One post shared on the social-media app Telegram depicts a Nazi stormtrooper flanked by pixelated text declaring, “Kali Yuga ends, black sun rises,” signaling a transition from a “dark age” to a fascist nirvana as symbolized by the “black sun” design elevated during the Third Reich.
The mocking, faux-sacramental testimonial attached to the March 12 post is written from the perspective of someone supposedly infected with COVID-19, who describes coughing in a rabbi’s face and wiping mucus on the gas pumps “every Indian-owned gas station I could find.”
The anonymous poster, known as “Gas Me Daddy,” circulated the Brenton Tarrant manifesto shortly after the March 15, 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting, according to Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who monitors violent white supremacists online.
Similar comments on Telegram have caught the attention of the US Department of Homeland Security, which issued an intelligence brief for the week of Feb. 17-21 warning that “white racially motivated violent extremists” have recently commented that they have an “obligation” to spread the virus, targeting minority communities and law enforcement in particular. The intelligence brief notes that when white supremacists discuss the virus, they’ve been using terms like “corona-chan” (referencing 4chan, the anonymous bulletin board rife with vile provocation), “bowlronavirus” (referencing the haircut of Dylann Roof, the young man who killed nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015) and “boogaflu” (a modification of the term “boogaloo” used to denote a future civil war.)
An alert from the FBI’s New York office on March 19 similarly warned that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions,” according to a report by ABC News.
“As far as the more extreme users on Telegram, or ‘Terrorgram,’ as it’s known, they’ve gone through all the phases,” Squire said. “They started out excited when they saw this was limited to China: ‘It’s going to kill the Asian people!’ Then, it made it to Europe, and they were excited about closing the borders. Any excuses to close borders. Now, that it’s in the U.S. they’re on the Trump train calling it the ‘Chinese virus…. It’s predictable. They’re hateful. That’s their whole worldview. That’s the lens through which they look at the world.”
Leaked chats by members of Feuerkrieg Division — a violent, accelerationist group with significant crossover to Atomwaffen Division and the Base, which have been significantly hobbled by recent federal indictments — obtained by Unicorn Riot show members urging each other to infect Jews if they contract the virus, and discussing calling in bomb threats to tie up law enforcement in large cities like New York and Los Angeles “when this virus starts to take hold.”
“I think some of that is bluster, and a lot of it is fantasy, but the FBI put that document out, so they must have taken it at least partially seriously,” Squire said. “I think a lot of it is fantasy the same way they fantasized about the boogaloo being kicked off by a gun rally in Virginia.”
Self-infecting and weaponizing coronavirus is an extreme response even among extremists. A survey of social media posts and podcasts across the spectrum of far-right activists from patriot militias and neo-Confederates to open neo-Nazis shows that most extremists are responding the same way everyone else is. They’re reeling from shock, struggling to make sense of the contagion, trying to understand what it means for them, and self-quarantining, while in some cases floating theories that the crisis was manufactured or not real.
While few are actively promoting societal collapse and chaos, a more common stance among white supremacists is patiently maneuvering into readiness for what they anticipate as a coming race war by promoting mutually reinforcing themes of tribalism, prepping and racial fearmongering.
‘The adventure of the apocalypse’
Michael Tubbs, a former Ku Klux Klan member who now serves as the leader of the Florida chapter of the League of the South, posted photos of empty Walmart shelves on VKontakte, a Russian social media platform popular with white supremacists, on March 21, writing, “A great lesson in prepping. Fortunately, I’ve got everything I need. Trips to the store are now just for non-essential stuff and the adventure of the apocalypse.”
While the far-right typical emphasizes personal liberties, particularly with regard to the Second Amendment, Tubbs’ messaging is notable for its overt turn towards authoritarianism.
While calling on the government to deport “the disease-carrying undesirables” in March 15 post, Tubbs declared, “There comes a time when the rights of the individual must be temporarily set aside for the greater good and survival of the race or species. As totalitarian as that sounds, extraordinary times often require it.” He ended his screed by imploring, “You are a part of the people who brought you into existence. You will survive or die as a part of them. Tribe up.”
The apocalyptic tradition of white supremacist organizing is best exemplified by Billy Roper, an avowed neo-Nazi based in northwest Arkansas. Roper has enjoyed friendly relations with the League of the South. While the League advocates for the creation of a white ethno-state in the states of the former Confederacy, Roper promotes a vision a “Balkanized” United States through his project Shield Wall Network, in which whites take control of rural areas like Appalachia and what Roper calls “Ozarkia.” Roper was a protégé of the late William Pierce, who founded the National Alliance and wrote the influential race-war novel The Turner Diaries.
