Anti-Semitism functions as a set of conspiracy theories built upon various negative stereotypes, perceptions, and claims about Jews (Nirenberg 2013). A common grievance narrative among the Far Right from North America to Eastern Europe is the expression of fear about the replacement of white Christians of European descent with racial, ethnic, and religious others. In Europe, this is most typified by rhetoric around the influx of Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim refugees, whereas in America it includes the aforementioned refugees, along with Central and South Americans. In both circumstances, these immigration patterns are explained as a singular international plot against white Christians by Jews. This is best exemplified by the far-right Charlottesville protestors in 2017 chanting, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” as well as the steady stream of conspiratorial invective from countries such as Hungary and Poland that predominantly targets Hungarian-Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros as the figurehead of a global Jewish conspiracy to undermine the Western world in the name of Marxism (Hanebrink 2018). This idea, frequently referred to by the anti-Semitic epithet ‘Judeo-Bolshevism,’ has a long history in Western, predominantly Christian countries, a history written in blood. Understanding its origins is critical to understanding how it operates and updates itself, as well as how it manifests itself through violence (Hanebrink 2018).
Note from Editor: This article is the first installment in a series on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and their role in fomenting violence against the Jewish people. The series will focus on historic origins of various streams of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and explore how those historic origins tie into contemporary expressions of violent extremism. While each piece will focus on specific themes, or multiple related themes, the interlaced nature of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories dictates a treatment that incorporates historical lessons and other conspiracy theories beyond the subject at hand to inform our understanding of the broader phenomena. Lastly, content in this article describes acts of graphic violence including torture and sexual violence that were incited by the belief in anti-semitic conspiracy theories.
TW: Content in this article describes acts of graphic violence including torture and sexual violence that were precipitated by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories
As stated, anti-Semitism functions as a set of conspiracy theories built upon various negative stereotypes, perceptions, and claims about Jews. Economic anti-Semitism specifically does so regarding the economic behavior, status, occupations, and politics of Jews as a means of explaining and interpreting in simple terms what is in reality complex social and economic phenomena that varies in its temporal and geographic circumstances (Nirenberg 2013). These conspiracy theories are an outgrowth of medieval religious anti-Semitism, particularly in Christian Europe, where the legal restrictions upon which professions a Jew may enter and which roles they may play in a Christian society forced Jews into marginal occupations such as banking, finance, tax-collecting, and rent-collecting. These professions were seen as beneath the social and moral station of Christians, giving birth to the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jewish moneylender (Nirenberg 2013). These anti-Semitic ideas that developed through the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment era were the driving force behind events such as the genocide of up to one hundred thousand Jews in Ukraine during the Khmelnytsky Uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1648-1657, when the Cossack hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky led his forces against Polish rule and the national forces. The local Jewish communities were targeted by the local Ukrainian Christian peasants because the latter perceived their Jewish neighbors through the lens of anti-Semitic Christian stereotypes. Despite the Jews themselves being impoverished and oppressed, many Ukrainian Christians viewed them as the face of their economic oppression under the Polish-Lithuanian szlachta, or nobility class. Along with drowning their Jewish neighbors or butchering them with knives, the local Christian communities also vandalized the synagogues and destroyed the Torah scrolls and other Jewish books by tearing them to pieces and trampling upon them (Hanebrink 2018).
It was not, however, until the late 18th century, 19th century, and into the 20th century that economic anti-Semitism would morph into its modern context as a means of explaining both capitalism and communism as a conspiracy against the nation, which cannot include Jews to those who subscribe to such conspiratorial ideas (Hanebrink 2018). This was in large part a response to the emancipation of Jews in Western and Central Europe that took place from 1791 to 1923, and, in an American context, to the extension of equal rights to Jews in America per George Washington’s 1790 letter guaranteeing such a policy (From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island 1790). Though this equality existed more often in theory than in practice, these emancipation movements provided civil rights as well as economic and social mobility to Jews that was heretofore unknown in history.
