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.
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 a 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.
Please stop spreading stupid rumors about marshall law.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 16, 2020
We will continue to see closings & restrictions on hours of non-essential businesses in certain cities & states. But that is NOT marshall law.
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.”
GO INTO THE STREETS FOLKS. Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW!— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) March 15, 2020
If government doesn’t stop this foolishness…STAY IN THE STREETS.
END GOVERNEMNT CONTROL OVER OUR LIVES. IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
THIS IS AN EXPLOITATION OF A CRISIS.
Clarke then raised the specter that the right’s favorite bogeyman, banker George Soros, might be behind the pandemic.
Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) March 15, 2020
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.
Tom Cotton reiterates his suggestion that the Coronavirus originated at a super-lab in Wuhan pic.twitter.com/i1cSNSqU0d— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 16, 2020
Zhao Lijian, deputy director of China’s foreign ministry of information, took to Twitter to promote the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in American 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.
It won’t change anything but wanted to leave it for the record— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 16, 2020
Given what #COVID19 did to #China & now #Italy political potshots from all sides are really trivial
If we don’t change the trajectory of our current infection rate, in a few days no one will care about politics