An Anti-Vaxxer with a QAnon Tie [Update: Will Not] Soon Join the Johnston City Council

Screenshot via Brei Johnson's campaign website

Update: According to unofficial results from the Polk County Auditor’s website, Johnson finished in fourth place among the four contenders for a seat on the Johnston City Council and will not proceed to the June 22 special election. Democrats Bryan Burkhardt and Adam Haar finished first and second, respectively, according to the unofficial results, and will face off in the election next month for the seat.

There’s a special election today in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston for a seat on the City Council. The contest has received an unusual amount of attention over the past few days thanks to one of the four candidates on the ballot: Brei Johnson, an anti-vaccine activist who has found common cause with the QAnon mothers from Ankeny who stood next to Governor Kim Reynolds last Thursday as she signed the education bill stripping school districts of the authority to require students to wear masks as a precaution against COVID-19.

Today’s election, more specifically, is a primary to determine the two candidates who will face off June 22 for the seat formerly held by Scott Syroka, who stepped down in January to take a public relations position within the Biden administration. A former council member named John Temple was appointed the following month to replace him until his term’s expiration at the end of 2023, but that plan changed when voters filed a petition calling for the special election.

Two of the other candidates in the primary, Bryan Burkhardt and Adam Haar, are identified as Democrats in filings submitted to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The fourth candidate, DuPont Pioneer attorney Jim Gorsche, has apparently not registered a committee with the IECDB, which isn’t required until a campaign spends or raises $1,000.

Johnson’s filings conceal her fringe political beliefs — at least, until you take a closer look. On them, her party affiliation is named as “Not Available.” But among the 12 donors who, combined, gave her campaign nearly $1,800 are Sarah Outlaw ($1,000), who runs a pseudoscientific health center in Des Moines and has described her “journey” that “expanded into researching vaccine safety”; Meg Oberreuter ($25), a Cedar Rapids resident known for spreading the thoroughly debunked claim, originally popularized by the fraudulent research of a British doctor, that vaccines cause autism; and Fred Stoeker ($25) a Des Moines resident, sexual purity author, and contributor to Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian organization that’s been widely criticized for misrepresenting research to promote its discriminatory religious worldview.

The treasurer for Johnson’s campaign is Megan Brendeland, a resident of Huxley who serves as the secretary for the town’s fire department. Huxley is in Story County, not Polk, where Johnston is located, but Brendeland is a fellow vaccine skeptic who in February spoke out in favor of a controversial proposal to prohibit businesses from requiring employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. One of the bill’s co-sponsors in the Iowa Senate, Sioux City Republican Jim Carlin, endorsed it by referencing a series of falsehoods about vaccines including the autism myth.

Although Johnson’s candidacy got new attention just recently, there were some sounding the alarm weeks before Reynolds signed the education bill last week. One of them was Karin Derry, a former Democratic member of the Iowa House who lives in Johnston and donated $25 to Burkhardt’s campaign in April.

“I am aware that Brei Johnson is a candidate,” Derry tweeted on May 5, linking to a Des Moines Register photo gallery that shows Johnson actively involved in a protest at the state Capitol against the governor’s (barely enforced) mask mandate on the first day of the 2021 legislative session. “Too bad she’s not being upfront about her anti-mask stance – it’s clearly important to her.”

In other photos of the Capitol protest, one of the QAnon conspiracy theory-supporting moms from Ankeny who posed with Governor Reynolds at the education bill signing, Kimberly Reicks, is pictured standing next to her daughter, who holds the same sign that Reicks had with her last week. The sign falsely claims that her daughter got repeated staph infections that were caused by the mask she was forced to wear at school.

Reicks expanded on this story on her Facebook account, where she jokingly went by “Kimberly Karen” and which has since been either hidden or removed. The post with the story, whose text is pasted in full at the end of this post, was about 1,600 words long and began with a note linking to Johnson’s profile on the social media site: “Kimberly Karen is with Brei Johnson.”

