The news alerts rolling in from Buffalo, New York, on Saturday all had a revolting familiarity. An 18-year-old man who espoused white nationalist views was suspected of storming into the local Tops grocery store and unloading his rifle on the mostly Black shoppers, killing 10 and injuring several others. Police reported the barrel of the suspect’s gun was adorned with a racial slur. In the wake of similar shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand; Pittsburgh; Poway, California; and so many other cities, the 180-page document purportedly written by the suspect felt as predictable as it was hateful. This was particularly true for one of the most powerful narratives running through the ignorant, rageful document: a loathing toward Jews.
In these theories of white domination, racial hierarchies and modern “degeneracy,” Jews are a vital piece of the apocalyptic conspiracy puzzle.
The Tops shooting was clearly an act of anti-Blackness. But it’s notable that antisemitism often acts as the ideological center of white nationalist rhetoric, the force that turns racist rage into a semi-organized global theory. In the fevered imaginations of these racist fascists, Jews run the world as a secret, cabalistic elite, and they are using nonwhite people as a weapon to destroy the gentile white population. In these theories of white domination, racial hierarchies and modern “degeneracy,” Jews are a vital piece of the apocalyptic conspiracy puzzle. Because as writers like Eric Ward have illustrated, the neo-Nazi belief that whites are being destroyed requires an allegedly intelligent and powerful puppet master.
While Jews made up a sizable portion of the document, they were not the target of the shooter’s violence, just as they weren’t targeted during the Christchurch massacre or the shooting in 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Even when Jews are not the target of violence, antisemitism can help motivate white nationalist violence against communities of color and immigrants.
As University of Washington Bothell professor Dan Berger explained around Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, antisemitism has played a central role in the growing American far right, except Jews are not its primary victims. Conspiracy theories about people like George Soros, shadowy elites and cabals of satanic pedophiles (as found in the QAnon theory) follow the ideological legacy of earlier antisemitic theories like blood libel and the antisemitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The “great replacement theory” is quickly becoming one of the more lethal contemporary theories, after being cited in multiple mass shootings. In its more extreme iterations, the theory alleges that a shadowy group of elites are increasing immigration of nonwhite people in an effort to “replace” native-born whites in the U.S. (Although conservatives as mainstream as members of Congress and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have referenced this theory in various ways, it is really just the more polite version of what has become known as “white genocide” propaganda.)
When these conspiracy theories — which alternate between coded and explicit references to Jews — are not being used to justify murder, they can be found underpinning many of the right wing’s most ridiculous talking points. The LGBTQ movement, particularly recent anti-trans activism, is slandered as the pawns of these corrupt oligarchs who are looking to destroy our traditional ways of life. Critical race theory is dismissed as simply a “cultural Marxist” threat designed to undermine national pride. Migrant caravans are being funded by Soros so Democrats can take over our country. Our election was stolen by secret elites, our wildfires caused by Rothschilds, our children under assault from drug-fueled blood drinkers.
Here we see very clearly exposed the intersections between different types of racism and bigotry, and how one is usually not far behind the other. In Portland, Oregon, recently, two synagogues were vandalized, one with “Die Juden” scrawled on the side. Nearby, the same person is accused of dousing the side of a mosque with an accelerant before striking a flame.
Obviously, the antisemitism in the reported Buffalo document should not shift our attention away from the anti-Blackness, which is also a foundational part of the American white nationalist legacy. It should instead speak to the importance of cross-cultural solidarity: The only way to build a culture of safety is to see racism, oppression and violence as permanently intertwined. This gives all of us a stake when fighting the twin social diseases of antisemitism and racism.
While antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories historically have lurked around the fringes of right-wing politics, shifts in the Republican Party are allowing them to become a central principle.
While antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories historically have lurked around the fringes of right-wing politics, shifts in the Republican Party are allowing them to become a central principle of the new conservative political and media coalition.
Politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia have brought antisemitic conspiracy theories and QAnon into Washington, while lawmakers like Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers are addressing conferences run by white nationalists. And as mentioned earlier, Tucker Carlson has become the most popular talk show on cable by repackaging white genocide conspiracy theories and helping to inculcate the electorate with this pernicious worldview.
Antisemitism acts as the nexus point for these ideas, the force that gives it coherence and pushes the racists in the midst to pick up a gun and take desperate action.
The far right is hoping to build up its white genocide conspiracy theory as a totalizing narrative about the world and use it as a battering ram against all marginalized people. But we can fight back.