The Constant Cycle of Bigotry: Introductory Remarks
Content Warning: Discussion of anti-Semitic material and violence. Please take care.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a vile anti-Semitic publication was released into the world. This book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, itself forged in significant part from the satirical The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, contains wild fabrications, conspiracy theories, and outright lies solely intended on harming the Jewish people. Protocols’ release, originally in Russia, constituted yet another horrifying chapter in the millenia-old oppression of Jews.
For anti-Semites far and wide, this book was and remains a seminal text. Even before the advent of instant communications, these deplorable pages were translated into multiple languages and found themselves in hands on the other side of the world from their origin. In their wake, carnage followed.
Protocols was of particular interest to the American automobile pioneer Henry Ford, a notoriously anti-Semitic man whose publishing company released its own series of anti-Semitic texts based on and perpetuating that book. These texts—known as The International Jew—were of great interest to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler himself.
The Protocols text fabricates secret meetings of Jewish leaders plotting world domination through control of institutions like the media. In control of the levers of power, the malevolent Jews—so the book would have impressionable readers believe—stand in opposition of humanity. The book’s obvious intentions are chilling, as are the consequences thereof. Pogroms followed the publication of Protocols. The Holocaust, fueled by anti-Semitic convictions and ideologies that borrowed from this book, followed just a few decades later.
This is not to say, of course, that this hateful volume directly caused the atrocities that followed temporally. Its publication is to be taken together in hand with the oppression and violence that both preceded and followed it as part of a wider and long-standing hatred of Jews that has taken and continues to take many forms.
Over twelve decades have passed since the publication of Protocols, and it continues to remain destructive. Despite the best efforts of watchdogs like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as well as those of governments, the book has enjoyed continued circulation even after the end of World War II. As with its continued circulation, so too do the anti-Semitic accusations and tropes implied within continue to proliferate.
Anti-Semitism is Not Dead
The tropes that were so virulently written in Protocols continue to affect Jewish communities today, in both covert and overt ways. Dog whistling is a current favorite among certain personalities and rhetoricians on the more extreme right, that is, using terms that invoke anti-Semitic stereotypes while maintaining plausible deniability for not directly targeting Jews.
Those who have had the misfortune of listening to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, for example, will know he frequently rails against ‘globalists’ as well as against George Soros. The frequent targeting of ‘globalists’ evokes certain lines from directly within Protocols, which frequently claims that Jews are attempting to build a global government. George Soros, of course, is a Jewish billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor. This is not to say that the anti-Semitic obsession with ‘globalists’ began with Protocols; it in fact long precedes it. The ideology that today targets George Soros yesterday targeted the Rothschilds and before that still other influential Jews in history.
Sometimes, the dog whistles spill over into outright anti-Semitism and violence.
In 2018, a shooter (who will not be named here) allegedly opened fire in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wounding several and killing 11 of those who had come for Shabbat (Sabbath) prayer. Some of those killed were Holocaust survivors. Before opening fire, the gunman allegedly shouted “all Jews must die.” It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history.
The alleged gunman had a prolific online presence, one in which he frequently both covertly and overtly engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric and activities. Here let us turn to an article in Slate, which compiled several of his posts to social media, including several in which he declared a hatred for the “globalist” former President Trump and not-so-subtle insinuations of Jewish people controlling migration as part of a larger plan to replace whites. Both are again evocative of tropes present in Protocols.
The shooting at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh is but one of an unimaginable number of events in which anti-Semitic rhetoric and tropes have bubbled over into actual violence. It shows that the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a very real and present threat for Jews, who live in fear of the next onslaught of violence.
The Danger of Unfettered Hate Speech and the Proliferation of Fascism
Of the many challenges that 2022 has offered, perhaps none have been so rapid, shocking, and unnerving for Jews than Ye West’s (the rapper formerly known as Kanye West) descent into virulent, outright, Nazi-supporting anti-Semitism. Perhaps the most shocking instance in this anti-Semitic Ye saga was his interview with the above-mentioned Alex Jones. Ye’s rhetoric and outright support for Nazis and Hitler managed to make even Jones appear uncomfortable. The Washington Post’s report on the interview makes note of Jones attempting to provide Ye with off-ramps for his anti-Semitism, while the rapper continued to double down.
