As COVID-19 has swept around the globe, causing unprecedented levels of suffering and national shutdowns, the boards and websites of the dark web – that part of the internet intentionally hidden from mainstream search engines, maximized for anonymity and often a sanctuary for hate groups and criminal activity – have kept pace, filled up with conspiracy theories accusing the Jews of triggering the pandemic.
Dark web communities are already infamous for their hosting and cultivation of the anti-Semitic, white nationalist far right. The perpetrator of the massacre at the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque, Brenton Tarrant, was an active member of 8Chan. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bowers, posted on Gab his intention to carry out an attack. Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, one of the organizers of the Charlottesville far right rally, moved to the dark web after it was booted off the mainstream internet.
The discussions about Jews’ "responsibility" for the coronavirus are generally riffs on the storied theory of a global Jewish conspiracy for power and domination. Added to that are references to other anti-Semitic theories regarding Jews as poisoners and deliberate carriers of disease, Jews as inveterate economic profiteers and, inevitably, Holocaust denial. The newer element is the idea of coronavirus as a grand plan engineered by the Jews and China together.
In a discussion probably triggered by President Trump’s willingness to entertain the unproven theory that the virus was engineered in a lab in Wuhan, China, an anonymous poster (or "anon") attempted to reveal the "real" viral genesis. He noted as fact that the coronavirus came from a Chinese lab but that it was not created by the Chinese: "The kikes get the credit for that one. It was the kikes. It's ALWAYS the kikes."
The idea of the Jews pulling the strings but using proxies for deniability and to amplify their power is a core plank of far right thought. Many anons’ sense of Jewish power is so inflated that they believe Jews developed the virus not only to spread suffering and disease, but also to "knock down" China herself.
Along the same lines, another anon translated the theory into a telling image: A grossly distrorted cartoon of an Orthodox Jew, rubbing his hands, bulging eyes staring at a magnified coronavirus microbe, with floating quotes from his stream of consciousness: "Loots the treasury...martial law...plausible deniability for engineered economic collapse...never let a crisis go to waste!..." The strapline reads: "It's not Chinese. It's the JEW FLU!"
But what is the far right rationale for why the Jews created and unleashed the coronavirus? According to one anon – who, like many others, uses the triple parentheses ((())) to identify Jews – they acted "to consolidate their gains. The red-pill movement is growing, and time is running out for the kikes. (((They))) must cement their power now, while they still have the upper hand."
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The "red-pill movement," a form of "awakening" to the "truth" of white supremacist teaching, is a constant topic on these boards. It’s a reference to a 1999 movie starring Keanu Reeves as Neo, a hero who wants to free humanity from the Matrix, a virtual reality in which everyone is trapped. Neo has to choose between taking a blue pill (to continue living in illusions) or a red pill – to enter the world of painful reality. As Morpheus, the father-figure who has revealed the Matrix, explains, by taking the red pill he can show Neo "how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Taking the red pill is a transformative experience, leading you from darkness to light: "The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. A prison for your mind."
Anonymous posters on the dark web constantly reference how the “knowledge” they can now access has the same transformative effect. Once they grasp the “truth” that was hiding behind the lies, there is no going back. That’s known as being "red-pilled." Two major ideas –crucial to understanding the role of anti-Semitism in dark web forums – distinguish the world of red-pilled anons from our own.
The first foundational belief is the Holocaust is a hoax. They call it the "Holohoax," and it goes even further than more familiar forms of Holocaust denial by declaring that any kind of Holocaust remembrance and education are deliberate brainwashing. They claim that there has been a global indoctrination into believing that the genocide of the Jews really happened.
For red-pilled anons, what is required to get out of that brainwashed state is a "Holocaust deprogramming course." Outside of the dark web, but a direct continuation of it, the "Holohoax" terminology is used as a slur to be spray painted on synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
The second core belief in the red-pilled world is that a secret cabal of Jews rules the universe. Any student of anti-Semitic ideologies is familiar with such fantasies of Jewish power; the dark web’s far right see Jewish domination as an eternal and unchanging "fact." They even have an alternative history of the world to illustrate it.
According to this alt-history, powerful empires, kingdoms, and dynasties have risen and fallen, and dominance shifted from one group to another. But the Jews were always on top, manipulating leaders behind the scenes. From medieval kings to current prime ministers, from today’s CEOs to the merchant capitalists of the renaissance, from big bankers to small pawnshops – all, without exception, were either Jews themselves, or puppets directed by a secret Jewish cabal.
For proof, anons allege that in the twelfth century a secret gathering of Jewish leaders in Narbonne commanded the ritual murders of young Christian boys, and that Jews orchestrated the poisoning of wells to spread the plague throughout German lands in the fourteenth century. Their ur-text is the 19th-century Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a Russian hoax about a global Jewish conspiracy that became wildly popular around the world.
The mere fact that the accusations were leveled is enough to convince anons that our world was and is a false reality manipulated by Jews behind the scenes. Pointing to the historical falsity of the claims is useless, as the conspiracy theory is a closed system: for the anons, denying the narrative of Jewish control only demonstrates how steeped in illusions you are, and how much you need the red pill of "truth."
During the coronavirus crisis, commentators have noted the analogies between historical charges of Jews spreading disease – going back to the Middle Ages – and contemporary claims that Jews caused the current pandemic. That is true, in part, but the anons who believe these absurd charges also see a perfect fit with their overarching worldview in which the pandemic is yet another ploy to advance Jewish world domination.
As one anon wrote, reflecting on the post-COVID-19 world, the point of Jews spreading the virus is to assert even firmer control in its aftermath and to wage more war on individual freedom. One tangible technique, he suggests, will be forcing people to get microchips implanted under people’s skin. "The kikes are not going to allow us to maintain ourselves….(((They))) don't want independent people, (((they))) want mindless slaves."
The writer didn’t specify the precise identities of who will allegedly control the post-pandemic world. But the triple parentheses indicate that whoever they will be, there is no question that they will be Jewish.
Most of the time the red-pilled stay in the dark web. But sometimes, they break out of their matrix, often in times of crisis and/or political change. In the run-up to the 2016 election, for example, memes and theories from the dark web appeared on mainstream social media and were widely shared. Hordes of internet trolls mounted virtual attacks on Jewish journalists. The Charlottesville white supremacists who chanted "Jews will not replace us!" a year later were connected to the dark web as well.
The current crisis is another such pivotal point. On April 8th, an Alabama synagogue was vandalized with graffiti which included the word "Holohoax."
And just a week ago, during a demonstration against the coronavirus lockdown in Ohio, a protestor carried a sign in the colors of the Israeli flag, with a caricature of a rat with a caricarure Jewish face captioned "the real plague" – implying that Jews and the Jewish State are not only to blame for the pandemic, but that the not-yet-red-pilled people need to wake up and see that the COVID-19 pandemic is a bluff compared to the "real" pandemic of Jewish domination.
As the U.S. gears up for the 2020 election during a global pandemic, it’s likely we’ll will see many more grotesque "Matrix breakouts."
Flora Cassen is the Associate Professor of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern studies and Associate Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of "Marking the Jews in Renaissance Italy: Politics, Religion, and the Power of Symbols" (Cambridge University Press, 2017)