Barry Gilheany
✒ Since reports began to filter out of the Chinese city of Wuhan in January 2020 of a new strain of coronavirus eventually to be named by World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists of SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) - COVID 2 of Covid 19; the entire globe has been enveloped by the greatest pandemic since at least the misnamed Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. 

It has upended the social, economic and emotional lives of nearly every inhabitant of the planet with mandatory lockdowns leading to unprecedented shutdowns of economic and cultural activity and curbs on the freedom of movement of people with instructions to stay at home and only venture out for essential travel and shopping.

The death toll from the Covid-19 virus one year one has exceeded the 1m mark with three large developed countries particularly badly affected : United States (400,000 +), United Kingdom (100,000 +) and Brazil (220,000 +) with two of these nations having been led by leaders (ex-President Trump and President Bolonisario) who have been vociferously sceptical about the nature of the virus and whose public behaviour (refusing to wear masks and holding mass “super-spreading” rallies where social distancing was minimal to say the least) reflected this scepticism. Both were to contract (and recover) from the virus as was the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson who was accused by his critics of similar insouciance to his US and Brazilian counterparts at the start of the outbreak; publicly shaking hands and permitting major sporting events such as the Cheltenham horse-racing festival to go ahead despite their super-spreading potential until he belatedly acted on the recommendations of his scientific and public health advisers and ordered the first of England’s three lockdowns (the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own powers to act but also imposed lockdown regimes) on 22nd March 2020.

It is the scepticism shown by Trump, Bolonisario and other populist leaders like President Levchenko in Belarus and Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela and promoted ardently by (so far) fringe anti-lockdown movements in the UK and elsewhere and by certain influential media commentators (usually on the political right) that is the theme of this article. I examine it in the current and historical contexts of anti-vaccination movements, the use of conspiracy myths or narratives[1]; how Covid-19 denialism has opened avenues for far-right activity and the implication of anti-vax disinformation for free speech advocacy. The context for these themes is a case study of the Plandemic scare.

Plandemic and the Seven Deadly Signs of Conspiracist Thinking

In the Spring of 2020, the conspiracist video Plandemic went viral. Despite being removed by You Tube and Facebook from their platforms, it has continued to be uploaded and viewed millions of times. The video is an interview with a disgraced former virology researcher and conspiracist Judy Mikovits who believes the Covid-19 pandemic is based on vast deception, with the purpose of profiting from selling vaccinations. Its cornucopia of misinformation and conspiracy untruths have been widely and comprehensively demolished by reputable fact-checking sources such as Science, PolitiFact and FactCheck (Cook: et al p.1).

Cook et al have identified seven distinctive features of conspiratorial thinking all of which are applicable to Plandemic

1. Contradictory beliefs. Conspiracy storytellers are so bound up in belief of official beliefs, that they disregard the reality of the paradoxical nature of their belief system. The Plandemic video postulates two false origin explanations for the coronavirus. It argues that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab in Wuhan (believers have spun elaborate fantasies around commercial interests in that lab by public health authority figures like Anthony Fauci) but also argues that everyone is a bearer of the coronavirus from previous vaccinations, and wearing masks activates it. The mutual inconsistency of both explanations is self-explanatory.

2. Overriding suspicion. Conspiracy mongers are fundamentally suspicious to and hostile towards official accounts. According to this logic, any scientific evidence that does not fit into the conspiracy narrative (for example, the “controlled demolition” of the Twin Towers account put about by 9/11 “truthers”) must be faked. A further sequitur is that any scientific body publishing or validating research in support of the “official account” must be part of the conspiracy. For Covid-19, this includes the World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Anthony Fauci … basically any of the science cognoscenti are in on the conspiracy.

3. Nefarious intent. In conspiracy fables, all the actors are assumed to have evil motives. As alluded to earlier, the video suggests that scientists like Fauci manufactured the Covid-19 pandemic in a plot to kill hundreds of thousands of people for potentially billions of dollars of profit (Much of the same apocalyptic beliefs lie behind that Bill Gates financed population control vaccines aimed at wiping out millions of people).

4. Conviction something is wrong. While conspiracists may dispense with specific ideas once they become untenable; they do not let go of their overall conclusion that “something must be wrong” and that the original account involves deception and cover-up. So, when asked if he really believed Covid-19 was deliberately engineered for profit, Plandemic filmmaker Mikki Willis replied “I don’t know, to be clear, if it’s an intentional or naturally occurring situation” but then asserts “It’s too fishy”. Such elementary doubt would not get a PhD candidate past the first five minutes of their viva but appears not to be kosher in the minds of the millions of viewers of this video.

5. Persecuted victim. Conspiracy story tellers have a persecutory self-image; they pose as the victims of organised persecution while at the same time portraying themselves as brave heroes taking on the villainous conspirators. Plandemic accentuates the persecution complex by painting a picture of the entire global population as victims of a vast deception (or “scamdemic) disseminated by the iniquitous “mainstream media and to which we ourselves are signed up to as unwitting accomplices (as anyone with any experience of engaging with scamdemicists can vouch).

The history of anti-vaccination movements is replete with this theme of the little man/woman pitting themselves in epic struggles with the all-powerful establishments (and weaving the most preposterous acts of deception in the process) from the anti-compulsory smallpox vaccination campaigners of the 19th century such as Richard Butler Gibbs in England and Dr Alexander Ross of Montreal through to the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield, Barbara Loe Fisher, Jenny McCarthy and, the villain of this particular piece, Judy Mikovits of the mid to late 20th and early 21st centuries.[2]

6. Immunity to evidence. Because their accounts are so sui generis and self-sealing and therefore (in the view of the believer) non-falsifiable, the absence of evidence for the conspiracy becomes evidence for the conspiracy because the conspirators did such a sterling job in concealing their tracks.

7. Reinterpreting randomness. Conspiracy narrators see patterns elsewhere. Random events are reinterpreted as being caused by the conspiracy and assembled into a broader, interconnected pattern. For example, 9/11 truthers connect random events such as insurance being taken out on business offices in the World Trade Centre and the presence of Israeli nationals in the vicinity of the WTC in the days before the Al-Qaeda attacks as proof of some Mossad inspired or US government inside job. The Plandemic video cite the U.S. National Institutes of Health funding that has gone to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China as a possible factor in the supposed global malfeasance that so obsesses them. This disregards the fact that the lab is just one of many international collaborators on a project that was tasked with investigating the risk of future viruses emerging from wildlife. (Cook et al: pp.1-5).

