Charlottesville Mayor: Trump Made 'Devil's Bargain' With anti-Semites

Speaking in Jerusalem at a conference on anti-Semitism, Mike Signer spoke about coming under fire after publicly discussing his Jewish identity

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11, 2017.
STRINGER/ REUTERS

The former mayor of Charlottesville said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for Israel did not compensate for the fact that he had struck a “devil’s bargain” with anti-Semites who converged on his town last summer to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.

In the demonstration that made international headlines after one woman was killed and 19 were injured, white supremacists marched through Charlottesvillech chanting: “Jews will not replace us.”

Speaking in Jerusalem at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, Mike Signer, who served as mayor of Charlottesville for two years up until this January, said: “I’m glad about what the administration is doing that is good for Israel, but there’s a difference between what you’re doing for domestic political benefit and what you’re doing for geopolitical foreign policy reasons, and I pray that there will be some consistency there.”

Signer, a Democratic Party activist who is Jewish, explained why he was quick last August to blame the administration for the eruption of violence in his town. “As a political leader after the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, I felt it fell on me to speak truthfully and forcefully about what I thought was a devil’s bargain that the modern Republican party and the Trump political campaign had crafted with white nationalists that had previously been in the shadows of American political life,” he said.

Former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia Michael Signer in 2009.
Flickr

“They wanted to create a winning nationalist populist campaign with a stronghold among these white voters, so they basically made the calculation that it was worth demogoguing and stirring up the prejudices of these parts of the population. They did so for political reasons, and I think it needed to be called out, and I will never stop calling it out.”

Signer said that until January 2017, he had never spoken openly about his Jewish roots. Signer’s mother is Jewish, as was his paternal grandfather.

A few months after he publicized the fact that he was Jewish, Signer revealed, he came under fierce attack on social media and on voicemail. “Someone sent a cartoon to me over email, which was Robert E. Lee pressing a green button on a gas chamber,” he said. “My face had been photo-shopped into it with a Star of David on my lapel. On another occasion, I received a voicemail on my phone of Hitler ranting about Jewish cosmopolitans.” He said he had called the FBI, which determined that these attacks did not constitute a criminal threat.

Although he said he believes that threats against Jews in the United States should be taken seriously, “one thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

“What if one of the consequences of all this is that Jews begin leaving Charlottesville and no longer feel safe living in a southern city?” he asked. “That is the goal of the white supremacists, and that is the danger. So I want us to be mindful of that and not concede to such threats.

Signer said that for Jews in the United States, he believed the worst was behind. “We’re in a fight right now, but I do think the alt-right crested once the true violence and terrorism at the heart of their mission was revealed for the world to see in Charlottesville,” he said. “I do think that the corrupt bargain with the Republican Party was unveiled for all to see, and I do think that the terrorism that happened, if it served any purpose, it was to close any ascendance this movement had.”

As proof, he pointed to the recent elections in Virginia, in which Democrats won sweeping victories.

Signer said this was his third visit to Israel and that his previous trips had provided him with the strength and “thick enough skin” to deal with the attacks he later came under.