Melinda Gates met with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein alongside her husband, Bill, in New York City and soon after said she was furious at the relationship between the two men, according to people familiar with the situation. “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” the two said in a brief statement posted on Twitter. “We have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives.”
Melinda Gates was supposedly concerned with her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill Gates’ relationship with disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in the years leading up to their high-profile divorce last week, according to a Sunday report.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was created as a PR scheme to funnel money to news outlets under the cover of ‘grants’ in order to receive favorable press coverage after relentless stories of Nazi-style Eugenics kept coming out in relation to Bill Gates. Now, in a beautifully ironic twist of fate, we learn the real reason why Medina Gates has filed for divorce from Bill Gates, his relationship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein that began after Epstein was convicted. What does that tell you?
Bill Gates has never denied his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, but neither has he ever given a convincing reason why he, Bill Gates, the richest man on the planet, would want or need a relationship with Epstein to ‘discuss philanthropy’. That makes exactly zero sense to anyone. Melinda Gates has said that their marriage was ‘irretrievably broken’ after Gates started his ‘relationship’ with Epstein, wanna take a guess as to what broke it?
FROM THE DAILY BEAST: Melinda Gates met with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein alongside her husband, Bill, in New York City and soon after said she was furious at the relationship between the two men, according to people familiar with the situation.
The previously unreported meeting occurred at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion in September 2013, on the same day the couple accepted the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award at The Pierre hotel and were photographed alongside then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
The meeting would prove a turning point for Gates’ relationship with Epstein, the people familiar with the matter say, as Melinda told friends after the encounter how uncomfortable she was in the company of the wealthy sex offender and how she wanted nothing to do with him.
Gates’ friendship with Epstein—who for years was accused of molesting scores of underage girls—still haunts Melinda, according to friends of the couple who spoke to The Daily Beast this week in light of the pair’s divorce announcement, which had been weeks in the making. The Daily Beast has learned that financial and public-relations specialists had been feverishly working on details of the pair’s split for weeks before the couple announced their divorce on Monday.
“AFTER A GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHT AND A LOT OF WORK ON OUR RELATIONSHIP, WE HAVE MADE THE DECISION TO END OUR MARRIAGE,” THE TWO SAID IN A BRIEF STATEMENT POSTED ON TWITTER. “WE HAVE RAISED THREE INCREDIBLE CHILDREN AND BUILT A FOUNDATION THAT WORKS ALL OVER THE WORLD TO ENABLE ALL PEOPLE TO LEAD HEALTHY, PRODUCTIVE LIVES.”
A representative for Bill and Melinda Gates did not respond to requests for comment for this report.
The ties between Gates and Epstein ran much deeper than the tech mogul first admitted. As The New York Timesreported, starting in 2011, Gates met with Epstein on numerous occasions. This was three years after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage girl in Florida; by then, accusations that Epstein exploited girls and young women were widelyreportedin the press.
As the Times reported, two people close to Gates acted as intermediaries between the two: Boris Nikolic, a biotech investor and former adviser to Gates who was mysteriously named a backup executor in Epstein’s last will and testament; and Melanie Walker, who worked at the Gates Foundation and served as a science adviser to Epstein. A person close to Walker told The Daily Beast she did not attend nor help set up any meetings between Gates and Epstein. Nikolic did not return multiple requests for comment.
Soon after Epstein’s arrest in July 2019, Gates became one of many prominent people to face scrutiny over ties to the sex trafficker.
TheNew York Times revealed Gates had met with Epstein at a 2011 get-together at Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse that included the financier’s ex-girlfriend Eva Andersson-Dubin and her daughter. (Virginia Giuffre, a survivor of Epstein’s sex ring, has accused Dubin’s hedge-funder husband, Glenn, of abuse—a charge he has strenuously denied.)
Indeed, the Times reported Gates visited Epstein multiple times from 2011 to 2013, and that Epstein had tried pitching a new charitable fund to JPMorgan honchos and to the Gates Foundation. In 2013, Gates also took a ride on Epstein’s private jet (christened by tabloids as the Lolita Express), from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Palm Beach, Florida, according to flight records reviewed by the Times. CNBC also reported that Gates rendezvoused with Epstein in New York in 2013.
When Gates first met Epstein, he was still Microsoft’s chairman and the second richest person in the world, with a net worth of $56 billion.
On Nov. 6 of last year, the country narrowly voted for a self-described centrist to be president. At the same time, it handed Congress to the Democratic Party in such an exquisitely slender fashion that it would not be clear until the beginning of Januarywhether control of the federal government was to be divided or unified. Once the “moderate” president was sworn in, he and his barely-in-the-majority party proposed restructuring the country from top to bottom, making permanent alterations to the constitutional order if need be. Finally, President Joe Biden has embraced his supporters’ and liberal pundits’ pronouncements that he can and should be “another FDR or LBJ.”
To the historically literate, it all should be nothing less than baffling.
First of all, Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election by 472 electoral votes to 59, while his party won 313 seats in the House and won 58 of the 96 seats in the Senate. Four years later, Roosevelt won the presidency by 523 electoral votes to 8, while his party won 334 seats in the House and 74 seats in the Senate. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed a less protracted period of practical influence, but his numbers were still impressive. In 1964, Johnson won the presidency 486 to 52 electoral votes, and his party won 295 seats in the House and 68 seats in the Senate. Suffice it to say, control of government was clear well before Inauguration Day.
By contrast, Biden won the presidency by 306 to 232 electoral votes, while his party won only nine more seats than the Republicans in the House of Representatives and won the same number of seats as the Republicans in the Senate. As the Washington Post pointed out in February, once the Georgia runoffs had been completed, the election ended up being so close that had 90,000 votes gone the other way, it would have been the Republicans, rather than the Democrats, who would have controlled all of Washington, D.C. From where, one has to ask, is Joe Biden interpreting a mandate for massive reform?
There is, of course, nothing in the Constitution that relates to “mandates.” The system is the system is the system, and, providing that they stay within its hard-and-fast limits, those who run it may use their power as they see fit. But it is telling that there is almost nothing of consequence that Biden hopes to achieve that would not involve altering the structure of government itself. Unlike in 1933 or 1965, we are not witnessing a wildly popular Democratic Party using its broad political power in order to get done what it had promised to do; we are watching a relatively weak Democratic Party muse aloud about blowing up the system in order to do what it believes is necessary. Some of that would require explicitly unconstitutional behavior. Some would mean altering the system in ways that would pass legal muster but are contrary to the spirit of the rules. And some would require hijacking a medical crisis in order to advance unrelated goals swiftly.
None of it bears any resemblance to what the country was promised last year.
If the Democratic Party were to follow through on the calls that have recently been echoed, considered, or studied by Joe Biden, the United States would be subjected to its most dramatic structural transformation in 90 years. We would see the filibuster abolished, which would have the effect of turning the Senate into the House. We would see the Supreme Court “expanded” to 13, which would have the effect of turning it into the Senate. We would see the federal government take over all aspects of our election system, which would have the effect of turning the states into regional departments of the federal government, as well as of taking redistricting out of the hands of legislators, regulating core political speech, and turning the Federal Election Commission into a partisan tool. And we would see Washington, D.C., added as a state, in clear violation of the Constitution, for the explicit purpose of making it harder for Republicans to regain a Senate majority. Even the less obviously dramatic elements of the Democrats’ approach, such as sidestepping the Senate’s Byrd Rule (which allows the chamber to make limited changes to the budget with just 50 votes) so that the party can pass whatever it wants via “reconciliation,” would set a terrible precedent that, given the state of our politics, would be unlikely to be reversed.
Reviewing these proposals, the BBC explained bluntly what the Democrats were doing, without feeling any particular need to sugarcoat it for a left-leaning American audience. Democrats, the BBC observed, “argue that a filibuster-free Senate could allow their party to change the political playing field — by implementing election laws that would increase their party’s vote, adding new judges to the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary, and by granting statehood (and new congressional representation) to Democrat-leaning Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.”
One of the core reasons that we write down our political rules of engagement is that everyone in government — yes, everyone— is liable at some point to believe that his or her preferred policies are simply “too important” to be left unachieved and, unwilling to take no for an answer, to come out against the system as it stands. Just as the First Amendment protects us from the censorship of speech that is expediently deemed to be “too dangerous,” and as the Fifth Amendment protects us from the imprisonment of people who are considered “too guilty” to risk taking to trial, our constitutional structure is supposed to protect us from the “we can’t wait” mentality that pervades our politics on both sides of the aisle.
For most of his career, Joe Biden understood this. Arguing passionately against the abolition of the filibuster in 2005, Biden praised the role it played in protecting “against the excesses of any temporary majority” and said getting rid of it would destroy “America’s sense of fair play” by “tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field.” (This argument was echoed by a supermajority of Democratic senators as recently as 2017, after Republicans took control of the federal government.) Arguing against the idea of packing the Supreme Court, which he called a “bonehead” notion, Biden criticized Roosevelt by quoting Lord Acton: “I remember this old adage about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Biden said. “Corrupted by power, in my view, [FDR] unveiled his court-packing plan.”
And now? Now, Biden entertains every idea his party throws at him. Now, Biden is the one whom power has corrupted. Now, Biden is the one trying to tilt the playing field toward those who temporarily control it. Any student of human nature should understand why this has happened. For his entire life, Joe Biden has wanted to be president, and, having got there at an advanced stage of life, he is in no mood to be countermanded. But, that this development was entirely predictable does not mean that it is acceptable — especially when it comes on the heels of a campaign for normalcy and when the majority of the policies that are supposedly important enough to justify such norm-breaking are not especially popular in the country at large.
Much has been written about the “Flight 93” mentality that has pervaded the conservative movement — and given that it led to the nomination and election of Donald Trump, and eventually to the events of Jan. 6, much should have been written on that topic. Less, however, has been written about the pervasiveness of precisely the same instinct within progressivism. This is a mistake, for one simply cannot understand the Democrats’ present panic without comprehending that they, too, believe that they are on the verge of extinction.
Why are progressives worried about the current makeup of the Supreme Court, even though it is more popular and more trusted than it has been for a while? Because they rightly intuit that much of their coveted legislation is incompatible with the Constitution, and they believe that the originalist majority on the court is likely to strike down any overreach. Why do progressives want to add Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as states? Because they think that the Senate is structurally unfair to them and to their ambitions, and that they need to stack the deck now before it is “too late.” Why do progressives want to abolish the filibuster and expand the reconciliation process beyond recognition? Because they have convinced themselves that if they do not do so, the Republican Party will “end democracy” at the state level and make it impossible for them to win again — and that, irrespective of all that, an unchecked “climate emergency” is about to end the world anyhow.
It is perhaps not surprising that, having gained full control of the government for the first time since 2010, the Democratic Party is being urged by its radical elements to throw out a system they never liked in order to play openly for keeps. But one must ask, nevertheless: Why the hell is Joe Biden going along with it?
There’s always a risk in trying to predict how the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case. Justices have proven to be unpredictable in the past, and court watchers will admit that with the Supreme Court, conventional wisdom is anything but conventional.
Still, there’s a buzz among the firearm industry and gun owners about the Supreme Court agreeing to hear an appeal in the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Corlett. The Supreme Court granted review to a limited question: Whether the state’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.
The court specifically wants to know if New York’s State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett is denying Second Amendment rights by rejecting concealed carry permits, as the state requires applicants to show a “justifiable need,” Could taking the case mean the time for concealed carry reciprocity has arrived?
NYSRPA v. Corlett is the first major gun-related case the Supreme Court has heard in more than a decade, following the McDonald v. City of Chicago decision in 2010, and before that, the District of Columbia v. Heller case decided in 2008. At the heart of the question in NYSRPA v. Corlett is whether the Second Amendment applies beyond the home.
The holdings in Heller and McDonald will inform how the Supreme Court decides NYSRPA v. Corlett. The Heller decision held that the Second Amendment — the right to keep and bear arms — are pre-existing individual rights.
Before Heller, gun control proponents argued the Second Amendment merely granted the right of the states to form a militia. The Heller decision put that notion to rest, holding that the people, not the government, retains the rights endowed by the Second Amendment. Furthermore, the Heller decision affirmed the belief that the right to bear arms can be viewed as among those rights endowed by our Creator and pre-existing the government.
