On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 — a new type of deadly coronavirus — a global health emergency. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China and which likely jumped from bats to humans, has killed over a thousand and infected tens of thousands more. It has also fueled a steady stream of misinformation and anti-Asian racism.
In the early days of the outbreak, a video from 2016 resurfaced which depicted Chinese vlogger Wang Mengyun consuming a bat from a bowl of soup. Although the video predated the outbreak of COVID-19 and took place not in China, but in Palau, Mengyun received “hate messages and death threats.”
The idea that “bat soup” was responsible for the outbreak quickly became a meme on the far-right. On January 23rd, conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson tweeted that “our media encourages us to eat all kinds of weird stuff because it’s ‘normal’ in other cultures,” and that “Some cultures are better than others.”
The phrase “eat the bat, bigot” became a common refrain on the far-right, and people on Twitter and Telegram added cartoon hazmat suits to their avatars to mock the epidemic:
During the January 27th episode of Exodus Americanus — an Indiana-based white supremacist podcast on The Right Stuff — co-hosts “Walrus Aurelius” and “Roscoe Jones” celebrated the deaths caused by the virus. “Smoke a bowl, get ready to fly, we’re all gonna laugh as all of China dies,” Jones said cheerfully at the start of the show.
“Here’s our quick summary of China: Fuck ’em,” Jones said twenty minutes into the show. “Maybe if they’d stop killin’ animals that we value more than them, we’d give a shit.” Walrus said that outbreaks like this will “keep happening until there’s a disease powerful enough to wipe them out,” adding that this “may not be a popular opinion.”
During the February 12th episode of The Daily Shoah, another white supremacist podcast on The Right Stuff, co-host Mike “Enoch” Peinovich said he felt no sympathy for the victims because they aren’t white.
“You know what’s funny is I have not been really thinking about this [virus] very much or caring about it too much ’cause I’m just like, so far everyone [that’s] died of this is a chink,” Peinovich said. “Like, whether they’re here in America or over there, like have any white people died of this?” he asked.
In a video for his YouTube channel, Mark Collett — a British Nazi sympathizer — complained about the coverage of anti-Asian racism in the wake of the virus.
“[Liberals] are more bothered that people may respond to the coronavirus by calling for checks on immigration, and the virus may even lead to people questioning the merits of globalization,” Collett said. “And you only have to type ‘coronavirus racism’ into Google to see liberals foaming at the mouths, not because they’ve been infected by the virus, but because they’re committed followers of the cult of multiculturalism.”
This racism has terrible consequences offline as well. In Canada, people of Asian descent have reported racist harassment linked to the virus. In Australia, a headline at The Daily Telegraph read “China Kids Stay Home.” And a 16-year-old Asian-American student in California’s San Fernando Valley was recently attacked by bullies who accused him of having the coronavirus.
Other people floated conspiracy theories about the virus being created in a laboratory as a biological weapon. They believe it had been released — mistakenly or not — on the Chinese population, and is now spreading worldwide.
Right-wing livestreamer “Mr. Metokur” — who went by the name “Internet Aristocrat” during the Gamergate era — devoted several shows to what he dubbed “Corona-chan.” On January 29th, Metokur said that “the Communist Party in China is trying to convince you somebody was so curious what a bat’s asshole tasted like that they started a fucking pandemic.”
Metokur pointed out that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located 20 miles from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and repeated a false claim that Chinese spies had sent pathogen samples to a facility in Wuhan. Telling his audience that he doesn’t “buy the whole bat soup shit,” Metokur said he believes “they were working on a bio weapon with stolen materials, and it somehow got loose.”
In a January 25th episode of the Red Ice show Flashback Friday, white nationalists Henrik Palmgren and Lana Lokteff likewise speculated that the virus originated in a lab. As proof, the pair cited a 2015 patent by the Pirbright Institute — which they said received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — for a weakened version of a coronavirus which could be used for vaccines.
However, as BuzzFeed News points out, this “is a standard way that vaccines are made, for everything from the flu vaccine to the polio vaccine.” It is not evidence of nefarious intent, and in no way supports the hypothesis that COVID-19 was created in a laboratory.
And white nationalist Jean-François “J.F.” Gariépy, in a February 2nd video, discussed claims that COVID-19 has “insertions” in its protein sequence that are similar to those in the HIV virus. This claim, made in an unpublished scientific paper from India, has been used by conspiracy theorists to claim the virus is, in fact, a man-made biological weapon.
Gariépy attacked critics of this conspiracy, asserting that “push-back” against it was “dishonest,” and said he believes there is a 50% chance it was man-made. He also compared criticism of the man-made virus conspiracy to the “hypothesis” that Seth Rich was murdered by DNC operatives. Gariépy said that the Seth Rich conspiracy — like the man-made virus conspiracy — is “still not a hypothesis to be rejected as of today.”