A new report has warned the Jewish community is facing “five dangerous categories of conspiracy theories” aimed at blaming them for the outbreak of the Covid-19.
The Commission for Countering Extremism’s (CCE) study into how extremists are exploiting the pandemic was published on Thursday with Lead Commissioner Sara Khan warning that “the impact of extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated”.
The report suggests the five conspiracy theories being levelled at the community are that “the virus is fake and part of a Jewish plot to mislead the public, that it’s real and was deliberately created for malevolent purposes, that Jews are the primary spreaders of the virus, that Jewish people are dying in disproportionately higher numbers and posts that incite others to deliberately spread the virus to Jews."
It also suggests the former sports presenter David Icke has played a significant role in spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories linked to Covid-19 - with one of his most popular videos claiming that “the Rothschilds” are key players in a global plot to use the disease to impose a totalitarian world government.
Although Mr Icke has been deplatformed by YouTube and Facebook, the report says the "scale and reach of his antisemitic conspiracy theories remains extremely concerning".
It also details the activities of the far-right British National Socialist Movement, which encouraged users of the online platform Telegram who had Covid-19 to deliberately infect Jews and Muslims.
The CCE report noted that extremists often look for someone to blame in times of crisis and that disinformation and fake news targeted at different ‘out-groups’ and minorities can be used to incite hatred, justify violence and divide communities.
It says Jewish, Muslim and Chinese communities have all been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic - with conspiracy theories emerging from the far right, the far left and Islamist groups.
The report stated: "We have heard reports of British far right activists and neo-Nazi groups promoting anti-minority narratives by encouraging users to deliberately infect groups, including Jewish communities and of Islamists propagating anti-democratic and anti-Western narratives, claiming that Covid-19 is divine punishment from Allah on the West for their alleged 'degeneracy’."
Ms Khan – who was appointed by the Home Secretary to lead the CCE in January 2018 - warned that the government needed “to be on the front foot to counter the activity of hateful extremists who seek to divide and undermine everything our country stands for; and we must begin work on it now”.
The study also notes that 'Islamists' have alleged that Covid-19 is punishment on China for their treatment of Uighurs Muslims. Other
conspiracy theories suggest the virus is part of a Jewish plot or that 5G is to blame.
The CCE call for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to drive forward a Covid-19 cohesion strategy to help bring different communities together to prevent extremist narratives from having significant reach and influence.
Ms Khan added:"We have already seen how extremists discussed the 5G conspiracy theory on fringe social media platforms such as
"In April, 50 5G masts were targeted for arson and vandalism in the UK.
“In this report we’ve drawn attention to a variety of conspiracy theories that have been spread by groups from the Far Right to the Far Left and Islamists.
"The impact of extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated. These conspiracy theories are harmful, dangerous and are used by extremists to cause division and breed hate.
"This is why I have called on policy makers to develop a system to classify dangerous conspiracy theories based on the harm they cause.
"This will help practitioners and social media platforms better challenge harmful conspiracy theories before they escalate."
The CCE was established as an independent body in March 2018 and its mission is to help everyone do more to challenge all forms of extremism.