Grab bag of conspiracies behind German coup plot, China’s Covid climb down, and methane cloud over Iran

Isobel Cockerell


I’ve been diving into the world of aristocratic conspiracy theories pushed by the suspects rounded up by police in Germany this week for plotting a bizarre coup. They’re part of the right-wing Reichsburger movement, which is, in the words of disinformation expert Mike Rothschild, a “grab bag of conspiracy beliefs.” He told me how the movement is QAnon-linked, but also has monarchist goals of restoring a Kaiser and going back to the German confederation of 1871. “It’s very uniquely German. I think a lot of Americans just don’t have much of a frame of reference for that,” he said. Underpinning the Reischburger movement, he explained, are ideas about “sovereign citizenship.” Adherents argue that because they don’t recognize the constitution of the state, they won’t follow any of its laws. The movement really came into its own during the pandemic, when QAnon and anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown campaigners merged with the Reichsburger sovereign citizen movement to protest against government lockdown measures. 

China’s about-face on Covid restrictions is the gratifyingly direct result of the protests, with thousands of Chinese citizens telling the Communist Party enough is enough. Within days, we saw the famously zealous CCP mouthpiece and Global Times editor Hu Xijin displaying a complete vibe shift in his Covid attitude. He calmly announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, that he expects “to get Covid within a month.” On Twitter itself, he wrote: “Most Chinese people are no longer afraid of being infected. China may walk out of the shadow of COVID-19 sooner than expected.” On Dr. Li Wenliang’s “Wailing Wall,” the comment section beneath the famous whistleblower and Covid martyr’s final post from February 2020, people swarmed the page to pay tribute to the ophthalmologist, according to China Digital Times. Li has become a guiding light and hero for those suffering under China’s brutal zero-Covid regime. “Dr. Li, it looks like pandemic prevention measures are really coming to an end. Over the past few years, we’ve all posted a lot of comments here, and every time, it’s to vent or complain. This time, we can finally relax a bit,” one person wrote. 

The ultimate recycling program? More people are considering “human composting” as an alternative to burial when making their end-of-life plans. Five U.S. states have legalized turning remains into arable soil, and a few more states have similar plans on the horizon. Those concerned about environmental impact can rest a bit easier knowing that choosing this option would contribute less to carbon pollution than traditional burials or cremation. The death industry has its own carbon footprint — cremation, for instance, can use the same amount of energy a living person would use in an entire month. I’ve visited natural burial grounds in the U.K., and they really are the most beautiful places. People are buried in shallow graves (there are more enzymes in the topsoil) in coffins of wicker or cardboard, so their bodies go back into the earth faster. It’s all part of the circle of life, and many find peace in that. But it’s not for everyone — Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, was buried like all Royals in a coffin lined with lead to better preserve her remains. And embalming is a burial practice that goes right back to the ancient Egyptians.

NASA satellites have been tracking evidence of greenhouse gas “super emitters” — but Iran’s not happy about it. One satellite mapped an enormous methane plume at least 3 miles long billowing into the air south of Iran’s capital, Tehran. The gas was coming from a major landfill site — as garbage decomposes, it leaks methane into the atmosphere. It’s not a problem unique to Iran: landfills are one of the world’s biggest methane polluters, and other “super-emitter” sites were identified in Turkmenistan and New Mexico. Currently, just a very small fraction of landfill sites in the U.S. capture methane and convert it into other energy sources. But Iran’s politicians refused to accept NASA’s images and denied the legitimacy of the research. Mehdi Chamran, head of the Tehran city council, said: “The photo published from the south of Tehran is not true and seems to be from another country.” Meanwhile, the Mayor of Tehran, Alireza Zakani, said “everything NASA has said is a lie — and this is also a lie.” Last week, NASA announced it was canceling plans for a satellite that was going to intensely monitor greenhouse gas emissions over the Americas — citing costs and complications. 


  • Another brilliant healthcare investigation from ProPublica came out this week, on the “Wild West” that is the unregulated prenatal screening industry in the U.S. Families going in for prenatal tests to check for genetic abnormalities are given results without any oversight or regulation — with sometimes devastating results. Pregnant people have gotten abortions based on false positive results for genetic abnormalities, while others have carried children to full term while life-threatening disorders were missed by the test. It’s a shattering read.
  • Iraqis are being forced to rely on fake drugs as endemic corruption in the medical supply chain means armed groups are seizing drug shipments, price gouging and selling expired drugs to desperate people. A report by Chatham House describes “the toxicity of Iraq’s post-2003 patchwork public and private healthcare system” in which drugs are sold for personal profit rather than distributed to patients.