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News >  Pacific NW

COVID listening session, featuring John Stockton, draws roughly 500 to Wenatchee convention center

Jan. 30, 2023 Updated Mon., Jan. 30, 2023 at 8:30 p.m.

John Stockton smiles after being inducted into Hooptown’s Hall of Fame in Spokane on Thursday, June 23, 2022.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
John Stockton smiles after being inducted into Hooptown’s Hall of Fame in Spokane on Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Mitchell Roland Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE – One by one, over roughly four and a half hours Saturday afternoon, attendees told their stories of claimed struggles and challenges from a pandemic that largely upended everyday life for nearly two years.

The event, organized in part by Chelan-Douglas Health District board member Bill Sullivan in a private capacity, drew roughly 500 people. It attracted local faith leaders, medical professionals, political organizers and basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton.

The topics of vaccines and COVID-19 is not new to either Stockton or Sullivan. Sullivan has frequently raised COVID-related issues before and during his time on the board, while The Spokesman-Review reported Stockton’s alma mater Gonzaga University temporarily suspended his basketball season tickets for his refusal to wear a mask.

More recently, Stockton told The Spokesman-Review he would not return to games in the foreseeable future due to an objection to the school’s vaccine requirement for students.

For Stockton, his remarks Saturday focused on vaccine hesitancy and an overall distrust of the medical community.

“So what does victory look like? I think freedom needs to be restored,” Stockton said during his speech. “Starting with, why do we have medical requirements?”

Sponsored by Informed Choice Washington and emceed by Sullivan, the “pandemic response harms listening session” featured discussions, testimonials, music, videos and prayer.

Roughly a dozen attendees shared stories of job loss, family disputes and medical complications from the virus, vaccine or mask requirements. The remarks often made the presenters emotional and drew strong reactions from the audience.

Mentions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly four decades, drew scoffs from the audience, though topics were not limited to COVID or vaccines.

Richard Amerling, a doctor who has written a book and started an organization promoting “medical freedom,” appeared by Zoom before Stockton took the stage and slammed transgenderism, woke ideology and critical race theory.

A vocal critic of vaccines and mandates, Stockton talked for about 10 minutes. In his talk, he bashed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the state of Washington’s response.

“They’re the boy who cried wolf,” Stockton said.

During his speech, Stockton criticized the media and pharmaceutical response to the pandemic, frequently through metaphors that referenced his athletic career.

“All of these enemies mandated, coerced, shamed and nudged people into taking experimental medications. That is a blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code and our laws,” Stockton said in his speech. “They are technical fouls so outrageous they need to be kicked out of the game.”

Stockton also encouraged a medical “overhaul,” the ban of pharmaceutical commercials, political term limits and a “handle on this surveillance technology.”

“It’s encroaching at warp speed, and virality just can’t keep up with it,” Stockton said of surveillance in his speech. “So I think we should try to be ahead of that one a little bit.”

During a question and answer portion , Stockton was optimistic his relationship with Gonzaga would be soothed and that he would return to attend basketball games.

“The door’s never been shut,” he said. “Gonzaga and I are tussling, I guess you could say, but we’re still friends.”

Following the event, Stockton said he made the trip from Spokane to the Wenatchee Convention Center to develop more connections. He also said he was impacted by what he heard during the event.

“When you hear people’s individual stories, you really can’t believe, you can’t make this stuff up,” he said in an interview. “You can’t believe what’s happening to people in terms of losing their jobs because they won’t take an experimental shot or death in their family with really inhuman treatment. It’s hard to listen to. It’s unique, every story’s unique, but there’s a lot of them.”

The event featured more light-hearted moments. One attendee who claimed to be a former substitute teacher performed a bit of prop comedy during his testimonial to show how his former students behaved with masks on.

Afterward, Sullivan said in an interview the event was only the beginning.

“I think what you saw today is the first phase of a groundswell change in our community, and attitudes about how we address the COVID pandemic response, vaccine safety and preparation to resist further tyranny, medical tyranny efforts, should there be another quote pandemic,” Sullivan said.

In an email last week, Marc Straub, chair of the CDHD board, said as a citizen Sullivan is free to express his viewpoints and opinions and that his participation “is not as a spokesperson for the District, nor as a voice of the CDHD Board of Health. No one member of the Board – including me – speaks for the District or the collective Board.”

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