Jan 25: House prosecutors in the impeachment trial of President Trump rest their case, while Trump’s defense prepares to have their turn. 40 people are reported dead in Wuhan. A woman in Chicago is diagnosed with the new coronavirus. Dr. Rick Bright, Director of Health and Human Service’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority files a complaint after he is reprimanded for warning others in the administration that there is a desperate need for surgical masks.
Jan 26: Senior Chinese health officials report that the coronavirus is infectious before symptoms show. Dr. Fauci says we should not worry but should take it very seriously.
Jan 27: Rumors about the new coronavirus abound. The Presiden’t Coronavirus Task Force begins daily meetings (go here for the CT Task Force archive). Representatives from the CDC, NSA, NIH, DHS, DOT, State Department are there. The FDA is noticeably absent. Basketball great, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven other people die in a helicopter crash. CDC confirms fifth coronavirus case in the U.S. Three Iranian missiles his U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.*
Everyone remembers when Hillary Clinton adopted that alien baby. There was the time that the FBI captured a rat boy. Then we found out that an alien autopsy happened in Area 51. And who can forget the day when we learned that Dick Cheney, the Vice President and project manager for the Death Star from 2001-2009, turned out to be an actual robot orchestrating 9/11?
I think it is fair to say that we are experiencing a renaissance of hoaxes and conspiracies. They all seem to revolve around this virus recently. For the most part, the hoaxes falling into two categories. The first kind carries the idea that the government/multi-national corporations or celebrities like Bill Gates have planned the virus in order to justify taking away our rights or even possibly kill us. The second kind does the usual reinforcing of racist, classist, and gendered stereotypes that confirm and legitimize discriminatory practices against other people. Most do both. The first category includes the story that someone took out a patent on the coronavirus in 2015 (thereby implying that the virus was designed as a weapon by humans). There is the rumor that FEMA is preparing to declare Marshall Law and the screed that Bill Gates created the virus as a weapon for population control. All of these hoaxes require that you be willing to believe that there are larger forces in the world working to orchestrate your downfall or take away your rights. Under the latter category falls the story that 2.8 million people are actually infected in China and 112,000 are dead. These are unlikely numbers, and yet, when attached to images of rioting people on the streets of Beijing, they reify an image of a barbaric place and people, so separate from the steady, white, rationalism of the United States.
The contents of these hoaxes are new, but the core messages are not. In the Second World War, governments on both sides of the fight constructed massive departments just for the management and delivery of misinformation. Propaganda was a vital part of the Cold War battle as all sides looked for ways to gain advantage over an adversary that they would never be able to fight on the battlefield. Hoaxes have always taken advantage of the latest technology, with the Catholic and Protestant churches first making use of the printing press in their sixteenth century fight for the hearts and minds of Europe. Since then, whether it was Pulitzer and Hearst using sensational headlines to grow readership, Vladimir Lenin using the cinema to sell Bolshevism, or Tokyo Rose convincing American GI’s to surrender to the Japanese, misinformation has played a significant role in shaping how people who own the means of information production weaponize language and images and then use them to wield power.
The reasons for why people believe misinformation also have not changed. Last December, psychologists at the University of Adelaide ran studies to figure out what kinds of people buy-in to conspiracies and hoaxes. They concluded that conspiracy belief was tied to people who had “elevated psychopathology scores, lower education, and who relied less on analytical thinking.” Historians and theorists of propaganda have come up with other answers, disregarding the notion of group psychopathology and instead noting the power that misinformation can have in seducing people who might otherwise seem perfectly rational. First, people have good reason to be skeptical of those in power. There is often some nugget of truth to conspiracy theories. We have been lied to before, and there have been some crazy conspiracies that turned out to be true. There was the conspiracy theory that the U.S. Government was stealing dead bodies to do radiation testing in the 1950’s. That turned out to be true. Or what about the theory that the Dalai Lama was a CIA agent? Yes, he was on their payroll. Not only that, but people believe conspiracies and hoaxes because they confirm biases and build identity. They offer a shared enemy by which all “good people” are threatened. Often, these hoaxes uphold the idea that our “freedom” (which is equated with free enterprise) is under attack, allowing believers to see themselves as being injured by a world that preys upon them. This shared sense of “being injured in the struggle for freedom” builds a powerful group identity. And of course, once you are injured, you are justified in defending yourself.