Plandemic: Anatomy of a Disinformation Hub

The first instalment of a documentary called Plandemic which stormed through social media in May 2020 promised viewers on its website to “expose the scientific and political elite who run the scam that is our global health system. The video is largely an interview with Judy Mikovits; an author of a controversial 2009 study linking a retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome that was published in the journal Science and then retracted in late 2011 after labs were unable to replicate the results and other issues were brought to light. In September 2011, Mikovits was dismissed from her post as research director at the Whittemore Peterson Institute and arrested two months for alleged with theft of Institute property and information.[3]

The video, running for nearly 26 minutes, concocts a grand conspiracy story by articulating a bevy of false and misleading claims about the Covid-19 pandemic and its origins, vaccines, Covid treatments and more. In it she claims, “And they will kill millions as they already have with their vaccines”. While it is unclear what vaccines she is referring to; it is a demonstrable fact that vaccines have saved millions of lives despite the recurring recycling of misinformation pumped out by generations of anti-vax scaremongers. For example, according to one estimate by researchers with the CDCs and the WHO, the measles vaccine has saved more than 20 million lives across the globe from 2000 to 2016 alone. (Fichera et al, FactCheck 8 May 2020, p.1)

Exposure of Plandemic's Lies: The Evidence

FactCheck authors take apart eight of Plandemic's preposterous claims as follows:

1. Unfounded Claims Against Anthony Fauci. Two sweeping, but unrelated accusations are made against Fauci; that he was part of a “cover-up” and that he worked with other medics to “take credit and make money” on the AIDS epidemic. But at no point is it explained what exactly is it that Fauci is supposed to have covered up. When the FactCheck sought clarification from Mikovits about the “cover-up”, she said it was a reference to her withdrawn 2009 research paper. She holds Fauci responsible and claims that it was part of a “cover-up” on the part of the medical establishment to keep hidden her research linking a mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue[4] While the NIAID funded her and her successor’s research, there is no evidence and that Fauci had anything to do with it and the paper that retracted her research did not mention Fauci in its retraction.

On the claim about the AIDS epidemic, this dates from the time when Mikovits was working as technician at the National Cancer Institute in the early 1980s. She claims that the lab she worked in had identified the HIV virus from blood and saliva samples and prepared a paper detailing those findings that was intended for publication. But she says in the video, referencing Dr Robert Gall, an AIDS research pioneer, “Fauci holds up the paper for several months, while Robert Gallo writes his own paper and takes all the credit.” The trouble is that Mikovits, when speaking to the FactCheck authors could not supply the name of her lab’s paper or the journal in which it was intended for publication.

Beyond the unsubstantiated claim that Fauci – who did not become the director of NIAID until 1984 – thwarted early AIDS research at the National Cancer Institute – Mikovits also claims that he has profited from the epidemic. Her claim, resting on a vague reference to patents, is that Fauci was working with other researchers “to take credit and money” on the AIDS epidemic[5]. It is true that Fauci’s name appears on at least six patents related to AIDS research but that he had also expressed concerns over the potential for a conflict of interests arising from government scientists being renumerated from patent royalties and said that he had donated all his royalty money to charity. (p.2)

2. Scientists: Novel Coronavirus Not ‘Manipulated’. She makes the repeatedly refuted claim that the new coronavirus was “manipulated” in a laboratory and is not “naturally occurring”. In her account ‘” this family of viruses was manipulated and studied in a lab where the animals were taken into the lab and ‘this is what was released, whether deliberate or not.” So, for her, it was not generated at a live animal market.; did not jump species to humans and that “if it were a natural occurrence, it would take up to 800 years to occur.

Although the precise genesis of the coronavirus is unknown, scientists have said that the genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 disprove any theory that it was either created in a lab or manipulated. An article published in Nature Medicine in March 2020 said, “Our analysis clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or purposely manipulated virus”. Instead, its authors assert that it originated in one of two ways: “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer”, which refers to the transmission of disease from animals to humans, “or natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.” The possibility of an accidental lab but release of the virus could not be ruled out but any lab-based scenario was not “plausible” as they had observed “all notable SARS-CoV-2 features ... in related coronaviruses in nature”. In April 2020, University of Sydney professor Edward Holmes, who was involved in mapping the genome of the coronavirus that causes Covid- 19, likewise said, “Coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2 are commonly found in wildlife species and frequently jump to new hosts.[6]

3. Misleading Claim on Wuhan Lab Funding. The video shows a clip claiming that “$3.7 million flowed from the US National Institutes of Health to the Wuhan lab and that NIAID “had already been conducting experiments with the Wuhan lab in the past in regard to coronavirus. In fact, the project referenced was actually funding from NIAID to EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based non-profit agency that researches emerging infectious diseases. The project was tasked “to examine the risk of future coronavirus emergence from wildlife using in-depth field investigations across the human-wildlife interface in China,” in particular the risk posed by bats, according to a 2014 investigation. NIH records show the project was awarded nearly $3.4 million altogether of which only $600,000 (from the first of five grant awards) was given to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

4. Flu Vaccines Do Not Contain Coronaviruses. Mikovits falsely claims that “if you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses.” Her only support for this view is that flu vaccines are cultured in chicken eggs and dog kidney cells, and those animals have coronaviruses, therefore making the outlandish leap to the claim that animal strains of coronaviruses end up in vaccines tested and approved for people. She then goes on to attribute the global spread of Covid-19 “at least in part to use of the flu vaccine. However, coronaviruses are a diverse family of viruses, and some such, as canine coronaviruses, infect animals. Those are not the same as the same as SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. As for influenza vaccines, most are made using hen’s eggs and about 10% of vaccines in the US are cell-culture vaccines, which use mammalian cells instead of eggs.

5. No Evidence Flu Shot Increases Risk of Covid-1`9 Mikovits repeats the unsubstantiated claim that “the flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting Covid-19". Experts point out that there has been no study linking the flu shot connecting the flu shot to greater risk for the novel coronavirus. The military study cited by Mikovits concerned four types of seasonal coronaviruses that cause common colds, not SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, the results in this study do not appear to be adjusted for age groups or seasons. These factors could affect someone’s chances of contracting a specific virus, whether or not they have been vaccinated for the flu.

6. Hydroxychloroquine: Unproven Covid-19 Therapy. This anti-malarial drug, so famously given the oxygen of publicity by former US President Donald Trump, is claimed to be in the video, with no supporting evidence, “the most effective medication to treat “ Covid-19. Shortly after than Mikovits says hydroxychloroquine is “effective against these families of viruses referring to the family of coronaviruses, such as Covid-19, but the all-encompassing, all-powerful and conspiratorial third person entity will not have it, “they keep it from the people.”

The National Institutes of Health say that there is “insufficient chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19". In the video, Markovits accuses the American Medical Association (AMA) of threatening doctors with the loss of their licence, “the anti-malarial drug that’s been on the list of essential medicine worldwide for 70 years.”. But this is not true. The AMA has stated its opposition to “purchasing excessive amounts” of the above anti- malarial drugs for possible Covid-19 treatment but also said “Novel off-label use of FDA-approved medications is a matter for the physician’s or other prescriber’s professional judgment.” Regarding their effectiveness, the FactCheck authors do write that at least two studies show it has antiviral activity against the novel coronavirus in cells grown in the lab but that there is only anecdotal evidence that the drug works in people.

