Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton keeps repeating a widely debunked conspiracy about the virus' origins.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) suggested without evidence on Sunday that the deadly new virus that has killed more than 1,000 people in China over the past few months could have been created at a "secretive" biochemical lab in Wuhan.
After he was accused of spreading baseless conspiracy theories, Cotton defended his remarks as merely "hypotheses."
Cotton told Fox News on Sunday that "China's only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases" is "just a few miles" from the live-animal market linked to many of the early cases of infection, referring to the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory.
"We don't have evidence that this disease originated there," he admitted, "but because of China's duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all."
Right-wing activists, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, have been attempting to convince people that the virus could have been the result of biological weapons research, but a wide array of experts have debunked this claim.
"Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus," Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University professor of chemical biology, told the Washington Post last month.
The World Health Organization has warned that false information about the coronavirus is "spreading faster than the virus" and is causing an "infodemic."
After the Post reported on Sunday that Cotton had fanned "the embers of a coronavirus conspiracy theory that had been repeatedly debunked by expects," he responded by trying to "debunk the debunkers."
In a series of tweets, he argued that he had not actually claimed the virus was an engineered bioweapon, but noted that that is one of "at least four hypotheses" about the virus' origins.
"None of these are 'theories' and certainly not 'conspiracy theories,'" he claimed. "They are hypotheses that ought to be studied in light of the evidence, if the Chinese Communist Party would provide it."
A spokesperson from Cotton's office declined to respond to an inquiry about his claims this week, pointing to a Monday twitter thread instead in which he claimed that those fact-checking his remarks were repeating "the Communist Party line."
"I haven't said the coronavirus is 'a Chinese bioweapon run amok,' so I haven't 'walked back' anything," he said, citing a Monday New York Times report that stated he had backed down from his original comments over the weekend.
"What I have said is that China’s official origin story of the Wuhan food market is almost certainly bogus," he added, repeating his earlier unsubstantiated claim. "And given Chinese dishonesty and lack of transparency, we have to consider all possibilities until the evidence is in."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.