Coronavirus Crisis Elevates Antisemitic, Racist Tropes

  • March 17, 2020
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As the coronavirus continues to surge globally, antisemitic, xenophobic, and hateful messages and conspiracy theories are proliferating rapidly online. These messages spread hate and misinformation, making it more difficult to access accurate information while elevating fear and anxiety. While some of these messages are new, many are simply old tropes repackaged for a modern pandemic.

The coronavirus is a tool for Jews to expand their global influence

Many antisemitic conspiracy theories posit that Jews have undue global influence and that they manipulate events to expand their power, often citing specific actors like George Soros or the Rothschild family. In recent weeks, there has been a surge in messaging that Jews and/or Israel manufactured or spread the coronavirus to advance their global control. This is trope that can be traced back to at least the 14th century, when Jews were accused of poisoning wells in order to spread the bubonic plague.

  • In this image shared on Telegram on March 15, the coronavirus is presented as a trojan horse for “globalist” Jews. The image appears to be mocking accelerationists, individuals eager for the collapse of society (symbolized by the figure with the glowing eyes), and their excitement for the coronavirus.
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  • In this January Telegram message, white supremacist and former Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen states that China was targeted by a Jewish bioweapon designed to assert control over that country.
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  • On March 16, a Gab user cited several conspiracy theories and attempts to link them by implying that Jews are behind the coronavirus.
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  • In these messages, George Soros and the Rothschild family are invoked in connection to the virus. In the first Tweet shared on March 15, former Sheriff David Clarke states, without evidence, that George Soros is involved with the spread of the coronavirus. In the second Tweet, also from March 15, a figure representing the Rothschilds is seen weighing money as more important than people.
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This Twitter post promotes an antisemitic conspiracy related to martial law by claiming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “is controlled by the Chabad Lubavitch movement.” FEMA has long been a source of fear among those in right-wing circles who believe that the agency will use an emergency to round up Americans into detainment camps.

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Jews are profiting from the coronavirus

One of the most prevalent stereotypes about Jews is that they are greedy and value profit above all. From the first days of the coronavirus, antisemites have accused Jews of making money off the virus: from the vaccine, by exploiting market volatility, or through loans. These messages are often accompanied by an image of the “happy merchant,” an antisemitic drawing of a Jewish man with heavily stereotyped features.

  • In this Telegram meme from January, the “happy merchant” suggests that the coronavirus is a manufactured hoax and encourages people to get vaccinated, with the implication being that Jews will profit from such practices. Variations of this meme were shared on Telegram on March 22 and on 4chan on March 23. Variations of this meme were shared on Telegram on March 22 and on 4chan on March 23.
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These tweets from February and March suggest that Jews will not only profit from a vaccine but will also exploit desperation by overcharging for it and limiting availability.

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  • These March tweets state that Jews are manipulating and profiting from the stock market plummeting and are benefiting from the negative impacts of the coronavirus on the world.
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  • In this cartoon shared on Telegram, Uncle Sam gets sick from a stereotypical person of Asian descent and reacts by giving money to Jewish financiers.
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Jews as the real virus

In addition to accusing Jews of purposely spreading the virus, antisemites have portrayed Jews themselves as a virus, simultaneously framing them as malignant and something that needs to be “cured.”

 

  • In these Telegram memes shared in March, the coronavirus is depicted as being Jewish men.
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Using the coronavirus to attack the state of Israel

Many of the antisemitic coronavirus-related content being shared online depicts Israel as a malicious actor that has either manufactured or is using the coronavirus to target its enemies. Others are using the virus to criticize the state of Israel’s policies. While these critiques are not inherently antisemitic, some do perpetuate antisemitic tropes.

  • In this cartoon shared on Twitter and Facebook in March, a Palestinian woman is depicted as forced to remain exposed to the coronavirus while an Israeli soldier points a gun in her direction. The user who shared it wrote that Israel and the virus are working together against “native Palestinians,” which frames Israelis as interlopers. 
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On March 18, this user shared a post in the Facebook group, “Exposing Zionist Puppets Worldwide,” in which they complain that while they don’t have money, Jews are flaunting the money they nominally used to enslave the world.

