May 19, 2020

IntelBrief: The National Security Implications of Conspiracy Theories

Local residents ready posters for a demonstration on the steps of The Casa del Mexicano, an 82-year-old cultural center, to oppose to the ongoing construction of 4G/5G cell towers in the Boyle Heights, neighborhood of Los Angeles, Saturday, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
  • Conspiracy theories may be having a unifying effect as white supremacists, QAnon adherents, and antigovernment groups each see COVID-19 as a once in a lifetime opportunity to forcefully oppose societal norms.
  • Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have had a steady presence over mainstream social media platforms and in the deep recesses of the internet.
  • 5G and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories have been used to incite violence during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The expansion and normalization of conspiracy theories is happening as trust in mainstream media diminishes – a toxic combination that represents a threat to U.S. national security.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, state and non-state actors have pushed forward a wide array of conspiracies in an effort to popularize their hackneyed canards to demonize old enemies, threaten new perceived foes, and blame governments. There are key areas of overlap between conspiratorial thinking within U.S.-based white supremacist and anti-government movements, particularly as COVID-19 false narratives create new opportunities for such movements to achieve their desired outcomes. Certain segments of the white supremacist community see COVID-19 as the accelerant for establishing a racially pure United States. QAnon, a loose collection of conspiracy theorists who tout beliefs often associated with apocalyptic millenarian groups, sees COVID-19 as an indicator that the ‘Great Awakening’ nears. Finally, anti-government groups see COVID-19 as a conspiracy to revoke civil liberties and possibly part of an insidious ‘deep state’ effort to depose President Trump. Some of these militia-like groups have embraced the notion of a civil war, commonly referred to as a boogaloo, to ensure that President Trump cannot be usurped.

White supremacists, whether lurking in the dark corners of the internet in Reddit sub-forums or openly engaging on mainstream platforms like Facebook and YouTube, have tried to link the pandemic to Jews. One common anti-Semitic theory touted by white supremacists for COVID-19 is that a cabal of Jewish elites, like the Rothschild family and George Soros, have weaponized the virus to replace the white race. This conspiracy often intersects with Renaud Camus’s 2010 Great Replacement Theory that a group of global elites is trying to carry out a genocide against white people. QAnon social media commenters, like their white supremacist counterparts, have also pushed forward narratives that COVID-19 is a population control weapon created by Jews, a ‘Zionist Occupied Government' (ZOG), and a global elite ‘deep state.’ White supremacists, have also redoubled efforts to push forward conspiracies over mainstream social media platforms, like the Khazar narrative, which denies the ancestry of Jews, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardic, to justify their targeted hate-speech. With the expanding reach of hate-laced conspiracies, it should come as no surprise that the Anti-Defamation League recently reported that anti-Semitism has increased significantly over the past year, with a surge in New York and New Jersey – COVID-19’s epicenter in the United States.

Anti-government groups, often self-styled as militias preserving liberties like privacy rights and the second Amendment, have also harnessed the popularity of conspiratorial beliefs. Anti-government groups, like the Oath Keepers, have pinned blame for COVID-19 on Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The simplified version of this conspiracy is that Bill Gates spoke five years ago about the need to develop a vaccine to ward off a future pandemic. Today, anti-government groups point to his remarks on a vaccine and his initiative, ID2020, as part of a plot to use a possible COVID-19 vaccine to microchip people to track and control them. Similarly, white supremacist groups see Bill Gates as an elitist who created COVID-19 to create a tyrannical ‘New World Order’ that will jeopardize the white race. Both white supremacists and antigovernment groups have echoed concerns that the construction of 5G cellular towers during COVID-19 is suspicious. These conspiracy theorists believe COVID-19 was designed to intentionally make people sick, so when they are subsequently vaccinated and microchipped, the 5G towers could help track them. Other conspiracy theorists believe 5G towers are part of a secret weaponized program to further depopulate the white race or the allow for the government to more effectively enforce martial law.

These conspiracies, examined through a lens with white supremacist accelerationism theory, QAnon’s ‘Great Awakening,’ and the antigovernment movement’s Boogaloo build-up, could portend future violence. With many people at home during quarantine and spending much of their time online, there are more opportunities for them to read tweets from disreputable demagogues or interact with Facebook feeds from ill-informed friends. This development, coupled with increasing derision for credible journalism, may mean that the resonance of conspiracy theories in American societywill long outlive COVID-19. At a time of great uncertainty, fear, and doubt, the proliferation of conspiracies is the nimblest of national security threats – one that is sure to accrue many new followers. Those who will follow need clear-cut answers that conspiracies try to provide, no matter how faulty the logic. The zealous embrace of these new beliefs rooted in conspiracy will drive more people to violence.


For tailored research and analysis, please contact: