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The Not-So-Great Reset
How the World Economic Forum became the new target of a paranoid right.
The World Economic Forum met in Davos, Switzerland this May — their first time in-person since the pandemic began. For the world leaders, bankers, technocrats, influencers, and hangers-on who make up the Forum’s attendees, it was a welcome return to normal. Their chance to slap their fellow plutocrats’ backs and discuss how to make a fairer, more just, more profitable world.
They may have grown used to a quiet Davos: Just them, the townsfolk, some sheep, and maybe the odd anti-capitalist flag-bearer picketing the gates.
This year, however, they had some new company.
Sunglasses on, standing on a neat street in the Swiss mountain town, Jack Posobiec and Noor Bin Laden joined ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon live on his show to explain why they had joined the elites in Davos.
“These plans that we're seeing come to its final stages, right here in 2022, were set up long before we were born,” Bin Laden said. “You had a whole gang — or the cabal of the early 20th century — that were already working hard towards installing this new world order, this world government whereby nations will lose their sovereignty in favor of a strong national supranational infrastructure.” (The name isn’t a coincidence: She’s Osama Bin Laden’s niece.)
Posobiec agreed, insisting that the Forum, and its founder Klaus Schwab, are out to destroy society as we know it. “They want you to be living in a pod, eating your bugs, eating your nutrient paste, ordering your goods from Amazon or a gig worker,” he said. “You don't have real jobs anymore. You don't have real relationships.”
Posobiec and a raft of others would allege that the Forum had built a private military force, and that it was playing host to Bill Gates’ victory lap after releasing an engineered strain of monkeypox. There was no plan too devious, no death toll too high, for this band of egomaniacal villains.
For years, critics have painted the Forum as a symbol of greed and corporate whitewashing. But for an emerging conspiracy movement, the World Economic Forum sits at the epicenter of an increasingly complex and deranged plan to destroy capitalism, obliterate democracy, reduce the world’s population, and turn us into slaves.
While this deranged worldview has been percolating for decades, this particular iteration caught on during the pandemic with the particular help of a country doctor from upstate New York.
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In March 2020 Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a Ukrainian-born American physician, began publishing a series of social media updates extolling the wonders of a cocktail that, he claimed, cured COVID-19. In it was zinc, antibacterial azithromycin, and hydroxychloroquine.
Zelenko had no clinical trials or evidence to back up his treatment — indeed, zinc supplements are only particularly helpful for those with deficiencies; while the other two drugs are used to treat radically different things than coronaviruses. But he insisted that the cocktail was working wonders for his patients in the predominately Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel, New York.
His claims of a miracle cure found an audience of wishful thinkers, especially inside the Trump White House. In those early days of the pandemic, any proposed cure found a constituency — understandably so. But further testing showed conclusively hydroxychloroquine is simply not an effective treatment for COVID-19. (Some limited data early on suggested it may have a marginal effect, but further study essentially discounted that data as noise.)
But data showing hydroxychloroquine’s inefficacy was turned into proof of a cover-up. In a time of universal distrust of the medical establishment, Zelenko naturally became a cult figure: This humble country doctor had found a cure but They couldn’t stand an outsider cutting into their profits, so they buried it.
When actually effective measures arrived in the form of vaccines, Zelenko was quick to reject them. He claimed in April 2021 that “Covid-19 vaccines are experimental gene therapy. Viral genetic material is being injected into human beings for the first time ever.” (That weird claim kicked off all kinds of bizarre theories about gene editing.) A month later: “81% of pregnant women who got vaccinated before the 3rd trimester had spontaneous abortions.” (That study, in fact, showed no increase in serious complications for pregnant women who had received the vaccine as opposed to those who didn’t.)
In September 2021, Zelenko released a 52-page document he called “The Vaccine Death Report: Evidence of millions of deaths and serious adverse events resulting from the experimental COVID-19 injections.” The report was co-authored by David Sorensen, a European-based communications specialist who founded StopWorldControl.com, where the paper was first published. Sorensen’s site promotes the idea that ritual sacrifice of children by global elites is the norm.
The report was a culmination of more than a year of Zelenko’s increasingly-bizarre conclusions about the pandemic and Sorensen’s fantastical QAnon-style yarns — which often turn on the idea of a secret satanist deep state which relies on child sacrifice. It strings together a raft of lies about the safety and efficacy of vaccines — from the long-debunked idea that they cause autism, to the perplexing claim that a “creature with tentacles” was discovered inside the vaccines. (“This creature moves around, lifts itself up, and even seems to be self aware,” it claims.)
