Covid-19 and the ethno-nationalist vultures

April 22nd, 2020

The following article has been published in the Times of Israel Blogs by ECAJ Research Director, Julie Nathan.


Extremists of all stripes look to times of economic uncertainty, social unrest, and political turmoil as opportunities for them to take power. Whether it is the fascists and communists fighting it out in Weimar Germany or during the Great Depression, or in dozens of other countries at other times, extremists are like vultures, circling until the time is ripe to swoop in and attack.

The Covid-19 pandemic brings with it not just sickness and death, but also the conditions ripe for social chaos and racist scapegoating. As the virus began in the city of Wuhan in China, many ethnic Chinese, and east Asians in general, throughout the world have been targeted for verbal abuse and worse, being held responsible for the virus and its spread. Chinese people are being demonised, and being made to feel unwelcome and under physical threat of assault.

And not unexpectedly, the perennial scapegoat, the Jewish people, have also become a target for extremists, whether nationalist extremists, Christian extremists or Muslim extremists, throughout the West and the Middle East – all placing the blame, either directly or indirectly, on Jews and/or the Jewish state for the virus.

Within Western right-wing extremist circles, many are directly blaming “the Jews” for Covid-19. Some say that there was a Jewish owned scientific laboratory in Wuhan which developed the virus. Others say that Israel itself developed Covid-19. In both cases, the main accusation is that the virus was designed by Jews to be used as a biological weapon against those of European ethnicity, as a means to take control of the world.

However, some right-wing extremists have rejected these claims of it being created by Jews on the basis that it would be counter-productive for “the Jews” to inflict a virus that has resulted in government policies which, they claim, are opposed by “the Jews”, such as closing national borders. More to the point, they argue that the virus itself, and its effect, is potentially a major recruitment and incentive to the anti-globalist and ethno-nationalist cause, a cause which sees “the Jews” as the primary enemy.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling. Many right-wing extremists are talking about the collapse of Western society and the opportunities that the pandemic presents for the ethno-nationalists to take control of their countries, and expel all those of non-European ethnicity.

Covid-19 has been a boon to the white ethno-nationalist cause. For years, there were discussions and debates on the concept of accelerationism – whether to let society collapse of its own accord or to act to bring it on quicker. Now, it seems, they think the much vaunted “collapse” is around the corner.

The white ethno-nationalist cause is based in the belief that countries should be ethnically homogenous, ie ethno-states. This is overlaid with the cardinal belief that immigration and multi-culturalism in European ethnic majority countries were orchestrated as a core component of some vast insidious plot to destroy the European races and Western civilisation.

In general, white ethno-nationalists place the blame for this plot on “the Jews”, and also hold the Left, politicians and the media responsible for enacting, supporting and enforcing mass immigration and multi-culturalism. They have three main targets: Jews as the “puppet-masters”, Left-wing politicians, journalists and academics as the “race-traitors”, and those of African and Asian background, and Muslims, as the “invaders”. White ethno-nationalists call for race war, civil war and revolution in order to take power and “cleanse” their countries of all three categories of enemies.

White ethno-nationalists are keen to foment racism and xenophobia, and to encourage nationalist extremism, to take advantage of the opportunities in these unusual and insecure times. They are comforted and excited by the idea that people may begin to move over and embrace the white ethno-nationalist cause. Their trump card is to use the fact that the virus began overseas, in China, and quickly spread around the world, in order to argue for closed borders, racially-discriminatory immigration, deportation of “non-whites”, an end to multi-culturalism, and mass execution of “traitors”, as starters. They are proudly boasting that their racism and xenophobia have been vindicated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

These white ethno-nationalists may begin to enter public discourse within the mainstream, and not stay on the fringes. They may seek to entice and seduce the vulnerable and unwary, those who have lost loved ones or lost jobs, to join the extremist cause. Whether there will be politically motivated violence in the streets remains to be seen. At the moment, it seems to be a wait and see approach, as the vultures circle. Government authorities, in adopting policies to protect people medically, economically and socially during the pandemic, also need to be mindful of the potential for extremists to use the pandemic as a launching pad to foment civil strife and ultimately a race war. It is to be hoped that counter-terrorism police and intelligence services are on high alert.

As we face these uncertain times, not knowing where the virus will strike next, or how many people will be its victims, as people lose their livelihoods, and bunker down in their homes, we must remember one thing – not to let demagogues, of whatever stripe, diminish the humanity of any of us, regardless of our race, national origin, colour, gender, or religion.

Julie Nathan is the Research Director for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.