The Great Reset began as a series of vague policy suggestions from an influential organisation but has since morphed into a conspiracy theory which claims that a global elite would use the Covid-19 pandemic to force through radical social change.
Those who believe the claim say that an authoritarian socialist new world order run by powerful leaders will overthrow capitalism. Thousands of people online have taken to the conspiracy, which in its latest version has been updated to account for the pandemic (though has now subsided).
What is the Great Reset
The World Economic Forum (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab launched an initiative called The Great Reset in June 2020, which called for "fairer outcomes" and reimagining how global investments were made in order to boost the world's economy following the economic downturn during the pandemic.
Conspiracy theorists believed these proposals were a ploy to take down capitalism and create a new world order under the guise of Covid-19 restrictions. The conspiracy claims that a "global elite is using COVID-19 as an opportunity to roll out radical policies, such as forced vaccination, digital ID cards and the renunciation of private property," wrote The Guardian.
Schwab does discuss a "wealth tax" as well as stopping subsidies for fossil fuels. But his proposals are vague and would cover a huge range of areas including technology, climate change, and the future of work. It seems that Schwab's term is more an adjustment of priorities rather than a raft of subversive policies that would bring the world under the control of a select inner circle.
The theory's vagueness combined with its launch by an influential organisation made it popular with anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown activists. Arcane as the theory might be, Belgium's security services warned that rightwing extremism is spreading, with distrust in the government following the pandemic.
What began as a fringe theory on the internet took off in November 2020. Although Schwab's proposal was intended as a way of reconsidering "economic and social foundations", it was seen as a threat by the American right and the conspiracy theory was amplified by rightwing commentators such as Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones who said that a global elite was using the pandemic to enforce radical policy.
The Great Reset has led to over eight million interactions on Facebook and has been shared over two million times on Twitter, according to the BBC. It gained momentum after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a UN meeting in September 2020 that the pandemic offered an opportunity for a "reset". It is unclear whether he was referring to the WEF initiative or just happened to use the same word.
On continental Europe, several Facebook groups in the Netherlands discussed 'The Great Reset', according to think tank Vision of Humanity, which tracked how the conspiracy theory spread in the Netherlands. It noted how political leaders can act as influencers when conspiracy theories circulate, citing Dutch far-right politician Thierry Baudet who embraced the theory and asked in Facebook posts if the coronavirus was used to create a "New World Order" as part of the "Great Reset".
According to Vision of Humanity, Baudet's posts on the 'Great Reset' got 9,865 and 11,354 interactions respectively and are among the highest-performing posts about the conspiracy in the Netherlands.
Most of the ideas in the Great Reset conspiracy theory aren't new. Similar ideas of an authoritarian world order – not without substantial evidence rooted in reality – have existed since the 19th century.
The 1903 propaganda book Protocols of the Elders of Zion asserted that Jews wanted to take global power and was a totem for anti-semitism. In 1954, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands organised the first Bilderberg conference to discuss how to fight communism in a post-war world split between Soviet and American visions. But the club became subject of a conspiracy that alleged it was actually a secret world government.
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Now, conspiracy theorists reuse the ideas of a totalitarian world order but with unfounded Covid-19 assertations about how vaccines contain microchips for surveillance.
In a January 2021 video, the World Economic Forum released a clarification of the term in the hope of defusing the misunderstanding that has been exploited by a few.