In many ways, antisemitism and conspiracism are twins with common origins: The original conspiracy theory is the “blood libel” (claiming Jews use the blood of Gentile babies for matzoh) that arose in medieval times, and the ur-conspiracy theory of the 20th century is the “Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion” hoax claiming a cabal of Jews secretly run the world. Where conspiracism thrives, so does antisemitism.
So it’s unsurprising to see that the COVID denialist conspiracy theories flourishing online are also driving people to antisemitism. The most recent examples include public officials—all conservative Republicans—ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers, promoting antisemitic tropes while embracing conspiracy theories related to the pandemic. At the same time, overt white nationalists like Nick Fuentes have gone all-in promoting anti-vaccination propaganda that is likewise deeply antisemitic.
A paid spokesperson for DeSantis named Christina Pushaw fired out a tweet this week suggesting that the Jewish Rothschild family—whose name has been woven into antisemitic conspiracism since the era of the “Protocols” in the 1920s—was part of a plot to draw European nations into the “Green Pass” vaccination system. Pushaw suggested that a business visit by a member of the Rothschild family with the prime minister of Georgia (which recently joined the “Green Pass” system) was evidence of this plot, writing ironically: “No weird conspiracy stuff here!”
Pushaw later denied any antisemitic intent, claiming that she was instead criticizing the Georgia prime minister “for intentionally fueling conspiracy theories to troll Green Pass opponents.”
Rogers, an Arizona legislator already notorious for promoting QAnon conspiracy-cult nonsense and defending Donald Trump’s phony claims of a stolen election, also fired off a tweet this week saying: “Retweet if you are a pure blood.”
This is a reference to the spreading meme among COVID denialists identifying people who are unvaccinated as “pure bloods”—a la the eugenicist belief in racial purity through one’s bloodlines, which is now best known in popular culture through J.K. Rowling’s fantasy Harry Potter books, in which the villainous devotees of the evil Lord Voldemort identify using similar terms. Many anti-health-measure conspiracists believe the COVID vaccines permanently taint recipients’ blood.
Rogers is no stranger to antisemitism. She frequently makes reference to antisemitic theories that liberal financier George Soros, a Jewish man, is the “puppet master” secretly manipulating mainstream Democrats and leftists—including a recent tweet referring to “Soros puppets.”
Overt white nationalists also have adopted the anti-vaccination cause as a recruitment tool. Far-right “Groyper” leader Nick Fuentes—who has “jokingly” denied the Holocaust and compared Jews burnt in concentration camps to cookies in an oven, and recently opined: "I don’t see Jews as Europeans and I don’t see them as part of Western civilization, particularly because they are not Christians”—in particular has seized on the issue.
Fuentes recently held anti-vaccine rallies in the New York City area, including an event in Staten Island at which he railed: “I’m wearing this bulletproof vest here today, because they’re gonna have to kill me before I get this vaccine!”
The next day, Fuentes attempted to latch onto a similar rally in downtown Manhattan, but found that even the anti-vaccine crowd had disowned him: “It’s unfortunate that we had to separate from this crowd over there,” Fuentes told the group of “Groypers” who had turned out to participate. “It’s very troubling because it seems like the people over there, like a lot of people in the city, they hate us more than they hate the vaccine.”
The role of right-wing media in whitewashing the role of these extremists in the spread of COVID denialism also became apparent as a result of Fuentes’ participation: Fox News originally reported that white nationalists were part of the rally, and included an Anti-Defamation League description of Fuentes’ America First organization. But the network then entirely scrubbed that information from later versions of the story when Fuentes and his cohorts complained loudly on social media.
“Fox News using ADL talking points about me and AF,” Fuentes wrote on Telegram. “Scum.”
A report last month from Hope Not Hate found that COVID denialism was acting as a recruitment gateway to broader antisemitic beliefs. It found that content posted with the hashtags #rothschildfamily, #synagogueofsatan and #soros was viewed 25.1 million times on TikTok in half a year—and was similarly widespread at Facebook and Twitter.
The report found that the now-defunct 4chan site, particularly its /pol/ section, contained the most antisemitic slurs of any platform. However, the encrypted chat site Telegram is now becoming the site with the most voluminous and vicious antisemitism, with numerous antisemitic channels, some boasting tens of thousands of members.
The report explained:
While conspiracy thinking fuels extremism of all kinds, in particular it can function as a slip road towards antisemitism and Holocaust denial, especially as far-right activists are actively attempting to exploit these networks. While conspiracy ideologies have always formed part of the social and political backdrop, the recent fever pitch has posed challenges to social cohesion and a heightened threat to Jewish people and other minoritised communities.
The report’s authors also observed a close connection between the amount of antisemitism on a platform and how lightly or loosely it is moderated: the less restrictive the moderation, the greater and louder the antisemitism.
This is now a problem on every social media platform. Jewish creators on TikTok have complained that they face a deluge of antisemitism on the platform, and they are often targeted by groups who mass-report their accounts in order to get them temporarily banned.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a breeding ground for far-right extremism and conspiracism since its outbreak in early 2020, particularly serving as a recruitment and organizing nexus for extremists, as well as a fundraising pretext for the many scam operators working within that sphere. And social media, particularly Facebook, have been notoriously ineffective at reeling in the problem.
The Hope Not Hate report recommends, among other steps, that social media companies simply ban antisemitism across all their platforms entirely. “While explicitly disallowing antisemitism in a platform’s community guidelines does not mean that it will vanish from the platform, it is a useful first step to tackle the issue,” the report concludes, noting that “antisemites change the nature, style and extremeness of their antisemitism depending on the guidelines of the platform they are operating on. Specifically banning antisemitism, and other forms of racism, will allow for more robust enforcement against antisemites and result in less overt and extreme forms of antisemitism being seen by Jewish users of the platform, thereby reducing the harm they will experience as users.”