- Paul Rosenberg
Democracy is the question “Vote, Vote, Vote!”
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
That was the chant that broke out at the student-organized vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh Saturday evening, following the most deadly attack on a synagogue in American history. The attack left 11 people dead at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the actual, real-life “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”
As America goes to the polls this year, there are multiple threats to democracy afoot — violence, voter suppression, attacks on the press, and more. But the vigilers undoubtedly had the right idea: the best defense of democracy is democracy itself — in action.
In the five days before the Tree of Life massacre, the discovery of 14 pipe bombs constituted the most ambitious political assassination attempt in American history. The targets were a broad range of Trump-identified enemies: two former presidents, a former vice-president, two sitting senators, two congress members and two major donors—both Jewish—among others. On Oct. 24, a gunman killed two black shoppers in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, after being unable to enter a black church to murder its members. This outburst of right-wing white nationalist terrorism is a chilling signal of how endangered American democracy has become.
A Holocaust survivor, 80-year-old Judah Samet, was nearly one of the victims, but he was four minutes late for the service. Hitler couldn’t kill him, but Donald Trump almost did. All the blood was on Trump’s hands, because the shooter, Robert Bowers, was motivated by the Trump-promoted conservative conspiracy theory that Jewish organizations and/or individuals (such as George Soros) have been funding the so-called “migrant caravan” of Honduran asylum seekers.
Trump, who was seeking to make the midterms all about him and his issues — especially fear of immigrants — began tweeting about the caravan on Oct. 16, after Fox News aired a segment on it. Trump warned that “No more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” if the caravan didn’t return to Honduras. “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the caravan, Trump falsely tweeted on Oct. 22. In between, he retweeted a video falsely purporting to show people being paid to “join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs?” as one staunch Trumping Congress member described it.
Hate groups joined the propaganda barrage, as detailed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. NRATV, the NRA’s propaganda organ, merged two Trump/GOP obsessions, voter fraud and immigration. “A bevy of left-wing groups are partnering with a Hungarian-born billionaire and the Venezuelan government to try to influence the 2018 midterms by sending Honduran migrants north in the thousands,” NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton “reported” on October 19. Trump supporters struck similar themes on Fox News and CNN, while the New York Times ran two front-page aerial photos and stories about the caravan, boosting Trump’s fear mongering message.
All this helped push Bowers over the edge. He had grown particularly obsessed with HIAS, a Jewish refugee agency founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 in response to a series of anti-Semitic pogroms in Tsarist Russia. His last social media post, just before the massacre, read:
HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.
I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.
Screw your optics, I’m going in.
Trump pounced on the caravan as a means to promote immigration fear as the driving force in the midterms. But the multiple strands of conspiracism reflect a coherent, if deluded, ideology that’s been growing on the right since the 1990s. Trump has embraced it via his signature attacks on “political correctness,” and his claims that it is “killing us.”
If that’s an odd-sounding claim it’s because there’s a whole lot more to the “political correctness” conspiracy theory than first meets the eye. As developed and spread by paleoconservative activist William Lind, the term is interchangeable with “cultural Marxism,” the claim of a far-reaching conspiracy to undermine America culturally. It was supposedly started by the Frankfurt School of critical theorists (“all Jewish” Lind noted), who were actually, well, theorists. Researcher Bruce Wilson described this in my July 2016 story, The Truth About Trump (RLN 7/21/2016):
Lind’s narrative goes like this: after the initial success of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks got bogged down and failed to take other countries, such as Germany,” Wilson said. “So a small school of Jewish Marxist intellectuals, the Frankfurt School, came up with a neat answer: The revolution hadn’t spread because the culture wasn’t receptive enough. First, you had to change the culture. You had to destroy conventional morality and religion, especially Christianity, and undermine other existing cultural institutions… You had to promote ‘political correctness,’ the slavish privileging of the feelings of just about any identity group except white European-American Christians (especially male) and you had to push multiculturalism, the notion that all cultures are all equally valid. Both of those serve to demolish existing standards.
Immigration is seen through this lens of destroying American culture, going to the extreme of equating immigration with an invading army. When I interviewed Wilson for Salon, he told me, “You had to bring in a flood of immigrants so fast that they couldn’t properly assimilate — especially if they came from traditions very distinct from the American norm. All these things would destroy national cohesion and, eventually, the centrifugal forces would shatter the nation. Then, the Marxists could just waltz in and take over, banish the dissenters to gulags and impose godless collectivism.”
That dark, deluded, paranoid fantasy explains what it means to say, “Political correctness is killing us.” It’s at the root of Trump’s political outlook as well as the Tree of Life massacre. “I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ‘invaders’,” Bowers wrote six days before the shooting. “I like this.” It made him feel good about mass murder.
Meanwhile, things are very different in the real world, where Trump’s chief immigration policy adviser, Stephen Miller, would not even have been born were it not for HIAS.
“HIAS helped to rescue my family about a hundred years ago,” Miller’s uncle, Dr. David Glosser told Democracy Now! on Oct. 29. Glosser, who is retired, now works as a HIAS volunteer.
With Stephen Miller’s own policies in place, and without the help of HIAS, “Stephen Miller certainly would not have existed,” Glosser said. “My parents would likely have gone up the crematoria chimney, never have met. I would never have been born. His mother never would have been born. Certainly, Stephen wouldn’t have been born.” It doesn’t get more delusional than that.
On Oct. 28, a group of Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh—members of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice — wrote a letter to Trump that he is no longer welcome in Pittsburgh until he denounces white nationalism.
“The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. This means all of us,” they wrote. “Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”
We constantly hear about a polarized nation, about two opposing groups driven by negative views of each other. But the reality here is starkly different: one group reaches out to include everyone. They believe in America’s founding motto—e pluribus unum, out of many, one. The other sees enemies everywhere it looks—except for where they actually live: right in front of them, in the mirror.
Election Day is Nov. 6. “Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!” as if the future of America depended on it. Because it does.