There is no mistaking the relationship between the overt anti-Semitism and the dog whistles, as Ye has apparently engaged in both in the waning months of 2022. He has invoked the perpetual modern Jewish boogeyman George Soros as well as the salient older trope of Jewish control over societal institutions like the media; the ADL provides a good resource recapping these and other remarks.
The rhetoric that Ye espoused at the end of 2022, thankfully, has, to this point, not bubbled over into the kind of violence we saw at the Tree of Life in 2018. It has, though, had ripples; on the heels of one of his statements in October 2022, an anti-Semitic group took to an overpass overlooking a Los Angeles highway and draped a several banners, one stating “KANYE IS RIGHT ABOUT THE JEWS.” Photographs of this event show the group members delivering a Nazi salute.
We have seen time and again how virulent rhetoric and hatred spills over into overt violence—at times to catastrophic, state-sponsored scales. This is not just true of anti-Semitism, but rather of bigotry and hatred across the board; not even three decades have passed since inter-ethnic strife bubbled over into yet more twentieth century genocides in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia.
Here, let us consider The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, the twentieth century political theorist and Holocaust survivor. Origins is a lengthy, multi-dimensional volume that one cannot hope to properly discuss in a format such as this, as long-form as this piece is. We then, thus, turn briefly to her discussion on “race unity” and “race thinking,” as she evidences with examples from nineteenth and twentieth century Germany. Arendt writes of “race thinking” in Germany as aimed “to unite the people against foreign domination” and “to awaken in the people a consciousness of common origin.” This comports with some basic conceptions of nationalism—a nation being those who identify as being in the ‘in-group.’
This kind of nationalism, though, is not inherently racist or anti-Semitic; it becomes so when this ‘in-group’ identifies and demonizes ‘out-groups.’ Arendt notes the basis of such an interpretation in a discussion of the development of “common origin,” or “of family ties, of tribal unity, of unmixed origin,” in Origins. In the absence of anything to stop any kind of runaway racism that one could plug into this paradigm, it is easier to see how—in this most rudimentary of interpretations—we can get from nationbuilding to outright inter-group violence.
This is, of course, a rather simplistic sociological approach that deserves far more attention than this piece can devote to it. And while I must also concede that the development of Germanness and non-Germanness will not exactly fit in with the development of racial violence elsewhere, there is still some important applicability.
In Rwanda as in the former Yugoslavia and in Germany, a group sense of animosity rooted in perceived grievances against a single other resulted in genocide. In Germany, that ‘other’ was the Jewish community and those grievances were rooted in anti-Semitic biases and tropes as well as inherited [perceived] conflicts between the in-group German nation and the Jewish ‘other.’
The weaponization of this ‘us versus them’ mentality, of course, was (and, frightening, continues to be) instrumental in the development of fascism.
Fascism: What Have We Learned?
If we take fascism as described by Robert O. Paxton, we can recognize it as having served as a political ideology aimed at altering social fabrics to transform the responsibility of a citizenry toward service to a conceptualized nation, led by individuals seeking “total control,” among other things.
Let’s plug this conception into our discussion on nationalism and the ‘us versus them’ mentality. The stronger the focus on the nation, for fascists, the more salient the ‘other’ is. If the entire machinery of the state is transformed in service to the nation, then what is construed as “not the nation” becomes all the more visible in the eyes of members of the in-group.
Now, the out-group here does not necessarily have to be Jews. Early Italian fascism, for example, found supporters amongst the Jewish community. In 1934, an Italian fascist by the name of Eugenio Coselschi (and subject of my graduate research), who would rise to some level of prominence in the later-1930s in foreign policy circles, was reported in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) as having said that “fascism in principle is opposed to exclusion of any people or race from State.” Fascism in Italy found targets in socialists and Bolsheviks, though it of course trended toward overt violence against Jews, particularly later on after growing closer with the Nazis. In Germany, Nazism was fueled in significant part by anti-Semitic thought, and Jews were a primary target from the beginning.
Let’s take a step back from the history and look at the bigger picture. What exactly is the relationship here between what we saw in the past versus what we see today? We see here sociological trends that show how easy it can be to develop an in-group/out-group mentality, particularly among those who already believe that a group has wronged them like today’s anti-Semites.
