Cotton repeats coronavirus conspiracy theory, despite evidence

Coronavirus conspiracy theories have, predictably, spread from the Republican fringe to the Republican mainstream.
Image: Tom Cotton
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks to reporters as he arrives for a meeting with fellow Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who are at the Capitol to discuss the nation's criminal justice sentencing laws, in Washington on Nov. 27, 2018.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file
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By Steve Benen

There are some prominent political figures in the nation's capital who seem a little too fond of conspiracy theories. Folks like Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) routinely seem to embrace some rather nutty explanations for events with more rational explanations.

But let's not forget Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who occasionally embraces some doozies of his own.

As regular readers may recall, it was six years ago when the far-right Arkansan told voters that Islamic State militants may travel to North America, partner with Mexican drug cartels, cross the border, plot terrorist strikes, and target his land-locked state. Pressed for some kind of evidence, Cotton referenced a piece from an unhinged conspiracy-theory website.

A Washington Post fact-check piece said at the time, "As a lawmaker, Cotton needs to be careful about making inflammatory statements based on such flimsy evidence."

Alas, the GOP senator did not take the advice to heart. In 2018, Cotton touted a weird conspiracy theory to blame Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In 2020, the Arkansan apparently sees some merit in a brand new conspiracy theory, and this one's about the coronavirus. The Washington Post reported:

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) repeated a fringe theory suggesting that the ongoing spread of a coronavirus is connected to research in the disease-ravaged epicenter of Wuhan, China. Cotton referenced a laboratory in the city, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, in an interview on Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures." He said the lab was near a market some scientists initially thought was a starting point for the virus's spread.

The GOP senator conceded there's no "evidence that this disease originated there," though Cotton nevertheless believes officials "need to at least ask the question."

The problem with the pitch, of course, is that the question has already been asked -- and answered. As Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, explained, "There's absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates the virus was engineered. The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded."

The right, however, doesn't want to do anything of the kind. As the New York Times reported, former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon appears fond of the idea, and it's gained traction among conservative media outlets, including Fox News.

And now the public is hearing it again, except this time it's coming from an ambitious senator, who happens to sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reinforcing concerns about the blurred line between the Republican fringe and the Republican mainstream.