraid, you don’t look at the cost. You only serve to protect yourself, even if it means coming at a tremendous, tremendous price. Self-protection becomes the only thing that guides you, rather than looking at the big picture of what am I gaining now, versus what am I actually paying for and losing over the long haul? We never asked that question.
Mr. Jekielek: In your mind, the media, broadly speaking, were a very important part of transmitting this state of fear.
Dr. McDonald: They were critical. The media failed to do its job. The media failed to provide objective, accurate reporting and information. They picked and chose information that helped to ensure compliance and obedience with government mandates. That’s essentially all they did for over two years. Very, very rarely, and only until recently, did any of the mainstream media outlets discuss or tell stories of children who were suffering from increased depression and anxiety and substance abuse from the day that their schools were closed. Very rarely did they describe or discuss all of the shop owners who are now bankrupt, because they couldn’t keep their stores open and were now going on welfare or having to move to other cities.
Had these kinds of stories been told in an equal number to the so-called, imagined, or potential benefits of following all of these mandates, it would have completely swayed public opinion. But just like my example about car accidents, what if what you hear about is the number of people who die in cars, versus the number of people who were able to save their lives by getting to the hospital in the ambulance, because that’s a car too? Or what about the amount of time that is saved by driving, versus sitting in a bus two or three hours a day, all the productivity gains, which help us improve the quality of our lives? If we didn’t hear about any of that stuff, and all we heard was the number of people that died in car accidents, we would reasonably conclude that cars should be eliminated.
This was a real failure on the part of the media to inform Americans dispassionately, without fear, so that they could make their own decisions. I don’t think Americans were able to make their own decisions, unless they sought out alternative sources of information, which as we all know, were not only difficult to find, but were being actively censored and falsely accused of misinformation, lying, and fear-mongering. I say falsely, not because of the way I feel or my opinion. Hundreds and hundreds of very important publications, announcements, and Twitter feeds were all trashed, and were all disregarded due to censorship campaigns by Facebook, Twitter, and CNBC. We now know they were completely factually true from the very beginning.
And there are no apologies. There is no acknowledgement. There is no, “Oh my gosh, we really screwed up. This is wrong.” Isn’t that the basis of journalism? When you make a mistake, even if it’s inadvertent, the next day, as soon as you know about it, you say, “We apologize. We made a mistake. Here’s the corrected record.” When was the last time that Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn corrected the record for Scott Atlas, for Martin Kulldorff, for RFK Jr., who’ve been saying for the last couple of years that people are dying unnecessarily because they’re not being allowed to work? “They’re not being allowed to go to school. They’re being forced to wear masks. People are actually suffering and we have a way to quantify that. We have numbers.”
We just found out yesterday that last year more underage people died of alcohol than died of this virus. But nobody talks about that. Why not? Because it would point out the fact that when you restrict people’s movement, you push depression on them. If you take away their reason for living, they’re going to turn towards drugs. For the first time in my practice, in the 12 years that I’ve been working in clinical medicine as a private care physician, I lost two patients to unnatural causes. Both of them died of fentanyl overdoses. Both of them were refused access to school. They died at home under the Safer at Home program by LA mayor, Eric Garcetti. Safer at Home, they died. Two in one year, and I’ve never lost one in over a decade.
That would not have happened had they been in school. I am 100 per cent sure. But is that reported? Their deaths are reported, but is it linked to the Safer at Home program? It was never linked to that. Those two children died unnecessarily. For what? Did we save a single life, a single life by actually keeping children home for over two years? I have yet to see any evidence of that.
Mr. Jekielek: Why do you think this happened?
Dr. McDonald: Largely speaking, politicians are now very scared to risk anything, should they not act. Meaning, if you go overboard and cause a lot of damage, a lot of harm, but you do so with the hope of keeping people safe, not only you’re going to appease the crazies who just want to control everybody, that 10 to 15 per cent of the population that’s unhinged and is essentially using the heckler’s veto to overrule the liberties and freedoms and decision making of all Americans—not only do you get their attention and get their support and keep them from going after you, which is really nice because politicians don’t want to be heckled, but you also protect yourself.
