A far-right conspiracy theorist who had called COVID-19 a “hoax” and hosted a rally last month in Belfast has died in a Florida hospital after contracting the virus.

Robert David Steele, a former CIA officer who also claimed that NASA is operating a child slave colony on Mars, rallied a large crowd at the Crosby Center in Belfast on July 27. Steele was joined by notable Maine conservatives, including Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth and state Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred.

Northrup, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was once a best-selling self-help author and regular guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” but has most recently gained notoriety promoting misinformation about masking and vaccines.

Sampson, meanwhile, likened COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care workers to the deadly medical experiments carried out against Jews in Nazi Germany, comparing Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, to Dr. Josef Mengele, who experimented on concentration camp prisoners and was known as the “Angel of Death.”

Steele also was a Holocaust denier and advanced the unfounded QAnon conspiracy that Democrats are running an underground child-sex trafficking ring.

Multiple media sources in Maine and nationally are reporting Steele’s death, which appeared to be confirmed by his supporters on social media, who are now saying he was murdered by opponents seeking to silence him.

Steele appeared at the rally in Belfast with Sampson as part of nationwide tour by the group Arise USA, which has been critical of COVID-19 restrictions and alleges 2020 election fraud.

Belfast is in Waldo County, which experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases shortly after the July 27 event. The Maine Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not opened an outbreak investigation associated with the rally, agency spokesman Robert Long said Monday.

Steele and Sampson both called for a “forensic audit” of Maine’s 2020 election results during the rally, despite there being no evidence of any disparities or even widespread complaints about Maine’s election results.

Sampson did not return a phone message left for her Monday afternoon.

In 2020, Steele told Vice News he was the first person to claim COVID-19 was a hoax. During the Belfast rally, Steele promoted his agenda to create so-called “constitutional counties” where sheriffs refuse to enforce federal and state laws they deem are in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. “The elected sheriff is the top law enforcement official of the land,” Steele said to applause. “And deputizing gun-packing mamas is the single best thing any sheriff can do to maintain law and order.”

On Aug. 17, Steele posted a photo of himself in a Florida hospital wearing an oxygen mask and predicted he would survive. “With love to you all I survived!” Steele wrote. “I went in at 77 oxygenation. I’m up to 94. I will not take the vaccination, though I did test positive for whatever they’re calling ‘COVID’ today, but the bottom line is that my lungs are not functioning.”

On Sunday, anti-vaccination advocate Mark Tassi posted a video on Instagram announcing Steele’s death. “It was the typical respiratory thing,” Tassi said, noting he was suspicious of Steele’s death and later said it was an effort to discredit Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Republican has faced increasing criticism for his administration’s response to the pandemic.

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