7. Wrong Message on Masks. In her attack on public health measures to address the pandemic, Mikovits suggest that wearing masks could lead to people infecting themselves with their own breath in that it “literally activates their own coronavirus expressions.” However, the Factcheck authors point out that viruses require living cells in order to replicate but that their viability or ability to replicate is not affected whether someone is wearing a mask or not. Even without a mask, infected people who are shedding virus probably rebreathe some of their own viruses but since there are already billions of times more viruses in the human body, the mask is protecting other people from their exhalations. The critical role of masks and PPE in preventing infection is underscored by a (yet to be peer-reviewed) University of Bristol study which has suggested that Covid-19 patients’ coughing is putting thousands of NHS frontline staff at risk.[7]

8. False Suggestion About Ebola. Mikovits claims in the video to have in 1999 to have had a job in Fort Detrick which was to teach Ebola how to infect human cells without killing them. She then says, without offering any elaboration or explanation to the FactCheck researchers, that Ebola could not infect human cells until she and her colleagues took it in the labs and taught them. This claim has been easily refuted by the CDC who say four of the six species are known to cause disease in people and three of the four species were discovered prior to 1999.[8]

The Covid “Master Plan”

The Centre for Conquering Digital Hate (CCDH) in its Anti-Vaxxers Playbook, has revealed, drawing on access to a private conference attended by the world’s leading anti- vaxxers, their plan to use social media to spread distrust about the Covid vaccine. In its Executive Summary, they note that leading anti-vaxxers view Covid as an historic opportunity to disseminate their message to an ever-growing global audience and to sow long-lasting distrust in the benefits and safety of vaccination. Online anti-vaxxers continue to grow, with 147 of the leading accounts gaining 10.1 million followers since 2019, an increase of 25% Anti-vaxxers have developed a sophisticated playbook to convert vaccine-hesitant people into committed anti-vaxxers consisting of a “master narrative” consisting of three key messages: Covid is not dangerous, the vaccine is dangerous and vaccine advocates cannot be trusted. The Plandemic video fits neatly into the global picture painted by the CCDH.

Underpinning the “conspiracy “scamdemic” myth” that Covid is not dangerous because it does not exist is that the virus has never been isolated. A common variation of this conspiracy myth is the attribution of Covid-associated symptoms to 5G mobile network signals.

The “Covid vaccine is dangerous”! false narrative has two main variations. The first is that the vaccine is designed to impose a totalitarian society on the world either through the microchips that it contains to aid tracking or mind control or (perhaps more plausibly) that civil rights will be drastically restricted for vaccine refuseniks. The second is that the vaccine is positively designed to kill people. This fits into long-running apocalyptic conspiracy narratives that claim organisations like the UN or wealthy businessmen like Bill Gates are using vaccines to depopulate the world.

Vaccine sceptic mistrust of vaccine advocacy rests on the Plandemic claim that governments or international bodies deliberately released or manufactured Covid in order to enable lockdowns, social distancing and other curbs on civil liberties. It has also converged with “The Great Reset” which alleges that the World Economic Forum and other elites planned the Covid pandemic to “reset” or destroy the global economy.

Far Right Exploitation of the Pandemic

As fantastical as the alleged orchestration of the pandemic by “Big Pharma” in conjunction with Bill Gates to supposedly “kill millions” as a means of generating profit sounds and is, the really dark aspect of the Plandemic story is its increasing convergence with the exploitation of the pandemic by extreme right-wing movements with some claiming that the virus is a hoax generated by “Jewish elites’ intent on implementing a vaccine either for profit or to eradicate the “white race”.

The far right’s focus on coronavirus has been reflected across social media. One report showed that between January and April 2020, hundreds of thousands of far-right posts about coronavirus were made to public Facebook groups. Far-right groups on the encrypted messaging app Telegram have set up a range of channels dedicated specifically to Covid. In March 2020, Telegram channels associated with white supremacy, attracted an influx of over 6,000 users, with one channel, dedicated to the discussion of coronavirus, multiplying its user by 800%.,

Far right groups have plugged into the corpus of misinformation around the virus including the 
Plandemic narrative but also that of QAnon conspiracy movement which has synced Covid misinformation with its global liberal elite paedophile network spiel. A number of Donald Trump’s would-be praetorian guards, The Proud Boys” were seen throughout 2020 at anti-lockdown rallies. One alt-right figure used his Telegram channel to portray lockdown measures as a “power grab” by the state, and a concerted attempt to ensure citizens – especially men – remain “slaves” to society and the government.

Possibly one of the most dangerous groups to have been influenced by these anti-state, anti-elite is the “boogaloo” movement, a loose online network of radical pro-firearms activists linked to various violent incidents across the US. It unites a wide spectrum of adherents, some of whom have tried to associate with Black Lives Matter, others with neo-Nazism, with preserving their right to bear arms and a shared desire to provoke a civil war in order to overthrow the government.

Covid 19 denialism is becoming part of the vocabulary of the small but worryingly growing far-right scene in the Republic of Ireland while in the UK, although “established” groups like the British National Party and English Defence League look to be absent from the public profile of the emerging Covid-sceptic/lockdown movement, there has certainly been overlap between the Brextremist right and it. Many of the members of the uber-Brexiteer European Research Group of Tory MPs who helped derail former PM Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill also belong to the Tory parliamentary Covid-19 Recovery Group. 

The most prominent figure is Desmond Swayne who in an interview with the fringe Covid deniers group, Save Our Rights UK, which has suggested that the pandemic could be a hoax, made baseless claims that NHS capacity figures had been manipulated to exaggerate the scale of the pandemic. He falsely claimed the number of people in intensive care wards was broadly normal and encouraged the group to persist with their campaign, which has become a haven for anti-vaxxers. (In reality the UK has suffered the greatest number of excess deaths – those recorded above the five-year average – since the Second World war He has also appeared on the Richie Allen Show, a radio programme broadcast from Salford that frequently hosts multiple anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers where he said that “There are huge question marks about the validity of the testing and some of the numbers we have been getting.”[9]

Two other Tory MPs have been linked to figures spreading Covid conspiracy claims.[10] There is also a coterie of Covid sceptic journalists and commentators who propagate their opposition to lockdown on conservative outlets such as Alison Pearson at the Daily Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio, (Peter Hichens and Toby Young at the Mail on Sunday[11]. A more surprising addition to their ranks has been the ex-Islamist and founder of the counter-extremist thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, Majid Nawaz who has been propounding Covid conspiracy narratives (as well as endorsing Donald Trump’s “stolen election” untruths) on LBC radio.[12]

Attack Our NHS

One disturbing tactic by Covid-19 deniers with particularly sociopathic consequences has been a spate of hospital incursions by crowds of people chanting “Covid is a hoax’ outside hospitals full of sick and dying patients. Since New Year’s Eve, when hundreds turned up outside St Thomas’ hospital, conspiracists have stalked the wards of as many as a dozen hospitals to gather footage which has been shared on social media. In modus operandi reminiscent of anti-choice protestors outside abortion clinics, posts have appeared in which NHS staff are described as “ventilator killers” and in which a man behind a camera remonstrates with a consultant who tells him a patient will die if his oxygen tube is removed; the man behind the camera says the patient should be taken home and his steroid and antibiotic treatments replaced by Vitamins C and D and zinc, none of which are proven treatments for the virus says the consultants. Security officers also removed Covid-19 deniers taking pictures of empty corridors at Colchester Hospital where the ICU is at maximum capacity. A woman was also fined – in the first use of Covid-19 powers – over social media posts claiming parts of a Hampshire hospital were “empty”. These incidents and their aftermath on social media by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate as “a new phase in the weaponisation of misinformation.”[13]

Conclusion

The Plandemic Video is a paradigm for the transmission of conspiracy myths and systematic misinformation generally and for Covid-19 ‘scamdemic’ scaremongering. It is an icon of the post-truth age where debate has become less about the interpretation of facts but the facts themselves. The principal actor in this drama, Judy Mikovits, is a recognisable archetype of anti-vaccination discourse and practice past and present. The anti-hate speech NGO, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), advises the public not to engage with anti-vaxx misinformation online, even to rebut it criticise it, because doing so only spreads the misinformation to new audiences. It gives the example of anti-vaxxer narratives, “trending” on social media on the first day of the vaccine rollout, primarily due to pro-vaccine accounts amplifying them. Instead, users are urged to share pro-vaccine messages and pro-vaccine practitioners are advised to inoculating the public by ignoring individual memes and focusing on the master narrative.