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  • On March 10, this Twitter user wondered whether the coronavirus was sent as a punishment from God for Zionism. Another meme shared in March on Facebooked likened Zionism to a virus.
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  • On March 25, Rick Wiles, the antisemitic and conspiracy theorist host of the “TruNews” program, used his platform to warn Israel that the coronavirus was spreading in Israeli synagogues because God is punishing Jews for opposing Jesus Christ.
     
  • On March 25, a Facebook user shared the following meme, which wonders whether Zionists should be thrown into a volcano “to appease the virus.”
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  • On March 12, David Duke in a tweet wondered if President Trump had been infected by the coronavirus and whether Israel and the “Global Zionist elite” were behind it.
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  • A Telegram user reacted to news that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tested negative for the coronavirus by claiming that he created it. 
     
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  • On March 14, a Twitter user linked new coronavirus regulations for Israelis with the Palestinian experience.
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  • On March 16, the Nation of Islam Research Group Tweeted a message suggesting that Israel may have developed the coronavirus as a weapon for assassinations in response to news that an Israeli research institution will announce a coronavirus vaccine. 
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On March 18, Gab user shared messages likening the Israeli flag to toilet paper.

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Coronavirus as a means to kill Jews

Many antisemites on 4chan and Telegram are cheering the news of coronavirus cases in Israel, while others are encouraging people to spread the virus among Jewish communities.

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Casting doubt on the number of Jews that died during the Holocaust

Some extremists on Telegram have tied reports documenting the Chinese and Italy’s difficulty in safely disposing of coronavirus fatalities to cast doubt on the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust.

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Sinophobia


Many users on social media are sharing bigoted memes and messages that denigrate Chinese people and blame the Chinese for spreading the disease.

  • People, including politicians, have taken to calling the coronavirus offensive names such as the “Chinese flu,” the “Wuhan virus,” and the “kung flu.” These labels link the virus with China in a way that holds the country, and its people, responsible for the outbreak. The following posts were taken from Twitter, Instagram, and Gab.  
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  • Despite a lack of evidence that humans first contracted coronavirus because of something that was ingested, people have mocked and exaggerated Chinese cuisine and eating habits. The most common false trope is that the coronavirus was transferred by someone eating “bat soup.” The following images were collected from Telegram and Reddit on January 31. 
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  • Some social media users are sharing messages and memes that link all Chinese people and people of Chinese-descent with the virus, implying that they should be feared because of their ethnicity. These images were found in February on Instagram and Reddit.
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  • Some messages online have threatened violence towards Chinese people and people of Chinese descent. The meme referencing The Big Lebowski was found on Reddit on February 4 and the message was shared on Telegram on January 26. 
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The coronavirus was manufactured by humans

Conspiracy theorists are positing that the coronavirus was manufactured by humans, whether it be as a bioweapon or to make money by selling vaccines. In regards to the bioweapon, the theories differ on who made it, for what end, and whether it was released intentionally or not. 

  • This Facebook user shares a conspiracy theory from Reddit (illustrating how theories can jump platforms) in which China manufactured and released the virus in order to depopulate and control their own population, thereby avoiding economic collapse.
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  • A user on 4chan asserted that the coronavirus is a Chinese bioweapon that they failed to control, but added that Israel is spreading it to the U.S. and Europe.
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  • A conspiracy theorist on Reddit posits that the coronavirus was created and released by China in order to diffuse the protests in Hong Kong and while maintaining control over the virus. 
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  • On March 16, Rizza Islam, a member of the Nation of Islam, suggested on Twitter that the coronavirus is being used to target black celebrities.
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  • One of more popular conspiracy theories is that the coronavirus was patented, thereby implying that it is manufactured and that this outbreak is man-made. Though this is untrue, users on Facebook and Twitter still shared the conspiracy theory in February. 
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  • This Facebook post posits that the coronavirus was patented and manufactured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and that it was released because it ran out of funds to continue the program. They add that Bill Gates knew about the virus prior to the outbreak and that he expanded his vaccine program to make money.  
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  • Another user on Twitter asserts that Bill Gates is behind the coronavirus to make money from the vaccine.
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Extremists are imagining weaponizing the coronavirus 

