Is "The Great Reset" a secret plan masterminded by global elites to limit freedoms and push radical policies? No, that's not true: It's the name of a public policy initiative the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The phrase has been hijacked by conspiracy theorists who believe an evil cabal is using the pandemic as a pretext. In some versions of the theory, shadowy elites orchestrated COVID-19 to seize power; in others, the virus just presents the opportunity for them to do so.
Like most successful conspiracy theories, this one has its roots in something real. They can be traced to an initiative launched by the WEF in June 2020. Far from being a secret, though, the plan was announced with a fair amount of fanfare and even has a website, which can be seen here.
According to the WEF, the Great Reset agenda has three main components. The first is steering markets toward fairer outcomes. The second is ensuring investments are helping to advance shared goals, such as sustainability, and the third component is harnessing technology in support of the public good.
The WEF explains what the Great Reset is in the following video:
The organization acknowledges how the name of its initiative could scare some people, with a voice in the video saying:
A Great Reset? That sounds more like buzzword bingo, masking some nefarious plan for world domination. Hands up, this kind of slogan hasn't gone down well. But all we really want to say is that we all have an opportunity to build a better world.
"COVID-19: The Great Reset" is also the name of a book written by WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. Lead Stories has debunked a claim about that book before, finding that a purported page from Schwab's book that discussed eliminating 4 billion "useless eaters" was not from that book.
From the fringes to the mainstream
Although the WEF plan was introduced in June 2020, the Great Reset -- as a conspiracy theory -- took several months to gather steam. According to Ciaran O'Connor, a disinformation analyst at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the initiative was low-hanging fruit because details on it were so vague. In a conversation with Lead Stories on June 30, 2021, he said the following about the plan's lack of specificity:
That leaves such a vacuum in which serial disinformers can create content against it because they can fill in the gaps as to what the Great Reset is supposed to be.
The conspiracy theory got a manifesto of sorts in October 2020, in the form of an open letter written to then-President Donald Trump from Carlo Maria Viganò, a Catholic archbishop. He wrote:
The purpose of the Great Reset is the imposition of a health dictatorship aiming at the imposition of liberticidal measures, hidden behind tempting promises of ensuring a universal income and cancelling individual debt. The price of these concessions from the International Monetary Fund will be the renunciation of private property and adherence to a program of vaccination against Covid-19 and Covid-21 promoted by Bill Gates with the collaboration of the main pharmaceutical groups.
Mr. President, I imagine that you are already aware that in some countries the Great Reset will be activated between the end of this year and the first trimester of 2021. For this purpose, further lockdowns are planned, which will be officially justified by a supposed second and third wave of the pandemic. You are well aware of the means that have been deployed to sow panic and legitimize draconian limitations on individual liberties, artfully provoking a world-wide economic crisis.
Viganò's letter, which can be read in full here, touches on many of the central tenets of the conspiracy theory of the Great Reset : attacks on capitalism and private property, vaccination as a means of control and the pandemic as pretext for planned lockdowns and to push radical policies. He stops short of accusing the "global élite" of creating the pandemic, writing just that it wants to "subdue all of humanity, imposing coercive measures with which to drastically limit individual freedoms and those of entire populations."
Shortly after his letter was published, the Great Reset exploded into the mainstream when a video of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uttering the phrase "building back better" and "reset" went viral. His comments gave fuel to those who believe some evil plan is unfolding behind the scenes:
I thought this was supposed to be a conspiracy theory. But here it is, straight from Trudeau's mouth. The pandemic is the excuse for a "Great Reset" of the world, led by the UN. pic.twitter.com/ybugYfjhAq-- Ezra Levant 🍁 (@ezralevant) November 15, 2020
Conservative pundits, such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, picked up on the theory and ran with it. Referencing both Trudeau and Viganò, Carlson wrote about the lockdowns and a "leadership class." He asked:
What does the Great Reset look like? This is what it looks like: The people in charge doing whatever they want because they're in charge. There will be no live music in the Great Reset. Choirs will be illegal unless they are singing the praises of Kamala Harris. Christmas will be banned. 'Sorry, put on your mask and spend the holidays alone. Good luck.'
According to the BBC, the phrase "Great Reset" has gotten more than 8 million interactions on Facebook and was shared almost 2 million times on Twitter through May 2021. Posts spiked with the Trudeau video and then fell, though they are still way above where they were in June 2020 when the Great Reset initiative was officially launched.
'The Great Reset Conspiracy Smoothie'
In more extreme versions of the theory, the so-called elite orchestrated the pandemic as a way to wipe out most of the human race. The threat of COVID-19 is grossly exaggerated and the vaccines are "weapons of mass destruction," according to theorists like Dr. Vernon Coleman, who Lead Stories has debunked before.
In a video (archived here) published on March 13, 2021, Coleman mentioned the Great Reset in the same breath as Agenda 21, another debunked conspiracy theory about depopulation. He said near the start of the video:
We all know that the evil elite -- the Agenda 21 and Great Reset promoters -- have all along intended to kill between 90% and 95% of the world's population. Sadly, I fear it's probably too late to save many of those who've had the vaccine. Millions doomed, and I fear that many will die when they next come into contact with the coronavirus.
Other versions of the theory lean toward antisemitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, such rhetoric often worms its way into conspiracy theories and the Great Reset is no exception. The organization wrote that some believers blame Jews, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros, for controlling the WEF and for masterminding a plot to take over the world.
O'Connor, the disinformation analyst, pointed to the conspiracy theory's flexibility or malleability as one of the reasons behind its success. That idea were echoed in an article by Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, who called the Great Reset a conspiracy smoothie. She wrote:
Less a conspiracy theory than a conspiracy smoothie, the Great Reset has managed to mash up every freakout happening on the internet -- left and right, true-ish, and off-the-wall -- into one inchoate meta-scream about the unbearable nature of pandemic life under voracious capitalism.
Indeed, the theory may have the potential to stick around, according to O'Connor, because of pent-up frustrations from those who don't agree with how their countries dealt with COVID-19. He said:
It provides many groups of people who've felt marginalized or put out by the tumultuous events of the last 15 months with someone to blame, and reasons to blame them.