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As the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the world, with millions infected and thousands dead, billionaire Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has pledged a quarter billion dollars to combat the disease through his foundation.
Gates has been an advocate for pandemic preparedness for years, and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is contributing financing to several coronavirus vaccine initiatives. He famously gave a 2015 TED talk warning of the potential devastation caused by — and urged readiness for — a worldwide pandemic.
Those factors are behind bizarre new conspiracy theories that claim Gates is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic and have rapidly spread from fringe conspiracy theorists online to conservative pundits.
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Bill Gates has advocated for pandemic preparedness for years and famously gave a TED talk in 2015 that warned of the potentially staggering death toll a worldwide pandemic could create.
As the coronavirus pandemic has spread around the world, Gates has pledged $250 million to fight the disease and create a vaccine.
Incredibly, it’s these two factors that provide the foundation of a new set of conspiracy theories that point to Gates as the origin of coronavirus — and those conspiracy theories have rapidly gone from fringe online conspiracy theorists to the mouths of conservative pundits.
Here’s what we know:
In 2015, Bill Gates gave a TED talk titled, “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.”
In his 2015 TED talk, Gates examined the ebola outbreak that killed thousands of people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. He highlighted the factors that kept the disease from spreading worldwide, and warned against the potential for a much more contagious, worldwide pandemic.
“The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than ebola,” he said. “You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane, or they go to a market.”
You can watch the full TED talk right here:
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Citing that talk, and the Gates Foundation’s $250 million contribution to fight the disease, some right-wing conspiracy theorists claim Gates is the mastermind that created the novel coronavirus.
The conspiracy theories connecting Gates to coronavirus started in late January, according to a recent New York Times investigation, with a “YouTube personality linked to QAnon” who claimed Gates had prior knowledge of the coronavirus pandemic.
Days later, the website Infowars — the site run by Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who claims the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax — published a piece that incorrectly stated the Gates Foundation “co-hosted a pandemic exercise in late 2019 that simulated a global coronavirus outbreak.”
The Infowars piece attempted to connect the Gates Foundation’s ongoing investments in fighting global pandemics to prior knowledge of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a FactCheck.org followup, “There was in fact an exercise (called ‘Event 201’) that took place in October that was hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security — which the Gates Foundation participated in — that focused on emergency preparedness in the event of a ‘very severe pandemic.’ But it didn’t deal with 2019-nCoV [novel coronavirus], and it didn’t make real-life predictions about death tolls.”
That distinction, however, was ignored by conspiracy theorists.
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