By BERNIE BELLAN To what extent do many individuals who are adamantly anti-vax also share antisemitic beliefs? That is a question that has become of increasing concern, not just to members of the Jewish community, but to many thoughtful individuals who are alarmed by the tendency of many anti-vaxxers to use slogans that would either identify them as overtly antisemitic or, as is often the case, quick to use references to the Holocaust so as to gain sympathy for their usually totally erroneous arguments against vaccinations and mask mandates.
From time to time we read or hear of someone who has resorted to comparing what they claim is the persecution of anti-vaxxers to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. Recently, for instance, I was contacted by a CBC reporter who asked me whether I had heard about the case of one such individual, someone by the name of Shea Ritchie, who owns two different restaurants in Winnipeg, Chaise Café & Lounge at 271 Provencher, and Chaise Corydon at 691 Corydon.
I hadn’t heard of Shea Ritchie, so I asked the reporter if she could send me something – such as a Facebook post or perhaps a video, that would explain why she was asking me about this particular individual. Subsequently she sent me a link to a video which Ritchie himself shot, in which he confronts four Manitoba Public Health officers who are at his Provencher restaurant to serve him with some sort of notice that he is in violation of public health orders. (You can view the video in its entirety at https://www.facebook.com/541085022/videos/551434249405086/)
During the course of the video, Ritchie (who is the one shooting the video) can be heard berating the officers – who keep their cool throughout and don’t engage Ritchie, as he continually tries to goad them into overreacting, and makes several Holocaust-related references. At one point he asks the officers “Can we put yellow stars on them (anti-vaxxers) and ship them out of here?”
Later, in a mocking tone, he questions why unvaccinated people are even allowed to remain in the city, saying “You guys are already building camps, right? So why can’t we just ship them out?” He then repeats the yellow star reference, asking “Shouldn’t we be identifying them with something bright – like a yellow star?” Then, he asks “Why don’t you guys just ship them away and take their kids and forcibly vaccinate their kids?”
Now, while one might be left more than a little uncomfortable hearing Ritchie use Holocaust analogies repeatedly, one might argue that, although he is misappropriating Holocaust imagery to support his twisted arguments, he is not saying anything overtly antisemitic in itself. To that extent, what he is doing is a clever manipulation of well known imagery to elicit sympathy for what he would argue are persecuted individuals who refuse to get vaccinated.
Compare Ritchie’s more subtle references to well-known tropes with the overt antisemitic claims of a more notorious anti-vaxxer, who goes by the name of “Chris Sky” - whose real name is Christopher Saccoccia. Sky has been to Winnipeg three times since the beginning of 2021 – in January, in April, and then again in August. When he was here in August he was served with an arrest warrant by Winnipeg police for failing to self-isolate when he entered Manitoba in January and for breaking gathering orders at a public place in April. (He was released after a bail hearing.)
Sky has resorted to overt antisemitic statements in the past. One of his Facebook posts criticizes the notion that “5 million Jews” were murdered during WW2 (he doesn’t even get the number right), saying it’s a “hoax”.
In Sky’s case it’s quite evident that the same type of thinking that would lead him to deny the Holocaust is also at play when he lashes out at vaccinations and mask requirements.
Finally, we have the case of the couple that owns two Tuxedo restaurants that are located side by side: Tuxedo Village Family Restaurant and Monstrosity Burger. David Jones and Paulina Jojnowicz have been enmeshed in controversy for quite some time. Originally, it was their lashing out at the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020 that caught individuals’ attentions, when they posted “There are some trolls going around saying we are racist because we don’t’ agree with kissing black people’s feet (like promoted in BLM) to ‘prove’ we are not racist.”
On May 30, 2020, Dave Jones had posted this about the pandemic: “Not condoning violence or looting but this is what happens when you lie to and oppress the once Free People. We get fed up!! You will NOT steal our freedom with your fake Plandemic. Stop blaming Trump you imbeciles! MSM is behind the lies! Wake up!!!”
The two owners of the Tuxedo restaurants have now been hit with a total of $40,000 in fines for flouting public health orders. On the Monstrosity Burger Instagram page, they posted “This country is pathetic and we will lose every last bit of freedom if people dont (sic) stand up now”
To be fair, I haven’t seen anything that would lead one to suggest that Jones and Jojnowicz are antisemitic. What ties together all the characters I’ve referenced thus far, however, is a distrust of government, a willingness to enter into wild exaggeration, and a penchant for emotional outbursts on social media.
But, since there is a continuing series of stories about rising levels of anti-Semitism – many of which appear in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news feed on our website (jewishpostandnews.ca), and they have only grown of increasing concern parallel to the spread of the pandemic, it certainly leads one to wonder about the convergence of anti-vax conspiracy theories with other well-known conspiracy theories – among them antisemitic conspiracy theories.
It’s not difficult to make the case that the same kind of thinking that would dismiss scientific evidence about the overwhelming effective of vaccinations against Covid, along with other preventative measures, such as masking, hand washing and isolating Covid carriers, would also lead one to wander down the rabbit hole of antisemitic conspiracy theories as well. While there’s not a necessary correlation between being anti-vax and being antisemitic (there are plenty of Jews who embrace conspiracy theories about Covid themselves), there are enough indications that the same distrust of government and science which is the hallmark of the anti-vax movement also pervades right-wing antisemitism. The trumpeting of conspiracy theories about Jews controlling… and here you can fill in the blanks: the banks, the entertainment industry, or even big government itself, is so eerily similar to the arguments that governments have some insidious ulterior motives in wanting us to get vaccinated.
By now, we’ve become all too aware of the negative effects that social media have had on reasoned discussion of almost any issue. It doesn’t take much to incite fury among huge segments of the online world simply by railing against government, scientists, or the media. And once disinformation is spread, it’s terribly difficult to combat it effectively, no matter how much counter information might be offered in rebuttal.
Most of us are probably aware of at least one person within our circle of acquaintances who is an anti-vaxxer. I can’t say though that, of the individuals I do know who are anti-vaxxers, that any of them are antisemitic.
But, it is also easy to see how individuals who are susceptible to arguments against vaccination because they derive almost all their information either from ill-informed friends or family members, or from social media, could also be easily persuaded to believe mistruths about Jews or Israel, as the case may be.
Is there a way to combat this ongoing and growing trend to stop the spread of disinformation without clamping down on social media? I don’t see how, but at least in Winnipeg there is a concerted effort to attempt to expose individuals such as Shea Ritchie, David Jones, and Paulina Jojnowicz to scrutiny over their distortions when it comes to Covid. If we can make these purveyors of disinformation pay an economic price – which has been the case now with Chaise Lounge’s two locations and the two Tuxedo eateries, all of which have been found in violation of public health orders, perhaps others who have not been reticent to go public with their conspiracy theories may now think twice about being so open about voicing those theories – at least when it comes to Covid.
Sad to say though, while many anti-vaxxers harbour right wing sentiments that would lend them amenable to antisemitic views, viz Chris Sky, Chris Sky was arrested for defying orders about gathering in groups and for not properly quarantining, not for saying the Holocaust was a hoax. When it comes to combating antisemitism, the suggestion that what we need is more “educating” of the public, especially the online public, seems like so much pushing of Sisyphus’s proverbial rock up the hill - only to see it fall back down over and over again.