This past Saturday, a small group gathered outside the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel to protest the presentation by Kerri Rivera at the AutismOne conference. Kerri Rivera promotes the use of chlorine dioxide, or CD, an industrial bleaching agent, for bleach enemas to “cure” children with autism. Here, I am sharing stories from three of the protesters. (If you haven’t read about this issue before, please see the end of the article to learn about CD, Kerri Rivera and why we were protesting her presentation at AutismOne.)
Rebecca F is a mom to two boys, one with autism. She joined to promote awareness and respect for her son and all those with autism. She wanted the opportunity to talk directly to parents because so many people try to exploit special needs parents, both financially and emotionally.
Kim Z is a mom who participated because she saw this on Facebook a few months ago and was horrified. Like me, the thought of people doing this to their children keeps her up at night crying, wondering what she can do to help. In general, she tries to use her time to do some good in the world and is particularly upset when people who can’t speak for themselves are being taken advantage of, or in this case, tortured. She understands how parents can feel desperate when they have a child who isn’t “normal” and can fall for lies because they promise false hope.
Lou L is a concerned parent and says: “I don’t have any children with autism, but my daughter is only 9 months old. As a parent I felt that it was important to stand up for the children who can’t.”
Kerri Rivera tries to intimidate the protesters
From Rebecca F.
Kim, her 20 yr old daughter, my two boys and I showed up a little late and they were waiting for us. Three or four security people came up to us.
Rebecca: We know, keep moving, stay off Loews property.
Loews security: Okay, just so you know, the police have been informed.
Kim: Yes, we’re pretty scary.
Loews security: Yes, like a box of kittens.
Rebecca: What’s scary is the people advocating bleach enemas for autistic kids.
Their eyebrows rose, as in like, what.
Now, trying to intimidate the protesters because they called the police is pretty silly. See, others in our group had called the appropriate authorities in Rosemont weeks ago to learn the laws regarding protesting in their jurisdiction and to see if we needed any permits to hold a protest. I also personally spoke to the Rosemont PD earlier in the week to let them know that we would have a small group there and that we were aware of the rules about protests. They were very appreciative of the heads up.
Rebecca F continues her narrative.
Kerri came out with security and it looks like some manager lady. They just watched us. I recognized her and let the others know. We started chanting, looking directly at Kerri Rivera: “go away, we don’t need your bleach today”. She went inside.
Kerri came out later with security again. I pointed out her to the film crew and they approached her, but security hustled her inside.
Traffic stops to learn more
People driving past stopped to ask questions and spoke to the protesters. Kim shared this:
A car stopped in traffic to listen to the cause and backed up traffic. Right behind her was the Loews bus beeping away, trying to deliver people to the conference. But the driver of the car I was speaking to didn’t care and listened to me for about 3 or 4 minutes!
Hotel and conference staff support protesters
From Kim Z:
Hotel workers would walk past us and would give us a thumbs up. One worker came directly to me and said I can’t let them know what I’m saying they think I’m just asking you not to block the drive but I respect and agree with what you’re doing. Those people in there are nuts! I told him I understand he needs his job and later if he wanted to support this where to find us. He was a good guy who genuinely looked upset by what was taking place in there.
From Rebecca F:
The film crew hired to tape the event thanked us. They said they were horrified by what they had seen over the last few days. They made a point to tell us all we were doing the right thing.
Conference attendees appalled by learning about Kerri Rivera, CD and AutismOne
Rebecca F says:
One woman approached us asking what it was about. We (Kim, her daughter and I) explained. We also spoke of the other quacks at the conference. She looked stunned and said, ‘I came from Mexico for this conference’. She was obviously unaware what she came to and was put off.
We spoke to many parents, moms mainly. They were shocked to hear and thanked us. They thought they were going to a nice conference. That alone made it worth it. I spoke to four myself, Kim also spoke to more.
Not all the interactions were positive
Rebecca L told me this story about a woman who showed no respect for autistic people or understanding of what autism is.
