Rise In COVID Cases Is Signal For Conspiracists To Slither Back Into View
Another mutation of COVID-19 infections is here and that means it’s once again time to roll out the army of wackos and their vast, unhinged conspiracy theories.
And as the 2024 election nears, there will surely be no shortage of conspiracy deceptions on many American fronts, with Russia and China boosting their efforts to discredit the U.S. on climate issues.
In late August, the White House issued warned of a fall wave of COVID-19 infections and recommended Americans get vaccinated against new strains using newly marketed booster doses. That was enough to re-open the floodgates of disinformation.
“RED ALERT! “White House Announces Plan to Reimplement Covid Tyranny,” screamed the headline on Infowars, the conspiratorial website run by Alex Jones, the right-wing liar whose defamations over the 2012 mass shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School cost him $1.487 billion in damages awarded to families of victims who Jones had defamed.
Jack Posobiec, a far right personality with more than 150,000 followers on the Telegram network, suggested that new COVID-19 measures are meant to prepare the U.S. for a war with Russia.
The concerns over increased COVID-19 cases has given right wing politicians newly discovered, fertile ground for fear mongering about a return to lockdowns and mask mandates.
In 2020, Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican who is currently seeking the presidential nomination, tweeted that a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to deliver masks to all Americans “strikes me as a sensible idea,” and that “wearing a mask = personal responsibility.”
Now that he is running for office, Ramaswamy has changed his tune.
“No mask mandates,” Ramaswamy said. “No vaccine mandates. No lockdown ever again.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said on Infowars that reports of rising COVID-19 infections are being exaggerated by Democrats to “distract people” from the party’s political failings.
Greene said “people are screaming, ‘WE WILL NOT COMPLY’ as the Biden admin and Fauci are insanely calling for masks mandates and more funding for COVID vaccines, while some schools are forcibly masking children again — which is CHILD ABUSE.”
Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination for reelection as president, offered his usual, baseless accusations that concerns over COVID-19 variants were part of a ruse to reinstate allegedly fraudulent vote-by-mail policies that were used during the 2020 election and that trump claims cost him reelection. That would be the same trump, who, as president, said early in the pandemic, before it had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, “It’s a little like the regular flu, that we have flu shots for, and we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this, in a fairly quick manner.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican seeking the presidency, has used the latest COVID-19 news to criticize trump’s handling of the pandemic’s early stages.
In a recent campaign rally, Trump vowed to cut federal funding for schools and airlines that mandate masks or vaccines, even though Democratic leaders have not pushed for a return to any of the mandates or restrictions that were in place early in the pandemic, leaving the issue to local officials.
In some places, mask mandates have returned. A Maryland school is requiring third graders to wear masks for 10 days after at least three students tested positive for COVID-19.
That is wrong and is a violation of parents’ rights, said Nikki Haley, another hopeful GOP presidential hopeful and the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“The parents get to make these decisions,” Haley said. “The parents can decide whether they want their children to go to school when there’s a possible outbreak or not, but don’t sit there and mask them back up.”
GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said last week that the nations seems to be “sitting on the precipice of another Covid outbreak.” Nevertheless, Scott tweeted that he would “stand against mandates, lockdowns and school closures.”
Conspiracy mongers claim, without any proof, that the virus is a planned bioweapon, that vaccines contain microchips or that unproven medicines offer simple cures for the virus’s symptoms.
In January, the government debunked claims about professional athletes dying after getting vaccinated. The utterly unsubstantiated report was spread by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on the right wing podcast “The Charlie Kirk Show.”
Joining in on the conspiracy claim was John Stockton, a Hall of Fame basketball player, who said that “over 100 professional athletes” had dropped dead after receiving the vaccine. Not surprisingly, neither Johnson nor Stockton provided evidence for the claim.
Stories about professional athletes dying during soccer matches and basketball games after getting vaccinated have been a staple of the conspiracy theory barn since COVID-19 vaccines were introduced.
A known but uncommon vaccine side effect is myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Men and boys who receive the COVID-19 vaccine are at higher risk of developing the condition, which can lead to chest pain and shortness of breath. In very rare cases, it can lead to more severe complications, including death.
Right wing conspiracists have taken to use words like “plandemic” and “scamdenic” to warn about unfounded return to lockdowns and unproven links of the virus to other events around the world.
The ever changing, pesistent rumor mill has led ne third of Americans to the false belief that the COVID-19 vaccines caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people, according to a survey published in August by the KFF, a nonprofit research group.
