why is right wing social media obsessed with ukrainian biolabs?
Russian propagandists have been having a hard time making excuses for the invasion of Ukraine stick on social media, but they finally got their mojo back. Thanks to their efforts, the American far right is abuzz about sinister biolabs they claim Ukraine used to make COVID, despite those claims making literally no sense in any way, shape, or form. And it got even more insane than that, with deranged QAnon enthusiasts claiming that former President Donald Trump knew COVID came from Ukraine rather than China because there are places in Ukraine ending with the suffix “chyna,” supposedly like Trump’s peculiar pronunciation of the word. Yeah, we’re spelunking into the depth of lunacy on this one.
Now, I know that the last two years felt like two decades but remember that Trump often called the disease that cost him his re-election bid “the China virus” and “kung flu,” accusing China, the country, of manufacturing it as a bioweapon to undermine his presidency. If he knew or thought that the virus supposedly came from Ukraine, why did he ban travel from China rather than Eastern Europe? And why did the first cluster of cases come from Wuhan, specifically the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, not say Lviv or Kiyv? Was it some sort of double false flag because reasons? And if Trump was truly focused on Ukraine, why did his administration and voter base wage a war of words on China while he egged them on?
There’s also the fact that in Russian and Ukrainian, the suffix in question is pronounced “chi-na,” like the pants, and used all the time to denote groups, ideas, and organizations. You’ll find hundreds, if not a thousand places across Eastern Europe ending with that suffix. Saying there’s a biolab near a town with that suffix is like saying that there’s an alien saucer buried in the UK near a place that ends in “shire.” In other words, Russia plagiarized the American excuse for the invasion of Iraq — also claiming that Ukraine was seeking nuclear weapons after giving them up in 1994 — and the American contingent of right wing zealots took it from there, throwing away their fantasies of Chinese anti-Trump bio-warfare labs, moving them 4,400 miles, only to then not know where to actually put them.
biolabs and you, a simple primer
All that said, it should be noted that most countries do have biolabs because they need them to track the emergence and spread of pathogens, and study how to fight them in safe, laboratory conditions. They come in four levels, from hosting common variety germs that pose basically no harm to healthy adults at level one, to full-blown plagues like, well, the actual plague, at level four. And there is a lot of complicated research that happens in such labs, but again, its focus is on predicting when the next pandemic might strike, where it may come from, and what we can do to slow its spread. Years of this research identified coronaviruses as the likeliest new source of a global outbreak, and as we all know now, they got it exactly right.
Furthermore, this research allowed us to quickly sequence the virus and start figuring out how to control its spread and severity through vaccines, giving us a weapon against COVID in record time. So just saying “they have biolabs!” in a hushed, accusatory tone, is like saying “how dare they keep track of what might make their citizens sick?!” and then being surprised to get only confused looks and shrugs from those outside of your hyperventilating conspiracy klatch. Those of us aware of what they are and how they work don’t automatically assume malice because it really isn’t normal to expect everyone and everything around you to spend their days plotting against you.
If you’re going to argue that Ukrainian or Chinese biolabs are some sort of Pandora’s Box, you need proof that something nefarious happened at those labs, and that proof doesn’t exist in either case because as hard as it may be for some people to believe, diseases can and do exist in nature. Not only that, they jump species an awful lot, which means that many can one day infect us, regardless of our plans for the future, political views, or level of scientific literacy. And given Russia’s history of blatant and obvious projections, their sudden warnings about chemical and biological “incidents” in Ukraine sound an awful lot like planning, and a very good reason to decommission as many labs as possible to deny them the opportunity for more war crimes.
why the global far right is gaga for russia
Of course, everything laid out here won’t matter to the vile hydra of right-wing demagogues and their followers because it doesn’t matter what happened, or what the science says, or what the facts are. The only thing that matters to them is that in their minds, democracy, America, and the West are bad, while totalitarianism, Russia, and Putin are good, and therefore every single aspect of the world around them must be made to fit this worldview. It really is as simple as that. If the current Great White (Supremacist) Hope and sugar daddy of transnational fascism is attacking Ukraine, there must be a reason to support his. The only question they might ask is why, and the biolab conspiracy answers that perfectly.
That’s the real, awful reason why this conspiracy took off on social media and is now polluting conservaboomers’ Facebook feeds and neo-Nazis’ Gab timelines and Telegram channels. By this point, their hatred of their fellow citizens and addiction to outrage over imaginary crises is just a pathology being fed by social media and search algorithms rather than a cohesive, consistent set of beliefs. Over the last decade, it warped into a full-blown identity based on the rejection of basic decency, modern civilization, and fear of change and boredom. We fed it for profit and now it’s biting us in the ass with tyrannosaurus-sized fangs. Even worse, we treat any criticism of this pathology as being more offensive than its sadistic fixations.
During this pandemic, the global far right was incandescent with rage that they were asked to have empathy towards their fellow humans and follow public health measures, and they will never forgive us for insisting that they act like members of a civilized society. They consume a steady stream of conspiracies meant to pat them on the back for being awful humans, and the false bravado and brazen lies of Russian propagandists very much fit the narrative they want to project. They believe they should get to do what they want, when they want, and say whatever they please to whomever with no consequence or criticism. If they do encounter blowback, well they’re just victims of jealous haters, not just shitty people called out for being that way.
how pathology becomes politics
And this brings us back to the Ukrainian biolab conspiracy. It isn’t about the labs or even about Ukraine or Russia. It’s about justifying a worldview that you’re allowed to hate those who are different or have different opinions or values because your “elaborate OSINT operations with fellow digital warriors,” also known as wasting your time in the bowels of social media with a bunch of other bored paranoiacs to find some justification for why you’re always so scared and angry after spending all your free time binging media and social feeds designed to make you scared and angry. If they’re out to get you, then you’re not just a sad, bored person with rage issues lashing out at the world. You’re a Digital Warrior™ like the merch says.
Unfortunately, far too much of the Western media is addicted to outrage fests and horse race style coverage, pretending that spending every waking minute worried that not brutalizing your fellow citizens mean they’ll just come after you, and openly demanding that others are made to suffer from your elected officials, is somehow just another different, but valid view. By this logic a robber who broke into your house isn’t breaking the law, the two of you just had differing views on where some cash and valuables should be located and who should own them. This is not a simple “difference of opinion,” this is a sadistic paranoia allowed to masquerade as an acceptable worldview, and it’s being forcefully demanded of us to just let it happen.
This is why we need to pay attention to these seemingly insane right-wing theories that seem almost too stupid to exist. They’re not just fringe blathering of cranks anymore. They’re part of a very large and profitable ecosystem where all these insipid half-baked social media posts are combined into a worldview that demands constant, ever-escalating conflict with all of civilized society. Yesterday it was pedophile cannibal teachers. Today it’s Ukrainian biolabs. Tomorrow it will be CRT mind control Girl Scout cookies. These are all symptoms of the same disease fed by the same people, arranged like trigger buzzword-laden mad libs and the punchline is “you need to hate your friends and family because they secretly hate you too.”
We need to stop taking all this so lightly and start demanding that media, both news and social, treat this as the malicious pathology is it, exacerbated by amoral demagogues making cash off destabilizing entire nations. We cannot treat it like some sort of sideshow and parade people in small towns like Victorian freaks with journalists from New York acting as carnival barkers. And we need to look at the big picture, stop chasing our tails debunking stuff those who spread it do not care about being true as long as it feeds their confirmation biases, and focus on the main problem. On the one side we have civilized society. On the other, those who want it dismantled and subjugated to feel big and important. Use this information accordingly.