President Donald Trump is ready to move past the coronavirus — and his most fervent followers are choosing who to blame.
While the president spent the week teasing guidelines for restarting the country’s economy and belittling some states with strict lockdown measures, vocal Trump supporters coalesced around the people that they are blaming for getting the world into the crisis to begin with: the World Health Organization, Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The through line is that each represents an element of the global and bureaucratic elite that Trump’s more hardline backers blame for overhyping the virus, forcing economically ruinous fixes and dictating medical cures that, they argue, will ultimately financially benefit the elite.
Specifically, they blame the WHO for downplaying the severity of the coronavirus and toting the Chinese government line. They blame Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist who is heavily funding the WHO and coronavirus research, for forcing vaccines that don’t even exist yet on the world. And they blame Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, for contradicting the president, promoting strict social-distancing guidelines and suggesting possible immunity papers to help recovered Covid-19 patients move about freely.
“Something like this hasn’t happened in our lifetimes, so you can’t blame people for being hyper on their guard. The question is — given so much misinformation out of China — where is the line? Who are the bad guys? Who do we trust? These are the things leading people to follow more ‘out there’ theories,” said Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart editor and co-host of the Trump-friendly War Room podcast.
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
Trump’s followers got what they wanted from the president this week when he halted funding to the WHO.
The move was a major blow to the WHO, given that the U.S. contributes more to the international organization than any other country. While the medical community — and scores of leaders around the world — said the move would undercut global efforts to combat a pandemic reaching its peak, Trump and his more passionate backers said it would hold the institution accountable.
“The WHO was willfully working with the [Chinese Communist Party] to mislead the rest of the world as to what was going on,” said Jason Miller, a 2016 Trump campaign senior communications adviser, who co-hosts the War Room podcast, which has been discussing the coronavirus outbreak since late January.
There is no proof the WHO was “willfully working” with China — during the first days of the pandemic, the organization was trying to get international experts, including Americans, into China to study the matter.
At the core of the anti-WHO argument is anger that the organization asserted in mid-January that there was no evidence suggesting a human-to-human spread of the coronavirus, citing data from the Chinese government.
“As a result, we have tens of thousands of people all around the world — with almost 30,000 here in the United States who have died — when studies have shown if action was taken immediately, much of this could have been stopped,” Miller argued.
While the WHO did say early on that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, it was warning of “sustained” human-to-human transmission just days later. Additionally, when new viruses emerge, medical researchers are never immediately sure whether there is human-to-human transmission.
The organization was also consistent in raising early red flags about the coronavirus outbreak, weeks before the U.S. government was issuing grave public proclamations. It declared a public health emergency of international concern — its highest alert level — on January 30
Still, many Trump supporters argue the WHO should not get another penny until the organization’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, steps down.
More broadly, Miller noted, conservatives have always held a degree of suspicion towards international organizations that receive U.S. money — the United Nations, for instance.
“Staying away from the conspiracy theories, I think the broader skepticism has been around for years for a long time,” he said.
For Trump’s hardcore online fanbase, Gates became the vehicle this week for their anger about any number of things: international institutions, the coronavirus, big government, vaccines.
In the wake of Trump’s decision to halt WHO funding, Gates upped his pledge to the organization from $ 100 million to $ 250 million, making him its largest donor. Gates has also pledged considerable resources toward finding a vaccine for the novel coronavirus — possibly the only way to truly end the outbreak.
Together, the moves put him in the crosshairs of major conservative stars like Candace Owens, Laura Ingraham and a slew of other pro-Trump commentators and influencers.
“Trump was right to defund the ABHORRENT World Health Organization,” Owens, the former communications director of Turning Point USA who had previously downplayed the coronavirus as not much worse than the flu, wrote on Facebook. “Their allegiance is to Bill Gates.”
Gates’s Instagram comments section was barraged by waves of thousands of conspiracy-promoting accounts, claiming that he was trying to control the world with a vaccine.
While Gates’s WHO funding has long generated concern in the medical community about ensuring the organization’s independence, the concerns of Trump’s hardcore supporters are far more conspiratorial, akin to the far-flung theories circulated about liberal philathropist George Soros and the Clinton Foundation.
The core theory about Gates posits that the billionaire somehow stands to profit from the creation of a coronavirus vaccine, either through raking in billions of dollars, or by creating some sort of global surveillance mechanism via a mandatory coronavirus vaccine. From there, the plots diverge, and the evidence grows wilder, pulling in fears about global surveillance and Gates’s previous comments about preventing a pandemic and population control.
“There’s a few different strains of the Bill Gates virus [theory], depending on your political leanings,” said Lee Stranahan, who hosts “Fault Lines” for the Russian-owned Sputnik Radio.
It’s unclear how Gates would profit personally off of the development of a vaccine. Vaccines also help save lives. The WHO estimates that vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths just from 2010 to 2015.
Ingraham has been perhaps the highest-profile Gates skeptic on Fox News, frequently devoting segments to criticizing Gates’s involvement, and at one point implying that Gates was hoping to use the vaccine to digitally track all human beings.
Some figures — like former Trump adviser Roger Stone and Emerald Robinson, White House correspondent for the conservative outlet Newsmax — are simply stating that theory explicitly, arguing Gates and “other globalists” are angling to use the vaccine as an excuse to microchip the world’s population.
“Over my dead body. Mandatory vaccinations? No way, Jose!” Stone told radio host Joe Piscopo.
Neither Gates nor the WHO could make a vaccine mandatory. Individual governments could, but there has been no discussion of that yet.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent lawyer who in recent years has become an anti-vaccine advocate, said in an interview that he had always criticized the Microsoft billionaire for his influence on the WHO, particularly for increasing its focus on vaccines.
“If I’m looking at Gates and seeing he has an attachment particularly to [genetically modified foods] and vaccines, he seems to have a very, very strong faith that technology can solve all problems and that he is ordained to bring life changing technologies to the globe and that they’re always good,” he said.
High-profile Trump supporters like Diamond and Silk have claimed they would refuse a vaccine that Gates helped develop.
“Kudos if you make your vaccines for people and you want to help people,” Diamond said during her broadcast last week. “But I have a problem receiving any vaccine from any entity, especially anybody like Bill Gates who pushed for population control.”
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI
Publicly, the speculation over Fauci’s job security ended Monday night.
But a group of anti-Fauci activists has become more emboldened than ever this week, pushing theories that Fauci is working on behalf of pharmaceutical corporations and a shadowy global elite, Gates included, in order to vaccinate the world.
The wild and baseless accusations focus on a grant Fauci’s agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2014. That’s the lab at the center of a highly disputed alternative coronavirus origin story: That an employee at the Wuhan virology research facility got infected and became patient zero for the city.
Kennedy said that apart from his concerns over Fauci’s intentions, he feared for a world dictated by health experts: “I’m worried as most people are about the loss of civil liberties, and what America may look like when we’ve come out.”