Fear is your friend. Paralyze them with fear. They’ll go along with anything.
The crisis should have mysterious foreign origins. Cave-dwelling terrorists in Afghanistan, cave-dwelling bats in Wuhan. For some reason, caves work, maybe something about their primitive connotations. Plus, it’s not like journalists are going to investigate something that happened in some God-forsaken foreign nation when they can earn a paycheck by “reporting” on what happened last night on Twitter from the comfort of their own beds.
Psychologically prepare the population. This is most easily accomplished by making movies for the plebes. See Pearl Harbor (May 2001) and Pandemic (January 2020).
You need an “invisible enemy” that “knows no borders,” one that is impossible to definitively eradicate. But don’t use terrorists or a virus again. That’s played out. You’ll have to come up with something bigger and better next time. Aliens might be cool.
Make the epicenter the Big Apple, because those folks are generally on our side and always easy to work with. Also, take a cue from Hollywood: Godzilla didn’t invade Charleston, and I Am Legend doesn’t take place in Helena. There is a reason for this.
Go big or go home. Is it likely that commercial airliners would manage to fly through some the most heavily defended airspace in the world and hit two buildings, 18 minutes apart, and the Pentagon? No — LOL! Is it likely that a virus would manage to escape one of the most highly secured and secretive labs in the entire world? Probably not. But the good news is: You don’t have to worry about what is likely or probable or believable. Just concern yourself with what is plausibly deniable and go from there. Seriously, the bigger the lie, the easier it is to believe, because they won’t be able to believe that someone would tell a lie that big. It’s all about chutzpah!
Plant a few seeds or make sure there is some precedent for the incredulous, like this and this.
Ellen Finnigan [send her mail] teaches writing and literature at an online, Catholic school for homeschoolers. She runs a website and a podcast called Catholics Against Militarism. You can find her on Twitter @EllenFinnigan and read more of her writing here.