The McDonald decision concluded that the Second Amendment applies not just to the federal government but to the states as well. Previous to McDonald, Chicago and nearby Oak Park, Illinois banned handgun possession. The Supreme Court held in McDonald that the Second Amendment is a fundamental civil liberty and self-defense is a basic right. Additionally, it held the states are obligated under the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause to not infringe on that right. Chicago couldn’t deny McDonald the right to keep and bear his handgun.
In light of NYSRPA v. Corlett, it’s worth noting the lengthy discussion about the right to “bear arms” contained in Heller. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s articulation in an earlier case that the term “bear arms” means “‘wear, bear, or carry . . . upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose … of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’” The Second Amendment is, after all, grounded in the natural, God-given right of self-defense.
As such, just as all other fundamental civil liberties like free speech and freedom of religion are not confined to your home, the Second Amendment right to bear arms does not end at your front door — or your state’s border, for that matter.
While predicting Supreme Court decisions can be a fool’s errand, given the Supreme Court’s precedents it would appear likely the days of New York and a minority of states requiring citizens to prove “good cause” or a “need” to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry a firearm on their person for self-protection are numbered. Should the Supreme Court strike down these “may issue” requirements, then all states will be “shall issue.”
That’s where the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 38/S. 1522), introduced by U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., in the House of Representatives and by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the U.S. Senate makes all the sense in the world. If all states are required to adhere to a “shall issue” policy, it only makes sense to treat concealed carry permits the same way individuals states treat driver’s licenses.
They would be honored across state lines, and states would still have the authority to set requirements to qualify and obtain them and when and where a concealed firearm can be carried. The alternative is requiring gun owners to carry a giant ring of 50 concealed carry permits in alphabetical order.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act safeguards rights retained by the states, allowing each to determine their own laws while protecting the Second Amendment rights of all Americans. It means that the right to “keep and bear arms” does not end arbitrarily at a state’s border and such rights are equally accessible no matter what state a valid permit holder is in.
In reality, the Democratic Party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. There’s little doubt that concealed carry reciprocity is not on the “must-do” lists of either House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The Supreme Court, however, might be set to make their obstructionism moot.
Clashes broke out between worshipers and security forces on the scene of the Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered to mark the last Friday prayers of the Ramadan. Initial reports indicated several injuries, including at least 12 police officers, and 35 Palestinians, including two in serious condition, during the riots, according to the Red Cross, cited by Israeli media. One of those injured was an Israeli officer who is in moderate condition after being hit in the face with a rock. Border Police officers closed off Damascus Gate in the Old City to regain control of the situation and to prevent more people from joining the riots.
Violent clashes broke out at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Friday, the last day of Ramadan, as Border Police close Damascus Gate.
No better way to celebrate Ramadan than to attack Jews on the Temple Mount that is illegally occupied by the Muslims, and that’s exactly what happened earlier in the day today in the capital city of Israel in Jerusalem.
“Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever.” 2 Chronicles 33:4 (KJB)
You can have all the Abraham Accords you like, and Israel can make peace with every Muslim nation on earth, but there will still not be peace in the Middle East until Israel makes peace with the Palestinians. That, of course, the bible tells us will never, ever happen not now, and not in the Millennium. That’s because the ‘peace’ that’s coming up will be the biblical false peace, and when Jesus returns as King of Kings, He will cast out the Canaanites as Zechariah tells us.
“In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD’S house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 14:20,21 (KJB)
Violent clashes break out at Temple Mount
FROM THE JERUSALEM POST: Clashes broke out between worshipers and security forces on the scene of the Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered to mark the last Friday prayers of the Ramadan. Initial reports indicated several injuries, including at least 12 police officers, and 35 Palestinians, including two in serious condition, during the riots, according to the Red Cross, cited by Israeli media. One of those injured was an Israeli officer who is in moderate condition after being hit in the face with a rock.
Border Police officers closed off Damascus Gate in the Old City in an attempt to regain control of the situation and to prevent more people from joining the riots. The secretary general of Islamic Jihad said Friday that “it is impossible to tolerate what is happening in Jerusalem and the enemy must expect our response at any moment.”
Hamas also put out a statement Friday warning Israel about potential repercussions of the clashes at the Temple Mount. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sent a direct message to Prime Minister
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU TELLING HIM “NOT TO PLAY WITH FIRE. THIS IS A STRUGGLE THAT YOU, YOUR ARMY, YOUR POLICE AND YOUR WHOLE COUNTRY CANNOT WIN. WE WILL DEFEND JERUSALEM NO MATTER WHAT SACRIFICES WE MUST MAKE,” YNET REPORTED.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas said that he called on the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to demand the UN Security Council convene to discuss the situation in Jerusalem including clashes and clashes in Sheikh Jarrah, Walla reported. Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned the entrance of Israeli forces to the Temple Mount, and their “animalistic attack” of worshipers there.
Qatar also denounced the entrance of Israeli security forces to the Temple mount in the wake of clashes, calling it “provocation for millions of Muslims around the world,” Ynet reported. Qatar went on to call for the international community to act to stop Israeli harm of the Palestinian people.
Israeli Police reported that “police troops began using riot control measures a while ago, in an attempt to restore order after violent riots broke out at the Temple Mount, during which hundreds of suspects started throwing rocks, bottles and other items towards our forces.”
“WE WILL NOT ALLOW THE DISRUPTION OF ORDER, ANY FORM OF VIOLENCE AND ATTEMPTS TO HARM OFFICERS WHILE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND USING IT TO PROMOTE A VIOLENT INCIDENT THAT INCLUDES HUNDREDS OF WORSHIPERS STARTING TO RIOT AND HURTING POLICE OFFICERS,” A POLICE STATEMENT RELEASED AFTER POLICE MANAGED TO REGAIN CONTROL AT THE TEMPLE MOUNT READ.
Earlier, a video published by KAN News showed worshipers waving Hamas flags at the Temple Mount. Israel Police and IDF had sent reinforcements to the capital in preparation for the fourth and final Friday prayers of the month of Ramadan on the Temple Mount and closed several streets in the area.
Violent clashes break out at Temple Mount, hundreds injured
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sent a direct message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him “not to play with fire.”
Violent clashes broke out at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Friday, the last day of Ramadan.
Clashes broke out between worshipers and security forces on the scene of the Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered to mark the last Friday prayers of the Ramadan.
Some 17 Israeli police officers were injured in the clashes with approximately half of them needing treatment in hospitals, a police spokesperson said Saturday morning.
One of the injured was an Israeli officer who is in moderate condition after being hit in the face with a rock.
Some 205 Palestinians were injured, according to Palestine Red Crescent, with 108 of those injured transferred to Jerusalem hospitals for treatment.
One of the injured lost an eye, two suffered serious head wounds and two had their jaws fractured, the Red Crescent said. Most of the rest of the injuries were minor, it added.
Footage from the Temple Mount showed Israeli security forces firing a stun grenade into al-Aqsa Mosque, Kan reported. Police were then seen locking the doors of the mosque while worshipers were still inside, according to Kan.
Border Police officers closed off Damascus Gate in the Old City in an attempt to regain control of the situation and to prevent more people from joining the riots.
The secretary general of Islamic Jihad said Friday that “it is impossible to tolerate what is happening in Jerusalem and the enemy must expect our response at any moment.”
Hamas also put out a statement Friday warning Israel about potential repercussions of the clashes at the Temple Mount.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sent a direct message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling him “not to play with fire. This is a struggle that you, your army, your police and your whole country cannot win. We will defend Jerusalem no matter what sacrifices we must make,” Ynet reported.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas said that he called on the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to demand the UN Security Council convene to discuss the situation in Jerusalem including clashes and clashes in Sheikh Jarrah, Walla reported.
Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned the entrance of Israeli forces to the Temple Mount, and their “animalistic attack” of worshipers there.
Qatar also denounced the entrance of Israeli security forces to the Temple mount in the wake of clashes, calling it “provocation for millions of Muslims around the world,” Ynet reported. Qatar went on to call for the international community to act to stop Israeli harm of the Palestinian people.
Israeli Police reported that “police troops began using riot control measures a while ago, in an attempt to restore order after violent riots broke out at the Temple Mount, during which hundreds of suspects started throwing rocks, bottles and other items towards our forces.”
“We will not allow the disruption of order, any form of violence and attempts to harm officers while taking advantage of the freedom of religion and using it to promote a violent incident that includes hundreds of worshipers starting to riot and hurting police officers,” a police statement released after police managed to regain control at the Temple Mount read.
Earlier, a video published by KAN News showed worshipers waving Hamas flags at the Temple Mount.
Israel Police and IDF had sent reinforcements to the capital in preparation for the fourth and final Friday prayers of the month of Ramadan on the Temple Mount and closed several streets in the area.
Biden insists proposals don’t contravene the Second Amendment
By Tyler Olson May, 7 2021
President Biden on Thursday announced a set of executive actions and legislative proposals on gun control, saying that gun violence is “a public health crisis” and the administration’s actions do not contravene Second Amendment rights.
The administration aims to “confront not just the gun crisis but what is actually a public health crisis,” Biden said in his remarks in the Rose Garden. He was joined by Vice President Harris.
“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “These are phony arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake from what we’re talking about.”
Continuing, Biden said: “But no amendment to the Constitution is absolute … From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons. So the idea is just bizarre to suggest that some of the things we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution.”
In attendance were several high-profile gun control activists, including Brady United president Kris Brown, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and Fred Guttenberg.
An administration official detailed the actions to reporters on Wednesday. Among them, Biden is asking the Justice Department (DOJ) to propose within a month a rule to stop “ghost guns,” which are “kits” people can buy legally to assemble a functioning firearm that does not have a serial number.
Biden is also asking the DOJ to propose within 60 days a rule on braces used for handguns, which make them more accurate; to propose action on “community violence intervention”; to publish suggestions for “red flag” legislation; and is asking his administration to issue a report on gun trafficking.
Biden also formally announced David Chipman as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
A senior administration official Wednesday said that Chipman will respect the Second Amendment while he enforces gun laws.
President Joe Biden speaks about the economy in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
“I’ve seen with my own two eyes what a bullet can do to the human body … and I’ve fought my entire career to fight this violence and to pass reasonable gun safety measures,” Harris said as she introduced Biden.
“What are we waiting for? Cause we aren’t waiting for a tragedy… We’ve had more tragedy than we can bear,” she said. “The solutions exist… people on both sides of the aisle want action, real people … so all that is left is the will and the courage to act.”
The Biden administration is also expected to throw its weight behind gun control proposals in Congress.
“Enough prayers, time for some action,” Biden said of Congress. “I believe the Senate should immediately pass three House-passed bills to close loopholes that allow gun purchases, purchasers, to bypass the background checks.”
He also pushed for two gun control laws that would go even further than that.
“We should also ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country,” Biden said. He said “there’s no reason” a person would need a weapon that can hold “100 rounds.”
“We should also eliminate gun manufacturers from the immunity they receive from the Congress,” Biden said, referring to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law that prevents gunmakers from being sued for crimes committed with guns they sell legally.
“This is the only outfit that is exempt from being sued,” he continued. “If I get one thing on my list… give me that one because I tell you what there would be a come to the Lord moment these folks would have real quickly.”
Vice President Harris meets virtually with community leaders on the COVID-19 public education efforts in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Some of Biden’s claims during the press conference are regularly disputed by Republicans, including that gun manufacturers can’t be sued and that background checks aren’t required at gun shows.
Indeed, the PLCAA only protects against suits for “harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products.” This does not count, for example, if a gun is defective or if a gun was knowingly given to a person who is banned from possessing one.
Further, the “gun show loophole,” as it is known, is not actually about gun shows. All federally licensed commercial dealers, at gun shows or not, must conduct background checks. But federal law permits some non-commercial sellers who don’t need to be licensed to sell guns without conducting background checks. These sales sometimes happen at gun shows.
Republicans, meanwhile, have expressed their suspicion of Biden’s agenda which goes even further than what he announced Thursday.
“By appointing the anti-gun Merrick Garland as attorney general and nominating David Chipman — formerly a senior staffer at the leading gun control lobby — to head ATF, Biden has made clear his sights are set on restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners while ignoring criminals and foregoing substantive measures that will actually keep Americans safe,” the National Rifle Association (NRA) said in a statement.
