Republican Senator Ron Johnson amplified a number of Covid-19 conspiracy theories in a Fox Business Network segment bloated with false claims about the disease amid a growing number of hospitalisations and infections.
While public health officials are urging Americans to stay up to date with vaccinations, the Wisconsin senator and Fox personality Maria Bartiromo falsely refuted vaccine efficacy and safety while wrongly stating that ivermectin is an approved treatment.
The senator also revived baseless conspiracy theories circulated by anti-vaccine influencers like Robert F Kennedy Jr, who has faced ongoing scrutiny for his bogus suggestion that the virus is a biological weapon used to target certain demographics and spare Jewish and Chinese people.
“This was all pre-planned by an elite group of people,” Mr Johnson said on the network on 11 August. “We’re up against a very powerful group of people … We are going down a very dangerous path, but it’s a path that is being laid out and planned by an elite group of people that want to take total control over our lives, and that’s what they’re doing bit by bit.”
Mr Johnson and Ms Bartiromo also falsely claimed that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin to treat Covid-19.
In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson said he was referencing that the pandemic response – not that the pandemic itself – was pre-planned.
The statement referenced Event 201, a coronavirus pandemic training exercise from 2019 that conspiracy theorists and Covid sceptics have pointed to as evidence of a global plot and prior knowledge of an outbreak with “elites” determining a response.
The Fox segment followed a recent appeals court hearing in a lawsuit from three doctors who have accused the federal agency of overstepping its authority by telling people not to take ivermectin to treat the disease. A federal judge appointed by Donald Trump dismissed the lawsuit last year.
FDA attorneys argued that the agency did not prohibit doctors from prescribing the drug but had issued guidance recommending against its use. Right-wing media falsely interpreted those statements to mean that the agency now is endorsing the drug.
Ms Bartiromo also admitted to taking ivermectin – which still is not authorised or approved for use in preventing or treating Covid-19 – before falsely stating that the FDA says it’s “fine” to use.
“It was hard to find my doctor to finally, you know, address this and prescribe ivermectin,” she said. “He did, my Covid was gone in a day when I took ivermectin. And now three years later, the FDA says, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s fine. Take ivermectin.’”
The FDA has not said that.
The segment aired as Covid-related hospitalisations begin to surge across the US, increasing 12.5 per cent over the last week to more than 9,000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
EG.5, an offshoot of the omicron variant that sparked waves of new infections, has been circulating in the US since April, now accounting for more than 17 per cent of Covid infections, according to the CDC.
Last month, Mr Kennedy – a prominent anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist who is seeking an extremely long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for president – revived an antisemitic conspiracy that blames Jewish people for the emergence of the disease.
He baselessly stated during a press event that “there is an argument to be made” that the disease is “ethnically targeted”.
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