No, Ukraine is not developing bioweapons, despite what right-wing pundits want you to believe

How a random post on Gab became a conspiracy theory referenced by Tucker Carlson, Marco Rubio, and the Kremlin.

Clockwise from top: Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock; ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images; Sergio Flores/Getty Images; YEVGENY BIYATOV/AFP/Getty Images

Have you heard the Ukrainian biolabs conspiracy? If not, apologies for dragging you into this. Here’s the gist: The United States has been funding a “military-biological program” in Ukraine where they are developing chemical and biological weapons. Depending on the version you heard, it might tie in Hunter Biden (he’s the one running them!) or Hillary Clinton (she set them up in the first place!) or Anthony Fauci (he’s behind the research!). If you sneak in something about George Soros, you’ll get right-wing bingo.

Here’s the truth: There are no U.S.-run biolabs in Ukraine, and certainly not any that are developing weapons of war. And while conservative media has run with the story, they didn’t get it from U.S. intelligence sources or Ukrainian sources or even from Russian disinformation. Nope: According to Vice, they got it from a former wine bar manager. Per their reporting, Jacob Creech, also known by his online aliases WarClandestine and BioClandestine, started the nonsensical rumor about biolabs — and the how of it all is an illuminating illustration of just how conspiracy theories spread.

It all started with a post on Gab, a far-right Twitter knock-off. In February, a user claimed to have discovered a number of U.S.-funded labs developing biological weapons in Ukraine and posted a map of where they were located. The post didn’t get much traction until Russia invaded Ukraine, at which point Creech took the image from Gab and posted it to Twitter, where it blew up. Within hours, the post was the source of a news story about biolabs on Alex Jones’s InfoWars website, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Other far-right websites started to pick up on the report, too.

Within days, the Russian government itself had picked up on the theory and was adding a new spin. Not only are there U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, according to a Facebook post from the Russian Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but those labs are also studying “methods for the destruction of the Russian people at the genetic level.”

By March, just weeks after Creech copied a previously unnoticed graphic and spread it through the far-right ecosystem, it had reached the mainstream. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio asked about it during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Tucker Carlson decided to lead his show with the story, and then ran with it for weeks.

Along the way, it got sprinkled with all of the right-wing catnip needed to get people to buy into it. Rumors that the president’s son was financially involved or that Fauci was secretly running the labs made it more digestible to those who already have bought into previous conspiracies about these pre-existing right-wing boogeymen.

Months later, with the disinformation about the labs still permeating, Creech is taking a victory lap. He appeared on the Alex Jones Show to talk about his “research.” Of course, there is no research. He took a graphic shared on Gab, made it go viral, and let the far-right media and Russian government build a story around it. If there was anything made in a lab, it’s this conspiracy.