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    Media Coverage > Looking Back on Berlin


By John Lauritsen
HEAL (New York) Newsletter Fall/Winter 1993

In June 1993 I attended the International AIDS conference in Berlin as a working journalist. There I observed what happened and did not happen. These had little resemblance to what was reported in the media, where almost everything newsworthy was blacked out. At some point-whether in the self-censoring heads of reporters or in home-office editorial rooms-widely observed events became non-events, if they were displeasing to the AIDS Establishment. For the record, I'll describe what happened, and then pose the question: what do AIDS conferences really accomplish?

Despite over 6,000 presentations, nothing useful came out of the IXth International Conference on AIDS (Berlin: 7-11 June 1993). The prevailing mood was one of despair and confusion. Initially hopes had been aroused by an experimental vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, to be given to those already "infected" with HIV. These hopes were shattered when Salk gave an unimpressive presentation, which showed that the vaccine did nothing.

Some drama was provided by Wellcome Pharmaceutical's frenetic efforts at "damage control", in the aftermath of the Concorde Trial. The top researchers of the Anglo-French Concorde study adamantly stood by their findings, that AZT had no benefits for asymptomatic, HIV-positive individuals: AZT neither delayed the onset of AIDS nor prolonged their lives. Wellcome sponsored satellite symposia, gave free lunches, and published advertisements designed to disparage and downplay the Concorde findings, but to no avail. The media were unsympathetic, and share prices continued to fall.

However, in one respect Berlin was a breakthrough. For the first time at an international AIDS conference, alternative voices could be heard, attacking the HIV-hypothesis, antiviral therapy, and other AIDS dogmas. The AIDS Establishment, which had previously relied upon censorship, was forced to respond with a series of slander campaigns and even violence directed against AIDS-critics.

AIDS-dissidents came to Berlin from North and South America, Africa, India, and most European countries. Many of us had not met, or even known about each other before. During the entire week of the conference, the English language version of Fritz Poppenberg's documentary film, "The AIDS Rebels", was shown in a Berlin cinema. AIDS-critics stood outside the conference center (ICC), with signs and leaflets denouncing the "AIDS lie" and the "rat poison, AZT", and calling for a boycott of Wellcome. On Berlin's Open Channel Television, a total of 9 hours of AIDS-critical programs were shown, produced by Peter Schmidt and Kawi Schneider. For one day, before the conference organizers retaliated, AIDS-critics had a table inside the ICC itself (about which more below). And, not least important, some mainstream journalists began to criticize AIDS-orthodoxies, and to demand a hearing for alternative views.

At the first press conference (6 June), several journalists asked conference organizer Karl-Otto Habermehl why no alternative viewpoints were represented. Why had not an invitation been issued to the foremost AIDS-critic, Peter Duesberg? Habermehl said that Duesberg had not submitted an abstract, and that alternative voices had not been excluded: they were represented at the conference by Act Up. Journalists were not satisfied with his answer, and pointed out that the conference had issued special invitations to members of Act Up and Project Inform, as well as to the discredited American AIDS expert, Robert Gallo. Habermehl angrily refused to respond, and the moderator said that no more such questions could be allowed.

Later on the 6th, Act Up held a press conference, attended by only a handful of media people. Most of the 300 Act Up members had the 950 DM entrance fee waived by the organizers. Many of them had travelled to Berlin, staying in luxurious hotels with swimming pools, with all expenses paid by Wellcome Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of AZT. In response to a journalist's question, the Act Up representative from London admitted that his group had taken 50,000 pounds from Wellcome, adding: "But that was only to bring us to the conference!" Representatives from TAG (New York) and several other Act Up groups admitted that they also had taken money from Wellcome.

The same day a Berlin television program attacked AIDS-critics. Christian Joswig, Peter Schmidt, Kawi Schneider and others were shown passing out leaflets entitled, "12 Years of the AIDS-Lie are enough!" In rebuttal, Matthias Wienold -- head of Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, Germany's leading AIDS organization- declared that the AIDS-critics were wrong, and nobody should listen to them. He displayed an elaborately produced pamphlet of the Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, "Everything a Lie? Arguments Against AIDS-Criticism". To conclude the program, the woman narrator referred to AIDS-critics as "rotten eggs", after which the camera showed a close-up of a splattering egg. Thus was AIDS-criticism rebutted.

At a press conference on the 7th, representatives of the World Health Organization and the World Bank discussed vast amounts of money that are being allotted to "AIDS prevention". For example, $250 million has been lent to Brazil, so that the population can be informed about condoms and "safe" needles. Of course, if the HIV-hypothesis is wrong, and all of the "prevention" efforts are based on it, billions of dollars will be going down the drain, and the Brazilians will be misinformed as to the real risks for developing AIDS.

At an intense press conference on the 8th, Joan Shenton of Meditel Productions of London, asked: Was it not time to re-appraise the basic AIDS orthodoxies, including alleged heterosexual spread? This perfectly reasonable statement so incensed Martin Delaney of Project Inform, that he rushed up, seized her wrist, and began shaking it./1/ Robert Laarhoven, a representative of the Dutch Foundation for Alternative AIDS Research (S.A.A.O.) and a journalist for the Dutch magazine, CARE, asked Habermehl whether the invitation to Robert Gallo was issued before or after he had been found guilty of "scientific misconduct". Habermehl evaded the question; Gallo became angry, and later yelled at a reporter, "Don't bother me!"

