City officials believe a conservative podcaster’s spread of an unlikely coronavirus theory led to people flooding a commission livestream Tuesday with nearly 2,000 comments questioning the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility’s presence in Manhattan.
NBAF, a biosafety level 4 lab, will replace the Plum Island facility later this year. It will play a leading role in the nation’s defense against agriculture- and livestock-related diseases.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 1,891 comments from people across the country on the Manhattan City Commission meeting video on Facebook.
“Who is running this city?” asked one Facebook commenter. “You don’t care about people if you allow a level 4 lab in the middle of our agricultural region!”
People in the comment section asserted NBAF could unleash a virus similar to the coronavirus.
“I guess Wuhan virus was a scamdemic if you’re not worried about a level 4 Bio Lab in the middle of our Kansas,” said another commenter.
World Health Organization experts concluded that it was unlikely the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan, China lab, the Associated Press reported in February.
“The findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” said Peter Ben Embarek, mission leader of the World Health Organization.
In response to Tuesday’s Facebook comments, city officials encouraged the commenters to seek facts about the coronavirus pandemic and NBAF. Officials posted a link about evaluating news sources and also a link to information on NBAF from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the comments of the city commission meeting.
“I encourage people to seek facts about COVID-19 as well as NBAF and check sources,” city officials said in the comment section.
City public information officer Vivienne Uccello told The Mercury on Wednesday morning the city government was aware of the comments and had looked into it.
NBAF was not a topic on Tuesday’s city commission meeting agenda. Manhattan city commissioners do not see Facebook comments during commission meetings, Uccello added.
“It’s rare to get even 10 comments on the Facebook post during a city commission meeting, so this is definitely a situation that was out of the ordinary,” she said.
The city found two articles and a podcast that may have sparked the comments. Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a conservative podcaster and supporter of former President Donald Trump, released a podcast questioning NBAF and Plum Island on April 13. Maras-Lindeman also wrote an article asserting the 116th Congress and the Senate Agriculture Committee concealed information about NBAF.
“Wuhan’s accidental release of a virus brought a global epidemic,” the podcaster said. “Imagine if an accident (and accidents happen all the time) happened in Manhattan, Kansas. It would wipe out half of the U.S. population within days, and the damage could last for decades.”