A litany of conservative groups and figures, including members of hate and antigovernment extremist groups, have signed a March 17 letter to President Trump asking him to investigate China for its alleged role in spreading the novel coronavirus and hiding its origins.
The letter, organized by the conservative Media Research Center, claims that the signatories “represent virtually the entirety of the conservative movement.” The groups accuse China of trying to blame the virus, which the letter refers to as the “Wuhan Coronavirus,” on the U.S. China has politicized the virus, according to the letter, and “Chinese-led hysteria has roiled markets and disrupted everyday life for Americans and citizens of other countries around the world.”
The letter also plays into the xenophobic narratives that have been swirling around the global public health crisis as countries try to cope with the spread of the virus. The letter urges the Trump administration to investigate the Chinese government’s supposed mishandling of the virus. It contains the signatures of members of anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ hate groups, as well as those involved in antigovernment groups.
“The world needs to know the details behind the spread of this deadly virus, so everyone understands exactly how this was started,” the letter reads.
Political reactions to the coronavirus pandemic have been mired with xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, much of which has come from the Trump administration and other government officials. Trump has referred to it as the “China Virus” on Twitter. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Trump supporter and former Senate majority whip, made ethnocentric comments in an interview, saying it was no surprise the virus was traced back to China “because of some of the cultural practices there.”
One of the signatories is anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, who heads ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim hate group in the United States. ACT operates a network of chapters throughout the country. In 2019, the SPLC designated 39 chapters, including the national organization, as hate groups, as documented in the latest Year in Hate report.
The anti-Chinese fearmongering has spanned multiple ideologies across the radical right, as evidenced by the Media Research Center’s letter.
Other signatories include William Walton, current president of the notoriously secretive Council for National Policy, a powerful right-wing organization; Mat Staver of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel and Jonathan M. Alexandre of Liberty Counsel Action. Liberty Counsel has a long history of demonizing LGBTQ people, including linking them to pedophilia.
Longtime Christian Right activist and current commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Freedom Gary Bauer of American Values also signed. Bauer has a history of anti-LGBTQ and anti-Islam statements. The Eagle Forum’s Eunie Smith, a longtime promoter of anti-immigration conspiracy theories, also signed, as did Terry Schilling and Jon Schweppe of the American Principles Project, which ran anti-trans ads in Kentucky last year during the governor’s race.
David Kupelian, vice president and managing editor of the antigovernment conspiracy theory website WorldNetDaily, also signed on. WorldNetDaily has a history of publishing paranoid fantasies about the government as fact and promotes anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
Some reports have criticized the Chinese government’s disinformation surrounding the coronavirus. The Trump administration has also been criticized for its slow and bungled response to the virus, which includes such exclusionary measures as ineffective travel bans.
Trump has attempted to use the virus to promote his anti-immigrant agenda. Last week, the administration announced plans to tighten the U.S.-Mexico border and turn away migrants and asylum seekers, a policy championed by hate groups. This fits into Trump’s larger assault on non-white immigration, which has ranged from banning people from Muslim-majority and African countries, holding up legal immigration by bureaucratic means and setting a historic low cap on refugees.
Trump has referred to the novel coronavirus as the “China Virus” and "Chinese virus." Monday, however, he walked back some of that rhetoric, tweeting: “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus... is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”
Brigitte Gabriel and her group have come to the defense of the president, while ramping up its anti-China rhetoric on social media.
“China must pay for the Americans killed by this virus!” Gabriel tweeted March 18. In another tweet that same day, she wrote that the U.S. can no longer rely on China. “The days of unregulated globalism are over – the America First agenda has to come first!”
“The term ‘Chinese Virus’ is NOT racist! This virus comes from China!” ACT tweeted March 18.
Gabriel and her group are unwavering supporters of Trump and his nativist agenda. When Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago resort canceled an ACT fundraiser scheduled to be held at there, Gabriel remained loyal to him.
Gabriel bragged at an ACT event in September 2018 about having weekly standing meetings at the White House, though such meetings have not been confirmed. On Feb. 18, she posted pictures of herself at the White House on Instagram with this caption: “Having fun fighting for our country at the White House.” She is seen wearing a badge that reads, “appointment.”
In a March 17 email to supporters, ACT sent pictures of Gabriel meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Louie Gohmert, Steve King and Brian Babin. The email said she discussed topics ranging from immigration to terrorism to coronavirus. “This is a critical year of national security for our country,” she said in her email. “The globalists may not want patriots like you to have a seat at the table but we do!”
Photo illustration of Mat Staver and Brigitte Gabriel by SPLC. (Source photos from Getty Images)