A Washington, DC, council member has apologized after posting a video in which he made anti-Semitic comments, claiming that a Jewish family was controlling the weather.
Trayon White, who is currently in his first term on the council, posted a video to his Facebook account on Friday of a snowy sky. White can be heard narrating in the background about the cold weather.
“It just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” White says in the video, which was first reported on by the Washington Post on March 18. “That’s a model based off the Rothschilds, controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”
White was apparently referring to the Rothschild family, a prominent business dynasty descended from Jewish banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild. The family name has been invoked for almost 200 years in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which claim that Jewish people are manipulating global events.
Many members of DC’s Jewish community quickly condemned White’s comments. “This kind of anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any public official. This so diminishes what America is about and adds to the oppressive feeling going on in the country right now,” Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Temple Micah in Northwest Washington told the Washington Post on Sunday.
Later that day, White issued an apology. “I work very closely with the Jewish community and never want to offend anyone, especially with Anti-Semitic remarks,” he said in a statement, a screenshot of which was posted on Twitter.
I really do apologize. I work very closely with the Jewish community and never want to offend anyone, especially with Anti-Semitic remarks. pic.twitter.com/TvUgf55UeF— Trayon White (@trayonwhite) March 19, 2018
White’s office did not immediately respond to Vox’s request for comment.
In his statement, White added that he had spoken with Jews United for Justice, a DC and Baltimore-based advocacy group.
Rebecca Ennen, the deputy director of the group, said in an interview with Vox that she was surprised by White’s remarks given his relationship with the group: Jews United for Justice backed White during his run for office, and collaborated with the politician on several racial and economic justice campaigns over the years.
Ennen said that the group’s leadership accepts his apology, and also expressed concern about the swift public reaction. “As a black leader, I think he is being targeted very, very, harshly for a poor lapse of judgement,” Ennen said.
In the past year, anti-Semitic incidents have increased
White’s comments come shortly after the Anti-Defamation League reported an increase in reports of anti-Semitic comments and attacks. According to the ADL, these types of incidents increased by 57 percent in 2017, the largest single-year rise on record.
“These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society,” ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement to Vox earlier this year. According to Greenblatt, the incidents range from “bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and children harassing children at school.”
Conspiracy theories have also proliferated online in recent years, and have become even more widespread with the rise of Donald Trump. The president has openly endorsed right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, while criticizing mainstream media outlets as “fake news.”
Prominent right-wing figures like former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke have also circulated anti-Semitic claims about how wealthy Jewish people are controlling the political landscape. The Hungarian-American investor George Soros, who is Jewish, has been repeatedly criticized by right-wing leaders and conspiracy theorists for his philanthropy, with critics alleging that he has paid Black Lives Matter activists to protest. Right-wing figures also sought to connect Soros to the survivors of the Parkland shooting, as the students called for stricter gun control measures last month.
Politicians and public figures on the left have also been connected to anti-Semitic figures recently. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, sparked controversy when he said that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” in a speech last month, and a Women’s March organizer who attended the speech was criticized as well.
Doron Ezickson, director of the ADL’s Washington DC office, says that he is glad that White is seeking to learn from the controversy. “At a time when anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in the United States, it’s important that all of our elected officials fight all forms [of] hate,” he said in a statement.
At least one of White’s colleagues on the DC Council also hopes to use this as a teachable moment. “It is my sincere hope that my colleague has learned from this experience, and that together we can serve the diverse people of the District of Columbia with a focus on lifting each other up, rather than tearing one another down,” Brianne Nadeau, a Jewish member of the DC City Council, said in a statement Sunday evening.