Rethinking AIDS Conference
Oakland, California
7 November 2009

History of the Controversy

John Lauritsen

    “AIDS” began in 1981, when a young man, an “active homosexual”, developed severe lung disease. Four more like him were found. Then a couple of dozen “active homosexuals” were found with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS). Public health officials assumed that these few cases must have a connection, and strained mightily to find one. From their speculations “AIDS” emerged — a protean construct, rather than a coherent disease entity — a powerful and ever-evolving myth. Dubious tests and bizarre speculations were accepted uncritically until 1983, when a few voices of dissent were heard. In a few years there would be hundreds, and then thousands of us.
    With limited time, I can only mention a few highlights of AIDS criticism, and in broad strokes.
    An early AIDS critic was Joseph Sonnabend, a New York City physician with a practice consisting mostly of gay men. Sonnabend put forward a multifactorial model: AIDS was caused by multiple infections with known viruses, together with immune-suppressing effects of semen.
    Sonnabend's multifactorial model was incomplete, since he disregarded drugs, antibiotics, and psychological factors. He ignored the effects of poppers and other “recreational” drugs. When told that some of his “AIDS” patients with pneumonia continued to be chain smokers, he responded: “If you knew that someone had only a few months to live, would you deny them something that gave them pleasure?” Sonnabend has since recanted his earlier heresies; he now attacks “AIDS denialists” and has prescribed antivirals to his patients.
    My own take here: “AIDS” is not a coherent disease entity, but a phoney construct. In reality, different people are getting sick in different ways and for different reasons.
    In 1983 I began collaborating with Hank Wilson in San Francisco, to warn gay men about the dangers of using “poppers” (nitrite inhalants). We wrote articles for the gay press, and published a pamphlet, “Poppers & AIDS”.
    In 1984 a New York psychiatrist, Casper Schmidt, wrote an article, “The Group-Fantasy Origins of AIDS”, which was published in the Journal of Psychohistory. Schmidt argued that “AIDS” could not be an infectious disease (spread by germs), because it followed cultural fault lines. Instead, “AIDS” is an example of epidemic hysteria. Schmidt's paper strongly demonstrates that in the decade preceding the first cases, psychological warfare had been waged against gay men by religious fundamentalists, who told them they ought to die.
    In February 1985 my first major AIDS article, “CDC's Tables Obscure AIDS-Drugs Connection”, was published in the Philadelphia Gay News. Also in 1985 two AIDS articles of mine were published in the New York Native, which in the next eleven years would publish over fifty of my articles. The Native was then the foremost gay publication, sold on newsstands all over the world.
    And still in 1985, Ben Gardiner in San Francisco started the AIDS Information Bulletin Board, which carried information representing all viewpoints. The AIDS Info BBS evolved into a web site, and is still running.
    In January 1986 Nathaniel S. Lehrman's article, “A ‘Natural’ Epidemic?”, was published in the New Amsterdam News, and later reprinted in the New York Native. Lehrman argued that HIV failed Koch's Postulates, and that toxicological causes for “AIDS” should be investigated.
    Finally, in 1986: a small book, Death Rush: Poppers & AIDS, by Hank Wilson and myself. We used Koch's Postulates and Occam's Razor to argue against a viral etiology, and put forward a multifactorial model that emphasized toxins.
    1987 was a momentous year. Peter Duesberg's article, “Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality”, was published in Cancer Research, March 1987, stating that retroviruses did not cause cancer or any other illness. I interviewed Duesberg in June, and the controversy burst into the public arena. A month later Celia Farber wrote her first AIDS article, also an interview with Duesberg, for SPIN magazine. My first articles on AZT, were published in the Native, including “AZT On Trial”, which demonstrated that the Phase II AZT trials were fraudulent. Gary Null began having AIDS critics like Duesberg and me on his radio talk show on WBAI in New York City.
    On 8 September 1987, “AIDS: The Unheard Voices” — the first of many AIDS-critical documentaries produced by Joan Shenton and her company, Meditel — was broadcast over Channel 4 television in the United Kingdom. It won a Royal Television Society journalism award, equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize.
