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Chapter Five

Routes to Radicalization:
COVID-19 Conspiracies and Antisemitism


“If they require the non vaxx to wear masks in the fall, isn’t that equivalent to wearing a yellow star on their chest. Thoughts?”

- UNMASK OUR KIDS CT Facebook Group [75]

Chapter Five

Routes to Radicalization

COVID-19 Conspiracies and Antisemitism

So read a post in the 11,941 member UNMASK OUR KIDS CT Facebook group. Of the 53 responses to the post, none criticized the comparison of COVID-19-related mask or vaccine mandates to the yellow star that, on September 1, 1941, Jews over the age of six in the German “Reich,” Alsace, Bohemia-Moravia, and occupied Poland were ordered to wear by Reinhard Heydrich.[76]

At the time, Heydrich headed the Reich Security Main Office, the combined Nazi SS and police agency “most directly concerned with implementing the Nazi plan to murder the European Jews during World War II,” in the words of the Holocaust Encyclopedia produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The badge, marked with the word “Jude,” or “Jew,” and later extended to other areas occupied by the Nazis, was used “not only to stigmatize and humiliate Jews but also to segregate them, to watch and control their movements, and to prepare for deportation.”[77]

Rather than shock at the wildly inaccurate and offensive nature of the analogy, one commenter responded with a yellow star, the word “Jude” replaced with “UNVACCINATED.”  Others replied, “Yes,” “This is a Holocaust jennifer (sic). Nice and Neat. They don’t have to shoot anybody in the head anymore, and throw them in a ditch;” and “It is Germany all over again. We are not taking away what happend (sic). But it is the same thing.”[78]

Being required to wear a mask in some settings, or even get a vaccine in a workplace context may be inconvenient and irritating. In limited instances, there are even individuals who cannot do so for legitimate medical reasons. However, such practices are simply not the equivalent of the Holocaust.

Despite the fallacy of such claims, they have spewed from the mouths of far-right figures such as U.S. Representative Marjory Taylor Green (R-GA); been signified on placards or worn at many COVID denialism protests; and echoed in repugnant comparisons between mask requirements by businesses and the situation of Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany by People’s Rights leader Ammon Bundy, among others.

Such claims are not just offensive. Nor are they simply a case of misinformation. Instead, these claims represent incipient forms of conspiratorial thinking. Their presence in Facebook COVID denialism groups, along with conspiratorial frameworks such as calling COVID-19 a “hoax” or referring to the disease and government response to it as a “plandemic,” suggests that behind the pandemic lurks an evil plot.

The presence of incipient and full-blown conspiracy theories in these COVID denialism Facebook groups renders the participants in these forums potentially receptive to the more developed conspiracy theories that form a core aspect of the ideologies of far-right and nationalist groups. In far-right and white nationalist movements, such conspiracy theories place a demonic or biological, undoubtedly nefarious, group behind the complex workings of politics and economics; and, specifically, a conspiracy arrayed against the “nation,” variously defined in the U.S. as Christian, white, or as some brand of Christian libertarianism.

Such far-right conspiracies are historically rooted in antisemitism. In the current context, Jews writ large, Jewish families like the Rothschilds, prominent Jews such as George Soros, or euphemisms such as “globalists” “bankers,” or “internationalists” are often placed behind a plot carried out through policies such as upholding immigrant rights, federal civil and voting rights, environmental or tribal rights policies, legal support for gender quality or economic redistribution.

Among other things, such conspiracism can prompt assaults on democracy or violence when the conspirators are cast as an emergent and immediate threat to the “nation” – a reality vividly seen on January 6 in Washington D.C.[79]

Expressing Antisemitism in COVID Denial Facebook Groups

At times individuals promote crass forms of antisemitism in COVID denialism Facebook groups. For example, a member of Patriots for Delaware (formerly Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine) circulated a link to a video described as the “Best Adolph HITLER Speech Exposing the Zionist Jew World Order!”[80] Likewise, a member of NO MAS(K) (8,168 members) posted a video described in these terms: “Listen to the government follow everybody like sheep…be brainwashed by all the zionist Jewish people who own all the banks.”[81]

Other members of these forums have circulated material from known antisemites to promote conspiracy theories. For instance, a post in the North Carolina-based Unmask New Hanover/Pender County Schools (1,014 members) includes a link to a video by the late Robert David Steele declaring that a Canadian court case “Proves COVID-19 is a Hoax.” The post reported that the video is long, “but worth the watch. Amazing legal moves here.”[82]

Before dying from COVID-19, Robert David Steele was a close ally of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), who traveled the country on the Arise USA! COVID denial tour. He was a prolific purveyor of antisemitism who spewed conspiracy theories about “satanic Zionists” engaged in a global plot against white people; deemed Jews “a secret society that believes itself to be exempt from all laws and customs of others;” promoted Holocaust denial; called for jailing Jews not sufficiently “loyal to the Republic;” and declared that we must “eradicate every Zionist who refuses to be loyal to their country of citizenship and the rule of law.”’

