On March 14 and 15, pro-Trump cable news network OAN aired a coronavirus special called Exposing China's Coronavirus: The Fears, The Lies and The Unknown. During that program, the network’s chief White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, suggested that the novel coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic may have originated in a North Carolina laboratory.
As support, Rion cited Greg Rubini, whom she described in the special as “a citizen investigator and monitored source amongst a certain set in the D.C. intelligence community.”
There is no evidence that Rubini is a “monitored source” for anyone but Rion. He has pushed wild “deep state” conspiracy theories on Twitter, where he has over 100,000 followers.
Rubini has said that the novel coronavirus “was GENETICALLY ENGINEERED as a Bio-Weapon at the Univ. of North Carolina BSL-3 Lab.” He has also said that it was spread from North Carolina to China, Italy, and elsewhere in the United States by the “Deep State” in a plot “to destroy the Trump economy.” In addition, Rubini suggested that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the well-respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, personally funded the production of the virus, even calling him “Little Tony Fauci.”
OAN coronavirus special featured former top Trump officials
The OAN special, which was promoted on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, began with commentary like what you would see on Fox News, such as calling COVID-19 “Chinese-born” (viruses have neither a race nor a nationality) and saying that President Donald Trump had taken strong steps to protect America (he downplayed the threat and reacted extraordinarily poorly and slowly).
The first hints of just how deranged that this special would be showed up in the second segment, which was, amazingly, geared toward attacking South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The segment featured a panel including two former top Trump officials: acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and former National Security Council chief of staff Fred Fleitz. The panel also included columnist and frequent Fox guest Gordon Chang and former South Korean official Cho Tae-yong. The panelists attacked Moon’s response to the coronavirus epidemic, with Fleitz even saying that the South Korean president showed “incompetence and naivete” because he has downplayed threats coming from China and North Korea. (South Korea’s response to coronavirus has been widely considered a success, thanks largely to its aggressive testing regime, an area in which the U.S. has failed.)
In the next segment, after a discussion of outsourcing production of drugs and medical supplies, Chang said that China “owns” the World Health Organization.
But it was in the final segment that OAN's coronavirus special went completely off the rails.
Conspiracy theory: A bioweapon created in North Carolina to undermine the Trump economy
Rion cited experts who had expressed doubt that the virus originated in a seafood market in the city of Wuhan, China, and then she took that doubt to mean that it must have originated elsewhere. Saying that there are some “interesting clues” in the United States, Rion pointed to a laboratory in North Carolina:
Rion is pushing a debunked conspiracy theory. It circulated last week in Britain’s Express tabloid, after which experts repeatedly debunked it and the Express even ran a correction. The Express’ source was a guest on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show, Francis Boyle, who alleged that the coronavirus was a bioweapon created in Wuhan.
While Boyle, Steve Bannon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), and others have pushed a conspiracy theory that the virus was a bioweapon that originated in a facility in Wuhan, Rion went in a slightly different direction. She cited a 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health, titled “SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronavirus pose threat for human emergence,” and used its links to the University of North Carolina to suggest that the novel coronavirus was created there.
After Rion mentioned the study, she named authors who purportedly have links to Wuhan. While there are no audio issues elsewhere in the special, on both the Saturday and Sunday airings of this special, Rion’s voice is muted when saying the names, though the authors list for the 2015 study does include the names of two scientists, Zheng-Li Shi and Xing-Ye Ge, who have worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Conspiracy theories about these scientists go back to at least January 26.)
On OAN, Rion also cited Greg Rubini as an expert. Rubini had tweeted the conspiracy theory at Rion the day before the special aired, in a thread still pinned to his Twitter profile at the time this piece was published. Before that, Rubini had also previously tweeted that the virus was created in a North Carolina lab. While never explicitly citing this study, on February 25, Rubini tweeted at former Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini: “this VIRUS is a BIO-WEAPON - genetically engineered in a North Carolina Lab, and brought to Wuhan by a Chinese scientist. … I have the documents. be advised.”
While Rion cited Rubini’s conspiracy theory that the virus was created in North Carolina, she concluded by implying that Chinese scientists, after purportedly helping to create the virus in North Carolina in 2015, then released it from a laboratory in Wuhan near the end of 2019. This is more in line with the Bannon and Cotton conspiracy theory than with Rubini’s even more deranged notion.
Rubini posits that the “deep state” sent the virus from North Carolina to China, Italy, and then back to the United States. He is also convinced that Anthony Fauci personally funded its creation.
Rubini has repeatedly accused Fauci of being behind the pandemic as a tool of the “deep state.” Along those lines, he has also pointed the finger at former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden.
Rubini also recently called for Trump to immediately declare martial law for two months. Additionally, he has claimed that communists and Muslims have “infiltrated” the Pentagon and that the novel coronavirus outbreak is a “cover” for a “Nazi coup” in Europe.
Rion has repeatedly interacted with Rubini on Twitter.
Before being hired by OAN and eventually being appointed as its chief White House correspondent, Rion was a Seth Rich conspiracy theorist.