Trayon White Is Running for DC Mayor. Has the City Forgiven His Antisemitic Comments? (2023)

“Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And DC 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.”
—Trayon White Sr., March 16, 2018

You may remember Trayon White Sr., the Washington, DC councilmember who famously said that a Jewish banking family controls the weather back in 2018. Now, nearly four years later, he is running for a new political office: DC mayor.

White, 37, has been a popular member of the DC city council since 2017. He represents Ward 8, a predominantly Black community and home to the city’s poorest neighborhoods. When he first took office, he was known locally as the youngest member of the council, sitting in the seat once held by former Mayor Marion Barry. But he was not known outside of the city until 2018, when his comments became an international story.

“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man,” White said in a Facebook video on March 16. “Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And DC 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.”

(Video) Trayon White will likely not be disciplined by DC City Council

The Rothschild family is a famous European banking dynasty that made its fortune in the 18th century. The family, which is Jewish, has long been the target of antisemitic conspiracy theories. Most of these revolve around the idea that the family is secretly controlling world events in bizarre ways—controlling the economy, assassinating presidents, founding Israel.

In his 2018 video, White was referring to an enduring conspiracy theory in this vein: that the Rothschilds control the weather. And it soon surfaced that White had made similar comments just a month before: “There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds, [they] control the World Bank, as we all know, infusing dollars into major cities,” White had said at a February gathering of city officials, according to WAMU, a public radio station in DC.

When The Washington Post’s story on the video first went live, it appeared that White did not understand how his comments were related to antisemitism. But several hours later, White sent The Post an apology: “I did not intend to be antisemitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues,” he wrote. He added that the progressive group Jews United for Justice, with which he has a long-standing relationship, was helping him “to understand the history of comments made against Jews.”

Later that month, White attended a bagels-and-lox breakfast, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, where lawmakers and local Jewish leaders took turns speaking about combating antisemitism. “Growing up as a young man in Ward 8, I had no idea what antisemitism was. Really,” White said at the breakfast. “As a leader, I should be held accountable.”

Thrown into the limelight, White continued to express regret. But the story continued making international headlines for several months, growing ever more vociferous.

(Video) DC mayoral candidate hopes to follow in Marion Barry's footsteps

The following month, White made a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was accompanied by Rabbi Batya Glazer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. But he left mid-tour, embarrassed by the unexpected presence of reporters, prompting another round of criticism. Around the same time, reports surfaced that White had made a $500 donation to a Chicago event where Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said that “powerful Jews are my enemy.” Alongside his other apologies, White personally repaid the $500 to his constituent services fund, which he had used to make the donation.

Among the city’s Jewish communities, there is no consensus on how the situation resolved, whether White should be forgiven, or whether the situation was handled well. In May 2018, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the DC synagogue Ohev Sholom, interrupted a city council meeting, yelling “Shame on you!” and criticizing councilmembers for not censuring White.

Now, three years later, Herzfeld’s feelings have not changed. “I think there’s still a lot of pain in the Jewish community about [White’s] comments,” he says.

On the other hand, Rabbi Daniel Zemel, who attended the bagels-and-lox breakfast, came away disappointed, calling Jewish leaders’ public-facing approach “a theatrical display.” “I believe in patience and wisdom and getting to know someone,” says Zemel, the senior rabbi at DC’s Temple Micah. “It’s not having two or three meetings, and all of a sudden antisemitism education’s achieved.”

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Over the last three years, White has maintained his popularity in Ward 8. It’s where he grew up, and he is intimately acquainted with the challenges its residents face. His family was very poor; sometimes they couldn’t go outside because of nearby violence. As a young teenager, he stole cars and got into trouble with the police, before ultimately resolving to turn his life around, according to The Washington Post. He graduated from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2006.

As a councilmember, White has made gun violence one of his priorities. But White is known more for his force of personality than for his legislative record. He is always a visible presence in his community, dutifully showing up to neighborhood events and performing acts of public service. “Trayon is not a politician who relies on typical rhetoric; rather, he speaks very directly and very passionately,” says Chuck Thies, a longtime DC political strategist. “He’s done a good job advocating for the residents he represents and expressing their concerns in a manner that is outspoken and quite clear.”

In 2020, White ran for reelection to the council, winning the Democratic primary—the decisive race in an overwhelmingly Democratic city—with 58.2 percent of the vote. “In his ward he’s quite popular,” says Philip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, who also lives in Ward 8. Still, “I think his popularity in his ward will not necessarily translate into a viable candidacy for mayor.”

The Democratic primary is on June 21, and the general election is on November 8. But White, who did not respond to requests for comment, is not considered a major contender in the race. The incumbent mayor, Muriel Bowser, has widespread popularity, and a victory from White would be a major upset—even if he had never mentioned the Rothschilds.

Thies thinks the city has largely moved past White’s comments. “It’s not like there has been a subsequent incident,” he says. “I think people understand that Trayon was genuinely apologetic and probably didn’t understand the sensitivity of the issues he was weighing in on.” Pannell says he realizes that White apologized, but “I do think that his unfortunate comments back in 2018 will be an issue in certain parts of the city,” he says. “Even in the face of the sincerest apologies, people may forgive, but they’re not going to forget.”

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Since the pandemic began, White has also hinted at anti-vaccine beliefs. In spring 2020, a vaccine-wary commenter posted on White’s Instagram account, citing the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, an infamously unethical study that left Black syphilis patients untreated for decades. As Washington City Paper reported, White responded to the comment, “you really think I would be promoting something that’s going to be giving vaccines to my people?”

This incident took place in the early pandemic, long before today’s vaccines were available. Now, White has confirmed that he is himself vaccinated against COVID-19. When case counts soared in December, White tested positive for the virus, after which he reaffirmed his support for Washington’s indoor mask mandate.

A few weeks later, DC saw its first big snowfall of the season. But this time, in his newsletter to Ward 8 residents, White kept his comments on the weather simple: “New year, fresh snow, fresh beginnings.”

This story is part of a series called Deep Dives, which looksat antisemitic incidences reported in the media and Moment’s Antisemitism Monitor in order to explore their long-term consequences and provide perspective.

Top photo: Trayon White speaking at the groundbreaking for a new bridge in 2018. (Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0)

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