A memo circulating around top officials at the Department of Justice makes it clear that people who attempt to spread the coronavirus intentionally could be charged as terrorists.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen sent the memo through the department on Tuesday to clarify what should happen if people were found to purposefully try to spread the virus, Politico reported after obtaining a copy of the memo.
Coronavirus threats won’t be tolerated
“Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’ … such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” Rosen wrote in the memo. “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.”
The department did not identify any instances of intentionally spreading the virus, but the Washington Examiner reported that New Jersey authorities charged a man with making terroristic threats because he coughed on a store employee and told the employee that he had the virus.
Twitter cracks down too
As the DOJ cracks down on those who might intentionally infect others with coronavirus, Twitter has suspended the account of a prominent conservative website for posting links to an op-ed that suggested people voluntarily expose themselves to coronavirus for the purpose of achieving “herd immunity.”
The piece, “How medical ‘chicken pox’ parties could turn the tide of the Wuhan Virus,” suggested that coronavirus cases would spike when lockdowns and shutdowns ended, and surmised that “neither mitigation nor waiting for a vaccine is acceptable given the magnitude of the problem we are facing.”
Instead, the piece suggested that “controlled voluntary infection” of people at low-risk for complications could give the population herd immunity faster and avoid lengthy shutdown periods that could cripple the economy.
Another advantage of controlled voluntary infection could be that as the cases are monitored, medical professionals could gather useful data about the virus and how it transmits, the articles’s author claimed.
How far does this go?
While I don’t think too many people in the U.S. are going to advocate having coronavirus infection parties, the fact that Twitter has suspended the account just for suggesting it reveals something about the attitude toward the virus and toward people who question lockdowns.
I myself have been practically accused by others on social media of wanting to “kill grandma” for simply suggesting that governments may be overreacting in their response to the virus and that more targeted measures would be preferable.
Of course, people who try to spread coronavirus intentionally to others should be prosecuted, if for no other reason than they will add to people’s fear and panic about it.
But I hope that the DOJ would not see current laws as allowing them to go after media outlets like The Federalist for publishing an opinion about the best course of action to take in the midst of this pandemic. There is a difference between having an opinion about how best to tackle the threat, and taking action to infect people against their will.