Exclusive

‘We Feel His Presence in the Department Is Threatening’

State employees protest the continued employment of an “antisemitic” blogger in their ranks.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. State Department building is seen at night.
The U.S. State Department headquarters building is seen in Washington on Nov. 29, 2010. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

A group of more than 70 State Department officials sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voicing alarm about “an openly antisemitic department employee who continues to have a home in our midst,” calling for his removal, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

Fritz Berggren, a U.S. foreign service officer, maintains a website, bloodandfaith.com, where he writes online posts and publishes video and audio files assailing Jews, the LGBTQ community, and calling for the creation of Christian nation-states.

The letter, which was sent to Blinken on July 28 and signed by more than 70 employees, according to two officials involved in the matter, reads: “Fritz Berggren’s continued employment is an affront to all of us and the values we share. While there may be HR processes underway, they do not appear to be having an impact and are apparently proceeding very slowly as Berggren has been posting this content since at least 2017.”

A group of more than 70 State Department officials sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voicing alarm about “an openly antisemitic department employee who continues to have a home in our midst,” calling for his removal, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

Fritz Berggren, a U.S. foreign service officer, maintains a website, bloodandfaith.com, where he writes online posts and publishes video and audio files assailing Jews, the LGBTQ community, and calling for the creation of Christian nation-states.

The letter, which was sent to Blinken on July 28 and signed by more than 70 employees, according to two officials involved in the matter, reads: “Fritz Berggren’s continued employment is an affront to all of us and the values we share. While there may be HR processes underway, they do not appear to be having an impact and are apparently proceeding very slowly as Berggren has been posting this content since at least 2017.”

“Not only is his propagation of antisemitic ideas highly disturbing and offensive to Jewish and non-Jewish employees alike, but as Jewish employees, we feel his presence at the Department is threatening,” the letter reads.

The letter reflected mounting anger among State Department employees that Berggren was still employed with the department after years of maintaining the website and six months after his State Department affiliation came to light in a Politico story.

The push from employees to oust Berggren from his job comes against the backdrop of rising concerns in the United States’ diplomatic corps about antisemitism after a swastika was found carved into an elevator at the State Department’s main headquarters in Washington in July. Both Blinken and U.S. President Joe Biden swiftly denounced the incident and condemned antisemitism in any form. The State Department launched an investigation into the incident.

The letter exchange also comes as the Biden administration vows to improve the department’s record on diversity and inclusion, while at the Defense Department, top Biden officials are exploring ways to remove white supremacists and other extremists from the U.S. military’s ranks.

“While there is no evidence that Berggren is behind the swastika carved into the Department elevator, his continued employment with seemingly no consequences sends a message of impunity that has undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere in which someone would dare to do such a thing,” the authors of the letter wrote.

The letter was organized by the Jewish Americans and Friends in Foreign Affairs employee group at the State Department, along with other Jewish employees of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

The letter stated Berggren is posted in Washington, but Foreign Policy could not independently verify this. A State Department spokesperson confirmed Berggren is still a State Department employee but would not 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 Aug. 9. “I want to assure you that the Department treats reports of alleged misconduct with the utmost seriousness,” he wrote in the letter, also obtained by Foreign Policy. He said he could not comment on specific cases “for privacy reasons” but reiterated that employees engaging in discriminatory behavior may face disciplinary charges “up to and including separation when warranted.”

One post on Berggren’s site, dated Aug. 1, reads, “teaching the LGBTQ agenda in school is child abuse—they groom children for destruction.” In another, on Oct. 4, 2020, Berggren wrote: “Jesus Christ came to save the whole world from the Jews—the founders of the original Anti-Christ religion, they who are the seed of the Serpent, that brood of vipers.” The title of the nearly 5,200 word blog post was: “Jews are Not God’s Chosen People. Judeo-Christian is anti-Christ.” Another post dated Feb. 11 is titled “If the U.S. Refuses To Be A Christian Nation, It Will Be Destroyed.” The earliest available post on his website is from September 2017.

“We will not comment on internal personnel matters beyond saying that these are personal views of an employee and do not represent those of the State Department,” the State Department spokesperson said. “As a department, we embrace and champion diversity, equity, and inclusion as a source of strength.”

Berggren, in an email response to Foreign Policy, said, “I am heartened to know that I have Jewish readers—I truly hope that they, like Saul, come to know Jesus Christ as literally the Son of God. Saul, renamed Paul, converted and began preaching the message: Jesus is the Son of God!”

He added: “If even one Jew or Gentile is converted then it is well worth whatever inconveniences may ensue.”

The State Department has rules restricting what its employees based in the United States and abroad can say publicly, but several current and former officials said it could be legally difficult to discipline Berggren or remove him from his job given federal employees’ freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment.

The response to Blinken’s letter has been mixed. Several State Department officials involved in the matter expressed anger and frustration that the department has taken so long to separate Berggren from the department after what they see as repeated violations of State Department rules and ethical standards, even as they conceded Blinken is limited in what he can say or do.