The pushback against these national policies of emancipation, which is yet ongoing, developed through the rise of racial anti-Semitism within the context of a wider concept of white supremacy, the creation of nation-states and attendant nationalist movements, and disillusionment with the changes brought about by modernity and the industrial revolution, all of which are intertwined. The Hep-Hep riots in Germany in 1819 are one such example of violent resistance to Jews demanding to be allowed to express their newfound civic rights. Following the edicts of emancipation under Napoleon, many German states sought to revoke these laws, banning Jews from professions such as law, teaching, public service, or military, limiting the ability of Jews to marry even each other, nullifying the ransom Jews were made to pay for their emancipation in Frankfurt in 1811, and framing the issue of Jewish rights in anti-Semitic terms as an arrogant attempt by the Jewish community to take over the Germany economy and financial sector (Elon 2002). The riots took place throughout Bavaria as throngs of Germans took to the streets destroying Jewish property and attacking Jews as the police largely stood aside. Only after days of pogroms did the authorities step in and quell the violence (Elon 2002). During America’s Civil War, the miniscule Jewish community was presented by those for slavery in the Confederacy and against it in the United States as disloyal to their respective national causes and looking to profit by driving Christians out of business and secretly aiding the enemy camp in both the Confederacy and the Union. This resulted in Major General Ulysses S. Grant, future President, issuing General Order No. 11 on December 17th, 1862, expelling Jews from his military district in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, because of his belief that the Jews were a “privileged class” who “travel anywhere” and seek to undermine the national war effort with illicit and nefarious economic behavior. Though countermanded by President Abraham Lincoln soon afterwards, the order had been enforced in many areas, and often violently (Brands 2012).
The anti-Semitic conspiracy of Jewish world domination through manipulation of economies and social politics is perhaps best represented by the 1903 anti-Semitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in Russia, a hoax forged by the plagiarization of earlier texts. Despite being thoroughly debunked as a hoax, the text was translated into many languages, published internationally, and presented as fact. It may be the single most influential anti-Semitic text, and most responsible for popularizing the belief in an international Jewish conspiracy, and it remains popular and in-print to this day. The content of The Protocols, purporting to document the discussions of a secret late 18th century meeting of Jewish leaders, describe an international Jewish plot to ultimately destroy and enslave the non-Jewish world. The Protocols allege that Jews will achieve these goals by sowing discord, fomenting war, subverting morality, dominating the global economy, and controlling the media to indoctrinate masses through Jewish propaganda (Hanebrink 2018, Nirenberg 2013). The lack of names, dates, or any specific references in The Protocols allow it to be used by disparate and contradictory political movements as evidence of international Jewish conspiracy due to the text’s assertion that Jews will use any and all methods at hand, including capitalism and communism, democracy and autocracy, to advance their agenda.
Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are not endemic to any one political ideology, and in fact often blend and borrow from across ideological lines in their practical application within temporal periods of history. Perhaps the best example of this is the shared conspiratorial roots in the understanding of Jewish people and the role they play in society that existed between communists and fascists across Europe and Russia, and their subsequent treatment of the various Jewish populations throughout the pre-, inter-, and post-war era. Anti-Jewish prejudice and conspiracy theories, which utilize real or imagined Jews as a blank canvas upon which to project and characterize their fears and dislikes, pre-date modern political movements like communism and fascism, rather forming a critical aspect of the cultures and societal understandings that produced the various political milieus that exist today. As such, these perceptions and beliefs are a feature of both movements’ consolidation of power within various national boundaries, among other political mass movements (Nirenberg 2013).
