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US Army reservist says she’s receiving death threats after radio host labels her COVID-19 patient zero

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Terrifying ordeal

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A U.S. Army reservist says she's been on the receiving end of death threats after a radio host falsely identified her as COVID-19's "patient zero" in the U.S.

Purportedly false reports of Maatje Benassi being patient zero have made tracks all across the internet, including on YouTube and social media channels.

What are the details?

Benassi told CNN's Donie O'Sullivan that radio host George Webb said that she brought the coronavirus to China while participating in a Wuhan cycling competition that left her with a fractured rib and a concussion.

"It's like waking up from a bad dream, going into a nightmare, day after day," said Benassi, a mother of two who revealed that the harassment began after she participated in the Military World Games in October.

Some of the threats she received included "[e]xecute them by firing squad, we need to be killing these key people, these people will get a bullet to the skull."

Benassi and her husband — a retired Air Force officer who is now a civilian employee at Fort Belvoir in Virginia — said that because the threats are not directed at them, and instead, have been made on social media about them, law enforcement cannot do anything about the threats.

Webb reportedly said that Benassi tested positive for COVID-19, but Benassi insisted that she has never tested positive and never experienced any symptoms of the deadly virus.

CNN reports that she and her husband are now "subjects of discussion on Chinese social media about the outbreak, including among accounts that are known drivers of large-scale coordinated activities by their followers."

"I want everybody to stop harassing me, because this is cyberbullying to me, and it's gone way out of hand," Benassi added.

What else?

According to CNN, "Webb offered no substantive evidence to support his claims about the Benassis, and said he considered himself an 'investigative reporter,'" and not a conspiracy theorist. The CNN report described Webb as a "prolific 59-year-old American misinformation peddler," who has "for years regularly streamed hours of diatribe live on YouTube, where he has amassed more than 27 million views and almost 100,000 followers."

Benassi's husband added, "It's really hard to hold him accountable. Law enforcement will tell you that there's nothing that we can do about it because we have free speech in this country. Then they say, 'Go talk to a civil attorney,' so we did. We talked to an attorney. You quickly realize that for folks like us, it's just too expensive to litigate something like this. We get no recourse from law enforcement. We get no recourse from the courts."

He said that he aired his grievances to YouTube, but it's often too late after a video goes viral.

He added, "[T]he damage is done. I know it [will] never be the same. Every time you're going to Google my name, it will pop up as patient zero."

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