The FBI‘s records vault on Wednesday released a bureau copy of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a more than 100-year-old antisemitic hoax document used for decades to spread lies and incite violence against Jews.
The FBI said later on Wednesday said that the release was done automatically as part of the bureau’s FOIA process, but not before a number of apparent white supremacists magnified the document and other users became alarmed.
The original Protocols text was written in Russian and blames Jews for a variety of societal problems. It was the basis for many still circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories that have resulted in violence against Jews, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
On Wednesday Afternoon, the FBI Records Vault Made the Document Available & Tweeted Out a Link With No Context
Protocols of Learned Elders of Zion: https://t.co/BpI5Tc8oKc
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) August 19, 2020
On Tuesday afternoon, the FBI Records Vault tweeted out a link to the notorious antisemitic pamphlet, with nothing in the post but a link and the title. Twitter immediately responded with confusion and anger that the text, which is a dangerous hoax, would be disseminated by the FBI with no context.
Jewish political cartoonist Eli Valley tweeted, “FBI disseminating a forgery that helped lay the groundwork for the murder of millions, to the glee of twitter Nazis and for the recruitment of future Nazis, it’s pretty f***ed up.”
The Protocols are a forgery. This document is not a real Jewish text AT ALL.
However, the FBI has tweeted a link to it without including the context that the document is a forgery meant to fan the flames of antisemitism.
This can only be seen as an antisemitic act. pic.twitter.com/AuQ4NHWKEI
— Pikachu Nefesh 💕 Abolish the Police (@PhD_femme) August 19, 2020
Some wondered if the FBI Vault account had been hacked.
Some considered the release an antisemitic act by the bureau, one user tweeting, “The Protocols are a forgery. This document is not a real Jewish text at all. However, the FBI has tweeted a link to it without including the context that the document is a forgery meant to fan the flames of antisemitism. This can only be seen as an antisemitic act.”
an official FBI account tweeted a no-context link to its file on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the virtual Bible of anti-semitism, and now there's tons of ppl in the comments being like "damn, this is real??"
— Noah Hurowitz (@NoahHurowitz) August 19, 2020
Author Noah Hurowitz noted that some people were already responding to the FBI tweet wondering if the document was real. And some were, with some apparent white supremacist users opining that the document “perfectly describes the current state of world affairs” and have proved “nearly perfectly correct.”
The FBI Copy Includes a 1964 Senate Study Debunking & Denouncing the Hoax 113 Pages In
The document released Tuesday by the FBI includes much correspondence surrounding the Protocols, including correspondence between the first FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, and someone sending the document to him.
One exchange may indicate that Hoover and the FBI could have bought into the hoax at some point in 1941. An assistant FBI director writes to Hoover, sending him the pamphlet and adding that an “informant” said that he had also furnished Henry Ford with a copy of the book. Hoover then thanks the informant for his submission.
Also, however, around Page 113 of the document, is a 1964 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee report debunking the Protocols as a “vicious hoax” and a “fabricated historic document.”
A note preceding the report reads, “For record purposes, there is attached one copy of a proposed press release to be issued August 17, 1964 by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee … which described the ‘Protocols ‘ as a ‘fabricated historic document’ and as ‘crude and vicious nonsense.'”
The Senate committee report adds that the pamphlet has been exposed numerous times as a hoax.
“It is impossible for a fair-minded person of any common-sense not to see that the ‘Protocols‘ are a fictional product of a warped mine and that for years they have been and still are the chief staple of the anti-Jewish pamphleteer,” the report reads.
The FBI Said Wednesday Night That the Protocols Was Released In an Automated Process & That the Bureau Regretted Causing Alarm
The Jewish magazine Forward noted that the FBI Twitter account also published links to several other more mundane documents on Wednesday, indicating it could be a bot simply pushing the information out as it was made public.
An FBI spokesperson confirmed that the Protocols were released and tweeted out as part of an automated process, as with all other documents of public interest that are eventually cleared for release. The spokesperson acknowledged that some of the information the bureau releases can be offensive or disturbing.
The FBI statement read:
Earlier today FOIA materials were posted to the FBI’s Vault and FOIA Twitter account via an automated process without further outlining the context of the documents. We regret that this release may have inadvertently caused distress among the communities we serve.
The FBI often receives information from members of the public, which is captured in our permanent files and released under FOIA law. The FBI must process historical files that were collected in the past some of which may be considered offensive.
The FBI Records Vault Twitter account is run by a bot, which automatically posts new FOIA documents as they are cleared for public release, according to the bureau.
The Anti-Defamation League Called the Release ‘Irresponsible’ & Said Many American Jews Were Upset by Seeing the Propaganda Posted Without Context
The @FBI needs to correct its mistake. They should have clarified that this document is an antisemitic lie. We understand the historical interest in FBI documents, but it's irresponsible to release dangerous material without proper context. https://t.co/WwiEDT3EqE
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 19, 2020
The Anti-Defamation League — a Jewish NGO focused on combating antisemitism — took notice of the Tweet and said that, although the full document did include the 1964 Senate committee report debunking the Protocols, it was irresponsible to link to it on Twitter with no context.
“While there is no reason to think that the FBI shared this material out of malice or due to antisemitic animus, it is concerning that the FBI’s twitter account did not clarify in the tweet that the digitized file was of historical interest, and released the file without any additional context or description of this work as virulently antisemitic,” the ADL said. “We have already received reports from many in the American Jewish community who are hurt by the irresponsible way this document was released. We call on the FBI to correct this mistake now, and do better in the future.”