US Army reservist falsely accused of being 'patient zero' for coronavirus pandemic

Maatje Bensassi and her husband are at the center of the elaborate conspiracy, which has been promoted online by George Webb, a conspiracy theorist who has nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
A U.S. Army reservist and mother of two from Virginia has had her life turned upside down after a conspiracy theorist falsely claimed that she is the coronavirus pandemic's so-called "patient zero."

Chinese media has spread the conspiracy, which has resulted in her home address being posted online and even death threats.

"It's like waking up from a bad dream (and) going into a nightmare day after day," said Maatje Benassi.

Maatje Bensassi and her husband are at the center of the elaborate conspiracy, which has been promoted online by George Webb, a conspiracy theorist who has nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Webb has falsely claimed, without any evidence, that Maatje brough the virus to China when she competed as a cyclist in the Military World Games in Wuhan, China last October. Maatje has denied that she ever tested positive for the virus.

Six months later, comments under Webb's YouTube videos have involved several threats of violence.

The conspiracy theory has even reached China. Webb has been featured in the country's state media, which has sought to deflect blame for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Benassi's have reported the situation to law enforcement without many results.

"Because they're not direct threats, there's not alot that they can do. For folks like us, it's just too expensive to litigate something like this," said Matt.

A spokesperson for YouTube told CNN the company is committed to promoting accurate information about the coronavirus and taking down misinformation when it's flagged by users. The company has taken down some.

In the early weeks of the novel coronavirus, conspiracy theorists began claiming, again without evidence, that the virus was a U.S. biological weapon. The notion that the U.S. military brought the virus to China was later publicly promoted by a member of the Chinese government.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper then said it was "completely ridiculous and it's irresponsible" for someone speaking on behalf of the government to promote such a claim.

Meanwhile, the Benassis have been left to deal with the situation which they say "is getting out of hand."