It’s like buying an insurance policy. For example, if you shut down all of the nursing homes and you don’t allow people to go in to them, and you say, “We’re going to keep all the grandparents safe from getting an infection by not letting anybody see them for a year, then you can rightfully say that they were protected from a virus, and that you eliminated all of the potential for an infection to be transmitted through the doors of the institution. You know to some degree that the suffering, the depression, the anxiety, the premature death, the loss of dignity, the inability of relationships to continue in the last days or years of life, that is not really going to be reported. It’s not going to be quantified. You’re not going to be attacked or accused of causing any of that.
On the other hand, if you leave them open and three or four people catch a disease and die, you’re going to be responsible for those three or four deaths. It was a rational calculation on the part of the politicians to some degree. It was a rational decision that they made to protect themselves and their reputation by going too far. You can’t really go too far in the risk-benefit calculation of your career. Unfortunately, that way of operating, that way of making decisions politically, it may allow the politician to survive, but it destroys society.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you mean you can’t really go too far? I didn’t catch that.
Dr. McDonald: For example, recently, we were told by our secretary of transportation that gas prices at $7, $8-a-gallon are actually a great thing. Why is that a great thing? Because now we can order people to use public transportation. There’s no limit as to how high we should allow gas prices to go, because encouraging people to use public transit is actually a good thing. There’s not really any downside to allowing gas prices to go high, but there is a downside to trying to forcibly lower them. If you try to lower the gas prices and get them down to what they were before, and then you have a mob coming after you that says you’re spreading environmental collapse and you’re destroying the planet, suddenly you pay this enormous price politically.
What I’m saying is that at the core, politicians now more than ever are not operating on any set of public benefit. They’re not calculating, “What is the public benefit in the decisions I’m making?” What they’re calculating is to what degree will the media and the extreme mobs come after me if I take a courageous action to stand up to irrationality, and stand up to fear? If something goes wrong, how much will it hurt me? On the other hand, if I act in a compliant, cowardly, go-along-to-get-along manner, if I join the mob, if I just keep enacting more and more restrictions, more and more orders, in other words, legislate, legislate, legislate, make more and more decisions bureaucratically to try to control people, no matter what happens, I’m protected because I can always say, “I did everything I could. I did everything I could. How could I know that there would be a problem?” Then everybody says, “Yes, I guess he did.” What more can you do?
Actually, the irony is, “What more can you do,” is to do less. People are really scared right now. Politicians, students, parents, teachers were really scared to take less action. I had a therapist supervisor years ago who said often when you’re working with a patient and you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know what to say, the best course of action is to say and do nothing for a moment, just sit and just reflect. Don’t jump in and try to fix the problem. Don’t try to take action. It’s okay to just allow things to sit for a moment. We often want to jump in and take action because we think that no matter what happens, at least we did something. Often it’s the doing something that’s the problem.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things most troubling for me is something that Dr. Scott Atlas, who you mentioned earlier, verbalized in quite a powerful way. This has been one of his key topics. Roughly, he says that during this pandemic, as adults, we’ve used our children as shields, and the corollary is that we should never do that. In any reasonable society, it’s the adults that need to be shields. When I first heard this over a year ago, it troubled me deeply and it keeps troubling me even more deeply when I see the realities that children have been subjected to, some of which you’ve already discussed. What are your thoughts?
Dr. McDonald: Children have been the sacrificial lambs of this pandemic. I’m going to call it a pandemic of fear, because that’s really what it is. It’s not a medical pandemic. It’s a pandemic of fear.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about that briefly. So you think the pandemic of fear is a much more serious thing?
