In this article, IREHR takes a look at how white nationalists are framing the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to advance their cause. Our new hub for the latest on how white nationalists and other anti-democratic and far-right nationalists are responding, and what you can do to fight back, is available here and on the Trepper Anti-Bigotry App.
Coronavirus Pandemic, White Nationalist Plague
On March 24, 2020, Timothy Wilson, a 36-year-old white nationalist from Raymore, Missouri tried to obtain an explosive device to build a car bomb to blow up a hospital caring for COVID-19 cases, in “an attempt to cause severe harm and mass casualties.”
The seller of the explosives turned out to be the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The sting operation was part of a long-running FBI domestic terrorism investigation. When Wilson attempted to obtain the explosive device in nearby Belton, Missouri, law enforcement attempted to arrest him. A shootout ensued, during which Wilson was shot and killed by law enforcement.
Wilson reportedly discussed other terror targets, including a school with a large African-American student population, a synagogue, and a mosque, but authorities believe the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated his plan to attack the overwhelmed medical facility. Wilson apparently felt a sense of urgency to act after Belton’s mayor issued a stay-at-home order on March 24.
In “Heartland Terror” The Informant’s Nick Martin, with the help of Elon University computer science professor Megan Squire, identified Wilson’s alleged Telegram handle as “Werwolfe 84.” Wilson appears to have been active in two neo-Nazi groups: the National Socialist Movement; and Vorherrschaft Division (VSD), an accelerationist group similar to Atomwaffen Division.
The Informant flagged one of Werwolfe 84’s posts referencing anti-Semitic coronavirus conspiracy theories that the pandemic is a tool for Jewish domination. “If you don’t think this whole thing was engineered by Jews as a power grab here is more proof of their plans. Jews have been playing the long game we are the only ones standing in their way,” Werwolfe 84 wrote.
Thankfully, a mass tragedy in Missouri was prevented. But Timothy Wilson was not alone in promoting dangerous conspiracy theories in white nationalist circles.
White nationalists, and their fellow travelers, have quickly pounced on the opportunity for racist politicking. Largely, however, they have continued to apply the same frames to the Coronavirus context that they apply to normal politics – mimicking Trump-like anti-Asian rhetoric to amp-up racial nationalism, calling for border shutdowns and immigration moratoriums, spinning biological metaphors of diseased people of color, and some openly calling for genocide against the Jews they blame for the virus.
Peter Brimelow’s white nationalist group, VDARE, stressed on Gab that “the current financial crisis is caused by the China Virus, a disease that comes from overseas.” The group called for retaliatory measures “to make the Chinese help pay for it, with a tax on remittances…If the US Government can tax Mexican remittances to pay for the Wall (it hasn’t, yet, but it can) it can tax Chinese remittances to pay for the Coronavirus crisis.” The group also published multiple articles stressing the Chinese origins of the virus. One, by regular writer Jack Dalton, was simply titled “Trump is Right to Rebrand Corona as the ‘China Virus.’”
American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor produced a video titled “Xenophobia Can Save Your Life,” using it to mock reports of the racism that has spread alongside the virus. In white nationalist whine-speak, Taylor alleges that the media “always tell us” that the “real problem is racism, and white people.” Rooting his explanation in the biological metaphor typical of biological determinists, Taylor asserts that “we actually have sound, instinctive reasons to be xenophobes.” Like the “human immune system,” he continues, we have a “behavioral immune system” – an “instinctive fear that people who act, or look strange, may be carrying diseases.”
Apparently un-ironically, Taylor makes the statement while looking rather strange in a protective mask in a room by himself or with just a camera operator.
In an article published March 17 by American Renaissance, paleoconservative pundit Pat Buchanan used the virus to boost his own racial nationalist ideology. In the article, titled “In the Pandemic, It’s Every Nation for Itself,” the veteran racist writes that, “Through history, most men have put attachments of family, tribe, faith, country, race and nation above the claims of liberal ideology… This is human nature. This is the way the world works.”
Days earlier, Buchanan penned an article hoping that “It may one day be said that the coronavirus delivered the deathblow to the New World Order, to a half-century of globalization, and to the era of interdependence of the world’s great nations… Which rings truer today? We are all part of mankind, all citizens of the world. Or that it’s time to put America and Americans first!”
