During the coronavirus pandemic an anti-establishment movement has gained momentum across Europe, initially stemming from the concerns of some civilians regarding COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Far-right groups and individuals gained prominence amidst the movement and spread antisemitic conspiracy myths and bigotry, a report published on Thursday by the World Jewish Congress found.
Anti-establishment protestors encouraged the public not to trust the government and called for leading politicians to leave office, claiming that they are complicit in the implementation of the supposed New World Order (NWO) – an imagined secretly emerging totalitarian one-world government. Since the early moments of the movement, it has grown to include large-scale and often violent protests, gaining momentum across Europe but particularly in Germany and Austria. They also encouraged violent protest, believing it is an appropriate and moral response to what they consider to be authoritarian rule.
The appeal and popularity of such protests increased drastically as the pandemic progressed, with far-right individuals and organizers quickly believing that the crisis was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalize on fear and uncertainty to recruit individuals sympathetic to their cause, the report found. Far-right groups used digital communication platforms, especially Telegram, to plan and organize activities, and share fake news and conspiracy myths, such as claiming that the pandemic was orchestrated to implement the New World Order or that vaccines are a form of population control.
Antisemitism within the movement is strong, with protesters simultaneously blaming Jews for the negative effects of the pandemic and comparing themselves with members of the resistance during the Third Reich or claiming that their rights are being curtailed and they are being treated much the same as Jews were treated during the Nazi regime.
Supporters of the movement have often trivialized the Holocaust, including by wearing yellow stars marked with the label “unvaccinated” and arguing that “the old enemy was the Jew; the new enemy is the virus” or “once people were accused for not doing the Hitler salute; today they are criticized for not wearing the mask properly.”
In November 2020, the WJC published two reports finding that harmful conspiracy myths targeting Jews have become increasingly widespread online, and that the once United States-centric QAnon movement has begun to take hold across Europe since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports, Antisemitic Conspiracy Myths and QAnon: A Conspiracy Myth, explain how misinformation campaigns in relation to the root and spread of the coronavirus have flourished on social media, with tech companies struggling to appropriately address the issues.