An important bridge between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism are ideologies that provide overarching explanations for smaller alleged deceptions. For example, the need for anti-5G campaigners to explain why telecom companies, healthcare providers and authorities are conspiring to expose the population to supposedly dangerous radiation has driven attention towards “superconspiracies”, which, as described by Michael Barkun, link multiple conspiracies together hierarchically, with “a distant but all-powerful force manipulating lesser conspiratorial actors” at the top of the pyramid. In particular, the longstanding New World Order (NWO) tradition and the relatively recent QAnon movement have received considerable boosts from the pandemic, introducing new audiences to the antisemitic themes imbedded within them.
The New World Order
The NWO tradition has numerous permutations, but broadly alleges that a secret global elite is controlling world events and intends to enslave humanity, often aiming to institute an authoritarian world government, currency and religion and, in some cases, radically reduce the global population to a more governable size. Variants steeped in Protestant fundamentalism draw on the Book of Revelations, alleging that as we approach the ‘end times’ the Antichrist or ‘the Beast’ will return to rule the Earth. Such theories often focus on microchips and vaccinations as the ‘mark of the beast’, an identifier for those that have submitted to the Antichrist.
Antisemitic tropes are integral to the theory, with early exponents often asserting that Jews were part of the Antichrist’s plan to rule the world. One particular influence is the aforementioned Protocols, which outlines a fiendish plan by Jewish leaders to instigate insurrections and wars, guide economies through control of the banks, and brainwash populations through the infiltration of the media and political parties.
Whilst many theorists now seek distance from the discredited document, The Protocols has had an enduring influence on many conspiracy traditions, including the NWO. The centrality of monetary institutions in the NWO also chimes with long-established antisemitic tropes about Jewish greed
and financial control.
The anti-globalism, technophobia, and religious inflections of the NWO theory have resonated during the pandemic, with lockdown and tracing apps viewed as early steps towards total control, and the contagion chiming with literalist Biblical readings concerning plagues as divine judgment. The notion that the pandemic is a guise for population reduction also fits neatly into the NWO paradigm. NWO Facebook groups grew rapidly in the early days of the pandemic, enabling people to share information on how the complex web of supposed “revelations” fit together. According to Google Trends, in March 2020, UK searches for “New World Order” reached their highest level for 15 years. Meanwhile, HOPE not hate’s April 2020 polling showed that a remarkable 21% of people claimed to agree with the statement “Coronavirus has been intentionally released as part of a “depopulation” plan (Agenda 21) orchestrated by the UN or New World Order”. By September 2020, that figure sat at a considerable 17%. A linked theory that has achieved a high degree of popularity amongst COVID-deniers worldwide is ‘the Great Reset’, a new variation of an old motif. This conspiracy narrative originated with the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), a meeting of high-profile business and political leaders, held in June 2020 in Davos. The participants attempted to devise a plan for rebuilding society and the economy in a sustainable way following the COVID-19 pandemic, which they dubbed “the Great Reset”. In the conspiracy world, many regarded this as yet another move by shady, hostile “elites” – a dog whistle for Jews – to subjugate the planet by taking control of the world economy, and manipulating medical data with the aim of
population control. The notion has achieved a wide spread; research from the BBC released in June 2021 found that the term “Great Reset” had received “more than eight million interactions on Facebook and been shared almost two million times on Twitter” since the launch of the initiative. Demonstrators have carried signs railing against the Great Reset at protests across Europe.
Great Reset narratives have also fed into QAnon, a relatively recent phenomenon originating on the 4chan message board in October 2017. QAnon blends pre-existing conspiratorial narratives (many of them adopted from the NWO tradition) with a hyper-partisan pro-Trump message, casting the now former-President as a messianic figure set to overthrow an alleged elite Satanic paedophile cabal.
A strong sinew of antisemitism runs through QAnon, with George Soros and the Rothschild family identified as key ‘puppet masters’ of the conspiracy; Soros and the Rothschilds have both long been common targets for conspiratorial antisemitism, with the latter having been smeared as sinister global financiers for 200 years. A popular subsidiary theme alleges that ‘adrenochrome’ is at the heart of the conspiracy, a mythical drug allegedly harvested by the cabal from the blood of children, echoing the ancient antisemitic blood libel myth. HOPE not hate’s monitoring of English-speaking QAnon-aligned Facebook groups found that they were often riddled with overt theories of Jewish control, including references to The Protocols.
Across Europe, QAnon was an extremely niche phenomenon prior to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, which sparked a boom of QAnon content on social media, flooding into many anti-vaccine and COVID-denial online spaces. A July 2020 report by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that global membership of QAnon Facebook groups increased by 120% in March 2020, and that between 23-25 March, posts on Twitter containing keywords relating both to COVID-19 and to QAnon increased by 422%.
The blending of QAnon with COVID-denial helped the theory expand beyond its US-focus, and the sense of community, the participative character and the integration of local players into existing conspiracy narratives have made QAnon attractive to non-American anti-democratic movements all over Europe. The spread of QAnon narratives has been particularly significant in anti-EU, Islamophobic, populist-right and far-right groups in Europe, enriching the antisemitic and anti-establishment narratives of the ideology with their own anti-government and anti-lockdown narratives.
