Last week, President Obama announced an ambitious — and expensive — plan that effectively placed the U.S. military at the forefront of the global fight against the worst Ebola outbreak in history. In an effort that could cost as much as $750 million in the next six months, he assigned up to 3,000 military personnel to West Africa to “combat and contain” what officials call “an extraordinarily serious epidemic.”
As those military doctors and officials begin what will be a difficult task, among the challenges they face are rumors that spread fear — fear of Ebola, fear of quarantine measures and fear of doctors. Already, several medical workers have been murdered in Guinea — throats slit, bodies dumped in a latrine. Then six Red Cross volunteers were attacked earlier this week while they tried to collect the body of an Ebola victim.
And now, in what may plant further seeds of mistrust and suspicion, a major Liberian newspaper, the Daily Observer, has published an article by a Liberian-born faculty member of a U.S. university implying the epidemic is the result of bioterrorism experiments conducted by the United States Department of Defense, among others.
And while some commenting on the article were critical, the number who praised it was telling. “They are using” Ebola, wrote one, “for culling the world population mainly Africa for the…purpose of gaining control of the Africans resources criminally.”
The piece purports to describe scientific findings from various “reports,” which are not cited in detail, and even references the bestselling thriller, “The Hot Zone.”
“Reports narrate stories of the US Department of Defense (DoD) funding Ebola trials on humans, trials which started just weeks before the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone,” wrote Delaware State University associate professor Cyril Broderick.
Under the headline, “Ebola, AIDS Manufactured by Western Pharmaceuticals, US DoD?”, it says: “the U.S., Canada, France, and the U.K. are all implicated in the detestable and devilish deeds that these Ebola tests are. There is a need to pursue criminal and civil redress for damages.”
Worse, in the same breath, the semi-intelligible article suggests groups trying to stop the epidemic — Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders — are all somehow in on it. The piece puts them on a list of those “implicated in selecting and enticing African countries to participate in the testing events.”
Broderick, who is listed as an associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Delaware State University, defended his article in a brief interview with The Washington Post. “There are many references to what was contained in my letter,” he said. “You may read the letter and double-check the sources listed. They are available and legitimate.”
But are they? Broderick drew on research published in several conspiracy Web sites, including Global Research and Liberty Beacon. He discussed a 1996 book called “Emerging Viruses: AIDS & Ebola — Nature, Accident or Intentional?,” written by a man who called himself a “humanitarian, clinician, prophet, scholar and natural healer.” One of Broderick’s sources claimed Tulane University, which once worked on test kits for hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, has “been active in the African areas where Ebola is said to have broken out in 2014.”
“Ebola has a terrible history, and testing has been secretly taking place in Africa,” Broderick wrote, going on to praise the famous Ebola account “The Hot Zone” as “heart-rending,” but written “to be politically correct.”
Broderick declined to answer whether he is concerned his article, published in Liberia’s Ebola-devastated capital, would convince locals that Western doctors are trying to harm them. “I refer you to the articles and reports published,” he said. “I hope you can understand them. They are unambiguous. I am happy that our government has taken the lead in counteracting the infection to curtail the infections and death.”
His claims represent a pervasive, pernicious and crippling problem facing the fight against Ebola: misinformation. Across Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the CDC fears Ebola could eventually infect 1.4 million people, there is such distrust of the medical community that some don’t even think Ebola exists.
Some in West Africa, reported the Economist, “fear that the government wants to sell the blood of Ebola patients, or that it will remove patients’ limbs for ritual purposes. Others think health workers will inject them with Ebola; or that the ubiquitous chlorine disinfectant spray will give them the disease; or simply the virus is an invention to help the government bring in donations.”
Broderick’s article played on those fears — and attempted to substantiate them. By drawing from conspiracy-obsessed American sources — one of which said the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were planned by the American elite — its author took rumors circulating in the United States and injected them squarely into the most Ebola-ravaged place on Earth.
Such rumors are “commonplace” in Liberia’s capital, according to Ramen IR, an international affairs blog: “They become strengthened through mass dissemination and the credibility gained through publication. The public is then mobilized through misinformation. This tendency is especially high in post-conflict zone like Liberia, where the 14-year civil war still fills the country with memories of violence distrust.”
“Unfortunately,” Ramen IR wrote, “articles like Dr. Broderick’s commonly circulate in Liberia’s local media.”
Many readers of the article were equally critical of Broderick’s reasoning. “These are the kinds of publications which are going to do more harm to our fight against Ebola than good,” one said. “Dr. Broderick could have waited till this thing was contained before publishing his speculations. Dr. Broderick has inadvertently placed an anti-Ebola weapon in the hands of ebola skeptics!”
Said another: “My God, this is why Liberians will continue to die, they can believe every half wit who writes with a dictionary and a cut and paste right click of the mouse. Dr. Broderick, I felt sorry for you but I am angry, amazed, and totally shocked at your ignorance.”
“It does not take research to discover this professor is a crack pot,” wrote another.
But see also: “This paper is creating awareness so that African will refuse any vacination as a biogun that they manufacture and use as a weapon of mass destruction only to anihilate African race.”
And, “aids and ebola are perfect examples of recent forays into the germ warefare research the US is pursuing.”