White Supremacist Groups Are Recruiting With Help From Coronavirus – and a Popular Messaging App
April 15, 2020
On March 24, Timothy Wilson, 36, was shot and killed by the FBI as he prepared to attack a hospital in the Kansas City area where patients with the coronavirus were being treated.
The FBI had previously identified Wilson as a “potentially violent extremist” who had considered attacking a mosque, a synagogue, and a school with a large number of black students before settling on the hospital. He died in a shootout when federal officers tried to arrest him. Hours before his death, Wilson had posted anti-Semitic messages on two white supremacist groups on the messaging app Telegram.
As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, white supremacists are seizing upon it as a new and powerful addition to their arsenal. Their messaging often happens on Telegram, which over the last year has become a staging ground for extremist groups, according to the Anti Defamation League. Telegram channels associated with white supremacy and racism grew by more than 6,000 users over the month of March, according to data shared exclusively with TIME by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that monitors extremism and disinformation. One white supremacist channel specifically focused on messaging related to COVID-19 grew its user base from just 300 users to 2,700 in that month alone — a growth of 800%.