“Further, the proposals Biden announced tonight could require law-abiding citizens to surrender lawful property and enable states to expand gun confiscation orders. The NRA will fight this nomination and ill-conceived executive actions,” the NRA also said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., added: “President Biden plans to announce his attempts to trample over our constitutional 2A rights by executive fiat. He is soft on crime, but infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens. I won’t stand for it. And neither will House Republicans. Follow the Constitution!”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, “The answer is not to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the answer is to go after violent criminals and come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland also spoke at the event. He said that gun control is needed to prevent further “tragedy” from gun violence.
“We stand here today not at a moment of tragedy but in the midst of an enduring tragedy,” Garland said.
Brady United, one of the highest-profile gun control groups in the U.S., billed Biden and Harris as “the strongest gun safety ticket in history” at an event last fall.
“President Biden’s actions are historic and they will have an immediate impact. These are tangible and powerful policies that will save lives,” Brown said of the president’s executive actions in a statement Wednesday.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: the political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.
In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.
By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.
The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.
I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster.
A Tale of Two Theories
After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market — a place selling wild animals for meat — in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002 in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.
The decoding of the virus’s genome showed it belonged a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS1 and MERS viruses also belong. The relationship supported the idea that, like them, it was a natural virus that had managed to jump from bats, via another animal host, to people. The wet market connection, the only other point of similarity with the SARS1 and MERS epidemics, was soon broken: Chinese researchers found earlier cases in Wuhan with no link to the wet market. But that seemed not to matter when so much further evidence in support of natural emergence was expected shortly.
Wuhan, however, is home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading world center for research on coronaviruses. So the possibility that the SARS2 virus had escaped from the lab could not be ruled out. Two reasonable scenarios of origin were on the table.
From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. These statements were not at first examined as critically as they should have been.
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, with a stirring rallying call for readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
Contrary to the letter writers’ assertion, the idea that the virus might have escaped from a lab invoked accident, not conspiracy. It surely needed to be explored, not rejected out of hand. A defining mark of good scientists is that they go to great pains to distinguish between what they know and what they don’t know. By this criterion, the signatories of the Lancet letter were behaving as poor scientists: they were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.
It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Dr. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Dr. Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the Lancet’s readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”
Virologists like Dr. Daszak had much at stake in the assigning of blame for the pandemic. For 20 years, mostly beneath the public’s attention, they had been playing a dangerous game. In their laboratories they routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. They argued they could do so safely, and that by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent natural “spillovers,” the cross-over of viruses from an animal host to people. If SARS2 had indeed escaped from such a laboratory experiment, a savage blowback could be expected, and the storm of public indignation would affect virologists everywhere, not just in China. “It would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom,” an MIT Technology Review editor, Antonio Regalado, said in March 2020.
A second statement which had enormous influence in shaping public attitudes was a letter (in other words an opinion piece, not a scientific article) published on 17 March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine. Its authors were a group of virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the five virologists declared in the second paragraph of their letter.
Unfortunately this was another case of poor science, in the sense defined above. True, some older methods of cutting and pasting viral genomes retain tell-tale signs of manipulation. But newer methods, called “no-see-um” or “seamless” approaches, leave no defining marks. Nor do other methods for manipulating viruses such as serial passage, the repeated transfer of viruses from one culture of cells to another. If a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case. Dr. Andersen and his colleagues were assuring their readers of something they could not know.
The discussion part their letter begins, “It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus”. But wait, didn’t the lead say the virus had clearly not been manipulated? The authors’ degree of certainty seemed to slip several notches when it came to laying out their reasoning.
The reason for the slippage is clear once the technical language has been penetrated. The two reasons the authors give for supposing manipulation to be improbable are decidedly inconclusive.
First, they say that the spike protein of SARS2 binds very well to its target, the human ACE2 receptor, but does so in a different way from that which physical calculations suggest would be the best fit. Therefore the virus must have arisen by natural selection, not manipulation.
If this argument seems hard to grasp, it’s because it’s so strained. The authors’ basic assumption, not spelt out, is that anyone trying to make a bat virus bind to human cells could do so in only one way. First they would calculate the strongest possible fit between the human ACE2 receptor and the spike protein with which the virus latches onto it. They would then design the spike protein accordingly (by selecting the right string of amino acid units that compose it). But since the SARS2 spike protein is not of this calculated best design, the Andersen paper says, therefore it can’t have been manipulated.
But this ignores the way that virologists do in fact get spike proteins to bind to chosen targets, which is not by calculation but by splicing in spike protein genes from other viruses or by serial passage. With serial passage, each time the virus’s progeny are transferred to new cell cultures or animals, the more successful are selected until one emerges that makes a really tight bind to human cells. Natural selection has done all the heavy lifting. The Andersen paper’s speculation about designing a viral spike protein through calculation has no bearing on whether or not the virus was manipulated by one of the other two methods.
The authors’ second argument against manipulation is even more contrived. Although most living things use DNA as their hereditary material, a number of viruses use RNA, DNA’s close chemical cousin. But RNA is difficult to manipulate, so researchers working on coronaviruses, which are RNA-based, will first convert the RNA genome to DNA. They manipulate the DNA version, whether by adding or altering genes, and then arrange for the manipulated DNA genome to be converted back into infectious RNA.
Only a certain number of these DNA backbones have been described in the scientific literature. Anyone manipulating the SARS2 virus “would probably” have used one of these known backbones, the Andersen group writes, and since SARS2 is not derived from any of them, therefore it was not manipulated. But the argument is conspicuously inconclusive. DNA backbones are quite easy to make, so it’s obviously possible that SARS2 was manipulated using an unpublished DNA backbone.
And that’s it. These are the two arguments made by the Andersen group in support of their declaration that the SARS2 virus was clearly not manipulated. And this conclusion, grounded in nothing but two inconclusive speculations, convinced the world’s press that SARS2 could not have escaped from a lab. A technical critique of the Andersen letter takes it down in harsher words.
Science is supposedly a self-correcting community of experts who constantly check each other’s work. So why didn’t other virologists point out that the Andersen group’s argument was full of absurdly large holes? Perhaps because in today’s universities speech can be very costly. Careers can be destroyed for stepping out of line. Any virologist who challenges the community’s declared view risks having his next grant application turned down by the panel of fellow virologists that advises the government grant distribution agency.
The Daszak and Andersen letters were really political, not scientific statements, yet were amazingly effective. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had ruled lab escape out of the question or extremely unlikely. Their authors relied for the most part on the Daszak and Andersen letters, failing to understand the yawning gaps in their arguments. Mainstream newspapers all have science journalists on their staff, as do the major networks, and these specialist reporters are supposed to be able to question scientists and check their assertions. But the Daszak and Andersen assertions went largely unchallenged.
Doubts about natural emergence
Natural emergence was the media’s preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Dr. Daszak, kept asserting before, during and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.
This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.
And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab.
Why would anyone want to create a novel virus capable of causing a pandemic? Ever since virologists gained the tools for manipulating a virus’s genes, they have argued they could get ahead of a potential pandemic by exploring how close a given animal virus might be to making the jump to humans. And that justified lab experiments in enhancing the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people, virologists asserted.
With this rationale, they have recreated the 1918 flu virus, shown how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduced a smallpox gene into a related virus.
These enhancements of viral capabilities are known blandly as gain-of-function experiments. With coronaviruses, there was particular interest in the spike proteins, which jut out all around the spherical surface of the virus and pretty much determine which species of animal it will target. In 2000 Dutch researchers, for instance, earned the gratitude of rodents everywhere by genetically engineering the spike protein of a mouse coronavirus so that it would attack only cats.
Virologists started studying bat coronaviruses in earnest after these turned out to be the source of both the SARS1 and MERS epidemics. In particular, researchers wanted to understand what changes needed to occur in a bat virus’s spike proteins before it could infect people.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Dr. Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady”, mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.
Dr. Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.
The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Dr. Shi’s lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera, the potential danger of which concerned many observers and prompted intense discussion.
“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” said Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
Dr. Baric and Dr. Shi referred to the obvious risks in their paper but argued they should be weighed against the benefit of foreshadowing future spillovers. Scientific review panels, they wrote, “may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue.” Given various restrictions being placed on gain-of function (GOF) research, matters had arrived in their view at “a crossroads of GOF research concerns; the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens. In developing policies moving forward, it is important to consider the value of the data generated by these studies and whether these types of chimeric virus studies warrant further investigation versus the inherent risks involved.”
That statement was made in 2015. From the hindsight of 2021, one can say that the value of gain-of-function studies in preventing the SARS2 epidemic was zero. The risk was catastrophic, if indeed the SARS2 virus was generated in a gain-of-function experiment.
Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Dr. Baric had developed, and taught Dr. Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.
Dr. Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.
How can we be so sure?
Because, by a strange twist in the story, her work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). And grant proposals that funded her work, which are a matter of public record, specify exactly what she planned to do with the money.
The grants were assigned to the prime contractor, Dr. Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who subcontracted them to Dr. Shi. Here are extracts from the grants for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. “CoV” stands for coronavirus and “S protein” refers to the virus’s spike protein.
“Test predictions of CoV inter-species transmission. Predictive models of host range (i.e. emergence potential) will be tested experimentally using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments across a range of cell cultures from different species and humanized mice.”
“We will use S protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.”
What this means, in non-technical language, is that Dr. Shi set out to create novel coronaviruses with the highest possible infectivity for human cells. Her plan was to take genes that coded for spike proteins possessing a variety of measured affinities for human cells, ranging from high to low. She would insert these spike genes one by one into the backbone of a number of viral genomes (“reverse genetics” and “infectious clone technology”), creating a series of chimeric viruses. These chimeric viruses would then be tested for their ability to attack human cell cultures (“in vitro”) and humanized mice (“in vivo”). And this information would help predict the likelihood of “spillover,” the jump of a coronavirus from bats to people.
The methodical approach was designed to find the best combination of coronavirus backbone and spike protein for infecting human cells. The approach could have generated SARS2-like viruses, and indeed may have created the SARS2 virus itself with the right combination of virus backbone and spike protein.
It cannot yet be stated that Dr. Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so. “It is clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was systematically constructing novel chimeric coronaviruses and was assessing their ability to infect human cells and human-ACE2-expressing mice,” says Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and leading expert on biosafety.
“It is also clear,” Dr. Ebright said, “that, depending on the constant genomic contexts chosen for analysis, this work could have produced SARS-CoV-2 or a proximal progenitor of SARS-CoV-2.” “Genomic context” refers to the particular viral backbone used as the testbed for the spike protein.
The lab escape scenario for the origin of the SARS2 virus, as should by now be evident, is not mere hand-waving in the direction of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is a detailed proposal, based on the specific project being funded there by the NIAID.
Even if the grant required the work plan described above, how can we be sure that the plan was in fact carried out? For that we can rely on the word of Dr. Daszak, who has been much protesting for the last 15 months that lab escape was a ludicrous conspiracy theory invented by China-bashers.
On 9 December 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic became generally known, Dr. Daszak gave an interview in which he talked in glowing terms of how researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been reprogramming the spike protein and generating chimeric coronaviruses capable of infecting humanized mice.
“And we have now found, you know, after 6 or 7 years of doing this, over 100 new sars-related coronaviruses, very close to SARS,” Dr. Daszak says around minute 28 of the interview. “Some of them get into human cells in the lab, some of them can cause SARS disease in humanized mice models and are untreatable with therapeutic monoclonals and you can’t vaccinate against them with a vaccine. So, these are a clear and present danger….
“Interviewer: You say these are diverse coronaviruses and you can’t vaccinate against them, and no anti-virals — so what do we do?
“Daszak: Well I think…coronaviruses — you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work a lot with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab. So you can get more predictive when you find a sequence. You’ve got this diversity. Now the logical progression for vaccines is, if you are going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use pandemic SARS, but let’s insert some of these other things and get a better vaccine.” The insertions he referred to perhaps included an element called the furin cleavage site, discussed below, which greatly increases viral infectivity for human cells.
In disjointed style, Dr. Daszak is referring to the fact that once you have generated a novel coronavirus that can attack human cells, you can take the spike protein and make it the basis for a vaccine.
