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Video stitches false claims together to paint COVID-19 as a political hoax

July 9, 2020 GMT

A nine-minute video posted online by a QAnon promoter uses a variety of false and misleading claims to suggest the coronavirus pandemic is a political hoax. It has racked up millions of views on social media platforms.

The video, titled “Covid911-INSURGENCY,” was posted on YouTube on June 28, and has circulated widely on Facebook pages and Instagram accounts supporting the QAnon theory that there is a “deep state” plot against President Donald Trump. It was posted by someone identifying himself as “Joe M,” who is well known among QAnon supporters.

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“You’re being scammed by enemies of America who occupy powerful positions in government and the media. November 2020 is the way we, the people, can fight back. Know your enemy. Ditch the masks. Rise. #Covid911,” reads a summary of the video on Joe M’s YouTube account, where the video has logged more than 800,000 views.

The highly produced video combines several conspiracy theories to suggest the coronavirus pandemic is part of a plan by Democrats to regain control of the government in the 2020 election. QAnon supporters have encouraged one another to save and share the video to promote Trump’s re-election bid.

Here is a breakdown of several false claims made in the video:

CLAIM: “In 2015, as directed by the globalist criminal corruption network known as the deep state President Barack Obama authorized millions in funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the location now understood to be the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. The research carried out here was to provide the agent for a global biological attack on a scale never before seen, one that would be timed for release within an election year.”

THE FACTS: Conspiracy theorists have falsely speculated online that the virus was man-madeand was leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Top medical experts have refuted the theory and a study published in one the world’s top journals, Nature, found that SARS-CoV-2 _ the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 _ was not created in a laboratory or intentionally manipulated. Posts online have tried to link former President Barack Obama to the lab in order to place blame on him for the outbreak. During his presidency, the National Institutes of Health in 2014 awarded the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based environmental health nonprofit, a grant of $3.25 million for five years to find and study bats in southern China for unknowncoronaviruses. The Wuhan Institute of Virology received about $600,000 from the grant, said Robert Kessler, communications manager for EcoHealth Alliance. A renewal grant of $3.7 million was approved in 2019 for EcoHealth Alliance, which works to prevent emerging diseases. Funding for the program was terminated in April by the Trump administration following conspiracy theories around the origins of the virus. The Wuhan institute was set to receive about $76,000 per year over the course of the grant.

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CLAIM: “The next major advantage of the pandemic for the deep state was the case made to the public for mail-in voting, a highly insecure practice, proven to be rampant with fraud.”

THE FACTS: This unsupported theory has been promoted by the president himself although he cast an absentee ballot by mail in the Florida Republican primary in March. In a May tweet, President Donald Trump said that the U.S. cannot have mail-in ballots because it would be the “greatest rigged election in history.”

While studies have found there is a slightly higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud when compared to voting in person, the overall risk of fraud with vote by mail is very low, an Associated Press fact check found. In a 2017 study, the Brennan Center for Justice found that the risk of voting fraud is 0.00004% to 0.0009%.

“Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a ‘tremendous’ potential for fraud,” wrote Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, in a May 20 Washington Post op-ed piece. “While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.”

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CLAIM:With a rampantly rising death toll needed to make the case to the public for even harsher control, normal influenza deaths for the year were recorded as COVID-19, artificially inflating the numbers.”

THE FACTS: The video inaccurately uses provisional death counts for COVID-19, pneumonia orinfluenza provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between February 1 and April 11 to suggest that coronavirus deaths are being inflated. The CDC has said that tracking all-causes of deaths can “provide information about whether an excess number of deaths is observed, even when COVID-19 mortality may be undercounted.” The CDC estimates that total deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. as of July 9 are 132,056. However, flu rates would not have inflated COVID-19 deaths because flu rates went down in March and April and prescriptions for Tamiflu tanked at the same time, said Dr. Jeremy Faust, who authored a study on the “assessment of deaths from COVID-19 and from seasonal influenza.” The study found that the coronavirus caused more than 20 times more deaths a week compared to the worst week for influenza.

“So the spike in flu-like illnesses in March and April happened at the same time that positive flu tests plummeted and, as one might predict, so did Tamiflu prescriptions,” Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said in response to the claim. “So the spike in flu-like illnesses was not flu. It was covid.”

