Conspiracy theories often go hand-in-hand with hate speech against marginalised groups, as we have covered many times in the Get The Trolls Out! project. The most recent example of this is David Icke, who has become well-known in the mainstream in recent weeks by utilizing the COVID-19 pandemic to spread disinformation; however, antisemitism has been at the core of Icke’s work for a very long time.
Over 30 million people have watched Icke’s content around COVID-19, in which he claims that COVID-19 is fake and has been orchestrated by a “global cult” who have as their ultimate goal to create a “Orwellian global state”. Icke has linked the Jewish Rothchilds and Bill Gates to this supposed “superconspiracy” and has claimed repeatedly that vaccines and 5G networks are what have actually caused COVID-19. Icke was presented as an expert on the topic on London Real a platform that says its mission is “to create a mass scale transformation of humanity into a fully empowered, conscious and cooperative species”. London Real is a vocal supporter of Icke and has over 2.6 million followers across Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, giving Icke unwarranted airtime and validity. In the UK there were subsequently several incidents of people attempting to burn down what they believed were 5G phone masts (but in most cases were 4G) inspired by Icke’s claims, including a mast that provided coverage to Birmingham's Nightingale hospital. Elsewhere, anti-lockdown protestors in the US specifically referred to Icke as their inspiration. It is a prime example of how conspiracy theories and other hateful tropes have real life consequences.
Icke has been known in the UK for over 30 years. In 1991, while appearing on the BBC show Wogan, Icke claimed to be the “Son of the Godhead” and predicted that the world would imminently be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes. His appearance on the show prompted much ridicule from the British public, and it is from this point on that Icke started constructing himself as a conspiracy theorist. He has also repeatedly claimed that the world is run by a global elite of Illuminati, stating: “They’re feeding off humanity. They’re turning humanity into a slave race. They demand human sacrifice — that’s where Satanism comes in. They feed off human energy. They feed off the energy of children.”
In a recent report, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate outlined clearly how Icke used the COVID-19 pandemic to guide viewers towards his “antisemitic superconspiracy”:
“Antisemitism is intrinsic to Icke’s COVID- 19 superconspiracy. While Icke regularly changes the name he uses to refer to the powerful manipulators driving his theories, he often gives them an explicitly Jewish identity, as ‘Rothschild Zionists’ or as ‘Sabbatian Frankists’ (named after a sect of Judaism). Even where Icke does not use these terms, he will often identify Jews as key members of the conspiracy. Icke’s most popular coronavirus conspiracy video on London Real with over 5.9 million views explicitly identifies “the Rothschilds” as key players in a global plot to use the disease as a pretence to impose a totalitarian world government.”
Antisemitism has been intrinsic to Icke’s ‘career’ as a conspiracy theorist. In 2000, in an article on his website, Icke claimed that “Hitler was a Rothchild” and the Jews planned the Holocaust in order to establish Israel, a claim which he has repeatedly made. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate concludes: “An in-depth study of Icke’s YouTube activity, led by Dr Daniel Allington, found Icke’s arguments about ‘Rothschild Zionists’ to mirror the claims of virulently antisemitic organizations such as the National Front and the Reich Press Office – and discovered that members of Icke’s YouTube audience were inspired to make and ‘like’ nakedly anti-Jewish comments of their own.” Icke’s most recent antisemitic claims were made in a video uploaded on YouTube on March 20th, 2020, in which he claims a supposed Jewish cult is manipulating world affairs.
In the past Icke has also employed anti-Muslim and anti-Migrant hate, as well as regularly making transphobic claims. He has been allowed to spread this rhetoric on various social media platforms without any real backlash or consequences. When Icke gained more prominence due to his COVID-19 conspiracies, organizations and the public rallied to get Icke de-platformed. Direct to the social media platforms, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate stated:
“That Icke would use his accounts on your platforms in this way could have been predicted. He has been using them to spread racism, medical misinformation and conspiracy theories for years. Whether it’s fake news stories about Muslims cancelling Christmas and the legalisation of rape by Muslim men, implying that migrants are morally inferior, using racist imagery, or the conspiracy theory that Jews are secretly behind antisemitic attacks on their own communities, Icke has consistently violated your terms. In the face of this global pandemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, it is more urgent than ever that accounts spreading harmful misinformation are prevented from doing so. There is a moral duty on each of you to act.”
Icke’s account has since been removed from Facebook and YouTube, the latter platform citing as their reason: “YouTube has clear policies prohibiting any content that disputes the existence and transmission of Covid-19 as described by the WHO and the NHS. Due to continued violation of these policies we have terminated David Icke’s YouTube channel.” While this action is welcomed, it is worrisome that it took this long for the platform to act when Icke has a long track record of hate speech. Other social media platforms have yet to follow suit. Get The Trolls Out supports the Centre for Countering Hate’s #DeplatformIcke campaign and urge other social media companies, like Twitter and Instagram, to remove Icke from their platforms.