One can only imagine Dr. Daszak’s reaction when he heard of the outbreak of the epidemic in Wuhan a few days later. He would have known better than anyone the Wuhan Institute’s goal of making bat coronaviruses infectious to humans, as well as the weaknesses in the institute’s defense against their own researchers becoming infected.
But instead of providing public health authorities with the plentiful information at his disposal, he immediately launched a public relations campaign to persuade the world that the epidemic couldn’t possibly have been caused by one of the institute’s souped-up viruses. “The idea that this virus escaped from a lab is just pure baloney. It’s simply not true,” he declared in an April 2020 interview.
The Safety Arrangements at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Dr. Daszak was possibly unaware of, or perhaps he knew all too well, the long history of viruses escaping from even the best run laboratories. The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960’s and 1970’s, causing 80 cases and 3 deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.
One reason for SARS1 being so hard to handle is that there were no vaccines available to protect laboratory workers. As Dr. Daszak mentioned in his December 19 interview quoted above, the Wuhan researchers too had been unable to develop vaccines against the coronaviruses they had designed to infect human cells. They would have been as defenseless against the SARS2 virus, if it were generated in their lab, as their Beijing colleagues were against SARS1.
A second reason for the severe danger of novel coronaviruses has to do with the required levels of lab safety. There are four degrees of safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote in a cable of 19 January 2018.
The real problem, however, was not the unsafe state of the Wuhan BSL4 lab but the fact that virologists worldwide don’t like working in BSL4 conditions. You have to wear a space suit, do operations in closed cabinets and accept that everything will take twice as long. So the rules assigning each kind of virus to a given safety level were laxer than some might think was prudent.
Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2, the next level down. BSL2 requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves, not sucking up liquids in a pipette, and putting up biohazard warning signs. Yet a gain-of-function experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated.
Much of Dr. Shi’s work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interview with Science magazine that “The coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.”
“It is clear that some or all of this work was being performed using a biosafety standard — biosafety level 2, the biosafety level of a standard US dentist’s office — that would pose an unacceptably high risk of infection of laboratory staff upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2,” says Dr. Ebright.
“It also is clear,” he adds, “that this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed.”
This is a view he holds regardless of whether or not the SARS2 virus ever saw the inside of a lab.
Concern about safety conditions at the Wuhan lab was not, it seems, misplaced. According to a fact sheet issued by the State Department on January 21,2021, “ The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
David Asher, a fellow of the Hudson Institute and former consultant to the State Department, provided more detail about the incident at a seminar. Knowledge of the incident came from a mix of public information and “some high end information collected by our intelligence community,” he said. Three people working at a BSL3 lab at the institute fell sick within a week of each other with severe symptoms that required hospitalization. This was “the first known cluster that we’re aware of, of victims of what we believe to be COVID-19.” Influenza could not completely be ruled out but seemed unlikely in the circumstances, he said.
Comparing the Rival Scenarios of SARS2 Origin
The evidence above adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped. But the case, however substantial, falls short of proof. Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin, those of natural emergence and lab escape. Here are four tests of the two hypotheses. A couple have some technical detail, but these are among the most persuasive for those who may care to follow the argument.
1)The place of origin.
Start with geography. The two closest known relatives of the SARS2 virus were collected from bats living in caves in Yunnan, a province of southern China. If the SARS2 virus had first infected people living around the Yunnan caves, that would strongly support the idea that the virus had spilled over to people naturally. But this isn’t what happened. The pandemic broke out 1,500 kilometers away, in Wuhan.
Beta-coronaviruses, the family of bat viruses to which SARS2 belongs, infect the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis, which ranges across southern China. The bats’ range is 50 kilometers, so it’s unlikely that any made it to Wuhan. In any case, the first cases of the Covid-19 pandemic probably occurred in September, when temperatures in Hubei province are already cold enough to send bats into hibernation.
What if the bat viruses infected some intermediate host first? You would need a longstanding population of bats in frequent proximity with an intermediate host, which in turn must often cross paths with people. All these exchanges of virus must take place somewhere outside Wuhan, a busy metropolis which so far as is known is not a natural habitat of Rhinolophusbat colonies. The infected person (or animal) carrying this highly transmissible virus must have traveled to Wuhan without infecting anyone else. No one in his or her family got sick. If the person jumped on a train to Wuhan, no fellow passengers fell ill.
It’s a stretch, in other words, to get the pandemic to break out naturally outside Wuhan and then, without leaving any trace, to make its first appearance there.
For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise.
2) Natural history and evolution
The initial location of the pandemic is a small part of a larger problem, that of its natural history. Viruses don’t just make one time jumps from one species to another. The coronavirus spike protein, adapted to attack bat cells, needs repeated jumps to another species, most of which fail, before it gains a lucky mutation. Mutation — a change in one of its RNA units — causes a different amino acid unit to be incorporated into its spike protein and makes the spike protein better able to attack the cells of some other species.
Through several more such mutation-driven adjustments, the virus adapts to its new host, say some animal with which bats are in frequent contact. The whole process then resumes as the virus moves from this intermediate host to people.
In the case of SARS1, researchers have documented the successive changes in its spike protein as the virus evolved step by step into a dangerous pathogen. After it had gotten from bats into civets, there were six further changes in its spike protein before it became a mild pathogen in people. After a further 14 changes, the virus was much better adapted to humans, and with a further 4 the epidemic took off.
But when you look for the fingerprints of a similar transition in SARS2, a strange surprise awaits. The virus has changed hardly at all, at least until recently. From its very first appearance, it was well adapted to human cells. Researchers led by Alina Chan of the Broad Institute compared SARS2 with late stage SARS1, which by then was well adapted to human cells, and found that the two viruses were similarly well adapted. “By the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV,” they wrote.
Even those who think lab origin unlikely agree that SARS2 genomes are remarkably uniform. Dr. Baric writes that “early strains identified in Wuhan, China, showed limited genetic diversity, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced from a single source.”
A single source would of course be compatible with lab escape, less so with the massive variation and selection which is evolution’s hallmark way of doing business.
The uniform structure of SARS2 genomes gives no hint of any passage through an intermediate animal host, and no such host has been identified in nature.
Proponents of natural emergence suggest that SARS2 incubated in a yet-to-be found human population before gaining its special properties. Or that it jumped to a host animal outside China.
All these conjectures are possible, but strained. Proponents of lab leak have a simpler explanation. SARS2 was adapted to human cells from the start because it was grown in humanized mice or in lab cultures of human cells, just as described in Dr. Daszak’s grant proposal. Its genome shows little diversity because the hallmark of lab cultures is uniformity.
Proponents of laboratory escape joke that of course the SARS2 virus infected an intermediary host species before spreading to people, and that they have identified it — a humanized mouse from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
3)The furin cleavage site.
The furin cleavage site is a minute part of the virus’s anatomy but one that exerts great influence on its infectivity. It sits in the middle of the SARS2 spike protein. It also lies at the heart of the puzzle of where the virus came from.
The spike protein has two sub-units with different roles. The first, called S1, recognizes the virus’s target, a protein called angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (or ACE2) which studs the surface of cells lining the human airways. The second, S2, helps the virus, once anchored to the cell, to fuse with the cell’s membrane. After the virus’s outer membrane has coalesced with that of the stricken cell, the viral genome is injected into the cell, hijacks its protein-making machinery and forces it to generate new viruses.
But this invasion cannot begin until the S1 and S2 subunits have been cut apart. And there, right at the S1/S2 junction, is the furin cleavage site that ensures the spike protein will be cleaved in exactly the right place.
The virus, a model of economic design, does not carry its own cleaver. It relies on the cell to do the cleaving for it. Human cells have a protein cutting tool on their surface known as furin. Furin will cut any protein chain that carries its signature target cutting site. This is the sequence of amino acid units proline-arginine-arginine-alanine, or PRRA in the code that refers to each amino acid by a letter of the alphabet. PRRA is the amino acid sequence at the core of SARS2’s furin cleavage site.
Viruses have all kinds of clever tricks, so why does the furin cleavage site stand out? Because of all known SARS-related beta-coronaviruses, only SARS2 possesses a furin cleavage site. All the other viruses have their S2 unit cleaved at a different site and by a different mechanism.
How then did SARS2 acquire its furin cleavage site? Either the site evolved naturally, or it was inserted by researchers at the S1/S2 junction in a gain-of-function experiment.
Consider natural origin first. Two ways viruses evolve are by mutation and by recombination. Mutation is the process of random change in DNA (or RNA for coronaviruses) that usually results in one amino acid in a protein chain being switched for another. Many of these changes harm the virus but natural selection retains the few that do something useful. Mutation is the process by which the SARS1 spike protein gradually switched its preferred target cells from those of bats to civets, and then to humans.
Mutation seems a less likely way for SARS2’s furin cleavage site to be generated, even though it can’t completely be ruled out. The site’s four amino acid units are all together, and all at just the right place in the S1/S2 junction. Mutation is a random process triggered by copying errors (when new viral genomes are being generated) or by chemical decay of genomic units. So it typically affects single amino acids at different spots in a protein chain. A string of amino acids like that of the furin cleavage site is much more likely to be acquired all together through a quite different process known as recombination.
Recombination is an inadvertent swapping of genomic material that occurs when two viruses happen to invade the same cell, and their progeny are assembled with bits and pieces of RNA belonging to the other. Beta-coronaviruses will only combine with other beta-coronaviruses but can acquire, by recombination, almost any genetic element present in the collective genomic pool. What they cannot acquire is an element the pool does not possess. And no known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, the class to which SARS2 belongs, possesses a furin cleavage site.
Proponents of natural emergence say SARS2 could have picked up the site from some as yet unknown beta-coronavirus. But bat SARS-related beta-coronaviruses evidently don’t need a furin cleavage site to infect bat cells, so there’s no great likelihood that any in fact possesses one, and indeed none has been found so far.
The proponents’ next argument is that SARS2 acquired its furin cleavage site from people. A predecessor of SARS2 could have been circulating in the human population for months or years until at some point it acquired a furin cleavage site from human cells. It would then have been ready to break out as a pandemic.
If this is what happened, there should be traces in hospital surveillance records of the people infected by the slowly evolving virus. But none has so far come to light. According to the WHO report on the origins of the virus, the sentinel hospitals in Hubei province, home of Wuhan, routinely monitor influenza-like illnesses and “no evidence to suggest substantial SARSCoV-2 transmission in the months preceding the outbreak in December was observed.”
So it’s hard to explain how the SARS2 virus picked up its furin cleavage site naturally, whether by mutation or recombination.
That leaves a gain-of-function experiment. For those who think SARS2 may have escaped from a lab, explaining the furin cleavage site is no problem at all. “Since 1992 the virology community has known that the one sure way to make a virus deadlier is to give it a furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction in the laboratory,” writes Dr. Steven Quay, a biotech entrepreneur interested in the origins of SARS2. “At least eleven gain-of-function experiments, adding a furin site to make a virus more infective, are published in the open literature, including [by] Dr. Zhengli Shi, head of coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
4)A Question of Codons
There’s another aspect of the furin cleavage site that narrows the path for a natural emergence origin even further.
As everyone knows (or may at least recall from high school), the genetic code uses three units of DNA to specify each amino acid unit of a protein chain. When read in groups of 3, the 4 different kinds of DNA can specify 4 x 4 x 4 or 64 different triplets, or codons as they are called. Since there are only 20 kinds of amino acid, there are more than enough codons to go around, allowing some amino acids to be specified by more than one codon. The amino acid arginine, for instance, can be designated by any of the six codons CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA or AGG, where A, U, G and C stand for the four different kinds of unit in RNA.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Different organisms have different codon preferences. Human cells like to designate arginine with the codons CGT, CGC or CGG. But CGG is coronavirus’s least popular codon for arginine. Keep that in mind when looking at how the amino acids in the furin cleavage site are encoded in the SARS2 genome.
Now the functional reason why SARS2 has a furin cleavage site, and its cousin viruses don’t, can be seen by lining up (in a computer) the string of nearly 30,000 nucleotides in its genome with those of its cousin coronaviruses, of which the closest so far known is one called RaTG13. Compared with RaTG13, SARS2 has a 12-nucleotide insert right at the S1/S2 junction. The insert is the sequence T-CCT-CGG-CGG-GC. The CCT codes for proline, the two CGG’s for two arginines, and the GC is the beginning of a GCA codon that codes for alanine.
