Could Barack Obama’s election to the presidency be behind a rise in anti-Jewish activity in the US?
This is the theory being advanced by experts on extremism, who say that membership of anti-Jewish groups has grown since he became the country’s first African-American president.
Members of these groups seem to believe that the Jews are behind his election, and that Mr Obama and the Jews are plotting to destroy white people.
According to Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, Mr Obama’s ascendency “is reviving age-old antisemitic stereotypes that Jews control world events”, particularly the economy and the government.
The extremists see Obama as a particular target of Jews “because they can manipulate him and because they think the goal of Jews is to destroy the white race.”
James von Brunn, the 88-year-old white supremacist who shot a black guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington last week, left a note in his car which said, “The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews”.
A feeling of desperation and a sense that “they’ve lost the battle” is driving the racist surge. Other factors include the economic downturn and new technologies that make it easier for extremists to connect.
The situation has become so bad that the US Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism for the first time this April.
Mayo said that there has been a significant increase in racist internet chatter but would not estimate exactly how many new members the white supremacist groups have gained.
Still, Mayo said she clearly sees a “significant” rise in language that not only expresses hate for others but calls for action to be taken.
In addition to the museum shooting, the murder this spring of three policemen in Pennsylvania and a student at Wesleyan, a college in Connecticut, were also committed by men who blamed the Jews for their woes.
Some officials have also drawn a connection to other extremist acts since Obama’s inauguration, including the killing of an abortion doctor and a US military recruiter.
Yet the government report also made some positive points. It noted that in the 1990s when right-wing extremism also rose, authorities were able to clamp down.
“A number of law enforcement actions and external factors were effective in limiting the militia movement during the 1990s and could be utilised in today’s climate,” the report noted. Increased scrutiny following the Oklahoma City bombing and World Trade Centre bombing disrupted several networks. The revival of the economy also helped.
“The government is acutely aware of what’s going on. They share the same concerns we do,” Mayo said. “They are certainly trying to be vigilant.”