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CLAIM: George Floyd’s murder, a “strange and coincidental series of events,” was intended “to inflame civil unrest along racial lines along an emotional platform of social justice.”

THE FACTS: In the days since George Floyd’s videotaped killing by police in late May, conspiracy theories have swirled around his death. Social media users claimed certain details around the case indicated the murder was planned to cause chaos and stir up racial tension. There is no evidence for these claims.

For example, some social media users suggested that Floyd’s death was not the result of police brutality but a targeted attack between men who knew each other. These rumors emerged after it was discovered that Floyd had worked security at the same nightclub as Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes. But there is no evidence to support them.

Chauvin faces murder charges for Floyd’s death and had a history of more than a dozen misconduct complaints against him at the police department, the AP has reported.

The theories gained steam when one former employee at the nightclub, David Pinney, told CBS News that Chauvin and Floyd had “bumped heads” at the nightclub and knew each other “pretty well.” But Pinney later told the network he had mistaken Floyd for another Black employee. While Chauvin and Floyd both worked shifts at the nightclub, the nightclub’s owner told the AP she wasn’t sure whether they knew each other.

Other social media users have claimed Floyd, Chauvin and the other police officers and medics involved were “crisis actors” who staged the death to fan the flames of racial conflict in the United States. This is false. Official records, including autopsies of Floyd, confirm his death. The officers involved were employed by the Minneapolis Police Department, as confirmed in their personnel records released online. Conspiracy theories that Floyd attended his own funeral have also been debunked, after social media posts falsely claimed a picture of former NBA player Stephen Jackson at the funeral was a picture of Floyd.

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CLAIM: Video shows clips of George Soros as a narrator says,“Black Lives Matter was funded and designed by the corrupt Democratic establishment as a social weapon to draw crowds of well-meaning protesters into harm’s way, using them as human shields while they pushed a savage insurrection on city streets.”

THE FACTS: In the last few weeks, dozens of false posts have targeted billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, claiming he bused in people for protests to highlight police killings that involved Black victims. Soros has been falsely accused of funneling money to the Black Lives Matter movement, and was accused of bailing out protesters. There’s no evidence that Soros paid and transported protesters . The AP reported on the false claims surrounding Soros.

“I think partly it’s an attempt to distract from the real matters at hand — the pandemic, the protests or the Black Lives Matter movement,” Laura Silber, chief communications officer for Soros’ philanthropic Open Society Foundations, said of the theories. “It’s pretty demeaning to the people out there protesting when someone says they’re all paid. It’s insulting.”

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CLAIM: Antifa was “given a free pass by Democratic mayors and governors to loot stores, smash up small businesses and assault innocent bystanders.”

THE FACTS: Protesters were not given a free pass by Democratic mayors and governors to loot stores and assault protesters. Photos and videos of protests across the U.S. showed police pepper spraying, tear gassing and firing non-lethal rounds at protesters in the streets and arresting looters. The protests first broke out in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s death. Agitators in Minneapolis burned down a police precinct and looted several stores. However, hundreds of protesters were arrested, a curfew was put in place and the National Guard was called in to help with law enforcement. Protests demanding justice for George Floyd also broke out in Florida, which has a Republican governor. Looting took place in Miami and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.

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CLAIM: Democrats have “used social distancing guidelines to halt grand juries and give witnesses the cover of health fears to avoid honoring court-ordered subpoenas” in a Republican-led probe into the origins of the Mueller investigation. The probe explores emerging evidence that “Obama officials, including Joe Biden and Obama himself, colluded to frame General Michael Flynn.”

THE FACTS: The video mentions a conspiracy theory that Obama and Biden colluded to frame President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the Russia probe. That theory doesn’t appear to match reality. No evidence has emerged to suggest Obama or Biden set up Flynn or plotted to spy on Trump. In fact, Attorney General William Barr has saidhe does not expect the investigation into the Russia probe to lead to criminal charges against either the former president or vice president.

The video also claims that Obama officials have used social distancing guidelines “to halt grand juries and give witnesses the cover of health fears to avoid honoring court-ordered subpoenas.”

Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders do appear to have caused some delays in state and federal judicial proceedings, as well as in the probe. The investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation deals with classified material, so there are additional limitations on what can be done remotely.

Barr has refused to say one way or the other if there is a grand jury being used in the investigations, and there are no indications of anyone having defied a subpoena.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536

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