Anti-vaxxers have stolen an anti-Nazi group’s identity
Around the world, black-and-white stickers have been popping up on lampposts and bus stops. “The Nazis had a phrase that covered all abuses of the state: It’s for your safety,” one says in blocky black letters. “People in 1940s Germany didn’t realize they’d been brainwashed by the media and government either,” screams another in all-caps. Other stickers imply that masks are un-masculine; they refer to vaccines as a government experiment or say that belief in COVID is a cult.
The stickers are the work of an anti-vaxx group calling themselves the White Rose, named after the World War II-era anti-fascist group led by Hans and Sophie Scholl, German students who were both executed by the Gestapo after being caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.
Holocaust references have become increasingly common among anti-vaxx agitators, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who compare themselves to the persecuted Jews who were forced to wear a yellow star. Vaccine mandates and passports, they argue, will bar them from businesses and public spaces, just as the Jews were under the Nazis — a comparison Jewish organizations and leaders have condemned as antisemitic.
The new White Rose group styles itself as anti-fascist and characterizes lockdown orders and vaccine mandates as a form of repression akin to that perpetrated by the Nazis. One of their core assertions is that governments and others administering the vaccine are violating the Nuremberg Code by experimenting on unconsenting citizens, a claim numerous outlets have fact-checked and declared false.
The group’s Telegram chat, its main form of communication, is quite active, posting dozens of times a day, and generating over a hundred comments from members across the day’s posts. Every day, new members join, including people who say they are students, parents and even nurses.
Off-the-grid guerilla tactics
The White Rose doesn’t spread its message on familiar social media platforms where many conspiracy theories flourish. Instead, to join the group, you need to encounter a sticker out in the real world. Each has a QR code leading to the White Rose’s channel on Telegram, a messaging app that has become a haven for extremist activity. The White Rose channel has nearly 41,000 subscribers.
The Telegram group supplies templates for members to print their own stickers to distribute wherever they live or work, and to share anti-vaxx information and link other anti-vaxx groups. While the group seems to have started in the U.K., members now chime in from states across the U.S., South Africa, Australia, Canada, and numerous European countries. (Many of the stickers have been translated.)
Comments in the Telegram chat largely consist of group members helping each other figure out how to download templates and print the stickers, and posts sharing other anti-vaxx information, such as Youtube videos by the likes of Vladimir Zelenko. Occasionally, someone who disagrees with the White Rose joins the chat to castigate members for spreading misinformation, but, if anything, users seem encouraged when they see that they’ve provoked a reaction from “Karens” or “sheeples.”
Anti-vaxxers and antisemitism
Beyond comparing vaccines mandates to Nazi restrictions against Jews, the White Rose does not directly promote antisemitic ideas or disparage Jews; it even has a statement of respect for all races, religions and nationalities.
Yet the group can still easily serve as a gateway to more overtly antisemitic conspiracy theories. Some messages from the White Rose Telegram group contain antisemitic dog-whistles, such as references to a malicious cabal or to powerful globalists.
The anti-vaxx movement at large often tends toward antisemitism, sometimes through promoting alternative forms of medicine such as “Germanic New Medicine,” which claims mainstream medicine is part of a dangerous Jewish conspiracy to decimate non-Jews. Similarly, worries about malicious government control often lead to familiar antisemitic tropes about Jewish power.
Anti-vaxxers are also often associated with Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and, on occasion, White Rose users have used the comment section in the Telegram group to proselytize Christianity and encourage others to accept Jesus..
The anti-vaxx White Rose is not the first group to co-opt that name; there are several White Rose groups on Facebook, but these seem more aligned with the original White Rose, advocating against government restrictions on immigration or for LGBTQ rights and representation; now they’re complaining that they are getting new member requests from people clearly involved in anti-vaxx advocacy. Outnumbered by the members of the new, anti-vaxx version, the legacy of the White Rose may be rewritten.