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Doc Screened at Sundance Posits AIDS Spread in Africa Was A White Supremacist Plot

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jan 30, 2019
Director Mads Brügger is seen in a boat, seated behind Göran Björkdahl, in the documentary 'Cold Case Hammarskjöld'
Director Mads Brügger is seen in a boat, seated behind Göran Björkdahl, in the documentary 'Cold Case Hammarskjöld'  (Source:Wingman Media ApS, Piraya Film AS and Laika Film & Television AB)

"Cold Case Hammarskjold," a documentary that was screened at Sundance last weekend, lays out a claim that scientists say almost certainly is not true: That a white paramilitary group deliberately infected black people with HIV under the guise of providing vaccinations. The New York Times reported on the doc and its dubious assertions.

The film starts out looking at the possibility that a white militia plotted the assassination of Dag Hammarskjold, at the time the secretary general of the UN, in 1961. But the movie pivots to make the more surprising claim about a genocidal plot to infect black people with AIDS.

The notion that whites targeting blacks for extermination using HIV is something of an old canard, as it turns out, and the story behind the claim as made in the film is more complicated, the Times noted. The man who made the claim — a former militia member called Alexander Jones (not the same individual as Alex Jones, the American conspiracy theorist) — told the filmmakers, "Black people in South Africa were the enemy."

But the story about fake clinics set up to spread HIV among the black population was, the Times said, a tale that "evolved" in the telling such that in the finished film he's essentially contradicting earlier statements he made to the effect that his paramilitary organization had nothing to do with any such plot.

Whether that group did or did not set out to spread HIV, the simple facts around medical science and the virus argue against any such program — even if it did exist — succeeding in an attempt to "eradicate black people," as Jones put it.

"Putting the virus into a solution, keeping it viable and spreading it through injections would be challenging even today," the Times noted.

Such a militia did seemingly exist, however, and it was headed up by a man called Keith Maxwell, who also reportedly set up clinics in South Africa. As for what his intentions were, however, the Times noted that Maxwell was an "eccentric figure" who wrote "rambling, fantastical" accounts.

The credibility of the film's director has also been called into question. Poz reported on the film and the Times' story, and noted that the film's director, Mads Brügger, "has been compared to Sacha Baron Cohen of 'Borat' and 'Who Is America?' fame."

Still, this would seem to be one of those myths that persists despite reason and a virtually complete lack of any concrete evidence.

"The notion that HIV is a manmade virus introduced as population control has been floating around for decades," Poz recalled. "Before the conspiracy theory took hold in Africa, it appeared as part of disinformation campaigns from the Soviet Union during the Cold War."

But such inflammatory stories do have consequences: As the Times noted, those conspiracy tales spurred distrust in doctors and allopathic medicine, opening the way to bogus herbal "cures" that in no way addressed AIDS or the underlying virus that causes AIDS, HIV. That lack of appropriate treatment only contributed to the epidemic, which has ravaged Africa.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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