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Prominent British academics have been sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus online, The Times can disclose.

They included suggestions from other social media users that Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) that meets in Davos may be involved in plots to exploit the illness and speculation that it was a biological weapon.

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The academics include Tim Hayward, a professor of environmental political theory at the University of Edinburgh, and Piers Robinson, co-founder of the Organization for Propaganda Studies (OPS), which uses the University of Bristol as an address.

Richard Benyon, a former Conservative MP who served on the home affairs select committee, said: “These are Russell Group, internationally respected universities. These people have access to the next generation of young people and are able to cast doubt about the clear realities of modern life.”

The OPS tweeted a YouTube interview last week headlined “Is Coronavirus The New 9/11?”, where Dr Robinson said it was now obvious the official story of the World Trade Centre attacks was incorrect. “The question is who was involved in influencing, arranging, and which states, including from within the US political system. And if that’s the case with 9/11 it’s perfectly possible that there are actors at play in relation to this. Some people have talked about bioweapons.”

He described Covid-19 as “a low fatality virus . . . There’s no indication that it’s significantly different from what we see with major flu outbreaks every year”, but “propagandistic information” had created “so much hype around it, there is so much fear”.

The OPS has given Companies House the address of the School of Policy Studies at Bristol, where one of its directors, David Miller, is professor of political sociology. A university spokesman said it had not been aware its premises were listed.

Another director, Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at New York University, has written that the coronavirus “may be an artificially created bioweapon”. Professor Crispin Miller was approached for comment.

Professor David Miller issued a statement from the OPS saying it “includes a range of academic and expert contributors with independent views.

“Its function is to scrutinize propaganda and intelligence campaigns, specifically examining the role of British media organizations in amplifying those state propaganda campaigns.”

On Monday Professor Hayward retweeted to his 13,000 followers a Canadian environmentalist’s claim that the WEF, United Nations and Imperial College London might be part of a scheme to exploit the pandemic by promoting vaccines and creating gene-modified flu-resistant chickens.

Professor Hayward and Dr Robinson retweeted a YouTube interview with Ernst Wolff, a fringe author, who suggested the lockdown was a way to facilitate a fascistic financial coup. Professor Hayward tweeted: “Your attention may be drawn away from the bigger picture. According to Ernst Wolff, they’re banking on it. They? Well, who’s reporting, who’s funding, who’s profiting?”

Professor Hayward retweeted the film-maker Oliver Stone speculating on whether the virus could have been a biological attack on China.

Professor Hayward told The Times: “The implications of the virus’s effects and the policy response to it on economy, culture, society, order and every aspect of life in the UK require people to have greater access to information, not less. If I retweet interesting tweets by an influential public figure, I think it is up to other people what they make of it. If controversial ideas are not discussed, mistakes cannot be revealed.”

Dr Robinson, with 12,000 Twitter followers, retweeted the blogger Vanessa Beeley claiming Gates had links with Imperial College and asking: “Is UK government working for Bill Gates?”

Professor Hayward, Dr Robinson, Professor David Miller and Ms Beeley are members of an academic working group on Syria that was challenging western claims that President Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. Professor Crispin Miller has served on their advisory board.

Dr Robinson denied spreading conspiracies and said his interview “concerned the danger of events such as 9/11 and the coronavirus being exploited by political actors for political, military and economic purposes. It is essential in a democratic system that people are alert to these matters.”

Network sets out to fight ‘propaganda’
Academics have formed networks to combat what they see as western propaganda spread by the media on behalf of governments. None of the three groups has issued coronavirus studies but have looked at contentious issues on war and peace.

Piers Robinson, a former professor of politics, society and political journalism at the University of Sheffield, belongs to all of the organizations. The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media produces papers that contradict what “western narratives” about atrocities attributed to President Assad.

It claimed that White Helmets rescuers committed mass murder to provide bodies for a faked chemical attack on civilians that led to the bombing of Assad’s military. It also cast doubt on Russia’s responsibility for the Salisbury poisonings.

Paul McKeigue, professor of genetic epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, a co-author of its research, has said that as an NHS public health consultant he was now working “flat out” on coronavirus.

The Working Group on Propaganda and the 9/11 Global “War on Terror” is skeptical that the Twin Towers attack was the sole work of al-Qaeda. The Organization for Propaganda Studies says it aims to conduct research of propaganda.

Strange, but untrue
Masts for the new 5G mobile phone technology were set alight in Britain after unfounded fears that the radio waves damage resistance to the virus. Woody Harrelson, the Hollywood actor, and the British hip-hop artist MIA fueled the story.

Pepper soup was suggested as a cure for the virus in Nigeria. “Give a patient hot meals rich in pepper and in less than 24 hours he or she will be fine,” a Twitter hoaxer advised.

An orgy involving 500 Belgians left 380 infected with the virus, leading the health minister to ban group sex, according to a nationalist newspaper in Russia. The journal, illustrating its account with a photograph of nuns walking past a mural of naked women, mistook a Canadian spoof article for a factual report.

Drinking water every 15 minutes was wrongly suggested as a way to wash any traces of the virus from the mouth to the stomach, where it was claimed that acid would kill the germs.

Holding your breath easily for ten seconds is a test that proves that you are free of coronavirus, a false rumor claimed.

Same-sex marriage is one of the most appalling causes of the pandemic, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi cleric, told his million followers online. He called on governments to ban gay weddings.

Covid-19 was created five years ago in a laboratory by Bill Gates, according to a bogus internet conspiracy theory.

In reality, a patent for a different virus was granted for vaccine research to a British institute that has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but not for that particular project.

A Hindu nationalist group held a cow urine-drinking event in Delhi to highlight the purported powers of the liquid against the virus.

Nostradamus was wrongly hailed for having predicted the crisis with a prophecy about a queen (which could be interpreted as “corona”) rising from the east in a twin year (such as 2020) to spread plague in a country with seven hills (which could be Italy) to destroy the world. He never wrote this.

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