In this episode, I sit down with Brownstone Institute fellow Debbie Lerman to discuss her research into U.S. government documents and the origins of America’s pandemic policies.
The response to COVID—from lockdowns to mask mandates to vaccine mandates—was actually a national security response, not a public health response, she argues.
According to Lerman’s research, in a sharp break from official pandemic preparedness plans, the National Security Council (NSC) was put in charge of the pandemic policy in 2020. And Health and Human Services (HHS) was removed as the lead federal agency for the pandemic response and replaced with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who “were like a deer in headlights,” she argues.
What really happened in the first few months of 2020?
And for years now, scientists have been working on mRNA technology, but prior to the COVID-19 vaccines, nothing had been approved. The pandemic turned into an opportunity, she says, and now—despite growing evidence of critical side effects from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines—Moderna and BioNTech have dozens of new mRNA vaccines and therapeutics in development.
Jan Jekielek: Debbie Lehrman, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Debbie Lerman: Thank you so much for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Debbie, you’ve done some really fascinating research, from my perspective. You discovered that the U.S. pandemic response in terms of policy was actually led by the National Security Council, not HHS [U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services], as a lot of us had assumed for a long time. We’re going to get into that. Before we go there, your background isn’t researching the government. Please tell me about how you came to be doing this work.
Ms. Lerman: That’s a good question. You’re right. I don’t have the background of somebody who is an investigative journalist or who is reading through government documents and trying to figure out how different agencies are doing different things. I didn’t know what any of those acronyms meant.
But when March, 2020 came along, I felt like everything that I knew and everything that I believed in went away. I really got a little crazy and I didn’t know what to do. Most people where I come from were all very much afraid of the virus and in favor of any measures that the government suggested that we take against it.
Mr. Jekielek: They were ready to take those measures, basically.
Ms. Lerman: They were absolutely ready and happy. Whenever I questioned it, they asked me if I was a Trumpist. That really got to me because I’m a socialist liberal Democrat. I was. They know that. My friends and my family know that I’ve always been that and never voted for a Republican, and didn’t like Trump at all.
But I also didn’t think with everything Trump said that we had to do the opposite. I also didn’t think that if you are looking at evidence and facts, that it has anything to do with Trump. There was such a disconnect between what I was saying and what their reaction was. That is what scared me.
I said, “I’m talking to you about facts and you’re coming back to me with some kind of either political or ideological response. There’s a disconnect between reality as I see it, and the reason that you think you’re doing things or I’m doing things.” That really, really disturbed me.
Mr. Jekielek: Please tell me about your background, because I do think it’s relevant. I actually don’t think you were not qualified to do some really good in-depth research here. Please tell me about your educational background.
Ms. Lerman: Sure.
Mr. Jekielek: And your work.
Ms. Lerman: In terms of education, I have an undergraduate degree from Harvard in English. My whole career was in writing. Yes, I am a writer. I did a lot of medical writing, and I knew how to read medical studies. I also knew how to translate complicated medical information and scientific information for a lay audience. I knew how to look at numbers.
The first thing I did when they talked about the pandemic was to look at the numbers. Why? I want to know how scary it is for me. I want to know, “Am I going to get it? If I get it, am I going to get sick and die?” That’s what everybody wants to know, first thing. I looked at the numbers coming out of Italy at the beginning when everybody was terrified.
Let’s say 20,000 people died in Italy. I said, “There’s 60 million people in Italy and 20,000 people died, or 20,000 people got sick. They were talking about tens of thousands of people that they were worried about. I said, “In a 60-million-person country, even 20,000 people getting sick or dying is not a reason to do anything at all, except increase the capacity of the hospitals, and find ways to treat them if you can.
There just didn’t seem to me to be a big emergency, and it seemed like the emergency was being fabricated. It also seemed to me that the people who were falling for it were those that I used to identify with. They were telling me that because I didn’t, I was somehow ideologically and politically wrong, and that I was not in their tribe anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: What was that like?