Dr. McDonald: I actually know that the pandemic of fear is a more serious thing, because look at raw data in terms of deaths. Looking at the CDC’s own data, 94 per cent of all of the recorded deaths were of people who were suffering from three or four significant serious comorbidities. And the average age of death actually exceeds the average lifespan of the American citizen. But putting that aside, the number of people who have died in the last year just of drug overdoses has now exceeded 100,000 Americans. One year. It’s never happened before, 100,000 just in drug overdoses. The increase of cancer, the increased incidence of heart disease, the increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, they have gone through the roof. Only now are we starting to total the actual medical harm that was caused by government intervention and government overreach since the middle part of 2020.
I know for a fact that the viral pandemic, no matter what numbers you use, are wildly inflated. Of the 94 per cent of the 800,000 so-called deaths that the CDC reported, even they, themselves, said 94 per cent were from people that had died for other reasons. So you’re left with only 6 per cent of 800,000, which is 40,000 or 50,000 Americans, the number of people that die in car accidents every year. It’s really not nearly as serious as we were told. We’re not seeing young people, or healthy people die in significant numbers.
So the pandemic of fear struck everybody. It didn’t just strike older people, people who were sick, people who were obese, people who were addicted to alcohol or drugs—it struck children, it struck young adults in terms of suicides, serious mental illness, self-harming behaviors, and the loss of the ability to speak and hear properly. Language learning disorders are going up between 25 per cent and 300 per cent, depending on the locale in the United States for referrals for speech and language therapy. The pandemic of fear has been singularly far more important than any core medical viral crisis that we’ve been informed about from the very, very beginning.
Mr. Jekielek: Very early on in the pandemic, you appeared in a school board meeting, which was then put in a video and broadcast across the internet where very early you had a very unexpected approach to the question of school closures. You were basically saying, “Why are we even thinking about this?” When at that time, it seemed to be the prevailing orthodoxy.
Dr. McDonald: I knew from the very beginning, because I work with children, and it’s the focus of my clinical practice, that kids were being misused by this pandemic of fear. I said this as early as May of 2020 at the Orange County School Board of Education meeting, which was assembled to determine and ask the question, and debate the question, “When should we reopen the schools?” They had been closed for a few weeks at that point. We all thought they would be reopened in another week, a month. Little did we know it was going to be two years. I attended that meeting to speak on that position, and to the idea that schools really should be open. They shouldn’t be closed.
After a few hours of listening to all these arcane debates about risk-assessments, do children get sick, do they transmit this disease, how many people are dying—it all just seemed so esoteric to me. It was pretty clear from the information we had after week three in early April that children are essentially uninvolved in this viral pandemic. It’s irrelevant to them. Yes, they catch it. Yes, a few of them get moderate cold symptoms, but they’re not dying. They’re not spreading it to other people. There’s no evidence to support any of that. In fact, children are far more at risk of getting sick and dying with influenza. That has been the case for years, and yet we never close schools for influenza. We never asked them to wear masks. We never told them to do Zoom. So this is just weird to me. I thought there is something missing here. What is it that I’m missing? This is not data.
So, at the end of the meeting, I stood up and spoke. I said, “Why exactly are we here?” I answered my own question. I said, “We’re here because we the adults are afraid. We are scared. We are anxious. We don’t know what to do. So, we are transferring our fear and anxiety onto our children. We are using them as surrogate anxiety-collectors, so that we can feel safe and good. We are sacrificing our children for our own emotional well-being. This is sick, this is immoral, it is antisocial, and it is abusive, because no society, not one, sacrifices the young to protect the old—and it’s a fantasy that they are being protected—but no society that does that can survive.”
