Understanding the Alt Right’s Antisemitism
Steve Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive, watches as Donald Trump campaigns at a cultural center in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, September 16, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)
As Trump has started to assemble his administration, one non-establishment pick has provoked a particular outcry around the country: the choice of Stephen Bannon, the executive behind the far-right Breitbart media outlet, as chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
Bannon, who took a hiatus from Breitbart to help run Trump’s presidential bid, has been known for taking the already deep-right Breitbart into the territory of racist antagonisms, making it a prime platform for those going after immigration, Muslims, refugees, feminists and everyone on the alt-right’s long hit list.
While Bannon’s racialism has been on display on Breitbart’s front page for some time now, his anti-Semitism has started to bleed through in articles that name “renegade Jews” and rest on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Bannon’s ex-wife even alleged that Bannon refused to send their child to a school that had Jewish students in it, though he has denied those claims. These anti-Semitic moves have enraged many, especially following the president-elect’s end-of-campaign speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, at which Trump used a dog whistle to invoke an older anti-Semitic trope.
Trump’s Anti-Semitic Dog Whistles
The crowd in West Palm Beach on October 13, 2016, had the collective buzz of anger before the gates to the venue even opened. The resentment in many sectors of the white, middle America had their fears put to language in the Donald Trump campaign. While it was Trump’s anger that ignited the crowd into chants and boos, he was feeding off a palpable rage that many who have seen their jobs shipped overseas have already felt. They were looking for someone to blame.
“Workers in the United States are making less than they were almost 20 years ago, and yet they are working harder…. It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” Trump yelled with increasing venom. “We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.”
It was here that many turned their heads, noting that his dog whistle had hit some familiar territory. While this part of his speech might appear to convey anti-corporate sentiment, the curious pattern of his language picked up on a theme that was older than recent issues over trade. His words resurrected a caricature of the “international banker,” which has often been used as a code word for “Jew” in times of conspiratorial populism, in which the crisis of capitalism is blamed on an ethnic minority scapegoat.
This was just as well for the alt-right component of the Trump base, an ideological fascist movement that has used internet memes, social media and new publishing platforms to rebrand the old ideas of white nationalism. For them, the problem is not international capitalism and the crisis of the “haves and the have-nots,” but instead Jews supposedly acting in control of a system. They want to join with Trump in agreement that there is a minority “rigging the system” against him, just as they think the system is rigged against whites in the modern multicultural world.
From the rising popularity of the National Front in France, to the victory of Euro-skeptics in the June UK Brexit vote, the white world is returning to the politics of “name and blame.” In this way, Trump named the “international banker” in the same way that David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who almost won the Louisiana Governor’s office in 1991, used to cite “New York values” in his campaign materials, both drawing caricatures of an enemy hidden in the midst of their imagined white public.
The alt-right itself has often been mislabeled as “fascist lite” or simply a component of new conservatism: Breitbart with a few radicals around the fringes. In truth, the alt-right and its dominant institutions have a direct continuity to neo-fascist movements that have existed since World War II. Their anti-Semitism is traditional in the most basic ways: It takes the themes and myths important to the process of vilifying Jews and ports them over to a new language. While many alt-right outlets like the Daily Shoah and the Daily Stormer are clear with their drawings of sweaty-palmed merchants, others have obscured their beliefs in academic jargon.
The Anti-Semitic Psychology Scholar at the Heart of the Alt-Right
In the world of contemporary anti-Semitism, no one has done more to support pejorative canards about Jewish power and money than Dr. Kevin MacDonald. A retired psychology professor from the University of California at Long Beach, MacDonald was a pioneer of evolutionary psychology whose work on biological subspecies, such as the behavioral development of wolves, was impressive. He slowly began shifting his focus until in 1994, after having become a staple academic in his field, he published the book The People That Shall Dwell Alone. He went on to publish two subsequent books outlining a conspiratorial view of Jews in the Western world.
As an anti-Semite, MacDonald sees Judaism as a “group evolutionary strategy” that Jews use to compete with other ethnic groups for resources. He accuses Jews of using what he sees as their “high verbal intelligence” to upend “healthy” Western values. He also argues that Jews use false ideologies to chip away at the nationalism of their countries, while leaving their own Jewish nationalism intact. He blames Marxism, Freudianism, neoconservatism, Boerian anthropology and many other movements for their “Jewish character,” often for contradicting reasons. For example, he argues that Jews create communism so that they can infect the West with the false idea of equality, and that they falsify anthropology to create the destructive idea that all races are created equal. There is no empirical evidence for these claims, and they are not even based on a cursory understanding of the history of social movements, the development of political ideas, or the actual role of scholarship in society.