But pro-vaxxers need also to understand vaccine hesitancy and engage with vaccine hesitant individuals and communities and their lived experiences with medics and the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging mistakes of the past while persuading them of the safety and effectiveness. This requires a look at the history of anti-vax moments and reasons for vaccine hesitancy. This will be the focus of my next article.

Bibliography

1. Centre for Countering Digital Hate The Antivaxxers Playbook

2. Cook, J. Coronovirus, ‘Plandemic' and the Seven Traits of Conspiratorial Thinking The Conversation 15th May 2020 https://theconversation.com/coronovirus-pandem ic-and-the-seven-traits-of-conspiratorial-thinking-138483

3. Crawford, B. Coronovirus and Conspiracies: How the Far Right is Exploiting the Pandemic The Conversation 15th September 2020 https://theconversation.com/coronovirus-and-conspiracies-how-the-far-right-is-exploiting-the-pandemic-135968

4. Fichera, A; Spencer, S.H.; Gore, A’; Robertson, L. and Kiely, E. The Falsehoods of the ‘Plandemic’ Video FactCheck.Org 8th May 2020

5. Offit, P.A, M.D. (2012) Deadly Choices. How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All New York: Basic Books

[1] I abjure the more de rigeur term “conspiracy theory” as the word “theory” suggests the testing of a proposition against existing evidence and the possible discovery of new facts or knowledge; as I shall show, conspiracy myths involve the repeated invoking of the same dramatis personae; secret cabals of figures who somehow inviegle governments and other decisions makers into their nefarious plots; the citing of coincidental or happenstance events as proof that events like 9/11 happened; the refrain that “everybody is in on it” all of which removes the need for falsification of the contention made

[2] Paul A. Offit. M.D (2012) “Deadly Choices. How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” New York: Basic Books.

[3] The Institute alleged that she stole a laptop, flash drives and other property with institute information. While Mikovits claims in the documentary that she was held in jail despite being charged with “nothing”; a criminal complaint from November 2011 shows that she was charged with two felonies related to the stolen property. The charges were later dropped. Subsequently, there was a year-long litigation battle in which Whittemore won a civil judgment against Mikovits; and Mikovits alleged that Whittemore defrauded the government by misusing federally funded research materials. The case was dismissed in early 2020. (Fichera: p.1)

[4] Mikovits has since expanded its reach, suggesting that it could apply also to prostate cancer, lymphoma, and autism. (p.2)

[5] . It is true that Fauci’s name appears on at least six patents related to AIDS research but that he had also expressed concerns over the potential for a conflict of interests arising from government scientists being renumerated from patent royalties and said that he had donated all his royalty money to charity.

[6] Refuting the “bat flu” theory whereby a bat coronavirus named RaTG13, being kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was the origin of Covid-19, because “the abundance, diversity and evolution of coronaviruses in wildlife strongly suggests that this virus is of natural origin” although he did acknowledge that more sampling of other animals is required to ascertain the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2.

[7] The study found that coughing generated at least ten times infectious “aerosol” particles than speaking or breathing – which could explain why so many NHS staff have fallen ill. (“Coughing risks to NHS staff ‘greater’ than feared” Guardian 4th February 2021 pp.1-2.

[8] The four species known to cause disease in people are Zaire, Sudan, Tai Forest (formerly Cote d’Ivoire) and Bundibugyo. A fifth species, Reston ebolavirus, was first discovered in 1989 in research monkeys imported into the US from the Philippines. That species is “known to cause disease in nonhuman primates and pigs, but not in people”, the CDC says. There have been cases in which individuals developed Reston ebolavirus antibodies but did not experience symptoms. The sixth species, Bombali ebolavirus, was discovered in a bat in Sierra Leone but also is not known to infect humans.

[9] Swayne has had quite a colourful, if that is an appropriate pun, back story. In 2008 he insisted that wearing blackface is an “acceptable bit of fun” after admitting he had dressed up as the soul singer James Brown for a fancy dress party. Referring to a similar controversy with Canada’s pm, Swayne wrote in blog post: “I suspect that Justin Trudeau’s cringing apology for blacking himself ‘blinded by his own white privilege’ has done him more harm than the original offence. ‘Tories pressed to discipline MP linked to COVID-19 deniers’ group. The Guardian Friday 29th January 2021.

[10] Andrew Bridgen MP for NW Leicestershire and prominent Brexiteer defended Swayne in an interview in October 2020 on the You Tube channel of Anne Brees, a former BBC journalist whose posts have been taken down by You Tube for spreading false information about COVID-19. Bridgen has promised to on a show with Brees to “take on” promoters of conspiracy narratives. Adam Afriyie MP for Windsor and member of the Covid Recovery Group, tweeted in October 2020 that there should be “perhaps a public conversation between Ivor Cummins et al and mainstream scientific advisers.” Cummins is an Irish chemical engineer who in a YouTube video viewed more than 1.7m times, claimed that no new waves of the virus were coming because people were by now immune. He has also compared public health strategies to deal with the pandemic to those of the Nazis and has retweeted an image of the words “Vaccines Makes Free” superimposed over the entrance gates to Auschwitz. The prominent anti-lockdown activist, Piers Corbyn has been arrested for distributing leaflets with this image.

[11] Among the assertions of Pearson and Hartley-Brewer made “confident assertions last year that the virus had vanished and a message by Pearson that “she would not wear a face mask as she found them demeaning which got 126,000 “likes”. “Fighting Back. New Website that is Holding Covid Sceptics to Account”. The Guardian 25th January 2021

[12] “Radio host’s fascination with conspiracies raises alarm”. The Observer, 31st January 2021 p.14

[13] ’Incredibly Worrying’: Disturbing Trend of Hospital Incursions by Virus Deniers” Guardian Thursday 28th January 2021.

Barry Gilheany is a freelance writer, qualified counsellor and aspirant artist resident in Colchester where he took his PhD at the University of Essex. He is also a lifelong Leeds United supporter. 

Conspiratorial Thinking And Covid-19 ➖ The Case Of Plandemic

Barry Gilheany
✒ Since reports began to filter out of the Chinese city of Wuhan in January 2020 of a new strain of coronavirus eventually to be named by World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists of SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) - COVID 2 of Covid 19; the entire globe has been enveloped by the greatest pandemic since at least the misnamed Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. 