Zelenko’s claim that millions have died from the vaccines is, of course, counterfactual to a wild degree. It will take some time to sift through all the worldwide adverse reaction reports but, from where we stand right now, no one has died because of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The New York doctor points his finger at one culprit in particular: Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. “There is graphene oxide in the vaccines, which is the perfect conductor for 5G, and also the best substance for brain manipulation…Klaus Schwab adds that humanity will be lifted into one and the same consciousness. This reveals an agenda of total mind control.”
Zelenko’s conspiracy-making has long tentacles. (Like the ones found in the vaccine? -ed) Ron Watkins, who likely had a hand in creating QAnon’s eponymous Q, said he had been consulting with Zelenko on his (miserably failed) congressional campaign. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn has cribbed Zelenko’s reports in suggesting even more outlandish theories. Former Trump advisor Paul Alexander, who was fired for a wildly controversial herd immunity plan that would have actually killed millions, echoed Zelenko and alleged “a plan by Big Pharma to execute doctors who are challenging the web of lies that have been told after the safety of the bioweapon vaccine and boosters.” (Alexander became a central figure at the occupation of Ottawa earlier this year, and continues to advice the so-called “freedom movement,” even testifying in Canada’s Parliament this summer.)
When he appeared on Ask Dr. Drew, hosted by former HLN host and Masked Singer contestant Drew Pinsky, Zelenko insisted that COVID-19 lockdowns were planned by the World Economic Forum to enable the conditions for a “digital yuan.”
The echo chamber where these conspiracy theories thrive, and where Zelenko is a celebrity, are multiplying. The volume of livestreams and newsletters where these views are broadcast, shared, and remixed is rising. They’re all the more potent when they come from celebrities like actor Russell Brand, whose videos regurgitating the World Economic Forum conspiracy theories have racked up millions of views.
Zelenko, however, less prevalent in these spaces in recent months. On June 30, the Zelenko Freedom Foundation announced the death of their founder from lung cancer.
It’s hard to escape the fact that the World Economic Forum has had a hand in its own vilification.
Schwab had always harbored a Bond villain-esque ambition. He wrote in a 1978 edition of The Economist, when his organization was still called the European Management Forum, that his annual summit had already grown beyond its origin as a cocktail and reception summit into an organization that offers a suite of services to help capitalists "understand the forces which are shaping their business environment." Before long it became a shadow United Nations, as well.
Davos became a neutral ground where rival nations could meet in relative privacy — East and West Germany, Israel and Palestine, Greece and Turkey, North and South Korea, and so on. In 1999 he brashly told Newseweek that the Forum had become “the third leg of our global community,” a “true partnership of business, political, intellectual and other leaders of civil society.”
Globalism, however, proved less popular than Schwab might have imagined. The leftist alter-globalization movement saw organizations like the Forum as defenders of the capitalist status quo. They even organized a rival organization, the World Social Forum, to tackle “real problems and radical solutions.” The right-wing, meanwhile, began to view multinational fora as a dangerous surrendering of sovereignty. In other words: Progressives saw the Forum as an international conspiracy against socialism, nationalists saw it as an international conspiracy for socialism.
Schwab, undeterred, saw his organization as the solution to those problems. “We are operating in a world which has become much more fragmented, much more egoistic, much more populist, much more nationalist,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. The United Nations, he said, is “governed by bodies who represent national interests…Whereas at the World Economic Forum, we have the luxury to say our framework, our guiding principle, should be what is best for the world.”
Schwab’s unabashed love of globalism and futurism, managed by the elites, certainly helped foster the belief that there was something nefarious going on in Davos. In 2016, the Forum ran an advertising containing the line “you will own nothing and be happy.” In 2017 Schwab remarked in an interview how the Forum’s list of “young global leaders” has given the Forum an international zeal. “We have penetrated cabinets,” he boasted.
Plucked out of context, these quotes make for proof of the Forum’s evil intent. A bit of research, however, reveals that the Forum wasn’t proposing mass collectivization — but instead had hypothesized a world where cities had become so urbanized that rentals and public transit were the norm. (The thought experiment, in fact, cautioned against a loss of privacy.) Schwab’s young leaders’ program, meanwhile, has included a raft of figures that are hardly globalists, including pro-Trump Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw and billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel. (Thiel now funds candidates who rage against the World Economic Forum.)
Perhaps the most ominous of Schwab’s slogans is “The Great Reset.” Conspiracy theorists have glommed on to those three words as the conceptual embodiment of this globalist threat.
