Far rightists divided on coronavirus and Trump

Julia DeCook has a good article outlining how right-wing media activists have been exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to spread xenophobia, conspiracy theories, and other forms of misinformation:

The conspiracy theories about the virus range from it being a biological weapon created by the Chinese government, that it is a conspiracy created by U.S. democrats to prevent Trump’s reelection, or that the CIA created the virus in order to lessen China’s power. Another conspiracy theory that has been circulating, due to a QAnon conspiracy theorist on YouTube, is that the COVID-19 pandemic was created by the Pirbright Institute in England and by Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft. The themes that emerge from these conspiracy theories point to fears and anxieties typical of the right-wing surrounding globalization, multiculturalism, and government cover-ups on the level of the belief of a “New World Order.”

Additionally, Twitter analysis found that there are number of bots that are intentionally spreading disinformation about the virus and the pandemic itself, further strengthening beliefs among conspiracy theorists and the radical right that the media is “overblowing” the significance of the virus. Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has actively been retweeting and sharing information that is blatantly false about COVID-19, specifically that the U.S. has contained the virus, as well as false information about the fatality rate.

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COVID-19, like other pandemics, has been politicized among the far-right in the United States and worldwide to stoke the fire of Sinophobia, hatred toward the left, and xenophobia toward immigrants in general. … Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham repeatedly refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Coronavirus” or even “the Wuhan flu.” … Right-wing media figures have also used the outbreak to justify the building of the border wall, to halt immigration, and to disparage the U.S.’s dependence on the Chinese economy.

“Scapegoat” (Bouc émissaire) – bronze by C. Jongen

Other critics of the far right have made related points. At the beginning of February, Ali Breland in Mother Jones detailed how a number of online conspiracy theorists were not only conjuring up unsubstantiated plots to explain the disease, but also using such claims to make money. And Right Wing Watch has carried several stories about the politics of the pandemic, such as one featuring “The Most Ridiculous Coronavirus Tweets from the Right”—ridiculous for their racism and/or contrived defense of Donald Trump’s policies.

These articles accurately describe a large and important part of the U.S. right-wing landscape. The costs of this rhetoric are stark, as the Trump administration’s brutal treatment of immigrants and refugees increases their risk of getting sick, and virus-scapegoating has brought an upsurge in verbal and physical attacks against Chinese and other Asian people.

At the same time, sections of the far right have also addressed the pandemic in ways that may be surprising to some critics. It’s true that many conservative commentators have been trivializing the disease and claim the Democrats have been overblowing the situation in order to weaken the president. However, some of the most wild-eyed right-wing conspiracists have been saying the opposite for weeks (in some cases a couple of months)—warning that the disease is deadly serious, mainstream conservatives have been lying to the public, and the Trump administration has to do a lot more to address the crisis.

For example, Natural News founder Mike Adams, who is notorious for peddling everything from chemtrails conspiracy theories to herbal remedies for Ebola, has denounced “people like Dr. Drew, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Pence (who still promises millions of testing kits will appear any day now), the US Surgeon General and countless TV hosts, ‘journalists’ and talking heads who all assured the nation that the coronavirus was ‘no worse than the flu.’” Far from defending the president, Adams declares, “It’s time to stop thinking that Trump might be the answer to defeat the deep state and, instead, start thinking about how the entire corrupt, incompetent, malicious, anti-human system of government/industry collusion needs to be allowed to self-destruct once and for all.”

Other rightist have echoed parts of this argument in more muted terms. Jackie Morgensen on the alt-right and antisemitic Darkmoon website ridiculed Trump’s claim that the U.S. is more prepared to combat the coronavirus than any other country by pointing out that the president cut most of the CDC’s money for fighting pandemics two years ago. (I found this article because it was reposted to the neonazi web forum Stormfront.) More surprisingly, the leading Patriot movement organization Oath Keepers, which as a rule has been staunchly loyal to Trump, published a series of articles calling the virus “a VERY real, very serious threat to our nation and its people” and urging the president to take aggressive measures long before he showed any willingness to do so.

A different sort of back-handed swipe at President Trump came from Cindy Jacobs, one of the top leaders of the Christian rightist New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. NAR is massive, with some three million adherents in the United States and millions more on several other continents, and it has consistently supported Trump since the 2016 Republican primaries, through vehicles such as “POTUS Shield.” Like many other right-wing Christian leaders, Jacobs responded to the coronavirus by calling for a day of prayer. Yet one feature set Jacobs’ call apart—its internationalism:

[T]his is a wake-up call that we are a global church, and that the challenges affecting other nations truly affect us all. Pray for the nations as we pray for our own!

If you have been complacent about praying for other nations suffering from this virus, we encourage a time of reflection and repentance.

Jacobs’ global approach to the pandemic stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s nationalistic and xenophobic response, such as pressuring a German drug company to provide a coronavirus vaccine “for the US only.” It’s hard to read the NAR leader’s language as anything other than a rebuke of Make America Great Again ideology—and its top promoter.

My aim here is not to gloss over Jacobs’ or NAR’s authoritarian theocratic politics, or to suggest that right-wing conspiracism is less bad if it takes pandemics seriously. The point, rather, is that rightists don’t speak with one voice and don’t necessarily say what we expect them to say. Many U.S. far rightists have responded to the coronavirus by promoting nativist and white supremacist policies, dismissing science, and attacking Trump’s critics, but some have been ahead of the crowd in advocating social distancing and calling out the administration’s inaction, and a few have even challenged a nationalistic approach to public health as misguided. These differences point to deep-seated tensions and conflicts among rightists regarding Trump and many other issues. They also highlight far rightists’ dangerous capacity to incorporate elements of progressive politics into an oppressive and demonizing framework.

By C. Jongen (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

1 thought on “Far rightists divided on coronavirus and Trump”

  1. Don Hamerquist offers the following comment on the above essay. I think his point is well taken:

    "The treatment of the specific and contradictory responses of various right-wing and fascist tendencies to the Covid-19 crisis is important and, I think, undoubtedly accurate. However, I think you don’t take adequate account of the potential for a different set of responses that are perhaps less visible at the moment, but are likely to emerge quite explosively. These will be consequences of the triggering impacts of the pandemic on the global elements of an economic/financial crisis. The likelihood is that these impacts will result in massive popular grievances and corresponding populist reactions with a great deal of organizing potential for mass fascist organizing initiatives."


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