An automated FBI Twitter account has shared a link to one of the world’s most notorious antisemitic texts, drawing intense criticism for posting hate-filled propaganda without context at a time when hate crimes against Jews in the US hit record levels.

Originally published in 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a hoax document purporting to outline a Jewish plot for global domination. It was debunked in the early 1920s, but not before it had been distributed worldwide – including by American businessman Henry Ford. It was taught as historical fact in schools in Nazi Germany.

Despite definitive proof that it is a fraudulent text manufactured by antisemitic agitators, many of the ideas and tropes contained within it – including its premise, that Jews plan to take over the world – are propagated by hate groups to this day.

The FBI Records Vault yesterday tweeted a link to a copy of the Protocols without any explanation. The account is an automated one that responds to freedom of information requests, and does not give any account of why any given document has been requested or shared.

Specifically, the file the FBI linked to is a scanned copy of the document dating from the 1960s or 1970s, along with various letters to and from FBI officials from the time in which various people request more information from the bureau about the text’s content.

Various Twitter users were furious at the FBI for sharing the link. “Hello, servants of the people over at @FBI”, wrote journalist Julia Ioffe. “What’s, uh, going on over there? Why is one of your official accounts tweeting out century-old antisemitic conspiracy theories?”

After the outcry, the account posted an explanation of sorts.

“Earlier today FOIA materials were posted to the FBI’s Vault and FOIA Twitter account via an automated process without further outlining the context of the documents. We regret that this release may have inadvertently caused distress among the communities we serve.

“The FBI often receives information from members of the public, which is captured in our permanent files and released under FOIA law. The FBI must process historical files that were collected in the past, some of which may be considered offensive.”

The original tweet, however, remains live, and the FBI has not publicly addressed its potential consequences – even as it has been shared nearly 9,000 times.

While the link attracted plenty of condemnation, other users endorsed the long-discredited document, one writing that: “Decade after decade we keep being told The Protocols are antisemitic trope nonsense – BUT – it’s exactly what’s happened, and what was done by whom, too. I’m going to have to give this a ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ rating and take it at face value as true.”

Antisemitic hate crimes in the US have risen to new highs in recent years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, last year saw more than 2,000 such incidents across the country – the highest number since the organisation began counting them in the 1970s. Survey data gathered by the organisation indicates that Jewish people as a whole feel notably less safe in the US than they did a decade ago.

Among the crimes that have intensified this atmosphere in recent years are two mass shootings at synagogues, in 2018 and 2019. And in the summer of 2017, a group of white far-right activists held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which they carried flaming tiki torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us”.


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