Conspiracy theory often has a dangerous element to it; promoting obvious falsehoods can deflect guilt to the innocent and vice versa, or can lead people to support threatening and destructive groups. That said, only rarely is it an immediate threat.
The latest theory of Californian “herd immunity” is one of those times. The theory states that because American intelligence identified the novel coronavirus as starting to spread in China during late October, and because there is significant travel between China and the U.S. – particularly California – that the disease was carried over from China in late October or early November, and that many Californians already had mild cases of covid-19 and are therefore immune. There are plausibly (in the minds of theorists) so many that the entire state already has herd immunity to the virus.
The theory is appealing on a few levels. There’s a nationalistic level, in this case supplanting the state for a traditional nation, that says the people in California are superior to other American citizens. There’s a personal level for anyone who experienced a respiratory disease; they are one of the few who has an inherently strong defense against covid-19. There’s the hope of being able to safely go back to work. Last, and certainly not least, there’s the relief from fear, knowing that you are no longer a potential target of a deadly disease.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. As the story catches on it’s going to kill people, as those who believe they’re immune will stop taking proper precautions and the virus will spread, both to themselves and their loved ones and associates.
We know the disease had taken root in China enough to raise flags for American intelligence. Lets assume the worst: that it was, in fact, brought over to the U.S. almost immediately and disseminated widely into the U.S. population.
In this case, the burning question becomes: why did a disease which was significantly fatal in China and manifested itself with a sudden onset of catastrophic symptoms, when it traveled to America, become a disease which was typically not fatal and manifested itself with steady, progressive symptoms?
It doesn’t hold up. The theory breaks down further when one looks at the numbers of covid-19 cases and fatalities in California: with limited testing, we’re seeing between 1000 and 1500 new cases confirmed per day, with more than 500 deaths in the past month. It’s plainly obvious that Californians are not immune from the virus, as those cases and deaths are happening while people in the state are (for the most part) trying to maintain distance from others and engage in isolating practices.
So, the question becomes: Where did this theory originate?
According to the research done by one California attorney, the answer is Rush Limbaugh.
For those not on Facebook, I’ll summarize. She traced the history of the theory, and the first mentions she could find were from Victor Davis Hanson. Now, many of us know VDH as a highly learned military historian who regularly penned columns for sites like National Review; that does not mean we’d take medical advice from the man. Nevertheless, he was a guest on the Limbaugh show on March 31st and talked about potential herd immunity. On April 2nd, VDH went on Fox and talked up his theory again. On April 3rd, Rush played the clips from Fox, which would have resonated with the feel of truth to his listeners because they’d already heard such a theory before (on Rush’s show, three days prior, from the same uninformed source.) A week later, on April 8, a reporter at a Salinas, CA television station runs a story about herd immunity quoting extensively from Hanson as if he were a medical expert and inaccurately tying it to a USC study which is trying to genetically trace antibodies as part of research toward a cure for covid-19. SF Gate, a trusted ‘mainstream’ news source, ran a link to the story. On April 9, Rush again pushed the idea of herd immunity, this time using the SF Gate story and falsely suggesting that Stanford is investigating herd immunity too (because they are also performing research on the disease.)
Powell includes links for each one of the steps used in developing the false story. She also contacted SF Gate and the television station, asking them about the sourcing of their information; both have since retracted their stories. Nevertheless, the theory is out there and has gotten legs, being reported in local news outlets throughout the state of California… with little to no indication that the theory is completely baseless medically, that it was created by a man with a vested political interest in opening the country for business prematurely or that it was primarily spread via a person with a similar political interest.
Or maybe it’s not even about politics, and Rush simply wants to kill a bunch of people in California because he’s still sore that his first advertiser, Sleep Train, unceremoniously dumped him a few years back. I don’t know what’s in his mind, I simply know that whatever is in there is working directly against the good of the country.