Widespread confusion and conspiracies were present online this morning after social media was flooded with videos showing Orthodox Jewish men fighting law enforcement in New York City.
The reason for the fight? An underground tunnel.
The New York Police Department was called to the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on Monday after a group of young students attempted to stop construction workers from sealing off a hidden passageway recently discovered under the synagogue.
As first reported by the local news outlet CrownHeights.Info in December, the tunnel had been inadvertently discovered by a construction crew at the time after a nearby resident reported hearing voices in his walls. The tunnel, according to Chabad Chairman Yehuda Krinsky, had been built by “young agitators.”
The tunnel stretched from the women’s section of the building to an underground cleansing bath known as a mikvah. The Jewish Chronicle, the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper, says the tunnels were dug in response to a dispute between two Jewish groups who have been fighting for decades over the building’s ownership.
Upon learning of the tunnel, leadership at Chabad-Lubavitch scheduled a construction crew to close it off with concrete. In response, a group of Jewish men entered the tunnels and attacked a concrete truck, resulting in the ensuing police response.
The bizarre situation left many scratching their heads as more footage appeared online. One clip even showed a Jewish man crawling out of the tunnel’s exterior entrance before running down the street.
The showdown at the synagogue ultimately resulted in the arrest of 10 people. Given the initial lack of details on the tunnel’s provenance, conspiracy theorists quickly responded with explanations of their own.
Followers of QAnon argued that the tunnel was used for human trafficking. Believers in the conspiracy have long thought New York City was home to a secret underground human trafficking network. Others claimed that the tunnel was used to harm children. One user even claimed that the tunnel had been used to transport human meat to be served at McDonald’s.
Antisemitic remarks also flourished on X. Tristan Tate, brother of accused human trafficker Andrew Tate, argued that the incident made comparing Jewish people to rats acceptable.
“I don’t care what your race or religion is… If you scurry around underneath a city in tunnels the world is going to liken you to rats,” Tate wrote. “Defeat stereotypes … don’t build secret rat like tunnel networks under New York.”
Many also used the incident to argue that rapper Kanye West, who has repeatedly espoused antisemitic views, had been vindicated.
As is the case with any widely covered event, the tunnel discovery also led to an explosion of memes across social media.
“Discovering a 22-mile tunnel system hidden behind an original Fiddler on the Roof poster deep in the freezer section of your local bagel shop,” one user wrote, referencing the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption.
While the excitement, confusion, and memes from the tunnel story will likely fade, the incident is clearly galvanizing those with negative pre-conceived notions regarding the Jewish community.