Jeff Zink is running a (very) longshot bid for Congress in Arizona. He also was featured prominently in a New York Times piece over the weekend highlighting members of Donald Trump’s MAGA movement who are attempting to use the January 6, 2021, insurrection as a launching pad for political office.
There’s a paragraph in the Times piece that is worth picking apart. Here it is:
“Mr. Zink, a onetime church deacon, referenced the biblical Book of Proverbs as he outlined why he believed Covid-19 was a bioweapon meant to convert the United States to socialism, and lamented that the United States ‘was no longer a Christian nation.’”
Rather than simply laugh off this conspiracy theory, however, I wanted to dig into the meat of what Zink is saying – as a way to debunk it.
So, I typed “Covid-19 Proverbs bioweapon” into Google. And the first thing to come up was a book by Dr. Richard M. Fleming called “Is COVID-19 a Bioweapon?: A Scientific and Forensic investigation.” (I am not going to link to it, but you can find it if you want to waste your time.) The book’s blurb reads this way: “Clearly, the US government isn’t decided on what really happened at the start of the pandemic. Was it truly a (sic) animal to human transmission to be blamed on a bat in a Wuhan, China wet market? Or was a much more sinister plan at work?”
Who is Dr. Richard M. Fleming? Well, there’s this from a 2018 Boston Globe piece:
“Richard M. Fleming may be a man of many talents, but his record as a scientist has been spotty. Fleming, who bills himself on Twitter as ‘PhD, MD, JD AND NOW Actor-Singer!!!’, was a co-author of short-lived paper in the journal Clinical Cardiology purporting to find health benefits from a diet with low or modest amounts of fat. The paper came out in late September — just a day before the (US) Food and Drug Administration banned Fleming from participating in any drug studies. Why? Two prior convictions for fraud in 2009.”
Yup. A quick look through the FBI archives shows that Fleming was convicted of health care and mail fraud in 2009. He was sentenced to “five years’ probation with six months home detention, including electronic monitoring, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $107,244.24.”
So, that’s that.
As for the link that Zink suggests between Covid-19 and the book of Proverbs, that proved to be a more elusive thing to track down. While there’s plenty of references to the Book of Revelation among Covid-19 conspiracy types, I struggled to find anything – on or off the Internet – that would explain Zink’s reference to the Bible.
Zink, unfortunately, isn’t a lone wolf within the GOP on Covid-19 conspiracies.
In an interview on Steve Bannon’s podcast in June 2021, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene sounded a similar sentiment. “Why is there any need to create a virus that could spread rapidly to a population, to make people sick and kill them,” she asked. “That is a bioweapon.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, too, early in the pandemic raised the possibility of Covid-19 as a bioweapon created by China – before walking it back.
Greene and Cotton, like Zink, offered no evidence for such a bold claim. (There is some debate as to the origin of Covid-19; most scientists believe it developed organically – likely from a seafood market in Wuhan, China.)
The point here is that while it’s easy to laugh off a conspiracy theorist like Zink as a kook, you shouldn’t. Similar views are held – or at least considered – by more than just a fringe element within the Republican Party. And that’s scary.