It's a mad, mad scientist
Monkeypox, Coronavirus, and the new biowarfare metatheory
Sometimes an overturned truck full of monkeys is just an overturned truck full of monkeys.
Welcome to the first real edition of Bug-eyed and Shameless, a newsletter about disinformation, conspiracy theories, and the impacts of our ongoing information war. More fun than an overturned truck full of monkeys.
Over the past two years, the notion that the COVID-19 virus not only leaked from a Chinese bioresearch facility in Wuhan, but that it was designed by some mad scientists, has had a real popularity rollercoaster.
The coronavirus-as-bioweapon conspiracy theory initially cropped up in early 2020 amongst the usual fake news suspects, before getting a boost from the Trump White House. Not wanting to be left out, Moscow and Beijing started throwing their own theories into the ring — maybe, they said, it was an American bioweapon!
The melee was stuffed with bad actors saying dumb things, but they found unlikely dance parters with a subset of scientists who have, for years, earnestly feared that cutting-edge virology married with the proliferation of BSL-4 (biosafety level 4) labs was a recipe for disaster.
This unholy alliance clamored into the Mystery Machine and went hunting for possible culprits. They pointed their fingers squarely at a small team of American and Chinese researchers and NGOs, who had spent years hunting for, and experimenting on, bat coronaviruses. It’s simply too much of a coincidence, they concluded, that a novel coronavirus emerged just a few dozen kilometers away from a lab that was doing this risky work on novel coronaviruses. Even if it wasn’t designed, per se, perhaps it was altered in the name of science. Or it was a natural sample that snuck out on someone’s shoe.
Certainly, there were good questions being asked. There were also plenty of bad ones. Two years since it was first raised, the body of evidence continues to show that COVID-19 jumped from bats, to one or more animal hosts, and finally into humans. There was almost certainly no manipulation, or gene splicing, or gain-of-function research that gave us a global pandemic. Barring new evidence, a lab leak remains significantly less likely than natural origin.
Good investigative work has proven that the likely intermediary hosts were present at the wet market in Wuhan just prior to the initial outbreak, and that — despite some early skepticism — the wet market likely was the epicenter of the pandemic. The majority of the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that COVID-19 was not genetically engineered, with a plurality of those intelligence agencies assessing that the virus came from nature.
There are still efforts to tip that balance. The Intercept has been running frequent stories on gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab — which, they wrote in September 2021 "posed biosafety risks but did not cause Covid-19 pandemic," but are now insisting that the lab leak/gain-of-function explanation is “looking stronger by the day.” Their reporting is, at least, grounded in journalism. Efforts in Congress to paint Anthony Fauci as a mad scientist, hell-bent on creating society-destroying viruses has continued in a most unhinged manner.
Why are we so desperate to believe that COVID-19 emerged from a lab? And that, what’s more, America had to be responsible?
It comes down to the simple belief that America must be responsible for all the world’s ills.
It’s a fairly sympathetic position. After all, the United States had an awful habit of being behind plenty of bad things around the world, and using chemical and biological weapons to do it: Spreading smallpox to Indigenous peoples; leveraging a false pretense to invade Vietnam and dispatching horrific chemical agents; fabricating a biological threat to invade Iraq. Even a biological attack on America, the Amerithrax attacks of 2001, ended up being a disgruntled U.S. government employee.
But there is a particular kind of delusion of grandeur to thinking that every virus must trace its roots to the U.S. security establishment. It requires, at best, the belief that the United States is omnipresent and inept, operating through shell NGOs the world-over; or, at worst, that it is an actively malign force that is hell-bent on creating dangerous pathogens for nefarious ends.
Look no further than the depressingly-popular biolabs conspiracy theory, which has convinced millions — including Congress’ resident conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Marjorie Taylor Greene — that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is all about destroying U.S-run bioweapons labs.
The only way that theory makes sense is if you believe that the Wuhan lab was an extension of American power, and that Washington has a vested interest in releasing new pathogens on the regular to keep us under its tyrannical thumb.
Which brings us to our current hell: Monkeypox.
As soon as cases of the virus began popping up, I knew it would be short order before the idea emerged that monkeypox was round two of The Deep State™’’s evil plan to enslave us all to masks, vaccines, and PCR testing.
