Neo-Nazis Tell Followers to 'Deliberately Infect' Jews and Muslims With COVID-19, Report Warns

Neo-Nazis are telling their followers to deliberately infect Muslims and Jews with COVID-19, as extremists look to exploit the pandemic, according to a government agency tasked with combatting extremism.

The Commission for Countering Extremism says that extremists are using the pandemic to advance dangerous conspiracy theories, to cause division and breed hate.

The report, "COVID-19: How Hateful Extremists are Exploiting the Pandemic", states: "We have heard reports of British Far Right activists and Neo-Nazi groups promoting anti-minority narratives by encouraging users to deliberately infect groups, including Jewish communities and of Islamists propagating anti-democratic and anti-Western narratives, claiming that COVID-19 is divine punishment from Allah on the West for their alleged 'degeneracy'.

"Islamists have also claimed that COVID-19 is punishment on China for their treatment of Uighur Muslims. Other conspiracy theories suggest the virus is part of a Jewish plot or that 5G is to blame."

The report stated that there had also been a rise in anti-vaccine and 5G conspiracy theories during the pandemic.

Sara Khan, the lead commissioner at the Commission for Countering Extremism said: "The impact of extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated.

"These conspiracy theories are harmful, dangerous and are used by extremists to cause division and breed hate.

"We need to be on the front foot to counter the activity of hateful extremists who seek to divide and undermine everything our country stands for; and we must begin work on it now."

It is unclear if any of this advice has been acted on in real life yet.

Florence Keen, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, said that the weaponization of the pandemic to target minority groups wasn't unexpected.

She said: "It's not a surprise, I guess the difference is to what extent we've actually seen it happen in practice, so I think there the rhetoric I've observed falls into two categories.

"On the one hand, you have real regurgitation of racist tropes and conspiracy theories that target certain groups, so initially we had the anti-Chinese narrative, because the virus came from there, but very quickly you were seeing the anti-Semitism which applies in the U.K. and U.S. and then anti-Muslim narratives as well.

"Those certainly don't surprise me, I think in a time of great uncertainty conspiracy theories really flourish, so that kind of racist and conspiracy theory side, overlap with each other."

Keen said that it's not clear if all these conspiracy theories are being spread by the same groups.

She said: "It's hard to pin down if this is being advanced by certain groups, a lot of it is anonymous actors and it's hard to say who they belong to."

Keen also said that she believed historical anti-Semitic and Islamophobic tropes were resurfacing and that technology had helped accelerate their spread.

Two people sit on Coney Island boardwalk
Countries are slowly re-opening but terror police are concerned Getty

She said: "Old anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist tropes that just resurface for a new reason and technology accelerates that. People with access to the internet and YouTube and other alternative platforms will undoubtedly be exposed to things in a way that they weren't.

"But I don't know if the content itself is necessarily different, it might just be that the way it's spread and I think that means we see a more internationalized nature, just like with good movements like Black Lives Matter, technology internationalizes those

"That's what's quite concerning here, it's not just a domestic grievance of disliking a certain ethnic group, it's becoming more globalized."

Counter-terrorism police say they are adapting their methods to keep people safe from the changing nature of terror threats.

A spokesman for Counter Terrorism Policing said: "Terrorists and radicalizers will always look for opportunities to exploit in support of their ideology, and COVID-19 is no exception.

"We know they are adapting their narratives and methods, using the fear created by the pandemic to spread propaganda, misinformation and other content designed to create discord and distrust within communities across the UK.

"But just as terrorists have attempted to adapt to exploit the current situation, counter-terrorism policing has adapted at pace so we can continue to keep people safe from the terrorist threat. We are embracing new ways of working, new technology and maintaining essential services to ensure that we are evolving to meet this change in risk and threat head-on."