Newsrooms are used to getting calls from the public alerting journalists of potential public safety concerns. On Wednesday, one of Nexstar’s newsrooms received an important (and unsubstantiated) tip: There is snake venom in the drinking water in North Carolina.

This is concerning. There has been no public health alert distributed about this. So we did what anyone would do in such a case: We asked Google about the provenance of this warning and what we, as citizens, need to know about it.

The dangerous venomous cobra (Getty Images)

Google returned 24.2 million results for the terms “snake venom in water,” but almost all of them dealt with what you need to know about snake venom and its dangers and effects.

But there were only three true articles about how snake venom might be in our water supply. One Daily Beast article by political reporter Will Sommer was called “Hucksters profit off nutty ‘venom in the water’ theory.”

Sommer reported that this began when a talk show host – always reliable sources, we know – and former bounty hunter named Stew Peters produced a video called “Watch the Water.” Apparently, Peters interviews a retired chiropractor named Bryan Ardis about “his theory that the CDC planted king cobra venom in COVID-19 vaccines and the water supply in order to transfer Satanic DNA to unsuspecting people.”

Yes, that’s the literal sentence written by Sommer. Apparently, all this evolved from a TV show called “The Blacklist,” in which a character played by James Spader suspects he has been poisoned by snake venom in his drink.

Ardis told Peters, “They are using the water systems because they can target specific demographics.” Apparently, this video has been seen by millions, and a man in Pennsylvania named Phil Godlewski started to market water filtration systems that he said would help remove that cobra venom from your water.

Godlewski said in a video, Sommer reported, that he “strongly advised that you stop drinking any water that is tap water, or even bottled water.” He said common filters you might buy for your home couldn’t be trusted because at least one of the manufacturers was owned by “the cabal” – a reference to one of QAnon’s principle conspiracy beliefs.

So, naturally, Godlewski suggested you buy his filters.

Just the facts

Now this unfounded theory that there is snake venom in the COVID-19 vaccines has been around. The hoax claims it’s also in remdesivir, the COVID-19 antiviral treatment drug, and, yes, the water supply.

Factcheck.org felt the need in an article posted Wednesday to say that “COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not snake venom.”

The conspiracy theory also drew the attention of the folks at Politifact, who verify claims and get to the bottom of what is said by almost everyone. Politifact ruled this theory as “Pants On Fire,” as in the stuff of “liar, liar.” Those folks don’t rate untruths on a lower scale than that.

Still, Politifact analyzed the source and debunked the theory along medical and scientific lines, attacking Ardis’s documentary for its lack of truthfulness and its feeding from QAnon-distributed outrageous conspiracies.

Politifact says that Ardis “falsely claimed that monoclonal antibodies are identical to the anti-venoms used to disable the toxins from a snake bite. He then claimed without evidence that if a public health agency advises against a treatment, then that means the treatment actually works.”

Politifact also shot down Ardis’ claim that there are 19 toxins in cobra venom and that number related to the term “COVID-19.” We already know the “19” in the virus’ name is because this coronavirus was identified in 2019.

He also claimed “that the phrase “coronavirus pandemic” can translate in Latin to “the pope’s venom pandemic” or “king cobra venom pandemic.” Politifact cited an expert from the world’s largest dictionary of Latin to show these translations were “completely false.”

We also reached out to experts who would be aware if there were venomous contaminants in the water supply. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, whose spokesperson said the comments on social media about these conspiracies astounded her. But she also said no one has asked the state’s health department about the validity of these concerns.

Questions about cobra venom in the water boil down to this: a theory pulled together from a TV show, woven together by threads of QAnon, and presented as a pants-on-fire lie.