Though himself of Jewish descent, Karl Marx is a critical element of the way that communists have continued to conceive of capital and capitalist philosophy in Jewish terms, due to Marx’s work On the Jewish Question from 1944, a criticism of Bruno Bauer’s essays regarding the emancipation of Prussian Jews. In it, Marx treats Jews as a symbol of economic corruption, positing their the “wordly religion of the Jew” is huckstering, “his worldly god” being money, “the bill of exchange” being “the real god of the Jew,” and stating his thesis that “the social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism (Marx 1843).” It is in this light that the conspiracy theories laid out in The Protocols have been able to take root with some Marxists, most notably through the state anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union and its self-described “anti-Zionist” policies of Jewish oppression in the name of fighting capitalism and greed. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in October of 1917, the Pale of Settlement was abolished, which was a system instituted in 1791 by Catherine II of Russia that confined Jews to a clearly delineated area of the western edge of the Russian Empire following the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was characterized by crushing poverty and massive waves of anti-Semitic violence. Despite this seeming liberation of Soviet Jewry from the segregated confines enacted during the imperial Russian era, the Bolsheviks were resolutely opposed to Judaism and Jewish culture as they were towards all religions, and cracked down upon Jewish life. These policies culminated in Stalin’s anti-cosmopolitan campaign and Doctor’s Plot murders of prominent Soviet Jews, as well as giving rise to the still-popular anti-Semitic epithet of Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans” or globalists working as a global collective to undermine the nation (Bemporad 2019).
Later, in 1968, the People’s Republic of Poland, then a part of the USSR, would fire Jewish professionals en masse and force them to leave the country while stripping them of citizenship. As part of this self-labeled “anti-Zionist campaign,” the Soviet Polish government claimed that Jews cannot be loyal to Poland, since they are rather loyal only to Israel and other Jews. The majority of what remained of the Polish Jewish population (5% of a pre-war population of 3.2 million) following the Nazi-led Holocaust would emigrate in March of 1968 to countries other than Israel (Poland marks 50 years since 1968 anti-Semitic purge 2018).
In response to the Bolshevik Revolution, the anti-revolutionary, anti-communist White movement that sought to reinstate the tsarist monarchy likewise identified Jews as an intolerable other supporting the enemy. Jews were accused by the Whites of communist activity, Bolshevik sympathies, and hiding weapons for the Bolsheviks, resulting in White military forces murdering two hundred thousand Jews across Ukraine between 1918 and 1921. Concurrently, Ukrainian nationalists during the short-lived independent Ukrainian People’s Republic under Symon Petliura would level similar charges and would carry out an estimated 493 anti-Semitic pogroms (Hanebrink 2018). Likewise, during the nascent era of Eastern European nationalist movements and both pro- and anti-communist forces at war in the aftermath of the Russian revolution, the Polish military would carry out pogroms in cities with large Jewish populations, such as Pinsk and Vilnius in 1919, accusing them of being Bolshevik spies. Dozens were murdered, hundreds arrested, and the synagogues and Jewish properties plundered (Hanebrink 2018). This idea of Jews representing a Bolshevik plot would continue to foment during the interwar period when sporadic anti-Semitic violence would break out and numerous anti-Semitic laws passed in the lead-up to the Holocaust (Friedländer 2007).