White nationalist Patrick Casey’s American Identity Movement (AmerIM) staged a mid-March demonstration in front of the capitol building in Sacramento, California. Dressed in white, Hazmat-looking protection garb, AmerIM activists held banners declaring “Stop the Spread!” and “Stop Immigration!” The group described that the demonstration was,
against mass immigration, which was undeniably responsible for the coronavirus spreading throughout America. Although the Trump administration has taken steps to curtail travel from China and Europe, it’s time for a complete immigration moratorium. Close the borders and institute a net zero immigration policy until further notices. Our very lives depend on it!
Despite having previously engaged in “community support” activities such as trash pick-up, neither the American Identity Movement nor the Patriot Front appears to have applied this tactic in the current context.
The “groypers” – white nationalist mainstreamers seeking to rebrand themselves in an effort to move conservative politics in their direction – let loose a litany of anti-Chinese nonsense. “Groyper” cheerleader Nick Fuentes had foreshadowed their general response at a December 2019 Groyper Leadership Summit in Florida, offering Los Angeles as a demographic “future of America” in which “medieval diseases are coming back, like tuberculosis, like typhoid.” This, he continued, is taking place alongside California and L.A. becoming “unrecognizable” because they are “oriented towards the east, or rather the orient, as opposed to Europe” – “they simply don’t look the same,” he continued, “culturally, demographically. If you’re a white person and you go to Los Angeles, you’re a minority.”
In the wake of learning that someone at the late February Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) had been exposed to the virus, Michelle Malkin – the longtime conservative pundit know for defending the WWII-era internment of Japanese-American citizens – wrote,
Here’s the Saturday [CPAC] schedule – the day [CPAC chairman Matt] Schlapp admits he ‘interacted’ with the Corona-PAC carrier. Was it one of the people listed here?…Note on the [CPAC] schedule that there are several Asians who spoke on the panels from Japan and Korea. They are strong potential candidates.
Malkin, who has taken to calling herself the “mommy” to the “groypers,” announced on March 12 that she planned to “investigate the immig [immigration] status of the original spreaders of WuFlu to America” and the “immigration status/visa programs that brought Corona to our country.” America First Student founder Jaden McNeil recirculated Malkin’s post.
Steven Franssen, an attendee at the “groypers” February American First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) in Washington D.C., wrote, “I keep reading about Third Worlders running around as much as possible after suspecting they have the flu vs. a story here and there about a Euro who self-quarantined w/symptoms.” “Groyper” Vincent James of Red Elephant posted the day before AFPAC a photo of a China Cargo plane with the comment “Plane full of the WuFLU.” On February 29 James re-posted on Telegram a message from the groyper-supporting Columbia Bugle praising the idea of Donald Trump shutting down the southern border to address the virus.
In addition to bashing Chinese people and “Third Worlders,” lead “groyper” Nick Fuentes added a twist in the context of the emerging pandemic that anti-racists must watch closely – a call for dramatic government intervention to address economic problems emerging from the widespread dislocations that have accompanied social distancing.
Taking to Telegram, Fuentes described that the coronavirus has exposed the “tenuous and fragile order” upon with “our society rests,” including disruptions in the “domestic supply chains to get essentials like food, water, healthcare, etc. You can see how just a little bit of sustained, applied pressure can cause major disruptions.” He continued, that “In just two weeks we went from a society where ‘want,’ hunger, or scarcity were unfathomable to a rapidly deteriorating situation that, although not fatal to our country, has exposed systemic vulnerabilities.”
Seeing America as “sitting at the top of a hill and tilting forward,” Fuentes continued that “we can harness a lot of this kinetic energy that will be released on its way down. The sanitized, prosperity politics of Charlie Kirk is nearing its expiration date.”