Governor Kim Reynolds signs a protest poster of QAnon supporter Emily Peterson’s as Peterson, left, stands next to fellow Ankeny mother and conspiracy theorist Kimberly Reicks at a bill-signing ceremony last Thursday at the state Capitol. Photo via Emily Peterson’s Facebook profile

Reicks, along with the other mom with whom she protests, Emily Peterson, has explicitly supported QAnon theories online. The two have also traveled out of state and met with prominent figures in the same circles, including pillow magnate Mike Lindell and Lin Wood, the pro-Trump attorney who helped file his frivolous lawsuits claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from him (Wood also suggested that then-Vice President Mike Pence should be executed by a firing squad for failing to adequately support the president’s lies).

The Register‘s photos of Johnson identify her as a member of Informed Choice Iowa, a non-profit founded in 2017 that, in addition to opposing COVID-19 mask mandates, promotes misinformation about vaccines and their supposed negative health effects on young children.

Johnson has not made her anti-mask activism a part of her campaign for City Council, which she’s dubbed “Johnson for Johnston.” On her campaign website, the closest she comes is by noting: “During the last three years I have fostered relationships with state legislators at the Iowa State Capitol building talking about issues that are important to me and my family. In light of events during 2020 and now in 2021, I’m eager to provide my experience and qualifications to my local community in a broader capacity.”

During a March 2 appearance on the Steve Deace Show, Johnson, alongside fellow Informed Choice Iowa organizer Katie Adrian, shed a bit more light on this aspect of her work. “I have no formal training for any sort of legislative know-how,” she said, before she and Adrian addressed the topic of outreach to state lawmakers. (Deace praised the two by calling them a counterbalancing force for Reynolds against those trying to get her to “shred the Constitution.”)

These efforts — by Johnson as well as Reicks and Peterson — have clearly paid off, as evidenced by the passage of favorable legislation, lawmakers’ promotions of anti-mask and anti-vaccine theories, and, in some cases, their attendance at rallies held by Informed Choice Iowa. Among the most supportive members of the Iowa House have been Denison Republican Steven Holt, who has been known to share conspiracy theories on social media; Jeff Shipley, the notorious anti-vaxxer from Fairfield who told the Informer shortly before the 2020 election, “I don’t view the term ‘conspiracy theories’ useful in helping comprehend the world”; and Johnston’s own Eddie Andrews.

Full text of Kimberly Reicks’s Facebook post in which she tagged Brei Johnson:

Kimberly Karen is with Brei Johnson.

Olivias Story. 

This is Olivias story and a difficult one for me to tell, only because I know how rude and negative some people can be, even if I tell my daughters story some people will still choose to say it’s NOT true despite of all the medical evidence I provide. 

So when school started back in the fall. All the public schools here in the Ankney made mask mandatory for kids to wear in order to attend school. 

Now this pulled at my heart strings hard because I knew how unnatural, unsafe and Uncomfortable wearing a mask is for adults let alone kids. So I gave all my kids the choice to go to school and wear a mask or do all online. And of course all wanted to go to school which at the time was hybrid,  meaning they only went to in person school 2 days a per week one week and 3 days the next week.. 

So the first few weeks all seemed to be going good, kids loved going to school and they all said the mask were not too bad. 

I even found that the gator mask worked really well for Olivia because she was constantly messing her cloth and/or her disposable ones, because even the smallest mask seemed too big for her face, or she would just even up losing them all together . But with the gator mask she could easily pull it up and down without it touching other surfaces and collecting even more germs. But that all changed when the Governor came out and said that a two ply mask worked best to help slow the spread of Covid. 

So we had to ditch all our our gators and go back to cloth/dispensable mask because the school changed their policies as well. I got 5 mask for each of my kids so they all could wear one per day. Well that’s when Olivia who is only 6yrs old started developing a rash around her face where her mask sat. At first it wasn’t too bad so we just put some triple anabiotic ointment on it and kept a closed eye on it. That seemed to help a little bit at first but as the days went on the rash started to spread across her face. At this point in time we think it happened mainly because she was constantly touching and maybe even licking the inside of the mask. Which no matter how many times we told her NOT to do it, she still did. As I’m sure most kids her age constantly messed with their mask. 

So since we couldn’t get her rash to clear up on our own we made her first Drs apt on Oct 9,2020. Where the dr prescribed her some anabiotic ointment. And that did help to clear her face up for the most part. But then a week later school announced that they were going back to in person school full time for K-5th grade. We were all very excited that school is back full time as the hybrid mode was not really woking for a lot of kids academically wise. With in the first week we noticed Olivias rash coming back. So we again started to put her ointment the dr prescribed back on it. It seemed to help a little but now since we didn’t get much of a break from the mask like we were able too when we were on hybrid mode her rash got worse. It turned in to impetigo. At that point the dr prescribed another antibiotic ointment to try. We did that for about a week with little change.

Unfortunately we could not keep her mask off long enough to get her healed completely. So it gradually got worse and to the point it turned into a staph infection which at that point dr prescribed her an oral anabiotic as well as a topical. And we tried everything under the sun to prevent her from getting it, from changing what kind of mask she was wearing to changing her mask 2-3 times throughout the day. But even with all that we couldn’t get it healed long enough to get  it completely gone. But luckily for Olivia about the 2nd week into November the school went to all on line do to covid cases getting too high in the schools. ( I think god for that because it gave Olivias face a full two weeks to heal) and for those two weeks her face did get pretty cleared up. But then shortly after Thanksgiving the schools all went back to hybrid mode. And that’s when Olivias face rash started all over again. And once again we were back dealing with a rash that quickly turned to staph. As anyone who has had staph know once you get it, you are more susceptible to getting it quicker than most. 

So at this point we have been dealing with her rash for over 2 month and have had 5 different Drs Apts with seeing two different Dr that they finally decided on Dec 4,2020 that  she could no longer wear a mask because they were afraid it would lead to a more serious illness such as bacterial infection which could get into her lungs and cause a much more serious illness such a as pneumonia. 

So I took her medical exemption to the school,  which btw did say she could wear a face shield in hopes that it would help her be able to still participate in school activities. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. As we quickly found out that the all the public schools in the area had their own rules and regulations they had to go by. 

Olivia so far is the ONLY one in her school with a mask exemption. So unfortunately this is all new territory for them as well, & they were not sure how to handle it. 

So as they have it written now,  if one can not wear a mask then they must stay 6’ apart from anyone else. Well this causes a lot of issues in her class room. Because one their desk are only 5’ in length. Which then meant Olivias table partner is now forced to move away and Olivia now must sit at a table all by herself and away from the other students in her class. The school did at first want to put her in a corner with plexiglass around her desk. And I said absolutely NOT. That will never happen as that would most definitely make Olivia feel like not only an outcast but also like she was in trouble. Jon and I both said that is NOT good for her mental health. So they quickly threw that idea out. So Instead they went with just moving her table partner and desk. 

The first day back to school for Olivia with her new face shield was a ruff one as she didn’t fully understand why she had to sit so far away from everyone in her class, she come home crying and upset that she couldn’t sit by or play with her friends. As the days went on Olivias teacher did try and make an effort to try and include her but unfortunately her hands are just as tied as anyone else’s. They are even having issues now at recess saying they are having a hard time keeping Olivia and other students 6 feet apart and that they now want to move Olivia to inside recess or put her in her own little area outside. This has been extremely hard on all of us trying to find what works for everyone while trying to follow the health guidelines. 

So for now we are continuing to monitor Olivia and we made sure as well as the teachers, to check on her throughout the day to make sure she felt comfortable and not too much like an outcast. But despite all of the efforts done by myself Her dad and the teachers Olivia has come home many times upset that she has to stay away from all her friends. Jon and I have looked many times into private school for just Olivia but unfortunately they were either full and not accepting any more students or it was out of our price range. And Olivia dose NOT do well with all on line. She loses her focus very quickly and I can’t sit there and monitor her ever second.

So we are literally stuck between a rock and a hard spot. Especially now that next week the school is going back to everyone in school full time and they are once again trying to come up with ways to deal with her not having a mask yet still following the guidelines put in place by our public health. They are back to talking about putting plexiglass around her desk and making sure she isn’t around anyone else. 

And this is exactly WHY I’m currently protesting and will continue to speak up against mask mandates.  Mask should always be a personal choice that should only be discussed between a Dr and their patient. 

I have written about Olivias story and shared  with ALL the state representatives and even our governor. 

Kids are NOT a huge health risk nor are they “super” spreaders of the virus and that has been scientifically proven. So I will Continue to fight for not only my children’s rights but yours as well.. 

where there is a RISK there should ALWAYS be a choice..

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.