WASHINGTON — As light flurries dusted the Washington earlier this month, District of Columbia Councilmember Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) posted a video blaming a Jewish banking family for the inclement weather.
The Rothschilds, object of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, were controlling the weather for their own financial benefit, said White, 33.
“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” he said in the video, which has since been removed.
“And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And 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.”
And this wasn’t the first time White, who took office in 2017 in the seat long held by former Mayor Marion Barry, has voiced a conspiracy theory about the Rothschilds. He had earlier questioned their relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation, whose 100 Resilient Cities initiative helps cities prepare for disasters.
A video of a Feb. 27 meeting of D.C. Council members and Mayor Muriel Bowser shows White claiming the Rothschilds control the World Bank and the U.S. government.
“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — who control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities,” White said. “They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”
White went on to ask about what influence the Rothschilds have at the University of the District of Columbia, whose president, Ronald Mason Jr., had just spoken.
“How does this influence this? Because it’s really about infrastructure and climate control,” he said. “What does this have to do with UDC? Have they put money into UDC? What’s the relationship between the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers?”
No one in the video pointed out that White had just voiced an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
When The Washington Post contacted White to verify the video, White texted back that he was surprised his comments on the video were seen as anti-Semitic.
He told the paper, “The video says what it says.”
After The Post published the story online, White apologized, both on social media and in a letter to his fellow councilmembers.
“These past 48 hours have been filled with much self-inflicted pain, as I now fully comprehend the impact of my hurtful and insensitive comments,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize to the Members, staff and all whom I have hurt and offended.”
He went on to say he is committing himself to “an immediate and rigorous personal education on this issue” and that it is “a teachable moment that will last me a lifetime.”
White did not respond to several requests for an interview.
In his apology on social media, he said that colleagues on the council and members of Jews United for Justice, a progressive advocacy organization that endorsed White in his election bid, are “helping me to understand the history of comments made against Jews.”
JUFJ and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), both of whom are Jewish, said that they believe that White was unaware that a Rothschild conspiracy is an anti-Semitic dog whistle, and that he is remorseful and taking steps to rectify his mistake.
By last week, all council members had disavowed his comments.
“Our reaction, on first seeing [White’s remarks], was surprise and disappointment,” said Rebecca Ennen, JUFJ deputy director. “It didn’t sound like the Trayon we knew.”
Ennen said White contacted the organization to try to understand why what he had said was hurtful. JUFJ has been connecting him to Jewish community leaders since then, she said.
White met with Rabbi Batya Glazer, director of D.C. government and community relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, according to the agency’s associate director, Guila Franklin Siegel.
Siegel called the meeting “very productive and open” and said the JCRC is hoping to use it as an impetus for more education and more dialogue, especially with the predominantly black community White represents.
The JCRC was facilitating a meeting of Jewish leaders and the D.C. Council on March 27, which Siegel called the start of an ongoing education process.
“I don’t think he understood what a reference to the Rothschilds means and how it was a reference used in Nazi Germany,” Silverman said in an interview.
Silverman said she expressed her concerns to White, not only about the Rothschilds reference, but the idea of people controlling the weather.
The idea of someone controlling the weather has been around at least since the 1950s, and conspiracy theories about Jews a lot longer, said Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at University of Miami, who studies conspiracy theories.
“Even in our very comfortable world we’ve built for ourselves, the weather still matters,” he said.
While some conspiracy theories get a lot of buy-in — the John F. Kennedy assassination, for example — “in terms of finding people specifically worried about the Rothschilds, [that’s] not that common,” Uscinski said.
Everyone can be susceptible to conspiracy theories, but which one someone believes is largely determined by his or her group attachments, he added.
Catholics, for example, would be far less likely than others to believe in a “DaVinci Code”-like conspiracy that Jesus married and had children with a former prostitute.
“These attachments matter and they form a large part of our worldview,” Uscinski said. “It tells you who the bad guy is and what he’ll do to you.”
And belonging to one minority or discriminated against group does not preclude someone from being discriminatory toward another group. Uscinski pointed to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a long history of anti-Semitic comments.
Last month, the ADL reported a more than doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in Washington since 2015. The report also found a 60 percent increase across the country from 2016 to 2017.
ADL Regional Director Doron F. Ezickson in a statement welcomed White’s apology and said he is “glad to hear [White] is learning about the meaning behind his words.” PJC
Hannah Monicken writes for the Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.