The Holocaust—the systematic genocide of six million Jews across Europe by Nazi Germany, its allies, collaborators, and local nationalists—stands as the starkest example of anti-Semitic violence in history. Among the chief justification by its perpetrators was belief in the international Jewish conspiracy, and they used The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a means of promoting their belief despite in many cases knowing that the work is a forgery (Hanebrink 2018). Adolf Hitler, dictator of Nazi Germany and architect of their seizure of power, believed that Marxism was a Jewish doctrine and that Germany had lost World War I due to what is commonly known as the stab-in-the-back myth. This myth asserts that Jews and communists had secretly undermined Germany and forced its surrender. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler identified his enemy as “Jewish Marxism (Hitler 1925).” After being democratically appointed in January of 1933, Hitler and the Nazi Party would dissolve German democracy one month later following the Reichstag Building fire, which was blamed on a communist plot, a belief we know to have been necessarily intertwined with Hitler’s conspiratorial anti-Semitic weltanschauung. On September 15th, 1935, Nazi Germany would pass the anti-Semitic Nuremburg Laws that stripped Jews of their German citizenship, barred marriage and sexual relations between German citizens and Jews, and outlawed Jews from many professions and public office (Friedländer 1997). Similar legislation would be passed in Italy in 1938, Hungary from 1938-41, Romania in 1940, and in Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria in 1941. On November 9th to 10th of 1938, the ruling Nazi Party undertook a nationwide pogrom that came to be known as Kristallnacht. The civilian police, Gestapo, Schutzstaffel (SS), Sturmabteilung (SA), and German civilians smashed the windows of Jewish homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, and synagogues and in many cases burned them down. In total, 267 synagogues were completely destroyed, over seven thousand Jewish businesses destroyed, and thirty thousand Jewish men arrested and sent to concentration camps. While the official death toll is ninety-one Jews, mostly beaten to death and mutilated in the streets, the true death toll was likely in the hundreds following the mass rapes and suicides in its aftermath (Friedländer 1997). On January 30th, 1939, Hitler gave a speech that is commonly referred to as his “prophecy,” in which he stated: “If international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe (Friedländer 2007).” Hitler thusly restates the central role of the Judeo-Bolshevik myth to his world view and to Nazi policy of oppression and ultimately genocide of Jews.
Following Germany’s unification with Austria in 1938, as well as the invasions of Poland in 1939, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in 1940, and Yugoslavia, Greece, and the USSR in 1941, millions of Jews would come under Nazi control. With SS leadership often citing Hitler’s “prophecy” and views on Jewish people as subhuman influences on humanity, the Jewish populaces that had found themselves suddenly under Nazi occupation were forcibly herded into ghettos, the largest of which were located in Poland. In many cases, this entailed extreme violence, such as burning entire Jewish communities alive after locking them into a synagogue and impaling or dismembering Jewish infants. In these ghettos, the living conditions were abhorrent, with seven to thirty people sharing a single room. The Jews were locked into the ghetto, separated from society, and starved, with thousands dying every month of hunger and disease. Beginning in late 1941, the Nazis began construction of extermination camps in Poland for the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos and the extermination of European Jewry; these camps were Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. In total, around three million Jews from around Europe would be deported to these camps, stripped of their belongings, made to undress, and murdered in the gas chambers (Friedländer 2007). Most were gassed upon arrival, predominantly women, children, and the elderly, made to choke on poison Zyklon B gas or carbon monoxide fumes as they tried to climb the walls and get higher above the gas, involuntary stepping on the bodies of the very young and very old caught on the bottom, who would have their bodies and skulls crushed, leaving a pile of mangled bodies covered in blood and excrement to be removed by those kept on as slave laborers, themselves later to be murdered (Müller, Freitag and Flatauer 1999). These corpses would generally be disposed of in furnaces burning hot with the fat of their flesh, with the bones later pulverized and thrown into ponds and rivers (Friedländer 2007).
