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Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories roil DC city government

District of Columbia City Council President Phil Mendelson speaks during an impromptu news conference outside City Hall on May 1, 2018, in Washington, as other council members listen. The council has been roiled by mounting tensions and controversy that originally stemmed from Councilman Trayon White claiming the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking dynasty and frequent subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, were controlling Washington's weather conditions. (AP Photo/Ashraf Khalil)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A spiraling controversy over anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories has roiled the Washington city government, seemingly getting worse with every public attempt to ease the tensions.

The issue nearly derailed a City Council meeting Tuesday (May 1) and resulted in the resignation of a city official who organized a disastrous “unity rally” that featured a speaker who called all Jews “termites.”

At the heart of the debacle is City Councilman Trayon White, who ignited a firestorm on March 16 by posting a short video on his Facebook page claiming that an unexpected snowfall was because of “the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters.”

Fellow council members and Jewish community leaders accused White of spreading an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about Jewish control of world events. The Rothschilds, a prominent Jewish family whose banking dynasty dates back to the 18th century, are a frequent target of global conspiracy theories.

White said he was unaware the Rothschild theory could be construed as anti-Semitic. The first-term African-American councilman reached out to try to mend fences, but several of the gestures seem to have made things worse.

He attended a Passover seder and met with Jewish community leaders for breakfast over bagels and lox. He went on a guided tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum but abruptly left halfway through without explanation.

Then video surfaced from a February meeting of top city officials that showed White floating a similar conspiracy during an innocuous presentation about the University of the District of Columbia. White posed a question centered on the claim that the Rothschilds controlled both the World Bank and the federal government.

The video shows city leaders in the room, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, awkwardly laughing it off and moving on, but the footage further upset Jewish community leaders.

Then a further revelation: White had contributed $500 from a fund meant for his Ward 8 constituents to a Chicago event for Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have a decades-old history of overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Nation of Islam also does significant social and charitable work in black communities and retains some respect among those who don’t share its views.

Last week, supporters of White held a rally outside City Hall organized by a member of the city’s public housing authority board. At the rally, a representative of the Nation of Islam called one of two Jewish DC council members a “fake Jew.”

The rally prompted calls for the resignation of Josh Lopez, the mayoral appointee who organized it. White did not attend the rally.

The events came to a head Tuesday morning before the council’s regular session. A pre-session breakfast meeting ran an hour long as council members debated how best to respond to the rally and whether to call for Lopez’s resignation. A local rabbi who was there as an observer shouted that the council members should be ashamed of themselves.

The council members then held an impromptu press conference outside the building, where City Council President Phil Mendelson said that “intolerant speech … has no place in our city.”

As the council returned inside and resumed its normal meeting, news broke that Lopez had resigned.

Bowser’s office had called for Lopez to apologize but not resign, but she accepted the resignation and issued a statement calling for unity going forward.

Repeated attempts to contact White for comment were unsuccessful. On Tuesday in City Hall, White pushed past a reporter who tried to ask him a question.

City officials hope the immediate controversy will die down with time, and White doesn’t face re-election for another two years. The councilman may still face some sort of public censure if his contribution to Farrakhan is judged as a minor campaign finance violation. But the public and personal scars from the past few weeks could linger.

“Yes, it got personal,” said Councilman Jack Evans. “I hope that relationships can be repaired, and they will be, and we will move on.”

There’s also the issue of White’s relationship with the local Jewish community.

“I sincerely think he was just repeating conspiracy theories he had heard somewhere,” said Rabbi Batya Glazer, who had met with White on the issue. “It does mean he has an obligation to clarify what his position is.”

The controversy has also poked at some long-dormant societal sore spots. The Rothschild conspiracy theory has persisted for decades on the fringes of both black and white culture in America.

“Conspiracy theories are very dangerous … because they exacerbate splits that already exist,” said Andre Perry, who studies race and urban policy for the Brookings Institution. “This isn’t about one city council member. This is about how susceptible we are to tribalism that is created by a lack of trust in one another.”

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  • Ever since the Groper-in-Chief declared that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the neo-nazi march in Charlottesville, anti-semites have been emboldened to crawl out from underneath the rocks where they’ve been hiding since the Holocaust, which they deny ever happened. None of this is surprising anymore.

  • Re: “At the heart of the debacle is City Councilman Trayon White, who ignited a firestorm on March 16 by posting a short video on his Facebook page claiming that an unexpected snowfall was because of ‘the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters.'”  

