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Trayon White made a busy Monday for himself last Friday morning, when he said in a video he posted on his personal Facebook profile that a long-influential Jewish family—the Rothschilds—are “controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities.”
The Ward 8 councilmember’s comments perpetuated deep-seated stereotypes and conspiracy theories that wealthy Jews have special command over world events. On Sunday, White’s words and video went viral after the Washington Post published an article about them.
But White says he had no idea his remarks were anti-Semitic. On Sunday night, he tendered an apology to the public saying he “did not intend to be Anti-Semitic” and shouldn’t have said what he did. He was filming while driving in D.C. as it snowed a bit on Friday morning.
Prior to Friday, White made comments during a breakfast meeting between the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration in February where he suggested that the Rothschilds controlled the World Bank and the federal government, according to video footage.
Overnight and early Monday, Jewish leaders and others criticized White’s words as offensive and disturbing. Some, including two of his colleagues on the 13-member D.C. Council—Brianne Nadeau and Elissa Silverman, who are both Jewish—said they spoke with White and understood him to be truly sorry. He met with several community leaders and discussed his remarks with them throughout Monday.
“I will be in Wilson Building all day if you want to converse,” White tweeted. “I’m not ducking anyone. Come see me.
#LoveMore!” Among those who visited White were Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Rabbi Batya Glazer, of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
After leaving White’s office, Mendelson said he thought White’s apology was “sincere,” but that “there’s no question” his remarks on Friday were “inappropriate.” The Council chairman declined to go into specifics about what he and White discussed while meeting.
In a brief interview with City Paper, White maintained his remorse, saying he wanted to be “sincere and apologetic about anything I said.” He said he was working with Jewish leaders on shared issues in Ward 8 like literacy, mental health, and equity in nutrition and education.
Asked about where he had learned of the purported relationship between the Rothschilds and climate change, White said: “I must have heard it somewhere before, but I do know the initial conversation was about resilient cities”—those that take measures to adapt to major problems like climate change and population increases. “And it was a joke about the…’Oh, it’s snowing now,’ so it was a joke about that.”
“I don’t want to diminish anything because it was in a joking manner, anything I said,” White continued. “I want to own up to it. So I don’t just say it was a joke and leave it like that, because nothing like that should be joked about.”
He added that after discussing his remarks with Jewish leaders, he learned that the Rothschilds, an affluent family, “is a code word people use to attack people of Jewish descent.”
As for the notion that a family like the Rothschilds could bend the climate to their will, White said: “I think I’ve heard different conspiracy theories before, which came into play in that conversation. But by no means did I believe that they’re manipulating the weather.”
Asked again about the idea of climate control, he said he had “said my piece as relates to that” and did not want to “keep belaboring” the issue.
On Monday, a few other District officials also responded to White’s comments. In a statement, Bowser said “perpetuating a stereotype is wrong and hurtful, and it is important that the Councilmember apologized.”
And Attorney General Karl Racine, whom White used to work for in a community outreach role, said in a statement that he had “communicated to him that his comments were completely unacceptable.”
“I expect that he will learn from this and use it as an opportunity to bring people together rather than divide them,” Racine said.
But Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the Council’s committee on the environment, said in a statement that despite White’s apology, she “remain[s] deeply concerned” about his remarks.
“His comments apparently embrace irrational, anti-science conspiracy theories about an agency or group controlling the weather,” Cheh said. “We cannot normalize such fringe theories and conspiracies or we risk permitting the radical—or worse, dangerous—to enter into the mainstream.”
On Sunday, White took down from his Facebook page the video he had posted.