Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump, was one of the “trifecta” of three leading public officials who successfully pushed COVID lockdowns in the United States. Virtually every page of Birx’s new book, Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late, reads like a how-to guide from the front lines of subverting a democratic superpower from within. It bears repeating, from the outset, that lockdowns were never part of any democratic country’s pandemic preparedness plan prior to Xi Jinping’s lockdown of Wuhan, China.
The lockdowns that Xi pioneered and Birx so zealously advocated for reportedly led to over 170,000 non-COVID excess deaths among young Americans while failing to meaningfully slow the spread of COVID anywhere they were tried. It would have been impossible for an enemy agent armed with anything less than nuclear weapons to have inflicted so much damage on America’s economy, social fabric, and historical freedoms in such a short period of time.
Notably, though Birx’s memoir has earned relatively few reviews from human readers on Amazon, it’s earned rave reviews from Chinese state media, a feat not shared even by the far more popular pro-lockdown books of professional genuflectors to power like Lawrence Wright.
The glowing response from Chinese state media should come as no surprise. Nearly every sentence of Birx’s book faithfully parrots the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign and domestic propaganda, which helped facilitate Xi’s weaponization of the COVID response to eliminate the independence of the CCP’s private sector rivals.
Chapter 1 opens with what Birx claims was her first impression of the virus:
I can still see the words splashed across my computer screen in the early morning hours of January 3. Though we were barely into 2020, I was stuck in an old routine, waking well before dawn and scanning news headlines online. On the BBC’s site, one caught my attention: “China Pneumonia Outbreak: Mystery Virus Probed in Wuhan.”
Indeed, that BBC article, which was posted at approximately 9:00 a.m. EST on Jan. 3, 2020, was the first in a Western news organization to discuss the outbreak of a new virus in Wuhan. Apparently, Birx was scanning British news headlines just as it appeared. Birx then tells us where she got her philosophy of disease mitigation, recalling how she immediately believed Chinese citizens “knew what had worked” against SARS-1: masks and distancing:
Government officials and citizens across Asia knew both the pervasive fear and the personal response that had worked before to mitigate the loss of life and the economic damage wrought by SARS and MERS. They wore masks. They decreased the frequency and size of social gatherings. Crucially, based on their recent experience, the entire citizenry and local doctors were ringing alarm bells loudly and early. Lives were on the line—lots of them. They knew what had worked before, and they would do it again.
On January 3, the same day the BBC piece ran, the Chinese government officially notified the United States of the outbreak. Bob Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was contacted by his Chinese counterpart, George F. Gao.
Note that Jan. 3 was also the same day that heroic Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang was reportedly admonished by Chinese authorities for sending a WeChat message about a “cover-up” of the outbreak. In other words, on the same day Li was “admonished,” the head of China’s CDC personally called U.S. CDC Director Robert Redfield to share the same information Li supposedly shared. Some cover-up.
From here, it gets worse. One page later, Birx tells us how traumatized she still is from having watched videos of Wuhan residents collapsing and falling dead in January 2020, and praises the “courageous doctor” who shared them online:
The video showed a hallway crowded with patients slumped in chairs. Some of the masked people leaned against the wall for support. The camera didn’t pan so much as zigzag while the Chinese doctor maneuvered her smartphone up the narrow corridor. My eye was drawn to two bodies wrapped in sheets lying on the floor amid the cluster of patients and staff. The doctor’s colleagues, their face shields and other personal protective equipment in place, barely glanced at the lens as she captured the scene. They looked past her, as if at a harrowing future they could all see and hoped to survive. I tried to increase the volume, but there was no sound. My mind seamlessly filled that void, inserting the sounds from my past, sounds from other wards, other places of great sorrow. I had been here before. I had witnessed scenes like this across the globe, in HIV ravaged communities—when hospitals were full of people dying of AIDS before we had treatment or before we ensured treatment to those who needed it. I had lived this, and it was etched permanently in my brain: the unimaginable, devastating loss of mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters.
Staring at my computer screen, I was horrified by the images from Wuhan, the suffering they portrayed, but also because they confirmed what I’d suspected for the last three weeks: Not only was the Chinese government underreporting the real numbers of the infected and dying in Wuhan and elsewhere, but the situation was definitely far more dire than most people outside that city realized. Up until now, I’d been only reading or hearing about the virus. Now it had been made visible by a courageous doctor sharing this video online.