    In 1988 the AIDS Establishment confronted Duesberg in a forum in Washington DC. Faced with Anthony Fauci, Robert Gallo, and a truculent William Haseltine, Duesberg was expected to recant, but he stood his ground, and was supported by Harry Rubin, one of the pioneers of retrovirology.
    Early in 1988 Anthony Liversidge conducted a telephone interview with Robert Gallo, America's premier “AIDS expert” (SPIN, February 1988). Gallo ranted, raved, and swore, but failed to rebut Duesberg's criticisms of the HIV-AIDS hypothesis. Within a few years Gallo would be found guilty of “scientific misconduct”, and two of his closest associates would be convicted of felonies.
    Later in 1988 Peter Duesberg had a brief article, “HIV Is Not The Cause Of AIDS”, published in Science (29 July 1988), arguing against two supporters of the HIV-AIDS hypothesis.
    Several non-orthodox books were published in 1988, the most important being Jon Rappoport's hard-hitting AIDS Inc.: Scandal of the Century and the second volume of Michael Callen's Surviving and Thriving with AIDS.
    And on 16 December 1988, the first AIDS-dissident conference was held, organized by mathematics professor Frank Buianouckas, in New York City at Bronx Community College.
    In 1989, in addition to many AIDS dissident articles, several books were published, most notably Jad Adams's AIDS: The HIV Myth and Richard C. and Rosalind J. Chirimuuta's AIDS, Africa and Racism.
    In Los Angeles in February 1989, Lawrence Badgley sponsored an alternative health symposium, at which a number of AIDS-dissidents spoke.
    In 1990 the entire 115-page issue of a German magazine, Raum & Zeit — under the title: “AIDS: Die Krankheit die es gar nicht gibt” (“AIDS”: the disease that doesn't even exist) — was devoted to German, Swiss and American AIDS-critics, who attacked the AIDS orthodoxies with intelligence and militancy.
    An important article by Peter H. Duesberg and Bryan J. Ellison, “Is the AIDS Virus a Science Fiction?”, appeared in the Summer 1990 issue of the conservative magazine, Policy Review.
    Among the critical AIDS books published in 1990 were Michael Callen's Surviving AIDS, Michael Fumento's The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, and my own Poison By Prescription: The AZT Story.
    On 13 June 1990 Meditel's second major AIDS documentary, “The AIDS Catch”, aired over Channel 4 television. Narrator Michael Verney-Elliott superbly enunciated such points as: “AIDS was not behaving like an infectious disease.”
    In Berlin Kawi Schneider and Peter Schmidt began showing the Meditel documentaries and their own AIDS-dissident programs over Offenen Kanal television.
    In May 1992 a major conference, “AIDS: A Different View”, took place in Amsterdam. 
The conference was sponsored by the Dutch government, which insisted that it include defenders of AIDS orthodoxy. Some of these behaved boorishly, but we AIDS critics succeeded in getting our ideas across.
    Just before the conference, the Sunday Times, under a banner headline, published a two-and-a-half page article by Neville Hodgkinson, “Experts mount startling challenge to Aids orthodoxy”.
    After battling with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for several months, I finally obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which documented in stark detail the cheating that took place in the Phase II AZT trials.
    Meditel's third AIDS documentary, “AZT: Cause For Concern”, aired over Channel 4 television The next day thousands of “AIDS” patients flushed their AZT capsules down the toilet. Shares of Wellcome Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of AZT, plunged, and the charitable Wellcome Foundation divested itself of Wellcome stocks. Wellcome retaliated, not by answering any of our arguments, and not by suing for libel, but by surreptitiously attacking our reputations and livelihoods.
    AIDS critics from all over the world flew to Berlin for the June 1993 International AIDS Conference. Many of us met for the first time at the home of Kawi Schneider. Robert Laarhoven set up a literature table, with books and copies of Rethinking AIDS. Delegates who came up to the table were keenly interested in our ideas. The next day Laarhoven was expelled from the conference. Peter Schmidt and Christian Joswig, who were handing out leaflets, were violently attacked by several dozen members of Act Up, who destroyed signs, burned leaflets, and attempted to destroy camera equipment. (Act Up members were staying in luxurious hotels, with all expenses paid by Wellcome Pharmaceuticals.)  Media people who witnessed these crimes reported nothing, and the conference organizers took no action against the perpetrators.
    Following the International AIDS conference in Berlin, an “AZT On Trial” conference, chaired by Martin Walker, was held in London.