Ms. Lerman: It was horrible. It was really horrible because I felt lonely. I felt isolated. I don’t do social media, so I don’t do Twitter and I don’t do Facebook. A lot of people that have had the same experience that I did told me that they went onto the social media platforms and found like-minded people. I think those platforms are pretty destructive to democracy, which is a totally different topic, but that’s why I’m not on them.
It took me a while to find the like-minded people. What I did was to follow the real science, not, “the science.” I followed the actual numbers in science. The first week of the pandemic, the middle of March 2020, I was talking to a good friend and explaining that if this was an extremely contagious pathogen with everybody getting it and nobody dying, that means it has a very low infection fatality rate.
Everybody was saying 10, 5, or 2 percent, and throwing out all these percentages. She sent me the John Ioannidis article, March 17th, 2020, in Stat magazine. I read that article. I read it every day for two years because that article said, “We are basing our response to the pandemic on no knowledge and we don’t understand what’s happening. We don’t have the information, and our response is not proportional to what’s happening.”
That’s basically what he said. Now, he didn’t say only 10,000 people would die, which is how people have distorted what he said. He didn’t say he knew how many people were going to die. But he said within the range of possibility of how many people are going to die, nothing that we’re doing makes sense. And that’s how I felt.
Mr. Jekielek: It gave you a sense of sanity at this point?
Ms. Lerman: Just that article. Then, that article led me to another scientist. I was only following scientists at the time. I started following Ioannidis online. He led me to other scientists like Jay Bhattacharya and other scientists at Stanford where he worked. He also led me to Vinayak Prasad, who is another scientist from UCSF [University of California, San Francisco], who was giving podcasts and YouTube videos about the truth, basically.
He was saying what was actually happening, and what we should be doing, and what we should not be doing. Because what I was mostly terrified about was that what we were doing was extremely, extremely harmful. I started writing articles. The first article I wrote in March, 2020 was, “The Virus Doesn’t Scare Me, Our Response Does.” I sent it to newspapers as an op-ed. Obviously, nobody looked at it or responded.
Then, I sent it to friends. I said, “Don’t you think this is crazy? Here, I’m telling you, and I’m explaining the science. I’m explaining the numbers. I’m explaining why what we’re doing is not good and probably very, very harmful.” That’s when I would get the response, “Are you a Trumpist? What’s wrong with you? Have you completely changed your politics? They would say things like that.
They would just say, “Well, people are dying.” If I would say to somebody “Children don’t die of Covid,” the response that I got was so extreme. People would scream at me or get angry at me. So, I just stopped doing that. I stopped writing those articles because nobody wanted to read them.
When I found Brownstone, the first article that I sent to Brownstone was a letter that I had written to an art institution. I live in Philadelphia, which I had been affiliated with for a long time, where they were still requiring masks and they had vaccine mandates. I got the first two vaccines because I was so naive.
Even though I knew our whole response was wrong for some reason, which I can’t even fathom right now, probably I had succumbed to some of the propaganda. I thought, “Okay, I’ll get those vaccines and everything will go back to normal.”
Mr. Jekielek: That was the messaging.
Ms. Lerman: That was the messaging.
Mr. Jekielek: That was the messaging. I forget exactly what it was.
Ms. Lerman: It changed a lot.
Mr. Jekielek: It did change a lot, but then we’ll be fine. It was ubiquitous.
Ms. Lerman: Right. I probably wouldn’t do it again. But I did get the two first vaccines, and then nothing changed. Everybody still had to wear masks. Then, we started with all of the variants. Whoever heard of a variant? Then everybody started getting even crazier.
I wrote a letter to this organization and I said, “You have to stop with the mask mandates and the vaccine mandates. Because I come from a very liberal, Democrat background, I know what is important in that world. And I said, “You know what? This is also true.”