Thomas Quiggin, a conspiracy theorist and organizer of the so-called “freedom convoy,” wrote a trilogy of spy novels that, he says, turn on the very real threat posed by Schwab. “The Great Reset is a rebranding effort for the globalist agenda where ‘elites’ determine all outcomes,” he writes in the book description. The Reset, he writes, means “the elites” taking “total control of you and everything you do.”
“Consistent with previous resets such as the French Revolution in 1789 or the Russian Revolution in 1917, the elites have no concerns about the thousands or millions who will die in the process,” Quiggin concludes.
It’s a fabulous tale, without a doubt.
But ‘The Great Reset’ is a term coined to describe the exact opposite of what people like Quiggin fear. The origin of the term actually traces back to a 2010 book by economist Richard Florida. “Economic crises inevitably give rise to critical periods in which an economy is re-made in ways that allow it to recover and begin to grow again,” he wrote. “These are periods I call Great Resets.”
Far from bloody reigns of terror or oppressive state capitalism, Florida pointed to the rise of mass consumerism after the Great Depression as a prime example.
Schwab penned his own book about “great resets”, but hardly advanced the kind of global totalitarian plans that he’s accused of promoting. Schwab, in fact, chides the World Health Organization and United Nations as being deeply dysfunctional throughout the pandemic. Far from advocating some powerful new global system, Schwab falls back on a vague call to “fix” those global institutions and expand “sustained international cooperation.”
While Schwab is often accused of promoting a Chinese-style global surveillance network, his book actually warns of exactly that outcome — albeit without any real suggestions for actual solutions to the growing digital surveillance regime being built by both companies and governments. “The genie of tech surveillance will not be put back into the bottle,” he writes. “But it is for those who govern and each of us personally to control and harness the benefits of technology without sacrificing our individual and collective values and freedoms.”
The Forum also offers an almost pathological drive to explore all sides of an issue, from the importance of contact tracing apps on your phone to how to improve privacy protections; a think tank that toys with socialist tropes but remains committedly capitalist. It’s an organization that promotes liberal democracy but makes ample space for autocrats like Xi Jinping.
Schwab’s pontificating is often vague, high-handed, and even insufferably smug and self-satisfied. His writing rarely offers any useful insight into how to manage the world’s problems. He is the epitome of summitbrain: The idea that if you get enough power players in a room, they’ll come up with all the solutions.
It is, without a doubt, something we could use a lot less of. Painting this organization as a marionettist’s workshop wildly overstates just how powerful Schwab is. And the bald-headed German would agree.
"I always insist the Forum is not a decision-making body,” Schwab told the Financial Times in 2008. “The WEF is a body that enlightens people, that helps them to make better informed decisions. The rest is up to them."
The World Economic Forum is merely a new entrant in the class of purported puppetmasters.
For a long time, the core of the idea was anti-semitism. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery designed to whip up anti-semitic fervour to influence Tsar Nicholas II, claimed in 1903 that a Jewish “international supergovernment” really controlled the world.
“Our goal — global power,” the Protocols read. “We control the press,” it boasts elsewhere. “We name presidents.” The Protocols would go on to inspire anti-Semitic movements and atrocities the world over for the next century, from Adolf Hitler to the Buffalo spree killer.
The John Birch Society, the far-right political association that saw communists behind every facet of American life through the 1960s and 1970s, became an American vehicle for “fulminations against various international organizations and powerful families, finally even returning to the mother of them all—the Illuminati,” writes Benjamin McArthur in "They're out to Get Us": Another Look at Our Paranoid Tradition. The Birchers, as they were called, adapted the Protocols’ paranoid worldview for a modern era. The Illuminati became a helpful stand-in for ‘the Jews.’ As McArthur puts it: “Like Russian nesting dolls, old conspiracy theories fit neatly into new ones."
Mass media and the advent of the internet helped those theories flourish in the 1990s. Televangelist Pat Robertson wrote a book entitled New World Order, fixated on the idea that Jewish banking and the Illuminati were behind a plot to supplant Christianity. Radio host William Cooper waxed at enormous length about the corrupting influence of a litany of international organizations: The Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group in particular, which have many of the same hallmarks of the World Economic Forum. The Oklahoma City bombers were students of Cooper and believed they were striking a blow against international communist by carrying out America’s worst-ever domestic terror attack.
The past 20 years have seen those conspiracy theories morph and reconstitute into even-more potent new forms. A new generation of uber-online cranks, led by Cooper-disciple Alex Jones, spun a tale of how the terror attacks of 9/11 were merely a pretext for the next phase in this global takeover. The lies that paved the way for the 2003 invasion of Iraq only cemented the idea that Democrats and Republicans were members in the same Satanic club.
