A Government report on extremism during the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted far-right activists’ calls to “infect Jews” as well as five different ways antisemites have blamed Jews for spreading the virus.
Researchers show how certain conspiracies have gained traction online, including the idea that the virus is fake and part of a Jewish plot to mislead the public, or that it is real and was deliberately created by Jews for malevolent purposes.
Other conspiracies identified by the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE), which published its report on Thursday, include Jews being the “primary spreaders”.
Various organisations, including Tony Blair’s think-tank, have highlighted how far-right activists have incited others “to deliberately spread the virus to Jews,” with antisemitic narratives gaining traction within the UK and the US.
The report’s authors looked at the way in which extremists have sought to exploit the current pandemic, and said individuals such as David Icke played “a significant role in spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories linked to Covid-19”.
One of Icke’s most popular videos, viewed 5.9 million times, claimed that the Rothschilds were key players in a global plot to use the virus to impose a totalitarian world government.
“Although Icke was successfully de-platformed from YouTube and Facebook, the scale and reach of his antisemitic conspiracy theories remains extremely concerning,” the report’s authors said.
The CCE reported that it had “seen a range of concerning behaviours across the ideological spectrum of extremism”, with far-right British National Socialist Movement urging its members and supporters via encrypted messaging app Telegram “to deliberately infect Jews and Muslims”.
In May, Dr Rakib Ehsan published a report about the phenomenon for the Henry Jackson Society, saying: “The association of Jews with disease and infection is by no means original. Indeed, it draws on a long history and deep-rooted antisemitic tropes.”
Jews were blamed for the bubonic plague – or ‘Black Death’ – in the fourteenth century, he said, adding: “The path to the Holocaust was built, in part, on the antisemitic association of Jews with disease and infection.
“Hitler compared Jews to a ‘harmful bacillus’ in Mein Kampf and referred to a ‘Jewish virus’ that posed a fundamental threat to Germanic civilisation.”
CCE Lead Commissioner Sara Khan said: “The pandemic has not discouraged extremists from propagating their hateful ideologies. On the contrary they have, as always in a crisis, fully exploited the lockdown to promote dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation, most notably online.
“They seek to mainstream extremist narratives in society, for the sole purpose of inciting hatred, violence, public disorder and a breakdown in community cohesion.
“The impact of extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated. These conspiracy theories are harmful, dangerous and are used by extremists to cause division and breed hate.”
She reiterated her call for policy-makers to “develop a system to classify dangerous conspiracy theories based on the harm they cause,” adding: “This will help practitioners and social media platforms better challenge harmful conspiracy theories before they escalate.”