Beginning at noon on Wednesday the 9th, Robert Laarhoven set up a literature table on the "bridge", which leads from the ICC's main conference area to the exhibition area. He put out reprints of "Rethinking AIDS", the publication of the Group for the Scientific Re-Evaluation of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis (which consists of a rapidly growing number of scientists and others, including Nobel laureates)./2/ All afternoon the table was a gathering point for AIDS-critics. I had expected a certain amount of hostility, but it was just the opposite-many dozens of people came up to talk to us, keenly interested in hearing our ideas.

On the 9th, Peter Schmidt was denied a press pass under the express orders of Habermehl, although he had credentials as a well-known television journalist. Later he was admitted as my guest, and was in the conference for several hours, until he was spotted by Habermehl. Led by press chief, Justin Westhof, conference officials removed his guest pass and expelled him from the ICC. Westhof refused to give any reason for this action, and threatened to take away my own press pass if I asked any more questions.

On Thursday the 10th the AIDS Empire struck back. Robert Laarhoven was approached by conference officials, police, and a member of the border control. His press pass was confiscated and he was threatened with deportation from Germany for having committed "criminal trespass" -- by placing copies of "Rethinking AIDS" on an unauthorized table! Many other groups had put their literature on tables in the same area, but the conference officials were not concerned about them. Earlier in the week, the S.A.A.O. had applied for permission to put copies of "Rethinking AIDS" in the press release area; their request was denied.

About the same time on the 10th, Peter Schmidt and Christian Joswig, who were handing out leaflets in front of the ICC, were violently attacked by several dozen members of Act Up, who destroyed signs, burned leaflets, and attempted to destroy camera equipment. These acts were witnessed by conference officials, who did nothing to stop the violence. Police, acting under orders of the conference officials, forced Peter Schmidt to go into the ICC, where they took the cassette from his video recorder and deleted it. They then ordered the peaceful demonstrators, whose only offense had been to challenge AIDS dogmas, to stay at least 100 meters from the ICC. No action was taken against the attackers from Act Up.

Also on the 10th, about 100 Act Up members destroyed an official booth in the exhibition area, belonging to AIDS-Information Switzerland (AIS). They chanted obscenities, smashed panels, destroyed displays and chairs, and tore up all of the group's literature, before covering the remains of the booth with 30 rolls of toilet paper. The Swiss group had criticized the promotion of condoms, which at an AIDS conference is equivalent to defiling the "Sacred Host" during a Catholic mass.

Juerg Barben, the president of AIS and a physician who treats AIDS patients, said that Act Up had not only destroyed his group's stand, but distorted their positions. AIDS-Information Switzerland believes in voluntary, not mandatory testing, to protect the population, and believes that there is a real, if small risk to using condoms.

At the final press conference on Friday the 11th, a dozen AIDS-critics passed out a press release, "Offenses Against Free Speech". I asked conference organizer Habermehl if he would apologize for those offenses against free speech for which he personally was responsible, and if he would rebuke Act Up for their violent attacks on the rights of others. He indignantly declined to do so. The moderator refused to allow other known AIDS-critics, like Joan Shenton, to speak.

And that was the IXth International Conference on AIDS.

Many of us were shocked by the brutal disregard which was shown for the principle of free enquiry. But at least the true nature of such conferences became clear: They are trade shows. Their entire purpose is to promote the commodities of the AIDS Industry. They are about buying and selling. If Science is present at all at AIDS conferences, it is in the role of a handmaiden, or perhaps I should say whore, for the pharmaceutical companies. Least of all are AIDS conferences concerned with the welfare of people with AIDS, who are seen entirely in marketing terms.

For years now "AIDS activists" have been clamoring for a "cure". The image in their head is always that of a new, powerful, high-tech drug that will destroy whatever the cause of AIDS is. Hoping against hope, they look to every AIDS conference for an announcement that the cure has been found.

I see things very differently. "AIDS" is not a single, coherent disease entity, and therefore the notion of a cure is fallacious. However, recovery is entirely possible, and is happening here and now. In reality, people who have received AIDS diagnoses are sick in different ways and for different reasons. There are real and specific reasons why they became sick, and there are real and specific steps that can be taken so they will get better.

For this may be the best-kept secret of the epidemic: people really are recovering from "AIDS". Some of them individually, some of them as members of such health-oriented groups as HEAL (New York), Positively Healthy (London), Cure Now (Los Angeles), Continuum (London), and the Moveable Feast study group (Houston) - - people with "AIDS" are returning to health./3/


1. Project Inform is a California group that is funded by Wellcome and other pharmaceutical interests. Delaney was a featured conference speaker, although he has no scientific credentials whatever; his prominence as an AIDS activist began with his activities as a smuggler of illegal drugs from Mexico into the United States. (See the laudatory account of Delaney's career in ACCEPTABLE RISKS by Jonathan Kwitny [New York 1992].)

2. The name has been changed to The Group for the Scientific

Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis, and the address is: 7514 Girard Ave, #1-331, La Jolla, CA 92037; fax: 619 272 1621.

3. A central chapter in THE AIDS WAR by John Lauritsen (New York 1993) puts forward a comprehensive program of "Recovery From AIDS".

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