    In June 1993 the Perth Group's article, “Is A Western Blot Proof Of HIV Infection?” (BioTechnology) argued that the “HIV-antibody” tests, although used to diagnose HIV infection, had never been validated by isolation of the virus.
    Christine Johnson expanded upon the Perth Group's article, showing that dozens of conditions (flu vaccination, past malaria infection, drug abuse, etc.) could cause positive readings.
    During 1993 the Sunday Times and Neville Hodgkinson were subjected to one vicious attack after another, from AIDS activists, medical people, and Nature magazine. They responded with a page-wide banner headline: “AIDS: Why We Won't Be Silenced”.
    A number of AIDS-dissident books were published in 1993: Martin J. Walker's Dirty Medicine, Ian Young's The AIDS Dissidents: An Annotated Bibliography, my own The AIDS War: Propaganda, Profiteering and Genocide from the Medical-Industrial Complex, and Robert Root-Bernstein's Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus. Root-Bernstein's book was unsatisfactory in many ways; he attempted to straddle the fence, and is now in the camp of AIDS orthodoxy, claiming that HIV is a necessary cause of “AIDS”.
    The fourth major Meditel documentary, “AIDS and Africa”, aired in 1993.
    In 1994 the rank of AIDS-dissidents was joined by Kary Mullis, who had just won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for inventing the Polymerase Chain Reaction.
    On 21 June 1994, here in San Francisco, there was an all-day symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AIDS-critics were Phillip Johnson, Harvey Bialy, Celia Farber, Charles Thomas, Peter Duesberg, Peter Plumly, Kary Mullis, Harry Rubin, Bryan Ellison, and Charles Geschekter. The defenders of AIDS orthodoxy were badly trounced.
    In May 1994 an alternative AIDS conference was held in Bologna, Italy.
    A two-part article by the prominent mathematician, Serge Lang, “HIV and AIDS: Questions of Scientific and Journalistic Responsibility”, was published in Yale Scientific, starting in Fall 1994.
    In 1994 Bryan Ellison self-published a book written by himself and Peter Duesberg: Why We Will Never Win The War On AIDS. Since this publication was done without Duesberg's consent, it was later withdrawn.
    In 1995 a young German virologist, Stefan Lanka, argued that, not only has HIV never been properly isolated, but it might not even exist (“HIV: Reality or Artefact”, Continuum, April/May 1995). Later Lanka would argue that retroviruses themselves might not exist, but rather be proteins shed by human cells under stress. This provoked a dispute among AIDS dissidents, which is still going on. One side (Duesberg et al.) claims that HIV is a harmless passenger retrovirus. The other side (Lanka, the Perth Group) claims that HIV does not exist. However, both sides agree that true viral infection (viremia) has never been demonstrated — that HIV, after standard purification procedures, has never been photographed using the electron microscope, and therefore may not exist as an intact, cell-free, infectious virus.
    Ian Young's book, The Stonewall Experiment, was published in 1995. It debunked the orthodox view of “AIDS” and movingly portrayed the betrayal of gay liberation ideals by the commercial sex industry and by hateful religionists.
    In April 1995, an alternative AIDS conference was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, organized by Ricardo Leschot.
    In 1996 David Rasnick, an expert on protease inhibitors, wrote “Inhibitors of HIV Protease Useless Against AIDS” (Reappraising AIDS, August 1996). Paul Philpott & Christine Johnson debunked the use of PCR counts (“Viral Load of Crap”, Rethinking AIDS, October 1996); their analysis was supported by Kary Mullis, who invented PCR: “Quantitative PCR is an oxymoron.”
    In 1996 a new AIDS-dissident militancy emerged with San Francisco Act Up — which, unlike other Act Ups, was opposed to the AIDS Industry and its lies. At the International AIDS Conference in Vancouver, hundreds of angry AIDS activists, led by Act Up SF, marched behind a banner that read: “AIDS Drugs Kill. Ban Toxic AZT. Sue Glaxo!”  Later SF Act Up members crashed an AZT panel, and drenched Margaret Fischl and Paul Volberding with fake blood, charging them with murder for promoting a poison, which had been approved through fraudulent research.
    The leader of SF Act Up, David Pasquarelli, paid with his life for this militancy. Five years later he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of “terrorism”. He was treated harshly, and his health was destroyed. [1] Two years later he died. I was very fond of David, and can hardly believe that I am in San Francisco now and won't see him.