There was stunned silence in the room and everybody just sat there and just thought about it for a moment. I had hoped that it was going to sink in. I had hoped that they were going to say, “Wow, you’re right. We are really going off the rails here. We are making emotionally-based decisions that sound very medical and very rational, but they’re completely emotional and they’re wrong. We need to stand up and own up to our own adult responsibilities.” Well, none of that happened. They kept the schools closed for another year and a half. Now here we are in year three and we are still sacrificing children, because we the adults are afraid. We have not discovered and accepted the truth that our feelings, our fear, our anxieties should not be dictating what we do to, and what we do with our kids.
Mr. Jekielek: To your point, in the universities, there’s still highly questionable policy that’s being enacted. But even more importantly, students themselves have become agents of enacting this fear. They’ve been propagandized with it for so long that they believe it themselves. We should discuss how to deal with a situation like that. It’s profoundly disturbing to me.
Dr. McDonald: The sad reality is that it doesn’t really matter at this point whether we remove all of the government mandates on schools for children, because the kids have now taken in their parents’ fear. Their parents succeeded. The adults were successful in imprinting their fear onto their children and now it’s permanent. The kids do not feel safe on their own without wearing a mask. Just last week, the LA County and LA City school system completely removed all of the masks from the schools. They’ve been doing it piecemeal here and there, outdoors and indoors. It’s very complicated, but basically it’s all over now.
And the first day that it was all over, all the kids were told you don’t have to wear a mask anywhere, indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t matter. Over 80 per cent of the kids were still wearing the masks voluntarily. They were still wearing them. Why? Because they felt it was the right thing to do. They felt uncomfortable without them. They felt like the little boy in my practice who was eight years old, who came in a few weeks ago with his mother, who was not wearing a mask by the way, and she’s a highly anxious person. So I was very impressed that she had removed it. But he, who was not an anxious kid, but has ADHD, was wearing a mask. I said, “Your mother’s not wearing a mask. She’s discovered that it’s fine. You don’t need to wear it anymore. Why are you still wearing that?” He said, “I just feel better with it on. There’s just so many variants running around right now.” This is an eight-year-old boy.
Mr. Jekielek: There is another element too, isn’t there? I remember as a child the school peer pressure being very powerful. Then it struck me, there has been the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” messaging out there, where if you’re not vaccinated, you’re somehow a lower person, or the wrong type of person. If you’re unmasked, it’s the same thing. So I imagine there’s also this kind of element driving the 80 per cent of children still wearing masks. That’s just unbelievable.
Dr. McDonald: Something that a lot of people don’t know is that peer influence is far more powerful in kids once they hit that double-digit age, it used to be 14, 15, now it’s closer to 11 or 12, than the influence of parents or adults. Intrinsically, most parents kind of know this. At some point they realize that their kid is just not listening to them anymore. Their kid is saying, “Yes, but my friend Jimmy told me this, or my friend Melissa said that, so I’m going to do what Jimmy or Melissa said.” This is developmentally normal. In general, it’s actually a healthy thing, because this is the way that you delineate yourself and separate yourself from your parent. At some point you have to go. You can’t stay with your parents forever, although a lot of them are staying in their parents’ garage until they’re 40.
The goal of development is to individuate and separate from your parents. That requires pushing them away a little bit, but you can’t just push them away and be all alone. You have to be with someone else you’re going to be with. You’re going to be with your cohort, you’re going to be with other kids your age, other adolescents. You’re probably going to make some mistakes. You’re probably going to go out and smoke once or twice. Hopefully you won’t become addicted. You might go and steal something from a store, because the other kids are doing it. Then you get caught and you realize, “Oh my goodness, that wasn’t a good idea.” You’re going to make mistakes, and hopefully nothing life-threatening.