More commonly, however, Facebook COVID denial group posts place prominent Jewish families, especially the Rothschilds, or individuals such as liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros, behind a conspiracy. A member of Unmask Our Kids – Eldorado County (1,650 members) provides the general gist of this common form of antisemitism:

“I’d like to give you a list of millions, billions and trillions of dollars that has fed the evil covid-19 plot here and around the world ! The money that is being given away like candy all starts with the Rothschild family that is a member of the satanic Illuminati group of 13 families. ~2~ You see. Covid-19 is not necessarily a virus because it has never been isolated! ~3~ But, it is a spiritual battle of good vs Evil!  You see the Rothschilds own the World Bank… The World Bank was purchasing covid-19 PCR tests in 2017 a full three years BEFORE covid was blown out of proportion in the media… Are you starting to understand how covid-19 is a spiritual battle? One as old as time itself. It’s a battle to go good vs Evil. The church’s (sic) had to be persuaded to close by Evil.”[83]

A post in ReOpenPa alleges that the “Bill of Rights were nullified in 1871, when The United States of America was replaced by the Corporation of the United States of America,” something that occurred because “the Union defaulted on the debt incurred from the world’s banking system operated by the Rothschild’s and the others in London.”[84]

A member of the Illinois-based Parents Choice March – Save Our Children (19,225) circulates the debunked conspiracy theory that “The Rothschilds patented a test for COVID-19 a FULL FOUR YEARS before it escaped in Wuhan, then to the Western World in 2020.”[85] A post in HealthCare workers for Freedom (7,692 members) simply wrote, “It’s ok to be mad at their scapegoat(Biden). When do you turn your attention towards the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Gates, Soros, Schwab, etc.?”[86] A member of ReOpenPa (5,753 members) posts a video titled “ROTHSCHILD’S TOOLS OF DESTRUCTION.”[87]

Similar examples abound.[88] Even more posts place prominent liberal philanthropist George Soros behind COVID-19 policies or the pandemic itself.[89]

COVID Denialism, Facebook and the Holocaust

The spurious and offensive comparison between masks and the Holocaust in the introduction above appears in several forms in COVID denial Facebook groups. In one form, similar to that in the introduction, those who espouse these ideas ridiculously see our country on the slippery slope to a repeat of the Holocaust because of COVID-19-related policies.

One such post by Utah Revival (30,026 members) founder and group administrator Eric Moustos quoted alleged Hungarian Jews to make the case, stressing that a series of laws leading up to the Holocaust were viewed as just new restrictions that “would blow over.” The meme asks, “Anyone see the parallel?”– an obvious contextual reference to COVID-19-related restrictions.[90]

In another example, a post circulated in Unmask Virginia (768 members) stressed that the Holocaust “didn’t start with concentration camps, but with relentless propaganda, the idea that the health of a nation was more important than the rights of any individual.”[91]

Beyond failing to recognize that it was the capture of political power by a virulently antisemitic, conspiracy-theory-spewing Nazi party that paved the road to the Holocaust, such posts completely fail to acknowledge that it is other individuals harmed when they get the coronavirus from self-absorbed and conspiracism-addled individuals who refuse to take basic precautions to protect their neighbors.

