A group of more than 70 State Department officials sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken alerting them to "an openly anti-Semitic official who continues to have a home among us," according to a copy of the foreign policy letter.
Fritz Berggren, a US field service officer, maintains a website, bloodandfaith.com, where he writes online and publishes video and audio files attacking Jews and the LGBTQ community and calling for the creation of Christian nation-states.
According to two officials, the letter, which was sent to Blinken on July 28 and signed by more than 70 employees, states: “The continued employment of Fritz Berggren is an affront to all of us and the values we share. Even if HR processes may be in progress, they seem to have no impact and seem to be progressing very slowly, as Berggren has been publishing this content since at least 2017. "
"His dissemination of anti-Semitic ideas is not only extremely disturbing and insulting for Jewish and non-Jewish employees alike, but as Jewish employees we perceive his presence in the department as threatening," says the letter.
The letter reflected growing anger among State Department staff that Berggren was still employed by the Department after years of maintaining the website and six months after his Foreign Department affiliation came to light in a Politico story.
Pressure from staff to oust Berggren from his job comes amid growing concerns in the United States diplomatic corps over anti-Semitism after a swastika was found in an elevator at State Department headquarters in Washington in July. Both Blinken and US President Joe Biden immediately condemned the incident and condemned anti-Semitism in all forms. The State Department opened an investigation into the incident.
The correspondence also comes as the Biden administration vows to improve the department's record on diversity and inclusion while senior Biden officials at the Department of Defense look for ways to remove white racists and other extremists from the U.S. military& # 39; s ranks.
"While there is no evidence that Berggren was behind the swastika carved in the department elevator, his seemingly inconsequential continued employment sends out a message of impunity that has undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere in which someone would dare to do something like that." Authors of the letter written.
The letter was written by the Jewish Americans and Friends in Foreign Affairs staff group at the State Department along with other Jewish staff from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development organized.
The letter said Berggren was abandoned in Washington, but Foreign Policy was unable to independently verify this. A State Department spokesman confirmed that Berggren is still a State Department employee but did not want to say whether he maintains an active government security clearance, as the department “does not comment on individual security clearances”.
Blinken responded with a letter to the signatories on August 9th. "I want to assure you that the ministry treats reports of alleged wrongdoing with the utmost seriousness," he wrote in the letter also obtained from Foreign Policy. He said he could not comment on certain cases "for privacy reasons", but reiterated that employees who show discriminatory behavior face disciplinary sanctions "up to and including separation when justified".
A post on Berggren's August 1 website reads: “Teaching the LGBTQ agenda in school is child abuse – they nurse children to destruction.” In another, Berggren wrote on October 4, 2020: “Jesus Christ came to the to save the whole world from the Jews – the founders of the original anti-Christian religion, the seed of the serpent, this brood of snakes. ”The title of the nearly 5,200 word blog post was:“ Jews are not God's chosen people. Judeo-Christian is anti-Christian. ”Another February 11 post was titled“ If the US refuses to be a Christian nation, it will be destroyed. ”The earliest post available on its website is from September 2017.
"We will not comment on internal personnel matters, except that these are personal views of an employee and do not represent those of the State Department," said the State Department spokesman. "As a department, we welcome and promote diversity, equity and inclusion as a source of strength."
Berggren said in an email response to Foreign Policy, “I am encouraged to know that I have Jewish readers – I really hope that, like Saul, they literally come to know Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Saul, renamed Paul, was converted and began to preach the message: Jesus is the Son of God! "
He added, "If even a Jew or a Gentile is converted, it is well worth the inconvenience."
The State Department has rules restricting what its U.S. and foreign-based employees can say publicly, but several current and former officials said it could be legally difficult to discipline Berggren or remove him from his job, as the Freedom of speech for federal employees is protected the first change.
The answer to blinking& # 39; S Letter was shuffled. Several State Department officials involved in the matter expressed anger and frustration that it took the department so long to separate Berggren from the department after repeatedly violating State Department rules and ethical standards despite admitting that blink is limited in what it does say or can do.
"It really is quite appalling and shocking," said a senior Foreign Ministry official on condition of anonymity. "They say there are First Amendment problems, but at some point that may not be the right answer."
