Coronavirus truthers prey on the anxiety of the moment

As the global coronavirus outbreak continues to shutter businesses and schools across America and upend the stock market, a number of commentators on the right have been busily floating conspiracy theories about what’s behind the outbreak, or even how real it is.

“People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit — financially or politically — from the ensuing panic,” former Rep. Ron Paul wrote on his website Monday.

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh File)

The former Republican presidential candidate, a physician and the father of Sen. Rand Paul, described Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading scientific voice on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, as one of many government “fearmongers” who were part of a plan to institute martial law and permanently strip Americans of their rights.

Comments like Paul’s have stoked internet rumors about what’s to come and led more mainstream politicians, like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to attempt to calm fears over the government’s response, albeit with spelling errors.

Paul is not the only coronavirus truther on the right. Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, who was floated as a possible candidate for a Trump administration post at the Department of Homeland Security, sounded the alarm on Sunday about what he saw as “an exploitation of a crisis.”

Clarke then raised the specter that the right’s favorite bogeyman, banker George Soros, might be behind the pandemic.

Shortly thereafter, Clarke announced that he was “LEAVING TWITTER DUE TO THEIR CONSERVATIVE SPEECH CONTROL.”

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy has described himself as a “corona truther” who sees COVID-19 as nothing worse than the flu.

“It’s like a common cold,” Portnoy, whose website depends on business-as-usual in the sports and entertainment world, said on Jan. 30.

On March 11, Gavin Heavin, the co-founder of the fitness company Curves International, appeared on fellow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s program to promote a view heard on the fringes of the right-wing media: that coronavirus was engineered by enemies of the president to discredit him.

“We know that it’s a weaponized virus because we see the RNA strands that were put into this virus from HIV, from MERS and from the SARS virus. There’s no way this could have happened in nature.”

Coronavirus, according to Heavin, was produced by those “who want to destroy Trump’s presidency.” But Heavin, whose business will be hit hard as millions of Americans avoid exercising in gyms, went even further.

“I’m trying to get to Trump to make him aware that this is not a nonevent. This is a very nefarious act against him,” Heavin said, adding, “This virus was designed to kill primarily Asian people. Now the problem is it’s going to kill a lot of Europeans and non-Asian people because it’s still lethal. But that’s one more evidence that it was designed as a bioweapon to attack China.”

Taking a different, although equally conspiratorial, view of the matter, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., posited that the coronavirus originated at a secret Chinese biological lab near Wuhan, the city where it was first detected.

Zhao Lijian of China’s Foreign Ministry took to Twitter to promote the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in America and was first spread in his country by U.S. soldiers visiting Wuhan province.

Rubio, meanwhile, continued to try to steer the truthers’ focus back to the task at hand.


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