New Delhi: Amid global fears over the coronavirus pandemic, Far Right groups across the world have started weaponising the virus to suit their agendas. Extremist groups are spreading conspiracy theories and calling for violence against at-risk communities to push their political agenda.
Apart from leading to the outbreak of xenophobia, Far Right groups are, reportedly, using the opportunity to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. Currently, more than 5,52,500 cases of Covid-19 have been reported across the globe. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University sociologist and expert on the far-right, told Al Jazeera, “The situation is ripe for exploitation by the far right.”
One of the conspiracy theories floated by Islamist extremists is that coronavirus is a ploy by the Americans and the Jewish to reduce the world population.
Alex Friedfeld, a researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, said, “The most popular conspiracy theory is that Jews are using this virus as a means for profit.”
“They are saying Jews manufactured it and are going to take advantage of the market’s collapse through insider trading,” Friedfeld added.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Der Dritte Weg (The Third Way), a neo-Nazi group maintained that the virus was being exploited by German leaders as a “diversionary tactic” to distract the incoming “flood” of refugees and migrants from the Middle East.
In a message shared on Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, a leader of Ukraine’s Azov movement claimed that the coronavirus outbreak “generally isn’t the fault of white people”. He also stated that the ethnic minorities in Italy must be solely blamed for the transmission of this virus.
Some individuals have also acted on these conspiracy theories and planned attacks on hospitals taking care of coronavirus-infected patients. On 25 March 2020, Timothy Wilson died after a shootout with FBI agents. He was suspected of planning to attack a Missouri hospital in the U.S.
Media reports suggest that Wilson had ties with two neo-Nazi organisations and believed that the pandemic was just an “excuse to destroy our people”.
Calls for targeted violence
Some extremist right-wing groups in the U.S. have taken their conspiracy theory, reportedly, even further and urged their members to actively spread Covid-19 to police officers and the Jewish. The FBI intercepted messages sent by neo-Nazi groups that nudged infected members to transmit the virus to Jews by visiting “any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.”
Michael Master, head of Secure Communities Network, which oversees the protection of Jewish groups and synagogues, says, “From pushing the idea that Jews created the coronavirus to sell vaccines to encouraging infected followers to try to spread the illness to the Jewish community and law enforcement, as the coronavirus has spread, we have observed how white-supremacists, neo-Nazis and others have used this to drive their own conspiracy theories, spread disinformation and incite violence on their online platforms.”
Some neo-Nazi groups also, allegedly, see the pandemic as ‘necessary’. A leader of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) said that he welcomed the coronavirus outbreak and saw it as a necessary step which helped create a world that his group aspired for.
Simon Lindberg, the leader of NRM’s Swedish branch wrote on the movement’s website, “COVID-19 might be precisely what we need in order to bring about a real national uprising and a strengthening of revolutionary political forces.”
In Germany, members of a neo-Nazi group called Die Rechte (The Right) asserted that the German borders should have been shut off for all “non-Europeans” weeks ago.
According to a report by Al Jazeera, Telegram is being used by many Far Right groups to incite violence. A neo-Nazi channel encouraged its members to cough on doorknobs of synagogues.
US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen wrote in a memo that anyone who deliberately spreads coronavirus could be charged under anti-terrorism laws because the virus “appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’”.