The largest QAnon community among non-English speaking nations currently exists in Germany. By analysing groups on the messaging app Telegram, experts estimate at least 150,000 German followers. The majority of the far-right and conspiracist Reichsbürger movement has put its own conspiracy narratives under the Q banner, claiming that the Federal Republic of Germany is an illegal state and not sovereign, which is why the “German Reich” from pre-Nazi times allegedly still exists. Reichsbürger combines Q flags with ‘Reich’ flags in black, white and red at large demonstrations in Germany. The adrenochrome narrative has become particularly popular in Germany, especially after the famous German pop singer Xavier Naidoo wept in a YouTube video for the children supposedly kept in cellars for sinister elites to drink their blood. The associated hashtags #savethechildren, #saveourchildren or, in German, #Händewegvonunserenkinder (keep your hands off our children) remain popular within the pandemic denier scene today. The narrative has radicalised many groups such as “Eltern stehen auf” (Parents Stand Up), but these parents are often unaware of the narrative’s inherent antisemitism.
In the UK, the incorporation of domestic issues, such as current and historic child abuse investigations in media and political institutions, gave the theory credibility and relevance to Brits, and by September, HOPE not hate’s UK-wide polling found that 5.7% claimed to support the theory, a significant, albeit still marginal, figure.
Following the passing of the Trump presidency and the initial shock of the pandemic, further polling in February 2021 found support for QAnon had slumped to 3.2%, although broader conspiratorial tropes that tally with the QAnon worldview remain much more widely supported.
Notably, QAnon seeped into the UK’s small but active right-wing populist street movements, which broadly share its celebration of Trump, its conspiratorial anti-elitism and similarly invoke threats towards children, both real and imagined. Significantly, in early 2021 prominent anti-Muslim activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) began to appropriate QAnon terminology as it began to take hold among sections of his supporters.
In France, sections of the populist Yellow Vest movement, which is critical of the government, have chimed with the rhetoric and narratives of QAnon, such as the notion of the ‘Deep State’ which supposedly holds the true reins of political power. “Yellow Vests against Pedocriminality” groups have been founded, as well as groups that want to combat the ‘New World Order’.
In Italy, QAnon has taken a particular hold among anti-vaxxers, with Telegram growing to 20,000 members; acolytes attack Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and praise the far-right politician Matteo Salvini (League Party). Nationalism is also a topic under the guise of “liberating Italy from the EU”.
In the Netherlands, Islamophobic accounts that sympathise with Geert Wilders use elements of the QAnon narrative and compel their followers to act: “Doing nothing is no longer an option.” In addition, one of the most important European QAnon influencers, Janet Ossebaard, is Dutch; her film “Fall of the Cabal”, which went viral in March 2020, significantly blended QAnon motifs and European conspiracy stories for the first time.
In Hungary, the QAnon movement has strong connection to antisemitism, resonating with followers of conspiracy notions revolving around adrenochrome, the Illuminati, Satanism, the ‘Deep State’ and a hatred of George Soros.70 In August 2020, the Canadian researcher Marc-André Argentino investigated European Q-groups in social networks. Only in Estonia, Montenegro and Albania did he find none.
As outlined elsewhere in this report, QAnon has become particularly widespread on Telegram, considered by extremism researchers Jordan Wildon and Marc-Andre Argentino to be easily “the largest active extremist community” on the platform in research released in July 2021. Some QAnon influencers and supporters have become more overtly antisemitic since arriving on Telegram, in part due to the influence of pre-existing far-right extremist subcultures.
One especially notable example is GhostEzra, an overtly antisemitic QAnon influencer who, with 330,000 subscribers on the platform, runs what has been dubbed the “largest antisemitic internet forum” in the world. GhostEzra blends COVID-19 conspiracy theories into his anti-Jewish outpourings, for example promoting the notion that “Zionists” are poisoning populations through vaccines.
President Biden’s January 2021 inauguration was a key moment for QAnon internationally, leaving many supporters grappling with the failure of Trump to topple the supposed cabal. Whilst many followers are resolutely keeping the faith, some opportunistic far-right activists in the US and Europe have launched coordinated efforts to convert disillusioned QAnon followers to an even more anti-democratic and antisemitic worldview. For example, in the UK, hard-line antisemites infiltrated British QAnon groups online to spread three key messages: QAnon is a hoax, Jews are to blame for everything, and there is “no political solution” to society’s ills. “QAnon is a mossad psyop [psychological operation] to lead people astray”, wrote one Nazi. “Its always the Js [Jews].”
Similar tactics have been used by extremists in other European countries and the United States. Moments of communal crisis have traditionally proven to be boon periods of antisemites, and there is a deep cultural wellspring of Jewish betrayal narratives for the modern European far right to draw upon. QAnon adherents who feel betrayed by the failure of Q’s ‘plan’ will not necessarily renounce the latent antisemitism that underpins it, and some will seek new explicatory narratives and scapegoats through which this disappointment can be framed.
This text ist an excerpt and can be read with illustrations and footnotes in:
Antisemitism in the Digital Age
Online Antisemitic Hate, Holocaust Denial, Conspiracy Ideologies and Terrorism in Europe
A Collaborative Research Report by Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Expo Foundation and HOPE not hate
- Executive Summary
- The Report in Numbers
- Conspiracy Ideologies, COVID-19 and Antisemitism
- Superconspiracies: QAnon and the New World Order
- Case study: Path of radicalisation into antisemitism
- The Changing Nature of Holocaust Denial in the Digital Age
- Case Studies of Antisemitism on Social Media:
- “4chan /pol/”
- Glossary of Antisemitic Terms
- Learnings from Project
Download the report as a PDF here: