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A retired NFL player who previously played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, and Miami Dolphins, has repeatedly tweeted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and misinformation to his 147,000 followers on his verified Twitter account.
Larry Johnson has spread the hateful conspiracy theory that a "Jewish cabal" is involved in human trafficking, pedophilia, murder, and child torture.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the non-governmental agency that fights anti-Semitic hate, condemned Johnson's tweets. "It's disturbing to see that this content has not been removed and we implore Twitter to review this decision through the lens of its own hateful conduct policies," a representative for the ADL told Insider.
Johnson's rhetoric follows centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews that have recently been spread by the likes of Nick Cannon, Ice Cube, and DeSean Jackson.
Former NFL player Larry Johnson has joined the growing group of celebrities with huge followings sharing anti-Semitic falsehoods and beliefs.
On Sunday, Johnson, who has more than 147,000 Twitter followers, tweeted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that there is a "Jewish cabal" involved in human trafficking, murder, pedophilia, human sacrifice, and child torture. Specfiically, Johnson said that this imagined "Jewish cabal" performed better in those areas than African-Americans, calling that a racial disparity he was "proud" of.
Johnson was a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2003 to 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, the Washington Redskins in 2010, and the Miami Dolphins for a portion of the 2011 season.
In 2017, Johnson told The Washington Post that he has struggled with erratic behavior, and that he believed it was due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease that has afflicted many former and current football players. The disease is untreatable and affects people with repeated brain trauma.
The former football player has been sharing beliefs associated with the Black Hebrew Israelites movement for at least a year, often writing that Jews have stolen their religion. In December 2019, he wrote that people discrediting the movement were just "whining about Jewish converts not being the chosen people of God almighty."
Black Hebrew Israelites believe that they are the chosen people and the original Israelites. The movement follows the belief that the Old Testament, or the Torah, is about them, rather than Jews, and that the transatlantic slave trade decimated their religion. In a tweet on Sunday, Johnson called the Bible "an archived history about Hebrew Israelites."
Black Hebrew Israelites believe that they are reclaiming their culture and religion that was left behind. Extremist factions of the movement, which is not affiliated with Judaism, consider Jews to be "fraudulent," and often hold anti-white and anti-LGBTQ beliefs.
The movement is not inherently discriminatory against Jews. But there are "smaller detachments of a larger, non-racist faith," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks extremism in the US.
The SPLC has labeled certain factions of the movement as hate groups. "They mostly trade in anti-Semitism; they view Jews as impostors," Heidi Beirich, the director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, told The New York Times in 2019, but added that the movement does not tend to inspire violent acts like other groups the organization categorizes as hate groups. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish non-governmental agency that fights hate, has also labeled certain sects of the movement as hate groups.
Johnson's tweets also echo the beliefs of the Nation of Islam, which is also designated as a hate group by the SPLC. He's defended the organization's leader, Louis Farrakhan, who "blames Jews for the slave trade, plantation slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping and general black oppression," according to the SPLC. In 1990, while giving a speech in Chicago, Farrakhan said "a small handful" of Jews "control the movement of this great nation, like a radar controls the movement of a great ship in the waters." Those proclamations have continued in recent years: "I'm not an anti-Semite. I'm anti-Termite," he said in a 2018 tweet. (Twitter later removed the tweet, as it violated the platform's policy against "language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion," The Forward reported at the time.)
On Monday, Johnson posted photos of orthodox Jews wearing prayer garments along with verses from the New Testament in an apparent effort to discredit Jewish traditions.
In response to criticism, Johnson has doubled down.
When one person tweeted that a "high-profile former athlete tells his 146k followers via a verified account that 'the Jewish cabal' performs well at 'ritualistic child torture'" and suggested that Twitter needed to improve its policies, Johnson replied with laughing emojis.
"I'd tell it to your face if you prefer," he wrote.
Several followers replied to that tweet showing support for Johnson and thanking him for "fighting the fight."
Johnson's anti-Semitic tweets have also included Holocaust denial, tweeting on July 7 that "Red Cross records say otherwise" in response to the Auschwitz Memorial's tweet about the death of a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp. The tweet appeared to reference an easily debunked conspiracy theory that has gone viral on social media, alleging that the Red Cross had documents to show that fewer than 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of others, including Roma, non-Jewish Poles, Soviet civilians, and people with disabilities, were also killed by Adolf Hitler's Nazi party, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Johnson has also spread misinformation about pedophilia and sex trafficking that is not directly related to Jews. "TikTok rivals the security risk of an Pedophile Trafficking Cult," he said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Johnson's podcast, "Sight To The Blind," which often spreads misinformation and anti-Semitic rhetoric, was recently suspended by its distributor Audioboom. In response to his suspension, Johnson said "the whiny cry babies heard I was talking about their religion they jacked from the Israelites," and added that his shows are "backed up."
A representative for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish non-governmental agency that fights against hate, told Insider that Johnson's content is a "clear violation" of Twitter's guidelines. "It's disturbing to see that this content has not been removed and we implore Twitter to review this decision through the lens of its own hateful conduct policies. Social media platforms need to be more responsive to the concerns of civil society and must prioritize these concerns over metrics of engagement," the representative said.
Neither Johnson nor Twitter immediately responded to Insider's request for comment.
Johnson's tweets echo recent forays into anti-Semitic rhetoric from other celebrities on social media
Johnson has inserted himself into the controversies of other celebrities bashing Jews.
On July 7, after DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles posted a quote on his Instagram story that said Jews would "extort" and "blackmail" America, Johnson defended Jackson — even after Jackson apologized for his post. "Jews want to paint that 'Anti-Semitic' speech brush really wide to instill fear in you WHITE AMERICA," Johnson said. In his tweet, he also referenced Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.
Steven Jackson, a former NBA player and ESPN analyst, also defended Jackson's Instagram story. "He was trying to educate himself, educate people, and he's speaking the truth. Right? He's speaking the truth. You know he don't hate nobody, but he's speaking the truth of the facts that he knows and trying to educate others," he said in an Instagram video, according to ESPN.
Both Nick Cannon and Ice Cube have shared similar anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. On his podcast, "Cannon's Class," which was also posted to YouTube, Cannon said that Black people were the "true Hebrews," and therefore couldn't be anti-Semitic themselves. (Johnson has made similar statements on Twitter.) After ViacomCBS announced that the company would end its longrunning association with Cannon, the host and comedian apologized for his comments. "This is only the beginning of my education," he said in a July 15 tweet.
Rapper and actor Ice Cube tweeted on June 6 an image of white men who were caricatured as stereotypes of Jews playing with money on a board game held up by Black people. "F--K THE NEW NORMAL UNTIL THEY FIX THE OLD NORMAL," Ice Cube said.
A 2018 report from the ADL found that anti-Semitic sentiment has thrived on Twitter.
There was an average of 81,400 tweets that expressed anti-Semitic beliefs between January 2017 and January 2018, the ADL found. The organization also reported a 12 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US in 2019 compared with the previous year.
The increase in anti-Semitic commentary online comes as conspiracy theories continue to spread rapidly on social media
Scott Olson/Getty Images
As anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise in the US, there's evidence that general conspiracy theory rhetoric is increasing as well.
Conspiracy theories have been thriving on social-media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. An April report published in the Harvard Kennedy School's Misinformation Review found that conspiracy beliefs related to COVID-19 are "widespread."
In particular, the QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges that there is a deep-state cabal of elites trying to destroy President Trump, has spread to mainstream spaces. Jackson, Cannon, Ice Cube, and Johnson did not specifically reference QAnon, but their conspiracy theories echoed the common conspiracy theory theme of a secret cabal controlling the world.
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