The survey showed that 45 percent of respondents believe that false claims about COVID-19 are definitely or probably true. The numbers climb sharply with people who watch far right broadcasts with 76 percent of regular Newsmax viewers, 67 percent of regular OANN viewers, and 61 percent of regular Fox News viewers believing the fake claims.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved updated vaccine boosters by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. Another vaccine by Novavax is under review by the FDA for people 12 and older. The safety and effectiveness of using the updated vaccines was the topic at a Tuesday meeting of an independent panel of experts that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The three vaccines have been modified to help the body’s immune system make antibodies against the XBB.1.5 coronavirus variant, which was the main cause of COVID-19 in the U.S. this spring and continues to circulate.
If approved, the vaccines could be recommended only for people deemed to be at higher risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, such as health care workers, those who are 60 and older, who are pregnant, or who have compromised immune systems.
“COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. and poses a significant threat to vulnerable populations, particularly as we enter peak respiratory virus season,” Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, said in a news release. “As the primary circulating strain continues to evolve, updated vaccines will be critical to protecting the population this season.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, though they are nowhere near the heights of past surges. COVID community levels are generally considered low across the country, but a growing number of counties, including many in Florida, have levels at which the CDC recommends masking for people at higher risk of severe illness.
Never shy to jump the gun and add gasoline to boost suspected conspiracies, Fox News published second hand reports that the government had tried to quash negative publicity about the original round of COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Robert Redfield, trump’s director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, told Fox that the healthcare bureaucracy has conspired to stifle talk that the coronavirus vaccines may not have been all they were supposed to be.
The Fox report said that Redfield said he was “not a firsthand witness” to concerns over negative public discussion about vaccinations causing Americans to refuse the shots “but knew of individuals who were,” according to the Fox report.
“[T]here was such an attempt to not let anybody get any hint that maybe vaccines weren’t foolproof, which, of course, we now know they have significant limitations,” Redfield said.
Misinformation on COVID-19 is not the only fertile area for disinformation. Another common target of conspiracists is climate change, and China and Russia have joined in to spread unfounded claims around the deadly wild fires in Maui last month.
China posted a number of lies on the Internet that the fires were the result of a secret “weather weapon” being tested by the United States. The posts carried photographs that appeared to have been generated by artificial intelligence programs. China is doing what trump did, when he smeared China by insisting the cause of the pandemic was the “China virus” because it originated in China.
Adding to the disinformation campaign, Russia spread posts about how the U.S. should use money for disaster relief rather than to fund the Russian war in Ukraine.
China’s claims have been repeated in different forms in the U.S. and it’s unclear whether China is leading or following. Some, like Vivek Ramaswamy, have claimed climate change is a world-wide hoax, which some say is actually caused by cloud-seeding airplanes or dams, rather than torrential rains, that have caused historic flooding in northern Italy, Rwanda and Vermont.
A wild claim in U.S. conspiracy circles that the Maui fires were caused by a “directed energy weapon” gained millions of views. The photo of a supposed laser causing the fires were found to be old footage of fires not in Hawaii.
The Maui conspiracy further claims that wealthy real estate investors started the fire so they could quickly buy up the burned land at basement prices. A video of Hawaii’s governor shows him saying the state might acquire land in Lahaina to protect it for locals. The video was found to have been manipulated and offered as misleading proof that the governor planned to buy land to create a technologically advanced “smart city.”
Republicans have taken a cue from the Russians by claiming the Biden administration cares more for Ukraine than it does for the thousands of Americans affected by the wildfires in Maui.
Congress granted $113 billion in aid and military assistance to Ukraine between the invasion in February 2022 and the end of last year.
A week ago, Biden announced a one-time $700 payment would be given to every household to recover from the devastation in Maui. Homeowners and renters on Maui also can claim up to $500,000 at 2.5 percent interest for home repairs or reconstruction, or up to $100,000 to repair or replace personal property. Businesses can claim up to $2 million at 4 percent interest.
“When you send $150 billion to Ukraine don’t be shocked when your own country is on fire and your leaders don’t care,” wrote the right wing provocateur, Charlie Kirk, founder of the pro-trump, Turning Point USA. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Kirk said the conflict was a “border dispute” and spread false claims from Russian state media that Russia had responded after Ukraine fired mortar shells at a Russian separatist enclave in Ukraine.
The delays cited by Republicans in Biden responding to the Maui devastation is in sharp contrast to trump’s response after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico in 2017. The trump administration was found to have delayed more than $20 billion in hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico. Trump did travel to the island in person where he tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd of the storm’s survivors.