There are several curious features about this insert but the oddest is that of the two side-by-side CGG codons. Only 5% of SARS2’s arginine codons are CGG, and the double codon CGG-CGG has not been found in any other beta-coronavirus. So how did SARS2 acquire a pair of arginine codons that are favored by human cells but not by coronaviruses?
Proponents of natural emergence have an up-hill task to explain all the features of SARS2’s furin cleavage site. They have to postulate a recombination event at a site on the virus’s genome where recombinations are rare, and the insertion of a 12-nucleotide sequence with a double arginine codon unknown in the beta-coronavirus repertoire, at the only site in the genome that would significantly expand the virus’s infectivity.
“Yes, but your wording makes this sound unlikely — viruses are specialists at unusual events,” is the riposte of David L. Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow who regards lab escape as a conspiracy theory. “Recombination is naturally very, very frequent in these viruses, there are recombination breakpoints in the spike protein and these codons appear unusual exactly because we’ve not sampled enough.”
Dr. Robertson is correct that evolution is always producing results that may seem unlikely but in fact are not. Viruses can generate untold numbers of variants but we see only the one-in-a-billion that natural selection picks for survival. But this argument could be pushed too far. For instance any result of a gain-of-function experiment could be explained as one that evolution would have arrived at in time. And the numbers game can be played the other way. For the furin cleavage site to arise naturally in SARS2, a chain of events has to happen, each of which is quite unlikely for the reasons given above. A long chain with several improbable steps is unlikely to ever be completed.
For the lab escape scenario, the double CGG codon is no surprise. The human-preferred codon is routinely used in labs. So anyone who wanted to insert a furin cleavage site into the virus’s genome would synthesize the PRRA-making sequence in the lab and would be likely to use CGG codons to do so.
“When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus,” said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech. “These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2,” he said.
A Third Scenario of Origin
There’s a variation on the natural emergence scenario that’s worth considering. This is the idea that SARS2 jumped directly from bats to humans, without going through an intermediate host as SARS1 and MERS did. A leading advocate is the virologist David Robertson who notes that SARS2 can attack several other species besides humans. He believes the virus evolved a generalist capability while still in bats. Because the bats it infects are widely distributed in southern and central China, the virus had ample opportunity to jump to people, even though it seems to have done so on only one known occasion. Dr. Robertson’s thesis explains why no one has so far found a trace of SARS2 in any intermediate host or in human populations surveilled before December 2019. It would also explain the puzzling fact that SARS2 has not changed since it first appeared in humans — it didn’t need to because it could already attack human cells efficiently.
One problem with this idea, though, is that if SARS2 jumped from bats to people in a single leap and hasn’t changed much since, it should still be good at infecting bats. And it seems it isn’t.
“Tested bat species are poorly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and they are therefore unlikely to be the direct source for human infection,” write a scientific group skeptical of natural emergence.
Still, Dr. Robertson may be onto something. The bat coronaviruses of the Yunnan caves can infect people directly. In April 2012 six miners clearing bat guano from the Mojiang mine contracted severe pneumonia with Covid-19-like symptoms and three eventually died. A virus isolated from the Mojiang mine, called RaTG13, is still the closest known relative of SARS2. Much mystery surrounds the origin, reporting and strangely low affinity of RaTG13 for bat cells, as well as the nature of 8 similar viruses that Dr. Shi reports she collected at the same time but has not yet published despite their great relevance to the ancestry of SARS2. But all that is a story for another time. The point here is that bat viruses can infect people directly, though only in special conditions.
So who else, besides miners excavating bat guano, comes into particularly close contact with bat coronaviruses? Well, coronavirus researchers do. Dr. Shi says she and her group collected more than 1,300 bat samples during some 8 visits to the Mojiang cave between 2012 and 2015, and there were doubtless many expeditions to other Yunnan caves.
Imagine the researchers making frequent trips from Wuhan to Yunnan and back, stirring up bat guano in dark caves and mines, and now you begin to see a possible missing link between the two places. Researchers could have gotten infected during their collecting trips, or while working with the new viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The virus that escaped from the lab would have been a natural virus, not one cooked up by gain of function.
The direct-from-bats thesis is a chimera between the natural emergence and lab escape scenarios. It’s a possibility that can’t be dismissed. But against it are the facts that 1) both SARS2 and RaTG13 seem to have only feeble affinity for bat cells, so one can’t be fully confident that either ever saw the inside of a bat; and 2) the theory is no better than the natural emergence scenario at explaining how SARS2 gained its furin cleavage site, or why the furin cleavage site is determined by human-preferred arginine codons instead of by the bat-preferred codons.
Where We Are So Far
Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.
That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.
It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?
Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell. The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 and that of SARS1 and MERS. But none of the evidence expected in support of such a parallel history has yet emerged. No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities.
The records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology certainly hold much relevant information. But Chinese authorities seem unlikely to release them given the substantial chance that they incriminate the regime in the creation of the pandemic. Absent the efforts of some courageous Chinese whistle-blower, we may already have at hand just about all of the relevant information we are likely to get for a while.
So it’s worth trying to assess responsibility for the pandemic, at least in a provisional way, because the paramount goal remains to prevent another one. Even those who aren’t persuaded that lab escape is the more likely origin of the SARS2 virus may see reason for concern about the present state of regulation governing gain-of-function research. There are two obvious levels of responsibility: the first, for allowing virologists to perform gain-of-function experiments, offering minimal gain and vast risk; the second, if indeed SARS2 was generated in a lab, for allowing the virus to escape and unleash a world-wide pandemic. Here are the players who seem most likely to deserve blame.
First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus of unexpected infectiousness like SARS2. If the virus did indeed escape from their lab, they deserve the world’s censure for a foreseeable accident that has already caused the deaths of 3 million people.
True, Dr. Shi was trained by French virologists, worked closely with American virologists and was following international rules for the containment of coronaviruses. But she could and should have made her own assessment of the risks she was running. She and her colleagues bear the responsibility for their actions.
I have been using the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a shorthand for all virological activities in Wuhan. It’s possible that SARS2 was generated in some other Wuhan lab, perhaps in an attempt to make a vaccine that worked against all coronaviruses. But until the role of other Chinese virologists is clarified, Dr. Shi is the public face of Chinese work on coronaviruses, and provisionally she and her colleagues will stand first in line for opprobrium.
China’s central authorities did not generate SARS2 but they sure did their utmost to conceal the nature of the tragedy and China’s responsibility for it. They suppressed all records at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and closed down its virus databases. They released a trickle of information, much of which may have been outright false or designed to misdirect and mislead. They did their best to manipulate the WHO’s inquiry into the virus’s origins, and led the commission’s members on a fruitless run-around. So far they have proved far more interested in deflecting blame than in taking the steps necessary to prevent a second pandemic.
3.The worldwide community of virologists
Virologists around the world are a loose-knit professional community. They write articles in the same journals. They attend the same conferences. They have common interests in seeking funds from governments and in not being overburdened with safety regulations.
Virologists knew better than anyone the dangers of gain-of-function research. But the power to create new viruses, and the research funding obtainable by doing so, was too tempting. They pushed ahead with gain-of-function experiments. They lobbied against the moratorium imposed on Federal funding for gain-of-function research in 2014 and it was raised in 2017.
The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast. If research on the SARS1 and MERS viruses could only be done at the BSL3 safety level, it was surely illogical to allow any work with novel coronaviruses at the lesser level of BSL2. Whether or not SARS2 escaped from a lab, virologists around the world have been playing with fire.
Their behavior has long alarmed other biologists. In 2014 scientists calling themselves the Cambridge Working Group urged caution on creating new viruses. In prescient words, they specified the risk of creating a SARS2-like virus. “Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns,” they wrote. “Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.”
When molecular biologists discovered a technique for moving genes from one organism to another, they held a public conference at Asilomar in 1975 to discuss the possible risks. Despite much internal opposition, they drew up a list of stringent safety measures that could be relaxed in future — and duly were — when the possible hazards had been better assessed.
When the CRISPR technique for editing genes was invented, biologists convened a joint report by the U.S., UK and Chinese national academies of science to urge restraint on making heritable changes to the human genome. Biologists who invented gene drives have also been open about the dangers of their work and have sought to involve the public.
You might think the SARS2 pandemic would spur virologists to re-evaluate the benefits of gain-of-function research, even to engage the public in their deliberations. But no. Many virologists deride lab escape as a conspiracy theory and others say nothing. They have barricaded themselves behind a Chinese wall of silence which so far is working well to allay, or at least postpone, journalists’ curiosity and the public’s wrath. Professions that cannot regulate themselves deserve to get regulated by others, and this would seem to be the future that virologists are choosing for themselves.
4.The US Role in Funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology
From June 2014 to May 2019 Dr. Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had a grantfrom the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Whether or not SARS2 is the product of that research, it seems a questionable policy to farm out high-risk research to unsafe foreign labs using minimal safety precautions. And if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens.
The responsibility of the NIAID and NIH is even more acute because for the first three years of the grant to EcoHealth Alliance there was a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. Why didn’t the two agencies therefore halt the Federal funding as apparently required to do so by law? Because someone wrote a loophole into the moratorium.
The moratorium specifically barred funding any gain-of-function research that increased the pathogenicity of the flu, MERS or SARS viruses. But then a footnote on p.2 of the moratorium document states that “An exception from the research pause may be obtained if the head of the USG funding agency determines that the research is urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.”
This seems to mean that either the director of the NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, or maybe both, would have invoked the footnote in order to keep the money flowing to Dr. Shi’s gain-of-function research.
“Unfortunately, the NIAID Director and the NIH Director exploited this loophole to issue exemptions to projects subject to the Pause –preposterously asserting the exempted research was ‘urgently necessary to protect public health or national security’ — thereby nullifying the Pause,” Dr. Richard Ebright said in an interview with Independent Science News.
When the moratorium was ended in 2017 it didn’t just vanish but was replaced by a reporting system, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which required agencies to report for review any dangerous gain-of-function work they wished to fund.
According to Dr. Ebright, both Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci “have declined to flag and forward proposals for risk-benefit review, thereby nullifying the P3CO Framework.”
In his view, the two officials, in dealing with the moratorium and the ensuing reporting system, “have systematically thwarted efforts by the White House, the Congress, scientists, and science policy specialists to regulate GoF [gain-of-function] research of concern.”
Possibly the two officials had to take into account matters not evident in the public record, such as issues of national security. Perhaps funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is believed to have ties with Chinese military virologists, provided a window into Chinese biowarfare research. But whatever other considerations may have been involved, the bottom line is that the National Institutes of Health was supporting gain-of-function research, of a kind that could have generated the SARS2 virus, in an unsupervised foreign lab that was doing work in BSL2 biosafety conditions. The prudence of this decision can be questioned, whether or not SARS2 and the death of 3 million people was the result of it.
If the case that SARS2 originated in a lab is so substantial, why isn’t this more widely known? As may now be obvious, there are many people who have reason not to talk about it. The list is led, of course, by the Chinese authorities. But virologists in the United States and Europe have no great interest in igniting a public debate about the gain-of-function experiments that their community has been pursuing for years.
Nor have other scientists stepped forward to raise the issue. Government research funds are distributed on the advice of committees of scientific experts drawn from universities. Anyone who rocks the boat by raising awkward political issues runs the risk that their grant will not be renewed and their research career will be ended. Maybe good behavior is rewarded with the many perks that slosh around the distribution system. And if you thought that Dr. Andersen and Dr. Daszak might have blotted their reputation for scientific objectivity after their partisan attacks on the lab escape scenario, look at the 2nd and 3rd names on this list of recipients of an $82 million grant announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in August 2020.
The US government shares a strange common interest with the Chinese authorities: neither is keen on drawing attention to the fact that Dr. Shi’s coronavirus work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. One can imagine the behind-the-scenes conversation in which the Chinese government says “If this research was so dangerous, why did you fund it, and on our territory too?” To which the US side might reply, “Looks like it was you who let it escape. But do we really need to have this discussion in public?”