It has upended the social, economic and emotional lives of nearly every inhabitant of the planet with mandatory lockdowns leading to unprecedented shutdowns of economic and cultural activity and curbs on the freedom of movement of people with instructions to stay at home and only venture out for essential travel and shopping.

The death toll from the Covid-19 virus one year one has exceeded the 1m mark with three large developed countries particularly badly affected : United States (400,000 +), United Kingdom (100,000 +) and Brazil (220,000 +) with two of these nations having been led by leaders (ex-President Trump and President Bolonisario) who have been vociferously sceptical about the nature of the virus and whose public behaviour (refusing to wear masks and holding mass “super-spreading” rallies where social distancing was minimal to say the least) reflected this scepticism. Both were to contract (and recover) from the virus as was the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson who was accused by his critics of similar insouciance to his US and Brazilian counterparts at the start of the outbreak; publicly shaking hands and permitting major sporting events such as the Cheltenham horse-racing festival to go ahead despite their super-spreading potential until he belatedly acted on the recommendations of his scientific and public health advisers and ordered the first of England’s three lockdowns (the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own powers to act but also imposed lockdown regimes) on 22nd March 2020.

It is the scepticism shown by Trump, Bolonisario and other populist leaders like President Levchenko in Belarus and Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela and promoted ardently by (so far) fringe anti-lockdown movements in the UK and elsewhere and by certain influential media commentators (usually on the political right) that is the theme of this article. I examine it in the current and historical contexts of anti-vaccination movements, the use of conspiracy myths or narratives[1]; how Covid-19 denialism has opened avenues for far-right activity and the implication of anti-vax disinformation for free speech advocacy. The context for these themes is a case study of the Plandemic scare.

Plandemic and the Seven Deadly Signs of Conspiracist Thinking

In the Spring of 2020, the conspiracist video Plandemic went viral. Despite being removed by You Tube and Facebook from their platforms, it has continued to be uploaded and viewed millions of times. The video is an interview with a disgraced former virology researcher and conspiracist Judy Mikovits who believes the Covid-19 pandemic is based on vast deception, with the purpose of profiting from selling vaccinations. Its cornucopia of misinformation and conspiracy untruths have been widely and comprehensively demolished by reputable fact-checking sources such as Science, PolitiFact and FactCheck (Cook: et al p.1).

Cook et al have identified seven distinctive features of conspiratorial thinking all of which are applicable to Plandemic

1. Contradictory beliefs. Conspiracy storytellers are so bound up in belief of official beliefs, that they disregard the reality of the paradoxical nature of their belief system. The Plandemic video postulates two false origin explanations for the coronavirus. It argues that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab in Wuhan (believers have spun elaborate fantasies around commercial interests in that lab by public health authority figures like Anthony Fauci) but also argues that everyone is a bearer of the coronavirus from previous vaccinations, and wearing masks activates it. The mutual inconsistency of both explanations is self-explanatory.

2. Overriding suspicion. Conspiracy mongers are fundamentally suspicious to and hostile towards official accounts. According to this logic, any scientific evidence that does not fit into the conspiracy narrative (for example, the “controlled demolition” of the Twin Towers account put about by 9/11 “truthers”) must be faked. A further sequitur is that any scientific body publishing or validating research in support of the “official account” must be part of the conspiracy. For Covid-19, this includes the World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Anthony Fauci … basically any of the science cognoscenti are in on the conspiracy.

3. Nefarious intent. In conspiracy fables, all the actors are assumed to have evil motives. As alluded to earlier, the video suggests that scientists like Fauci manufactured the Covid-19 pandemic in a plot to kill hundreds of thousands of people for potentially billions of dollars of profit (Much of the same apocalyptic beliefs lie behind that Bill Gates financed population control vaccines aimed at wiping out millions of people).

4. Conviction something is wrong. While conspiracists may dispense with specific ideas once they become untenable; they do not let go of their overall conclusion that “something must be wrong” and that the original account involves deception and cover-up. So, when asked if he really believed Covid-19 was deliberately engineered for profit, Plandemic filmmaker Mikki Willis replied “I don’t know, to be clear, if it’s an intentional or naturally occurring situation” but then asserts “It’s too fishy”. Such elementary doubt would not get a PhD candidate past the first five minutes of their viva but appears not to be kosher in the minds of the millions of viewers of this video.

5. Persecuted victim. Conspiracy story tellers have a persecutory self-image; they pose as the victims of organised persecution while at the same time portraying themselves as brave heroes taking on the villainous conspirators. Plandemic accentuates the persecution complex by painting a picture of the entire global population as victims of a vast deception (or “scamdemic) disseminated by the iniquitous “mainstream media and to which we ourselves are signed up to as unwitting accomplices (as anyone with any experience of engaging with scamdemicists can vouch).

The history of anti-vaccination movements is replete with this theme of the little man/woman pitting themselves in epic struggles with the all-powerful establishments (and weaving the most preposterous acts of deception in the process) from the anti-compulsory smallpox vaccination campaigners of the 19th century such as Richard Butler Gibbs in England and Dr Alexander Ross of Montreal through to the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield, Barbara Loe Fisher, Jenny McCarthy and, the villain of this particular piece, Judy Mikovits of the mid to late 20th and early 21st centuries.[2]

6. Immunity to evidence. Because their accounts are so sui generis and self-sealing and therefore (in the view of the believer) non-falsifiable, the absence of evidence for the conspiracy becomes evidence for the conspiracy because the conspirators did such a sterling job in concealing their tracks.

7. Reinterpreting randomness. Conspiracy narrators see patterns elsewhere. Random events are reinterpreted as being caused by the conspiracy and assembled into a broader, interconnected pattern. For example, 9/11 truthers connect random events such as insurance being taken out on business offices in the World Trade Centre and the presence of Israeli nationals in the vicinity of the WTC in the days before the Al-Qaeda attacks as proof of some Mossad inspired or US government inside job. The Plandemic video cite the U.S. National Institutes of Health funding that has gone to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China as a possible factor in the supposed global malfeasance that so obsesses them. This disregards the fact that the lab is just one of many international collaborators on a project that was tasked with investigating the risk of future viruses emerging from wildlife. (Cook et al: pp.1-5).