I wasn’t saying anything that was false, but I was using the levers that I thought might work in that world. I said, “It’s a racist policy. The vaccine mandates are a racist policy because,” and I gave the numbers, because I always use numbers, “the uptake in communities of color is 30 percent in Philadelphia, and the uptake in the white community is 80 percent. When you have a vaccine mandate, you’re actually excluding most of the communities that you are trying to bring in with your diversity and inclusion efforts.” They immediately dropped the vaccine mandate.
I didn’t succeed with the masks, because I couldn’t figure out a way to say that masks were racist. I sent that letter to Brownstone and I said, “Listen, I used this, and maybe other people can use it.” Five minutes after I sent it, Jeffrey Tucker from Brownstone sent me a one word email, and he said, “Okay.”
That changed my life because after he said okay to that article, I started writing all the articles that I had been writing in March, 2020—updated—now that I knew, two years later, how bad everything had been. I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t know how bad it was going to be.
He started publishing the articles. Now, I was writing articles more from a philosophical perspective or an overarching perspective. What happened? What was the propaganda? What was the politics? Because politics played such a big role, at least in this country, for sure.
In each country, the politics played out in slightly different ways. I wrote a big article about the Covid catastrophe and what were the things that came together. The “Catastrophic Covid Convergence,” is what it was called. I said, “There were four things that came together.”
Mr. Jekielek: I remember that piece, but please go on. This is very interesting.
Ms. Lerman: It was panic, politics, propaganda and prophets, the four P’s. Panic; everybody was in fear. I worked on this article for a really long time to make sure that I got all of the different components, and that I explained it in a coherent way. By the time I finished the article, I realized that it had to have been a lab leak.
There’s no way there could have been that much panic in the population if it didn’t come from above, if there wasn’t a really powerful group of people or organizations that were really panicked. The only reason I can think of that they were panicked—because SARS-COV2 isn’t really that scary, it spreads really fast, but it doesn’t kill a lot of people—the only thing I can think of is that they knew it had escaped from a lab.
In my naive state at the time, I thought, “They panicked, even though in the real world it wasn’t killing a lot of people. They thought it was a potential bio-weapon, so it could kill a lot of people. They panicked.” They said, “We’re throwing out all of our pandemic preparedness plans. We’re going to just lock everything down, get a vaccine, and then everything will be fine.” That’s the panic part.
Then we had the politics, which in this country played right into it. Everybody who was opposed to Trump, with anything that Trump said about the pandemic. When he said, “Masks don’t work,” everyone said, “We’re all going to wear masks forever.” He said, “It doesn’t affect children.” Then, everyone said, “We’re going to close our schools forever.” It was kind of this…
Mr. Jekielek: Do the opposite.
Ms. Lerman: Do the opposite.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to comment very briefly.
Ms. Lerman: Sure.
Mr. Jekielek: A few people told me this, including former Trump administration officials that I’ve worked with or that I’ve interviewed. They said, “Yes, we think this is what the other side is doing. Whatever we wanted to do, they would just do the opposite.” I said, “But that is patently insane.” I refused to believe it. I said, “I refuse to believe your assertion here.” It has taken me another year since I first heard that.
Ms. Lerman: Really?
Mr. Jekielek: I was like, I think this is true. But that is so preposterous.
Ms. Lerman: You didn’t realize it because you weren’t in the community of the people who were doing it. I was living there and I saw it happening in real time. I saw when Trump said that children don’t die of Covid, or similar things, sometimes the way he phrased them wasn’t exactly scientifically right, but he got the gist of it. Again, I’m not a Trump supporter and I don’t love Trump, but he said things that were right.
He said, “Kids aren’t affected by Covid.” That’s why whenever I said to somebody, “You understand that kids don’t die of Covid, right?” I knew the numbers of deaths and the numbers of hospitalizations. I knew all the numbers. That’s why they got so upset because he had said that. Now, I was repeating something that Trump said, and God forbid they would agree with anything that Trump said.
Mr. Jekielek: Before we get to the other two, do you agree that this so-called Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing?
