Mads Brugger, the director of "Cold Case: Hammarskjold," speaks during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Photo: AFP/File
entertainment

Film claims group plotted to infect black Africans with HIV

8 Comments
By Andrew MARSZAL

A plot by white mercenaries to spread HIV through black South Africa via a phony vaccination program: it sounds like the stuff of pulp spy novels, but documentary-maker Mads Brugger is clear that this is one sensational conspiracy that actually happened.

The Danish director set out to investigate the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed the head of the U.N. in modern-day Zambia for his latest film -- but says he ended up uncovering something vastly more sinister.

In "Cold Case: Hammarskjold," Brugger meets Alexander Jones, a former member of a clandestine paramilitary organization with alleged ties to South Africa's apartheid government.

Jones tells the filmmaker that the group undertook nefarious HIV research in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a white supremacist plot to devastate black communities with the virus.

"We were at war," Jones tells Brugger in the film. "Black people in South Africa were the enemy."

There is no evidence of the plot to spread HIV being successfully put into action.

But Brugger and his team tracked down medical clinics run by the group's now-dead leader Keith Maxwell in South Africa.

Maxwell claimed to be seeking a cure for HIV but had no medical training, and spoke openly of his fascination with biological weapons, according to the filmmakers. They met with a witness who says he saw Maxwell personally injecting black patients with supposed vaccines.

"What easier way to get a guinea pig than (when) you live in an apartheid system?" Jones says in the film. "Black people have got no rights, they need medical treatment. There's a white 'philanthropist' coming in and saying, 'You know, I'll open up these clinics and I'll treat you.'

"And meantime (he was) actually the wolf in sheep's clothing."

Brugger told AFP that "strategy papers" belonging to Maxwell fit "hand in glove" with Jones's claims about the plot.

"What Maxwell was writing about, planning for... in itself constitutes a crime," Brugger said.

The allegations were denounced as irresponsible and medically dubious by some critics after the film's January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where Brugger won a top directing prize for the documentary.

Touring the global festival circuit since, Brugger has defended his work ahead of its release by Magnolia Pictures from August 16 in a few dozen US theaters and online platforms including Amazon and iTunes.

In the film, he initially set out to investigate theories that U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold's plane was deliberately brought down in a crash that killed 16 people.

Documents found in South African government archives containing details of plans to detonate a bomb on Hammarskjold's aircraft bear the name of Maxwell's group -- the shadowy South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR).

This prompted Brugger and his team to examine the group more closely.

They tracked down Jones, who claimed SAIMR had brought down the plane.

Brugger has since arranged a meeting between Jones and U.N. investigators compiling an inquiry report into the crash, a U.N. spokesman confirmed to AFP -- something the director says demonstrates his witness's reliability.

"I do know that what (Jones) says is outrageous and sensational," Brugger said. "So far, what he has told us, what we were capable of corroborating, has checked out."

But there are major issues with Brugger's account.

Many doubt SAIMR even existed on any substantial scale outside the warped mind of its "leader" Maxwell, a noted fantasist who dressed like an 18th-century British naval admiral.

A New York Times report suggested Jones initially denied any HIV research project existed, and only professed knowledge of it on camera after being fed information by filmmakers.

Brugger admitted to AFP that there "could have been examples of cross-contamination" because his team spent so much time with Jones.

"But I know for sure that the essential part of what he tells us is not something we fed him," Brugger said, adding that it is typical for whistleblowers to "open up and tell you more as time progresses."

And then there is the issue of whether it would have even been possible to deliberately spread HIV.

Medical experts say the technology was beyond the scope of all but a handful of government laboratories at the time.

Conspiracy theories about Western plots to weaponize AIDS in Africa were encouraged by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and can cause serious harm by turning people off medical treatment.

South Africa has extremely high HIV infection rates and a history of dangerous misinformation about its spread.

Brugger told AFP he "thought hard and long" about the damage the vaccine claims could do, but insisted that "what Alexander Jones tells us needs to be published."

"If the response to this is that we are invigorating or revitalizing conspiracy theories, I think that is in some sense absurd," he said.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

8 Comments
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This is old news... The HIV virus was first detected in a certain strain of monkey kidney in a lab in Philadelphia, PA. Monkey Kidneys have been used to create vaccines like for Polio. The kidneys with the HIV strain were sent to Europe to create a vaccine to be given to the People of Africa. This is what 2 doctors at stanford found out. They thought they had infected people by using the same needle repeatedly but it turned out to be the vaccine.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@Melissa

This is old news... The HIV virus was first detected in a certain strain of monkey kidney in a lab in Philadelphia, PA. Monkey Kidneys have been used to create vaccines like for Polio. The kidneys with the HIV strain were sent to Europe to create a vaccine to be given to the People of Africa. This is what 2 doctors at stanford found out. They thought they had infected people by using the same needle repeatedly but it turned out to be the vaccine.

Black people with no scientific background already knew that it was purposely given to Black people to reduce their population.

It is no different than purposely infecting African-Americans with syphilis, Africans with Ebola, South Africans with HIV, African-American communities with drugs, or Black people being used in surgical experiments during slavery. Native Americans were given disease infected blankets by the settlers to remove them from the land.

There have been efforts by European countries throughout the centuries to replace or remove Black Africans for their resources by either man-made epidemics or sterilization under the umbrella of manifest destiny and now under the disguise of humanitarian aid.

European Jewish converts in Israel was caught doing that to their African population, and they were probably doing it to the Palestinians too.

What that accidental vaccine theory doesn't account for is that HIV cases started to show up both with Black Africans in Africa and homosexuals in the US at the same time.

It simply being and accident never made sense.

It is not surprising that POC generally don't trust people of European descent. Not specific individuals but as a people and culture in general. The most important example in medical history is Henrietta Lacks (Black Woman)!

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Not the first time and probably won't be the last. Been going on throughout history.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Makes you think twice about getting a vaccine.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

The films premise is “irresponsible and medically dubious”? No problem.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

So much mistrust already. How many Pakistani children die from Polio for example because the health workers face daily death threats?

True or not, this kind of inflammatory story about racial extremists will only add fuel to the tensions and help confirm prejudices all round.

I for one will not be paying to watch this thing.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

True or not, this kind of inflammatory story about racial extremists will only add fuel to the tensions and help confirm prejudices all round. I for one will not be paying to watch this thing.

You are shifting responsibility from the people who did such a great wrong - those who tried to infect people of colour with HIV - onto the film-makers and other people who have investigated and publicized these efforts at mass murder. Your boycott is misguided if it involves keeping people ignorant of this appalling crime.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

How utterly repulsive it would be it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if proven to be actually true.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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