Dr. Fauci is a longtime public servant who served with integrity under President Trump and has resumed leadership in the Biden Administration in handling the Covid epidemic. Congress, no doubt understandably, may have little appetite for hauling him over the coals for the apparent lapse of judgment in funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
To these serried walls of silence must be added that of the mainstream media. To my knowledge, no major newspaper or television network has yet provided readers with an in-depth news story of the lab escape scenario, such as the one you have just read, although some have run brief editorials or opinion pieces. One might think that any plausible origin of a virus that has killed three million people would merit a serious investigation. Or that the wisdom of continuing gain-of-function research, regardless of the virus’s origin, would be worth some probing. Or that the funding of gain-of-function research by the NIH and NIAID during a moratorium on such research would bear investigation. What accounts for the media’s apparent lack of curiosity?
The virologists’ omertà is one reason. Science reporters, unlike political reporters, have little innate skepticism of their sources’ motives; most see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses. So when their sources won’t help, these journalists are at a loss.
Another reason, perhaps, is the migration of much of the media toward the left of the political spectrum. Because President Trump said the virus had escaped from a Wuhan lab, editors gave the idea little credence. They joined the virologists in regarding lab escape as a dismissible conspiracy theory. During the Trump Administration, they had no trouble in rejecting the position of the intelligence services that lab escape could not be ruled out. But when Avril Haines, President Biden’s director of National Intelligence, said the same thing, she too was largely ignored. This is not to argue that editors should have endorsed the lab escape scenario, merely that they should have explored the possibility fully and fairly.
People round the world who have been pretty much confined to their homes for the last year might like a better answer than their media are giving them. Perhaps one will emerge in time. After all, the more months pass without the natural emergence theory gaining a shred of supporting evidence, the less plausible it may seem. Perhaps the international community of virologists will come to be seen as a false and self-interested guide. The common sense perception that a pandemic breaking out in Wuhan might have something to do with a Wuhan lab cooking up novel viruses of maximal danger in unsafe conditions could eventually displace the ideological insistence that whatever Trump said can’t be true.
And then let the reckoning begin.
The first person to take a serious look at the origins of the SARS2 virus was Yuri Deigin, a biotech entrepreneur in Russia and Canada. In a long and brilliant essay, he dissected the molecular biology of the SARS2 virus and raised, without endorsing, the possibility that it had been manipulated. The essay, published on April 22, 2020, provided a roadmap for anyone seeking to understand the virus’s origins. Deigin packed so much information and analysis into his essay that some have doubted it could be the work of a single individual and suggested some intelligence agency must have authored it. But the essay is written with greater lightness and humor than I suspect are ever found in CIA or KGB reports, and I see no reason to doubt that Dr. Deigin is its very capable sole author.
In Deigin’s wake have followed several other skeptics of the virologists’ orthodoxy. Nikolai Petrovsky calculated how tightly the SARS2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptors of various species and found to his surprise that it seemed optimized for the human receptor, leading him to infer the virus might have been generated in a laboratory. Alina Chan published a papershowing that SARS2 from its first appearance was very well adapted to human cells.
One of the very few establishment scientists to have questioned the virologists’ absolute rejection of lab escape is Richard Ebright, who has long warned against the dangers of gain-of-function research. Another is David A. Relman of Stanford University. “Even though strong opinions abound, none of these scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out with currently available facts,” he wrote. Kudos too to Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told CNNon March 26, 2021 that the “most likely” cause of the epidemic was “from a laboratory,” because he doubted that a bat virus could become an extreme human pathogen overnight, without taking time to evolve, as seemed to be the case with SARS2.
Steven Quay, a physician-researcher, has applied statistical and bioinformatic tools to ingenious explorations of the virus’s origin, showing for instance how the hospitals receiving the early patients are clustered along the Wuhan №2 subway line which connects the Institute of Virology at one end with the international airport at the other, the perfect conveyor belt for distributing the virus from lab to globe.
In June 2020 Milton Leitenberg published an early survey of the evidence favoring lab escape from gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Many others have contributed significant pieces of the puzzle. “Truth is the daughter,” said Francis Bacon, “not of authority but time.” The efforts of people such as those named above are what makes it so.
Israel last month marked its 73rd Independence Day, observed as always directly after its Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. The latter event carried a bittersweet distinction: For Israelis, the preceding year was by far the least bloody in their history — only three died in violent attacks — and the year before was second-calmest — with 11.
That these figures should be cause for celebration is an illustration of Israelis’ resignation to living in an environment with no parallel in the developed world — a reality that one of their preeminent novelists and peace activists calls, bleakly, death as a way of life.
For there is no education like experience, and in its nearly three quarters of a century of existence, this country has known three wars with multiple neighbors, two more in Lebanon, three in Gaza, two intifadas and innumerable individual hostile acts. But to make sense of the conflict today it is instructive to look further back still to the events of exactly a century ago, before there was a Jewish state or even a Palestine Mandate.
On May 1, 1921, in the interlude between Britain’s conquest of the land and the League of Nations’ ratification of its mandate, riots shook Palestine. It was the first time since the Crusades that civilians in the Holy Land had experienced what would later be termed, with grim sterility, a mass-fatality incident. And it was, for the Zionist movement, a turning point in its perception of the “Arab question” and its own relation to armed force and retribution.
The Balfour Declaration, the British conquest of the Land and the end of the Great War had produced euphoria in the Yishuv movement — that is, the Jews living in pre-state Israel — convincing it that dreams of sovereignty in Palestine were on the brink of fulfillment. But, as Israeli historian Benny Morris writes, the “massive violence of 1921 left an ineradicable impression on the Zionists, driving home the precariousness of their enterprise.”
The necessity of a strong defense — a conviction previously limited to a few diehards — now began trickling into mainstream Zionist thought.
“The Arab attacks of May forced a number of Yishuv leaders to ask — although only behind closed doors — whether the time had come to ‘call a spade a spade,’ i.e. to acknowledge that there did exist a genuine, widespread or intense Arab hostility,” adds another historian, Neil Caplan.
For the Yishuv, the May riots marked the first step in confronting what the Israeli scholar Anita Shapira calls “the terrifying prospect of a war without any end in sight.”
The mass grave of the Jewish victims of the riots of 1921. (Wikimedia commons/ CC-BY-2.5/ Dr. Avichai Teicher)
Enter Mr. Churchill
In February 1921, David Lloyd George — British prime minister during the Balfour Declaration and a committed Zionist — gave Winston Churchill a new job. A member of the wartime and postwar cabinets, Churchill was then known primarily as the man behind the disastrous amphibious attempt to choke off the Ottoman capital at Gallipoli. He would now be secretary of state for the colonies, the position most singly responsible for, among other things, Britain’s Palestine policy.
A month after his appointment Churchill visited Palestine for the first time. In Tel Aviv, he met mayor Meir Dizengoff at city hall on Rothschild Boulevard, and in Jerusalem he marked the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hebrew University.
Days later, he met leaders of Palestine’s Arab community at the British headquarters, Government House. Led by former Jerusalem mayor Musa Kazem al-Husseini, they read him a 39-page memorandum.
Colonial secretary Winston Churchill with Sir Herbert Samuel during a visit to Jerusalem in March 1921. (Public domain)
Compared to the Zionists’ polished, well-organized and comparatively well-funded public-relations operation, the memo was an underwhelming effort. Typographical errors abounded, with the title page even misspelling “Palestine.”
Jews, it said, were “clannish and unneighborly,” active across the globe as “advocates of destruction” who amassed wealth while impoverishing their countries of residence. It recommended he read “the Jewish Peril,” better known as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The memo’s tone was threatening to the extent of self-sabotage. Yet viewed in hindsight, it was also prophetic.
“The Arab is noble and large-hearted, he is also vengeful and never forgets an ill deed. If England does not take up the cause of the Arabs, other Powers will,” it said. “If she does not listen, then perhaps Russia will take up their call one day, or perhaps even Germany.”
As for the Balfour Declaration, it “is a contract between England and a collection of history, imagination and ideals existing only in the brains of Zionists who are a company, a commission but not a Nation.”
A Palestinian protest meeting against Jewish settlement of then-British Mandate Palestine. (Courtesy Ian Black)
The Jews were scattered across the earth, said the memo. “Religion and language are their only tie. But Hebrew is a dead language and might be discarded. How then could England conclude a treaty with a religion and register it in the League of Nations? … the Arabs have not been consulted, and will never consent,” it said.
If the Arabs’ message was calculated to galvanize Churchill, it badly misfired. He rebuffed their pleas, telling them:
“It is manifestly right that the Jews should have a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire. But we also think it will be good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine.”
And yet if Churchill hoped his remarks would persuade the Arabs that resisting the Jewish national home was futile, he too had miscalculated. His fulsome defense of Zionism appears to have only inflamed them more.
The first of May 1921 was “May Day,” the international day of labor solidarity. Two processions were scheduled for the occasion, both planned by Jews. One was by Ahdut Ha’avoda (Labor Unity), a new party headed by David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katzenelson, in Tel Aviv. Their rally was authorized.
In 1937, Labor leader Berl Katzenelson addresses a youth rally at Ben Shemen. (Zoltan Kluger/GPO)
The other, in Jaffa, was by the far smaller Socialist Workers Party, which dreamed of a Soviet Union of Palestine and had distributed flyers in Yiddish and Arabic to that effect. Theirs was not.
The twin labor marches collided in Manshiya, a mixed Arab-Jewish quarter in Jaffa surrounding the Hassan Bek Mosque. Fists flew, and one female Marxist was knocked down and suffered a bad head wound.
By then some Arab residents of Jaffa had assembled in Manshiya. They were perturbed by the rising frequency of immigrant boats docking at Jaffa Port in the few years since the British arrived and World War I ended, unloading some 20,000 Jews upon their shores. And they had come under the impression that most Jews were Bolsheviks, and that Bolsheviks opposed property, marriage and religion itself.
Jaffa Port, circa 1921-1926. (Courtesy of Nazarian Library, University of Haifa)
Two members of the nascent Palestine Police — constables Cohen and Tawfiq Bey — worked stoutly to keep their respective communities apart. Then one of their British comrades fired in the air, and in the confusion it was unclear who had opened fire and at whom.
There were now several thousand people in Manshiya, where according to a subsequent commission of inquiry, “a general hunting of the Jews began.” Jews were assaulted — some fatally — in their homes and shops with blunt instruments, and afterward women, children and even the elderly came to loot. Three high-ranking Arab effendis including the mayor arrived to calm tempers but found Manshiya’s main street entirely pillaged. The dead and wounded were carried to Tel Aviv’s Herzliya Gymnasium, Palestine’s first Hebrew-language high school.
Meanwhile, another crowd gathered at the Jewish immigrant hostel in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood, where some 100 new arrivals were staying until they could find work. To the immigrants’ relief, a pair of Arab policemen arrived. But they too began shooting at the hostel and its main gate. A superior ordered them to stop, but then went home for lunch. The officers kept firing, the gate was opened, and the mob poured in.
Some men tried fleeing into the street and were beaten to death with sticks and wooden boards. Others were killed in the hostel courtyard. One Arab policeman attempted to rape several women; other Arab neighbors gave shelter to the desperate Jews. Several hours passed before a small contingent of British troops arrived from Lod and Jerusalem.
An Arabic account of the period describes the events in rather different terms. In the telling of the fighter-chronicler Subhi Yasin of Shefa-‘Amer (which the Jews called Shfaram), it was the Zionists who were the bellicose party. Their aggression was not physical but demographic and political: their unwavering determination to make Palestine their own.
Damage to a home in the city of Hadera caused during the 1921 riots. (Courtesy of author)
“Anxiety reigned over the sad fate awaiting the land and people due to the British policy that would make Palestine into the Jewish national homeland, and in the brave Arab city of Jaffa a new revolt erupted on the 1st of May 1921. Arab freedom fighters set upon the Zionist immigrants’ center and killed several Jews… Dozens of Arab freedom fighters were martyred by the bullets of the British police… treacherous bullets fired to protect the Jewish aggressors,” Yasin wrote.
A year earlier had seen an attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on the Muslim festival of Nebi Musa, and against the one-armed warrior Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades at Tel Hai in uppermost Galilee. However these strikes, while shocking to the Yishuv, had inflicted death tolls in the single digits — five and eight respectively.