Other posts state the spurious analogy between COVID-19 related restrictions and the yellow star, such as the young student protester in the introduction. Likewise, a post by the administrator of Unmask Our Kids, Nevada! (1,197 members) declared, “if unvaccinated children are made to wear the mask, this is…basically like a scarlet letter or a yellow star.”[92]Another such post in NO MAS(K) (8,168 members) links to an article about unvaccinated Pittsburgh Steeler players wearing yellow bracelets. The comment simply said, “The new yellow star.”[93]

Such false comparisons are frequent in COVID denialism Facebook groups. A search of a subset of COVID denialism Facebook groups found such analogies posted by the administrators of Freedom Lovers of Michigan (3,233 members) and Wisconsin Covid-19 Impacts (586 members). Similar messages were posted by members of HealthCare workers for Freedom (7,598 members), Illinois Parents Union (10,946 members), Unmask our kids Washington (6,562 members), Arizona Masks & Lockdowns – “Never Again” (11,146 members), Washington State citizens against the mRNA injection mandate (33,680 members), NO masks in KY schools! (15,615 members), ReOpenMN (8,936 members), Reopen Clallam County (1,425 members), Unmask our Children Kankakee County IL (1,298 members), Reopen Missouri (19,087 members), ReOpen PA (104,359 members), Re-open Louisiana (5,263 members), REOPEN AMERICA (29,655), Stop the Mandate (7289), Re-Open California (4,339 members), Reopen Arkansas (3,247 members), Re-Open California #EndTheLockdown (5,623 members), Unmask HASD (413 members), Reopen Texas (16,331 members), Unmask our Genesee county kids!! (2,324 members), REOPEN MA (13,306), Patriots For Delaware (11,647 members), and Open Up Kansas! (11,251 members).[94]

Other posts mix misinformation about masks and vaccines with the spurious claim that the political forces behind efforts to stem the pandemic are akin Adolph Hitler and the German Nazis. A post in Washington State citizens against the mRNA injection mandate (33,467 members), for instance, declared, “We met an Army Veteran at the Puyallup Rally tonight. His sign says it all.” The sign, included in the post, claimed, “Hitler used Experimental VACCINES ON THE JEWISH DURING WWII.”[95] Likewise, a post in REOPEN MA (13,304 members) linked to a video alleging that French supermarkets were requiring proof of vaccines for entry, declaring, “this is worse than Hitler!”[96]

Other variations on this theme refer to politicians instituting COVID-related mandates, such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, as Nazis – for example, posts in #reopenWA (7,350 members) and Stop the Mandate (7,274 members).[97]

Other members of these groups made comments targeting workers as “Mask Nazis” when they enforced mask mandates at businesses or public workplaces. Most disturbingly, such posts at times appear linked to incidents of anti-maskers harassing workers or calling for boycotts against local companies or other facilities attempting to keep employees, customers, and users safe from COVID-19. Examples of this kind of usage are found, for instance, in Unmask our kids Washington (6,560 members), UNMASK OUR KIDS CT (11,940 members), and Unmask Our Kids, Nevada! (1,197 members)[98]

A search on the terms “nazi” and “Hitler” in a subset of COVID Facebook denial groups found a level of occurrence similar to that deploying the false comparison “yellow star.”[99]

Here are a few of the many examples from COVID denial Facebook groups.

COVID-19 as “Hoax” and “Plandemic”

In another version of conspiratorial thinking in Facebook COVID denial groups, the pandemic is cast as a “hoax,” and government actors are accused of creating COVID-19 or using it to narrow ends.

On the first point, examples in REOPEN NJ (49,717 members) Unmask New Jersey (1188 members) and other groups cite a Canadian court case to the claim that “COVID-19 IS A HOAX.”[100] Californians Against Excessive Quarantine (12,924 members) circulated a video declaring, “COVID Not Isolated. Cannot be Located. Does Not EXIST! FOIA Response Reveals Worldwide HOAX!”[101] A member of DO NOT COMPLY (18,886 members) wrote, “This is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the entire World!” offering a list of features we would see “IF WE WERE REALLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC.”[102]

Other proponents of the “COVID as hoax” frame flesh out the nature of the conspirators, casting them as typically international or from another nation, ultimately posing a threat to the nation and its people – a parallel to the generally nationalist nature of far-right groups and mobilizations.

A member of NO MAS(K) (8,168 members) posts a meme from far-right figure Tomi Lahren that mocks the World Health Organization as the “World Hoax Organization.”[103] A post in Reopen California…NOW! (11,650 members) places the United Nations behind a conspiracy to depopulate the planet:

“The Covid hoax is never going to end…NEVER! In UN papers, it is outlined to last for the next 20-30 years, until earth has been depopulated by 85%. Ignore gov’t and the media. They’re just the puppet masters toys.”[104]

In REOPEN MA (13,277 members), one member places the Chinese Communist Party, the media, and “our deep state” behind “this hoax.”[105]

