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Hi and welcome back! I promised you a treat today, and here it is: a recent post I ran into on an absolutely hysterical right-wing Christian site. In it, we get a crash course in QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine. This time, the conspiracy theories involve evangelicals’ favorite number, 666. Today, let’s check out this conspiracy theory, see what’s actually going on, and then marvel together at how hard evangelicals work to avoid all that boring stuff Jesus actually told them to do.

(Michal Matlon.) Wingnut math. Credit: Michal Matlon / Unsplash

(Previous posts about QAnon: Evangelical Leaders Have Finally Noticed QAnon; How the Satanic Panic Led Straight to QAnon; How QAnon Got Personal for Ed Stetzer; Evangelical Leaders Gift-Wrapped the Flocks for QAnon; The Real Cabal of QAnon; Ed Litton Doesn’t Think QAnon is a Real Problem; QAnon Has Begun Attacking Evangelical Leaders; Vaccine Edition: QAnon Lies, and People Die.)

(I found some interesting papers about 666: BioLogos tackles the question; 666 Meaning Nero; Westminster Theological Seminary Discusses 666 and Nero Stuff; The Logos blog tries to separate 666 from Vaccine Hesitancy. They didn’t make it into the post, but it was encouraging to see some pushback to the ideas discussed here.)

Wingnuts’ Reaction to 666.

Long ago, I worked one summer at a dollar store in Vancouver, Canada. As you might guess, most of the stuff it sold was very inexpensive. At a guess, the store’s biggest sellers were plastic flowers and candy. I met a lot of interesting people through that job, and I soon noticed something interesting. Given the subject of today’s post, you probably already know what it was, too:

Every time I rang someone up and their amount owed was $6.66, they’d react like a snake had slithered onto the counter to curl up in their flowers and candy. “Oh, we can’t have that, can we,” they’d mutter, all knitted-browed, and toss an extra bit of candy onto the pile for me to ring up.

In fact, this situation came up so often that I began to wonder if the shop’s owners priced their products to do that on purpose. If they did, it was quite a good idea. I don’t remember a single customer deciding just to run with that demonic number on their receipt. Or bless their hearts, to take something out of the purchase.

Back home, when I worked at a drugstore in Texas, I’d seen wingnut Christians react to such a total as if I, personally, had just laid Jesus’ judgment upon them. Canada is not known for its wingnut Christians, of course, so this reaction took me by surprise.

In time, I’d figure out that Canada had plenty of wingnuts. (See also: the Toronto Blessing.) And wingnuts share a common worldview that unites them far more than mere nationality ever could. Their hatred for — and fear of — 666 is as wingnutty as it gets.

666 As a Low Christianity Belief.

Years before, 666 had figured prominently in evangelicals’ fantasies about the Endtimes. See, back then we believed that there’d come this period of seven years of trials (called the Tribulation). During that time, governments would merge into a One World Government (OWG). They’d appoint the Antichrist their leader. The Antichrist would institute the persecution of all TRUE CHRISTIANS™ — unless, that is, they took his “mark” on their hand or forehead. This mark would be like a microchip or tattoo, and its design involved the number 666 somehow.

(And obviously, at some point at the beginning, middle, or very end of these seven years, Jesus would poofvanish, or Rapture, all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ away to Heaven. That’s one topic that always starts an argument in that crowd, because all three positions can be successfully argued using Bible verses.)

We also thought for a long time that bar codes on products were totally based on the number 666. Seriously. We thought the wider bars at the front, middle, and end of the bar code were all 6s. Yep. Totally. We did not question this belief. Europeans marveled at it, while we lived in a state of near-total panic.

Every day, evangelical conspiracy theorists shoehorned the headlines of the day into verses from the Book of Revelation. And as the world got more and more-tightly interconnected in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it felt like the time was at hand. Surely, surely, all of our OWG and persecution fantasies were finally coming true. (The reality of bar codes was nowhere near as exciting as those fantasies.)

I don’t think you’ll find many ivory-tower Christian theologians talking about this kind of stuff. 666 fantasies belong squarely in the camp of Low Christianity: that end of the religion that’s way more folksy, way less educated, and very more easily duped into believing whackadoodle claims.

Why 666 Works as a Conspiracy Theory.

