WASHINGTON – The House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism had an online hearing to discuss the rise of extremism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. Max Rose moderated a panel with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Ali Soufan, a leading national security and counterterrorism expert.
“These are scary and uncertain times, and extremists are exploiting the moment,” said Greenblatt on Wednesday. “Extremists always have capitalized on times of crisis and uncertainty – and as we’ve seen in recent months, this era of COVID-19 is no different,” he continued. “From white supremacists and other trolls who are innovating their techniques – ‘zoom-bombing’ online events – to armed militia groups, literally marching on our state capitals – there has been no shortage of extremist responses to the challenges presented by these unprecedented times.”
Greenblatt went on to say that extremists are exploiting the uncertainty, and using fear, stoked by widespread anxiety, about public health and job security, “to amplify and expand their dangerous and hateful messages.”
“Virus-related conspiracy theories are proliferating,” he noted. “These antisemitic, anti-Asian-American, xenophobic, hateful messages have spread misplaced blame and pushed misinformation into the mainstream. And while some of these messages are indeed new, many of them are simply old tropes repackaged during a modern pandemic.”
He said extremists are targeting Jewish communities with antisemitic myths of Jewish control, “as if Jews somehow started the coronavirus or are uniquely responsible for spreading it.”
“They are falsely blaming Latino and Muslim communities for somehow trying to spread the virus through immigration or their religious practices,” Greenblatt added. “And there are surging reports of incidents including harassment, vandalism and violence being directed against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“Living here in the United States, victims are being spat on, physically assaulted, and told to ‘go back to China’ – when they’re not Chinese and are as American as anyone else,” Greenblatt concluded. “And they’re generally being blamed as if they so-called or somehow brought the virus here. It’s racism flat out.”
Rose went after social media companies for not appointing a point person to address these issues, calling it “disgraceful.”
“We have spent the last year trying to get social media companies to take terrorism seriously,” he said. “And one example of how they can do that is by building the public forum to counter terrorism.
“To this day, they haven’t appointed an executive director, and they’ve taken every excuse in the book – including now saying that they cannot appoint the executive director because of COVID, when in fact now’s the time when they need it more than ever.
“That’s just the first step. Then comes resourcing, then comes building out that organization. It’s a disgrace that at this point, [when] hate content and terrorist content is proliferating on these platforms more so now than ever, that they still refuse even to appoint a head person,” he said.