In the next paragraph, Birx tells us how she grew even more determined after seeing that the Chinese had built a hospital in 10 days to fight the virus:
Dotting it were various pieces of earth-moving equipment, enough of them in various shapes and sizes that I briefly wondered if the photograph was of a manufacturing plant where the newly assembled machines were on display. Quickly, I learned that the machines were in Wuhan and that they were handling the first phase of preparatory work for the construction of a one-thousand-bed hospital to be completed in just ten days’ time … The Chinese may not have been giving accurate data about the numbers of cases and deaths, but the rapid spread of this disease could be counted in other ways—including in how many Chinese workers were being employed to build new facilities to relieve the pressure on the existing, and impressive, Wuhan health service centers. You build a thousand-bed hospital in ten days only if you are experiencing unrelenting community spread of a highly contagious virus that has eluded your containment measures and is now causing serious illness on a massive scale.
BuzzFeed had proved that images of rapid hospital construction in China were faked on Jan. 27, 2020.
To recap, Deborah Birx—the woman who did more than almost any other person in the United States to promote and prolong COVID lockdowns, and attempted, with the support of mainstream media outlets, to silence anyone who disagreed with her—tells us in 2022 that she’d been inspired in her work by images that were widely known to have been faked (as if the real images of old age homes in Italy and elsewhere weren’t bad enough) before the lockdowns even started.
That’s Chapter 1.
Birx then spends hundreds of pages recounting what appears to be political maneuvering to intentionally deceive as many Americans as possible into willingly locking down for as long as possible, without making it seem like a “lockdown”:
At this point, I wasn’t about to use the words lockdown or shutdown. If I had uttered either of those in early March, after being at the White House only one week, the political, nonmedical members of the task force would have dismissed me as too alarmist, too doom-and-gloom, too reliant on feelings and not facts. They would have campaigned to lock me down and shut me up.
Birx recalls using “flatten-the-curve guidance” to manipulate the “political, nonmedical members” of the government into consenting to lockdowns that were stricter than they realized:
On Monday and Tuesday, while sorting through the CDC data issues, we worked simultaneously to develop the flatten-the-curve guidance I hoped to present to the vice president at week’s end. Getting buy-in on the simple mitigation measures every American could take was just the first step leading to longer and more aggressive interventions. We had to make these palatable to the administration by avoiding the obvious appearance of a full Italian lockdown. At the same time, we needed the measures to be effective at slowing the spread, which meant matching as closely as possible what Italy had done—a tall order. We were playing a game of chess in which the success of each move was predicated on the one before it.
She also admits that her guidance regarding the maximum allowable size of social gatherings—10 people—was arbitrary, because her real goal was zero—no social contact of any kind, anywhere:
I had settled on ten knowing that even that was too many, but I figured that ten would at least be palatable for most Americans—high enough to allow for most gatherings of immediate family but not enough for large dinner parties and, critically, large weddings, birthday parties, and other mass social events. … Similarly, if I pushed for zero (which was actually what I wanted and what was required), this would have been interpreted as a “lockdown”—the perception we were all working so hard to avoid.
Birx then divulges her strategy of using federal advisories to give cover to state governors to impose mandates and restrictions:
The White House would “encourage,” but the states could “recommend” or, if needed, “mandate.” In short, we were handing governors and their public health officials a template, a state-level permission slip they could use to enact a specific response that was appropriate for the people under their jurisdiction. The fact that the guidelines would be coming from a Republican White House gave political cover to any Republican governors skeptical of federal overreach.
The White House advisor recalls with relish that her strategy led states to shut down one by one, destroying the livelihoods of millions of Americans and devastating the country’s elementary and high school education systems without any public health benefit to show for it:
[T]he recommendations served as the basis for governors to mandate the flattening-the-curve shutdowns. The White House had handed down guidance, and the governors took that ball and ran with it … With the White House’s “this is serious” message, governors now had “permission” to mount a proportionate response and, one by one, other states followed suit. California was first, doing so on March 18. New York followed on March 20. Illinois, which had declared its own state of emergency on March 9, issued shelter-in-place orders on March 21. Louisiana did so on the twenty-second. In relatively short order by the end of March and the first week of April, there were few holdouts. The circuit-breaking, flattening-the-curve shutdown had begun.
Cue the maniacal laughter.
