The catastrophe of January 6th’s attempted coup helped focus attention on one particularly controversial incoming congresswoman: Marjorie Taylor Greene. Whereas figures like Ted Cruz acted as nominal figureheads for the insurgent Tea Party influx in 2012, Greene has become in 2021 the firebrand of a new, post-Trump presidency Republican populism.
Greene’s politics are more an impulsive hodgepodge of reactionary hearsay than a fundamental ideological position, spanning a Seth Rich smear (alleging the former DNC staffer was killed by the MS-13 gang on Obama’s orders) and the equally baseless suggestion that the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas was a ‘false flag’ operation.
But, like most conspiracy roads, a major proportion of her claims led to the Jews. Most blatantly, one of her posts suggesting that a Rothschild-funded space laser could have been responsible for 2020’s rash of West Coast forest fires sparked a massive meme surge about "Jewish space lasers." But the fun was short-lived: it became clear that antisemitism in Congress, and the lack of formal GOP pushback, is alive and kicking.
While Greene may be a particularly spectacular example of barely-covert antisemitism, the conspiratorial bigotry she she cheerleads has become part and parcel of the Republican Party, which, in the Trump era, has been refashioned from dedication to establishment financial interests to championing increasingly unhinged ideas about America and the world in an attempt to channel a vague populist anger.
And the model of politics that is winning a growing consensus inside the GOP is foundationally antisemitic in that it rests in the core of the antisemitic worldview: the conspiratorial cabal.
The image of the nefarious Jewish cabal is so ingrained in the collective psyche of the Christian West that it is hard to remember a time without it.
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Forced by the Church and ruling royals into separate neighborhoods and strictly limited professions, such as money-lending, together with the canonical belief that the Jews betrayed Jesus, the stage was set for conspiracy theories such as the blood libel (the accusation that Jews needed Christian children’s blood for their rituals), which periodically turned murderous.
Thousands of Jews were murdered in trials, pograms, and mass slaughters, all based on the idea that, behind closed doors, they were pulling the strings and hurting vulnerable Christians. Where forced conversions took place, these "conversos" were still regarded with suspicion, as though they were a fifth column who continued to undermine Christian society from the inside. Expulsion and extermination were the only solution.
As capitalism and the modern world developed, antisemitism kept up. The new accusations now framed Jews as orchestratrators of financialization, industrialization, and urbanization.
The Rothschilds, a Jewish family who made an early fortune in banking after emancipation freed some Jews from their geographic and economic chains, was being accused by 1818 of manipulating military losses to make money. It was just a modernization and secularization of the well-worn Christian antisemitism mixing distate for usury and the blood libel.
As antisemitic conspiracy theories spread throughout Europe, tying up with other forms of bigotry and winning a general level of acceptance, the stage was set for the magnum opus of conspiratorial antisemitism: "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
This work, a forgery originating in Tzarist Russia, claimed to be the minutes of a secret cabal of Jews planning the destruction of Western nations, in order to reap the benefits. Needless to say, Hitler backed the Protocols in "Mein Kampf"; as historian Nora Levin notes, he went to use them "as a manual in his war to exterminate the Jews."
Over the years the structure of antisemitic conspiracy theories stayed the same, but as overt bigotry against Jews became less acceptable or politically welcome, the Jews as founding narrative became more hidden, but still identifiable by trope or dog-whistling: the "Elders of Zion" are now the subtext of right-wing obsessions about the multifarious "plots" of George Soros, "globalist" bankers, "cultural Marxism," and QAnon.
America’s conservative movement, which found its voice in the National Review in the 1950s, always had a conspiracy fringe whose "paranoid style" of politics tried to motivate populist sentiment that posed the "good" people against the "bad" elites. Today, this wing is no longer fringe: together with a large dose of nativism, it makes up the bulk of the GOP’s rhetoric and voting base.
Antisemitic theories have a comfortable home base in that kind of worldview. To take one example: the new conservatives’ trenchant hostility towards what they term "Cultural Marxism" – an elastic term used to denote a range of liberal social ideas including antiracism – has roots in a century-old antisemitic conspiracy theory.
