Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes a column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.
Shoutout to Trayon White for making amends with Jewish leaders for his anti-Semitic rant earlier this month. But I fear the Ward 8 D.C. Council member owes a deeper apology for the damage he’s done to students and science education.
It’s one thing to spread decrepit conspiracy theories about Jews controlling climate, banks, cities and so forth. Perhaps the Council member missed the memo that Nazis used similar conspiracy theories in their attempts to wipe out European Jews in the Holocaust.
Speaking as a Jew, I have seen and heard worse. The killing of two elderly Jews in France -- the most recent an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor -- ranks as real anti- Semitism. Compared to that, White’s attempt to blame climate change on the Rothschild family was laughable.
But White’s attack on science is no joke.
Here’s what he said in live video he published to his official Facebook page on March 16.
"Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” he said. “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.”
Let’s focus on a few things the Council member apparently believes: that it “started snowing out of nowhere” rather than because of a weather front meteorologists had been tracking; that climate control is actually “climate manipulation,” rather than the warming of the atmosphere due to the buildup of carbon from burning fossil fuel; and that humans, in this case the Rothschild family, are “controlling the climate to create natural disasters” so they can own the cities.
This is far from an attack on a particular race or religion. This is an attack on science.
Marion Barry must be rolling over in his grave. White holds himself out as Barry’s disciple. The former four-term mayor served as Ward 8 Council member for many terms and cast himself as the champion of the downtrodden, as does White. Indeed, the rookie Council member has worked hard for his constituents in promoting jobs and job training.
But Barry came to D.C. as an accomplished scientist. After graduating from college, he earned a master's degree in chemistry and taught at the University of Kansas. He was studying for his doctorate at the University of Tennessee in 1964 when he joined the civil rights movement and never returned to his studies. In politics and governance, Barry benefited from a brilliant mind.
To the day he died, Barry knew the D.C. budget better than most of his Council colleagues.
For what it’s worth, Barry relied on Jewish friends like Max Berry, John Hechinger, David Abramson, Jeffrey Cohen and dozens of others to build his political network and rise from street activist to mayor. If anyone had suggested to Barry that powerful Jews could make it snow, he would have run that person out of the room.
Spouting off about climate conspiracies does not help White’s constituents in Ward 8. It’s irrelevant, really, and unhelpful to improving their lives. What they need is a leader who believes in science education, who supports serious study of climate and who makes sure students in his neighborhoods go to school with trust in the information they learn.
Every day teenagers in Ward 8 decide whether to go to school -- or not. Recent reports show attendance in some high schools is about 50 percent. Graduation rates are horribly low. Why give students another reason to scoff at school, because their Council member says science is not relevant in understanding weather?
If students take White’s comments to heart, why study biology? Chemistry? Genetics? Or climatology?
Ironically, D.C. Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) Director Tommy Wells in an interview this week that White is a “champion” of solar power programs in his ward and has been supportive of the government’s efforts to clean up the Anacostia River. That could pass as science, unless White also believes powerful families are polluting the rivers.
I tried to get some clarity from White, but he did not respond to my emailed questions. I asked:
When it comes to climate control, what do you think causes climate change and global warming?
In questioning the University of the District of Columbia president, you referred to Rockefeller grants for resilient cities, of which D.C. is one. Do you support the grant, which pays for a chief resilience officer?
Wells said you support his efforts to promote solar energy in Ward 8. Is that true? If so, why?
Do you support teaching a science-based approach to climate change in Ward 8 schools? If so, do you intend to meet with principals, educators and students in support of science education?
Now that White has apologized to the Jewish community, perhaps he should ask forgiveness from the education community, especially students studying science in Ward 8 schools.
Forget visiting synagogues; go to a science fair at Anacostia or Ballou High School.