The Charlie Kirk politics Fuentes refers to is libertarian-leaning, market-oriented politics – a frequent target of “groypers” in their attacks on Turning Point USA. To solve this problem, Fuentes calls for a dramatic intervention in the economy such that “Trump must become the Right Wing FDR.” Presenting a four-way axis structured alongide Culture/Identity and Economics and labeled from left to right on each axis, the white nationalist creates a framework such that,
- TPUSA is termed “Neoliberalism” by being left culturally and right economically
- Democrats are termed “Progressivism” by being left culturally and left economically
- Donald Trump is termed “Conservatism” by being right culturally and right economically
- Tucker Carlson is termed “Populism” by being left economically and right culturally
Rather than being actual “populism” or “conservativism,” however, Fuentes’ move points to the flexibility of white nationalism as an ideology. Because it is not easily characterized in terms of the standard conservative-liberal/right-left continuum – that is, in terms of greater or lesser degrees of government intervention in the economy to address the inherent inequalities of capitalism – white nationalists can tack economically to the right or left depending on circumstances. As Tucker Carlson and Nick Fuentes have criticized capitalism and called for government action to address the coronavirus, they have increasingly sounded like third positionists – racists who seek a third way between socialism and capitalism and in the direction of racial nationalism.
National Policy Institute leader Richard Spencer took a similar tack:
The white nationalist Counter-Currents Publishing has run several articles on the topic in the last week – generally framing the current context – as had Pat Buchanan – as pushing global political relations away from transnationalism (e.g., globalism) and in the direction of nationalist camps divided along ethnic/racial lines. One such piece, by regular writer Robert Hamptom, placed the virus in the context of white nationalist (e.g., “Dissident Right”) engagement in pending hostilities with China:
“The battle against China must be seen as a war of peoples, not of clashing global ideologies. The coronavirus panic undermines the appeal of globalism. Globalism is the disease that brought this virus to Europe and America. Globalism is exploited by the Chinese to further their ethnic power. Globalists have every reason to support China and defend Chinese misdeeds. The Dissident Right has none.”
Another article pits “globalism” and “neoliberalism” against a “real White nation” with “closed borders”:
Fundamentally, the cause of disruption in day-to-day life across Europe, the U.S., Canada, and other Western nations, is globalism and neoliberalism. The commitment to open borders and the free movement of people from place to place, along with the irrational deference to ‘the market,’ brought us here…In a White nation with closed borders — a real White nation, run by people like us, who are committed to the safety and future of our people — none of this would be an issue.
Counter-Currents leader Greg Johnson’s thoughts on the virus read like a White Nationalist 101 overview of the social forces that these racists view themselves pitted against. Describing each in turn as “bad,” Johnson lists globalism, democracy, “free trade,” liberalism, diversity, multiculturalism, open borders, anti-racism, and conservatism. Johnson offers that, “I call the Coronavirus the ‘Globalvirus,’ because globalism is the underlying condition that made it all possible.”
With apparent optimism, Johnson – who has made clear elsewhere that anti-Semitism is central to white nationalism and that that violence is an inevitable means of reaching his desired ends – concludes:
Even if the Globalvirus stops today, we are looking at a world in which nationalism is stronger and the anti-nationalist forces of globalism, democracy, liberalism, conservatism, and the diversity cult are weaker. So stay safe, stay sane, and let’s hope we are all around to enjoy it.
Other white nationalists have been less circumspect about their fantasied Jewish relationship to the epidemic. Longtime national socialist David Duke, of course, has used the virus to mount a direct attack on Jews. Unsurprisingly, Duke did so through biological metaphors in an episode of his radio show titled “The Social, Ethnic & Political Virus that Fuels the Coronavirus Crisis!”
In the show, Duke described that the because most viruses are “parasitic” and live by “exploiting other organisms;” and because “viruses cannot exist by themselves,” but only by “infecting, invading, and taking over” the DNA of host organisms; this “gives me a such a metaphor for what’s going on with certain minority groups in our society.” In particular, he points to a “very specific and very powerful group that infects our media” by “getting into the people that own the media, like getting into our financial system” to “benefit their class” but that “damages other peoples,” including “getting us to fight wars for them.” This problem, he continues, “is kind of like the coronavirus.”
