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The private Facebook group “IAFF Union Firefighters for Trump” is getting attention today (Tuesday) for its many comments from firefighters who say they believe the coronavirus is a hoax meant to harm President Trump’s re-election efforts. The non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica shared some of what they report are thousands of recent comments that downplay the pandemic.
While none of those posting comments chose to be interviewed by ProPublica, reporter Isaac Arnsborf interviewed the group’s founder Kelly Hallman and representatives of the IAFF. The 27,000 member Facebook group was formed in reaction to the IAFF’s endorsement of former Vice-President Joe Biden.
ProPublica says it received hundreds of screenshots sent to them by anonymous co-workers of some of those making the comments. Those co-workers told reporter Arnsdorf they’re concerned this attitude could impact how these firefighters perform their duties in connection with the response to potential coronavirus victims.
Below are some excerpts from the article.
Posts in the group, which is called IAFF Union Firefighters for Trump and has been endorsed by Trump, scoffed at the seriousness of the virus, echoing false assertions by Trump and his allies comparing it to the seasonal flu. “Every election year has a disease,” read one meme, purporting to be written on a doctor’s office whiteboard. “This is a viral-pneumonia being hyped as The Black Plague before an election.”
The group’s founder, Kelly Hallman, told ProPublica he doesn’t speak for everyone who posts, but he can understand why many emergency professionals share his skepticism about the coronavirus. He said previous outbreaks such as SARS, the H1N1 “swine flu” and Ebola didn’t prompt such a big response, and he thinks the reason is politics.
“There’s never been this much hoopla given to the other things,” Hallman said. “They’re doing it to crash the economy and make Trump look bad.”
“I’ve read the social media. I know there are going to be accusations that this is all hype,” Jim Brinkley, IAFF assistant to the general president for technical and information resources, said in a video that the union posted online. “If we ignore it, if we take it lightly, we will set a new standard in the wrong direction for infectious disease in this country.”