Disinformation and Blame: How America’s Far Right is Capitalizing on Coronavirus
By Jason Wilson - The Guardian
The far right in America has received the coronavirus pandemic in much the same manner as any other event: with disinformation, conspiracies and scapegoating. Many seem to see it as a significant opportunity, whether it is for financial gain, recruiting new followers, or both.
The delayed and much criticized response to coronavirus by the Trump administration has helped them, leaving many Americans confused, bereft of information and looking for answers. A situation in which people are panic-buying supplies is ideal for a movement powered by fear and lies.
Apocalyptic narratives – whether of societal collapse, biblical rapture, or race war – are the central way that a spectrum of far-right movements draw in followers and resources. These narratives use fear to draw followers closer, allowing leaders to direct their followers’ actions, and maybe fleece them blind.
For the survivalist elements of the far right, the coronavirus provides an opportunity to say that they told us so, win hearts and minds and make money. If they’re lucky, they might even get a hearing by the mainstream media.
The conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones, for example, who has been warning of imminent cataclysms for more than 20 years, has used the outbreak to step up his aggressive pitching for bulk food products and other survival goods sold on his website.
Others have been assisted by mainstream media outlets in making the case that they are reasonable people who have been making reasonable preparations all along.
James Wesley Rawles, the reclusive founder of the separatist and survivalist American Redoubt movement, was interviewed by Dow Jones website, MarketWatch, about his approach to prepping.
They asked him about food storage and the pandemic. They did not ask Rawles about his position as the ideological godfather of a movement which promotes “political migration” by rightwing Christians to the interior of the Pacific north-west.
Farther out on the neo-Nazi right, in the Telegram channels where “accelerationists” – who seek to hasten the end of liberal democracy in order to build a white ethnostate – overlap with “ecofascists” – who propose genocidal solutions to ecological problems – groups are openly talking about how to use the crisis to recruit people to terroristic white supremacy.
One group posted a text that suggested “narratives that should be pushed”, including that “our current system is inadequate for modern issues”, and “everything that is bad that is happening is the fault of the system and its failings, not pandemics or markets.”
They also suggest forming “civil support groups” to fill the gaps left by the state, but only for recruitment purposes. They have no interest in restoring calm. “The more things destabilize the easier they are to continue to keep in flux”, the post continues, “now is the time to push when things are already teetering on the edge”.
The other way in which various far-right groups and believers hope to gain ground is by proposing conspiracy theories about the causes and origins of the virus, and to use these narratives to scapegoat groups like immigrants, or minorities or liberals.
However, some are still following the lead set by Donald Trump in the earlier part of the crisis, and remain in denial. On Telegram, the has-been alt-right internet personality Milo Yiannopoulos asked his followers in a poll which was the “biggest hoax of our lifetime: Acid Rain, Climate Change, Satanic Ritual Abuse, Coronavirus”.
Others have more elaborate theories with which to focus their followers’ rage.
Along with his cash-in supplies, Jones has managed to slot coronavirus into his overarching conspiracy theories. Jones – an unwavering Trump supporter – has a neat solution to the problem of taking advantage of the commercial opportunities presented by virus without criticizing Trump’s lackadaisical response. He claims that Covid-19 is a human-made bioweapon, produced by the Chinese government to bring Trump down.
A similar conspiracy theory has made its way into the brains of more mainstream figures. This posits the idea that software mogul Bill Gates and financier and philanthropist George Soros were involved in concocting the virus with the Chinese Communist party.
In a now-deleted tweet on 27 February, the Republican California congressional candidate Joanne Wright wrote: “The Corona virus is a manmade virus created in a Wuhan laboratory. Ask @BillGates who financed it.” In another disappeared tweet, she added: “Doesn’t @BillGates finance research at the Wuhan lab where the Corona virus was being created? Isn’t @georgesoros a good friend of Gates?”
As Trump has gradually moved towards an acknowledgment that the virus exists, he has also been leading the charge in scapegoating immigrants and foreigners for spreading the illness. He has repeatedly tweeted throughout early March that the US epidemic would be worse were it not for his administration’s border policies, and called it a “foreign virus”.
Trump sought to apportion blame, then, in a way that furthered his political agenda and has been amplified by his right-wing allies. In that spirit, the Liberty University president and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr – a high-profile backer of Trump – last week aired the theory that coronavirus was a North Korean bio-weapon.