Concurrently as well as in subsequent years, Jews in Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania were being murderously disposed of by both German forces as well as their Axis allies, local auxiliaries, and even anti-Nazi nationalist movements. Between June 25th and June 29th of 1941, Lithuanian nationalists allied with Nazi Germany carried out a pogrom of the Jews of Kaunas and its surrounding villages, murdering almost four-thousand after claiming Bolshevism to a be a Jewish plot and Jews as the responsible party for all terrible things that have ever befallen Lithuania. In the Lietukis garage in Kaunas, one Lithuanian nationalist dubbed the “Death Dealer” bludgeoned sixty-eight Jewish men, women, and children to death with a club, bashing their heads in front of a crowd of Lithuanian civilian onlookers. The Lithuanian nationalists would systematically murder most of the Kaunas Jews at the Kaunas Fortress, though there were instances of public executions, such as when the nationalists sawed off the head of prominent local rabbi, Zalman Osovsky, upon an open copy of a book of the Talmud, placing it on display in a shop window with a sign warning that this will be the fate of all Jews, and then likewise murdering his wife and child (Oshry 1995). From June 30th to July 2nd as well as July 25th to 30th of 1941, Ukrainian nationalists, and later Nazi German Einsatzgruppen, began massacring the Jewish population of Lviv, Ukraine, with the Ukrainian nationalists doing so as a result of their belief that prior Soviet crimes against Ukrainians were the responsibility of the Jews. Jews were dragged outside, beaten, forced to perform actions and rituals associating them with communism, and made to clean the streets on their hands and knees as many in the local non-Jewish crowd stood watching and jeering. Jewish women were stripped, brutally beaten, and raped in the streets. After coordinating with the occupying Nazi forces, the nationalists brought the Jews to killing sites where seven- to eight-thousand Jews were murdered (Friedländer 2007). In early July of 1941, in northeastern Poland, a region known for its violently anti-Semitic Polish nationalism, the villages of Choroszcz, Czyzew, Goniadz, Grajewo, Jasionowka, Kleszczele, Knyszyn, Kolno, Kuznica, Narewka, Piatnica, Pilki, Radzilow, Rajgrod, Sokoly, Stawiski, Suchowola, Szczuczyn, Trzcianne, Tykocin, Wasilkow, Wasosz, Wizna, and most notably Jedwabne undertook genocidal pogroms of their own accord against their own Jewish neighbors with varying degrees of German involvement, if at all. The death tolls in each individual circumstance ranged from dozens to well over one thousand Jews. These pogroms were planned and carried out at the town government level with their non-Jewish Polish villagers, who, as in Lviv, blamed Soviet crimes upon Jews as a people. Additionally, they promoted an exclusionary ethno-religious view of Polish nationalism that portrayed Poland as a state for ethnic Poles who are religiously Roman Catholic. As such, the Polish nationalists in these places forced their Jewish neighbors outside for public humiliation, including dancing and singing communist songs in a procession around a statue of Lenin erected by the Soviets, before being made to destroy the statue, dig a hole, and eventually themselves be shot into the hole. Jewish women were gang-raped, had their breasts carved off with knives, and had their throats cut or were decapitated. Jewish men and children were similarly decapitated with axes, drowned, and in isolated instances skinned. Ultimately, in many of these places, the majority of the local Jewish population would be locked into a barn house, doused with kerosene, and burned alive. Jewish children who were caught hiding were thrown to their deaths into the infernos with pitchforks. Many of these Polish villagers then ransacked the Jewish homes, looting what they could (Bikont 2015, Friedländer 2007, Gross 2002). Still today, this remains a taboo subject in Poland and the topic itself of Polish pogroms is labeled a Jewish conspiracy against Poland in the name of Jewish greed, forming a tenet of Polish nationalist politics and used as a means to gain support by members of the Polish ruling party, Law and Justice, and even by the President Andzej Duda (Cienski 2020, Gross 2006).
Hungary, under the dictatorship of Miklos Horthy and allied with Nazi Germany, deported roughly half of its 825,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau between May 15th and July 9th, 1944, whereupon they were gassed upon arrival. Following diplomatic pressure, Horthy would call off the deportations and withdraw from the Axis, prompting Nazi Germany to invade Hungary and arrest him. The deportations thusly continued, and the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, a fascist organization claiming to fight a “Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy,” was legalized, came to power, and proceeded to murder ten- to fifteen-thousand Budapest-based Jews on the banks of the Danube by shooting them into the river or chaining them together and shooting one, with the rest dragged in to drown in the freezing waters (Friedländer 2007). Among the survivors of Hungarian Jewry from this time is philanthropist George Soros, an advocate for strengthening liberal democracy. Today he is the most prominent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the far-right news media and figures worldwide, where he is paradoxically labeled a Nazi as well as accused of being the face of an ongoing communist plot to undermine the West, white civilization, and Christianity (Tamkin 2020). Such conspiracy theories have been voiced by far-right world leaders, including former President Donald Trump, and have resulted in assassination attempts on Soros’s life.