Ms. Lerman: Yes. Trump Derangement Syndrome segued perfectly into what I call Covid Derangement Syndrome. The way I define Trump Derangement Syndrome is that people got so emotionally attached. In fact, their identity became attached to hating Trump. It was no longer rational. It no longer mattered what he said.
The way I define it is if you have Trump Derangement Syndrome, you’re no longer able to evaluate what he says rationally. You can’t evaluate it rationally, because you have an emotional response. You have an identity-based response. You have a lot invested in it in terms of how you feel about yourself and how you define yourself.
That was so perfect because it led right into Covid Derangement Syndrome, which is the exact same thing, which is, “My identity as a good person, as a person who cares about my community, as a person who takes care of other people is dependent on my following every single thing that I’m told. I’m going to wear ten masks forever, and I’m going to wear them everywhere, even outside.”
Mr. Jekielek: Do what you’re told by the anointed people.
Ms. Lerman: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. But please, continue.
Ms. Lerman: By the anointed people who are saying the opposite of Trump. The anointed people in the minds of the Covidly-deranged are the people who are saying the opposite of Trump. “I can’t do anything that Trump says, so I’m going to do everything religiously that the people who are saying the opposite are telling me to do,” even about opening schools by Easter. I was so hopeful when I heard Trump say, “We’re going to open everything by Easter.”
I don’t know if you remember that statement, but that statement was so hopeful to me. I said to my husband, I just can’t believe this. Not only is Trump right, but we have to do what he says. The opposition was so fierce because of the Trump Derangement Syndrome, which had turned into the Covid Derangement Syndrome, which was saying, “Are you kidding me? We can’t open at any time, basically. We can’t open at all until we get the vaccine.”
I don’t even know. They didn’t really have an endpoint. Maybe it’s when we get the vaccine or when we flatten the curve or when the hospitals have a certain number or don’t have a certain number. I never really understood. There really never was a good endpoint. That was one of the problems.
The politics played out so that Trump Derangement Syndrome, which was absolutely real, turned into Covid Derangement Syndrome, which is what prevented some people from seeing through some of the stuff, or who might have been wanting to open the schools. Children were one of the areas where people woke up a little bit earlier than on some other things. But they just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t do it, just because Trump said we should do it.
Mr. Jekielek: You were going to tell me your other two P’s. But it’s the power of the repetition of information, propaganda, and indoctrination. This has been one of my lessons during this whole time period. But talking to you here, it’s really unbelievable in a way.
Ms. Lerman: It is unbelievable. It’s so powerful and scary. The third P is propaganda. The propaganda that was happening was so strong and so powerful and so overwhelming, and it played on the Trump Derangement Syndrome. It played on people’s fears and identity politics and any performative acts that they could do to show virtue signaling. The propaganda just played right into all of that, and it worked.
It worked. I didn’t think in my lifetime that I would be a witness or a subject. We read about it in history—World War II, communist Russia, places where a whole population was subjected to an enormous amount of propaganda, and a lot of the population succumbed. It was bad.
I thought we learned from those lessons. We should know not to do that. We know that when somebody tells us something that doesn’t make any sense and that’s harmful to other people and our children, that we’re not going to do it. We’re going to say no, or we’re going to actually think independently. I’m still flabbergasted by it, but I understand better how strong the force of the propaganda was.
Then, the fourth thing is the prophets. Once all of that happened, there were the profit making companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the mask makers, the test makers, and the social media companies. The shift in wealth was just mind-boggling.
Mr. Jekielek: It was trillions of dollars in upward transfer, the biggest wealth transfer in history by some order of magnitude.
Ms. Lerman: I suddenly realized something after that article, and I started researching. The propaganda really got to me, and I started looking at who was doing it and why. All of a sudden, my whole structure of panic and politics and propaganda and prophets got inverted, because I realized that the propaganda, the prophets, and the panic all happened at the same time.