Duke’s “political virus” and “human virus of operation,” of course, refers to Jews in the hands the onetime uniform-wearing neo-Nazi and former leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
On March 19, Duke spread concerns about gun grabs in a manner that resonates beyond his particular branch of the racist movement, writing on Telegram that “As virus goes viral New Orleans Mayor issues decree that she can take citizens legal guns. Can’t have families defend themselves from the Coronavirus Zombie Apocalypse.” Duke also offered health advice on “How to boost your body’s immune system as vital in protecting you & your family from Coronavirus – Meat, Sun & Sleep!”
In a similar health-oriented vein, Tom Kawcyznski – the white nationalist who advocates a white-dominated monarchy in New England – has rebranded himself a coronavirus expert on his “Coronavirus Central” podcast and Telegram page, the later having 1,594 members. In the process, Kawcyznski’s white nationalism has largely dropped from view.
At the other end of Telegram, the encrypted chat page that has become a refuge for all forms of vile bigotry, crass racism and anti-Semitism appears alongside open calls for genocide. If white nationalists like Greg Johnson see the virus as a hopeful harbinger of shifting political winds, some national socialists on Telegram view it as a hopeful sign that society may collapse and a genocidal race war ensues.
Their desire to see an accelerated societal collapse has earned this brand of racist the widely used name accelerationist.
One such site, titled Gen ZYKLON 1488, expressed this idea in this meme:
In response to a Bloomberg article stating that the “The coronavirus is only the beginning,” Gen ZYKLON 1488 declares, “omg ids habbening! (sic) Society is about to burn. bye jews (sic).” Responding to another posted article about LGBTQ-specific concerns about the virus, Gen ZYKLON 1488 writes, “wow…a month off skool, society collapsing and now we’re gonna get dead homos, could this get any better?”
In this Telegram group’s name, 14 refers to the “14 Words” penned by racist murderer David Lane; 88 to the eighth letter of the alphabet repeated twice, HH, or “Heil Hitler;” and Zyklon a gas used to murder Jews in the Holocaust.
Gen ZYKLON 1488 boasts 3,269 online members. The Telegram group’s official description is “GAS THE KIKES, RACE WAR NOW!”
In another equally vicious take, some Telegram sites, unsurprisingly, place Jews behind the spread of the virus in a plot for global domination. For example, a Telegram account titled The Fellow Nationalist (1,181 members) posted images depicting the coronavirus as a Trojan Horse for Jewish world control:
The Fellow Nationalist then uses words to describe the global conspiracy:
Rooted in such ideas, on March 13, The Fellow Nationalist posted a picture of German Nazi leaders Adolph Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, writing that “It’s time to Make Jews Afraid Again…Let’s do it one more time.” Arguing that “‘Genocide’ is a human construct,” The Fellow Nationalist writes that,
if you always assume its jews (sic), you’re going to be right far more often than you’re wrong. I don’t know if 110 worldwide will actually solve everything or not. But whether it solves all the world’s problems or not, I don’t see how it can make things any worse. So why not try it and see what happens? Step One: Gas the Kikes Step Two: Reassess the situation. Race War only if absolutely necessary.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 110 refers to the 109 countries that some anti-Semites claim Jews have been expelled from, the 110th being the United States or another location that they believe should do so.
In the realm of translating such ideas into violent acts, the Federal Protective Service in February indicated that some on Telegram had discusses weaponizing the coronavirus against law officers and people of color. Such chatter was apparently inspired by the writings of James Mason, the Charles-Manson-admiring national socialist who has also inspired the violently racist Atomwaffen Division.
As in the past, white nationalists, and their national socialist kin, can always be counted on to exploit societal crisis to advance their cause. Their success at doing so, however, is not found in the crisis itself, but in the effectiveness of their framing in the context of broadly held cultures of racism and anti-Semitism.
As such, it is incumbent that we each use every platform we have to expose, oppose these racists and democratic and just alternatives to this unfolding social crisis. It is important that the solutions that we offer stress that government must take into account both the racial and economic inequality that permeates our society and counter efforts to exacerbate racial division -– be they by a President committed to racist politicking, white nationalist mainstreamers aiming to broaden their base, biological determinists spreading disease models of our fellow humans, or vanguardist national socialists openly spewing visions of genocide.
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