Within this discourse, MacDonald tries to explain away the Holocaust itself as simply the consequence of Jews antagonizing Europeans. He argues that Jews do not necessarily “conspire” to control investment banks and the media, it is simply their cultural “in grouping,” self-selection and desire to cheat non-Jews that has allowed for their power structures.
In his follow-up book, Understanding Jewish Influence, MacDonald blames Jewish activism for opening the borders to immigrants:
“The idea that any sort of exclusionary thinking on the part of Americans — and especially European Americans as a majority group — leads inexorably to a Holocaust for Jews is not the only reason why Jewish organizations still favor mass immigration,” writes MacDonald, attempting to argue that left-leaning social movements are driven by Jewish ethnic interests. “I have identified two others as well: The belief that greater diversity makes Jews safer and an intense sense of historical grievance against the traditional peoples and culture of the United States and Europe.”
MacDonald’s theories require a sense of “ethnic determination,” the idea that genetic programming drives the national behavior. He argues that non-Jewish whites are victims of this Jewish-controlled mass immigration and “globalism” because of their “pathological altruism,” which supposedly forces them to be too trusting. Non-Jewish Europeans, he says, developed a morality based on “high-trust societies” in which people in the community had each other’s best interests at heart.
These ideas all root themselves in complex arguments meant at maintaining negative qualities for non-whites, usually at the cost of evidence and consistency. Anti-Semitic theorists like MacDonald describe Jews as conniving people who destroy cultures with their pernicious liberalism but are also nationalist in the development of Israel (an inaccurate representation of Jewish relations to Israel, which run the political gamut). There is no denying the role of nationalism in stoking the state of Israel’s abuses against the Palestinian people. However, anti-Semitic theorists tend to erase the plight of Palestinians and instead focus on portraying acts of power-seeking as inherently Jewish. Many such anti-Semites could be characterized as “Zionist” themselves, as they’d rather see Jews in Israel than in the US or Europe.
This argument is at the heart of the alt-right: the idea that race and ethnicity determine destiny. Whereas Karl Marx argued that history was the story of class antagonisms, the alt-right professes that all politics are ones of ethnic conflict and identity. Alt-right theorists like MacDonald see Europe as a direct result of what they see as the evolutionary qualities of white people. They believe that Jews are not of that history; they have their own identity and genetic background. Of course, non-European Jews are erased in this equation.
While for some members of the alt-right an adherence to Holocaust denial may have been replaced with a theory of “Jewish power,” the alt-right is essentially split on revisionism. Mike Enoch, the loud host of the Daily Shoah has said about the Holocaust and climate change that he’s a “denier either way.” Many of these outlets joke about the poison gas Zyklon B and the Buchenwald concentration camp, which is something that apologists like Milo Yiannopoulos often say are just a joke meant at riling up the “social justice warriors.” Holocaust denial is growing in these circles, and where it is absent, it has been replaced by pernicious views on Jewish suffering: that it is justified, or that it doesn’t matter.
While MacDonald’s work may sound like the rantings of a discredited academic, they have become the cornerstone for the alt-right’s understanding of the centrality of the “global Jew” in world affairs. What MacDonald did was finally develop an academic narrative to explain what they have all been screaming about for decades, consolidating various theories into a single secular stream of “logic.”
The Alt-Right’s Rising Interest in Fascist Spirituality
Though pseudo-science has been the critical key to the alt-right’s ideological tool chest, the influx of new people and the rediscovery of nationalist themes have allowed many of the more bizarre annals of 20th century fascism to make a resurgence. Some Neoreactionaries, adherents of one distinct branch of the alt-right, argue that contemporary Judaism should be seen as a form of Kabbalistic Gnosticism in which “degeneracy” is supposedly sacrosanct. They offer this explanation to back their anti-Semitic conviction that all Jews are bent on destroying decency, honesty and the family.
Meanwhile, the Italian reactionary Julius Evola has been resurrected as an important philosopher to the alt-right. He believed that inequality was a sacrament, that society needed to be stratified from the top down, and that white Europeans had impulses toward Faustian greatness, whereas people in the global South had impulses toward degraded femininity. Within this framework, he depicted Jews as a pernicious force that was particularly destructive when secularized. His work, especially his use of the Vedic prophecies to argue that we are in a global “Dark Age,” have become one of the key understandings of the world for the alt-right and its hangers-on. They argue that Jews have an evil soul that must be relegated out of white society if Europeans are ever to achieve greatness.