“It’s really quite appalling and shocking,” a senior State Department employee said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They say there are First Amendment issues, but at some point, that can’t be the right answer.”

Shalom M. Konstantino, a State Department official who is currently head of the newly established Jewish Americans and Friends in Foreign Affairs employee affinity group, said Blinken’s response to the letter “showed his concern and the seriousness with which he views the issues we raised.”

“Our group is going to continue to work with the secretary and his staff to make sure accountability is at the forefront of our efforts to root out antisemitism from the halls of the [State Department headquarters] and all U.S. embassies and consulates around the world,” he added. 

In the initial letter, the authors also expressed fear that at least one of Berggren’s blog posts went beyond speech and constituted a call to action for extremists that could lead to targeting Jewish employees at the State Department. “The connection between beliefs and actions is real and has been proven time and again, and someone who spews such vile thoughts may soon act on them. For example, Berggren would appear to be calling white supremacists to action when he writes: ‘The world gasps in horror with each new ‘endangered’ sub-species, but cheers the elimination of White culture from whole regions of the earth. This will not stop until White people stop it—we have been handmaidens to our own demise.’”

The post they cite, from Oct. 24, 2020, remains up on Berggren’s website. The letter’s authors write: “This is not mere speech, but Berggren openly inciting his readers to take action based on his toxic beliefs. The Department should not wait for Berggren to target Jewish employees in the workplace, potentially with violence, before removing him. The security clearance process is meant to assess an employee’s suitability for continued employment with the Department. There is no universe in which Berggren should qualify as suitable.”

The signatories of the letter also lay out specific instances where they assert Berggren appeared to violate State Department policy. In one post from July 3, titled “Department of State v. Jesus Christ,” Berggren signs off on the letter: “Fritz Berggren, PhD Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State.”

The authors of the letter said this appears to violate State Department rules on publishing views in a personal capacity while using their State Department affiliation, which bars employees from violating “other applicable ethical standards of character, integrity, and conduct.”

“While we understand that you may not be able to share with us particular personnel actions that may have already been taken with regard to Berggren, we believe the only appropriate personnel action is his separation from the Department,” the letter to Blinken reads. “No one who so openly and unabashedly promotes these ideas should have a home here, and we believe the Department’s own regulations give ample opportunity to make a case that would result in Berggren’s separation.”

The State Department spokesperson did not comment on Berggren’s case specifically and declined to say whether or not the department was in the process of firing Berggren.

“Although we cannot comment on individual personnel matters, we can confirm that allegations that an employee has violated a law, regulation, or department policy are taken seriously,” the spokesperson said. “When such allegations are substantiated, the department may take disciplinary action, up to and including separation, when appropriate. The department does not take such actions lightly and must comply with all required procedures before doing so.”

In an audio and separate video post dated June 26, Berggren spoke about the Politico article and acknowledged, in what appeared to be for the first time on his website, that he was an active member of the foreign service.

“In my opinion, what I do at bloodandfaith.com has absolutely nothing to do with my employer, and that’s why I never identified my employer,” he said. “I don’t need, nor have I sought, nor have I been interested in my employer’s lofty status in order to justify what I’m doing or make it look better or make me look better. I don’t care about any of that stuff. What I write and what I say stands on its own.”

Congressional documents dating back to 2009 show Berggren listed as a member of the foreign service. The State Department also confirmed Berggren previously worked for a unit that handles special immigrant visa (SIV) applications for Afghans who worked with the United States.

“Mr. Berggren was assigned limited duties on SIVs earlier this year but has not been involved in that work for several months,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Separately, the State Department spokesperson would not comment on the status of an investigation into a swastika found carved into an elevator at the State Department’s main headquarters in Washington on July 27. The spokesperson cited Diplomatic Security Service policy to “preserve the integrity of the investigation and any potential future actions that may result from it.”

In an internal memo sent to State Department employees and seen by Foreign Policy, Blinken wrote: “As this painfully reminds us, anti-Semitism isnt a relic of the past. … Its still a force in the world, including close to home. And its abhorrent. It has no place in the United States, at the State Department or anywhere else. And we must be relentless in standing up and rejecting it.”

Biden also condemned the incident. “Let me be clear: Anti-Semitism has no place in the State Department, in my administration, or anywhere in the world. It’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor and stand up to bigotry wherever we find it,” he tweeted on July 27.

Days after the incident, Biden announced his intent to nominate Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, as his special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Lipstadt is known for winning a landmark London trial case in 2000 after being sued for libel by a Holocaust denier.

Earlier this month, Blinken urged the Senate to confirm Lipstadt to her new role as he warned about the rise in antisemitism worldwide. “Here in the United States, as in many parts of the world, we have seen a rise in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred in recent years,” he said in remarks to the press. “The State Department leads the fight for the dignity and freedom of people everywhere, and we’re resolute in the fight against antisemitism.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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