Ethnic bioweapon

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An ethnic bioweapon or biogenetic weapon is a (possibly nonexistent) weapon which can target members of a particular race.[1] The idea has occurred several times in fiction, and there are various claims about different nations or groups creating such a weapon which tend to have the nature of conspiracy theories. It is hypothesised that such a weapon might be a genetically-engineered virus, bacterium, or similar bio-agent. In principle, such a weapon would allow a nation to wage war by killing all its enemies without risk to its own citizens, or would allow racially-motivated terrorists to target a particular ethnic or racial group.

A number of organisations have warned against the danger that such a weapon could be created, including the British Medical Association, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a subcommittee of the US Congress, and the idea has been reported by various publications.[1] More dubiously, it has been claimed that some existing viruses such as HIV were developed to target specific ethnic groups.[2] Conspiracy theories about racial bioweapons feed on a combination of deep-seated fears: suspicion of genetic technology; the worry that the government is trying to capture deeply personal information (such as genetic codes); and government or institutional racism.

How it might work[edit]

Racially targeted bioweapon[edit]

The suggestion is that a virus could be created by genetic engineering that would be able to distinguish genetically between different races and only affect some of them. The idea tends to be based on a simplistic and erroneous view of race: see Racialism. Race is not determined by a single gene, but involves a large number of genes, many of which are found across different races. Hence it is unlikely that any weapon would be 100% accurate, because it is impossible to produce a 100% accurate correlation between race and genes. Population geneticist David Goldstein said in 2004: "Because all groups are quite similar you will never get something that is highly selective. The best you would probably do is something that kills 20% of one group and 28% of another."[3]

However, there have been attempts to identify specific markers that could be used. The British Medical Association warned in 2004 that a specific class of genetic mutations, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), could potentially be used to distinguish between races and provide a basis for an ethnic bioweapon; however, such markers, even if usable, would only allow distinguishing between large regions, not targeting a neighbouring ethnic group.[3]

There may be simpler but less precise solutions based on trends in different populations. For instance, a 2012 study showed that Europeans were much less susceptible to anthrax toxin than other races (possibly due to inherited protections), so anthrax would not be able to fully spare white Europeans, but would kill far more of other races.[4] There are different possibilities for a bioweapon, depending on whether you want 100% accuracy or are willing to accept some errors (out-of-group deaths). A less accurate weapon may be acceptable for terrorists who accept collateral damage, or in situations where the infection is contained far from home.

Another problem with biological weapons is mutation: a virus specific to a single genotype or combination of genes could mutate to target another combination of genes, or spread throughout the human race. This is true even if the bio-agent is designed to be susceptible to a specific antidote, vaccine, or kill switch: any such limitation might be bypassed by mutation.


Based on the idea that different ethnic groups find different odors more or less offensive (based largely on cultural factors rather than genetics), it has been suggested that bad smells could be used to target specific ethnic groups to create a non-lethal weapon for crowd dispersal and similar purposes.[5]

Individually targeted bioweapons[edit]

A variation is the idea of a bioweapon coded to target a single individual based on a sample of their DNA. One scenario has this used to create a virus that would spread like the common cold or flu through the population until it reached its target, e.g. the US President, when it would react to their genetic code and kill them. It is claimed that various governments already have databases of the DNA of world leaders and the US Secret Service takes steps to protect the president's DNA and genetic material, although there are other reasons for doing this than to develop or defend against bioweapons. The Atlantic also notes the high development cost, but suggests that improvements in biotechnology could rapidly lower the price.[6]

Claimed bioweapons[edit]


With the stereotype of the Nazi mad scientist and Nazi human experimentation, there have been various stories of a Nazi bioweapon or research project for targeted killing of Jews.[7] However, there doesn't seem to be actual evidence of such a program.

Although the Germans did not make much use of biological weapons (aside from letting people die of disease), the Nazis did some experiments into the possible use of diseases as weapons of war, including those conducted by Kurt Blome, though not to the same extent as their allies in Japan (e.g. Unit 731).[8][9] Ironically, the Germans may have carried out research into malaria as a weapon,[10] even though north European people (such as ethnic Germans) have less immunity than black Africans and those from the Mediterranean.[11][12]


There have been persistent claims since the 1990s that Israel has been working on a bioweapon that can kill Arabs but not Jews.[13] The idea has been covered in mainstream media, but has been pushed by antisemitic organisations such as the Holocaust denialists of the Institute for Historical Review.[14][15] A 1998 story in the UK Sunday Times claimed to cite sources in the Israeli military and western intelligence agencies to say that, despite the genetic similarity between Jewish people and their near-neighbours, Israel were having some success developing a bioweapon that would target Arabs, especially Iraqis.[13]

Theories about an Israeli bioweapon have also been linked to the death of British chemical weapons scientist David Kelly in 2003. Kelly is generally considered to have committed suicide after he was exposed as the source of claims about British government dishonesty in putting the case for the Iraq War, but his death has been the subject of a range of conspiracy theories.[16]

American anti-Russian weapons[edit]

Many Russians seem to believe that the US has been working on a genetically-based bioweapon that will target ethnic Russians. This has been linked with various conspiracy theories about Americans trying to capture Russian genetic data.[17] In 2017, there was panic over American attempts to collect Russian synovial fluid, officially to follow up on an earlier study that had included data on the skeleto-muscular system from several nationalities, including Russia. Russian nationalists worried that this was part of a nefarious scheme by the US government to map the Russian genome and identify weak points that a genetic weapon could attack.[18]


