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Not My Party: Did COVID Come from a Chinese Lab Leak?

The "lab leak" hypothesis might be true, even if the worst people are its biggest boosters.
May 27, 2021

When it comes to the origins of COVID, could Donald Trump and Joe Rogan have been right? According to President Biden, the answer is… maybe.

For the last year, the idea that COVID-19 may have emanated from a lab was treated like a conspiracy. The problem is, the actual evidence that this was a conspiracy never really matched up to the aggressive attempts to silence those who suggested it.

President Trump said that he has seen credible evidence that the virus actually originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.” [Reporter]

Until recently, the prevailing narrative was that COVID jumped from a bat to a person, possibly through an intermediary host animal. And that’s still one of the working theories.

But this week, a new report lends further credence to the possibility that our pandemic nightmare started by accident in a Chinese lab. According to that report, U.S. intelligence believes three people who worked at the Wuhan Institute for Virology, just miles from the epicenter of the virus, were hospitalized in November, 2019. Yup, there’s a massive research center that studies bat coronaviruses right next to the heart of the outbreak. So while that’s not proof in itself, the fact that it’s so close sure seems like a red flag. Especially when you compare it to the bat habitat a thousand miles away. Plus, deadly viral lab leaks have happened throughout history. This isn’t some preposterous fake-moon-landing-type deal.

-So why were people so quick to dismiss it? Well, there are two main reasons. The first is a desire to oppose Trump at all costs. People didn’t want to seem as xenophobic as Trump and were reluctant to admit that anything he said could be true. After all, he’s completely full of s**t—and it was especially so at the beginning of the pandemic. You probably remember this:

“See if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure.” [Trump]

Or this:

“This is gonna go away without a vaccine.” [Trump]

And yeah, he definitely stoked racist violence when he insisted on calling it:

“Kung Flu.”

The second is propaganda from China and funders of the lab. At the start of the pandemic, a group of virologists wrote that they “strongly condemned conspiracy theories suggesting COVID does not have a natural origin.” Well, yeah, you can understand why people would instinctively side with the science over the hydroxychloroquine huckster.

But it turns out, the person who organized and drafted the letter was actually funding coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute. Seems like a pretty big conflict.

Meanwhile, China aggressively attempted to cover up anything that might implicate them. They punished doctors in Wuhan who spoke out early on. And now, data from the Wuhan Institute has been taken offline to block investigations.

So in the rush to oppose Trump, the media ended up echoing a message that was being dictated by the people who are funding the Wuhan lab. And the oppressive Chinese Communist Party.

Reporters who looked into this more deeply, like Josh Rogin at the Washington Post, and bong-ripping skeptics like Joe Rogan, were not convinced and kept pushing the lab as a possibility. Turns out, these guys had a point

“For whatever reason, you get labeled a right-wing conspiracy theorist if you think it came out of a lab.” [Rogan]

Blindly believing every single thing Trump said is false is almost as dumb as blindly believing every pro-Trump conspiracy is true.

And the lab leak may turn out to be a case of the meme, “Heartbreaking: The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Point,” come to life.

I understand the human instinct to believe that a racist asshole that you hate could never be right. And in this case, I also understand that it’s kind of scary to think that a simple human error could cause this much suffering.

But that’s why it’s so important that we find out the truth. So we can learn from the mistake and never have to live through this hell year again.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.