Column: Vaccines ‘are poisonous’ and other views of a business owner who banned masks in his shop
By the time I got to the Simi Valley flooring shop late Monday morning, the controversial signs had been hauled inside, and the store was locked up tight.
Peering through the window of Ramsay One Construction, I could see why they had caused such a fuss. There were four of them; white paint on plywood slabs about four feet high and two feet wide:
“We’re OPEN – to the truth.”
“No Masks Allowed.”
“Hand shakes OK.”
“Hugs Very OK.”
I knocked on the glass. Maybe the owner was busy in the back?
I’d have guessed that someone bold enough to flout public health rules aimed at flattening the COVID-19 curve would want as much publicity as possible.
But maybe not.
After all, the signs were in direct violation of a May 7 order from the Ventura County Public Health Department governing how businesses may reopen:
“All businesses must establish, implement and enforce COVID-19 prevention plans,” says the order. “As a condition of operation, each business must post a written notice explaining how it will comply with Social Distancing Requirements in conspicuous places where it can easily be seen.”
Maybe the provocative signs were more of a symbolic protest than a literal one. I mean, come on, hugs?
But no, when Ramsay Devereux called me back Tuesday, he explained that he’d shut his shop just for a day to deal with all the threats and voicemails. There was, he said, nothing symbolic about his protest.
“The government should not be doing what it’s doing,” he told me. “It’s absurd what’s going on. No one has isolated a virus. No one has proved it. You can’t catch a virus. It’s not even possible. It’s the pharmaceutical industry trying to make a lot of money and make vaccines that are poisonous.”
In the first two weeks after he put up his signs, he said, people gave him thumbs up or went into the store to deliver hugs. “There was not one bit of criticism,” he said. “And then everything broke loose.”
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Across Southern California and the country, social distancing has become the fulcrum of the struggle between those who take public health warnings seriously, and those who blow them off. In Van Nuys, two men were arrested on suspicion of battery after they brawled with a Target employee who told them they had to wear face masks in the store. A security guard in Michigan was shot and killed after asking a customer to put on a mask. Also in Michigan, a man was arrested after wiping his nose on a store employee’s sleeve instead of putting on a mask.
President Trump, ever the failure as a role model, refuses to wear a mask, even though the coronavirus has infiltrated the White House.
It has infected the military steward who serves his meals and his vice president’s press secretary, who happens to be married to Trump’s senior policy advisor. Three of his coronavirus task force members are in self-quarantine.
Yet this week, the Federalist published an essay praising the president’s decision to go maskless, saying the image of him with a covered face “would be a searing image of weakness.”
It’s no wonder the country is at odds.
On Monday, the president announced, “We have met the moment and we have prevailed.”
On Tuesday, his top coronavirus task force members told the Senate that the crisis is far from over. If the country reopens too quickly, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the White House advisors who is in self-quarantine, Americans could endure avoidable “suffering and death.”
Late Saturday night, a historian who teaches at Cal State Channel Islands saw a photo of the flooring company’s signs on a Ventura County Facebook page and reposted it on Twitter. “Actual store in my town,” wrote David Parsons. When he woke up Sunday morning, he was blown away by the response.
“It started a whole civil war conversation about social distancing,” said Parsons, who teaches 1970s American history and hosts a long-running podcast, “The Nostalgia Trap.”
“Reading the thread of all these reactions, it’s clear that Americans are all living in their own media-saturated reality,” Parsons told me. “All these rabbit hole investigations people have done. It’s scary to me because managing democracy is always messy, but it’s harder when you have a population that does not even accept the premise of what’s going on.”
As of Tuesday morning, he said, his post had been retweeted 16,000 times and “liked” 115,000 times.
“I muted the conversation yesterday,” he said, “because I was sick of reading all the comments.”
That’s pretty much how Devereux felt.
“I’m shocked at what has happened,” he told me. “I’m not a social media guy. Never been on Twitter in my life.”
When I read his Yelp page on Monday, it was full of angry comments unrelated to flooring.
“This guy is a COVID-19 denier!” said a furious poster.
By Tuesday morning, however, the backlash had been disabled by Yelp, which took down the rants, and disabled further comments.
“This business recently made waves in the news, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news,” Yelp posted on the page. “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this news event, we work to verify that the content you see here reflects personal consumer experiences with the business rather than the news itself.”
That came as a relief to Devereux, who has received hundreds of hostile voicemails, including threats to burn his store down.
“It’s shaken me up,” he said.
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