What has changed is the level of saturation and spread of that misinformation. The conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was patented in 2015 has been reposted on Twitter at least 15,000 times (this number is from sites I could find and certainly is not a complete number). It was made into one Youtube video that has had over 2.6 million views, and there are many such videos. You would be hard pressed to find a news-aware American who hasn’t at least encountered this idea that the virus is a secret weapon that was made years ago by powerful people in the deep state.
In the past, whole populations could only be reached through radio, television, and film—all of which were funded by big corporations or governments and were subject to a certain amount of oversight. Now, “the truth” has become a commodity whose manufacture is determined by the market. Any person can post an idea or a video to the internet, and, regardless of its actual veracity, if it resonates with enough of the population, it will go viral (absolutely no pun intended). It will reach millions, confirming their sense of collective injury, and becoming a critical part of how they understand the world. The rise of market-driven “truths” has had massive, unexpected effects on mainstream media. To a large extent, the market now drives the news that broadcasters tell. Eventually, stations like Fox news and even the President repeat and legitimate these hoaxes until eventually, no one can tell what is true or false.
If there is a lesson in all of this it is that you should always check your sources, wait for corroborating evidence, and if a story confirms every bias that you have, there might be something wrong with it. They teach classes in high schools now on how to tell “fake news” from the real thing. But even “fake news” (a favorite phrase of President Trump) doesn’t actually mean fake news anymore; it simply means the-news-that-Trump-doesn’t-like.
I’m betting that eventually there will be a conspiracy theory that the whole coronavirus is a hoax constructed by liberals (probably Jewish liberals) to falsely discredit Trump and keep people home or under surveillance or away from the ballot box. A hoax built on the idea of a hoax. How meta.
 Neophytos Georgiou, Paul Delfabbro, and Ryan Balzan, “Conspiracy Beliefs in the General Population: The Importance of Psychopathology, Cognitive Style and Educational Attainment,” Personality and Individual Differences 151 (December 1, 2019): 109521, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.109521.
 Margaret Peacock, Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War, New Cold War History (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
 Wendy Brown, States of Injury (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1995).
Mikki Willis, “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind Covid-19,” January 2020.
Seeming evidence of mass death in China (in Chinese). Taken from Hal Turner’s Radio Show, January 23, 2020. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TQnMM-YNJw8&fbclid=IwAR0OAfSR5U1L–uxoeZK_Yc06WnYxjpFoFjsPhxRlZI8waViS_e8Qn18wbk
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WHO is working with networks of specialists to analyze 2019-nCoV full genome sequences as they become available. We have not received evidence that the virus has changed. We await further information from 🇨🇳 officials. Situation report 26 Jan https://t.co/DAIdpqarKO#coronavirus pic.twitter.com/wHvEBpdlrO— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 26, 2020
BREAKING: Experts from China’s CDC in Guangdong now published a Jan 25th report that new #coronavirus has “higher pandemic risk than SARS”!!! They based it on R0 analysis from new data vs SARS. This is quite alarming if true. https://t.co/CmZxJMxP9a pic.twitter.com/ap31Db90oe— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) January 26, 2020
Dear Kobe, thank you pic.twitter.com/tq7WQ2QlQ5— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 26, 2020
U.S. stock index futures slide as virus spread saps risk demand https://t.co/bcxd8JjU50— Bloomberg (@business) January 26, 2020
Brooo literally this January has been terrible first WW3 almost starts, then that earthquake in turkey and Puerto Rico, corona virus expanding as we speak and Kobe and his daughter perishing in hell crash wtf is going on….— juan 😎 (@juan132_flores) January 26, 2020
China coronavirus: Wuhan residents describe ‘doomsday’ scenes as patients overwhelm hospitals | South China Morning Post https://t.co/A8dvCyeUJ2— shawn julie (@shawnjulie) January 26, 2020
Since the MSM is bashing people for discovering that Bill Gates predicted the Corona Virus and trying to pin it on Q people, seems like a good idea to share ithttps://t.co/JcVAPUgBs9— Watcher of the Dead (@WatcherDead) January 25, 2020
Wouldn't be the first epidemic Bill Gates 'predicted'
Panic? Why? @BillGates has the vaccine. He funded the company with the patent for this #virus. #china #WHO #Wuhan #wuhanquarantine #coronoavirus #coronarovirus #coronovirus pic.twitter.com/cqXJM48MPQ— antislave.com 🇺🇸 (@antislave1) January 25, 2020
* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020), the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (https://www.justsecurity.org/69650/timeline-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-and-u-s-response/), the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (theweek.com), as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.