Billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have committed $100 million of their own money to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In return, a fevered segment of the pro-Trump internet is convinced the couple wants to kill off a good portion of humanity, then install mark-of-the-beast style tracking chips in whoever survives.
On Wednesday, pro-Trump personalities and regular Trump White House guests “Diamond and Silk” became the latest to push conspiracy theories about Gates, tweeting that the Microsoft founder was operating on a secretive “agenda” to “rule the world with vaccines” and vowing not to take any coronavirus vaccine that Gates was involved with.
“You're not going to make black people the guinea pigs for this here right here,” Lynnette “Diamond” Hardaway said in a video.
“We're not going to be your experiment or your project,” Rochelle “Silk” Richardson added.
Diamond and Silk, who have visited the White House on several occasions, been featured as campaign surrogates and been boosted by Trump, aren’t alone. Newsmax White House correspondent Emerald Robinson claimed last week that Gates wants to use “vaccines to track people,” while Fox News host Laura Ingraham—who has met with Trump to discuss the coronavirus—tweeted that Gates and other “globalists” want to use the crisis to track people. Gates’s name appeared on protest signs meant to criticize Ohio’s social distancing order, while former Trump adviser Roger Stone accused Gates of wanting to “microchip” people.
Amid the confusion caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Gates has emerged in fringe right circles as a villain behind the virus’s spread.
Gates has long been viewed suspiciously by vaccine skeptics, who take out-of-context remarks he made in 2011 about vaccines as proof that he wants to use inoculations to reduce the global population. In reality, Gates meant that reducing child mortality would help parents plan their families better.
In the coronavirus era, though, rumors and conspiracy theories about Gates have boomed. On social media, Gates has been wrongly accused of everything from plotting out the coronavirus pandemic ahead of time to distributing plush souvenir coronavirus toys to celebrate the virus’s death toll.
Gates has taken on the mastermind role in the right-wing conspiracy imagination typically reserved for billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, according to Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of fact-checking site Truth or Fiction.
“These are all just recirculated, warmed-over stories—they’re just switching the names around,” Binkowski said. “George Soros was the bogeyman, now it’s Bill Gates.”
The disinformation campaign about Gates kicked off early in the spread of COVID-19, with QAnon conspiracy theorists claiming he had somehow patented the virus, with the implication that Gates was deliberately spreading the disease.
More recently, conspiracy theorists have claimed that Gates is somehow developing a tracking device to pair with any coronavirus vaccine. Some right-wing figures have even claimed Gates is developing the “mark of the Beast” predicted in the Book of Revelation. In fact, Gates’ foundation funded research in 2016 into using invisible ink to track child vaccination in developing countries, long before the coronavirus pandemic.
As for the coronavirus, Gates has pledged to fund the construction of seven different factories to help with production of seven potential vaccines. The investment will cost him billions because, in all likelihood, much of the money will go to waste. But he’s argued that it is worth it since it will dramatically reduce the time to scale up manufacturing as vaccine trial runs are conducted.
Nevertheless, the right-wing internet’s focus on Gates has proved to be fertile ground for internet tricksters. On April 10, for example, Microsoft released a commercial featuring its work with performance artist Marina Abramovic. Coincidentally, Abramovic is also a prominent player in the heated imaginations of Pizzagate conspiracy theorists, who believe she is somehow involved with child sacrifices at a Washington pizzeria.
An internet trickster quickly recut the ad, inserting a flashing “666” and images of Abramovic dancing in a satanic pentagram. The doctored ad circulated on Twitter as the genuine commercial, prompting people like one-time Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich to claim in a tweet that Microsoft put a “666” message in the ad.
“Oh cool Microsoft did a video where ‘666’ flashes in the screen for a split second but if you point this out you’re a conspiracy theorist,” Cernovich wrote in a tweet, which he later deleted.
Microsoft eventually pulled the ad from YouTube. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft—whose board Gates left in March—didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The wild conspiracy theorizing around Gates isn’t just an internet phenomenon, Binkowski fears. Instead, it could end up having real world, highly damaging, impacts on the efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic by convincing people to reject getting a vaccine for fear that it’s some sort of brain chip.
“It’s going to have the end effect of scaring more Americans away from vaccines,” Binkowski said.