UK neo-Nazis urge supporters to 'deliberately infect' Jews, Muslims with COVID-19

Reports say hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic.
Reports say hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic. Photo credit: Reuters

Far Right and neo-Nazi activists are encouraging followers to deliberately infect Jews and Muslims with coronavirus amid an increase in conspiracy theories, according to a new report.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the UK's Commission for Countering Extremism has published a report explaining how hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic.

"We have heard reports of British Far Right activists and Neo-Nazi groups promoting anti-minority narratives by encouraging user to deliberately infect groups, including Jewish communities," the report said.

"Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, five dangerous categories of conspiracy theories aimed at blaming the Jewish community emerged. These are that the virus is fake and part of a Jewish plot to mislead the public."

The report also says activists have  claimed that COVID-19 has been used as "a punishment on China for their treatment of Uighurs Muslims".

Conspiracy theories have been circulating widely on social media following the first reports of a coronavirus outbreak - including false claims that mosques have remained open during lockdown and about Muslims breaching lockdown rules.

A study cited by the report says that despite the scale of conspiracy theories online, only 9 percent of flagged posts containing misleading information were met with meaningful action.

Counter Terrorism Police has warned that the impact of COVID-19 and social isolation can make young people more vulnerable to radicalisation and conspiracy theories.

Chief Superintendent of CTP Nik Adams urges the public to contact local services if they need help or advice.

"The fact people are spending more time online means a small number of vulnerable people are at greater risk of being drawn towards terrorist activity," he said.

"Isolation may exacerbate grievances that make people more vulnerable to radicalisation - such as financial insecurity or social alienation."

New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in May that while conspiracy theories have been a feature of the COVID-19 crisis here, they "[haven't] impacted on or affected our response."

"I think the reason for this is that repeated surveys show that the vast majority of New Zealanders take it seriously, that they support what the Government is trying to achieve," he said.

"I think most New Zealanders don't pay too much attention to those kinds of conspiracy theories."