Moreover, the earlier incidents had occurred under a temporary military administration left over from the war, which was considered both hostile to Zionism and ill-equipped to maintain law and order. The 1921 assault played out under a new, civil administration headed by Herbert Samuel, who as the first Jew in Britain’s Cabinet had been crucial in laying the groundwork for the Balfour Declaration four years prior.
Worse, this time it was on an utterly different order of magnitude. By day’s end, 27 Jews were dead and more than 100 were wounded. Moshe Shertok (later Sharett), a Zionist activist from Palestine then studying in London, wrote his siblings back home: “The catastrophe ” — the shoah, in Hebrew — “came abruptly.”
Palestinian Arabs gather at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, in an anti-Zionist demonstration on March 8, 1920, prior to the Nabi Musa holiday on which violent rioting took place. (Public domain)
The second day
In the Jaffa satellite village of Abu Kabir, Arabs were massing near the grand, faded 19th-century home that locals called the Red House. A family of recent immigrants from Russia had rented it from an effendi named Mantoura. They ran a dairy farm and sublet rooms on the upper floor. Four of the boarders at the time were writers; one was Yosef Haim Brenner.
Brenner, himself Russian-born, had been in Palestine over a decade and was among the pioneers of modern Hebrew literature. His work tussled with the same questions occupying so many Jews at the time: faith or doubt; separateness or universalism; sensuality or asceticism; Hebrew or Yiddish; Old World, New World or Old-New Land. He wore a shabby black wool coat and left his hair and beard long. He seemed an amalgam of a character in Hasidic legend and what the Russians called a yurodivi, a holy fool.
Author Yosef Haim Brenner, who was murdered in the 1921 Jaffa riots. (Public domain)
Brenner admired the Arabs’ rootedness in the land, but likened them to a dormant volcano. An ardent Zionist, he nonetheless fearedPalestine could never provide the safe haven for Jews that the movement’s founders envisioned: “You want to provide refuge for an injured sparrow in a rooster’s coop?” he wrote.
“Tomorrow, perhaps, the Jewish hand writing these words will be stabbed, a ‘sheikh’ or ‘hajj’ will drive his dagger into it in full view of the English governor,” he had written shortly before, “and that Jewish hand will be unable to do anything… for it does not know how to hold a sword.”
The day after the Jaffa riots, Brenner and his fellow boarders determined the Red House was unsafe and left for Tel Aviv on foot. At the time, rumors were circulating that Jews had killed Arab children. The gossip was exaggerated but not without some basis: In Manshiya Jews were found beating a number of Arabs, including a woman and a boy.
Brenner’s group got as far as the nearby Sheikh Murad cemetery, where mourners were burying policeman Mahmoud Zeit’s son, killed the day before in unclear circumstances. A lynching ensued: Four of the Jews were killed with rods and hatchets; two others, including Brenner, by gunfire. His body was found the next day, face down and naked below the waist.
“A horrible murder,” investigators later wrote, describing him as a “Jewish author of some repute.” Brenner’s group and dozens of victims from Jaffa were buried in a common grave at Tel Aviv’s one and only cemetery.
The Haganah — the Jewish self-defense group founded just the year before — forbade acts of revenge, but not all its members were inclined to listen. History would record the May 1921 riots as not just the worst blow yet landed to the Zionist settlement enterprise, but the first time Jews from the Yishuv launched acts of revenge.
A monument to victims of the 1921 rioting in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy of Nazarian Library, University of Haifa)
A person identified in the Haganah archives only as “A.S.” recalled that on the riots’ second day, he called together eight volunteers, all armed with automatic weapons. He told them to break into Arab homes and destroy everything, sparing only small children. They achieved “good results,” he said.
History would record the May 1921 riots as the first time Jews from the Yishuv launched acts of revenge
A baker named Ibrahim Khalil al-Asmar said Jews entered his home, beat him with wooden sticks and pointed a revolver at him. In Yiddish he pleaded: “I have not been out; I have not done anything.” Eliyahu Golomb, father of the Haganah, confirmed that one of the group’s members had gone rogue and killed a hunchbacked Arab, with his children, in an orange grove. “The Jews are doing terrible things,” wrote a student at the Herzliya Gymnasium.
The official Haganah history book notes there was “a grain of truth” to allegations of Jews, including at least one policeman, shooting Arab civilians. The assailants were acquitted for lack of evidence, the book observes, “but the deeds themselves were done.”
The riots spread to other Jewish villages — Kfar Saba, Rehovot, Hadera — causing extensive damage but no casualties. On May 5, a massive contingent of Bedouin reported to be several thousand struck Petah Tikvah, killing four Jews, wounding a dozen more and requiring British air strikes to quell. A Jewish architect working for the British used his connections to “lend” the Haganah weapons from the Jaffa armory (the ruse was revealed just last year).
It was nearly a week before order was restored. At least 100 people were dead, almost equally split between Jews and Arabs, with some 150 Jews and 75 Arabs wounded. As far as could be discerned, the fallen Jews were all killed by Arabs. Of the Arabs killed, the majority succumbed to the bullets and bombs of British troops and police. How many, innocent or complicit, were slain by Jews will likely never be determined.
Farmers in 1937 on their way to cut fodder in the fields of Kibbutz Givat Brenner, named after Hebrew-language Yosef Haim Brenner who was killed in May 1921. (Zoltan Kluger/GPO)
The same day that order was restored, High Commissioner Samuel appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Thomas Haycraft, the jurist newly arrived from the island of Grenada to serve as the inaugural chief justice of Palestine’s supreme court.
Photo taken at the Cairo Conference of 1921. Seated: from right: Winston Churchill, Herbert Samuel. Standing first row: from left: Gertrude Bell, Sir Sassoon Eskell, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, Jafar Pasha al-Askari. (Wikimedia commons)
And just a day after that, Samuel named Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a relative of the former mayor, as mufti of Jerusalem. The younger Husseini had fled the country the year before amid allegations of inciting the Nebi Musa riots, but Samuel had subsequently pardoned him as a goodwill gesture. Now he was on track to be the most powerful man in Arab Palestine (within months Samuel created a Supreme Muslim Council, which Amin soon headed too), with consequences more profound than anyone at the time conceived.
Further palliative measures followed. To conciliate the Jews, a small number of arms were distributed to each Jewish community — a British wink at the technically illegal Haganah. To conciliate the Arabs, Samuel temporarily suspended immigration, and a handful of ships were forced to return to Europe with their despondent migrants. Ben-Gurion, on a fundraising trip to London when the riots broke out, would need to wait three months to return.
In a speech in Jerusalem a month after the riots, Samuel labored to calm nerves. The Jews, however, quickly realized that his words were aimed not at allaying their anxieties but the Arabs’. The high commissioner affirmed he would “never impose upon them a policy which the people had reason to think was contrary to their religious, their political, and their economic interests,” and in any case “the conditions of Palestine are such as do not permit anything in the nature of a mass immigration.”
The assurances failed to placate Arab fears.
Hitler hosts Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1941 in Germany. (Heinrich Hoffmann Collection/Wikipedia)
“The bloodshed which occurred in Jaffa and the Bolshevik principles which the Jewish immigrants are spreading in Palestine are but the natural result of the Balfour Declaration,” warned the Jerusalem newspaper Bayt al-Maqdis. “In this critical hour we once again appeal to the Government to retract that Declaration and that policy, before the situation worsens and the Government finds itself unable to quench the fires of disorder.”
We cannot patiently watch our homeland pass into others’ hands. Either us or the Zionists!
“We cannot patiently watch our homeland pass into others’ hands. Either us or the Zionists!” said members of the Palestine Arab Executive. “There is no room for both elements struggling together in the same area. The laws of nature require that one side be defeated… There is no escaping the fact that one of us must win.”
‘Much to revenge’
The Haycraft Commission worked for 10 weeks and heard nearly 300 witnesses. That autumn it issued its report. It attributed the instigation of the slaughter squarely to the Arabs, castigating their “savagery” and “brutality.” The Jews acted with equal ferocity, it contended, “but they had much to revenge [sic].”
After deploring the violence, the commission laid out its causes. Arab fury, it concluded, came from fears of Jewish demographic, economic and political domination. It said the Zionist leadership had failed to allay the Arabs’ fears — on the contrary, it had only magnified them — and recommended Britain clearly and publicly enunciate its plans for Palestine.
That enunciation came in the form of the 1922 White Paper, known to posterity as the Churchill White Paper but largely written by Samuel himself. It reaffirmed the Balfour Declaration’s vision of a Jewish national home in Palestine, but rejected any idea of creating a wholly Jewish Palestine, one “as Jewish as England is English.” Such a project would be impracticable, it said, and was not Britain’s aim. Crucially, it determined that immigration should continue, but only insofar as allowed by the country’s “economic capacity… to absorb new arrivals.”
From left, Lords Edmund Allenby, Arthur Balfour and Sir Herbert Samuel, at Hebrew University in 1925. (Library of Congress)
The Zionists were irate, but for his part Churchill remained devoted as ever to their program. In parliament a month later, he chastised colleagues who would bin Balfour.
Yes, he acknowledged, there had been sporadic violence, but even a million pounds a year would not be too high a price for Britain’s “guardianship of this great historic land, and for keeping the word she has given before all the nations of the world.”
Palestine’s development was a boon to the British Empire as much as to the Arabs, he reiterated.
An alleyway leading to Jaffa Port, circa 1921-1926. (Courtesy of Nazarian Library, University of Haifa)
“I am told that the Arabs would have done it themselves. Who is going to believe that? Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps towards the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would have been quite content to dwell — a handful of philosophic people — in the wasted sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and unharnessed into the Dead Sea,” Churchill said.
Shortly after, Churchill again hosted Palestinian-Arab leaders in London. Again he rejected their demands for self-government and the abrogation of the national home.
“The British Government mean to carry out the Balfour Declaration. I have told you so again and again. I told you so at Jerusalem. I told you so at the House of Commons the other day. I tell you so now… We intend to bring more Jews in. We do not intend you be allowed to stop more from coming in,” Churchill said.
Publicly, Zionist leaders continued to insist the riots had been the work of a few criminals, or a handful of effendis anxious that their capacity to exploit Arab peasants was being imperiled. Certainly, they assured the British, there was no consolidated Palestinian-Arab national movement to speak of.
Ben-Gurion exemplified the predominant denial of the time. Throughout the 1920s, he continued to insist Arab opposition was a small-scale phenomenon, to be overcome by educating the Arab masses on the brotherhood of the working classes and the material benefits of Zionism.
Illustrative: David Ben Gurion, left, and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, right, as law students in Turkey in 1912. (photo courtesy the GPO)
One Zionist leader in Palestine, Jacob Thon, dissented. Blaming the outburst on the effendis was fine as a tactic, he said, but “between ourselves, we should realize that we have to reckon with an Arab national movement. We ourselves — our own [actions] — are speeding the development of the Arab national movement.”
Another dissenter was a new immigrant from Germany, fast climbing the Zionist ranks, named Haim Arlosoroff. It was true, he wrote, that by European standards Palestine lacked a recognizable Arab national movement. Arab education was too undeveloped, its commerce too limited, its industry non-existent. The Arabs had too many squabbles: Effendi against peasant, Muslim against Christian, family against family. Religion moved the masses more than any notion of nationhood. Under such circumstances, he reckoned, no recognizable national movement existed, nor could it anytime soon.
Between ourselves, we should realize that we have to reckon with an Arab national movement
But denying something was afoot among Palestine’s Arabs was a grave mistake, “like a doctor who stands at the bedside of a patient wallowing in malarial fever and denies the existence of the disease because the patient’s blood does not resemble those he is used to seeing under his microscope,” Arlosoroff said.
Is there an incipient Arab movement in Palestine? “There is,” Arlosoroff concluded, bolding the text for emphasis, and dismissing its significance would bring “calamity.”
The relative calm that followed the 1921 riots allowed the national home to progress. In summer 1922 the League of Nations Council confirmed the draft of the Palestine Mandate, and a year later it came into effect. Fulfilling Zionist hopes and labors, the Mandate’s text enshrined the Balfour Declaration’s call facilitating the Jewish national home, while at the same time safeguarding Arab civic and religious — but not, explicitly, political — rights. Lord Balfour himself visited in 1925 to inaugurate the Hebrew University, and the Jews feted him with a gourmet picnic in Petah Tikvah in the same field where blood had run four years before.
