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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 2, 2020

No evidence 'doomsday planes,' Trump COVID-19 diagnosis related

If Your Time is short

  • Military officials have said that the flights were pre-planned and unrelated to President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. 
 

Late Oct. 1, two so-called "doomsday planes" took flight, and not long after, President Donald Trump announced he has COVID-19. Online, people are speculating that the two events are related. 

Military officials say they’re not. 

"After Trump tested positive for Covid they scrambled the 'Doomsday Plane,'" one Facebook post says. 

"For those suspecting Trump’s announcement is a hoax, here’s skywatcher Tim Hogan of Honolulu posting about U.S. ‘doomsday planes’ launching off the East and West Coasts half an hour before news broke," says another. "National security is no joke, and a White House in turmoil puts us all at risk."

These posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Here’s what we know about how these claims emerged:

After news broke on Oct. 1 that Hope Hicks, a Trump aide who had been traveling with the president, had tested positive for COVID-19, a man named Tim Hogan tweeted about E-6B Mercury aircrafts that he said appeared on the East and West coasts of the United States.

"I looked because I would expect them to pop up if he tests positive," Hogan said in his tweet. Then, referring to U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear forces, Hogan wrote, "IMO Stratcom wants them to be seen."

Soon after, Trump announced on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19.

An E-6B Mercury aircraft is an airborne nuclear command center that’s known as a "Doomsday Plane" because it’s designed to keep the National Command Authority in contact with Naval nuclear forces in a crisis, the Washingtonian explained in a story about the planes.

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The Navy has 16 such planes and one is often in the air, according to Forbes

We reached out to the Defense Department about the planes but did not immediately hear back. 

However, U.S. Strategic Command told Business Insider that "these flights were pre-planned missions" and that "any timing to the president’s announcement is purely coincidental." according to the outlet’s Oct. 2 story. 

Business Insider also quoted Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, saying: "There’s been  no change to DoD alert levels. The U.S. military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement."

People who study nuclear issues echoed this. 

"It is very routine to have E-6s up," tweeted Vipin Narang, a political science professor and member of MIT’s Security Studies Program. "Do not read anything into this, it isn’t a message to anyone. In terms of nuclear command and control, the concern isn’t communication but chain of command in case of POTUS incapacitation, but we are nowhere near there yet." 

"These planes fly daily," tweeted Marc Ambinder, security expert in residence at USC Annenberg. "Attend to your thought patterns and cognitive biases here. I will try to do the same. Reality is unsettling enough!"

Lara Seligman, a Politico reporter who covers the Pentagon, also tweeted that a spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis did not change its alert levels. 

"The US military stands ready to defend our country and its citizens," Seligman quoted the spokesperson as saying. "There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces." 

There is no substantive evidence that these aircraft were dispatched because the president was diagnosed with COVID-19. If such evidence emerges, we’ll reconsider our ruling. For now, we rate claims saying otherwise False. 

 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Oct. 2, 2020

Facebook post, Oct. 2, 2020

Donald Trump tweet, Oct. 1, 2020

Tim Hogan tweet, Oct. 1, 2020

Vipin Narang tweet, Oct. 2, 2020

Lara Seligman tweet, Oct. 2, 2020

Marc Ambinder tweet, Oct. 2, 2020

Naval Air Systems Command, E-6B Mercury, visited Oct. 2, 2020

The New York Times, Trump says he’ll begin ‘quarantine process’ after Hope Hicks tests positive for coronavirus, Oct. 1, 2020

Business Insider, No, the US military did not mobilize its ‘doomsday planes’ in response to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Oct. 2, 2020

Washingtonian, A "Doomsday Plane" flew over DC this morning but the military says you shouldn’t worry, Oct. 2, 2020

Forbes, Donald Trump tests positive for COVID—and America’s nuclear Doomsday Planes launch, Oct. 2, 2020

 

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No evidence 'doomsday planes,' Trump COVID-19 diagnosis related

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