Yet others signal their COVID-19 conspiracism by using the term “plandemic” – i.e., that the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and related policies were planned to a diabolical political end. Take, for instance, a post in Washington State citizens against the mRNA injection mandate (31,241 members), where such thinking becomes linked to calls for well-known forms of far-right politics:

“Ok… Everyone listen up! You’re afraid of an unlawful Mandate. It is illegal to Coerce ANYONE into a Medical Experiment. Hold your ground, stick together, TALK to you coworkers & fight this!…Where are our Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney ????? AND OTHER SHERIFF’S??? Cuz they can Arrest everyone involved in this Plandemic!!! (& YES. IT WAS PLANNED!!!) WE ARE DEMANDING THE ARREST OF GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY! ALONG WITH EVERY AGENCY THAT HAS FOLLOWED HIS ORDERS, INCLUDING BILL GATES & ALL OF HIS NGO’S! TREASON IS TREASON, FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION!!!! ALL of this is illegal as hell… Arrest them all now!” [caps in original][106]

Other members of the group responded, “Yes!! Totally agree!!,” “Completely agree!…And yes, where are our constitutional sheriffs?,” and “Yes! Where are our Sheriff’s? They have the power and need to stand up and arrest!”[107]

COVID denial and the Posse Comitatus

The idea that county sheriffs can arrest those they unilaterally deem engaging in unconstitutional actions derives, in recent decades, from the violent and virulently racist Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The Posse Comitatus was a precursor to the militia movement of the 1990s and current organizations such as the People’s Rights network and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association (CSPOA) today.

A member of Re-Open Nevada (5,362 members) embraced the anti-democratic Posse Comitatus conception of sheriff’s power, also describing the sheriff as a potential force against anti-fascists and the Black Lives Matter movement for police accountability:

“The most powerful man in America—under the Constitution—is not the president, but the county sheriff. An elected sheriff of a county or parish has more power than anyone. If federal officers attempt to violate the Constitutional rights of his constituents, the county’s sheriff can arrest and hold them. If misguided federal troops were mistakenly ordered to attack local citizens for acting within their rights, the sheriff can deputise (sic) the entire county to resist them with deadly force, as some have already promised to do when the Democrat’s Antifa/BLM militia wing was burning cities last summer.”[108]

Others in these Facebook groups have directly promoted Richard Mack’s CSPOA, an organization dedicated to recruiting law enforcement officers into the far right and most recently allied with antisemite Robert David Steele on a national tour.

An Unmask Michigan post, for instance, promoted CSPOA’s Arise USA! Tour with Robert David Steele.[109] Reopen California…NOW! (11,650 members) circulated a video of Richard Mack and declared, “CSPOA!”[110] REOPEN NJ (49,717 members) circulated a CSPOA video titled, “Sheriff Mack Explains How A Constitutional Sheriff Would Handle Mask Order.”[111] ReOpen South Florida distributed a John Birch Society video of an interview with CSPOA’s Richard Mack.[112]

The Washington State-based Unmask The Gorge (1,861 members) went further, copying CSPOA and circulating a letter from CSPOA and People’s Rights-affiliated Klickitat County, Sheriff Bob Songer. In the letter, Songer deployed theocratic language to declare that he would not enforce COVID-19-related mandates from Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. The Unmask The Gorge post demanded, “Every Sheriff needs to do this and end all this BS tyranny now!!.” Seventeen commenters on the post heaped praise on Sheriff Songer.[113]

The promotion of groups like the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) in Facebook COVID denialism groups points to a ready-made vehicle for the radicalization of their members – the circulation of far-right material, ideas, action plans, and contact information in these sizeable and insulated forums. When wedded to the incipient forms of conspiracism already present in anti-masker and anti-vaxxer activism, this presents an arena for the expansion of far-right activism and recruitment via these forums [The relationship between organized far-right groups and COVID Denial Facebook groups is further explored in chapter nine].


Four: COVID Denial Radicalization on Facebook


Six: Radicalizing Racism


[75] Tess, Jennifer. Facebook. Posted in UNMASK OUR KIDS CT. May 15, 2021.

[76] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jewish Badges: During the Nazi Era. Holocaust Encyclopedia.

[77] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jewish Badges: During the Nazi Era. Holocaust Encyclopedia.; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Timeline of Events.

[78] Tess, Jennifer. Facebook. Posted in UNMASK OUR KIDS CT. May 15, 2021.

