Fact Check: US Military Did NOT Arrest Vaccine Scientist For Mass Murder

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: US Military Did NOT Arrest Vaccine Scientist For Mass Murder Anti-Vax Fable

Did the U.S. military arrest vaccine scientist Richard Tillyer for "accessory to mass murder and negligent homicide" in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine? No, that's not true: The U.S. military does not have the authority to arrest civilians outside of certain circumstances authorized by an act of Congress. The claim was made on Real Raw News, a website that publishes fictional news articles. A disclaimer on the site identifies its contents as "humor, parody, and satire."

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by Real Raw News on February 17, 2023, under the title "Military Arrests Vaccine Scientist on Charges of Accessory to MASS Murder." It opened:

United States Navy JAG investigators on Tuesday arrested a Janssen Pharmaceuticals executive on charges of 'accessory to mass murder and negligent homicide' for misleading the public about the safety and efficacy of a Covid-19 vaccine he had helped develop, sources in General Eric M. Smith's office told Real Raw News.

This is what the article looked like at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2023-02-20 at 10.20.54 AM.png

(Source: Real Raw News screenshot taken on Mon Feb 20 14:52:02 2023 UTC)

The U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corp arrested Richard Tillyer, a vaccine scientist and the global head of Janssen Research and Development at Johnson & Johnson, the article says. Janssen Pharmaceutica was bought by Johnson & Johnson in 1961. The U.S. military arrested Tillyer because he was an "'accessory to mass murder and negligent homicide' for misleading the public about the safety and efficacy of a Covid-19 vaccine he had helped develop."

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the U.S. military from carrying out domestic law enforcement duties. In a January 12, 2023, Lead Stories fact check on U.S. Special Forces raiding President Joe Biden's beach house, we spoke to Kenneth McGraw, a public affairs officer at the communications office for the Special Forces, who told us, "The U.S. military is generally prohibited from participating in law enforcement activities in accordance with the Posse Comitatus Act." However, this act can be voided under certain circumstances explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution or Act of Congress. Congress.gov does not show any legislation that allows the military to arrest Tillyer.

A Google News search of the phrase "U.S. military arrests Richard Tillyer" did not show any relevant articles among the tens of thousands indexed by the search engine.

Tillyer has been active on LinkedIn, as recently as February 19, 2023, suggesting he is still at large.

Real Raw News

Real Raw News is a website that consistently publishes made-up stories about U.S. politics. The writing and news-style layout of the website make it look like a legitimate news source, so it often fools people into believing the stories are real. Screenshots and copies of the stories regularly turn up on other websites or on social media where they are presented as real.

It bills itself as "humor, parody and satire" on the "about" page (archived here):


Information on this website is for informational and educational and entertainment purposes. This website contains humor, parody, and satire. We have included this disclaimer for our protection, on the advice on legal counsel.

NewsGuard, a tool that provides credibility ratings for websites, published a five-page PDF report (archived here) in 2021 describing realrawnews.com as, "An anonymously run website that has published baseless and debunked conspiracies about COVID-19 and U.S. politics." It cautioned that the website severely violates basic journalistic standards."

Lead Stories has covered claims published by Real Raw News in the past. Previous Lead Stories debunks of Real Raw News items are collected here.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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