If you’ve been on social media in recent weeks, you’ve likely seen talk of the “great reset” in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The phrase was trending across Twitter earlier this week, largely fuelled by far-right conservative personalities alleging that certain world leaders, including Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, had a role in creating or exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic for their own personal gain or for a grand overhaul of society.
On Friday, Trudeau was asked about the topic during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
“I think we’re in a time of anxiety where people are looking for reasons for things that are happening to them, the difficult moments we’re in, and it’s nice to try and find someone to blame, something to point to, something to get mad at,” he said.
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But what is “the great reset”, and is it actually legitimate? While the phrase refers to a very real plan put forward by the World Economic Forum, it’s been co-opted and warped by online conspiracy theorists to allege a whole lot more.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is “the great reset”?
Broadly speaking, the conspiracy theory suggests that a cabal of global elites planned for the pandemic as a way to “reset” the world and impose their own form of global economic control and policies.
While the phrase has circulated for years, the specific idea first evolved in relation to the pandemic earlier this year when plans were made by Prince Charles and the World Economic Forum (WEF) for a meeting dubbed the “Great Reset,” where world leaders would convene and discuss how to rebuild the economy and fight climate change after the pandemic. The WEF has since dubbed its various recovery plans and documents under the “Great Reset” branding.
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Conspiracy theorists latched onto the term and the meeting as some sort of evidence that the “global elite” were conspiring to manipulate the global economy.
And, like many conspiracy theories, various groups and individuals have latched onto the idea to varying degrees. Some believe the pandemic is real, but allege that this apparent economic manipulation will only benefit these so-called “elites” and come at the expense of average people. Some allege that the pandemic was faked entirely, or has been planned for “60 years,” according to one believer interviewed in the Economist. Some believe it will result in lost freedoms, forced vaccines and “concentration camps” for those who don’t comply.
As is expected on the massive web that is the Internet, many of these beliefs intersect and overlap with other conspiracy theories from QAnon to anti-masker movements.
How is U.S. President Donald Trump involved?
Many proponents of the theory believe Trump is the only world leader standing in front of these nefarious goals and protecting the common people.
Right-wing online media outlets framed the recent U.S. presidential election as a battle between the “great reset” and Trump, with the latter promising personal freedoms and the former the “imposition of a health dictatorship aiming at the imposition of liberticidal measures.”
Why is it a conspiracy theory?
Certain aspects of what is being shared online are true — the WEF plan is called “the Great Reset” and it does discuss ways of improving the world when it comes to climate change, for example, after the pandemic. Trudeau, Biden and other leaders have talked about the “opportunity” to make some economic changes or act against climate change following the pandemic.
However, the notion of a cabal of global elites who are making nefarious plans to overhaul the world at the expense of everyday people has links that trace back through various conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in anti-Semitism. These include everything from Pizzagate to QAnon to anti-masker and “Plandemic” movements.
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Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, told the New York Times that it is “maddening” to see the same networks of influencers traffic in recycled conspiracies and get in the way of delivering accurate information to the public.
“What is true is that Covid is on the rise in the U.S. because of poor leadership and the lack of a nationally coordinated response,” Donovan said.
There’s a broad spectrum of the degree to which people have adopted the theory, but it doesn’t take long to connect it back to more extreme beliefs.
Why are we talking about it now?
Last weekend, a video of Trudeau using the phrase “great reset” circulated online. The video, taken from Trudeau’s speech to the United Nations in September, shows the prime minister using both the phrase “great reset” and “build back better” — a campaign slogan of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden.
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“This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset,” Trudeau said in the video. “This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.”
The speech did not stir a ton of controversy at the time, and Trudeau has used language like that in other venues to little fanfare, including the recent Throne Speech.
However, this week several right-wing figures latched onto this as further proof of the theory, and both Biden and Trudeau’s involvement in it. It was discussed by multiple prominent far-right figures on Twitter, across Fox News in the U.S., as well as the Post Millennial, Rebel News and other outlets here in Canada.
How have Conservative MPs responded?
A version of the theory has been championed by Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who launched an online petition Monday to “stop the great reset” that has garnered nearly 80,000 signatures in less than a week.
The MP has repeatedly tweeted about the theory, including the hashtag #stopthegreatreset.
The Tory finance critic also brought up the theory during a finance committee meeting earlier this week.
“Global financial elites have called for the same ‘Great Reset’, which would reengineer economies and societies to empower the elites at the expense of the people,” he said.
“Canadians must fight back against global elites preying on the fears and desperation of people to impose their power grab.”
While Poilievre has not specifically alleged that the pandemic was planned, or that many of the more extreme allegations will occur, several of his tweets have also included references to the theory’s allegation that “global elites” specifically timed aspects of the pandemic for personal gain.
His narrative has been picked up and supported by other Tory MPs, though Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole hasn’t spoken specifically about the “great reset”.
What did Trudeau say about it?
On Friday, Trudeau dismissed the conversations circling around the “great reset” as “disinformation” brought on by COVID-19 anxiety.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of people fall prey to disinformation and if Conservative MPs and others want to start talking about conspiracy theories, well, that’s their choice,” Trudeau said.
“I’m going to stay focused on helping Canadians get through this, on learning lessons from this pandemic and on making sure that the world we leave to our kids is even better than the world we inherited from our parents.”