Beliefs about 666 are easy to sell to people who’ve lived for decades in the half-fear, half-hope that the Endtimes Are Coming Any Day Now. 666 beliefs perfectly fit into a conspiracy-theory mindset:

  • It’s super-easy to shoehorn headlines into conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theorists’ pattern-recognition skills are completely out of whack — hypersensitive in many areas — but their ability to think critically about their discoveries is completely shot.
  • Conspiracy theorists feel very in-the-know at each new faux-discovery — and thus they feel superior to those who reject the idea of the Endtimes.
  • The literal only way to escape, sort of at least, from the terrible disasters looming is to adopt the conspiracy theorists’ ideology and comply with their demands.
  • As for those rejecting their ideology and demands, they’re gonna get what’s coming to them, and then they’ll see who’s right. BUT IT’LL BE TOO LATE! MUHAHA! Yeah, there’s an unsettling whiff of vengefulness and cruelty in these fantasies.
  • Their predictions about the Endtimes always fail. But they easily work these failures into PROOF YES PROOF that the conspiracy theory is, in fact, totes true.
  • In the end, 666 conspiracy theories lead to believers feeling like embattled underdogs fighting impossibly-powerful enemies — and an us vs. them mindset — that right-wing Christians already find comforting and familiar.

So it was really just a matter of time before QAnon-addled evangelicals squirted some 666 into their false beliefs about COVID-19.

Ticking All the Boxes of False Beliefs.

When I saw just the headline of today’s story, I burst out into laughter. Oh my gosh. How can anybody be so wrong in so few words? Here it is:

Democrats use symbolic 666 for vaccine mandate….hmmm

Democrats Slip Plans For $700,000 Vaccine Compliance Fines Under U.S. Code Section 666 Into Budget Bill.

(Aww, it’s like he wants us to believe that he’s ever independently and critically thought about one single thing in his entire adult life.)

The writer of this drivel, Justin Malonson, wants us to believe that there is a “U.S. Code Section 666” in the current “budget bill.” Moreover, he asserts that this section of code introduces serious fines for noncompliance with vaccine mandates.

Really, it’s a whole grab bag of Just Asking Questions questions. And as JAQing off Christians do, the writer actually firmly asserts current Endtimes conspiracy theories.

It all ends up in the same place, of course. A wingnut Christian insists that we are totally heading right into the End of Days and need to buckle down, make converts, and prepare for serious persecution. Then, he reveals that anybody who actually practices pandemic hygiene is totally a “Luciferian,” meaning his biggest enemy.

The Truth About “U.S. Code Section 666.”

This is beyond hilarious. Seriously. I can’t stop laughing. Wingnuts are the best entertainment ever.

This might shock you, but there actually is a USC 666. You can see it referenced in these official notes from a White House meeting from September 23, on page 128 (PDF page 168). But it’s not something new.

In fact, USC 666 has existed since 1970. It’s part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970. And it’s a big honkin’ deal in the government, obviously. The number comes from the fact that it was the 666th code created. Here are the numbers before and after it:

663. Representation in Civil Litigation
664. Confidentiality of Trade Secrets
665. Variations, Tolerances, and Exemptions
666. Penalties
667. State Jurisdiction and State Plans
668. Federal Agency Safety Programs and Responsibilities

And so on and so forth. The Act’s sections go up to 678 (which concerns Appropriations, which means funding). So demonic! Also, note that it’s Section 17 of OSHA. Not “US Code Section 666.” That’s just gibberish.

Also also, note that there are lots of codes: many thousands, it looks like.

The Very Unexciting Reality of Section 666.

I just love that when a conspiracy theorist tried to trot out this vaccine=666 idea to the Christianity subreddit on October 2nd, mods removed her post and locked the entire thread. Regular Christians know this whole idea is complete horse-puckey. She had a much better reception at the Reddit clone the next day.

But in truth, the fact that we have a US Code 666 isn’t any kind of weird conspiracy. It’s just naturally that number, since 666 follows 665 and there are more than 665 things to count. The only way to avoid it would be to avoid having more than 665 things to count — or to skip the number 666 like a bunch of superstitious loons who fear numbers. Something was going to get that number.

In this case, the White House meeting referenced US Code 666 because they likely consider vaccination requirements to be part of workplace safety, and US Code 666 refers to the part of OSHA, Section 17, that deals with penalties for those who refuse to follow workplace safety rules.

At the same time, our government recognized that this code needed stiffer penalties. Thus, they updated that part of the code. Fines and penalties get updated sometimes, especially in terms of dollar amounts. The original amount given in this code for OSHA violations, USD$7k, is chump change for many businesses now.

You know, like wingnuts used to be ten-a-penny, and now they’re ten-a-dollar. Inflation, baby!

