The American far right seethes with deep antisemitism

A new book about the storming of Capitol Hill in 2021 provides remarkable reporting of the attitude to Jews in a movement that can genuinely best be described as fascistic

September 01, 2022 14:28

Sometimes it helps to be reminded of even the most basic things. This summer, there came just such a reminder, and it came from the contents of my holiday suitcase.

For a two-week break in France, I decided to emulate Gordon Brown who, when finally persuaded to take time off work, would pack an entire suitcase full of books. I didn’t go that far, but I did have high hopes that I could use my fortnight in the sun to reduce the tottering pile on the bedside table. Into the bag went a couple of le Carré’s; Glass Pearls, a rediscovered gem of a novel by the legendary émigré filmmaker Emeric Pressburger which I can strongly recommend; and a brand new book, The Storm is Here, by the New Yorker journalist, Luke Mogelson.

It’s a remarkable book, a work of close-up, eye-witness reporting by a distinguished war correspondent. Except this is no despatch from a far-flung, unfamiliar battlefield. It is an account of the undeclared civil war that now grips America and which erupted into full view with the storming of Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021. Mogelson was there that day, embedded among the far right militants and self-styled “patriots” that battered down the doors, assaulted police officers and rampaged through the halls of the US Congress, determined to overturn a democratic election and keep Donald Trump in power against the expressed wishes of the people.

Mogelson was there because he had been with that same movement for the preceding year or more, spending hour after hour among the Trump-worshipping right during the pitched battles — the armed storming of the state capitol in Michigan, for example — that, in retrospect, were dress rehearsals for, and warnings of, 6 January. He listened to the speeches they made, the slogans they chanted. He heard what they said to him and overheard what they said to each other when they were at their most unguarded.

What emerges is a picture of a movement that deserves to be called fascistic, with that term deployed not as rhetoric or invective but as precise description. It is a movement that longs for the suspension of democracy and rule by violence: Mogelson speaks to armed men and women who tell him, sometimes with a heavy heart, that a reckoning is due, that blood will have to be spilled, that political opponents or journalists or judges — anyone who might stand in their way — will have to be dealt with by the bullet or the noose. What’s needed is rule by a single strongman. Several refer to Trump not as president but “Emperor”.

Of course, race is central. Several of those who stormed the Capitol carried Confederate flags, glorifying the slave-owning south. That is hardly a surprise. But here’s where the book provides a valuable reminder of something that should be obvious: the “patriot” movement also harbours a deep hatred of Jews.

They try to conceal it a bit, not least by repeatedly (and baselessly) comparing themselves to the Jews of Nazi Germany, claiming that they are persecuted by the “deep state” the way Jews were persecuted by Hitler. Also, and this I’ve seen for myself, these ultra-rightists are fond of bringing out a shofar and blowing it, as if summoning God himself to tear down the walls of the enemy Jericho.

But that cannot obscure the facts Mogelson sets out. The “Boogaloo Bois” who believe that “Jews lay behind all manner of diabolism” from child pornography to, naturally, the media. The America First online TV show, presented by one Nicholas Fuentes, who once did a segment smirkingly suggesting that the Holocaust could never have happened, given the number of ovens that would be required to bake six million hypothetical “cookies”. The senior figure in the QAnon movement, an apparent former CIA officer, who rejects “the Holocaust myth” and calls for “the eradication of the Zionist parasite.” The “Patriots” wearing the Iron Cross. The dark warnings of a “New World Order” controlled by “globalists” led by George Soros, with Soros as the hidden hand behind coronavirus. The marchers chanting “Jews will not replace us,” convinced that Jews are engaged in a secret plot to replace white Americans with black, brown and Muslim newcomers.

It would be comforting if the world Mogelson explored was no more than a tiny, lunatic fringe. But he cites the study that found 23 per cent of Republicans agreeing that “the government, media and financial worlds in the US are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles,” while 28 per cent thought that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

For several years now, and for good reason, many Jews in Britain have paid close attention to antisemitism on the left. I myself have written a play for the Royal Court, opening later this month, addressing that phenomenon. But whatever our disappointments in the self-proclaimed anti-racist left, we never forgot the threat from the right. In the era of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and other such devastating attacks, how could we? All the same, Mogelson’s book is a chilling reminder: when it comes to those who wish us harm, we need to look both ways.

Jews. In their Own Words by Jonathan Freedland opens for previews at the Royal Court on 19 September

September 01, 2022 14:28

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