The recent outburst of anti-Jewish violence in the United States has sparked a conversation about anti-Semitism that emphasizes three main points of origin in contemporary America for this old and dangerous hatred: The far-left’s hatred of Israel and Jewish particularism, the seemingly random violence in the New York City region against easily identifiable Orthodox Jews and the conspiratorial hatred displayed by white supremacists and other figures of the so-called alt-right.
In this effort to make sense of the surge of anti-Semitism, it is important to make careful distinctions. National media outlets tend to be quick to ideologically categorize people into one camp or another to fit stories into familiar political narratives and to tarnish opponents with the misdeeds of extremists.
One example is the recent media attention surrounding Nick Fuentes and his followers, who call themselves “Groypers” — the latest group of marginal, racist cranks to seek media attention by claiming they belong in the conservative political camp. Unfortunately, the media is playing along. The Washington Post called Mr. Fuentes “a 21-year-old YouTube flamethrower” whose small band of racist followers have “illuminated tensions within the conservative political movement.” Mr. Fuentes, The Post declared, is a “far-right agitator.” NBC News recently characterized Mr. Fuentes’ activism as creating a fight between “middle-of-the-road conservatives” and those further right, as if the spectrum of conservatism runs from moderate Republicans to Holocaust deniers such as Mr. Fuentes.
Mr. Fuentes and his “Groypers” are not conservatives by any stretch of the imagination, nor can conservatism be adapted to incorporate their platform of white grievance identity politics, conspiracism, anti-Semitism and resentment. Mr. Fuentes runs a YouTube channel called “America First,” and lately has begun, with his acolytes, harassing and interrupting conservatives at their speaking events — exactly the same tactics the far-left adopted in the late 1960s against influential conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr.
Mr. Fuentes is an avowed racist, homophobe and anti-Semite who questions whether the Holocaust happened. Calling his rhetoric an ideology is generous. Mr. Fuentes relentlessly singles out American Jews for attack and conspiracy-theorizing, and promotes the boring old trope that American Jews trick the United States to fight wars for Israel. The world’s most populous democracy is referred to as “smelly, open-defecation India.” He and his supporters equate interracial relationships to bestiality and advocate for Jim Crow-style segregation laws.
If you spend a few minutes watching Mr. Fuentes’ online ranting (I don’t recommend it), you’ll quickly realize that the Groypers are merely a personality- and grievance-driven social media campaign, not a political platform. They style themselves courageous truth-tellers being suppressed by mainstream conservatives terrified of the persuasiveness of their arguments. In reality, most of Mr. Fuentes’ rhetoric consists of unintelligible rants against actually influential young conservatives such as Ben Shapiro. His envy is palpable.
Which conservatives support these antics or subscribe to the hatred of the Groypers? None. Mr. Fuentes says the “new world” will be organized by race and ethnicity, not by ideas or principles. It is hard to imagine a program — a cultural revolution ushering in a society animated by racial and religious hatred — more anathema to the past 250 years of conservatism, from Burke to Tocqueville to Reagan.
Mr. Fuentes lambastes prominent conservatives from David Koch, the alleged “enemy of the white race” who is “burning in hell forever,” to Donald Trump Jr., who a group of Fuentes supporters booed off the stage at an event hosted by Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump student group. Even Congressman Dan Crenshaw, the former Navy SEAL, is nothing but “scum.”
The truth is, Mr. Fuentes and his adolescent acolytes don’t actually see themselves as conservatives — rather, they claim the mantle of “true conservatism” because it helps their real goal, which is gaining media attention. It’s so much more dramatic and exciting if the story is about a fight within conservatism than a group of cranks trying to get media attention by provoking fights with legitimate political leaders. And it doesn’t hurt that the Groypers personify, in the minds of many progressives, the ugly racist reality lurking beneath the surface of conservatism.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media’s efforts to link Mr. Fuentes with real conservatism were aided by the shocking endorsement of Mr. Fuentes from former conservative leader Michelle Malkin, who called him “one of the New Right leaders.” What happened next is admirable and in keeping with the best traditions of the modern conservative movement: Ms. Malkin was promptly fired by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and denounced by conservative leaders across the country. From William F. Buckley’s battle with the John Birch Society in the early 1960s to today’s rejection of the “alt-right,” the conservative movement has a commendable record of moving decisively to expel cranks and charlatans from its ranks.
Anti-Semitism in America deserves to be taken seriously not only because it has recently turned violent, but because America has been a uniquely and astonishingly welcoming place for Jews, who in turn have enriched our national life and culture in innumerable ways. America will continue being such a country, and American conservatism will continue championing pluralism, liberty and philosemitism, no matter how many Groypers claim the mantle of true conservatism –- or how many times the media repeat this false trope.
• Noah Pollak is a political consultant and contributor to several publications. He was formerly executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. Follow him on Twitter: @NoahPollak.