Then as they get older, and a lot of kids will say this, they go to college and come back and discover in their first year back from college that their parents really grew a lot and got so smart in the last year. They’re just so surprised, because those kids actually grew up and developed their own identities, their own beliefs, hopefully in line with their parents’ values, but not a replicant of their parents. That’s the process of development. That’s normal, healthy development. We’ve interrupted that. We’ve distorted that by scaring the children so much into believing that they’re unsafe, that they can’t go and revolt. They can’t revolt anymore. They can’t go and take risks. We’ve told the kids that the normal process of development now is to keep yourself safe. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
That’s not what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to be safe when you’re growing up. You’re supposed to take risks. You’re supposed to go and challenge your environment. You’re supposed to make mistakes, fall down, skin your knee, break a bone, and then get up and learn from your failures and your mistakes. That’s how you grow. Because of parents’ fears, we’ve prevented kids from doing that.
So now their cohort, the ones that are really influencing them the most, they’re all scared too. So it used to be, you’d go out with your friends and they’d say, “Let’s go do something crazy. Let’s go jump over a wall, climb a tree. Let’s go play hockey.” Now the kids are all saying, “Let’s go put our masks on.” So think about the child who doesn’t have a mask, and doesn’t want to wear the mask. Think about the kid that says, “I feel pretty good. I don’t really want to wear a mask.” All of his friends are all wearing the masks and they’re all looking at him funny, like, “What’s wrong with you? You don’t want to wear a mask?” Eventually, that kid’s going to give in, because the peer pressure is so strong that he can’t resist it. He’s going to put on the mask too.
Maybe after a while, he’s not only going to do it because of the peer pressure, he’s going to start to feel like this is probably the right thing to do. Then when he’s alone, he’s going to wear the mask. Maybe with the next kid that doesn’t wear the mask, he’s going to tell him, “You need to wear your mask.” He’s going to propagate this fear. It’s like an infection. It’s like a cancer. It just keeps spreading. We have inculcated that cancer in our children. It’s now metastasized. So now we pull away, and it doesn’t matter. It has completely spread throughout the entire body politic. All the kids are acting this way.
I see it in my practice. I see it on the street. We have not just done a disservice to our children, we have really harmed them, perhaps permanently. I don’t know if there’s going to be a way to get out of this. I don’t know if these kids are going to grow up normally. I don’t know if they’re ever going to be able to challenge themselves and take risks when they’re adults, because they never did when they were younger. This is really sad, and it’s devastating. I am really concerned about what will become of the next generation.
Mr. Jekielek: There is a distinction here, because there are a number of places in the U.S. and elsewhere where these policies weren’t enacted, or not nearly as much. So there are kids out there who have not been out of school and haven’t had to wear masks. They mostly haven’t been subjected to a lot of this. I don’t know what proportion of the population that is, but it’s a significant portion of the American population. So those kids will be mixing with these others at some point in school or elsewhere.
Dr. McDonald: This is an interesting point. When you look at the delineation of those who were living in fear and those that weren’t, specifically with children, it’s actually pretty clear where the concentrations of the unfear versus the fear are. I’ve said this in a lot of my recent talks and I write about it in my book. To a large degree, the kids that were scared and the kids that are still scared are living in large, densely populated urban areas, largely coastal areas in the U.S. Those who are not living in fear, and are often homeschooled, are living in less densely populated rural areas of the United States.
Now, if those two populations start to move around and intermix, then yes, there will be a transition point. But socially and politically, this country is becoming so bifurcated that there’s less and less interaction on every level between those two populations. Certainly in the adult populations, it’s true. What happens if the kids start to follow that bifurcation? What happens if the kids say, “You know what? I grew up unafraid. I wasn’t wearing a mask. I was in homeschool. I don’t want to move to LA, San Francisco, or New York.” Then what if the kids that are in LA, San Francisco, and New York say, “Gosh, the only place I feel safe is in the cities where everybody’s still wearing masks and they’re hand sanitizing and they’re distancing.
