How antisemitic conspiracy theories fueled the Capitol Hill riots

Pro-genocide and anti-Jewish ideologies have become a common sight both online and offline

White nationalism, QAnon, deep state manipulation, hatred of elites: years of wild conspiracies and ideological impulses peddled by President Donald Trump and his political allies converged in the mob takeover of the Capitol Building. But one has stood out: antisemitism. 

One insurrectionist wore a hoodie that read “Staff” of “Camp Auschwitz.”

The rioters thronged with neo-Nazi figures: one of the first to enter the Capitol offices was far-right influencer Tim Gionet, known for livestreaming his antisemitic views. Also among the crowd was “America First” podcaster Nick Fuentes, who was banned from YouTube last year and is known for promoting holocaust-denying conspiracies. 

Neo-Nazi symbols and endorsements of the Holocaust have been seen before at pro-Trump events. At a Proud Boy protest in December, a member wore a T-shirt that read “6MWE” – short for “six million (Jews) wasn’t enough.”

In the weeks leading up to the riot, antisemitic movements whipped themselves into a frenzy over the outcome of the election. Telegram groups run by the far-right Proud Boys were swirling with anti-Jewish ideology and memes targeting George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist who has long been a hate figure of the far-right. 

Conspiracy movements such as QAnon, which boosted Wednesday’s turnout, are rooted in antisemitic and white supremacist thinking. The insurrection was thick with anti-Black, racist symbolism: some waved confederate flags inside the Capitol, while others installed a huge set of gallows hung with a noose outside, declaring their commitment to white supremacy. Their claims that the world is controlled by a shadowy deep state often uses Jewish figures such as Soros and the Rothschild family as examples, portraying them as all-powerful puppeteers oppressing the population. 

After Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram purged huge volumes of QAnon-related content on their platforms over the summer and fall last year — with limited success — many in the movement simply migrated to new sites that give free rein to extremist groups. Some of the most popular are Parler, Discord, and the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Anti-Jewish hatred within the QAnon movement has received a boost from a poorly produced documentary called “Fall of the Cabal,” which has popularized neo-Nazi conspiracy theories among Trump’s supporters. Banned from YouTube, the film and its sequels have since accumulated millions of views on the far-right video hosting platform Bitchute. 

Antisemitic conspiracy groups have blamed Jewish people for the virus. “It became weaponized on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, where many antisemitic tropes were trotted out,” said Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies domestic terrorism. He said that the rioters on Wednesday had a “fluid ideology” which fused many different forms of racist, conspiracist and white supremacist thinking.

“These voices, which just a few years ago were buried deep in the dark web, were given permission to speak openly,” said Magda Teter, a historian and professor of Jewish studies at Fordham University. She described how anti-Jewish propaganda among far-right groups has been encouraged by dog-whistle politics and “respectable” sources such as official Republican Party messaging depicting Soros as “a connoisseur of chaos” sitting before a pile of money.  

“What is often missing from the coverage and description of these groups is that they represent a distinctly white Christian supremacy,” said Teter, explaining how their ideology fundamentally rejects the notion that Jews and people of color should be equal to white people. 

While Trump portrays himself as Israel’s best friend, Hoffman said “his base seems to harbor some of the worst manifestations of bigotry and antisemitism that we’ve seen perhaps since the 1920s.”

Antisemitism has been a hallmark of the alt-right in recent years. During the deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017, demonstrators chanted “Jews will not replace us.” At the time, Trump refused to condemn the white supremacists, instead claiming there was hatred and bigotry “on many sides.” During the first presidential election debate in the fall, Trump encouraged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” For white supremacists and antisemites, this sent a message, said Teter. “They flocked to him.” 

Some experts say the rise of antisemitism in America can only be abetted if social media companies are made responsible for the content they host. “There is no incentive to reduce or eradicate antisemitism or hate speech,” said Eric Feinberg, vice president for content moderation at Washington D.C.-based Coalition for A Safer Web. “My fear is social media and encrypted apps will be used to spread these conspiracist antisemitic posts, resulting in growth both online and offline.”  

On Parler, Telegram, and Bitchute, conspiracy theories and celebrations of Wednesday’s violence have exploded, with right-wing influencers already plotting follow-ups to the riots on inauguration day. “The fear is that they will regroup and return more vicious and armed,” Teter said.

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