Plandemic: Anatomy of a Disinformation Hub

The first instalment of a documentary called Plandemic which stormed through social media in May 2020 promised viewers on its website to “expose the scientific and political elite who run the scam that is our global health system. The video is largely an interview with Judy Mikovits; an author of a controversial 2009 study linking a retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome that was published in the journal Science and then retracted in late 2011 after labs were unable to replicate the results and other issues were brought to light. In September 2011, Mikovits was dismissed from her post as research director at the Whittemore Peterson Institute and arrested two months for alleged with theft of Institute property and information.[3]

The video, running for nearly 26 minutes, concocts a grand conspiracy story by articulating a bevy of false and misleading claims about the Covid-19 pandemic and its origins, vaccines, Covid treatments and more. In it she claims, “And they will kill millions as they already have with their vaccines”. While it is unclear what vaccines she is referring to; it is a demonstrable fact that vaccines have saved millions of lives despite the recurring recycling of misinformation pumped out by generations of anti-vax scaremongers. For example, according to one estimate by researchers with the CDCs and the WHO, the measles vaccine has saved more than 20 million lives across the globe from 2000 to 2016 alone. (Fichera et al, FactCheck 8 May 2020, p.1)

Exposure of Plandemic's Lies: The Evidence

FactCheck authors take apart eight of Plandemic's preposterous claims as follows:

1. Unfounded Claims Against Anthony Fauci. Two sweeping, but unrelated accusations are made against Fauci; that he was part of a “cover-up” and that he worked with other medics to “take credit and make money” on the AIDS epidemic. But at no point is it explained what exactly is it that Fauci is supposed to have covered up. When the FactCheck sought clarification from Mikovits about the “cover-up”, she said it was a reference to her withdrawn 2009 research paper. She holds Fauci responsible and claims that it was part of a “cover-up” on the part of the medical establishment to keep hidden her research linking a mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue[4] While the NIAID funded her and her successor’s research, there is no evidence and that Fauci had anything to do with it and the paper that retracted her research did not mention Fauci in its retraction.

On the claim about the AIDS epidemic, this dates from the time when Mikovits was working as technician at the National Cancer Institute in the early 1980s. She claims that the lab she worked in had identified the HIV virus from blood and saliva samples and prepared a paper detailing those findings that was intended for publication. But she says in the video, referencing Dr Robert Gall, an AIDS research pioneer, “Fauci holds up the paper for several months, while Robert Gallo writes his own paper and takes all the credit.” The trouble is that Mikovits, when speaking to the FactCheck authors could not supply the name of her lab’s paper or the journal in which it was intended for publication.

Beyond the unsubstantiated claim that Fauci – who did not become the director of NIAID until 1984 – thwarted early AIDS research at the National Cancer Institute – Mikovits also claims that he has profited from the epidemic. Her claim, resting on a vague reference to patents, is that Fauci was working with other researchers “to take credit and money” on the AIDS epidemic[5]. It is true that Fauci’s name appears on at least six patents related to AIDS research but that he had also expressed concerns over the potential for a conflict of interests arising from government scientists being renumerated from patent royalties and said that he had donated all his royalty money to charity. (p.2)

2. Scientists: Novel Coronavirus Not ‘Manipulated’. She makes the repeatedly refuted claim that the new coronavirus was “manipulated” in a laboratory and is not “naturally occurring”. In her account ‘” this family of viruses was manipulated and studied in a lab where the animals were taken into the lab and ‘this is what was released, whether deliberate or not.” So, for her, it was not generated at a live animal market.; did not jump species to humans and that “if it were a natural occurrence, it would take up to 800 years to occur.

Although the precise genesis of the coronavirus is unknown, scientists have said that the genetic features of SARS-CoV-2 disprove any theory that it was either created in a lab or manipulated. An article published in Nature Medicine in March 2020 said, “Our analysis clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or purposely manipulated virus”. Instead, its authors assert that it originated in one of two ways: “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer”, which refers to the transmission of disease from animals to humans, “or natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.” The possibility of an accidental lab but release of the virus could not be ruled out but any lab-based scenario was not “plausible” as they had observed “all notable SARS-CoV-2 features ... in related coronaviruses in nature”. In April 2020, University of Sydney professor Edward Holmes, who was involved in mapping the genome of the coronavirus that causes Covid- 19, likewise said, “Coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2 are commonly found in wildlife species and frequently jump to new hosts.[6]

3. Misleading Claim on Wuhan Lab Funding. The video shows a clip claiming that “$3.7 million flowed from the US National Institutes of Health to the Wuhan lab and that NIAID “had already been conducting experiments with the Wuhan lab in the past in regard to coronavirus. In fact, the project referenced was actually funding from NIAID to EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based non-profit agency that researches emerging infectious diseases. The project was tasked “to examine the risk of future coronavirus emergence from wildlife using in-depth field investigations across the human-wildlife interface in China,” in particular the risk posed by bats, according to a 2014 investigation. NIH records show the project was awarded nearly $3.4 million altogether of which only $600,000 (from the first of five grant awards) was given to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

4. Flu Vaccines Do Not Contain Coronaviruses. Mikovits falsely claims that “if you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses.” Her only support for this view is that flu vaccines are cultured in chicken eggs and dog kidney cells, and those animals have coronaviruses, therefore making the outlandish leap to the claim that animal strains of coronaviruses end up in vaccines tested and approved for people. She then goes on to attribute the global spread of Covid-19 “at least in part to use of the flu vaccine. However, coronaviruses are a diverse family of viruses, and some such, as canine coronaviruses, infect animals. Those are not the same as the same as SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. As for influenza vaccines, most are made using hen’s eggs and about 10% of vaccines in the US are cell-culture vaccines, which use mammalian cells instead of eggs.

5. No Evidence Flu Shot Increases Risk of Covid-1`9 Mikovits repeats the unsubstantiated claim that “the flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting Covid-19". Experts point out that there has been no study linking the flu shot connecting the flu shot to greater risk for the novel coronavirus. The military study cited by Mikovits concerned four types of seasonal coronaviruses that cause common colds, not SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, the results in this study do not appear to be adjusted for age groups or seasons. These factors could affect someone’s chances of contracting a specific virus, whether or not they have been vaccinated for the flu.

6. Hydroxychloroquine: Unproven Covid-19 Therapy. This anti-malarial drug, so famously given the oxygen of publicity by former US President Donald Trump, is claimed to be in the video, with no supporting evidence, “the most effective medication to treat “ Covid-19. Shortly after than Mikovits says hydroxychloroquine is “effective against these families of viruses referring to the family of coronaviruses, such as Covid-19, but the all-encompassing, all-powerful and conspiratorial third person entity will not have it, “they keep it from the people.”

The National Institutes of Health say that there is “insufficient chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19". In the video, Markovits accuses the American Medical Association (AMA) of threatening doctors with the loss of their licence, “the anti-malarial drug that’s been on the list of essential medicine worldwide for 70 years.”. But this is not true. The AMA has stated its opposition to “purchasing excessive amounts” of the above anti- malarial drugs for possible Covid-19 treatment but also said “Novel off-label use of FDA-approved medications is a matter for the physician’s or other prescriber’s professional judgment.” Regarding their effectiveness, the FactCheck authors do write that at least two studies show it has antiviral activity against the novel coronavirus in cells grown in the lab but that there is only anecdotal evidence that the drug works in people.

