Like the candidate himself, Donald Trump’s alt-right supporters have a long record of dabbling in racially and politically divisive rhetoric. Do they have a specific anti-Semitism problem, to go along with their anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and old-school isolationist views? If so, does their anti-Semitism spring from, yet operate independently of, their larger morass of prejudices?
One way of answering that question is by looking at the alt-right’s attitude toward Jews who the movement’s adherents are most likely to have read or interacted with online, specifically on Twitter: anti-Trump Jewish conservatives, writers who fall vaguely within the political and ideological camp that the alt-right is trying to transform.
The Trump supporters’ attitudes towards right-leaning Jewish commentators who oppose their candidate is a vivid illustration of why the real estate mogul has galvanized right-wingers who, until a few months ago, appeared to be well outside the conservative mainstream. For Trump’s alt-right fans, Jewish conservatives who oppose Trump epitomize much of what the movement around their candidate is supposed to be cleansing from the right wing and the American political scene more generally. From their perspective, writers like the former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, Commentary‘s John Podhoretz, or The New York Post’s Seth Mandel are bought-and-sold traitors to their ideology, their country, and perhaps even their own people.
Would have been nice for journos to take notice of what we Jewish conservative anti-Trumpers have been fending off.
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) May 2, 2016
The alt-right is not the first fringe political movement, nor probably the last, to see some collection of Jews as the avatar of broader social and political ailments, or as a prominent obstacle to fixing them. As Shapiro, a frequent target of Trumpist attention explains, “Trump trolls are intent on harassing anti-Trump Jews because they think that Trump represents a white supremacism heretofore missing from the Republican Party, and they think that the evil ‘neocons’ are trying to thwart them.” Shapiro believes “[t]hese aren’t Republicans who suddenly turned anti-Semitic,” but people who see Trump as a champion of white identity emerging out of the multicultural trauma of the Obama years.
The actual extent of that anti-Semitism is hard to measure among Trump’s supporters on Twitter, never mind among the 10.6 million people who voted for him during the Republican primaries and caucuses. But some fairly prominent pro-Trump accounts have shown a predilection for anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric. Take, for example, @Ricky_Vaughn99 (an alias inspired by the movie Major League), one of the worst offenders, according to several Jewish writers contacted for this post. @Ricky_Vaughn99 has 27,000 followers, sees this election as “the most tremendous opportunity to name the jew and fight the money power,” and once referred to me as a “cloistered media-American” who “doesn’t get out much, beyond the synagogue.” When reached over Twitter direct message, Vaughn speculated that “The Trump presidency will probably be bad for neocon jews, bad for liberal jews, but good for jews who are believers in the nation-state and American nationalism.”
Or consider @Genophilia, an account followed by 26,000 Twitter users that rage against “anti-white Jewish activists” in the media and retweets things like this:
The jew is a sadist. He takes pleasure in the thought of defiling our women and torturing our children. This is not exaggeration.
— Mandrake (@vicmandrake) May 3, 2016
Other, non-anonymous accounts are less outwardly hostile. California lawyer Mike Cernovich has repeatedly tweets nasty things at Ben Shapiro, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and has accused anti-Trump Commentary writer Noah Rothman of being a “puppet” of super-PAC donors. There are more obscure accounts that are dedicated harassers of anti-Trump Jews, too, such as @Jewish_Marksman, whose feed reflects something of an obsession with them.
Many accounts rapidly appear and disappear. “Part of the problem is that they sign up new accounts with anti-Semitic names and just pop up and start harassing people,” said Mandel. “Like roaches.”
Predictably, Trump supporters quickly disavow any accusations of anti-Semitism. “There is no anti-Semitism problem among Trump supporters,” Cernovich claimed during our direct message (DM) conversation over Twitter. Then again, Cernovich believes that at least some of what’s normally construed as “anti-Semitism” falls within the realm of rational analysis. “My take on a lot of the “anti-Semitism” stuff is this: Jews criticize whites, and no one has a problem. When Whites criticize Jews, it’s immediately labelled anti-Semitic. Are Jews off limits from criticism? Are whites the only group of people open to criticism? That never made much sense to me.”
Online attacks on anti-Trump Jewish conservatives might stem from a sense that they’re sold out their own community’s actual interests. Both Cernovich and Loren Feldman, a pro-Trump Twitter user and film producer, raised the issue of Commentary editor John Podhoretz’s comfortable non-profit salary, as if Commentary writers are tools of an unseen cabal of donors. Both Cernovich and Feldman believe that a Trump presidency would be good for Jews in the U.S., largely for reasons having to do with the supposed benefit of improved race relations under a future president Trump. “By adopting the same immigration strategy as Europe, the U.S. would become less hospitable to Jews in general, and only Trump opposes the open flow of migrants from Syria into the U.S,” Cernovich said.
Feldman, who identifies as both a “nationalist” and a Zionist, believes that Jews and Trump supporters have a common interest in fighting the left. “We are united in our fight against black lives matter the far left and radical Islam which are far bigger problems for both Jews and white nationalists,” Feldman said during a DM conversation. On May 3rd, the day of the Indiana primary, he tweeted:
To my fellow 17 Jews in Indiana. Its a mitzva to get out and vote for Trump. We'll see Ivanka light candles in the Whitehouse. #JewsForTrump
— Loren Feldman (@1938loren) May 3, 2016
For some supporters of Trump, anti-Trump Jewish conservatives are guilty of a bevy of other, even weightier betrayals. “I can’t speak for others,” Kevin MacDonald, editor of the white nationalist Occidental Observer wrote via email when asked about Trump supporters’ antipathy towards Jewish conservatives. “But historically Jewish neocons have not been true conservatives, and their main interest has been to support Israel.” MacDonald, who accuses “Jewish neocons” of working towards “the demographic transformation of the US (sic) via immigration,” detects among some right-wingers “a general attitude that these people are faux conservatives at best—hostility motivated by the feeling that these Jewish conservatives are hypocrites and Jewish ethnonationalists parading as principled, limited government conservatives for an American audience.”
Trump’s online supporters assume the worst about the loyalty and the motives of the conservative Jews who oppose his candidacy, and their focus has implications beyond that relatively small cohort. The identity politics of the “alt-right” understand the American polity and the broader world through narrow criteria of racial and national allegiance. Opponents from groups that stand to benefit from a Trump presidency—Jews, whites, men, etc—represent a special case because they are pushing against what they surely must know to be in their particular group’s best interest. Opposition to Trump is construed as a reflection of the opponents’ corrupted character, rather than the result of honest disagreement. For instance, the now-familiar slur “cuckservative” is specifically a dig at the deficient masculinity of American conservative men who oppose the alt-right. It’s not that these critics disagree with, say, mass deportations or punitive import taxes on China: They all know Trump’s right; they’re just not man enough to actually back him.
As their treatment of anti-Trump Jews demonstrates, Trump’s alt-right supporters see the American political scene as a wasteland of venality and calculated self-betrayal–and that’s just among the demographic groups the alt-right believes to be its natural allies. Now that Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, we’ll get to spend the next several months finding out what their vitriol will look like when it’s focused on their natural enemies as well.
Related: Trump Watch [Tablet series]