Joe Biden isn’t playing around. He’s done waiting for vaccine conspiracy theorists to figure themselves out. So are the rest of us.

The Pan-Tribulation Believer.

A minute ago, I mentioned how Endtimes believers argue among themselves about exactly when, where, and how their fun will begin.

Pre-Tribbers think they’ll be poofvanished to Heaven before all the serious seven years’ persecution begins.

Mid-Tribbers think the poofvanishing will totally happen exactly midway through, leaving those Left Behind to suffer for three-and-a-half years.

Post-Tribbers think it’ll happen after the whole seven years is finished. They also tend to think Pre- and Mid-Tribbers are total weenies who are scared to suffer a demonically-inspired hangnail for Baby Jesus’ sake.

Well, I had a friend back in my Pentecostal days who called himself a Pan-Tribber. Whenever the subject of the Endtimes came up, he’d say he wasn’t worried about when it would happen. He’d just keep on Jesus-ing, and it would all pan out for him in the end.

LOL, I know, what a card.

But this innocent declaration startled me at the time.

How Wingnuts Distract Themselves.

My friend didn’t realize it, but he made me start thinking about how my tribe tended to focus so much on Endtimes conspiracy theorizin’ that we stopped worrying about all that boring stuff Jesus specifically told us to do.

I mean, Jesus himself had said that nobody knew when the end of the world was happening. This idea was so important we find it repeated in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. (We also see it in Acts 1:7.) Though we can peer through the mists of historicized mythology to perceive a complete and total apocalyptic wingnut grifter operating underneath the Savior’s robes, we do get the sense that Jesus laid down some specific orders for his followers.

These orders included unrelenting kindness and forgiveness, charity without end and without qualifiers, and — most of all — a refusal to fight even those who meant them harm. He even included orders for them to obey their earthly governments. And he told them that if they just Jesus-ed their li’l hearts out, he’d take care of their every need.

I reckon that stuff’s all very boring to Christian wingnuts. After all, they constantly ignore all of Jesus’ orders in favor of doing all the stuff he specifically told them not to do and not to worry about.

What are the Odds? 

Instead, wingnuts focus with swiveling stalk eyes on the far cooler topic of EVIL MINIONS OF SATAN IN GOVERNMENT who are FORCING TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (themselves, of course) to at least pretend like they GIVE A WET SLAP about ANYONE ELSE.

They talk about having to fight against these evil forces. About how they’re planning to resist their enemies, conquer them, and place themselves in ultimate power over the whole world. #WINNING!

And, of course, about finding secret codes in absolutely everything.

I mean, what are the odds that the word “CORONA” has six letters, y’all! And that if you assign numbers to those letters it adds up to 66?!? And that if you put those two columns side by side, you get 666???

he's serious
Just pause a moment. Consider this fact: the person who made this discovery is serious. He thinks he’s made a massive connection here to the Endtimes. Seriously. (Source.)


Ignore the fact that “coronavirus” is the actual name of that class of viruses, not “CORONA.” That’s a beer. Or a crown. Or part of our Sun. The word “corona” just refers to the virus’ shape. “Coronavirus” adds up to 155 by this clever code, if you’re wondering and if my addition is correct. And obviously, a god would speak in English here to communicate the conspiracy theory, not Greek, which according to Google Translate would be κορωνοϊός, or even Hebrew, which would be:

נגיף קורונה

You are on your own figuring out the Bible Code for those, but somehow I doubt either adds up to 666 using Wingnut Math.

Ignore, also, that scientists coined the word “coronavirus” in 1968, according to La Wiki. Put these facts in the same wastebasket that you reserved for the fact that “US Code Section 666” is actually part of OSHA’s 1970 configuration, and more properly called “29 USC 666,” which is Section 17 of OSHA. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have had more than my entire lifetime to figure out that coronavirus meant Endtimes Coming Soon, but none of them did? How’s that again?

Ugh. I guess we can’t use rationality to assess wingnuts. All we can do is marvel at how hypocritical they are as they chase one failed prediction after another, only to forget each failure as they leap onto some new one.

Next to the sheer white-knuckle excitement wingnuts feel at their faux-discoveries, aggressive chest-thumping, and fantasies, how can charity, kindness, forgiveness, endurance of wrongs, and submission — which are, again, their god’s direct orders — compare?

They can’t.

Poor Jesus! It’s so easy for his most fervent followers to ignore his direct orders.


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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...