22 May 2020

Cranks of the world unite for Plandemic’s crazed Covid conspiracies

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The coronavirus crisis is a conspiracy. It’s the latest scheme concocted by Big Pharma in alliance with the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organisation to make money. This “circular cabal” are pushing vaccines on consumers, which damage health by weakening their immune systems. So far from shielding you, wearing a face mask “literally activates your own virus”.

I’ve just summarised the argument of a purported documentary film titled Plandemic that went viral on YouTube last week. The film is irrationalist piffle from beginning to end. It’s the work of a disgraced former research scientist in the United States called Judy Mikovits, who has form for bogus claims. In 2009 she co-authored a paper linking the medical condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus from mice. Other researchers were unable to replicate Mikovits’s results and her paper was subsequently retracted by the journal in which it appeared.

That is how science works. No one gets the last word. Faced with an empirical claim, scientists ask what tests have been done and then seek to replicate the results. To Mikovits, however, this standard practice was evidence of a conspiracy to destroy her career. And now she is back, so her supporters claim, to expose the machinations of the deep state.

Mikovits is a dangerous crank whose polemics are a direct threat to public health. The social media giants belatedly removed her film from their platforms but in the meantime it had racked up millions of views. Who do you think could possibly give credence to such blether? The answer may surprise you, yet on reflection is no surprise at all. They are people who deny the war crimes of President Assad of Syria.

Vanessa Beeley is a blogger who has described meeting Assad in 2017 as her proudest moment. Her obsequiousness to despotism extends to calling the humanitarian White Helmets a “legit target” for Assad’s forces. Another obscure blogger called Eva Bartlett, a Canadian citizen, was exposed by Channel 4 News in 2016 for making false and calumnious claims that the White Helmets had faked film footage of Assad’s crimes. On social media, both have been pushing Mikovits’s crank ideas.

Beeley wrote on RT, the Russian state propaganda organ, in March that the White Helmets’ coronavirus campaign to protect Syrians was “a cynical exploitation of the pandemic to weaponize it against the Syrian government”. A few weeks later, she was rubbishing “pandemic believers”. Now, serendipitously, Mikovits is on hand to expose the conspiracy behind the pandemic and lockdown. Bartlett, who appears to be the Boswell of the duo, posted Beeley’s words on Twitter: “Anyone celebrating establishment censorship of Plandemic’s research scientist, Judy Mikovits, remember its [sic] the same state-aligned media smearing & attacking this brave scientist as were attacking and smearing myself, Eva Karene Bartlett & other dissidents on Syria.”

Back in 2018, my Times colleagues exposed a small group of academics at leading British universities who were pushing pro-Assad conspiracy theories, such as that the chemical attack at Douma had been staged by rebel forces. One of them, Piers Robinson, has since left his post at Sheffield University and regularly sends 9/11 conspiracy material to Times journalists (we do not reply). We reported last month that he and his colleagues were sharing conspiracy theories on Twitter about the coronavirus, including the notion that it was an American bioweapon.

Robinson described Covid-19 as “a low fatality virus . . . There’s no indication that it’s significantly different from what we see with major flu outbreaks every year”, but – he claimed – “propagandistic information” had created “so much hype around it, there is so much fear”. Robinson’s Twitter feed is a litany of calls to end the lockdown along with approving retweets of the work of such authorities as Toby Young and Allison Pearson.

Sociologists have long noted that belief in one conspiracy theory is a reliable indicator of susceptibility to others. It’s demonstrated in the case of the “plandemic” conspiracy theorists. Not only is it the same type of belief as the denialism of Assad’s war crimes, but it’s literally the same people. And it happens again and again. I recounted on CapX in 2017 the death and ignoble career of Edward Herman, an American academic who had indefatigably denied the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995. Herman was a straightforward fraudster who, as far as I’m aware, never set foot in Bosnia in his life. Yet his fakery – as noisome as Holocaust denial, and even more blatant, given that the bodies of the victims have been found, exhumed and identified – persists on conspiracy websites.

These people almost invariably have absolutely no expertise in the subjects where they posit a conspiracy and in the pre-digital age would have been isolated cranks (like the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists).

Two things have now changed. One is the advent of social media, where false ideas can gain currency and spread. As Nick Cohen has argued in The Observer in the case of David Icke’s conspiracy theory of the link between 5G and the virus, there is a strong liberal case for the tech giants to banish material that threatens public health.

And the second is the state propaganda network of autocracies, such as RT, Sputnik and Press TV. These outlets have the trappings of news organisations but without any of the values of critical inquiry. Their purported expert pundits extend to genocide deniers, neo-Nazis, UFO buffs, flat-earthers, Bilderberg conspiracy theorists and now “Plandemic” fantasists.

Some of these people appear to me (having suffered severe mental disorder myself, and not intending offence by it) to have the symptoms of clinical illness. It’s incumbent on a free society to isolate and expose these outlets rather than treat them as part of a national conversation.

Richard Hofstadter, the American historian, wrote a seminal essay nearly 60 years ago titled ‘The Paranoid style in American Politics’. Of this movement, then most obvious in McCarthyism but also evident on the left, he wrote: “One of the most impressive facts about the paranoid style … is that it represents an old and recurrent mode of expression in our public life which has frequently been linked with movements of suspicious discontent and whose content remains much the same even when it is adopted by men of distinctly different purposes.” The phenomenon persists; a liberal society has the recurring obligation to challenge it.

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Oliver Kamm is a leader writer and columnist for The Times.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.