When I wrote that first article, I got some really interesting responses from people who worked in the Department of Defense and various associated industries and research. Somebody wrote to me who had done research for the Department of Defense, not on biodefense, but on something else. He said, “You’re a little naive when you say that there was panic from above because it was a lab leak. I don’t think they were scared. I don’t think they were panicked. They saw it as an opportunity.”
And a light bulb went on. I said, “That’s so interesting. That actually makes a lot more sense.” Because what if there was a whole system out there, or a whole network of for-profit companies, government organizations, and other interested entities that had all kinds of things that they wanted to do if there were to be a pandemic, and then a pandemic happened?
I’m not saying that they caused it. Some people would tell you they did it on purpose because they wanted to activate all of their plans. I think it was a leak. I don’t even think it matters whether it was or wasn’t, because when it happened, when there was the pandemic, I no longer think it was panic from above. Right now, I think that the prophets and the propaganda were all part of a plan that had already been in place, and it was just waiting for Sars-CoV-2 to happen.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to throw out one more thing before we continue. It could have been both. Having been in the China space for some years, there is an understanding, certainly with the Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo, that the CCP is capable of anything, and is ready to do anything. There’s no limit. You have to, “distrust and verify.” You see something coming out of there that looks like it might be a leak. My God, what could this be? I think there’s a very legitimate case for having-
Ms. Lerman: Concern.
Mr. Jekielek: Deep, deep concern and some kind of strong response. At the same time, there could also be a system that’s ready to take advantage of that, because they can make money hand over fist in this kind of a context. I’m saying it could be both.
Ms. Lerman: It could be.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Ms. Lerman: In this case, and I’ll agree with you, the CCP is a power to be reckoned with and not to be trusted. I actually don’t trust any information that they have put out about the virus; where it came from, where it didn’t come from, when it started, or when the first cases were detected. I don’t trust any of that.
But I also know that we were involved in the development of gain-of-function viruses. Some people say we were trying to get ahead of pandemics, so that we would know what the viruses were going to evolve into, and then we could develop vaccines ahead of time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, because we have no idea what viruses are going to develop into in nature.
I’ve talked to people who have worked on that kind of research who say it doesn’t make any sense. But it does make sense if you think that your enemies are going to try to develop bio-weapons based on gain-of-function technology, or you want to develop that kind of capability yourself.
If you want to develop that kind of capability and you want to know what your potential enemies are trying to develop, there are ways you might do that. I know Andrew Huff worked for EcoHealth Alliance, who was working with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and they were working on that kind of thing. I don’t think it was just the Chinese, I don’t think it was just the CCP.
It was the CCP and a bunch of western countries’ biodefense organizations working together. Germany was involved in Wuhan, not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but another institute in Wuhan that was looking at stuff like that. Brownstone has reported on that. France was one of the countries that actually created the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Mr. Jekielek: Correct.
Ms. Lerman: The United States was funding research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A lot of things were happening around there that made me think that everyone was in it together.
Mr. Jekielek: You found that it was in fact the National Security Council that took control of pandemic policy, as opposed to what you would expect in a normal situation, which most of us thought that it would be HHS running the show.
Ms. Lerman: Yes. I don’t know if you want to know the story of how I got to that research. I wrote the article that was really very general, and it was a very broad analysis of the panic and the propaganda. I wasn’t intending to get into the minutia of what was the pandemic policy before Covid? What did it become during Covid? Who was running it? Who were the people?
I really wasn’t interested in the particular people who were involved until Jeffrey Tucker at Brownstone said, “I need somebody to review Deborah Birx’s book about Covid.” I do anything that Jeffrey says. I took the book and started reading it, and after 50 pages I told my husband something really, really shady is going on here.
It’s hard for me to explain, but I’m a literature major. I don’t read books for what the words say. I read it for what they mean and the subtext. The subtext of what she was saying was, “I want you to believe something and I’m covering something up.” That’s how it came across to me.
In the intro to her book, she says, “I really cared about Africa. That’s all I really cared about.” But I got