The “Hindu-Nazi priestess” Savitri Devi and esoteric Hitlerist Miguel Serrano have also seen a renewed importance within the alt-right. The Daily Shoah has created an open forum for various takes on this anti-Semitism, ranging from the biological to the spiritual. The joke that the God of the Torah is a “Volcano demon” comes from the notion that Jehovah is a demiurgic demon coming from an evil lesser race emerging from the desert. Here they present Jews as perverting Western man with their despicable values in the form of Christianity, which is simply the universalization of their “Jewish God.” While it is debatable whether more than a handful of hardcore alt-right enthusiasts literally believes this, there is an effort to see this as a real metaphor for the role of Jews in society.
Hatred That Echoes Through Time
After Hillary Clinton’s campaign speech naming the alt-right, a slew of articles tried to make sense of it and its links to people like Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos or Vice Magazine founder Gavin McInnes. The Jewish news website Forward ran an article by Joshua Seidel, who claimed to be both Jewish and a member of the alt-right, citing his support for Trump and opposition to immigration as the reason. This led to an angry flurry from the core of the alt-right, who were angry that a Jewish writer was claiming to be one of them. The Right Stuff put out an article saying that the key points of the alt-right are opposition to immigration, no globalist elites, “natural” gender roles and anti-Semitism. Lawrence Murray from the same blog again stated this opinion in his own outline of the alt-right, saying, “Jewish elites are opposed to our entire program.”
In article after article, interview after interview, the alt-right stated that first and foremost, their movement was about the “reality of race” and the “problem of Jews.”
Unlike the neo-Nazis who have attempted to gun down children at Jewish community centers, most of the alt-right’s actual behavior has been relegated to online trolling and endless blog rolls. In an attempt to put their anti-Semitic theories into practice, they “name the Jew” by calling out commentators with Jewish-sounding last names. The most well-known of these attempts has been the “echo,” where podcasters make echo sounds when saying Jewish last names (or anything they think is Jewish in character), and evoke echoes in text by using three parentheses around names to indicate their possible Jewish origin. This culminated when a member of the Right Stuff’s elite message board created a Google Chrome plug-in that added the parenthesis to names thought to be Jewish. This app, called the Coincidence Detector, was supposed to show how prevalent Jews are among “elites.”
Trump’s Connection With the Alt-Right
Trump’s connection with the alt-right has been covert yet ongoing, and his appointment of Bannon as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor has helped cement the alt-right’s influence in his administration. Bannon himself, who has said that he turned Breitbart into a platform for the alt-right, seems more of the alt-lite variety, mainstreaming the alt-right’s fascist ideas without publically committing to every part of their ideological platform. The alt-right simply makes up a vocal (and possibly influential) part of Trump’s base because his reactionary rhetoric has turned his campaign into a de facto referendum on white identity, and that is likely to continue as he takes power in January.
Donald Trump Jr., who has been one of his father’s most committed campaigners, was interviewed on the white nationalist radio show Political Cesspool. He has retweeted alt-right leaders Vox Day and Kevin MacDonald on Twitter, which may not be that surprising, since he ported over a Daily Shoah joke by saying he was “warming up the gas chamber” for cheating Republicans. Trump himself has retweeted the words of Twitter users like White Genocide, whose name is a reference to the alt-right meme that there is a genocide against Europeans taking place. The white nationalist American Freedom Party was successful in sending in delegates for Trump in California, as well as funding robocalls in Iowa, where American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor urged support for Trump.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has employed the loudest racially charged dog whistle we have heard since the 1988 Willie Horton ads, and the alt-right is able to hear loud and clear that it is their time to shine. Trump himself may or may not actually agree with these points; real ideological positions themselves seem irrelevant to him personally. Instead, his “talk radio” style right-populism is just what the alt-right needs to make their message of racial separatism and Semitic scapegoating palatable, and with Trump laying the groundwork, the “shitlords” will take the public the rest of the way.
The alt-right’s anti-Semitism is not a new animal, but one that simply ports over Nazi propaganda to sleek graphic design and snarky audio skits. This rebranding has allowed the alt-right to be seen as iconoclastic, opposed to “political correctness” and somewhat conservative, all of which is a mischaracterization. It is not a situation in which a few extremists have given the alt-right a “bad name,” but rather a situation in which a few moderates have added their name to a fascist movement. It is critical to see the alt-right simply as the latest stage in a white nationalist project that goes through various attempts at messaging, rhetoric and appearance.
Originally published at www.truth-out.org.