Maatje Benassi, a US Army reservist who lives in Virginia, is just trying to get through these days of quarantine like everyone else. But as CNN reports, she has a big additional change: She is now the center of a wackadoo conspiracy theory that accuses her of being "patient zero" of COVID-19 and actually bringing the disease to China. And with that has come death threats for her and her husband, Matt. "It's like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare day after day," Benassi tells CNN. (See the interview.) The couple have tried unsuccessfully to get videos smearing them taken off YouTube, and the videos are now proliferating on social media sites in China as well. It all stems, somehow, from Benassi's participation in the Military World Games in October as a cyclist. The games were held in Wuhan, China, where the world outbreak began.
It's not clear why Benassi became the target. She crashed on the final lap of her race and suffered a fractured rib and concussion, but that's the only thing that happened of note on her trip. She is a civilian security officer at the Army's Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and her husband is a retired Air Force officer and civilian Air Force employee at the Pentagon. The story places most of the blame on prolific YouTube conspiracy theorist George Webb, identified by CNN as an "American misinformation peddler." In an interview, he couldn't back up his wild claim and called himself an "investigative reporter," not a conspiracy theorist. The Benassis have called police about the threats, but authorities can't do much. They also contacted a lawyer, but "you quickly realize that for folks like us, it's just too expensive to litigate something like this," says Matt Benassi. Read the full story. (Read more conspiracy theories stories.)