False claims circulate online after NATO announces HQ in Norfolk, Va., is 'fully operational'

Since a July ceremony announced the new NATO headquarters in Norfolk, Va., is fully staffed, false claims have circulated online. VERIFY investigated those claims.
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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hosted a ceremony on July 15 to announce its newest operational command, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, and known as the Joint Force Command Norfolk, is now fully operational. A NATO official told VERIFY “fully operational” means it’s now at full staff.

NATO is a military alliance established by the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 with 30 active member countries. “All 30 Allies contribute to the NATO budget on an agreed cost-share formula based on Gross National Income, which represents a small percentage of each member’s defence budget,” according to its website.

Since the July 15 ceremony, online users have posted claims around the NATO command in Norfolk. One Facebook video, claiming the Pentagon surrendered the Norfolk Naval Base, had more than 9,000 thousand views. This 46-minute video posted to YouTube has more than 1,200 views, titled: “Norfolk Base taken over By Nato, Bet ya dont [sic] see this in the lamestream.”

A blog post claiming the command center was surrendered so NATO could enforce mandatory lockdowns and imprisonment for Americans who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccination was also shared dozens of times across social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit (examples here, here and here). 

The post was shared at least four times on different anonymous imageboards, and also was shared in at least two conspiracy-based Telegram groups, each with thousands of followers. 

The VERIFY team has answers for both of those claims. Here’s what you need to know. 

THE QUESTION

Did the Pentagon or U.S. government surrender Naval Station (NS) Norfolk to NATO?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, a NATO official told VERIFY it is “totally wrong” to claim the base was surrendered to NATO. 

WHAT WE FOUND

According to a NATO official, “JFC [Joint Force Command] Norfolk is hosted by the United States within the much larger national facility at Norfolk, and its Commander also commands the US Second Fleet.”

The United States is one of 30 member countries and joined the military alliance in 1949, along with the United Kingdom, Portugal, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Iceland, France, Canada and Belgium. 

“NATO Defence Ministers decided in June 2018 to adapt the Alliance’s command structure with a new Atlantic command in Norfolk, and a command for support and logistics in Ulm, Germany. JFC Norfolk is one of three regionally focused joint, operational-level commands reporting directly to Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the only operational NATO command based in North America. The other two existing Joint Force Commands are located in Brunssum, Netherlands, and Naples, Italy,” according to a NATO release.

Bases in Brunssum, Netherlands and Naples, Italy, were also not surrendered to NATO.  

NATO has a history in Norfolk. In 2018, welcome signs were placed in the airport intended to “increase public awareness of the community’s role in hosting an important NATO command,” the NATO official told VERIFY.

Since 1953, Norfolk has hosted the Norfolk NATO Festival, the “longest continuously running Festival in the Hampton Roads region, and the only one of its kind in the United States which honors the NATO Alliance and its member nations.”

THE QUESTION

Is the NATO headquarters’ purpose to enforce mandatory lockdowns and imprisonment for Americans who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, according to a NATO official, “NATO plays no role in enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns -- this is a matter for national and local authorities.” 

WHAT WE FOUND

An official with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) told VERIFY the command's mission in Norfolk “is to protect the strategic lines of communication across all domains, protect sea-lanes between Europe and North America, and enable the reinforcement of Europe.”

“NATO plays no role in enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns -- this is a matter for national and local authorities,” according to the official. 

The newest operational command in Norfolk was established in July 2019 and is the first NATO headquarters dedicated to the Atlantic since 2003, according to a NATO release. In Sept. 2020, the station was at “Initial Operational Capability” with 150 staff members from 21 NATO and partner nations, the release said. Now, it’s at full operational readiness, with a full staff.

In no NATO releases, or the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), is there mention of COVID-19 listed as part of the duties of the NATO staff members.

More from VERIFY: Fact-checking misinformation after CDC updates mask guidance for COVID-19

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