Viktor Orban, and eventually much of the world’s nationalist right, made a particular enemy out of George Soros. Donald Trump decried the Clinton-led deep state. QAnon warned of a pedophilic Satanist cabal whose members could include anyone and everyone. Anti-vaxxers convinced themselves that Bill Gates and the World Health Organization had molded COVID-19 to its nefarious ends.
But it was QAnon, as I’ve written extensively over at Foreign Policy, that finally strung together all of these disparate threads into a tapestry that explained life, the universe, and everything. Every new development, like COVID-19, could connect to something old, like the Rothchild family. Even newer organizations, like the World Economic Forum, could be situated in this ancient cabal described by the Protocols.
There’s no doubt that the internet has helped promulgate these conspiracy theories in all sorts of new ways. But the real fuel has been the pandemic. The pervasive belief that something isn’t quite right about this whole virus thing has wormed its way into the brains of many, and it’s not leaving.
Lawsuits filed against politicians and public health officials across North America lay out this grandiose theory in particulars. One names Schwab as part of “a massive and concentrated push for mandatory vaccines of every human on the planet earth” that would implant 5G-enabled chips under their skin for total surveillance. Another suit, filed in New Orleans: “Once President Biden fully embraces the Great Reset’s Fourth Revolution, the United States will be a satellite state of [WEF]’’s Communist Agenda.”
The conspiracy theory has gone far further than fringe groups.
In Canada, contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada have become obsessed with the Forum. One candidate, Leslyn Lewis, has written that “the most common questions I get is about the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Prime Minister’s post-national ambitions, and the threat of Digital I.D.” Pierre Poilievre, who will probably win the race, has promised to ban any of his future cabinet ministers from attending the Forum.
When a bill was introduced in the Senate, the unelected upper chamber of Canada’s Parliament, proposing a general framework for a universal basic income, it inspired a deluge of emails, phone calls, and letters decrying it as another facet of Schwab’s master plan. "This sounds like the Chinese social credit system, i.e. no jab, no welfare,” one email read. Another shared a video from Infowars proclaiming “the transhumanist war has began.”
"We are now experiencing the long awaited planning of the sociopathic elite,” one wrote. “As Klaus Schwab unleashes a world domination plan with the intent of changing the face of humanity forever."
While Canada was ahead of the curve, unhinged rhetoric is catching on elsewhere.
Blake Masters, running for senate in Arizona, told his followers to “not cede an inch of sovereignty to [the WHO, WEF, UN] or any other globalist orgs.” Congresswoman Lauren Boebert tweeted: “you don’t want to be a part of ANY FUTURE designed by the WEF — because globalism isn’t about YOU, it’s about THEM CONTROLLING YOU.” Marjorie Taylor Greene, naturally, endorsed the paranoia in conversation with Alex Jones, alleging inbetween Jones’ diatribes about population control that the Forum was intent on: “Destroying the dollar and having some global currency that everyone has to serve." One failed congressional candidate declared that any politician associated with the Forum is a “traitor to America.”
In the right — or wrong — hands, these conspiracy theories can be powerful weapons. Orban has strangled Hungarian democracy in his mythical fight against Soros. Vladimir Putin has leveraged conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s fabled bioweapons labs to justify his war of aggression. In 1942 posters went up around Germany warning of “The Masterminds,” picturing a number of Jewish intellectuals, warning they were “carriers of every Bolshevik infection that once threatened to destroy Europe.”
Turning the guns towards Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum is a prime way to ignore difficult problems here at home. It is a way to launder responsibility away from decisions we have made, pinning them on some nefarious European sitting in his castle. At its very worst, it paints all manner of politicians and public servants as treasonous, genocidal, and actively dangerous.
I can’t stress enough the degree to which the World Economic Forum has become the central unifying factor amidst the right-wing conspiracy movement. It has become an easy way to separate Us vs. Them. For many on the fringe right, an association with the Forum — Trump notwithstanding — is a scarlet letter, marking one as an enemy of the state.
That never ends well.
That’s it for Bug-eyed and Shameless this week.
If you’re looking for some more reading:
For Foreign Policy, I wrote on what a war crimes tribunal for Russia could look like.
Popular Mechanics has a great piece on the ragtag sleuths who cracked an encrypted message from the Zodiac Killer.
The United People of Canada, who I wrote about last week, have been told to vacate the church that they’ve declared as their ‘embassy.’ Apparently, they’re not leaving.
Ukraine’s recent strikes on Crimea could prove to be a turning point in the war. But it’s still an open question: Just how in the hell are they doing it?