In what may be her most damning remark about the entire U.S. response to COVID, Birx tells us that she’d always known “two weeks to slow the spread” was a lie and knew in advance that she wanted the timeframe extended, despite having no data to support why such a step was scientifically sensible:
No sooner had we convinced the Trump administration to implement our version of a two-week shutdown than I was trying to figure out how to extend it. Fifteen Days to Slow the Spread was a start, but I knew it would be just that. I didn’t have the numbers in front of me yet to make the case for extending it longer, but I had two weeks to get them. However hard it had been to get the fifteen-day shutdown approved, getting another one would be more difficult by many orders of magnitude.
This is one of several quotes in which Birx refers to “our version” of a lockdown, though she never makes it clear what the original “version” of a lockdown was (read: China’s). In fact, though Birx spends hundreds of pages boasting about her crusade for lockdowns across America, she never once explains why she wanted them or why she felt they were a good idea, other than the aforementioned brief asides about China’s supposed success using social distancing to combat SARS-1.
Birx then says that she had a regular system for surreptitiously revising and hiding information from her bosses (whom she calls “gatekeepers”) after they reviewed her guidance to the states, in order to keep lockdown measures in place for as long as possible against the wishes of the White House:
After the heavily edited documents were returned to me, I’d reinsert what they had objected to, but place it in those different locations. I’d also reorder and restructure the bullet points so the most salient—the points the administration objected to most—no longer fell at the start of the bullet points. I shared these strategies with the three members of the data team also writing these reports. Our Saturday and Sunday report-writing routine soon became: write, submit, revise, hide, resubmit.
Fortunately, this strategic sleight-of-hand worked. That they never seemed to catch this subterfuge left me to conclude that, either they read the finished reports too quickly or they neglected to do the word search that would have revealed the language to which they objected. In slipping these changes past the gatekeepers and continuing to inform the governors of the need for the big-three mitigations—masks, sentinel testing, and limits on indoor social gatherings—I felt confident I was giving the states permission to escalate public health mitigation with the fall and winter coming.
Birx’s plans seem to be going quite well for her until she meets the book’s leading antagonist: Scott Atlas, the former Stanford University neuroradiology professor serving as an adviser to the Task Force. To Birx’s disgust, Atlas took a strong stand against school closures, treating children as unique vectors of disease, and other heresies. Birx lists Atlas’ “dangerous assertions”:
That schools could open everywhere without any precautions (neither masking nor testing), regardless of the status of the spread in the community.
That children did not transmit the virus.
That children didn’t get ill. That there was no risk to anyone young.
That long Covid-19 was being overplayed.
That heart-damage findings were incidental.
That comorbidities did not play a critical role in communities, especially among teachers.
That merely employing some physical distance overcame the virus’s ill effects.
That masks were overrated and not needed.
That the Coronavirus Task Force had gotten the country into this situation by promoting testing.
That testing falsely increased case counts in the United States in comparison with other countries.
That targeted testing and isolation constituted a lockdown, plain and simple, and weren’t needed.
That Atlas’ assertions were eventually revealed as accurate made them all the more dangerous. Birx saw a clear need to recruit media propagandists who shared her preference for “expertise” over evidence, as well as her apparent contempt for the intelligence of ordinary people:
In particular, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta was a key component of my strategy … He specifically spoke about a mild disease—another way to describe silent spread. I saw this as a sign that he got it. As a doctor himself, he could see what I was seeing. He could serve as a very good outside-government spokesperson, echoing my message that family members and others they were in close contact with could unknowingly bring the virus home, resulting in a catastrophic and deadly event.
Birx frequently returns to her fixation on “asymptomatic spread.” In her mind, the less sick a person is, the more “insidious” they are:
Asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and even mildly symptomatic spread are particularly insidious because, with these, many people don’t know they are infected. They may not take precautions or may not practice good hygiene, and they don’t isolate.
As Atlas recalls in his own book, A Plague Upon Our House:
Birx commented on the importance of testing asymptomatic people. She argued that the only way to figure out who was sick was to test them. She memorably exclaimed, “That’s why it’s so dangerous—people don’t even know they’re sick!” I felt myself looking around the room, wondering if I was the only one who had heard this.
Next, Birx tells of how she and CDC Director Robert Redfield covertly rewrote the new testing guidance that Atlas worked to implement once he arrived on the task force, in order to restore the emphasis on asymptomatic testing.
