In the aftermath of the February 3, 2023, freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a range of misinformation and unfounded claims has emerged as extremists and conspiracy theorists leverage the event for their own political and ideological gain. This includes the white supremacist and virulently antisemitic National Justice Party (NJP), which has capitalized on the outrage and suspicions around the Norfolk incident to organize protests in Ohio and Georgia, promoting their bigoted platform to advocate for “White civil rights” in East Palestine.
When the Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, and as evacuations began and shelter-in-place orders were issued, residents quickly became understandably concerned about the health risks posed by burning materials such as vinyl chloride. Some also reported that large numbers of fish had died in nearby creeks and expressed alarm about the quality of their local air and water. Public health officials and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressed citizens’ concerns, testing both air and water for contamination. Officials have said that current levels of contaminants are safe, but they will continue to offer regular monitoring. It is worth noting that the EPA’s handling of previous environmental disasters, from the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to the Colorado Gold King Mine spill, has not inspired confidence or trust, and questioning the government response in East Palestine does not equate to conspiratorial thinking.
Immediately following the derailment, a raft of false and misleading claims emerged; a story about a journalist being removed from a press conference gained traction on social media, accompanied by suggestions that officials were trying to silence the press, a claim refuted by fact checkers.
While much of the misinformation has come from well-meaning individuals concerned about environmental safety, extremists and conspiracy theorists have capitalized on the panic by alleging the derailment was a concerted attack on white Americans and an ominous indicator of future coordinated attacks on infrastructure. Popular QAnon influencers, for example, promoted theories about the derailment being part of a nefarious government plan, citing unrelated derailments across the country as evidence.
Meanwhile, the white supremacist National Justice Party is co-opting the tragedy in East Palestine and using public outrage and confusion about the incident to advance their claims that the political system is in place to disadvantage and overlook white people.
At a February 25, 2023, demonstration outside Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s residence in Bexley, Ohio, NJP leader Warren Balogh asked, "Why did it even take so long for them [government] to notice this? Why did it take so long for the national media to notice it? We know why...It's because they are white people. They are white people in East Palestine."
During an Ohio NJP event, group leader Michael McKevitt used the derailment to falsely claim that predominantly Black communities get more attention than predominantly white communities during environmental disasters. McKevitt compared the government responses to the derailment in East Palestine, a community which NJP considers to be predominantly white, to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a community which NJP considers to be predominantly Black. He said, "The federal government has since poured millions of dollars of aid into restoring Flint’s water resources, whereas East Palestine and the surrounding area have yet to receive any significant aid whatsoever."
On February 15, 2023, NJP leaders Joseph Jordan and Michael McKevitt attended a town hall meeting in East Palestine, where they heckled officials during the question-and-answer session. Jordan and McKevitt argued that the government was trying to minimize the severity of the incident, while confronting U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson over the lack of government resources earmarked for East Palestine.
On February 25, 2023, NJP held events about the derailment in Ohio and in Georgia. In Ohio, approximately two dozen individuals protested outside of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s residences in Bexley and Cedarville, Ohio, with participants starting at the former and driving 60 miles to the latter. Various NJP leaders were in attendance, including Warren Balogh, Michael McKevitt, Tony Hovater and Alan Balogh. Notable NJP members Mike Peinovich and Joseph Jordan attended virtually via the event's livestream. In speeches, members alleged the government is covering up the extent of the damages in East Palestine because they are “in the pockets” of the railroad company.
In Atlanta, Georgia, on the same day, approximately twelve individuals associated with the NJP protested outside of Norfolk Southern corporate headquarters, calling for the railroad company to nationalize and for their executives to be held accountable for the train derailment. One of NJP’s central tenets is the nationalization of large corporations, which they believe will “create public accountability and guarantee that they serve the nation first,” by which they mean “serve the interest of white people.”
The NJP also used the train derailment to highlight the long-standing white supremacist conspiracy that Jews run the government, and that government officials are being manipulated by both Norfolk Southern and Jews.
Outside Governor DeWine’s house in Bexley, Ohio, where Ukrainian and American flags hang side by side, Warren Balogh said, “If the war in Ukraine is so important, why don’t you go fight over there, DeWine? You oughta [sic] have a Ukrainian flag and a Norfolk Southern flag. Or better yet, an Israeli flag!”
During another speech, Alan Balogh said that if the chemical spill happened in Bexley, DeWine would have acted differently. Mike Peinovich mentioned during the livestream that Bexley is a "very Jewish neighborhood." On the NJP website, the group posted a list of U.S. Rep. Johnson’s campaign donors, highlighting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)’s contribution as “evidence” of Jewish influence.
NJP also pointed to the train derailment as “proof” of the failures of the mainstream Republican Party, which it refers to as “the party of Zionism.” The NJP alleges that Republican leaders, including DeWine and U.S. Congressmen Bill Johnson, are not advocating for their “true” constituents and are ignoring “the interests of white people.”