Fueled by the new Eris variant of COVID-19, positive tests for the illness and hospitalizations have steadily increased over the past month. This new variant has, in turn, prompted fears of a new large-scale surge, with at least a few companies returning to masking mandates, as well as federal health officials encouraging new boosters when they’re released in the fall. But just like new variants routinely spread, so too do rumors and conspiracy theories coming from fringe influencers who claim Lockdown 2.0 is coming.
They portend that Eris isn’t just another random evolution of COVID, like Delta or Omicron in past years around this time. Instead, it’s part of an organized strategy to impose a new lockdown on the population, going back to the strict mandates and closures that made 2020 such a difficult year.
Or as Alex Jones put it on the Aug. 18 edition of his show, “this new rollout’s timing is perfect for the embattled Biden administration to put the country back in a state of civil emergency and even martial law to further divide and confuse the public and move forward with the greatest election meddling in history.”
The next part of their strategy, according to Jones and many other influencers? As the diagnosis numbers tick up, the Biden administration will declare the return of masking mandates, enact severe travel restrictions, and implement a new total lockdown of the population, with no end date.
But this would be more draconian, a totalitarian China-style crackdown on all movement, free association, holistic health, and small business. Refusal to comply would be brutally punished.
It would all be unleashed just in time for the already-announced new vaccinations to kill millions, and stay in place long enough for “them” to rig the 2024 election.
Just like 2020. Because it comes as no surprise to many that this appears to be fomenting right as former President Donald Trump’s polling numbers are surging among Republicans.
Fueled by the real uptick in Eris cases, and the return of many conspiracy theory influencers to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the “next lockdown” rumor seems to have taken off in a way that no recent COVID-19 conspiracy theory has, spreading all over social media in just a few days and becoming the talk of the conspiracy community.
In the least surprising part of this story, it appears to have started with Alex Jones.
On that same Aug. 18 show, Jones claimed that sources in multiple federal agencies had reached out to him to blow the whistle on a new lockdown scheduled to start in just a few weeks.
According to Jones, a TSA “high-level manager” warned him that mask mandates for airport employees would be back by mid-September, with air travel mask mandates following a month later, and that “by December [there will be] a return to the full COVID protocol of 2020-2021.”
He then claimed that other “sources” in federal law enforcement, including members of the Customs and Border Patrol, backed up these claims. They revealed to him that these new restrictions would be used to “starve the third world,” commit “total election meddling,” and kill millions of people with new vaccines.
Because there’s absolutely no evidence that the Biden administration or any other authority will be reinstating the COVID protocols of 2020, Jones gave himself an out for when it doesn’t happen. Merely by “exposing” it on his show, Jones reasoned, “we may change [the plan.]” That way, when it doesn’t happen, Jones can give himself the credit for stopping it. Jones even promised to celebrate in October if there was no new lockdown.
Within the next few days, the conspiracy theory ecosystem grabbed onto Jones’ claims and began adding their own details. “The plandemic is being scheduled. Get ready for lockdowns” claimed one thread on r/conspiracy with nearly 700 replies, posting a meme rehashing what Jones claimed on InfoWars, though it added the helpful caveat that “timelines [are] subject to change.”
On X, numerous major influencers ran with Jones’ claims as proof that the first stage of the renewed lockdown was already happening and that the “surge” was tied to Trump’s numerous indictments actually boosting him in the polls among the GOP.
Others cited a plunging Pfizer stock as reasons a “surge” was coming, which would necessitate the new boosters.
Some said the lockdowns were an excuse to reintroduce mail-in balloting for 2024 and give Biden the same “illicit” edge he used to win in 2020.
There was even evidence posted in the form of stories about the entertainment company Lionsgate and a small college in Atlanta both returning to in-person mask mandates as the Eris surge continued. “So it begins…” intoned a popular thread on r/conspiracy about the mandate reinstatements.
Naturally, many of these posts went massively viral almost immediately. “It’s happening” declared “Ukrainian biolabs” conspiracy theorist Jacob Creech in a post with over 11,000 shares, while right-wing influencer Melissa Tate got over 8 million views and 20,000 shares for a tweet posting a three-minute snippet of Jones making the “whistleblower” claims.
The co-host of Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Natalie Winters, went viral posting out-of-context screenshots of Department of Veterans Affairs purchase orders as proof that “the federal government has already begun buying COVID-19 equipment and hiring consultants to enforce pandemic-era ‘safety protocols.’”
Days later, stories were popping up all over the conservative media ecosystem’s podcasts and social media sites touting the “whistleblower” claims about the upcoming “new lockdown.”
The “new lockdown” even picked up a nickname on conspiracy Twitter: Plandemic 2.0.
Similar COVID surges were predicted for fall and winter 2022, which ultimately didn’t lead to new lockdowns. And the claims made by Winters, of vast new buys of “COVID-19 equipment,” are for testing supplies and computer equipment totaling about $7 million total, a fraction of government spending on testing and vaccine administration.
Judging by the veracity of past Jones claims that he backed up with “whistleblowers” and “sources,” the skepticism is well-earned. Jones routinely claims to have inside sources with direct knowledge of nefarious plans, which then fail to pan out.
In the end, there’s little new in the claims of a new lockdown or new mandates taking us back to 2020. These are the same predictions that conspiracy influencers have been making for years, usually to large audiences and revenue. Since the earliest days of COVID, they have consistently exaggerated the harshness of the original lockdown, pushed conspiracy theories about the virus being a bioweapon, downplayed the actual danger of COVID, made up claims about the side effects of the vaccine, and continue to spread false claims about what “they” are “really doing” with the virus.
And they’ll keep doing it, even when everyone is walking around out in the open come October.