A baseless claim of a bioweapons attack in the form of anthrax pouring from fog machines at a far-right QAnon-friendly ReAwaken America Tour event earlier this month in Texas has left conspiracy theorists petrified.
While the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has surged throughout the United States, the group of ardently pro-Trump activists have not chalked the illnesses up to COVID-19, but rather something far more sinister and unlikely.
Joe Oltmann, a far-right hanger-on who hosts the Conservative Daily podcast and attended the gathering, alleged on Sunday that he was the victim of an anthrax attack. “South Florida peeps. I have a [sic] urgent need! I have been sick with what could be an anthrax attack it turns out. More later on this,” he wrote on Telegram, a messaging app beloved by the extreme right. The ambiguous message was viewed by more than 130,000 people.
The anthrax rumor gained further steam as Oltmann floated on Telegram that fellow 2020 election conspiracy theorist Jovan Pulitzer—who had come in close contact with Oltmann during the ReAwaken America event—may have also come down with anthrax poisoning.
“Jovan Pulitzer is in a bad place right now. Please pray for him. Bring the spirit of healing upon him. In Jesus name, Amen,” Oltmann posted on Monday. “Might be Anthrax.”
Pulitzer’s allies expressed growing concern that they could not reach the far-right figure this week. Eventually, on Wednesday, Oltmann said he was able to make contact: “Jovan just reached out,” he wrote. “In and out of the hospital Getting tested. Negative for Anthrax. Weird symptoms so no idea what he has. But, he is alive and kicking so there is that.”
Pulitzer chimed in minutes later on Twitter alleging that, anthrax or not, he was probably the victim of biological warfare. No mention of whether he has tested for COVID-19.
“To my friends tried to keep this underwraps [sic] until we knew what we were dealing with but Evidence suggest [sic] that several of us were targeted by biological agents at an event. This has wreaked havoc on my system [with] all of the most dangerous symptoms appearing,” Pulitzer tweeted. “Scary to say the least.”
He continued: “From rashes to blistering, passing blood to 2 solid days of haculicinations [sic]. Massive fever storms drenching me and not abating BUT STILL NO definitive diagnosis yet All I know is zombie symptoms would be easier than these symptoms.”
According to Clay Clark, ReAwaken America Tour’s lead organizer, the completely unfounded anthrax claim originated from David Clements, a former university professor turned 2020 election cyber “expert” who has provided dubious evidence of voter fraud. (Clements later denied originating the theory after right-wing online radio host Stew Peters attributed it to him. “I’ve received countless voicemail messages, probably four or five of them, from David Clements, who’s very upset that we didn’t discuss that the original anthrax discussion came from Joe Oltmann,” Peters backtracked. “Okay, we acknowledge that. I was unaware of this.”)
Regardless of the anthrax scare’s origin, Clark wants to put the rumors to bed once and for all—a difficult task considering its core audience is made up of devoted conspiracy theorists.
“If you go to an NBA game or NFL game, there is going to be fog,” he said. “People are calling me every day saying ‘Are you part of the Illuminati?’ and I go ‘What?’”
Clark insisted to The Daily Beast on Wednesday afternoon: “There was not anthrax through the fog machines.” He noted that if there was anthrax, “one, I think we would all be dead, you know,” before noting that the church that hosted the event uses “fog for a lot of different special effects,” which Clark doesn’t have any “control over.”
Clark asked those pushing the anthrax rumors to show the dead “bodies” or “physical evidence” of such an attack. The QAnon-friendly org’s leader claimed to The Daily Beast that he had security officials sweep the Elevate Life Church for threats ahead of the three-day event. (The church did not respond to a request for comment.)
“There was no anthrax at the event and we have sniffing dogs,” he insisted. “They bring in dogs [a hired security firm] that sniff and look for, you know these are well-trained dogs to look for any potential bio-weapons, drugs.”
The event was headlined by a bevy of 2020 election dead-enders including former Trump adviser Michael Flynn, the ex-president’s son Eric Trump, self-described “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
“Haha. What happened?” Lindell asked The Daily Beast, apparently unaware of any anthrax claims. The pillow mogul later claimed he spoke with Oltmann who claimed to have tested negative for anthrax. “He said the other people that he talked to got something but they tested for COVID and it wasn’t COVID,” Lindell relayed of his conversation with Oltmann, who did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Lindell emphasized that he did not feel ill following the event where he spoke on the main stage during day one. “I don’t have anything, I’m healthy as a person,” he told The Daily Beast.
Clark, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by his event’s conspiracy theory-loving audience now entangling him in a conspiracy theory of his own.
“All I know is that we have done seven events of these so far, and at each event, people have claimed they have been attacked by a bio-weapon,” he said. “This is actually normal for me.”
He further suggested he may ban people like Clements, who allegedly originated the anthrax claim, from further events. “As a general rule, if anyone claims you’re Illuminati, I don’t know if you invite him back as a speaker, right?” Clark said.
But in addition to tying Clark to alleged anthrax raining down on attendees, Clements has claimed the ReAwaken America organizer might be involved in child sex trafficking—a claim that echoes a core tenet of the bonkers QAnon conspiracy theory.
“I am a father of five; I am definitely not involved in a sex cult,” Clark told The Daily Beast, “unless that involves having sex with my wife.”