The "fomented" spread of monkeypox: the flaws of a conspiracy theory

The “fomented” spread of monkeypox: the flaws of a conspiracy theory

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Did you like Event 201, the pandemic simulation which, according to conspiracy networks, would have served as a rehearsal before Covid-19? You’ll love NTI 2021 tabletop, a monkey pox outbreak scenario, in turn presented as proof that the current outbreak was knowingly engineered.

  • Where does the rumor come from?

It begins to circulate very quietly around mid-May, before experiencing sudden massive exposure by Kim Schmitz, says Kim Dotcom. The founder of the Megaupload file hosting site shares, on May 20, to his 800,000 Twitter followers an excerpt from a report accompanied by an allusive message: “The monkeypox scenario from 2021. Coincidence? Big Pharma’s Next $500 Billion? »

Immediately, this report hitherto reserved for an audience of experts in the fight against infectious diseases experienced an immediate spread in conspiratorial spheres. In France, it was taken up in the days that followed by sites such as Nexus or the World Resistance, with articles ranging from insistent suspicion to frank and open conspiratorial accusation, like the title of 1scandal.com, “Un 2021 document proves that Bill Gates had engineered the monkeypox attack for May 15, 2022”.

  • What is it based on?

This new rumor spreads through a mixture of authentic documents, selective reading, cognitive biases, and intentional worldviews.

First observation: the shared screenshot is from an authentic document. It comes from the NTI (for Nuclear Threat Initiative), a non-profit organization created in 2001 by former US Senator Sam Nunn and philanthropist Ted Turner, which studies military scenarios, but also health, which threaten the planet.

In March 2021, the NTI organized, in conjunction with the Munich Security Conference, its fourth pandemic simulation exercise. And, indeed, the coincidence is remarkable, since it concerns the emergence of an epidemic of monkeypox in May 2022. To the eyes of a conspiratorial mind, this is proof that the -this was orchestrated and planned.

A timeline for an imaginary monkeypox outbreak, set for a Nuclear Threat Initiative tabletop exercise, has caused confusion, with some refusing to see mere coincidence.
  • The limits of coincidence

The correspondence is however not total between simulation and reality. NTI imagined an epidemic that would start on May 15, when the country at the heart of the epidemic is “during national holidays, with many trips inland and abroad”. If it is tempting to recognize China there, the scenario is based on an imaginary country, the nation of Brinia.

The situation in reality was different. The WHO detected the first symptoms of the outbreak on April 29. On that day, a case of smallpox contamination was spotted in the United Kingdom in a British national returning from Nigeria – the first case outside Africa, where the disease is endemic, that is to say that it has been circulating there uninterruptedly for several decades.

The NTI exercise takes place in the imaginary countries of Brinia and Arnica, one of the many details attesting to its purely fictitious nature.

Finally, in the simulation exercise, the strain of monkeypox involved comes from laboratory experiments, which would have made it more deadly. In reality, to date, nothing indicates that this is the case. “We have no reason to believe that the current outbreak involves an engineered pathogen, nor have we seen any conclusive evidence to support such a hypothesis.NTI wrote on May 24, in a post aimed at answering questions about its “prophetic” 2021 exercise. We don’t believe it has the potential to spread as quickly as the fictional strain in our scenario, or to cause such a high death rate. »

The organization repeats that in its view the emergence of a monkeypox epidemic in May 2022, as it had imagined, is “purely a coincidence”.

  • Why the Bill Gates connection is overinterpreted

The multi-billionaire Bill Gates participates well, through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (also a financial contributor to the World Africa), to funding from NTI, but only marginally. Between 2004 and 2020, the largest sponsorship organization in the world granted three grants to the organization, for a total of 3.5 million dollars (3.27 million euros).

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To put these numbers into context, the Gates Foundation has distributed nearly six billion dollars (5.61 billion euros) in total in 2020; and, that same year, patronage by foundations accounted for a quarter of NTI’s budget. These financial links are therefore in the minority and do not make it possible to prove a supposed subjection.

The political influence of patrons must, in general, be put into perspective. As the economist Guy Carron de la Carrière, a specialist in economic diplomacy, pointed out in 2009, if it is true that “Private actors have become indispensable, their role and influence should not be overestimated. (…) It is indeed the policies defined by traditional administrations that retain the monopoly of major decisions and their implementation. »

  • Several NTI scenarios did not happen

It should also be remembered that this is the fourth exercise set up by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and that the previous ones had not given rise to conspiratorial reasoning, because they had had no echo in reality.

In 2020, the exercise featured an H2N2 influenza virus manipulated in the laboratory in the fictional country of Aplea, and which would have spread to the neighboring country of Vezu. In 2019, the plague bacillus struck Vestia, an imaginary and unstable European country.

In 2020, the Nuclear Threat Initiative worked on an imaginary influenza A epidemic in the fictional countries of Vezu and Aplea.

This whole conspiracy theory is based on a mental sleight of hand, consisting in reversing the chain of causalities. In conspiratorial logic, the resemblance between a simulation exercise and reality would prove that the former was a preparation for the latter.

It is, however, the opposite: when NTI set up its scenario, monkeypox already existed. This disease endemic to sub-Saharan Africa was discovered in the 1970s, and it is for this reason that it constitutes material that can be used for a simulation of a pandemic. “The risks it poses have been well documented for years by multiple public health authorities, the information in our fictional scenario is not new”recalls the organization.

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