Right-wing influencers and QAnon supporters are waging an information war against Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and top-ranking member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force. They are falsely claiming that Fauci is working with Hillary Clinton and the deep state to cause an economic collapse and discredit President Donald Trump.
Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a labyrinthine belief system that posits that President Trump is waging a secret war against a global criminal organization, have spent much of the COVID-19 outbreak struggling to fit the disease into their narratives. At first, they theorized the virus was a bioweapon created by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Then, following remarks last month from radio host Rush Limbaugh, a sizable contingent suggested that the virus was actually a deep state hoax meant to damage Trump politically.
In recent days, their baseless speculations have settled on Fauci. QAnon-supporting radio host Bill Mitchell has been the biggest promoter of the latest theory. For weeks, Mitchell has been spinning a conspiracy theory that Fauci is a “Democrat plant" and nicknamed him “Dr. #FearPorn.” Mitchell’s first tweets about Fauci date back to March 3, when Fauci first suggested the closure of schools and businesses.
“Sorry President Trump, but replace this crackpot,” Mitchell tweeted. Several minutes later, Mitchell tweeted about Fauci again, “Have you ever seen the market drop 1000 points AFTER a 50 basis point Fed cut? That's #FearPorn. Thanks Dr. Anthony Fauci.”
Mitchell’s ire against Fauci has seemed to grow over time, as he insists the doctor is spreading fear about the outbreak to hurt the US economy. On March 8, Mitchell tweeted a link to a Fox News article about Fauci, writing, “AM I WRONG THINKING THIS FAUCI GUY IS A BIG DEMOCRAT SPREADING FEAR PORN?”
A week later, Mitchell shared a 2009 NIH interview with Fauci providing an update about the then-outbreak of H1N1 influenza. Mitchell insisted Fauci’s apparently calmer demeanor in the video — which was conducted during the Obama administration — was proof that the doctor was now sowing fear about the coronavirus to discredit Trump.
“You'll notice none of the over-the-top hyperbole - none of the panic inducing rhetoric. Watch for yourselves,” Mitchell tweeted.
On the evening of March 20, Mitchell tweeted about Fauci 36 times in 30 minutes. Mitchell was enraged at Fauci going on CNN and publicly disagreeing with Trump’s suggestion that the CDC should allow the use of the anti-malaria drug chloroquine. Subsequently, a man died and his wife needed critical care after they both took a drug containing chloroquine phosphate meant for aquariums after hearing the president speak about the drug.
Mitchell’s tweetstorm against Fauci was intense. He repeatedly accused Fauci of being a Democrat plant, reshared the 2009 H1N1 interview, ran Twitter polls asking his followers if they thought Fauci was a Democrat, accused him of destroying the economy, and demanded Trump fire him.
Mitchell finished his tweetstorm by digging through WikiLeaks’ collection of leaked emails and found an email Fauci sent to Clinton in 2013. “Is Fauci a Hillary plant? Think about this. Trump makes a hopeful statement on #hydrochloroquine and Fauci immediately runs to #CNN, Trump's most hated #FakeNews outlet to contradict him? That is EXACTLY what a Hillary plant would do,” he tweeted.
The next day, conservative online magazine American Thinker published a piece titled “Anthony Fauci, the NIH's face of the coronavirus, is a Deep-State Hillary Clinton–loving stooge.” American Thinker also picked up the 2009 H1N1 interview. “It seems some viral infection pandemics are more equal than others. At least when it comes to burning a vibrant Trump economy to the ground,” the article read. (The piece was shared Sunday by Fox News host Laura Ingraham.)
The same press conference during which Fauci sparred with Trump over chloroquine ended with a viral moment where the doctor put his hand over his face, seemingly in embarrassment, as the president joked that the State Department was "the deep state Department." (Fauci later claimed he had a lozenge stuck in his throat.)
The Fauci facepalm was seized on by Shiva Ayyadurai, a GOP Senate candidate in Massachusetts who questionably claimed to have invented email and was briefly romantically connected to actor Fran Drescher. On March 20, Ayyadurai tweeted, “Time to expose ‘Deep State’ Emperor Fauci & his ‘illustrious’ career of #FakeScience imposing ‘one-size-fits-all’ Medieval Mandated Medicine to profit his BIG PHARMA minions, [at] the expense of crashing our economy.”
Ayyadurai also shared Fauci’s email to Clinton and has made several Periscope videos accusing Fauci of being a member of the deep state. Ayyadurai’s video, titled "How To Kill Coronavirus," was removed from YouTube for violating community standards.
On Tuesday, QAnon influencer Greg Rubini accused Fauci of making the novel coronavirus in 2015, receiving over 3,000 retweets.
The conspiracy theory has also been spreading on 4chan. On the site’s /pol/ message board, anonymous users have posted dozens of huge threads about Fauci, implying he’s part of a global pedophile ring after surfacing a photo of him and singer Elton John, claiming Trump has secretly fired him, and accusing him of being part of a global Jewish cabal.
The campaign against Fauci is quickly becoming more mainstream — especially as Trump looks to put economic growth ahead of mitigating the damage caused by the virus. Fauci could become a target for conservative outlets like Fox News. Right now, the channel is still backing him, but that narrative could already be shifting. On Sunday, Fox News host Steve Hilton sniped at Fauci for saying that he would be fine overreacting to a public health crisis.
“Well that's easy for him to say. He'll still have a job at the end of this, whatever happens,” Hilton said. “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces — whipping up fear over this virus. They can afford an indefinite shutdown, working Americans can't, they'll be crushed by it.”
Ingraham may have already telegraphed Fox News’ newest narrative for Fauci in a tweet the Fox anchor posted Tuesday. “The left-wing media’s methods are so transparent,” she wrote. “1. Pressure Fauci to criticize @realDonaldTrump in interviews. 2. Hope this leads to a blowup. 3. Slam Trump for not listening to doctors. 4. Blame him for everything.”
A YouTube video posted by Shiva Ayyadurai was removed for violating YouTube's policies. A previous version of this article misstated the reason.