Indeed, my fellow Substacker and minor QAnon influencer Jacob Creech (codename Clandestine) connected the dots. “I’m not exactly sure what’s going on,” he wrote (no kidding.) “But I immediately questioned if the US buying insane amounts of monkeypox vaccines has anything to with the CDC lab monkeys escaping from the transport van in Pennsylvania back in February.”
Indeed, the U.S. bought smallpox vaccines after the first cases of a smallpox-related virus appeared. As you might expect a government to do after an infectious disease outbreak.
But the real evidence was the overturned truck of monkeys from Mauritius. That led to all manner of questions “Who is sending infectious lab monkeys to the CDC from tiny islands in Africa? And why are all parties involved so desperate to keep it a secret? Is this how the black site biological network traffics pathogens back to America? Using animals as vessels to hide biological weapon trafficking? The most damning evidence in Ukraine was found at veterinary clinics”
We can take those questions in turn: We import monkeys from Mauritius because they are an invasive species, introduced by humans, that are actively destroying the country’s delicate and critical ecosystems, which make them a great candidate for export. We keep biological research a secret precisely to avoid lab leaks and bioterrorism. I’m not sure about black sites, but Mauritius is about 3,300km (2000 miles) away from the closest monkeypox-endemic area, and is an island. Monkeypox is endemic in Western and central Africa, and there have been several outbreaks in North America and Europe in recent decades. The most notorious operator who uses animals as vessels for biological weapons is, of course, nature itself. Animals host and pass on infectious diseases. That’s literally where they, more often than not, come from. It’s right there in the name: Monkeypox.
Of course answering these questions is an exercise in futility.
In QAnon circles, there are anons and there are bakers. The anons go out into the world and scour it for little bits of evidence that don’t feel quite right. Little bits of data that give them a sense of unease: Breadcrumbs. The bakers take all of those pieces of data and “bake” them into something that can explain the world. A loaf. (This is, of course, not how baking works.)
COVID-19 doesn’t feel quite right. Governments telling you to stay indoors is unnerving. Experimenting on viruses doesn’t sit quite right. Truckfulls of monkeys? There’s no such thing as coincidences.
This is just getting started. The National Pulse, a conspiracy hub started by a former advisor to Nigel Farage, reported breathlessly that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had sequenced the monkeypox gene to allow for PCR testing. Aha! A breadcrumb. Kiwi husband-and-wife disinformation doctors Sam and Mark Bailey pointed to a 2021 tabletop exercise challenging policymakers to game out how to respond to a hypothetical smallpox outbreak. Aha again! Another breadcrumb. The Centre for Research on Globalization, notorious for its breathless warning of weather manipulation and its love for Russian propaganda, pointed to a quote from Bill Gates talking about the threat of smallpox. We’ve got you now!
Bake it into a loaf, like French singer Francis Lalanne did when he tweeted “A link with U.S. biolabs disseminated in all these countries?” Look closely, he wrote, and you’ll see “this virus appears in all the Western countries controlled by globalists.”
Does any of that make sense? No. Does it matter? No.
The pump is primed. For those invested in these conspiracy theories, any bad biology news has America’s fingerprints all over it. Anyone positing any theory where the U.S. is the nefarious actor must be believed. Any denial by Washington is proof that it’s all true. Salvation lies in following the breadcrumbs.
The Atlantic has a good primer on Monkeypox that will probably help sooth your frayed nerves.
The New York Times continues amassing evidence of possible Russian war crimes in Bucha, a real blow to Moscow’s propaganda efforts to discredit the mounting body of evidence.
The ethical leakers over at DDoSecrets say they’ve found some incongruous things in the leaked Hunter Biden laptop.
Last week I reported for WIRED on the French satellite company that continues beaming Russian propaganda channels into TV sets across Russia and abroad.
I also wrote for The Guardian about 4chan’s corrupting influence, and its critical role in promoting and crafting the Great Replacement myth. I’ll have some very interesting new reporting to come on that front in the coming days.
This is the first issue of Bug-eyed and Shameless. If you’ve got thoughts, comments, or typos to report, feel free to reply to this email or leave a comment.
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Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey