A beefed-up federal security detail has been assigned to protect the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases after he received death threats as the target of an online conspiracy theory that accuses him of trying to undermine President Donald Trump's reelection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, 79, who has become something of a household name since the coronavirus began in the United States, was approved for enhanced personal security after the Justice Department received a request from the Health and Human Services Department for extra agents, officials said, according to The New York Times.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most vocal supporter of social distancing rules to try to stem the rapidly spreading virus, is often seen standing next to Trump at the daily news briefings at the White House, where he has often clarified the president’s statements.
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Days ago, Fauci warned the virus could kill 100,000 to more than 200,000 Americans in the weeks ahead, which convinced Trump to extend the national recommendations for social distancing.
As the toll from the deadly pandemic continues to grow, the resulting stay-at-home orders pushed by Fauci have forced nearly all businesses across the country to shutter, along with schools, parks, and sporting and entertainment events, or any place where large gatherings could be held.
The economic fallout has fired up right-wing supporters of the president, who have taken to social media to spread the idea that Fauci is responsible for the country’s continued downward spiral, the Times reported.
Some commentary pointed to a recent White House news briefing in which Fauci dropped his head and touched his forehead as the president was speaking. Images and videos of the moment went viral online. Some cited it as evidence that Fauci sought to undercut the president, the Times reported.
After the viral video of Fauci lowering his head, online attacks against him increased, the Times reported.
The hashtag #FauciFraud has been used by more than 70 Twitter accounts, some posting hundreds of times a day, according to an analysis by the Times.
Criticism of Fauci has also come from leading conservative voices and supporters of Trump, including Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group; Bill Mitchell, host of the far-right online talk show “YourVoice America”; and Shiva Ayyadurai, who has falsely claimed to be the inventor of email.
Reports say recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh has also been on his show saying the stay-at-home orders were actually destroying the economy “under the guise” of saving lives.
One anti-Fauci Twitter post last week said, “Sorry liberals but we don’t trust Dr. Anthony Fauci,” the Times reported.
Health and Human Services Department Secretary Alex Azar was reportedly worried that the threats against the doctor were increasing as more of the country shut down in response to the coronavirus, the Times reported.
“Yesterday, upon the recommendation of the U.S. Marshals Service, the department approved the special deputization request from HHS for nine HHS-OIG special agents to provide protective services for Dr. Fauci,” the Justice Department said in a statement, referring to the Office of the Inspector General at the health department. The Washington Post first reported the news of the enhanced security.
In an interview with CBS’ Gayle King on Thursday, Fauci dismissed the threats and said he wants the public to know he is just doing his job.
"You know, it's my job. This is the life I've chosen, and I'm doing it," Fauci said, according to a report by The Hill. "I mean, obviously there's a lot of pressure. I would be foolish to deny that. ... It's a job to do, and we've just got to do it."
Trump has only praised Fauci, but so far has stopped short of ordering a nationwide stay-at-home order that the doctor says is necessary to stop the outbreak. During Wednesday’s briefing, when a reporter asked about Fauci’s personal security, the president said: “He doesn’t need security. Everybody loves him.”