[79] For the place of antisemitism in conspiracy theories, and the place of these ideologies in far right, nationalist and genocidal movements and organizations, see Cohn, Norman. 1967. Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. London: Serif; Zeskind, Leonard. 2009. Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux; Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

[80] Green, Nora. Facebook. Posted in Patriots for Delaware. July 18, 2021.

[81] Nega Lewis, Sean. Facebook. Posted in NO MAS(K). January 13, 2021.

[82] Forster Major, Gail. Facebook. Posted in Unmask New Hanover/Pender County Schools. August 8, 2021.

[83] Blest, Ben. Unmask Our Kids – Eldorado County. August 8, 2021.

[84] Mathews, Louis. Facebook. Posted in ReOpenPa. February 10, 2021.

[85] Gallivan, Daniel. Facebook. Posted in Parents Choice March – Save Our Children

[86] Adkins, Scott. Facebook. Posted in HealthCare works for Freedom. August 31, 2021.

[87] Matthews, Louis. Facebook. Posted in ReOpenPa. July 19, 2021.

[88]Search for “Rothschilds” in a subset of less than 200 Facebook Covid Denial group. September 2, 2021.

[89] Search for “Soros” in a subset of less than 200 Facebook Covid Denial group. September 2, 2021.

[90] Moustos, Eric. Facebook. Posted in Utah Revival. August 31, 2021.

[91] Fann, Ashley. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Virginia. August 31, 2021.

[92] Venegoni, Kate. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids, Nevada! June 27, 2021.

[93] Cooper, Andrea. Facebook. Posted in NO MAS(K). July 26, 2021.

[94] Search on “yellow star” on a subset of less than 200 Facebook Denial groups. August 31, 2021. star

[95] Fogle, Kathy. Facebook. Posted in Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate. August 18, 2021.

[96] Cariflo, Edward. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN MA. August 20, 2021.

[97] Allen, Lynda. Facebook. Posted in #reopenWA. August 22, 2021.; Jacobsen, Ralph. Facebook. Posted in Stop the Mandate. August 19, 2021.

[98] Skidmore, Jason. Facebook. Posted in Unmask our kids Washington. August 25, 2021.; Mercier, Mike. Facebook. Posted in UNMASK OUR KIDS CT. August 10, 2021.; Marin, Marylin. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Our Kids, Nevada! August 20, 2021.

[99] Search on “nazi” and “hitler” in a subset of less than 200 Facebook Denial groups. August 31, 2021.,

[100] Mogensen, Ellen. Facebook. Posted in Unmask New Jersey. August 4, 2021.; Mogensen, Ellen. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN NJ. August 4, 2021.

[101] Oyog, David. Facebook. Posted in Californians Against Excessive Quarantine. August 8, 2021.

[102] Cushman, Bob. Facebook. Posted in DO NO COMPLY. February 28, 2021.

[103] Cooper, Andrea. Facebook. Posted in NO MAS(K). June 27, 2021.

[104] Palermo, Mark. Facebook. Posted in Reopen California…NOW! January 2, 2021.

[105] Napoleone, Laura. Facebook. Posted in REOPEN MA. March 7, 2021.

[106] Petersen, Karen. Facebook. Posted in Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate. August 24, 2021.

[107] Petersen, Karen. Facebook. Posted in Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate. August 24, 2021.

[108] Harrison, Randall. Facebook. Posted in Re-Open Nevada. April 17, 2021.

[109] Weav, Rachel. Facebook. Posted in Unmask Michigan. July 16, 2021.

[110] Lumnz, Jewelley. Facebook. Posted in Reopen Calfornia…NOW! January 27, 2021.

[111] Sparks, Jeanette. Facebook. REOPEN NY. March 15, 2021.

[112] McCacky, Mark. Facebook. Posted in ReOpen South Florida. May 19, 2021. The JBS describes of the video: “After having covered the various stages of communist takeover and various subversive organizations, Christian Gomez ends the first season interviewing Sheriff Richard Mack, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). Sheriff Mack weighs in on the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, attacks on the Second Amendment, and the importance of law enforcement – namely elected county sheriffs and how they are a vital line of defense for our Constitutional Republic.”

[113] Remington, Holly. Facebook. Posted in Unmask The Gorge. July 19, 2021.

Facebook and COVID Denial

How the platform is fueling another wave of far-right activism, insurrectionism, and violence, and what we can do to stop it.
A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

Copyright © 2021. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.