Shalom M. Konstantino, a State Department official who is currently the head of the newly formed affinity group Jewish Americans and Friends in Foreign Affairs, said Blinken's response to the letter "shows his concern and the seriousness with which he views the issues we have raised . ”
“Our group will continue to work with the Secretary and his staff to ensure accountability is at the forefront of our efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism from the halls of (State Department headquarters) and all US embassies and consulates around the world. " he added.
In the first letter, the authors also expressed concern that at least one of Berggren's blog posts went beyond the speech and constituted a call to action for extremists that could lead to targeting Jewish State Department officials. “The relationship between beliefs and actions is real and proven time and time again, and someone who feeds such heinous thoughts may react to it soon. Berggren, for example, seems to urge white racists to take action when he writes: “The world gasps with horror at every new 'endangered' subspecies, but applauds the elimination of white culture from entire regions of the world. It won't stop until the whites stop doing it – we were servants to our own downfall. "
The October 24, 2020 post they cited remains available on Berggren's website. The authors of the letter write: “This is not just a speech, but Berggren openly urges his readers to take action on his toxic beliefs. The department should not wait for Berggren to possibly violently assault Jewish workers in the workplace before removing him. The security review process is designed to assess an employee's suitability for continued employment with the department. There is no universe in which Berggren should be considered suitable. "
The signatories of the letter also cite specific cases in which they allege Berggren appeared to have violated State Department guidelines. In a July 3 post titled "Department of State v. Jesus Christ ", Berggren signs the letter:" Fritz Berggren, PhD Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State ".
The letter's authors said this appears to violate the State Department's rules for posting views in a personal capacity while taking advantage of their affiliation with the State Department, preventing employees from violating "other applicable ethical standards of character, integrity and conduct." .
"While we understand that you may not be able to tell us about certain staffing actions that may have already been taken with regard to Berggren, we believe that the only appropriate staffing action is his separation from the department," the letter reads flashing. "Nobody who promotes these ideas so openly and blatantly should have a home here, and we believe the ministry's own rules provide ample opportunity to represent a case that would lead to a separation from Berggren."
The State Department spokesman did not comment specifically on Berggren's case and declined to say whether the Department was in the process of firing Berggren.
"We can not comment on individual personnel matters, but we can confirm that allegations that an employee has violated laws, regulations or department guidelines are taken seriously," said the spokesman. “If such allegations are well founded, the department can take disciplinary action up to and including separation. The department does not take such measures lightly and must comply with all necessary procedures beforehand. "
In an audio and a separate video post on June 26, Berggren spoke about the Politico article, apparently confirming for the first time on his website that he was an active member of the External Action Service.
"In my opinion, what I do at bloodandfaith.com has absolutely nothing to do with my employer, and that's why I have never identified my employer," he said. “I need and have not searched, nor have I been interested in the high status of my employer in order to justify my actions or to make it look better or to make me look better. I don't care about that. What I write and what I say stand for themselves. "
Congress documents from 2009 show that Berggren is listed as a member of the Foreign Service. The State Department also confirmed that Berggren previously worked for a unit handling special immigrant visa (SIV) applications for Afghans who have worked with the United States.
"Mr. Berggren was assigned limited duties for SIVs earlier this year, but has not been involved in that work for several months," the State Department spokesman said.
Regardless, the State Department spokesman did not want to comment on the state of the investigation into a swastika that was found in an elevator at State Department headquarters in Washington on July 27 and any possible future actions that may result from it. "
In an internal memo sent to State Department officials and viewed by Foreign Policy, Blinken wrote: “As this painfully reminds us, anti-Semitism is not’t a relic of the past. … it’There is still a power in the world, even near home. And it’s hideous. It has no place in the United States, in the State Department, or anywhere else. And we have to stand up relentlessly and refuse. "
Biden also condemned the incident. “Let me be clear: anti-Semitism has no place in the State Department, in my administration, or anywhere else in the world. It is up to all of us not to give a safe haven to hatred and to face bigotry wherever we find it, ”he tweeted on July 27th.
Days after the incident, Biden announced his intention to appoint Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, as his special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. Lipstadt is known for winning a landmark London trial in 2000 after being sued for libel by a Holocaust denier.
Earlier this month, Blinken called on the Senate to reaffirm Lipstadt in her new role when it warned of the rise in anti-Semitism around the world. "Here in the United States, as in many parts of the world, we have seen an increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in recent years," he said in a press release. "The State Department is leading the fight for the dignity and freedom of people everywhere, and we are determined to fight anti-Semitism."