A Notorious COVID Troll Actually Works for Dr. Fauci’s Agency

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Lachlan Markay
·10 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

The managing editor of the prominent conservative website RedState has spent months trashing U.S. officials tasked with combating COVID-19, dubbing White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci a “mask nazi,” and intimating that government officials responsible for the pandemic response should be executed.

But that writer, who goes by the pseudonym “streiff,” isn’t just another political blogger. The Daily Beast has discovered that he actually works in the public affairs shop of the very agency that Fauci leads.

William B. Crews is, by day, a public affairs specialist for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But for years he has been writing for RedState under the streiff pseudonym. And in that capacity he has been contributing to the very same disinformation campaign that his superiors at the NIAID say is a major challenge to widespread efforts to control a pandemic that has claimed roughly 200,000 U.S. lives.

Under his pseudonym, Crews has derided his own colleagues as part of a left-wing anti-Trump conspiracy and vehemently criticized the man who leads his agency, whom he described as the “attention-grubbing and media-whoring Anthony Fauci.” He has gone after other public health officials at the state and federal levels, as well—“the public health Karenwaffen,'' as he’s called them—over measures such as the closures of businesses and other public establishments and the promotion of social distancing and mask-wearing. Those policies, Crews insists, have no basis in science and are simply surreptitious efforts to usurp Americans’ rights, destroy the U.S. economy, and damage President Donald Trump’s reelection effort.

“I think we’re at the point where it is safe to say that the entire Wuhan virus scare was nothing more or less than a massive fraud perpetrated upon the American people by ‘experts’ who were determined to fundamentally change the way the country lives and is organized and governed,” Crews wrote in a June post on RedState.

“If there were justice,” he added, “we’d send and [sic] few dozen of these fascists to the gallows and gibbet their tarred bodies in chains until they fall apart.”

After The Daily Beast brought those and other quotes from Crews to NIAID’s attention, the agency said in an emailed statement that Crews would “retire” from his position. “NIAID first learned of this matter this morning, and Mr. Crews has informed us of his intention to retire,” the spokesperson, Kathy Stover, wrote. “We have no further comments on this as it is a personnel matter.”

Fauci: Bars and Restaurants Should Remain Closed to Stop Spread of Coronavirus

Crews’ authorship of the posts—which The Daily Beast was able to confirm through public records, social media postings, and internal records from the National Institutes of Health, NIAID’s parent agency—is a remarkable break from the public positions of the agency that employs him in a public relations role. And it illustrates the extent to which the response to the pandemic has become deeply politicized, even within the agencies at the front lines of fighting it. Crews isn't just a civil servant anonymously disagreeing with his bosses online; he’s actively undermining their work and even suggesting retribution against them.

But while Crews may be one of the most remarkable cases of a government official contributing to the misinformation campaign around COVID-19, he’s hardly the only one doing so. His most scathing writings about the coronavirus came over the summer, as other Trump loyalists in the nation’s public health bureaucracy sought to undermine the work of some of the government’s foremost scientists.

The Daily Beast could not definitively determine whether Crews was writing for RedState, or posting to his Twitter account, while on the clock at his government job. But the vast majority of his writing at the site this year has been published during the work week, often during normal business hours, raising questions about the ethical use of taxpayer resources.

Reached on his streiff Twitter account, Crews initially declined an interview request from The Daily Beast. He did not respond to a list of detailed questions subsequently sent to his Twitter account and his personal and NIH email addresses.

According to his LinkedIn page, Crews has worked as a press officer at NIAID since 2007. That LinkedIn page is associated with streiff’s Gmail account, and its “connections” include a number of RedState’s founders and its former editor, Erick Erickson, many of whom are also friends with Crews on Facebook. The LinkedIn page also lists a prior stint as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Berlin Brigade—specifically the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment—which is consistent with details shared by “streiff’s” Twitter account. Crews' LinkedIn page also mentions later service in the U.S. Army's 3nd Infantry Regiment; Streiff tweeted that he was a veteran of the unit during a 2019 exchange.

On the Streiff account, he has alluded on multiple occasions to his work at NIH. Internal NIH employee directory records confirm that Crews is a public affairs specialist in NIAID’s communications services branch, based at the agency’s Rockville, Maryland offices. Details in those records, including Crews’ middle initial, align with property records for the Maryland home owned by Crews and his wife. Streiff has frequently called himself a Marylander as well and even helped start a conservative blog about state politics called Red Maryland.

Emails from listservs for both current and former RedState writers—a number of which were obtained by The Daily Beast—show that Crews also passed along information shared internally at NIH to other writers at the site. In late 2016, he sent an email to a list of current and former RedState contributors from his “streiff” Gmail account containing a memo circulated to agency employees by NIH director Francis Collins. Crews prefaced the memo by writing, “from office email.” He also sent the list of internal NIH emails regarding the government shutdown of 2013, and even suggested that RedState writers cover various NIH-funded studies, in one case suggesting that another contributor write up a particular study because “I’m conflicted out.”

