Amidst the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has helped lead the federal government’s response — and now, The New York Times reports, he’s become the target of far-right, Trump-supporting conspirators on the internet who have tried to push the idea that Fauci is conspiring against the president. The conspiracy theories about Fauci have started circulating following the emergence of an email from seven years ago in which he praised — wait for it — Hillary Clinton. Trump supporters are still losing their minds over Hillary Clinton, even amidst a deadly pandemic.
Those involved in the clamoring against Fauci have included prominent online conservatives like radio host Bill Mitchell and Tom Fitton, who leads the conservative judicial activism group Judicial Watch — and who has been retweeted and otherwise noticed many times by the president, suggesting that these conspiracy theories about a top infectious disease expert within the halls of public health in the federal government could reach the president — and he’s long shown his affinity for conspiracy theories.
The Times explains that “a post that falsely claimed he was part of a secret cabal who opposed Mr. Trump was soon shared thousands of times, reaching roughly 1.5 million people” after Fauci visibly reacted to Trump’s reference to the State Department as the “Deep State Department” at a public press conference on March 20. There’s not any evidence, at all, of any kind of conspiring against the president on Fauci’s part, to be clear. In 2013, Fauci “praised Mrs. Clinton for her stamina during the 2013 Benghazi hearings” in an email to one of her aides — that’s it. He has worked for decades in public health, and questioning whether he’s some kind of secret agent is outlandishly disconnected from reality.
Overall, there are “over 70 accounts on Twitter that have promoted the hashtag #FauciFraud,” The Times explains, and some of those accounts have tweeted hundreds upon hundreds of times a day, and “conspiracy-theory videos about Dr. Fauci have racked up hundreds of thousands of views in the past week.”
University of Washington Professor Carl Bergstrom commented:
‘There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of Trump supporters to spread misinformation about the virus aggressively. There is this sense that experts are untrustworthy, and have agendas that aren’t aligned with the people. It’s very concerning because the experts in this are being discounted out of hand.’
There’s a grave danger in the dirt that’s been lobbed at Fauci. He has been assisting in the development of the administration’s policy in response to the virus, which has included him advocating for following the science on questions like whether or not the economy should be re-opened. If businesses that have been shuttered are re-opened and people are allowed to more freely intermingle, the virus could spread unchecked, and more than 2,200 Americans have already lost their lives with social distancing measures in place.
As Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, put it:
‘What this case will show is that conspiracy theories can kill.’