    Just thinking out loud: Maybe insane, paranoiac, conspiratorial bilge like this is something people ought to ignore? Have the rest of the council sit the guy down, tell him to shut his stupid face, and just go away so everyone else can do their work … then move on to more important things.  

    Spending any more time or effort on lunacy like this — including giving White the ability to respond (laughably and idiotically) that he hadn’t been aware he’d said something anti-Semitic — only grants his spew more dignity than it deserves. What’s more, it makes folks like White into celebrities in conspiratorial circles and further fuels their delusions. What’s needed is to deprive these raging wingnuts of any such fuel, relegate them to the margins of society, treat them all like the walking garbage they are — and stop treating them as though anything they have to say is worth hearing. Because it’s not.  

  • From the article: “This isn’t about one city council member. This is about how susceptible we are to tribalism that is created by a lack of trust in one another.”

    This is the swamp that has been made dirtier, smellier, murkier, by the politics of Trump and those who seek power by denigrating others. Trump is very, very good at this politics of divisiveness.

  • The entire Democratic Party platform since LBJ has been the politics of divisiveness.

  • But you will agree that “Lampshades made out of jewish skin” was indeed an elaboration…..right?

  • Nope. Holocaust denial is the province of liars and fools. Any pretension of being taken seriously went up in smoke when David Irving self-immolated in the UK courts. Step by step the entire subject was taken apart in a public well documented forum and shown to be nothing more than malicious lying.

    See http://www.hdot.org

  • I did not know that and so now I’m asking for an explanation for this:

    “The Rothschild conspiracy theory has persisted for decades on the fringes of … BLACK … CULTURE in America.”

    HOW COME?

  • Early 20th century scapegoating. Especially in urban areas.

    The largest Jewish communities started off as poor immigrants coming from Russia under the czars, living in economic ghettos such as New York’s Lower East Side.

    Antisemitism being less of a bar to economic progress then racism meant Jewish communities were better able to escape ghettoization.

    Jews, being a minority, were more noticeable as landlords, business owners and the like than WASPS.

    One can fill in the blanks from there

  • Farrakhan would not endorse Trump and he’s criticized Trump but in 2016 he said
    “Not that I’m for Mr. Trump,” he said, “but I like what I’m looking at.”

    Anyway I don’t understand the relevance of your comment as it doesn’t change the accuracy of the poster’s comment.

  • The comment to which I responded:

    “Ever since the Groper-in-Chief declared that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’ of the neo-nazi march in Charlottesville, anti-semites have been emboldened to crawl out from underneath the rocks where they’ve been hiding since the Holocaust, which they deny ever happened. None of this is surprising anymore.”

    From the article:

    “At the heart of the debacle is City Councilman Trayon White, who ignited a firestorm on March 16 by posting a short video on his Facebook page claiming that an unexpected snowfall was because of ‘the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters.’“

    and

    “Then a further revelation: White had contributed $500 from a fund meant for his Ward 8 constituents to a Chicago event for Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have a decades-old history of overtly anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Nation of Islam also does significant social and charitable work in black communities and retains some respect among those who don’t share its views.”

    It takes a fairly zany logical path to connect the comments of a black Louis Farrakhan supporter to the “Groper-in-Chief”, but apparently it makes sense to you and to him.

  • How come Alex Haley, author of Roots, never covered episodes of anti-semitism in his family tree for his book or the TV-movie? Maybe this is a recent phenomenon? Like what happened to this rapper I read about who badmouthed Jewish CEOs in the music industry. ADL boss (covered by RNS recently) Twitter-snubbed the guy and as a result there goes his otherwise promising musical career.

    I don’t know what’s going on. Just weird overall.

  • 1. Because was Alex Haley’s novel and he could write whatever he wanted 🙂

    2. Its not that recent. See the Crown Heights riots. See also Malcolm X’s antisemitic views (Alex
    Haley edited out a good number of references in his book there)

    3. Which rapper? Don’t get the reference. Not big on music news. Just curious

    4. Agreed on your last statement. 🙂

  • .
    Almost as bad as hate-filled anti-Semitism is pride-filled ignorance.

    Do you suppose that White is also a flat-earther?
    .

  • Badmouthing record executives is a popular pastime in the music industry going back to its inception. If one is talented enough they manage just fine. (See Prince, Pearl Jam…) Lupe took it one step further into unambiguously Antisemitic conspiracy mongering and attacks. If anything it made a mediocre talent into a media sensation.

    Kayne West was piloried by his own community for saying stupid things about slavery and chumming up to Trump. It got to the point where people are claiming its an Andy Kaufmanesque put on or he is just trolling the media for attention.

    I see two publicity hounds acting shamelessly here.

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