A request for comment sent to Jonathan Garthwaite, vice president and general manager of RedState parent company Townhall Media, was not returned.

2 Out of 3 Americans Don’t Trust Trump on Coronavirus Vaccine, Poll Finds

Though a Trump critic during the 2016 campaign, Crews is now a die-hard supporter, and his writings on the coronavirus have been, to say the least, inflammatory. Wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he wrote last month, is “a political statement” akin to “wearing the red ribbon when AIDS was a huge deal, and we were supposed to believe that you can have an epidemic without having casual transmission of a virus (sorry, in most areas of the world’s landmass outside a San Francisco bathhouse, butt sex is not considered ‘casual’).”

Crews’ posts on coronavirus at RedState have directly contradicted the guidelines put out by the White House coronavirus task force and the nation’s various public health agencies, including the NIH. “This whole thing has been a total fraud, insofar as the policy response to Wuhan virus, from day one,” he wrote in June. “There has never been a need for a lockdown. There has never been a need for wearing masks.”

While Fauci initially downplayed the value of masks, he said he did so out of fear that a run on masks would create a scarcity for frontline and medical workers. He and other federal health officials such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Dr. Robert Redfield have more recently described them as crucial to containing the virus’ spread.

Fauci’s change in tone on the issue has tracked with Crews’ increasingly derisive attitude towards him. In March, as the virus began to spread in the U.S., Crews, writing as streiff, called the NIAID leader one of “the most respected experts on infectious diseases in the world.” By the summer, his assessment had shifted dramatically.

“When the smoke clears on this Wuhan virus tragedy (and I mean the tragedy of the working men and women of this nation who have seen their livelihoods and life’s work and, sometimes their actual lives destroyed by the unreasoning panic inflicted upon us by the public health nazis), one thing will become blindingly obvious: the nation and the Trump administration were failed at every turn by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci,” Crews, under his pseudonym, wrote in July.

His writings on RedState repeatedly allude to fascism and Nazism in describing efforts to combat the virus, with references to “the public health Gestapo” and “mask nazi” Fauci. “A government that can force you to wear a purely symbolic face mask in a prescribed manner can make you wear a yellow Magen David and get on the boxcar,” Crews wrote in July.

Crews’ RedState posts on the coronavirus are also littered with COVID-19 predictions that ended up vastly understating the severity of the virus. “When Covid-19 Kills 18,000 People Call Me, But Until Then Stop the Scaremongering,” declared the headline of a streiff post in early March. “To say the ‘science’ driving this shameful episode was akin to necromancy is an understatement,” he wrote in June. “When Texas and Georgia and Florida released the totalitarian controls the ‘scientists’ predicted a huge spike in infections and deaths. This, to say the least, did not happen.” Later this summer, those spikes did, in fact, come to pass.

Crews’ writings are representative of a strain of conservatism that sees aggressive efforts to combat the coronavirus as not just misguided or counterproductive but as concerted schemes by public health authorities to amass and wield political power in an effort to damage Trump. It’s a conspiracy theory that tracks with more general suspicions by Trump supporters, and to an extent the president himself, who has insinuated that a cabal of “deep state” government employees are out to destroy him.

What makes Crews’ writings more notable is that he is in the employ of the very bureaucracy he accuses of orchestrating this seditious plot. Indeed, in some of his writings, Crews, as streiff, makes vague references to his career in the federal public health apparatus.

“I have worked in the CDC and seen the politicization up close,” he wrote in July. “It is a hotbed of progressive activity. It also has more than its share of idiots. And 90% of the people who work there should be named Karen. They desperately want to manage your life.”

Crews’ stint at the CDC appears to have occurred prior to his current role at NIAID. Various news reports in 2006 quote “Bill Crews” as the agency’s spokesperson. According to three sources familiar with RedState’s internal operations, it was generally known among the site’s contributors that Crews worked in the federal government, though the specific agency wasn’t as widely known. One source recalled speculating that Crews worked at a public health agency given the familiarity he appeared to have with the policies emanating from such agencies.

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Crews used his perch at RedState to write about his employer, often disparagingly. In a pair of posts in 2014, he criticized NIH over alleged research misconduct and for its response to the Ebola outbreak (during which he also criticized Fauci specifically).

At RedState, Crews has been a prolific writer since he began contributing to the site in 2004, the year it was founded. This year alone, he’s penned more than 400 posts for the site, publishing as many as five a day. As of 2018, according to a former RedState editor, Crews was among the site’s most widely read contributors.

-- with reporting by Adam Rawnsley

UPDATE 2:41 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect Crews stepping down from NIAID.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.