Days after thousands of emails from Dr. Anthony Fauci became public through a series of FOIA requests, Republicans are using portions of those emails—out of context—to ramp up attacks on the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Those emails are being conflated with a series of media-hyped articles about the origins of COVID-19, and the result is a genuinely toxic stew that is being used by Republicans ranging from Josh Hawley to Donald Trump Jr. as a way to stir up hate and rake in cash.
For those not neck deep in OAN, Newsmax, or Fox News, it may be hard to fathom just how much those channels have become a 24/7 assault on the 80-year-old doctor, or how hard they have been pushing the "lab escape" theory as "proof" that the NIAID director is somehow responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these outlets are in heavy rotation with the idea that COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, operated by a friend of Dr. Fauci, that Fauci helped China in covering up that origin, and that this somehow absolves Donald Trump of all responsibility in 900,000 American deaths.
And that's the lightweight version. The version being pushed by multiple "guests" and "experts" appearing on these programs is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was deliberately engineered to infect people as part of a program that Fauci—and President Barack Obama—approved of and funded. The baseless accusations are so ugly that, even as Republicans like Hawley demand that Dr. Fauci be fired, others, like Trump Jr., are already chuckling over the idea that Dr. Fauci could be murdered.
On Friday evening, Trump Jr. showed that he isn't just expecting Dr. Fauci to be killed by the rabid Trump supporters being pushed to believe that a man who has lived his life in service to both medicine and the nation is some kind of monster. No, Junior is ready to celebrate that murder. In an Instagram post, Trump Jr. posted an image saying "I'm just going to jump ahead on this, and said I don't think Fauci killed himself." Those words were pasted over a smiling image of the odious and sadistic slave owner Calvin Candie from the film Django Unchained.
Sen. Rand Paul started the latest edition of the smear train on Thursday when he issued a fundraising pitch insisting that Fauci "must go" and claiming that Fauci—who was forced to correct Paul over and over in Senate hearings—was "continuously and deliberately misleading the public at every turn." He provided no examples, but insisted that someone must "fire Fauci!"
On Friday, Sen. Hawley explicitly tied together vague claims about Fauci's emails, with equally vague claims about COVID-19. "Anthony Fauci's recently released emails and investigative reporting about COVID-19 origins are shocking." Exactly what in Fauci's emails Hawley found upsetting, he didn't say. But he did call for Fauci to resign, as well as "a congressional investigation" into claims that Fauci somehow covered up the pandemic's origins.
Also on Friday, Donald Trump issued a statement saying that "After seeing the emails, our Country is fortunate I didn't do what Dr. Fauci wanted me to do."
What this means is anyone's guess, but by Saturday morning Sen. Marco Rubio figured he had his marching orders, so he piled on, calling for Biden to remove Dr. Fauci. And again, Rubio's claim went directly back to the idea that Fauci "dismissed the idea that the virus could have come from a lab."
Fauci never made such a dismissal. And the "lab escape" origin of COVID-19 certainly isn't proven. But it has been getting constant fluffing from a series of articles and constant right-wing coverage, all of which features the implication that "Trump was right" about "the China virus."
The Daily Mail that Trump intends to make things even worse Saturday evening, when he makes his first appearance as a private citizen at a North Carolina rally. He's planning to make attacking Dr. Fauci the center of his tirade,
On Friday, President Biden spoke up in support of Dr. Fauci, responding to a question by saying, "Yes, I'm very confident in Dr. Fauci."
But the assault on Anthony Fauci is unrelenting and the level of ugliness demonstrated by the Trump, Jr. message is only getting worse. If Republicans have learned anything from Jan. 6, it's apparently that they really can (and do) inspire and direct deadly hate.