    1996 saw the publication of three important books: Peter Duesberg's Inventing The AIDS Virus, Steven Epstein's Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge, and Neville Hodgkinson's AIDS, The Failure of Contemporary Science: How a Virus That Never Was Deceived the World. Hodgkinson's fine book was withdrawn and destroyed by the publisher, and copies are hard to find — but he will soon be making it available electronically.
    In 1997 Ian Young and I edited The AIDS Cult: Essays on the Gay Health Crisis. The eight contributors — Casper Schmidt, George Hazlehurst, Michael Ellner, Andrew Cort, Cass Mann, Michael Callen, John Lauritsen and Ian Young — explored “the ways that beliefs, group interests and social forces conspire to make gay men sick.”
    In 1998 Joan Shenton told the Meditel story, and gave an excellent summary of AIDS controversies, in her book, Positively False: Exposing the Myths Around HIV and AIDS.
    The 1998 International AIDS Conference was held in Geneva, and for the first time AIDS critics were on the official program, thanks to the organizing of Michael Baumgartner. About 60 dissidents were present, and about 18 of us were inside with press passes. In the panel on testing, the Perth Group debunked the “HIV-antibody” tests and Etienne de Harven showed how retroviruses properly ought to be isolated and photographed. An alternative conference was held near the conference site.
    In 1999 Christine Maggiore wrote a large pamphlet, “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?”. In time this would be expanded and become the most popular alternative AIDS publication. She founded the group, Alive and Well, which — together with proliferating HEAL groups — provided hope and sound advice to those who had been diagnosed “HIV-positive”.
    In 2004 Charles Ortleb (publisher of the New York Native) made a film, “The Last Lovers On Earth”, based on his 1999 book by the same title. This brilliant satirical film was released in DVD form in 2006, and is currently available.
    Also in 2006: Celia Farber's book, Serious Adverse Events: An Uncensored History of AIDS.
    In 2007 two important books were published: Henry H. Bauer's The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory and Rebecca Culshaw's Science Sold Out: Does HIV really cause AIDS?
    Of great importance in the struggle for Truth about “AIDS” are the web sites, which have provided an end run around censorship. Some of the main ones, in no particular order: Virus Myth, Duesberg, AIDS Wiki, Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society, Sumeria (Memory Hole), AIDS Information BBS, Perth Group, James Hogan, Anthony Brink, Rethinking AIDS, Alive and Well, Roberto Giraldo, HEAL (especially Toronto, New York and London), Henry Bauer, David Rasnick, Lew Rockwell, and the Immunity Resource Foundation.
    Publications that were at least sometimes friendly to our ideas include: Continuum, Rethinking AIDS, Reappraising AIDS, New York Native, SPIN, HEAL Bulletin, Raum & Zeit, Bio/Technology, Zenger's, Gay & Lesbian Humanist, Positively Healthy, PWA Coalition Newsletter, Townsend Letter for Physicians, Magnus, and Genetica.
    Finally, the alternative AIDS groups, and I'm afraid this list will be very incomplete: The Group (for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis) formed in 1991. HEAL (New York and then many other cities). Act Up San Francisco. Positively Healthy. Alive & Well. Continuum. Project AIDS International. Cure Now (Los Angeles). PWA Coalition (sometimes friendly to dissidents). Alternative Health. Foundation for Research Of Natural Therapies (F.R.O.N.T.). Praxis.

    Science is cumulative. As our discourse moves into increasingly specialized areas, we should not forget what we already know for sure.
    “AIDS” is not a coherent disease entity. It has never been defined rationally, and the surveillance definition has changed radically over time.
    Whatever “AIDS” is, it is not infectious.
    The Phase II AZT trials, the basis for FDA approval in 1987, were fraudulent. All of the subsequent “AIDS” drugs rode in on the coattails of AZT.
    All of the “AIDS” tests are worthless: Elisa, Western Blot, CD4 counts, P24 antigen, and PCR counts.
    We are not dealing with honorable opponents. They lie, cheat and steal, and — oh, yes — they murder. (They are currently smearing us with the label “AIDS denialists”, and saying that we are responsible for the deaths of 330,000 Africans — because we prevented them from getting the AZT they needed!)
    People with HIV+ diagnoses can thrive, provided they learn the truth about “AIDS”, follow good health practices, and keep drugs out of their bodies.

1. For David Pasquarelli's account of his experience in prison click here.

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For a longer version of this talk click here.

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