7. Wrong Message on Masks. In her attack on public health measures to address the pandemic, Mikovits suggest that wearing masks could lead to people infecting themselves with their own breath in that it “literally activates their own coronavirus expressions.” However, the Factcheck authors point out that viruses require living cells in order to replicate but that their viability or ability to replicate is not affected whether someone is wearing a mask or not. Even without a mask, infected people who are shedding virus probably rebreathe some of their own viruses but since there are already billions of times more viruses in the human body, the mask is protecting other people from their exhalations. The critical role of masks and PPE in preventing infection is underscored by a (yet to be peer-reviewed) University of Bristol study which has suggested that Covid-19 patients’ coughing is putting thousands of NHS frontline staff at risk.[7]

8. False Suggestion About Ebola. Mikovits claims in the video to have in 1999 to have had a job in Fort Detrick which was to teach Ebola how to infect human cells without killing them. She then says, without offering any elaboration or explanation to the FactCheck researchers, that Ebola could not infect human cells until she and her colleagues took it in the labs and taught them. This claim has been easily refuted by the CDC who say four of the six species are known to cause disease in people and three of the four species were discovered prior to 1999.[8]

The Covid “Master Plan”

The Centre for Conquering Digital Hate (CCDH) in its Anti-Vaxxers Playbook, has revealed, drawing on access to a private conference attended by the world’s leading anti- vaxxers, their plan to use social media to spread distrust about the Covid vaccine. In its Executive Summary, they note that leading anti-vaxxers view Covid as an historic opportunity to disseminate their message to an ever-growing global audience and to sow long-lasting distrust in the benefits and safety of vaccination. Online anti-vaxxers continue to grow, with 147 of the leading accounts gaining 10.1 million followers since 2019, an increase of 25% Anti-vaxxers have developed a sophisticated playbook to convert vaccine-hesitant people into committed anti-vaxxers consisting of a “master narrative” consisting of three key messages: Covid is not dangerous, the vaccine is dangerous and vaccine advocates cannot be trusted. The Plandemic video fits neatly into the global picture painted by the CCDH.

Underpinning the “conspiracy “scamdemic” myth” that Covid is not dangerous because it does not exist is that the virus has never been isolated. A common variation of this conspiracy myth is the attribution of Covid-associated symptoms to 5G mobile network signals.

The “Covid vaccine is dangerous”! false narrative has two main variations. The first is that the vaccine is designed to impose a totalitarian society on the world either through the microchips that it contains to aid tracking or mind control or (perhaps more plausibly) that civil rights will be drastically restricted for vaccine refuseniks. The second is that the vaccine is positively designed to kill people. This fits into long-running apocalyptic conspiracy narratives that claim organisations like the UN or wealthy businessmen like Bill Gates are using vaccines to depopulate the world.

Vaccine sceptic mistrust of vaccine advocacy rests on the Plandemic claim that governments or international bodies deliberately released or manufactured Covid in order to enable lockdowns, social distancing and other curbs on civil liberties. It has also converged with “The Great Reset” which alleges that the World Economic Forum and other elites planned the Covid pandemic to “reset” or destroy the global economy.

Far Right Exploitation of the Pandemic

As fantastical as the alleged orchestration of the pandemic by “Big Pharma” in conjunction with Bill Gates to supposedly “kill millions” as a means of generating profit sounds and is, the really dark aspect of the Plandemic story is its increasing convergence with the exploitation of the pandemic by extreme right-wing movements with some claiming that the virus is a hoax generated by “Jewish elites’ intent on implementing a vaccine either for profit or to eradicate the “white race”.

The far right’s focus on coronavirus has been reflected across social media. One report showed that between January and April 2020, hundreds of thousands of far-right posts about coronavirus were made to public Facebook groups. Far-right groups on the encrypted messaging app Telegram have set up a range of channels dedicated specifically to Covid. In March 2020, Telegram channels associated with white supremacy, attracted an influx of over 6,000 users, with one channel, dedicated to the discussion of coronavirus, multiplying its user by 800%.,

Far right groups have plugged into the corpus of misinformation around the virus including the 
Plandemic narrative but also that of QAnon conspiracy movement which has synced Covid misinformation with its global liberal elite paedophile network spiel. A number of Donald Trump’s would-be praetorian guards, The Proud Boys” were seen throughout 2020 at anti-lockdown rallies. One alt-right figure used his Telegram channel to portray lockdown measures as a “power grab” by the state, and a concerted attempt to ensure citizens – especially men – remain “slaves” to society and the government.

Possibly one of the most dangerous groups to have been influenced by these anti-state, anti-elite is the “boogaloo” movement, a loose online network of radical pro-firearms activists linked to various violent incidents across the US. It unites a wide spectrum of adherents, some of whom have tried to associate with Black Lives Matter, others with neo-Nazism, with preserving their right to bear arms and a shared desire to provoke a civil war in order to overthrow the government.

Covid 19 denialism is becoming part of the vocabulary of the small but worryingly growing far-right scene in the Republic of Ireland while in the UK, although “established” groups like the British National Party and English Defence League look to be absent from the public profile of the emerging Covid-sceptic/lockdown movement, there has certainly been overlap between the Brextremist right and it. Many of the members of the uber-Brexiteer European Research Group of Tory MPs who helped derail former PM Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill also belong to the Tory parliamentary Covid-19 Recovery Group. 

The most prominent figure is Desmond Swayne who in an interview with the fringe Covid deniers group, Save Our Rights UK, which has suggested that the pandemic could be a hoax, made baseless claims that NHS capacity figures had been manipulated to exaggerate the scale of the pandemic. He falsely claimed the number of people in intensive care wards was broadly normal and encouraged the group to persist with their campaign, which has become a haven for anti-vaxxers. (In reality the UK has suffered the greatest number of excess deaths – those recorded above the five-year average – since the Second World war He has also appeared on the Richie Allen Show, a radio programme broadcast from Salford that frequently hosts multiple anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers where he said that “There are huge question marks about the validity of the testing and some of the numbers we have been getting.”[9]

Two other Tory MPs have been linked to figures spreading Covid conspiracy claims.[10] There is also a coterie of Covid sceptic journalists and commentators who propagate their opposition to lockdown on conservative outlets such as Alison Pearson at the Daily Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio, (Peter Hichens and Toby Young at the Mail on Sunday[11]. A more surprising addition to their ranks has been the ex-Islamist and founder of the counter-extremist thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, Majid Nawaz who has been propounding Covid conspiracy narratives (as well as endorsing Donald Trump’s “stolen election” untruths) on LBC radio.[12]

Attack Our NHS

One disturbing tactic by Covid-19 deniers with particularly sociopathic consequences has been a spate of hospital incursions by crowds of people chanting “Covid is a hoax’ outside hospitals full of sick and dying patients. Since New Year’s Eve, when hundreds turned up outside St Thomas’ hospital, conspiracists have stalked the wards of as many as a dozen hospitals to gather footage which has been shared on social media. In modus operandi reminiscent of anti-choice protestors outside abortion clinics, posts have appeared in which NHS staff are described as “ventilator killers” and in which a man behind a camera remonstrates with a consultant who tells him a patient will die if his oxygen tube is removed; the man behind the camera says the patient should be taken home and his steroid and antibiotic treatments replaced by Vitamins C and D and zinc, none of which are proven treatments for the virus says the consultants. Security officers also removed Covid-19 deniers taking pictures of empty corridors at Colchester Hospital where the ICU is at maximum capacity. A woman was also fined – in the first use of Covid-19 powers – over social media posts claiming parts of a Hampshire hospital were “empty”. These incidents and their aftermath on social media by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate as “a new phase in the weaponisation of misinformation.”[13]

Conclusion

The Plandemic Video is a paradigm for the transmission of conspiracy myths and systematic misinformation generally and for Covid-19 ‘scamdemic’ scaremongering. It is an icon of the post-truth age where debate has become less about the interpretation of facts but the facts themselves. The principal actor in this drama, Judy Mikovits, is a recognisable archetype of anti-vaccination discourse and practice past and present. The anti-hate speech NGO, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), advises the public not to engage with anti-vaxx misinformation online, even to rebut it criticise it, because doing so only spreads the misinformation to new audiences. It gives the example of anti-vaxxer narratives, “trending” on social media on the first day of the vaccine rollout, primarily due to pro-vaccine accounts amplifying them. Instead, users are urged to share pro-vaccine messages and pro-vaccine practitioners are advised to inoculating the public by ignoring individual memes and focusing on the master narrative.

