Surging Twitter antisemitism unites fringe, encourages violence, officials say

Current and former federal officials are warning that a surge in hate speech and disinformation about Jews on Twitter is uniting and popularizing some of the same extremists who have helped push people to engage in violent protests including the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress.

The officials are predicting that Twitter will contribute to more violence in the months ahead, citing the proliferation of extreme content, including support for genocidal Nazis by celebrities with wide followings and the reemergence of QAnon proselytizers and white nationalists.

Since billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk bought Twitter just over a month ago, he has slashed more than half the staff, including most of the people who made judgment calls about what counts as impermissible slurs against religious or ethnic groups.

Musk announced a broad amnesty for most previously banned accounts and has personally interacted with fringe activists and white nationalists on the site in the weeks since he assumed ownership. Other actors have experimented with racist and antisemitic posts to test Musk’s limits as a self-declared “free speech absolutist.”

Even before Musk’s takeover, some Twitter users were encouraging confrontations with transgender people and others who were falsely depicted as “groomers,” or predators who sexually target underage victims. But the new wave of antisemitism has reached millions of people in just days, brought new followers, and helped galvanize a broader coalition of fringe figures.

“This type of escalation and hate and dehumanization, the hatred of the Jewish population — it’s a really directed target. Violence is inevitable,” said Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer who later served as a Republican member of Congress and then on the staff of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

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