(ABC4) – Robert Goldberg, History Professor at the University of Utah, says that his generation eagerly lined up to receive the Polio, Measles, and Mumps vaccines.
“We had no problem whatsoever because there was an absolute faith that science was doing good, but I think over the last 50 years there’s been a decided change in that,” he says.
Conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, especially the COVID-19 vaccine, are confirming Goldberg’s hypothesis.
Many people have likely heard of the “microchip” conspiracy theory from relatives and associates. They may even believe in it or a version of it themselves.
According to the conspiracy theory, microchips are transferred into people’s bodies from the COVID-19 vaccine and are being used to track them, but is it possible? ABC4 explored the history of this theory and how it and other conspiracy theories form.
Where did the microchip theory come from?
James Tabery is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah who has written about the COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
He says the microchip conspiracy theory likely came from misconstruing information from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their heavy investment in worldwide COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“They’ve invested millions in vaccination efforts to improve public health around the world… Bill and Melinda Gates are heavily invested in vaccination efforts. They awarded grants to researchers to find better ways to keep track of vaccination information and in particular, they were thinking about places like underdeveloped nations where you want to roll out vaccination operations but the electronic medical record infrastructure isn’t really set up to keep track of all that,” Tabery says. “Logistical challenge: how do you keep track of who’s been vaccinated when you don’t have the electronic infrastructure to do that?”
He says that researchers at MIT looked into using an invisible dye to keep track of those who’ve been vaccinated. Down the line, someone could either shine a light or use a smartphone app to see if the ink is in your skin, he says.
However, Tabery says that idea never got past animal testing.
“You sort of mash those two things together and sprinkle some paranoia and you get Bill Gates wants to microchip everyone,” he tells ABC4.
According to Tabery, millions of people have been vaccinated at this point, and if they wanted to test the theory, they could get a full body scan.
Goldberg, author of “Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America”, has written and given talks about conspiracy theories and movements; he says the microchip theory could have also come as a result of a misunderstanding.
“There are chips on the outside of the syringes used to distribute the vaccine that’s under the label, and these chips are supposed to track vaccine use,” he says.
Goldberg’s statement is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, which awarded a contract to ApiJect, a company that produces prefilled syringes for the COVID-19 vaccine.
ApiJect’s website shows the anatomy of the syringe, which could include an NFC chip under the drug label on the syringe. This chip is purely for tracking vaccine use, not for tracking people who have received the vaccine.
Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health, says there is absolutely zero truth to the microchip conspiracy theory.
“Rumors and disinformation like this are extremely dangerous. We know exactly what is included in the vaccines. Anyone can find that information on the FDA website as well. We have the ingredients of each vaccine listed here,” Johnson says. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Please seek out credible sources of information to make your decisions about the vaccines.”
Goldberg says that people like Bill Gates and George Soros may be seen by some as “puppet masters” and fear that a global elite is seeking to control us to gain power and wealth. He says this has happened historically as well.
Tabery adds that with COVID-19, we hear about conspiracy theories surrounding 5G towers, Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, and George Soros.
“The line up of guilty parties is never-ending… There’s something intriguing about the possibility that these powerful people are behind the scenes or puppet masters fooling us all, and I think there’s also something alluring about being on the side of really knowing what’s going on… that’s attractive- the idea that you’re on the know as opposed to the other people who aren’t,” he says.
In fact, there are many reasons that conspiracy theories pop up.
How do conspiracy theories form?
According to Tabery, conspiracy theories can impose a sense of order.
“The world is a chaotic place. There’s a lot of strange, unpredictable, awful things that happen from tsunamis that kill a quarter of a million people to pandemics that kill more,” he says. “Oftentimes conspiracy theories are about making the chaotic world seem less chaotic.”
He acknowledges that conspiracy theories have appeared not just regarding the vaccine but with subjects like mask-wearing, social distancing, etc.
“Combatting a pandemic requires widespread community coordination, and putting your individual interests in some sense- deprioritizing them in the name of the public good.”
Tabery states, “and all these narratives, whether it’s the Bill Gates variety or the George Soros variety or the 5G towers variety, they delegitimize the official explanation which makes it less likely that somebody is going to do their part.”
Tabery says that studies have shown that even if there is no evidence of a conspiracy theory or it is proved wrong, “….the underlying distrust of official explanations is not going to be impacted at all.”
He tells ABC4 that most conspiracy theories crop up after a horrific event like the JFK assassination or the terrorist attack of September 11. The microchip theory differs from these because the pandemic is ongoing. People will be able to test conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19. For example, the microchip version is testable.
“Millions of people are being vaccinated, and you’re not finding that people are being microchipped. There are some side effects, but it’s not super dangerous… the hope is as time goes on a lot of this stuff is going to disappear,” Tabery adds. “The way you have people sixty years later wondering about the JFK assassination or still talking about the 9/11 truthers, I don’t think even five years from now you’re going to find a lot of people playing up the Bill Gates microchip conspiracy theory.”
Goldberg says lack of trust is a main factor in the formation of conspiracy theories.
“I think there is a profound distrust of American institutions and the medical profession and medicine in general and science. I think the idea that we have- we’re going to trust science and science will protect us- is being turned on its head by people who distrust those kinds of authorities and institutions and trust those who are naysayers and who seek to discredit all of our institutions.”
He says with distrust, it is easy to see how information can get twisted.
“If you have a distrust and you do have faith in the system and in the people who govern that system, the idea that people would turn events like the plague (the pandemic) for nefarious purposes is something that comes readily to their minds,” Goldberg says.
To display this point, Goldberg cited a Gallup Poll. He says that in 1985, 75% of Americans said they trust the government to do what is right all or most of the time. Currently, only 17% of Americans trust the government to do what is right all or most of the time.
And conspiracy theories are not just held by extremists anymore, according to Goldberg.
“This is not simply a lunatic fringe. This is not simply the extreme. What has happened is conspiracy thinking has breached the mainstream. It’s left the banks and is now in the mainstream of American thought and opinion, and that’s what the concern is.”
That erosion of trust has extended to distrust in universities, court systems, congress, and science, he says, even before the pandemic.
“This is less fear than trust and faith, and when you don’t trust your leaders and you don’t trust media to give you the news, to give you the facts, you seek alternatives, you seek counter authorities. And that’s where those conspiracy theories blossom and bloom,” Goldberg says.
Goldberg warns that this can be dangerous. He says one solution is having religious, political, and business leaders speak out against these issues, people whose opinions carry an enormous amount of weight.
“What these conspiracy theories do is they create a world of good versus evil, or right versus wrong, and if people believe that everybody is opposed to you or disagrees with you, is a traitor, has betrayed the trust, then the very foundations of this country… is lost,” he explains. “And then we go into a future facing very difficult problems without that ability to solve the problems that we’re going to be having to deal with.”