White supremacists emboldened by the president

White supremacists emboldened by the president

Can Jews justify his post-Charlottesville comments?

Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.

A group of interfaith clergy lock arms to protest white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups  in Charlottesville. Matthew Lowe
A group of interfaith clergy lock arms to protest white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups  in Charlottesville. Matthew Lowe

I received a disturbing text from my best friend the other night. He had just watched the devastating 20-minute documentary on HBO’s Vice News Tonight in which an increasingly distraught correspondent, Elle Reeve, shadowed a group of white nationalists during the violence that occurred last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Most of the chilling video — which should be required viewing for every proud American over 14 or so — was told from the perspective of passionate alt-righter Christopher Cantwell, who took great pride in his hate-mongering movement.

After a quick Google search, my friend learned that not only did Cantwell grow up in the same Long Island town as he, but the Nazi sympathizer was a year behind him at the same high school. Turns out that not all racists are from downtrodden Southern communities still bitter that their ancestors lost the Civil War — they may have been our lab partners. 

Yes, the white supremacists walk amongst us, which we’ve been warned about before but never fully believed because, until recently, they felt they had to hide in plain sight. 

What’s changed? Most of us have had our suspicions, but every time we said them out loud we got shouted down by those who insisted there was no evidence, that it was just partisan bias, and of course, there was the fact that President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.

At least I finally have a good answer for everyone who emails me asking why NJJN continues to suggest that the increase in racism and anti-Semitism in the last year-plus is related to the words and actions of our commander in chief: We write it because it’s true.

After the president’s initial — and later, his doubling down — comments on who was responsible for the Charlottesville violence, it’s difficult to argue that he hasn’t enabled, emboldened, and empowered racists and anti-Semites to stand up for the hatred they believe in. When former KKK imperial wizard David Duke and other leaders of the alt-right movement thank the president for having their backs, that tells you something.

Enough, people. We have all the information we need. Even if you still cling to the notion that Trump isn’t a racist, we now know for certain that he stands with them. In his press conference last Tuesday at Trump Tower, the president asserted that there are “fine people” on both sides. Are we to believe that anyone who marched with the hundreds of people dressed in hoods, holding torches, waving Nazi flags, and chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” is a fine person? Sixteen years ago the nation stood by Republican President George W. Bush when, after Sept. 11, he declared, “You’re either with us, or against us.” 

Is that no longer true?

Yes, Trump condemned white supremacists, but he also justified their actions. And he’s right in that, unfortunately, not all of the counter-protesters behaved like model citizens. But rationalizing the actions of people who adorn themselves withswastikas is taking the concept of “devil’s advocate” a little too literally. 

If the Kushners sought to convince the president to moderate his remarks and this was the result, maybe their influence has been overstated. Whatever one’s politics, left or right, it’s hard to avoid the reality that this president, so quick to call out everyone from fellow Republican lawmakers to Meryl Streep, is loathe to put the onus unequivocally on neo-Nazis.

Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, wrote on ReformJudaism.org that on the day of the rally, while he and 40 congregants were inside the synagogue for Saturday morning services, “parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language.” Three men armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street for a half hour, said Zimmerman, and a Nazi website “had posted a call to burn our synagogue.” The congregants were advised to exit through the back door and the Torah scrolls were moved to another location before services. 

The people of Beth Israel are several states south of New Jersey, but they are being threatened because, like us, they’re Jewish. Keep in mind, there are plenty of like-minded individuals in the Garden State. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 15 hate groups in New Jersey, including the National Socialist Movement, offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Strikeforce, and the AC Skins. They’ve been here all along, but confined to the shadows, pouring over their copies of Mein Kampf and posting in the comments sections of alt-right message boards about the size of our noses. 

Yet the president says some of them are “very fine people,” merely concerned with preserving a cherished piece of American history. 

Now that he’s chosen to stand with them, how many of the chosen people are still standing with him?

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