“I wonder in some of these cities — the last week of the month is always closest to the bone for people anyway — if there’s a supply shortage in some of those areas, or if they feel like they’re — of course, they’re not in school, so they’re not distracted by that — if they feel like they’re being oppressed by the man, I wonder how long it might be before we see some civil unrest in some of these minority-majority cities,” Roper mused on an edition of his podcast recorded on March 20. “I’m trying as an accelerationist not to be too optimistic.”
“You’ve been let down so many times before,” his co-host “John Smith” commisserated.
“It’s like when you’ve had your heart broke 10 times, you don’t want to love again,” Roper agreed, gathering steam. “But I’m really feeling a lot of love in this scenario. I’m hopeful.”
Social media posts sharing stories about black crime have long been a staple of the overlapping white supremacists and patriot militia movements, and are returning with a vengeance in the current period of uncertainty.
A March 22 Facebook post by Jason Passmore, a North Carolina militia activist with a history of involvement with the Stokes County Militia and close associations with white supremacists, shared a July 2019 story with a photograph showing African-American teenagers and looting a Walgreens.
Passmore added the sarcastic comment: “It can’t happen here.”
A volley of violent and racist comments soon followed.
“Shoot a few,” one commenter wrote.
Passmore himself responded, “The answer is not to shoot them to every problem… that’s why they made bill dozers [sic] and explosives.”
“Typical behavior,” another commenter wrote.
Still another: “The natives are getting restless.”
Social distancing during the ‘plannedemic’
The global pandemic has exacerbated the cognitive dissonance of far-right think, most notably the contradiction between hyper-preparedness and denialism.
Passmore, for example, wrote on his Facebook page on March 20: “Panic buying? You mean stocking up because I have the money and I’m there first. Next week y’all unprepared fools are going to be wishing y’all bought extra.”
Two days later, he shared an article written by Ron Paul, the former congressman and father of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in which Paul suggested, “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit — financially and politically from the ensuing panic.”
The day Passmore shared the article was the same day the news broke that Rand Paul tested positive for the virus — a milestone that went unheralded in the short comment thread under his post.
Conspiracy theories have a long pedigree on the far-right, and their proliferation during the pandemic comes as no surprise.
While modeling proper social distancing by declaring in his podcast that he’s postponing all IRL meetings of more than five people until the end of April, Roper is bandied the coinage “plannedemic” in reference to the virus. Mentioning a conversation with a friend who is a nurse, Roper said, “She volunteered her opinion that this was a human- and bio-engineered pathogen. She said that her information was that what they had done was attached to proteins from the HIV virus on to a human coronavirus that would actually give it a longer ambulatory rate. In other words, you could walk around with it and spread it further before you got sick.”
James Del Brock, a member of the Arkansas-based neo-Confederate group the Hiwaymen and a participant in the 2017 Unite the Right rally, made a baseless claim that the virus was developed at UNC Chapel Hill in a March 22 Facebook post.
Commenters under Del Brock’s post accused a profusion of collaborators in a supposed nefarious plot to wreak havoc, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has been advocating that world leaders prepare for a pandemic since 2015 and who has pledged to donate $100 million to fight coronavirus; George Soros, the billionaire investor and boogieman of the far right; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; the World Council of Churches; and the United Nation’s “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Antisemitism is almost always central to conspiracy thinking on the far-right.
A March 22 Facebook post by Rickey Entwisle, a New Orleans activist who helped Jason Kessler organize Unite the Right II in 2018, is notable for both contradicting Tubbs’ endorsement of authoritarianism and insinuating that Jews are responsible for the crisis, without offering specific detail.
“Is anyone noticing not a peep of opposition to these draconian lockdown orders from the antifa fags?” Entwisle wrote. “They claim to be opposed to the state and against repressive state laws. Now, everyone can see they are nothing but useful idiot shills for the judeo left and the Zionists. Only Nationalists have a principled position on this crackdown on our civil liberties. Law abiding citizens are being imprisoned in their homes, while criminals are let out of jail and illegal alien invaders are still being shielded by sanctuary cities/states.”
A good conspiracy theory is handy for deflecting blame and absolving violence.
On March 21, Passmore shared a classic from Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist inspired by The Turner Diaries who killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing: “One day you will find out your government was behind this.”
Meanwhile, many white supremacists are happy to bide their time, confident that the tide of events is one their side.
“Here’s the deal,” Roper said. “The 1920s began with a global pandemic — super flu, the Spanish influenza — and it began with economic recession leading to depression, and the rise of nationalism around the globe. The 2020s are starting the same way. And we know how the 1930s rolled around. History works in cycles, and it repeats itself, so I think we can be optimistic, and say that maybe this is another historical cycle. We’re rolling back again to the 1930s, and, if so, I’ll be happy to see it.”