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By Donie O’Sullivan, Curt Devine and Allison Gordon, CNN
(CNN) — Hate groups and far-right internet trolls have seized on the tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, while leveraging advances in artificial intelligence to further stoke antisemitism in the United States.
The confluence of the conflict and the rapid development – and sheer accessibility – of AI tools have allowed antisemitic groups to weaponize the technology, creating images and audio that are used to harass the Jewish community, according to experts who track online extremism.
“We’ve seen a real concerning ideological convergence between far-right communities online and pro-Hamas sentiment,” said Ben Decker, CEO of Memetica, a threat analysis company that monitors online hate.
The activity is on law enforcement’s radar as antisemitism remains on the rise nationwide: A 316% increase in antisemitic incidents has hit the US since the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary data released Monday by the Anti-Defamation League.
Just days after the war between Israel and Hamas began, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned of threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities, noting that antisemitism and anti-Islamic sentiment “permeates many violent extremist ideologies and serves as a primary driver for attacks by a diverse set of violent extremists.”
The heads of both agencies are expected to address the issue of domestic extremism in a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. FBI Director Christopher Wray has already indicated that antisemitism is reaching “historic levels” in the US, and a police bulletin obtained by CNN indicates that DHS has compiled information on racist and hate groups in the US “celebrating attacks on the Jewish community.”
Artificial intelligence, real hate
Users of the notorious hate-filled, far-right online forum 4chan quickly began celebrating the October 7 attack, in what Memetica describes as “convergence of Hamas and White supremacist ideologies.”
Although paradoxical that White supremacists would be supportive of an Islamic terrorist group, Decker says the White supremacists’ hatred of Jewish people outranks all else.
Karen Dunn, an attorney who sued the people responsible for the violence at the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, told CNN the hate groups “hate everybody, but they hate the Jews the most.”
Antisemitism is a commonality that can unite multiple different and competing hate groups, which can then metastasize into hate directed at others, she said.
“That’s what we saw in Charlottesville,” Dunn said. “The weekend started with ‘Jews will not replace us,’ but ended with racially motivated violence against all groups.”
Decker noted the effectiveness of Hamas’ strategy to publicize its terrorist attack on social media, despite most major platforms banning the terror group. Its already substantial following on Telegram, the social media messaging app, skyrocketed after the October 7 attacks.
“There are all of these layers of coordination,” Decker explained. “You have the fighters who are sharing the footage in near real-time with the social media operators. Then, you have that content being posted to Telegram.”
That content will sometimes make its way onto major platforms like Meta and YouTube before it is removed. But, Decker said, 4chan users help this terroristic content proliferate.
“These 4chan communities are actually reuploading the videos and archiving them so they can continue to share them online for years to come,” he said.
In recent weeks, 4chan users have shared instructions to use AI image generation tools that are freely available online to create antisemitic depictions of Jewish people, leaning into old tropes of them as evil or greedy puppet masters, according to Memetica.
The trolls are encouraged to create images on the AI generation tool of their choosing and to spread them across the internet. Specific instructions are posted on how to create the images using Microsoft Bing’s new AI image tool.
While Microsoft and other AI platforms have rules and some guardrails in place to try to stop their technology from being used to create such images, trolls have figured workarounds. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon recently showed CNN how AI technology can be tricked into doing things it shouldn’t do.
“The issue is those policies and mechanisms in place are really easy to game and circumvent,” Decker said. “It’s exposed a real Achilles heel in the next wave of content moderation, particularly as it relates to image.”
A Microsoft spokesperson told CNN in a statement, “We believe the creation of reliable and inclusive AI technologies is critical and something we take very seriously.” The company “prohibits the creation of harmful content” and is investigating reports of antisemitic content.
A fake call
“Hi, I’m Jon Greenblatt and I’m the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League,” the voice on the October 25 call said. Indeed, it sounded just like Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, one of the country’s best-known organizations that fights antisemitism.
But the voice, which had called into a city council meeting in Calabasas, California, soon began promoting the work of an antisemitic hate group known as the Goyim Defense League (GDL). The group has created antisemitic fliers that have been disseminated in neighborhoods across the country.
Despite sounding like Greenblatt, the voice was, of course, not really his. It was generated using new AI software that can mimic people’s voices.
“Not bad… It might not sound the smoothest of AI, but it’s one of the first,” Jon Minadeo, the leader of the GDL hate network, said during a video stream while watching a recording of the call made to the Calabasas city council. “We’ll keep perfecting it.”
After the AI call concluded, other antisemitic callers dialed into the meeting, including one with the name that, when read aloud, sounded like “Jew destroyer.”
The city’s mayor, David Shapiro, intervened, saying, “We aren’t going to allow that kind of communication and hate speech in this city, and especially now.”
Many city councils across the country began allowing citizens to call into meetings during Covid-19 and have recently been plagued by antisemitic callers.
These calls are not limited to California; the extremists have hijacked city council meetings in states such as Iowa, Massachusetts, and Oregon. They have also disrupted online events, including Alcoholics Anonymous gatherings and police commissioner meetings, often adopting pseudonyms connected to the Third Reich. In some instances, callers claim their address is “88,” a numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”
There is a growing trend in which extremists “use AI to manipulate, distort and malign not only ADL but other Jews,” an ADL spokesperson told CNN.
A CNN review of one GDL associate, for example, found at least 8 social media posts employing voice manipulation since October 7. These videos superimposed sound over various subjects, including local anchors, Jewish politicians, and famous broadcasters.
On the streets
While such groups have been quick to adopt high-tech hate strategies, they’re still employing an old-fashioned, but effective, way of spreading antisemitic messaging: fliers.
The GDL’s fliers – that repeat age-old tropes about Jewish people – have shown up in neighborhoods across the country. The ADL’s Center on Extremism has counted more than 284 instances of the hateful fliers like those referenced in Calabasas being distributed in 35 different states across the country this year, according to Carla Hill, the group’s senior investigative research director.
Last month, the GDL also projected antisemitic messages on CNN Center in Atlanta.
Minadeo, the hate group’s leader, was sentenced this month to 30 days behind bars in Florida, after distributing the antisemitic fliers. While hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, littering is not: Prosecutors in Palm Beach County successfully brought litter charges against the antisemite. He plans on appealing the conviction, according to his attorney.
Since the October 7 attack on Israel, hate groups also have attempted to latch onto the pro-Palestinian movement to push their own antisemitism-promoting agenda.
Members of the National Justice Party (NJP) – an antisemitic group that was set up by people who participated in the Unite the Right rally – demonstrated outside the White House last month praising Hamas.
In Missoula, Montana, pro-Palestine demonstrators chanted “go home Nazis” when a White supremacist group showed up at their demonstration.
Antisemitism isn’t the only form of hate that has seen a public uptick in the US since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
The Department of Homeland Security has noted how some US extremists “see the violence committed by Muslims abroad as an excuse to target the Muslim community in the US,” according to a police bulletin obtained by CNN.
That bulletin noted multiple incidents in October of anonymous calls to mosques and an Islamic school in Arizona that spewed threatening or vulgar language. The bulletin further described an increase in calls from members of the public “reporting suspicious persons who they claim – based solely on race, religion or country of origin, may be involved in” terrorist activities.
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