ADL
ADL

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that extremists are scapegoating Asian, Jewish, African American and other minority groups, as well as immigrants, claiming they are responsible for the virus.

Over the centuries Jews have been blamed for plagues, economic depressions and wars. Now the coronavirus is being connected to Jews by some conspiracy theorists and white supremacists on social media, including encrypted online platforms as well as in traditional media. In fact, the Leelenau Enterprise in Northern Michigan ran a letter to the editor a few weeks back accusing COVID-19 of being a Jewish conspiracy.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that extremists are scapegoating Asian, Jewish, African American and other minority groups, as well as immigrants, claiming they are responsible for the virus.

According to Carolyn Normandin, regional director of ADL’s Michigan office, extremists have accused Jews of using the coronavirus as “a tool to gain control and power so we could have a remedy and charge for it.”

Carolyn Normandin

Normandin points out the use of a blue rat with a Jewish star on some extremist websites — an image she says has been promulgated digitally on mainstream platforms as well.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of the nonprofit Integrity First for America, was a presenter for a recent National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) webinar about white supremacy and COVID-19. She views the current extremist response to the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a larger cycle of anti-Semitism, which includes a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

“During crises, people look for someone to blame,” she says, adding that in January, people were asking on social media, “Was this a Jewish conspiracy? Was Israel withholding a vaccine?” Spitalnick says that such questions and online anti-Asian attacks alike can be traced back to white supremacist websites.

According to Gary Sikorski, director of community-wide security for Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, the FBI as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Community Network (the national security initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America) have noted online statements by neo-Nazis and white supremacists urging readers to infect the Jewish community with the coronavirus.

Gary Sikorski

The Anti-Defamation League has tracked and reported numerous anti-Semitic cartoons, as well as other images and posts, all relating to COVID-19. While many are posted on 4Chan (which posts images anonymously), Gab or Telegram (which is encrypted), some have been disseminated on Facebook or Twitter.

ADL cites this Twitter post by David A. Clarke, former Milwaukee County sheriff and right-wing media favorite, as typical of messages tying the virus to Jews, including Soros and the Rothschilds. Clarke wrote March 15: “Not ONE media outlet has asked about George Soros’s involvement in this FLU panic. He is SOMEWHERE involved in this.” This message received 739 likes and was retweeted 227 times, according to ADL.

David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader, asked on Twitter on March 12 whether President Trump had the virus and whether “Israel and the global Zionist elite” were responsible.

ADL also noted a meme on Telegram and 4Chan in January showing a “happy merchant,” suggesting the coronavirus is a manufactured hoax encouraging people to get vaccinated so Jews can profit.

ADL’s monitoring indicates that “Many anti-Semites on 4chan and Telegram are sharing the news of coronavirus cases in Israel, while others are encouraging people to spread the virus among Jewish communities.” A similar sentiment was reached in an April report from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group tracking hate group activity, which found that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories related to the virus were already spreading in the pandemic’s earliest weeks.

Sikorski says that a “rise in the rhetoric can lead to action and we are keeping our eye on conspiracy theories.” However, Sikorski points out that most synagogues and other Jewish-affiliated facilities are closed due to COVID-19.

“We’re always thinking of security — it’s an ongoing process. We advocate awareness and prevention with an all-hazards approach to crisis and emergency planning — not focusing on any one thing,” explains Sikorski.

Amy Spitalnick

Spitalnick supports the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which she says is stalled in Congress. Passage of the Act would counteract gaps in reporting of discriminatory acts and improve cooperation between levels of government, she says.

While the FBI is supporting the fight against white supremacists, the federal government as a whole is not, Spitalnick claims, as evidenced by a sharp decline in federal civil rights investigations. She also criticizes social media companies for providing platforms for “hotbeds of extremism” without any liability.

“Conspiracy theories get a lot of oxygen when people are afraid. It’s a difficult problem and I don’t see it going away. People have to call it out and challenge it. They need to assess where information comes from,” Normandin says.

NCJW Webinar Discusses Weaponizing White Supremacy during COVID-19

NCJW’s May 5 webinar provided an update on white supremacy and national efforts to combat racism and anti-Semitism. Cathy Cantor, NCJW state policy advocate, spoke about Women Confronting Racism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping white women examine their biases and privilege.

The organization brought 5,000 women to Detroit in 2017 for a conference and holds ongoing lectures. “We want to educate ourselves and others,” Cantor says.

ADL

Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, discussed the organization’s lawsuit against the leaders of Unite the Right, the white supremacist group that planned and carried out the racist and anti-Semitic protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2018.

“The case takes on the leadership of these organizations, which could have an impact on their financial and legal operations. Many plaintiffs (Charlottesville community members) suffered serious injuries. Charlottesville has become a rallying cry and marker for many white Supremacists,” she explained.

The ADL has invested $100,000 in the lawsuit, which is expected to come to trial in Charlottesville in October 2020.

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