A number of people have claimed that HIV was created as a bioweapon by the US government to target blacks or other ethnic groups. These conspiracy theorists include Boyd Ed Graves, who claimed that the US government was infecting blacks with HIV via an undetectable dart gun.[2] Such theories derive from early observations that HIV appeared to disproportionately affect certain groups such as black Africans and Haitians, although this can be explained by other reasons that don't involve deliberate bio-engineering.[19][20]

Vague claims have also been made that ebola could have been created as a bioweapon to use against Africa (for bonus points, link to early 20th century eugenics programs and chemtrails).[21]


There are also fringe claims that the SARS virus is a bioweapon targeting east Asians/"Orientals".[22]

Human Genome Project and race-based food[edit]

Since creating ethnic bioweapons requires genetic knowledge, then it's a short jump to hypothesise that the Human Genome Project was secretly funded by the US military or underground agencies to create race-based weapons; as already mentioned, this links in with both with the US government's occasional past involvement in eugenics (including forced sterilization) and other conspiracy theories about the US government trying to kill the population. At least if you're a member of black nationalist organisation the Nation of Islam, the evidence is overwhelming: the Human Genome Project was organised by "the U.S. Energy Department, which also oversees America’s nuclear weapons arsenal", and it was "headquartered at the Cold Springs Harbor laboratory on Long Island, N.Y., which is the exact location of the racist Eugenics Research Office, which was developed as a precursor to the racist Nazi eugenics program, and its racist Rockefeller family-funded think-tank, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute For The Study of Eugenics." And could this be used to create genetically modified food designed to kill black people?[23] The actual evidence here is minimal; knowledge of heredity was used by proponents of eugenics, but that doesn't mean that any geneticists are today planning genocide. The Department of Energy does sponsor genetics research as part of a range of health, environmental, and scientific research,[24] but not everything the government funds is evil.

Other racist weapons[edit]

There are a variety of other weapons that may distinguish based on race without having the structure of the ethnic bioweapon described above.

White dog[edit]

A white dog is a dog trained to attack black people and be friendly towards white people. The notion was popularised by Romain Gary's 1970 novel White Dog, based on an earlier magazine article, and loosely filmed by Sam Fuller in 1982.[25] Gary's novel was reportedly based on his real experiences having adopted an Alabaman police dog trained to attack black people on sight.[26]

Racist AI[edit]

Articifical intelligence algorithms such as facial recognition have a tendency to be racist, at least if they are not trained on a representative sample of people of all races.[27] It would presumably be possible to train AI to distinguish race with some measure of accuracy and create a racist killbot similar to the white dog idea.

Fictional representations[edit]

  • The TV show Fringe in January 2010 featured a Nazi German bioweapon targeting Jews[7]
  • The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry
  • Titan by Stephen Baxter, targeting Han Chinese
  • Genocide Man by Remus Shepherd, in which the tools to create ethnic-selective plagues become widely available.

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 See the Wikipedia article on Ethnic bioweapon.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Secret Plot to Destroy African Americans, Poz, 1 Dec 2000
  3. 3.0 3.1 Could you make a genetically targeted weapon?, The Guardian, 28 Oct 2004
  4. Genetic weapons could kill only the people you hate, io9, 8 Feb 2012
  5. The Future of Non-lethal Weapons: Technologies, Operations, Ethics, and Law, edited by Nick Lewer, Routledge, 2017
  6. Hacking the President’s DNA, The Atlantic, Nov 2012
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fringe's Killer Biological Weapon is Rooted in Fact, Popular Mechanics, 1 Feb 2010
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Kurt Blome.
  9. The Nazis’ Biowarfare Program at Dachau, Gary Stix, Scientific American, February 21, 2014
  10. Nazi scientists planned to use mosquitoes as biological weapon, The Guardian, 14 Feb 2014
  11. Data & Statistics on Sickle Cell Disease, CDC
  12. Mystery solved: How sickle hemoglobin protects against malaria, Science Daily, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 Israel's Ethnic Weapon?, Wired, 16 Nov 1998
  14. Israel is Developing 'Ethnic Bomb' for Growing Biological Weapons Arsenal, Mark Weber, Journal for Historical Review, Nov. - Dec. 1998 (Vol. 17, No. 6), pages 24-25.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Institute for Historical Review.
  16. Ethnic specific weapons: The real story behind the murder of Dr David Kelly, SOTT, 27 July 2010
  17. Russian Senator accuses West of compiling biological data on its citizens in planning for biological attack, The Independent, 31 Oct 2017
  18. Is the U.S. Really Targeting Russians With Bio Weapons?, The Moscow Times, Nov 3, 2017
  19. AIDS virus invaded U.S. from Haiti: study, Reuters, 30 Oct 2007
  20. Why is AIDS Worse in Africa?, Discover Magazine, Feb 2004
  21. Bioweapons and eugenics are still being used against us by our own government, Jack Ferm, South Utah Independent, 2015
  22. Is SARS virus a bio-weapon that sets up a person for a secondary disease, and is it specifically aimed at orientals?, Cutting Edge, accessed 3 Aug 2018
  23. The Human Genome Project and race-based foods, Robert Muhammad, Final Call, Nation of Islam
  24. Genomics, Department of Energy
  25. White Dog – Philip French on Sam Fuller's powerful attack on racism, Philip French, The Guardian, 27 Apr 2012
  26. See the Wikipedia article on White Dog (Gary novel).
  27. AI can be sexist and racist — it’s time to make it fair, James Zou and Londa Schiebinger, Nature, 18 July 2018