Bill Gates has been warning the world about a pandemic for years, and now that we've got one, Gates himself is getting some unwanted attention. The New York Times reports that he's now the No. 1 topic of wild conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus, as tracked by the media analysis company Zignal Labs. That includes YouTube videos with misinformation that were viewed about 5 million times. Coverage:
- Told you so: Gates had a TED Talk in 2015 warning that the next big global threat would come from "not missiles, but microbes," and the speech is again in wide circulation. He cautioned that governments around the world were unprepared for a highly infectious virus. Watch the speech here.
- On Trump: Gates has criticized US preparation amid the COVID-19 outbreak, writing, "There's no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus" in a Washington Post op-ed on March 31. He also criticized President Trump's decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization, though he didn't name Trump in his tweet. As a result, some high-profile Trump supporters have been going after Gates, notes the Daily Beast.
- Conspiracies: Organizations such as QAnon and Alex Jones' Infowars have been pushing wild tales. One typical variation: Gates is somehow behind the virus as part of a sinister plot to vaccinate the world and be able to track people as a result. Another out-there idea is that Gates or an affiliated institute holds the patent for the virus causing the pandemic, and USA Today susses that one out as it debunks it. Coverage notes Gates seems to have supplanted George Soros as the main boogeyman of conspiracy theorists on the far-right.
- Familiar names: It's not just on the fringes: Some prominent Trump backers are picking up on the theme. "Whether Bill Gates played some role in the creation and spread of this virus is open for vigorous debate," declared Roger Stone in a radio interview this week, per the New York Post. He accused Gates of wanting to "microchip" people. The duo of Diamond and Silk tweeted, "Bill Gates money does not give him permission to control, and rule the world with vaccines!" On April 7, Laura Ingraham of Fox News referenced Gates when she tweeted, "Digitally tracking Americans' every move has been a dream of the globalists for years. This health crisis is the perfect vehicle for them to push this." Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of RFK, also has piled on against Gates.
- No comment: Gates himself declined to comment on the phenomenon, but the chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tells the Times it is “distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”
- Planning ahead: A related endnote on all this: Gates' wife, Melinda, told BBC Radio this week that their family stockpiled supplies awhile back for just this scenario, reports CNBC. "A number of years ago, we talked about, 'What if there wasn't clean water? What if there wasn't enough food? Where might we go? What might we do as a family?' So, I think we should leave those preparations to ourselves," she said. "We had prepared, and had some food in the basement in case needed, and now we're all in the same situation."
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