Conspiracy Jerks Ruin Random Lady's Life After Declaring Her Patient Zero
Maartje Benassi is just a regular person. She's an American Army reservist who likes riding her bike and has never had COVID-19. She works as a civilian employee at the US Army's Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Her life, however, has been turned upside down ever since a bunch of idiot conspiracy theorists on the internet decided she is actually the COVID-19 Patient Zero.
The theory, in a nutshell, is that the United States developed COVID-19 in a lab and then gave it to Benassi, who then went to Wuhan to compete in the cycling competition at the Military World Games in October. While she didn't win, and in fact got into an accident on the last lap that left her with a fractured rib and a concussion, she did finish the race. It was her participation in this race, along with many, many other Americans participating in the race, that has led some idiots to decide she was the one who brought the virus to Wuhan (on her bike!), which led to people there getting infected, and subsequently people all over the world getting infected.
The theory has become popular in some American conspiracy circles (though, curiously, the QAnon people don't appear to be into it), but it's really taking hold in China, where it's actually being promoted by state officials eager have someone else to blame for the pandemic.
In an interview with CNN, Benassi and her husband Matt (who has also never had COVID-19) described how the conspiracy theory has just absolutely ruined their lives, and the helplessness they feel about not being able to do anything about it:
Despite working for the US government, the couple are experiencing the same feelings of helplessness familiar to others who have been the target of harassment and misinformation. "I want everybody to stop harassing me, because this is cyberbullying to me and it's gone way out of hand," Maajte said while fighting back tears.
Matt has tried to get the videos taken down from YouTube and to prevent their spread online. The couple said they contacted an attorney, who told them there was little that could be done, and local police, who told them much the same.
They've been harassed, subjected to threats, and pretty much have to live in fear of some nut showing up at their house and gunning them down because of some stupid YouTube videos. Matt Benassi says he fears this will turn into another Pizzagate, and those fears are not at all irrational. These people are known to do some crazy shit. There was the guy who showed up at the Comet Ping Pong pizza joint with a gun, the people in Europe tearing down 5G towers, the guy here who derailed the train he was driving near the USNS Mercy because he believed "something" was going on there. They're not well.
Conspiracy theorists said she started the coronavirus pandemic. Now she's afraid for her life. www.youtube.com
The theory has been most heavily promoted by George Webb, a YouTube conspiracy theorist with a huge following. Webb, of course, very much resents being called a conspiracy theorist and would prefer to be called an "investigative journalist." In the video above, Webb explains to CNN that this whole theory is based on the testimony of someone who works at some hospital, but he can't say who they are or what they said, because he needs to protect his source.
Yeah, well, um, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence and then there's a source here that I cannot reveal [...] I have a source at the Fort Belvoir community hospital and she, she actually works, or I have someone saying that she works at the Fort Belvoir community hospital and she tested positive for, uh, the coronavirus.
That's it. That's his "evidence." That's what he's ruining someone's life over. Someone told him a thing.
Webb, who has recently had his YouTube channel demonetized, also thinks that somehow, Italian DJ Benny Benassi (who also has not had COVID-19), the guy responsible for that 2002 "Satisfaction" song that everyone claimed Stephen Hawking sang on (but he didn't) is in on this too. Except the thing is, they're not even related and have never met. Benassi is a pretty common last name in Italy.
In one of the YouTube videos in which Webb explains his theories about the Benassis, he begins by talking about how it was a layman who "solved" typhoid (he thinks it was typhoid, anyway, he's not sure) with pins on a map, and how epidemiology is just pins on a map and anyone can do it. Actual epidemiologists would disagree. But Webb's got visions of "Epidemiologists hate him! Local 'Investigative Journalist' totally solves coronavirus with pins on a map!"' dancing in his head, so he doesn't mind that much.
George Webb stands in front of his 'evidence,' showing that somehow Public Enemy and Chris Brown are involved in this as well and are in cahoots with Benny Benassi.
A major characteristic these conspiracy theorists tend to share is not just a distrust of expertise, but also a belief that the idea of expertise itself is sham. They think they can do investigative journalism, science, epidemiology, medicine, anything, really, just as well as "the experts," and they resent that anyone thinks they can't. That's what this appears to be for George Webb. His end game is likely that he wants to feel important and he wants to be cheered and he doesn't seem to care whose life he needs to ruin to do it.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse