During Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan’s first major campaign, he made a promise he has remained silent on ever since: to investigate whether the US government created the “HIV-AIDS virus” with the intent to murder the black population of the country.
During his first run for the United States House of Representatives in 2002, Ryan was interviewed in an interview with a local radio station if, if elected, he would open a congressional inquiry into “the intentional creation of HIV-AIDS viruses and other life-threatening diseases and targeting of black populations by US government agencies.”
“Absolutely,” Ryan replied, prompting a laugh from the host who said he was surprised at how quickly he responded.
The exchange was captured by filmmakers for Ryan for Congress, an obscure British documentary that focused on Ryan’s low-budget campaign for federal office. The little-aired documentary, available to buy on major streaming platforms, depicts Ryan, at the time who was not even 30, running a campaign from a battered camper who was focused on getting of popular support. According to the film, part of getting that grassroots support meant conducting interviews with just about anyone, including the host who asks Ryan about the origins of HIV.
The issue of HIV was described as “unusual” by the documentary’s narrator. But Ryan’s lack of hesitation in accepting the radio host’s premise highlights an undercover problem that many Democratic candidates face when running for office: Their voter base often has a wide range of beliefs that range from the impractical to complete fantasy.
For Democrats like Ryan, who is running for the Senate in November, placating those voters can often prove to be a liability down the road. When Donald Trump was president, Ryan attacked his trade agenda as “designed to inflict maximum damage on the American economy, for minimum gain.” Following Trump’s wide margin of victory in Ohio in the 2020 presidential race, Ryan said he agrees with the former president’s tariffs and is trying to protect the nation’s domestic manufacturers.
Ryan’s flip-flop on trade-related issues or whether the U.S. should ban gas-powered vehicles isn’t unique to job seekers, though it ends up being the subject of attack advertisements. Many Democrats this cycle find themselves regretting taking far-left stances on defunding the police or dismantling the country’s immigration system.
The radio host’s bizarre question about the origin of HIV, however, speaks to a much darker strain of conspiracy theories that have infected Democratic politics over the years. The origin of the theory – unanimously discredited by the medical community – remains up for debate, but it was embraced by the Soviet Union and fringe leftist groups such as the Nation of Islam.
A spokeswoman for Ryan did not respond to a request for comment.
Before exposing the theory, Ryan’s interviewer mentioned “Dr.” Boyd Ed Graves. A former resident of Youngstown and Cleveland, Boyd – who was a lawyer but called himself a doctor – has written extensively about his belief that the HIV virus originated in a US lab and was deliberately spread by the federal government through vaccines and darts.
Such a theory has proven powerful in the black community, unfortunately with disastrous results. A 1999 study published in the medical journal Preventive medecine found that about 50% of blacks held an HIV-related conspiracy or were undecided. As recently as 2005, Kanye West was rapping about how “I know the government administers AIDS.”
The Los Angeles Times reported in 1988 on how “black extremists [in Chicago] intensify their efforts to blame the AIDS epidemic on the Jews. One state legislator even went so far as to donate $500 of his office allowance to anti-Semitic Black Hebrew Israelites to investigate the allegation that HIV was created in a lab.
Other black radicals of the time, such as members of the extremist group Nation of Islam, accused Jewish doctors of infecting black people with HIV through vaccinations. The Nation of Islam and other similar organizations demanded federal investigations, similar to those Ryan agreed to launch, into the lie.
A 1987 State Department report on Soviet propaganda programs described a “widespread campaign to convince the world that the AIDS virus…had been ‘manufactured’ as a result of genetic engineering experiments” with the aim of generating “anti-American sentiment abroad”. The report goes on to quote a myriad of doctors, including Soviet doctors, who have refuted this claim.
Despite enormous evidence that debunked the theory, its spread proved deadly. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki cited the lab theory in delaying funding for HIV-related drug therapies. A New Yorker report indicates that this decision potentially cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
In the United States, researchers believe that misinformation about HIV is a major obstacle to eradicating the disease. Black Americans account for a disproportionate number of HIV cases, a rate more than 10 times that of white Americans. A 2015 article in the American Journal of Public Health speculated that the higher rate could be attributed in part to “conspiracy rumours” in the black community.
Ryan will face Republican JD Vance in November for the Senate seat held by retired Rob Portman (R.). A RealClearPolicies the average of recent polls shows Vance holding a narrow lead.