Recent comments by an up-and-coming District pol have some observers asking: What was he thinking?
Last Friday morning, as light snow fell on D.C., Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White posted a video on his personal Facebook page in which he promoted a conspiracy theory that accuses a prominent Jewish family of manipulating the climate. White, 33, was driving on a District highway while recording the video.
“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man,” he said. “Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.” The very affluent family has long been the target of conspiracies.
It is unclear what White, currently the youngest representative on the 13-member D.C. Council, meant by “climate control,” or where he picked up this narrative. But as the Washington Post, which was the first to report the video, points out, fringe Internet users have falsely linked the Rothschilds to weather changes.
Established by another dynastic family, the Rockefeller Foundation runs an initiative called 100 Resilient Cities to help cities adapt to major challenges. Conspiracies have also centered around the Rockefellers.
White has reportedly mused aloud about supposed connections between the Rothschilds and climate change before. At a February working breakfast between the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser, he asked the Bowser administration about links between the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the World Bank, and D.C.’s recently created Office of Resilience, according to a District official who was present.
Following the Post story and fierce criticism on Twitter, White removed the video from his Facebook page on Sunday evening and issued a written apology on social media. He texted a version of it to City Paper:
In response to my social media post on Friday, as I leader I work hard everyday to combat racism and prejudices of all kinds. I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended. The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues. I have spoke to leaders and my friends at Jews United for Justice and they are helping me to understand the history of comments made against Jews and I am committed to figuring out ways to continue to be allies with them and others.
He did not answer specific questions about what he meant by his comments in the video and where he had heard about the Rothschilds controlling the climate. “I have to be the example,” he added on Twitter.
A former state education board member, White represents the District’s poorest ward—once the base of Marion Barry, his mentor. He was elected in 2016 after losing a 2015 special election to fill Barry’s seat. He has distinguished himself as a loyal Ward 8 advocate.
Jews United for Justice, a progressive advocacy group based in D.C., wrote in a tweet that it spoke with White “about how his comments played into the long history of antisemitism.” “We look forward to working with him toward deeper understanding of antisemitism and toward our collective liberation,” JUFJ wrote.
Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said in a statement that she also spoke with White, who’d reached out to her. “He reiterated, ‘that’s not who I am, and that’s not what I’m about,'” Nadeau said in a post on her official Facebook page. “I believe he is being truthful when he says he didn’t realize what his statement implied.” She chairs the human services committee, on which White sits.
“That said,” Nadeau continued, “as a Jewish leader I know how scary these times are, with anti-semitism and white supremacy on the rise across our country, stoked by the hateful words and actions of our own President. It’s all the more important that our leaders across the country focus on eradicating hate and bigotry in all forms, and not make them worse, purposefully or unwittingly.”
The Anti-Defamation League found that Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent from 2016 to 2017—to about 2,000. In D.C., reported hate crimes increased from 2015 to 2016, to more than 100, with a significant jump in those motivated by religious bias.
On Tuesday, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who is also Jewish, said she discussed White’s comments with him. Calling his remarks “disturbing,” she said in a statement that she told White she was concerned both that “he had been exposed to anti-Semitic beliefs akin to what had been used in Nazi Germany either through materials he had read or people he trusts” and that “he subscribed to a conspiracy theory.”
“We both agreed that hate speech of any kind has no place at the D.C. Council or in our city,” Silverman said. “I believe that Trayon is remorseful about what he said, and I believe he is taking steps to understand why these comments were so offensive—not only to Jewish residents but to all who want an inclusive, welcoming city.”
White has 5,000 friends on Facebook, the maximum number that the social network allows per account.
This post has been updated with comment from Silverman.