The FBI “Shared” Antisemitic Protocols on Twitter

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August 19, 2020

On August 19, one of the FBI’s official twitter handles, the FBI Records Vault, disseminated a link labeled “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” There has been widespread confusion about the FBI’s motives for doing this, and concern that in doing so the FBI is spreading an antisemitic text. The Protocols is a notorious antisemitic forgery created at the turn of the 20th century by the Czarist secret police and describes an alleged secret plan of Jewish leaders to attain world domination and power.

In fact, the Twitter handle that sent the link is run by the FBI’s department which handles Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and which routinely sends out digitized internal FBI files on topics that have been requested by constituents. The link in the tweet goes to a PDF file containing many digitized documents pertaining to queries the FBI has received about the Protocols and other antisemitic texts in the 1960s and 1970s. Several of those documents state the conclusion that the Protocols are an antisemitic forgery, and include the following statement by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover:

The Bureau is well aware of the “Protocols” of the Elders of Zion which has been described as “a fabricated historic document” by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. This is considered to be a vicious hoax in an effort to set class against class and religion against religion in order to subvert the American system.

Unfortunately, the digitized FBI file on the Protocols also includes several scanned versions of the actual text of the book. We understand that people may be concerned that in sharing this digitized file, the FBI may be effectively sharing this antisemitic text with a broader audience.

While there is no reason to think that the FBI shared this material out of malice or due to antisemitic animus, it is concerning that the FBI’s twitter account did not clarify in the tweet that the digitized file was of historical interest, and released the file without any additional context or description of this work as virulently antisemitic. We have already received reports from many in the American Jewish community who are hurt by the irresponsible way this document was released.

Update: In response to concerns, the FBI issued a statement on Twitter indicating that the bureau's Records Vault account had shared the link via an automated process, "without further outlining the context of the documents," adding: "We regret that this release may have inadvertently caused distress among the communities we serve."