This wasn’t the only bit of subterfuge I had to engage in. Immediately after the Atlas-influenced revised CDC testing guidance went up in late August, I contacted Bob Redfield. … Less than a week later, Bob and I had finished our rewrite of the guidance and surreptitiously posted it. We had restored the emphasis on testing to detect areas where silent spread was occurring. It was a risky move, and we hoped everyone in the White House would be too busy campaigning to realize what Bob and I had done. We weren’t being transparent with the powers that be in the White House.
Birx spends the following 150 pages recalling with anguish how Atlas thwarted her plans to use subterfuge, a purposeful lack of transparency, and other surreptitious means—all her words—to short-circuit the democratically elected administration’s preferences in order to tighten the clamps on the national lockdown. As Atlas recalls of a meeting in which he contradicted her in front of the president:
She threw a fit, right there, in front of everyone, as we stood near the door before leaving the Oval Office. She was furious, screaming at me, “NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!! AND IN THE OVAL!!” I felt pretty bad, because she was so angry. I had absolutely no desire for conflict. But did she actually expect me to lie to the president, just to cover up for her? I responded, “Sorry, but he asked me a question, so I answered it.”
What both the Birx and Atlas memoirs agree on quite emphatically is that, contrary to popular belief, it was not Anthony Fauci but Deborah Birx who did more than any other single individual in America to promote and prolong lockdowns. As Atlas explains:
Dr. Fauci held court in the public eye on a daily basis, so frequently that many misconstrue his role as being in charge. However, it was really Dr. Birx who articulated Task Force policy. All the advice from the Task Force to the states came from Dr. Birx. All written recommendations about their on-the-ground policies were from Dr. Birx. Dr. Birx conducted almost all the visits to states on behalf of the Task Force.
Atlas recalls being baffled about something that will occur to any reader of Birx’s book: Why had the administration assigned her to this role in the first place?
I also asked how she had been appointed—that seemed to be a bit of a mystery to everyone. I was told by Jared, more than once, “Dr. Birx is 100 percent MAGA!”—as if that should make all the other issues somehow less important. Secretary Azar denied appointing her during his stint running the Task Force. I was told by the VP’s chief of staff, Marc Short, that Pence “inherited her” when he took over as chair of the Task Force. No one seemed to know.
Kushner’s answer is doubly amusing, given Birx’s later admission that she had a pact with Fauci, Redfield, Stephen Hahn, and perhaps others that all would resign if even one were removed by Trump.
What compelled Birx to pathologically lie, hide data, and manipulate the elected administration and the American people in order to orchestrate what turned out to be a social, economic, and public health catastrophe, then boast about it afterward? Even assuming the worst about her, it’s unlikely that she would have been willing to knowingly destroy so many people’s lives without also believing, at some level, that she was doing the right thing.
But how were lockdowns ever the right thing to do? Every form of totalitarianism requires a central animating ideology, and dogmatic adherence to this ideology in turn provides totalitarians with justifications and excuses for their actions. Birx spent decades building her career in a global system in which success depended on adhering to the ideology that the Chinese government must be embraced by the international community and particularly the United States because it was changing for the better. Over time, this increasingly meant treating Chinese propaganda as coequal with reality—in history, science, finance, environmental matters, human rights, diplomacy, and public health. The best way to succeed in a system that rewards adherence to ideology over anything else is to believe the lies oneself.
For Birx and other elites indoctrinated in this often lucrative and career-bolstering ideology, the idea that a two-month lockdown of Wuhan had eliminated COVID from all of China—but from nowhere else on earth—could not be seen as the logical absurdity that it plainly was. Xi said lockdowns worked, and he must be believed. Lockdowns were “the science,” and it had to be followed.
One of the CCP’s primary foreign policy goals under Xi has been to “supersede” the cultural and political values of the West, including by working to undermine the ones that Xi sees as threatening to China, as outlined in his leaked Document No. 9. These values include “independent judiciaries,” “human rights,” “Western freedom,” “civil society,” “freedom of the press,” and the “free flow of information on the internet.” It would be hard to come up with a better proof of concept for Xi’s program than the story told by Deborah Birx in Silent Invasion.
Michael P. Senger is an attorney based in San Francisco and author of the book Snake Oil: How Xi Jinping Shut Down the World.