A grandmotherly type just finished talking to Lou. I was standing by. I chimed in that my son is autistic and I wouldn’t want the treatments there for him. She said, “I’m sorry”. I said, “Don’t be sorry. I’m not.” She said her 69 yr old brother is autistic so she really is sorry because she knows it makes life harder. I said it makes life harder and better like for all people. She said she was sorry again. I said she should be grateful for autistics. She said sorry again, then bent down and condescendingly spoke to my son, who is autistic. I walked away at that point. Pulled the wagon with the boys away. I will not let anyone talk down to him. He may be socially awkward but he is very smart. Finishing K and reading and math at second grade level. At some point I told her that he will do great things some day.
Lou spoke to a woman who apparently believes in many pseudoscientific ideas, no matter how contradictory they are to each other, has a very poor grasp of the history of science and knows nothing about how biomedical research works.
I had a conversation with this woman outside who seems to believe that every cure inside is valid. I asked her how autism can have so many root causes and everything from homeopathy to CD to avoiding vaccines apparently cures it. Her response to me was ‘then what do you think you can do about autism?’ as if challenging me for my own cure. To which, of course, I told her that she doesn’t have to find a cure – especially not with pseudoscience. Just treat children with autism with respect. She also told me ‘have you tried homeopathy? it works’. Then, I asked her to produce a single double blind study with some kind of objective measure showing any of these things work. She responded to that with ‘there are no double blind studies”’ So I said ‘even if the entire medical community is completely corrupt and can’t produce a valid study, you can always create the first one’. Then she gave me some crap about Galileo and how he went against established science. I told her the difference between Galileo and her is that Galileo had compelling objective evidence. I told her that if she could produce that I’d change my mind. And that’s where the conversation ended.
The hotel makes a lot of money from conferences
Lou’s wife was allowed in to change their baby’s diaper.
She told me it was a complete pseudoscience fest and packed with vendors, including one person selling anti-wifi shields. She was curious so walked over and the woman asked her about what she thought about wifi harming us. My wife said it sounded like “quackery” and I guess the woman got fairly pissed off. My wife couldn’t take pictures or tape because there are signs everywhere saying no photos or recordings. I can see why the hotel refused to cancel this event. The place was packed. This is a huge moneymaker for them. I just hope that when the news does their segment the hotel won’t be able to continue their “we didn’t know” claim.
The hotel cannot claim ignorance. This particular hotel is the venue for AutismOne every year. This is not the first time Kerri has been at the conference. They know. They know that this conference has hosted Andrew Wakefield multiple times. They used to host Jenny McCarthy regularly. Focus For Health, one of the main sponsors of the conference, is a major player in the anti-vaccine propaganda movement. There is no way the hotel doesn’t know who they are hosting, unless they are willfully ignorant. Perhaps they do know, but they the management believes in the non-scientifically based misinformation presented at this conference.
Before the protest, we tried to get the event canceled. In other countries, reaching out to the venues and informing them just who and what will be presented, combined with negative publicity, has been enough to get events with Kerri Rivera or Jim Humble canceled. However, Loews Hotels did not care at all that someone at this event would be giving a seminar that could be alternatively titled “How to chronically poison and abuse your autistic child.”
We reached out to the hotel many times. There was a petition on Change.org. We sent emails and called the hotel and corporate headquarters. Most of us we received no response. When we did get a response, we got the standard PR response: the views of the people using our venue are not necessarily the views of Loews. That response seems wholly inadequate when someone is using your venue to promote child abuse.
We also left comments on their Facebook page. Many were deleted and commenters were banned. Eventually, Loews pulled down the entire Facebook page for the hotel instead of addressing criticism. There was not even a response from the hotel after the local NBC news did astory about Kerri Rivera, Jim Humble, and chlorine dioxide.
I am really pleased with how the protest turned out! I wish I could have made it up to Chicago to participate. Those who went were amazing, as were the many other people who helped with the planning but were unable to go. This protest was one important piece of the momentum that is building to help us put a stop to this terrible abuse.