Why White Nationalism Requires Antisemitism
The man who killed ten people in Buffalo on Saturday published a manifesto. I’m in it. My photo appears in a typology of Jewish faces, each of which has a label: “Goblin,” “Troll,” “Demon” etc. To the right of my face is Ben Shapiro’s. To the left is a photo of a rat.
Given this unnerving news, I’m grateful I’ll be joined on our Zoom call this Friday by Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of the acclaimed book, How Fascism Works, and one of the most perceptive thinkers about the relationship between anti-Black racism, nativism, and antisemitism, both in the US and around the world. Jason comes to these issues though painful and heroic family experience. His German-Jewish mother, Ilse, helped free over 400 Jewish prisoners from Nazi concentration camps in the late 1930s. In 1965, the television show “This is Your Life,” broadcast an extraordinary segment about her. As always, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following Wednesday.
Back to the manifesto. It’s openly genocidal and deeply stupid. (In the row of “Jewish” faces above mine, right next to George Soros, appears the late journalist Helen Thomas, who not only wasn’t Jewish but who infamously said Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine.”)
But the manifesto is also highly familiar. Like many white nationalists, the Buffalo shooter believed that saving the West from a non-white “invasion” requires eradicating Jews.
The manifesto begins with the same subject that obsesses Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump: Immigration from the Global South. “Why did you decide to carry out the attack?” the shooter asks himself. His answer: “To directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the replacers.”
From there, the shooter descends into a long, vicious, and deranged attack on the supposed inferiority and criminality of Black people. The fact that many Black Americans have roots in the US that stretch back centuries, and that he, as a white American, is a descendent of immigrants himself, doesn’t trouble him. For the shooter, “immigrant”—or in his words, “replacer”—is a racial category. It has little to do with the date one’s family entered the United States. To a significant degree, this is also true for Donald Trump, who in 2019 told the four non-white members of Congress who comprise “The Squad”—including Cincinnati-born African-American Ayanna Pressley—to “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Like other white nationalists, however, the Buffalo shooter must resolve a contradiction. If Black and brown people are inferior, how have they managed to invade and nearly conquer the Western world? Here’s where Jews come in. Since Jews are malevolent in a different way—morally degenerate but supremely cunning—they control and manipulate the invaders from the Global South. In one montage, the shooter identifies the “Jews behind the NAACP”—because, of course, Black Americans could not possibly run their own civil rights organization. He later alleges that Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza was raised by a Jewish stepfather. At times, the shooter even seems to suggest that Black and brown people—along with whites—are victims of the Jewish plague. Jews “will create infighting between our people and races,” he declares, “so we are fighting each other rather than them.” And Jews don’t only control other racial and ethnic groups. We’re behind the movement for transgender rights, too.
The shooter is riffing on an old theme. White supremacists have long imagined Jews as the sinister puppeteers behind both Black and brown immigration and Black and brown liberation. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote that, “It was and is the Jews who bring the Negro to the Rhineland, always with the same concealed goal and with the clear goal of destroying, through bastardization, the white race they hate.” J.B. Stoner, the Georgia segregationist who in 1958 bombed the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, once claimed that “The negro is not the enemy. The Jew is THE enemy of our White Race and the Jew is using the negro in an effort to destroy the White Race that he so passionately hates.” In South Africa, the story was much the same. In 1985, Washington Post correspondent Glenn Frankel noted that the apartheid government depicted Joe Slovo, the Lithuanian-born, Yiddish-speaking, head of the South African Communist Party as “Public Enemy Number One, the evil white mastermind… manipulating blacks inside his movement.”
It should not be remotely surprising, therefore, that the man who murdered 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 was enraged that the synagogue had participated in a project called National Refugee Shabbat. “Open you [sic] Eyes!” he wrote. “It’s the filthy evil jews Bringing the Filthy evil Muslims into the Country.” The following year, the man who opened fire at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California expressed a similar grievance. In his manifesto, he condemned Jews “for their role in voting for and funding politicians and organizations who use mass immigration to displace the European race.”
For Jews, there’s an important lesson here. It is that anyone who fuels paranoia and rage about a non-white takeover of the United States endangers us. It does not matter if, like Tucker Carlson, they don’t explicitly mention Jews in their conspiracy theories. Plenty of their followers will connect the dots. It doesn’t matter if—like many of the Republican Party’s leading white nationalists—they fawn over the state of Israel. It’s entirely possible to believe that Jews are laudable when they establish an “ethnocracy” (I’m borrowing the term from Israeli anthropologist Oren Yiftachel) on their own turf while also considering Jews a menace when they undermine the white Christian ethnocracy you’re trying to build in the United States. The Buffalo shooter writes that “a Jew confined to Judea where he can’t spread his people or beliefs is of no concern to me.” (Though he adds that, via the Internet, Jews can infect foreign lands from a distance.)
It doesn’t matter if the person fueling “great replacement” psychosis has a Jewish daughter and son-in-law. And it doesn’t matter if that person is Jewish themselves. Last fall, Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel told an Ohio audience that Muslims had developed a strategy for conquering the West: “We don’t need to beat them with weapons. We’ll beat them with our bellies.” Muslims, he explained, realized that “If we move into these countries” and “have a lot more kids than they do, we will use their constitution and their laws against them.” According to Mandel, the plot is already far along. “They’re doing it in a bunch of countries throughout Europe” and with “[George] Soros funding, that’s exactly what they want to do in the United States if they flood the border with illegals from Central America.” (Evidently Mandel believes El Salvador is composed primarily of Muslims.)
Mandel hails from a prominent Cleveland Jewish family. He received the endorsements of Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Trump’s special envoy against antisemitism, Elan Carr; and several prominent lay leaders of AIPAC. In his first television ad, Mandel noted that “my grandma was saved from the Nazis by a network of courageous Christians who risked their lives to save hers.” He then spent the rest of the campaign telling Ohio’s white Christians that he would save them from the Muslim immigrants and Central American refugees who seek to conquer the United States—and from the Jews who are funding that conquest behind the scenes.
Mandel lost his primary to J.D. Vance, who ran on many of the same themes. So if Ohio elects a white nationalist this fall, he will be a Christian, not a Jew. But from the perspective of Jewish safety, it makes little difference.
The great divide in global politics today is between people who believe their nations should aspire to equal citizenship, irrespective of inherited characteristics like race, religion, ethnicity and sex, and people who believe their nations should enforce the supremacy of a dominant group. (That’s why, as I argued recently, it’s utterly perverse for Jewish leaders like the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt to claim that progressives who support equality between Jews and Palestinians are the moral equivalent of white nationalists. In the most fundamental ways, they’re on opposite sides.)
The Buffalo shooter did not kill Jews. But his ideology of racial supremacy threatens us. It threatens us even when the white nationalists who espouse it do not mention Jews. It threatens us even when those white nationalists claim to love Jews. It threatens us even when those white nationalists are Jews themselves.
Speaking of Jonathan Greenblatt, The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner made an admirable attempt to unravel his incoherent claims about anti-Zionism and antisemitism in an interview last week.
For the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s “Occupied Thoughts” Podcast, I talked with FMEP’s Lara Friedman and political organizer Rania Batrice about the role of Israel-Palestine in this year’s midterm campaigns.
In The Atlantic, Lara Bazelon wrote about how the ACLU lost its way.
On MSNBC, Ayman Mohyeldin remembered his friend, the slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
See you Friday,