But pro-vaxxers need also to understand vaccine hesitancy and engage with vaccine hesitant individuals and communities and their lived experiences with medics and the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging mistakes of the past while persuading them of the safety and effectiveness. This requires a look at the history of anti-vax moments and reasons for vaccine hesitancy. This will be the focus of my next article.

Bibliography

1. Centre for Countering Digital Hate The Antivaxxers Playbook

2. Cook, J. Coronovirus, ‘Plandemic' and the Seven Traits of Conspiratorial Thinking The Conversation 15th May 2020 https://theconversation.com/coronovirus-pandem ic-and-the-seven-traits-of-conspiratorial-thinking-138483

3. Crawford, B. Coronovirus and Conspiracies: How the Far Right is Exploiting the Pandemic The Conversation 15th September 2020 https://theconversation.com/coronovirus-and-conspiracies-how-the-far-right-is-exploiting-the-pandemic-135968

4. Fichera, A; Spencer, S.H.; Gore, A’; Robertson, L. and Kiely, E. The Falsehoods of the ‘Plandemic’ Video FactCheck.Org 8th May 2020

5. Offit, P.A, M.D. (2012) Deadly Choices. How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All New York: Basic Books

[1] I abjure the more de rigeur term “conspiracy theory” as the word “theory” suggests the testing of a proposition against existing evidence and the possible discovery of new facts or knowledge; as I shall show, conspiracy myths involve the repeated invoking of the same dramatis personae; secret cabals of figures who somehow inviegle governments and other decisions makers into their nefarious plots; the citing of coincidental or happenstance events as proof that events like 9/11 happened; the refrain that “everybody is in on it” all of which removes the need for falsification of the contention made

[2] Paul A. Offit. M.D (2012) “Deadly Choices. How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” New York: Basic Books.

[3] The Institute alleged that she stole a laptop, flash drives and other property with institute information. While Mikovits claims in the documentary that she was held in jail despite being charged with “nothing”; a criminal complaint from November 2011 shows that she was charged with two felonies related to the stolen property. The charges were later dropped. Subsequently, there was a year-long litigation battle in which Whittemore won a civil judgment against Mikovits; and Mikovits alleged that Whittemore defrauded the government by misusing federally funded research materials. The case was dismissed in early 2020. (Fichera: p.1)

[4] Mikovits has since expanded its reach, suggesting that it could apply also to prostate cancer, lymphoma, and autism. (p.2)

[5] . It is true that Fauci’s name appears on at least six patents related to AIDS research but that he had also expressed concerns over the potential for a conflict of interests arising from government scientists being renumerated from patent royalties and said that he had donated all his royalty money to charity.

[6] Refuting the “bat flu” theory whereby a bat coronavirus named RaTG13, being kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was the origin of Covid-19, because “the abundance, diversity and evolution of coronaviruses in wildlife strongly suggests that this virus is of natural origin” although he did acknowledge that more sampling of other animals is required to ascertain the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2.

[7] The study found that coughing generated at least ten times infectious “aerosol” particles than speaking or breathing – which could explain why so many NHS staff have fallen ill. (“Coughing risks to NHS staff ‘greater’ than feared” Guardian 4th February 2021 pp.1-2.

[8] The four species known to cause disease in people are Zaire, Sudan, Tai Forest (formerly Cote d’Ivoire) and Bundibugyo. A fifth species, Reston ebolavirus, was first discovered in 1989 in research monkeys imported into the US from the Philippines. That species is “known to cause disease in nonhuman primates and pigs, but not in people”, the CDC says. There have been cases in which individuals developed Reston ebolavirus antibodies but did not experience symptoms. The sixth species, Bombali ebolavirus, was discovered in a bat in Sierra Leone but also is not known to infect humans.

[9] Swayne has had quite a colourful, if that is an appropriate pun, back story. In 2008 he insisted that wearing blackface is an “acceptable bit of fun” after admitting he had dressed up as the soul singer James Brown for a fancy dress party. Referring to a similar controversy with Canada’s pm, Swayne wrote in blog post: “I suspect that Justin Trudeau’s cringing apology for blacking himself ‘blinded by his own white privilege’ has done him more harm than the original offence. ‘Tories pressed to discipline MP linked to COVID-19 deniers’ group. The Guardian Friday 29th January 2021.

[10] Andrew Bridgen MP for NW Leicestershire and prominent Brexiteer defended Swayne in an interview in October 2020 on the You Tube channel of Anne Brees, a former BBC journalist whose posts have been taken down by You Tube for spreading false information about COVID-19. Bridgen has promised to on a show with Brees to “take on” promoters of conspiracy narratives. Adam Afriyie MP for Windsor and member of the Covid Recovery Group, tweeted in October 2020 that there should be “perhaps a public conversation between Ivor Cummins et al and mainstream scientific advisers.” Cummins is an Irish chemical engineer who in a YouTube video viewed more than 1.7m times, claimed that no new waves of the virus were coming because people were by now immune. He has also compared public health strategies to deal with the pandemic to those of the Nazis and has retweeted an image of the words “Vaccines Makes Free” superimposed over the entrance gates to Auschwitz. The prominent anti-lockdown activist, Piers Corbyn has been arrested for distributing leaflets with this image.

[11] Among the assertions of Pearson and Hartley-Brewer made “confident assertions last year that the virus had vanished and a message by Pearson that “she would not wear a face mask as she found them demeaning which got 126,000 “likes”. “Fighting Back. New Website that is Holding Covid Sceptics to Account”. The Guardian 25th January 2021

[12] “Radio host’s fascination with conspiracies raises alarm”. The Observer, 31st January 2021 p.14

[13] ’Incredibly Worrying’: Disturbing Trend of Hospital Incursions by Virus Deniers” Guardian Thursday 28th January 2021.

Barry Gilheany is a freelance writer, qualified counsellor and aspirant artist resident in Colchester where he took his PhD at the University of Essex. He is also a lifelong Leeds United supporter. 

4 comments:

  1. A lot of work put into that Barry plus a lot of information to digest. The tin foil hat men will be howling at you yet.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unfortunatley your impressive missive falls down at the first hurdle Barry, many scientists are now beginning to point fingers at the lab in Wuhan..

    https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/covid-origins-letter/5c9743168205f926/full.pdf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve R

      True but the scientists' rightful demand for a fuller inquiry into the Wuhan lab does not lend any credence to fake, conspiratorial narratives like "Plandemic".

      Delete