Like Hungary, Romania under Ion Antosescu was an Axis ally of Germany and had passed their own anti-Semitic legislation in 1941 and 1942 akin to the Nuremburg Laws passed in Germany in 1935. Antonescu, and Romania at large, believed communism to be a Jewish plot; these fears were amplified in the leadup to Romania’s involvement in the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, a war whose aim was considered by the government to be the annihilation of “Judeo-Bolshevism.” On June 21, 1941, Antonescu had Jews aged 18 to 60 who lived between the Siret and Pruth rivers sent to concentration camps in the south, and the next day members of the fascist Iron Guard, previously imprisoned for their failed coup attempt on Antonescu, were freed and given weapons for a planned pogrom. On June 27, 1941, Antonescu formally demanded that the army “cleanse Iasi of its Jewish population,” and Jews were assembled by the authorities and accused of sabotage against the state and the military. Iasi was a border city with a large Jewish population, which Antonescu saw as a fifth column eager to aid the Soviets through information and sabotage. The following day, Romanian soldiers, police, gendarmes, and civilians associated with anti-Semitic movements began hunting Jews in the streets and on private property, murdering eight-thousand Jews on the first day by shooting them, beating and bludgeoning them to death with crowbars and pipes, or stabbing them. Both living and dead Jews were robbed as five-thousand more Jews were arrested and put on a death train in which they were starved, dehydrated, and suffocated until all but 1,011 were killed (Friedländer 2007). In total, 13,266 Jews would be murdered in this pogrom predicated upon belief in a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy.
Just as this history demonstrates how the myth of an international Jewish conspiracy has been employed and tailored to various circumstances for an array of political ends by a range of political movements and actors, so too does this carry over into our current political landscape, building upon these histories to modernize the conspiracy theory to suit political needs and explain complex global circumstances and events. World leaders and far-right movements campaign upon anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Soros as the puppet master behind global economic behavior and political movements and figures around the world. These alleged that Soros has funded and organized: the 2017 Women’s March; Black Lives Matter protests; protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court; and migrant caravans from Central America in 2018. Similarly, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia blamed fires in California on an alleged space laser controlled by the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family from Europe that has long been used as fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (Beauchamp 2021). Also popular among many across the political spectrum is the belief that Jews represent a secret global elite who are shapeshifting, blood-drinking, interdimensional reptilian humanoid “Rothschild Zionists” intent on oppressing humanity. This belief has been popularized by former English soccer player and conspiracy theorist, David Icke, who endorses and adapts the allegations contained within The Protocols. Icke and his views have been lauded by many communities, from Christian nationalists and neo-Nazis on the right, to Ufologists, to New Age movements on the left, as well as figures such as Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple (who further alleges that Jews are taught by the Talmud to enslave humanity and rape children), comedian Russell Brand, and musician Mick Fleetwood of the band Fleetwood Mac (Grady 2018).
The wider narrative of New World Order conspiracy theories, within which the myth of Jewish global domination plays a central role, is also deeply intertwined with racist beliefs and movements that target others, with the myriad prejudices informing each other (Ward 2017). At the 2017 far-right Charlottesville rally, the protestors chanted, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” This is in reference to an NWO-derived conspiracy theory commonly called The Great Replacement, which originated with the French author Renaud Camus. Camus posited a global conspiracy to demographically replace white people of Christian and European background with ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, particularly non-white people and Muslims, through mass migration and encouraging lower birthrates among whites. The Charlottesville protestors and much of the American far-right have adapted this conspiracy theory to their own domestic needs, using their anti-Semitism in tandem with their racism by claiming they are being subjected to a demographic genocide orchestrated secretly by Jews who manipulate non-white, non-Christian immigration. These theories thus inform the sense of urgency within the far-right in their assault upon the rights of immigrants and refugees to settle in the US and the ability of minorities to exercise their constitutional right to vote (““The Great Replacement:” An Explainer” 2022).