We have people in charge of our cities, counties, and states who will pull that lever again, if and when it becomes necessary. Governor Gavin Newsom has said recently, “Emergency powers forever.” LA County Board of Public Health, Barbara Ferrer, “Yes, we’re going to get rid of the mandates. But should there be another spike in cases, should there be another variant, we will pull that lever again to keep everyone safe.” What if the kids growing up today say, “I don’t want to go to someplace where there’s no emergency powers, where the politicians don’t care about the health and safety of their citizens, where people are walking around breathing freely and spreading God knows what. No, I’m going to stay in the confines of my little area. I’m going to take public transportation. I’m going to go to schools and support businesses that know how to keep people safe.”
Now, there’s no more mixing. Now we basically develop two separate classes of society, two separate groups, all based on psychology. I could actually see that happening in 10 or 15 years. It’s already happening with adults. So what happens if it now just becomes replete throughout the country? We will just have two separate Americas. We have the fearful, compliant, those who believe the government and media and corporations are keeping us safe, and then we have the other group that says, “Screw that. I don’t believe and trust in government, media, or corporations. I want to do my own thing.” Then we just keep getting more and more extreme in either direction.
Mr. Jekielek: Your contention is that when people do these behaviors like mask wearing that are irrational behavior and aren’t actually helpful, these people should be helped to overcome it. How do we actually do that? It’s certainly a widespread phenomenon here where we’re recording this interview.
Dr. McDonald: When I wrote my first book, United States of Fear, my goal was to describe how we got here. What was it that led to this? What were the cultural antecedents that set us up to become so scared? Things have really shifted even in the last six months to the point where now my view about the way forward is radically different than it was before. When I am asked now, “How do we get out of this as an individual, and as a nation?” My answer is very different than it was in 2021. That’s why I started writing a second book. It’s not United States of Fear, part two. It’s actually “Freedom From Fear: A 12-Step Guide To An Individual And National Recovery.” I’m using the addiction model to describe fear and how to treat it, because I think it’s really relevant.
I don’t want to, as many have, and I understand why, try to argue data points, argue why X is true and Y is false. I certainly have reached my conclusions based on data. That’s how I reach my decisions on how I practice medicine. But a lot of people are really not interested or they’re even unwilling to look at data points. They’re unwilling to change their minds about something right now. They’re intransigent. That’s the problem. It’s not going to be changed by just giving people more information, although I believe in information. I’m certainly not interested in censoring anything. What is fundamental now is to actually be honest and address the psychology behind the intransigence, behind the fear, behind the stuckness, and to point out to people that the first step in being able to free yourself to think rationally and make good decisions is to actually acknowledge what emotional state you’re in—to acknowledge that you’re scared.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Fear is not a good thing or a bad thing, but if it drives your actions and then determines or writes your thoughts for you, you’re simply being controlled by a feeling. Feelings are like waves. It’s like we’re floating in this ocean and feelings come in and feelings go out. We go up and down and right and left depending on how strong the wave is, depending on how strong the current is, but that shouldn’t dictate the direction that we swim in. We still need to know where we’re trying to go, regardless of the wave, and regardless of the current.
If you’re completely overcome and no matter how hard you swim, you just keep being pulled in the opposite direction, then you need to find psychiatric help. You need to find a therapist or a medication. That’s totally fine too. That’s why people come to see me. “I did everything I could. I don’t know what to do.” Let me help you with that. But you have to be the one to determine your direction, not your feeling, not your heart, but your mind. That’s so important. I don’t want people to agree with me. I’m not trying to get people to come around to my point of view. That’s not my goal. My goal is to get people to think for themselves and to understand why they’re not doing it now. My belief, my contention is that it has to do with psychology. It has to do with fear. It has to do with the refusal to acknowledge that one is afraid and therefore living in this kind of cocoon state of self-protection, of this delusional fantasy that as long as I keep myself safe, I’m doing what is right.
Maybe that’s just not really the right way to think. Maybe if you unpack your feelings, if you start to acknowledge that you’re scared, you might start to see other ways of actually taking action. There are other things that one should do as well. It’s not just about acknowledging your fear and acting in spite of it. You also need support. You need to be able to tune out a lot of what I call the dealer of the drug, the fear drug, which is media. You need to shut that off. If you were to walk by the crack cocaine dealer on your way back from work every day, and you said, “ I’m not going to smoke anymore.” And if every day he’s there with his little dime bag out, you’re going to start to regress. You’re going to go back into the drug use.
