Russian media allege the United States killed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with a nano weapon.
Event: On 7 June 2016, Free Media—the Polish-language version of the Russian state-owned web portal and radio station Sputnik, reported that Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, could have been killed with a nano weapon— a device that can infect a human being with cancer.
The false fact or narrative: Venezuelan scientists have allegedly identified the type of weapon with which Chávez may have been killed, claims Aporrea, a Caracas-based web portal that publishes news and opinions reflecting the views of the populist Chávez and his supporters. According to Aporrea, the US government—which had allegedly been preparing such a plan since 2003—could have introduced cancerous cells into Chávez’s body.
Free Media, founded in 2007, seeks to unite far-right and ultra-left radicals who are dissatisfied with the existing order in Poland. It is fond of spreading false information based on conspiracy theories such as this one, and often uses misinformation spread by Russia’s Sputnik. Sputnik, in turn, eagerly uses information from foreign portals like Aporrea that criticize the United States and its policies.
Reality on the ground: The authors offer no evidence of the existence of nano weaponry or its use by the United States, nor any evidence that Chávez—who died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 59—was assassinated.
Technique: Conspiracy theory, in which the death of Chávez from natural causes is attributed to actions taken by his political enemies.
Audiences: Polish public opinion, with particular focus on critics of US policy.
Analysis: Poland’s pro-Kremlin media willingly spreads information critical about the United States and the EU. In this case, a media outlet engages in invented narratives purporting to show that the US government assassinates its political enemies—even though the article has no facts to back up its allegation. Besides discrediting the image of the United States, these stories also aim to sow distrust of leading media, which, according to conspiracy theorists, conceal important information from public opinion.