Influence on Militant Accelerationism
The above defined Great Replacement beliefs are heavily represented in the ideological views of militant accelerationist attackers over the past decade. Militant accelerationism is defined as a set of tactics and strategies designed to put pressure on latent social divisions, often through violence, exacerbate them, and thus hasten societal collapse. The Great Replacement served as an explicit and primary motivator for the 2018 mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue Tree of Life — Or L’Simcha Congregation, where white supremacist Robert Bowers entered during Sabbath morning servies and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and three pistols, murdering eleven Jewish congregants and wounding six more. Before committing the act of mass murder, Bowers posted on social media, “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 (Robertson, Mele and Tavernise 2018).”
On March 15th, 2019, Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist from Australia, live-streamed himself carrying out two consecutive terrorist attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty-one Muslim worshippers were murdered in these attacks, forty wounded. Tarrant authored a manifesto titled The Great Replacement that he disseminated immediately prior to the shootings, in which he expresses his belief of the conspiracy theory. Notably, Tarrant drew inspiration from Anders Breivik, the white supremacist, neo-Nazi terrorist who carried out mass shootings in Norway in 2011 as well as American far-right commentator Candace Owens (Noack 2019, Shay 2019).
On April 27th, 2019, John Earnest stormed the synagogue Chabad of Poway in Poway, California on the last day of Passover, murdering one congregant and wounding three others after opening fire with an AR-15. Like Bowers, Earnest posted on social media before the shooting that Jews were carrying out a “meticulously planned genocide of the European race” while further citing the Bowers and Tarrant as inspiration. Earnest was also found responsible for the arson of an Islamic center in Escondido, California a month prior (Noack 2019, Oster 2019).
On August 3rd, 2019, Patrick Crusius carried out a terrorist attack at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, murdering twenty-three and wounding twenty-three more in an attempt to murder Latino-Americans. Crusius likewise posted a manifesto beforehand expressing belief in a white genocide as part of The Great Replacement, citing his admiration of the Christchurch mosque shootings (Noack 2019).
On October 9, 2019, a 27-year-old German neo-Nazi, Stephan Balliet, drove to a synagogue in Halle, Germany and livestreamed himself attempting, and failing, to break in and shoot the Jewish worshippers gathered there on the high holiday of Yom Kippur. After his attempts at shooting and blowing up the door failed, Balliet fired shots and detonated homemade explosives in the synagogue’s yard, murdered a 40-year-old woman passing by who admonished him, and drove to a Turkish kebab shop where he shot and killed a 20-year-old man. In total, two would be murdered and three wounded in the terrorist attack. Balliet had announced his intentions to kill Jews prior to the attack on a far-right social media site, and during the course of his livestream expressed Holocaust denial and belief that Jews were behind feminism and immigration in Germany. Additionally, Balliet left a manifesto in which he declared his belief in a “Jewish world conspiracy (Koehler 2019).”
This collection of intertwined and related conspiracy theories, centered around an international Jewish conspiracy, is not only employed to murderous and genocidal effect against Jewish people around the world, but as a means of explaining migratory and political behavior of non-white, non-Christian people globally. Far from being relegated to historical memory, the particularities and weight of this history is both used as a guidebook by the rising tide of illiberal nationalist movements, a positive example to hearken back to, as well as a cudgel to be wielded against Jews, other minority groups, and liberal and left-wing political groups in a general sense. The histories of violence are something both strongly identified with and denied as a means of intimidation of political out-groups and vice-signaling to extremist fellow travelers, deploying them circumstantially to meet various in-group needs and demands.
The militant accelerationism attacks also illustrate how terroristic rampages predicated on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories can ultimately result in the targeting of non-Jewish minorities as proxies for supposed Jewish control. Perhaps most perniciously, these historic conspiracy theories serve as an atemporal justification for murdering Jewish people as pushback against a secretive plot against various racial, religious, national, and political group identities. These prejudices cannot be decoupled from each other, nor from political violence and legislation seeking to undermine democratic institutions and terrorize minority groups (Ward 2017).
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