Some extremists on fringe platforms have encouraged those who are infected with the coronavirus to target those that these groups consider to be enemies, including law enforcement officials, politicians, and non-whites.   

  • On January 24, this Telegram user encouraged those infected with the virus to spend as much time as possible in public and specifically names the FBI as a target. 
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  • On January 24, this Telegram user joked about travelling to Washington, D.C. while infected with the virus.
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  • On February 3, an anonymous 4chan user asked “Corona chan”, the cartoon human form of the coronavirus, to target Africa. 
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  • On March 13, this meme was shared on Telegram. It highlights that the coronavirus is more dangerous for people over 50 and encourages people to cough on their elected officials.
     
  • On March 17, a Telegram user shared a meme encouraging sick people to cough on minorities.
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The Coronavirus as the precursor to societal collapse, revolution and the race war

Many conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists believe that rising infection rates, increasing paranoia and “intrusive” government countermeasures to the pandemic will lead to a collapse in society that will lead to – or that they can use to bring about – their version of the Boogaloo, a slang term for a future civil war. 

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Accelerationists are advocating measures to exacerbate the negative effects of the pandemic in the hopes of spurring parts of the population to violence. The following images demonstrate how they advocate using COVID-19 to spread social unrest.

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Many extremists on Telegram are explicit in their hopes that the coronavirus sparks the boogaloo, which many believe will create the opportunity to build a white ethno-state. One user on Telegram even referred to the coronavirus as the “achoogaloo.”

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Anti-Immigration

Some are using the coronavirus to argue that the U.S. should restrict immigration by shutting down its borders and instituting a travel ban from foreign countries. While some note actual public health reasons for such measures, others are resorting to bigoted and xenophobic arguments for these policies. 

  • In these posts shared in January on Telegram and Twitter, the posters argue that immigration causes the spread of diseases and say that no immigration is the only way to keep the United States safe. In this framing, diseases are always foreign and brought by people from other countries. 
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  • These Telegram messages from March directly link the spread of the coronavirus with diversity. The one on the left states that an anti-White coalition is trying to impose multiculturalism even at the cost of further infections. 
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  • On Twitter, people have taken to using the hashtag, “TravelBanNow” to express their support for preventing foreigners from entering the U.S. 
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Martial law, FEMA camps, gun confiscation, and depopulation

Among certain right-wing conspiracy theorist circles, notably the militia movement, fears of government-imposed martial law, FEMA camps, gun confiscation, and depopulation have been prevalent for decades. Many of these concerns have been updated and applied to the coronavirus. 

  • As the more state and local governments have announced strategies to slow the spread of the coronavirus, right-wing conspiracy theorists are warning on Twitter that these efforts are part of a government plot to implement of martial law and so-called FEMA camps.
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  • A number of the conspiratorial posts shared on Twitter in March have focused on the supposed implementation of martial law claim that the government will confiscate guns.
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  • Some Twitter posts have explicitly connected the idea of martial law to conspiracies about depopulation and “culling” certain demographics.
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Homophobia

Some users on social media are attempting to use the coronavirus to advance their homophobic agenda by asserting that the virus is a punishment from God for supporting homosexuality. 

  • These Twitter posts and this article illustrate how people believe that the coronavirus is punishment from God for homosexuality.
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  • This March 15 Twitter post, which promotes the common conspiracy about martial law, expresses the desire that members of the LGBT community will be particularly targeted:
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