Lord Balfour, seated at head of table, banqueting in the spot where the riots had taken place in 1921. Chaim Weizmann, future first president of Israel, can be seen in the foreground. (Courtesy Weizmann Institute)
By decade’s end, the placidity had proven an illusion. The year 1929 brought massacres in Hebron and Safed that surpassed anything seen in 1921. And spring 1936 saw the eruption — once again, in Jaffa — of the Great Arab Revolt, Palestine’s first “intifada,” which flamed not for days but three years, leaving not dozens but more than 500 Jews dead, along with several hundred British personnel and several thousand Arabs.
A war for the ages
It is an intriguing counterfactual exercise to ponder how Zionist leaders of a century ago might react if they knew that in 2021, despite a handful of peace deals, the Arab-Jewish war rages on. For some, such as Herbert Samuel or the American head of Hebrew University Judah Magnes, the thought of potentially endless strife was too dreadful to contemplate and justified significantly rolling back Zionist ambitions – above all, on the pace of immigration – for the sake of peace. For others, it was an unnerving but unavoidable reality to be confronted without illusions.
Ben-Gurion’s own evolution on the question came around the late 1920s or early 1930s. By the mid-’30s he appears to have concluded that Jewish and Arab aspirations for Palestine were mutually exclusive, condemning both to a “war of life and death” unlikely to subside anytime soon.
Illustrative; Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Southern Front Commander Yigal Allon (to his right) and Yitzhak Rabin (between them) pictured on the southern front during the 1948 War of Independence. (IDF / Wikipedia)
Shortly before the outbreak of the 1936 Arab Revolt, Ben-Gurion confidedto Magnes that the difference between them was that the latter was prepared to sacrifice large-scale immigration for peace, while to him, for whom peace was also dear, the imperative of Zionism stood above all others. To the Arab intellectual George Antonius, he said, “If we have to choose between pogroms in Germany and Poland, and in Palestine, we prefer the pogroms here.”
And at the peak of the Arab Revolt, 10 years before Israel’s birth, Ben-Gurion gave a remarkably candid address to colleagues, one that surveyed the future with a mix of nearly fatalistic acceptance and determination.
The Arabs are not to blame if they do not want this country to stop being Arab… our enterprise is aimed at turning this land into a Jewish one
“Let us not delude ourselves: We are facing not terror but war. This is a national war the Arabs have declared upon us. Terror is just one of its means,” Ben-Gurion said.
“There are two peoples” in Palestine, Ben-Gurion said, drawing out the key words for weight. “The Arabs are not to blame if they do not want this country to stop being Arab… our enterprise is aimed at turning this land into a Jewish one.”
The Jews faced not an uprising of hundreds of armed men, nor even of thousands, but of the entire Arab people, he said. They should expect years of armed conflict; they should assume the struggle against them will grow fiercer.
“We have losses, bitter losses,” Ben-Gurion told them, “and they may continue for perhaps hundreds of years.”
The cost of virtue signaling over the past five years has grown exponentially, from the painless task of planting anti-Trump signs in your yard all the way to turning your family members over to authorities, masking little kids playing outdoors, subjecting the young to racist re-education, and even injecting teenagers with a novel vaccine of which the long-term effects are completely unknown.
While the pressure to conform is older even than mankind, and often comes with good reason, its most recent and illiberal iterations harken back to dark times in our history and in world history. The cost of signaling virtue is once again getting higher and higher — and more and more targeted at you and me. Worse yet, ominous signs point toward to digitalization and eventual enforcement of this new value system.
The goals of the main drivers of this new morality have been in open sight from the start; many (but not all) of us simply weren’t looking hard enough. “Find the racist!” they yelled, and a lot of right-thinking people agreed. “Find the insurrectionist!” they screamed and a few more eyebrows went up, but the logic behind arresting rioters seems sound enough on its face. After all, you’re not a violent insurrectionist, are you?
But just like how those yard signs proclaiming “all welcome” really meant “conservatives not welcome,” the hunt for racists and insurrectionists isn’t just a hunt for those who are explicitly named on the wanted posters. We’re going well beyond that. And all of us are expected to take part in this hunt or we are on the wrong side of history (a very bad place to be indeed).
Years ago, it seemed funny to a lot of us: the sort of ignorance required to shriek about the murderous white hood or swastika while wearing the murderous hammer and sickle. But while many of us mocked how foolish and ignorant this unintentional irony seemed, a lot of those folks in the red T-shirts meant exactly what they said. The joke, it turns out, was on the rest of us. The Nazi, the Klansman, and the racist — from the very beginning, you see, they meant you and me.
Take the riot at the Capitol, which resulted in frightened lawmakers, destruction of property, and one woman killed by police, and compare it with the race riots that killed dozens and burned out multiple cities and towns across the country the year before. One was called “an insurrection,” with the full weight of the FBI brought down on every suspected participant as they were tracked, turned in by their dating apps, neighbors and even children, and thrown into solitary confinement. The other? That was called a civil rights movement, and its radical, openly racist cause is now taught to children across the United States.
Parents and teachers from the public schools of the Virginia countryside to the elite private schools of Manhattan who resist the new curriculum are quickly shut down, shamed, and even attacked as racist, insurrectionist, and all the rest. Their yard signs, their donations, their impeccable liberal credentials — these do nothing to defend them.
Subject your child to indoctrination. Make them hate themselves for their skin color. Force them to denounce their parents, their grandparents, the people who gave them this happy life, and the country that let it happen. This is the new price of entry. The cost of signaling virtue is getting higher, more intrusive, more demanding, and whether we like it or not, we are all enrolled in the new social credit system.
“Black out your square” on Instagram? That was last year. “Get your injection” on Instagram? That’s the new thing.
“It’s really important to see all these TV anchors, personalities, showing themselves getting the shot,” Brian Stelter squealed on CNN last month. “We’ve seen a lot of vaccine selfies from lots of folks at lots of different networks, it’s been really inspiring to see… Where are Tucker and Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham? Where’s Ainsley Earhardt and Steve Doocy and Laura Ingraham? Where are the biggest stars on Fox getting vaccinated?”
“I get that it’s a personal choice,” he continued. “I get that’s between, you know, the hosts and their health care provider. But everybody else is doing it.”
Every. Body. Else. Is doing it.
Previously, anonymous internet enforcers performed the role of exiling those with lower social credit, harassing a Colorado baker with crazy orders and lawsuits, calling people’s bosses to get them fired, etc. News reporters got in on the game, too, storming an elderly women for her Facebook group and calling an EMT’s boss to see if they can get him fired over a small donation to a defendant.
But that’s not remotely the end of it, with government and its friends in big business taking it from there. Don’t want your COVID shot? You’re not on the list, and that might mean you need a new job, new restaurants, new grocery stores, and new airlines. Most Republican politicians don’t care: They don’t want to regulate the new marketplace, but the new marketplace sure wants to regulate you.
People don’t feel comfortable being around those who aren’t vaccinated, so you’re going to have to show a pass. Makes sense, right? A lot of people these days also don’t feel comfortable being around Trump supporters, either, or people who haven’t “checked their privilege,” or who go to the wrong church, or are the “wrong” skin color. See where this is going?
We’re not there yet, but nothing in the new social credit virtue signal system gives any sign of slowing down. Why would they? They’re winning, and conservatives are barely lifting a hand to stop them.
Update (1325ET):Responding to the Oversight Board’s decision, former President Trump said in a statement:
“What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before.”
“The people of our country will not stand for it!These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our electoral process.” Facebook’s oversight board on Wednesday decided to uphold the company’s indefinite suspension of former president Donald Trump, claiming that “Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook’s rules and encouraged and legitimized violence.”
“Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible,” the oversight board continues, adding that “At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence.”
“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.”
The Board’s decision is accompanied by ‘evidence’ in the Trump case which catalogues the former president’s actions leading up to the January 6th ‘insurrection’ at the Capitol.
Elections are a crucial part of democracy. On January 6, 2021, during the counting of the 2020 electoral votes, a mob forcibly entered the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. This violence threatened the constitutional process. Five people died and many more were injured during the violence. During these events, then-President Donald Trump posted two pieces of content.
At 4:21 pm Eastern Standard Time, as the riot continued, Mr. Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram:
I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.
At 5:41 pm Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed this post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.
At 6:07 pm Eastern Standard Time, as police were securing the Capitol, Mr. Trump posted a written statement on Facebook:
These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!
At 6:15 pm Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed this post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations. It also blocked Mr. Trump from posting on Facebook or Instagram for 24 hours.
On January 7, after further reviewing Mr. Trump’s posts, his recent communications off Facebook, and additional information about the severity of the violence at the Capitol, Facebook extended the block “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
The Board also said that Facebook must review the decision, which also applies to Instagram, within six months. Trump has nearly 60 million followers across both platforms. What’s more, “Facebook violated its own rules by imposing a suspension that was ‘indefinite.’” because “This penalty is not described in Facebook’s content policies.”
Facebook responded to the decision, writing in a blog post: “Today, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s suspension of former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. As we stated in January, we believe our decision was necessary and right, and we’re pleased the board has recognized that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure we took.”
However,while the board has not required Facebook to immediately restore Mr. Trump’s accounts, it has not specified the appropriate duration of the penalty. Instead, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, calling it an “indeterminate and standardless penalty,” and insisted we review our response. We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.
The board also made a number of recommendations on how we should improve our policies. While these recommendations are not binding, we actively sought the board’s views on our policies around political figures and will carefully review its recommendations.
We thank the board for the care and attention it gave this case. –Facebook
The site allows users to like or share posts on their own Facebook or Twitter accounts, but they cannot reply. People can also “sign up for alerts” delivered via email.
The tool is funded by Trump’s Save America and Make America Great Again political action committees.
“President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform,” wrote senior Trump adviser Jason Miller, adding “We’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future.”
I like to verify things myself and you can do so as well by reading the California Department of Education Mathematics Framework.
In its framework, the Department of Education seeks “Culturally responsive mathematics education.”
Active efforts in mathematics teaching are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities. Mathematics pathways must open mathematics to all students, eliminating option-limiting tracking. [i.e. no advance classes].
implementation of this framework and the standards, teachers must be mindful of other considerations that are a high priority for California’s education system including the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) which allow students to examine issues of environmental and social justice.
Teaching for Equity Highlights
The evolution of mathematics in educational settings has resulted in dramatic inequities for students of color, girls, and students from low income homes.
Teachers are encouraged to align instruction with the outcomes of the California ELD Standards, which state that linguistically and culturally diverse English learners receive instruction that values their home cultures.
Need to Broaden Perceptions of Mathematics
I did not go through all the chapters. Reason uncovered these gems.
The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12.
Middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.
The push to calculus in grade twelve is itself misguided.
To encourage truly equitable and engaging mathematics classrooms we need to broaden perceptions of mathematics beyond methods and answers so that students come to view mathematics as a connected, multi-dimensional subject that is about sense making and reasoning, to which they can contribute and belong.
Sabotage the Best
Reason concludes, and I agree “If California adopts this framework, which is currently under public review, the state will end up sabotaging its brightest students. The government should let kids opt out of math if it’s not for them. Don’t let the false idea that there’s no such thing as a gifted student herald the end of advanced math entirely.”
Instead, and in the name of “equity”, the proposed framework aims to keep everyone learning at the same dumbed down level for as long as possible.
The intention is clear. The California Board of Education intends to sabotage the best and brightest, hoping to make everyone equal.
The public does not support these polices. Indeed, it is precisely this kind of talk that nearly got Trump reelected.
Biden should speak out against such nonsense, but he won’t. He is beholden to Teachers’ Unions and Boards of Education.
Care to complain? If so the California Department of Education posted these ways.
Phone Number and Address
Instructional Quality Commission 1430 N Street, Room 3207 Sacramento, CA 95814 Fax: 916-319-0172
Social and Mathematical Justice Q&A
Q: Who is the arbiter of environmental, mathematic, and social justice?
A: The California board of Education. They intend to cram it down your child’s throat and dumb down gifted kids no matter what their parents believe or how vigorous the objections.
If you wish to protest these absurd policies, phone or write the board of education as posted above.