Conservative website The Federalist has positioned itself in the coronavirus era as the right’s leading voice of COVID-19 skepticism, with its writers seemingly on a reckless campaign across the internet and television to downplay the pandemic’s potential impact and lethality.
The right-wing outlet’s coronavirus coverage hit an astonishing low on Wednesday when Twitter temporarily locked The Federalist’s account after it posted an article by a self-described dermatologist proposing that people deliberately infect themselves with the virus.
In his article, titled “How Medical ‘Chickenpox Parties’ Could Turn The Tide Of The Wuhan Virus,” Douglas Perednia made a bizarre push for getting voluntarily infected with the disease at gatherings in an attempt to develop immunity—a scheme he claimed would “turn the tide” against the pandemic.
Twitter first added a warning to the tweet describing the article as “potentially harmful or associated with a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service.” Ultimately, the social-media site briefly locked The Federalist’s account for posting the story on Wednesday afternoon.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that The Federalist’s account was temporarily locked for violating the site’s rules about COVID-19. Meanwhile, Vice reported that while The Federalist described Perednia as a physician, he’s not actually licensed to practice medicine in his state.
This isn’t the first time The Federalist has pushed dangerous ideas about the coronavirus. Over the past few weeks, the site—which, upon its founding in 2013, was positioned as a thinking man’s conservative website before an abrupt pro-Trump pivot in 2016—has reinvented itself as a leading skeptic of the public-health consensus on the virus.
On Monday, for example, Federalist writer Jonathan Ashbach ran a cost-benefit analysis on mass coronavirus death and considered “whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die.”
Ashbach wrote: “More is at stake than lives and money: namely freedom.”
That same day, Federalist contributor Helen Raleigh counseled not “freaking out” about the disease, praising boomers who refuse to change their lifestyles because of the pandemic, despite their generation being one of the most at-risk of succumbing to the virus. The headline: “Why Your Parents Aren’t Idiots For Not Freaking Out About Coronavirus Like You Are.”
The Federalist’s co-founder Sean Davis lamented Tuesday on Twitter that the rest of the country should not have to lock down over virus fears simply because New York City—an epicenter of the virus’ stateside spread—is a “filthy, disease-ridden dystopia.” The city should be cut off from the rest of the country, Davis advised, while other states and cities should “get back to work.”
The Federalist’s campaign to downplay the coronavirus risks has even extended to conservative cable news.
On Monday, senior contributor Ben Weingarten claimed on One America News—a right-wing outlet that would make even Fox News blush with its conspiratorial pro-Trump musings—that Italy has inflated the pandemic’s death toll by counting anyone who died while suffering from coronavirus as a coronavirus fatality, even if they already suffered from potentially lethal pre-conditions.
The Federalist didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Still, Perednia’s idea for virus parties marked a new level for contrarian disinformation for the site. The self-styled doc, whose previous writings include a hamster-ownership guide called Think Like a Hamster!, compared his coronavirus gathering idea to the now-outdated practice of infecting children in a group at “chickenpox parties.” (Perednia failed to note that the Centers for Disease Control now strongly advises against such deliberate exposure events.)
Perednia laid out an elaborate regime he’s invented for people deliberately infecting themselves with the disease, including the creation of “safe infection sites” and certificates of coronavirus immunity. After getting deliberately infected, Perednia proposed that people should then quarantine in hotels or aboard cruise ships.
Citing the example of Florida spring breakers ignoring public-health warnings—a situation that has the potential to escalate the virus’ spread to at-risk populations—Perednia wrote that he could envision deliberately getting infected with friends “becoming a social activity.”
Perednia ultimately claimed his voluntary infection scheme would boost the economy in the pandemic. “Economic activity would recover far faster and at a lower cost than would otherwise be possible,” he wrote.
Perednia did not cite any experts to support his plan, which relied on the still-unproven idea that everyone who contracts the virus develops immunity to it.
Despite dismissing the novel coronavirus risks and flirting with the idea of deliberate infection, The Federalist has managed to publish some useful COVID-19 content: On Monday, the site recommended a list of church hymns to sing during plagues.
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