So why do you keep turning on the same station that’s causing you to vibrate with anxiety every day? That’s not a good idea. Shut it down. Go read a book. Go outside, play sports. Hang out with people who are not highly anxious. That’s also really important. It’s also important to acknowledge, and this is so difficult for people, to acknowledge that you might have been wrong, that you might have actually caused harm to yourself and harm to others. That’s really difficult to do, because it’s a bit of an assault on the ego. It requires you to be kind of non-narcissistic for a moment.
For a parent, can you imagine how difficult it would be for a mother to say, “Wow, son, I lost it. I was so overly anxious. I know I did what I thought was right, but I screwed up. I forced you to stay home. I forced you to wear a mask. I was wrong. I apologize. I’m going to try to make it up to you the best that I can.” That’s tough. That’s really hard. A lot of people, they’re pulled in and they’re built into these positions now. Or even if part of them knows that they were wrong, they just don’t want to talk about it. They just want to say, “Let’s just move forward. Let’s just pretend nothing happened.Let’s move on to Ukraine and Russia.” That’s really important now.
That would be a big mistake. If you disinvited a whole host of your friends and family to your wedding last year, unless they gave you a vaccination card proof and uploaded it online to your wedding site, if you did that, and you don’t want to own up to it now that it was a mistake, that you overreacted, you overreached, you hurt these relationships—you’re going to be living with a really bad series of relationships with those people for the rest of your life.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to go back to what we talked about this at the very beginning of the interview. For a lot of people, they may think, “I just followed what I understood the policy to be at the time. It seemed to be right. So am I really wrong here?” That’s the kind of thing that a lot of people might be thinking in this situation.
Dr. McDonald: It’s important to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that by following orders and by doing what you were told, you didn’t necessarily do good, and that your intention was completely divorced from the outcome. You can have the best of intentions and cause tremendous harm. The two can go hand in hand. Actually, they often do. You can acknowledge that you tried to do what was right, and that you did what you said you were told to do. At the same time you can apologize, not for following the instructions, but apologize for the fact that you actually harmed somebody, because that’s what you did.
Whether you did it with good intentions or not doesn’t take away from the fact that somebody was injured. The fact that you were trying to protect your child doesn’t detract from the fact that your child now can’t speak clearly, has a poor vocabulary, and is suffering from anxiety. If the child is older, he or she may have started to use drugs as a way to escape from the locked-in anxious zone of being in home for a year-and-a-half. That needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be dealt with. The “just following orders” excuse did not fly after World War II, and it shouldn’t fly now.
I’m using these extreme analogies not to say that keeping your child at home for a year is equivalent to supporting genocide. My point is that the underpinning of it is exactly the same. The fact that someone told you to do something and that you were following orders does not detract from the fact that the outcome was horrific. That’s a truth. That’s not an opinion. That’s just reality. The sooner that we accept that, the sooner we can truly move forward. Moving forward means holding yourself fully accountable without excuses, without rationalizations. That is the sign of maturity, and it’s the sign of development. It’s the only way for you to really grow and become a better person.
Mr. Jekielek: In the example you gave, it’s good for your relatives, but it’s also very important for you, yourself. Dr. Mark McDonald, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Dr. McDonald: Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: So thank you all for joining myself and Mark McDonald for this episode of American Thought Leaders. His book again is United States of Fear: How America Fell Victim to a Mass Delusional Psychosis. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek. We live in an era of censorship and disinformation and it can be really hard to know what’s true and what’s false in this information climate. To get honest information and insights you can trust, join us on Epoch TV. You can sign up for your 14-day free trial at ept.ms/freetrialjan.
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