It blames the largely Jewish pre-war Frankfurt School "critical theory" philosophers, some of whom found sanctuary in the U.S., for disseminating the identity politics and political correctness that, they say, threaten the survival of the Christian West.
As Yale historian Samuel Moyn writes, the theory replays "many aspects of the Judeobolshevik fantasy [that] survived the Holocaust it helped bring about." It’s hardly surprising that some of its most dedicated fans are violent white nationalists.
In many conservative, usually pro-Trump circles, George Soros, the center-left Jewish philanthropist, has become the archetypical boogeyman, often accused of orchestrating Black-led protest movements in the same way that Jews were "accused" of masterminding the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s.
Soros is alleged to be at the center of just about every bit of unrest, to be funding Antifa, immigrant caravans, Black Lives Matter, "anti-Israel...left-wing movements worldwide" and the Parkland massacre anti-gun activists (both of the latter accusations have been made by Marjorie Taylor Greene) and, most recently, one of the hidden hands behind Trump’s election defeat via the manipulation of the vote count.
And if "blame Soros" is now mainstream in GOP circles, then the QAnon conspiracy theory, laced with reframed but unvarnished retellings of the Protocols and blood libel smears – alleging that a secret cabal of satanic pedophiles control the government, trafficking in and sacrificing children for their blood – won the backing of a sitting U.S. president who was its apocalyptic protagonist hero and has at least one believer, Greene, who was voted into Congress.
The core construct of this New Republican Party is a focus on the "elites," a vaguely defined concept resting on the belief that a shadowy cabal, drawn together by opaque interests and secret allegiances, controls our politics, media and reality. Greene declared that the 2017 Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally was an "inside job" aimed at furthering "the agenda of the elites."
The antisemitic narrative of cabals is what journalist and researcher Talia Lavin calls an "ideological linchpin" of white supremacy: it provides an explanation for so many other pieces of the nativist story. Immigration, antiracist protest movements, growing Muslim visiblity, all can be blamed on the secret cabal, the Jews who are using other minorities to subvert Gentile society.
This culminated for Greene in her sharing a video perpetuating the "white genocide" conspiracy theory, the idea that a cabal of Jews is orchestrating the destruction of the Christian West through mass non-white immigration. This is the same theory that motivated the Christchurch shooter in 2019 who murdered 51 people in a New Zealand mosque.
While the GOP has spent a great deal of time throwing allegations of antisemitism at their opponents, their ideologies require and perpetuate antisemitism at their very core. Their willingness to victimize all but a small segment of white Americans undermines any claim their have to legitimate concerns over bigotry, and their accusations of antisemitism are disingenuous attempts at slandering opponents for political gain.
Another, allied, disingenuous attempt by the GOP to throw the accusations of antisemitism back at the Democrats is its commandeering of philosemitism, parading Jews and what it frames as "Jewish issues" as proof it can’t be antisemitic.
But the party only recognizes Jews willing to perform, in their eyes, as a proxy for Israeli nationalism. The GOP pushes bills banning the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while Trump smeared U.S. Jews who didn’t back the current Israel government as "disloyal."
For the Jews in lockstep with MAGA and Netanyahu, there is obsessive GOP philosemitism, used as a diversion from the metasticizing antisemitism that its leadership is cultivating inside the party.
To confront the antisemitism of the Republican Party would be to unmake the core ideological assumptions of the party of Trump.
When Marjorie Taylor Greene’s comments attracted scrutiny, Republicans came to her aid. She received a standing ovation in a GOP caucus meeting; applause from the House Republican Conference; House Republicans fell over themselves to defend her from Democrat attempts to strip her of her committee posts.
Even if figures like Mitch McConnell gave a lukewarm condemnation of Greene’s comments, they have done nothing to purge her form of antisemitism and its conspiratorial worldview from their ranks. After all, if they actually did so, they may find they don’t have much of a party left.
Shane Burley is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of "Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It" (AK Press, 2017) and "Why We Fight" (AK Press, 2021). His work has been featured in NBC News, Jacobin, Al Jazeera, The Baffler, Truthout, In These Times and Full-Stop. Twitter: @shane_burley1