Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he and his family had been assigned a security detail after receiving "serious threats" amid public attacks from members of the Trump administration.
Polls show that Fauci is one of the most trusted sources of information about the coronavirus, which apparently irks President Donald Trump at the same time as it undercuts his attempts to downplay the threat posed by the pandemic. Trump himself cited Fauci's high ratings in a tweet last month, and The Washington Post reported that he was "galled" by the numbers. The White House recently sent an "oppo dump" seeking to discredit Fauci to reporters, and Trump adviser Peter Navarro also published a USA Today op-ed claiming that Fauci was "wrong about everything."
Against this backdrop, Fauci told CNN this week that he and his family had also been deluged with "serious threats," prompting concern for their safety. Fauci said he had received plenty of hate during his time working on the federal response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s — but nothing like the recent wave of disturbing messages.
"I've seen a side of society that I guess is understandable, but it's a little bit disturbing," he said in an interview on "The Axe Files" podcast. "Back in the days of HIV when I was being criticized with some hate mail, it was, you know, people calling me a 'gay-lover.' And, 'What the hell are you wasting a lot of time on that?' I mean, things that you would just push aside as stupid people saying stupid things."
But the attacks this year are "really a magnitude different now, because of the anger," he added
"As much as people inappropriately, I think, make me somewhat of a hero — and I'm not a hero, I'm just doing my job — there are people who get really angry at thinking I'm interfering with their life, because I'm pushing a public-health agenda," he told host David Axelrod, adding that he had received "not only hate mail but also serious threats."
"It's not good. I don't see how society does that," he said. "It's tough. Serious threats against me, against my family . . . my daughters, my wife — I mean, really? Is this the United States of America?"
Despite the attacks aimed at Fauci and his family, the Trump administration has continued to try to undermine him in the press.
The White House sent countless reporters a list of times in which Fauci "has been wrong" about the coronavirus. It was "laid out in the style of a campaign's opposition research document," according to a New York Times reporter.
The "oppo dump" was followed by Navarro's bizarre op-ed urging the public to respond to Fauci's advice with "skepticism and caution." Backlash over the op-ed prompted USA Today to issue a correction.
"Several of Navarro's criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context," USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg said. "As such, Navarro's op-ed did not meet USA TODAY's fact-checking standards."
The White House sought to distance itself from the op-ed, but he did not repudiate Navarro's comments.
"We're all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci," Trump told reporters, adding that Navarro "shouldn't be doing that."
But that same week, Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of staff for communications and one of Trump's closest advisers, shared a cartoon depicting Fauci as "Dr. Faucet," drowning Uncle Sam by issuing advice to stay at home and close schools to contain the spread of the virus.
Trump himself has described Fauci as a "little bit of an alarmist" in an interview with Fox News earlier this week.
Fauci called the attacks from the administration "bizarre."
"I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that," Fauci told The Atlantic earlier this month. "I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them."