Unfettered hate speech, particularly coming from individuals with wider audiences larger than the entire population of Jews on this planet, is dangerous. There are very few legal and political safeguards in place to—if conditions were fertile for it—stop fascist demagogues from gaining national platforms in the United States. It is a serious and sobering thought, one that requires a few moments to digest.
What, Then, is the Answer?
In the absence of the more robust anti-Nazi and anti-racist institutions in the United States, we chiefly rely on watchdogs like the ADL to highlight and educate the public on virulent continuing ideologies like anti-Semitism. Just as they did in the twentieth century, individuals today—some holding immense platforms—still believe in and perpetuate the lies laid out in Protocols. In the past, beliefs rooted in such lies led to the deaths of millions of members of my community. In the present, these long-lasting beliefs continue to lead to violence against my community.
Something must change. In this absence, education is of paramount importance: education in history, first and foremost. Education in history is paramount, and unfortunately sometimes ignored. Organizations like Facing History and Ourselves provide excellent avenues for students to learn about bigotry and its consequences when left unfettered; my public high school offered its course and I had the opportunity to experience it first-hand in 2013. Education through programs such as these is especially important in combating the wide influence of influencers espousing anti-Semitic views who have impressionable, young audiences. A March 2019 report issued by the organization highlights the impact that their programming can have, noting that of 500+ students (from educational institutions across the U.S. and Canada) who took the course during a five year span, 77% of those surveyed indicated that the course increased their capacity to think critically about issues of racism and prejudice, while 74% of that pool indicated that the course increased their capacity to understand and feel for people who are different than them.
Without some sort of barrier—like widespread education—to restrict the perpetuation of bigoted viewpoints like those held within Protocols, it is sadly not impossible to imagine the resurgence of the kind of political movements akin to fascism to take root again. It only takes one aspiring demagogue and a vocally hateful, mobilized, and willing minority of the population to find political milieus like those that fit Paxton’s descriptions.
At the same time, it only takes a community grounded in love and support for one another, invigorated by courage and aware of the atrocities of the past, to stop such scourges once and for all.
 President Trump, of course, represents a completely separate can of worms and cannot be taken as wholly innocent in the perpetuation of bigotry in the United States. See Ye West and avowed white nationalist visiting former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in November 2022.
 Politi, Daniel. “Synagogue Shooting Suspect Robert Bowers Appears to Be Anti-Semite Who Hates Trump.” Slate, October 27, 2018. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/10/robert-bowers-synagogue-shooting-suspect-appears-to-be-anti-semite-who-hates-trump.html.
 Arendt Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. New York, Meridian Book, Inc., 165.
 Paxton, Robert O. The Anatomy of Fascism. 1st ed. ed. New York: Knopf, 2004, 11. This entire section of Paxton’s book delves into what fascism is, what fascists did, and how best to put them into context. His description goes above and beyond what I can provide in as many words as I have to work with.
 Facing History & Ourselves. How Do We Know It Works? Researching the Impact of Facing History and Ourselves since 1976. Evaluation Department, (Facing History & Ourselves, March 2019). https://www.facinghistory.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/How_We_Know_It_Works-6.19.pdf.
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4. Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. New York, Meridian Book, Inc.
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11. Media Matters Staff. “In Pre-Recorded Segment, Alex Jones Calls Judge in His Trial a “Democratic Party George Soros-Funded Judge” Who “Works for George Soros”.” Media Matters for America, July 26 2022. https://www.mediamatters.org/alex-jones/pre-recorded-segment-alex-jones-calls-judge-his-trial-democratic-party-george-soros.
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13. Paxton, Robert O. The Anatomy of Fascism. 1st ed. ed. New York: Knopf, 2004.
14. Paybarah, Azi. “Kanye West Draws Fresh Denunciation for Hitler Praise in Alex Jones Interview.” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), December 1 2022, National. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/12/01/kanye-west-alex-jones-hilter-interview/.
15. Politi, Daniel. “Synagogue Shooting Suspect Robert Bowers Appears to Be Anti-Semite Who Hates Trump.” Slate, October 27, 2018. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/10/robert-bowers-synagogue-shooting-suspect-appears-to-be-anti-semite-who-hates-trump.html.
16. Rector, Kevin. “More Antisemitic Hate Seen in L.A. After Kanye West’s Hateful Rants.” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), October 23 2022, California. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-23/kanye-is-right-about-the-jews-more-antisemitic-hate-seen-in-l-a-after-rappers-remarks.
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