The covid-19 pandemic is a disorienting, fast-moving, dangerous crisis that has basically everyone in the world in its grips. As is so often the case in times of disaster, people, including political leaders, are promoting conspiracy theories about the origin, spread, and seriousness of the new coronavirus.
This is perhaps the most prominent conspiracy theory to date, and the reasoning is simple enough. According to this theory, the coronavirus—officially called SARS-CoV-2—isn’t just an unlucky product of nature but a viral weapon created in the lab in order to terrorize unspecified targets.
Politicians and cranks across the world have espoused some version of this theory, though not always blaming the same perpetrator. U.S. Senator Tom Cotton blames the Chinese government. Leaders in Iran and China have argued that the origin of the virus is actually the U.S. military. This conspiracy theory has also gotten support from the usual internet-dwelling suspects, with QAnon adherents claiming the virus is a so-called false flag invented by the “deep state” (among other bizarre ideas).
One argument points out that Johns Hopkins University hosted a public exercise last October of how a pandemic would affect the world, suspiciously using a coronavirus as its fictional germ. That Bill Gates, a common target of the QAnon crowd, helped fund this simulation exercise has only further stoked those flames.
Of course, you’d have to wonder why Bill Gates and the Illuminati would offer a preview of their diabolical plan just a few months in advance. The choice to use a coronavirus in the pandemic simulation was certainly prescient but completely logical, given that two of the scariest epidemics in the past 20 years were both coronaviruses, SARS and MERS. It’s the fact these viruses tend to spread like a typical cold or flu that makes them so potentially dangerous.
In truth, there’s no evidence on the genetic level that SARS-CoV-2 was manmade, but there’s plenty to suggest that it recently crossed over from animals to humans, as many infectious diseases have done for millennia and will continue to do long after this pandemic is over. It may be comforting to think that someone is in control of this calamity, but unfortunately the world is ruled by chance and chaos.
Idris Elba was one of the first celebrities to announce he had contracted the coronavirus. He had only a brief time to enjoy the well-wishes of his fans before he found himself publicly denying allegations that he and other celebrities were being paid to say they have it.
It’s certainly true that famous people have gotten tests for covid-19 with much more ease than the rest of us, and it’s the poorest who will fare the worst in this crisis. In this case, though, the real conspiracy is the longstanding collaboration among the rich and powerful to maintain their advantages while keeping the rest of us down.
Perhaps the most widespread conspiracy among conservatives in the U.S. right now is that the (over)reaction to covid-19 is a Democrat and/or liberal media conspiracy to bring down President Donald Trump. How exactly we in the liberal media have managed to get so many other countries on board with our plot is not clear.
If this pandemic is really as serious a threat to the U.S. as it appears to be, then Trump and his administration have colossally failed to protect the country from it. For years, the Trump White House hollowed out resources from the federal government that were explicitly meant to predict and prevent pandemics. During the initial outbreak in China, Trump, GOP lawmakers, and conservative media publicly downplayed the risk to the U.S., despite warnings from their own intelligence experts telling them otherwise. And even when it became obvious that covid-19 was spreading within the U.S., the country’s testing capability was basically nonexistent for weeks, sinking any possibility that it could be contained. Many journalists were called hysterical for reporting, accurately, that the U.S. was in imminent danger from this virus and that we were woefully unprepared.
But if you believe that the coronavirus is nothing more than a false flag operation that is meant to make Trump look bad, then all of the above doesn’t matter. You might argue that this is no worse than the flu, as prominent conservative figures still continue to do, despite early projections that the virus could kill upwards of a million Americans without mitigation efforts.
Conspiracy theories, at their heart, are ways to explain away an unpleasant reality, and they often have a grain of truth to them as a result (the U.S. government didn’t plan 9/11, but maybe it could have prevented it, and it certainly does lie about a lot of things). In this case, it’s the bleak reality that, despite all our technological advances, the Western world has been completely outwitted by a virus that we should have been plenty prepared for. And now a lot of people are going to die, the economy is shit, and there’s no end in sight.