The Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Anti-Semitism

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Précis: The October 27 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was not just “the latest mass shooting,” or even the latest act of right-wing political violence. With these murders, a virulent undercurrent of anti-Semitism has burst on the scene. Millions of people were shaken deeply by this act, which awoke memories of the terror of the Nazi Holocaust during World War 2 in which six million Jews were murdered.

This anti-Semitism is not coming from nowhere. It is deeply rooted in Western/Christian history and culture, deeply bound up with white supremacy in the U.S., and now being actively cultivated and unleashed by Trump and other leading Republi-fascists, particularly in the midst of the sharp struggle around the recent midterm elections.

Anti-Semitic forces, and anti-Semitic ideology, are today a key component of the Trump/Pence regime’s strategy and vision to “Make America Great Again.” The synagogue massacre portends the possibility of much more violence to come, and the specter of American Brownshirts increasingly terrorizing various oppressed and demonized sections of the people. But this in turn has the potential to awaken many, many people to the extreme danger to humanity represented by this regime. The following article digs deeper into what is going on now, how it is connected to the ascendancy of Trump and the conscious machinations of those around him, and the particular poisonous role of anti-Semitism.


On October 27, a Saturday morning—the Jewish Sabbath—a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh shouting “All Jews must die,” and began murdering people.

An hour later, 11 were dead, six others wounded. Among the dead: a couple who had been married at Tree of Life 60 years ago; two intellectually disabled brothers who came early every week to warmly greet worshippers; a doctor who, in the early years of the HIV-AIDS epidemic threw himself into treating people who were considered incurable, defying fear and stigma by embracing his patients when they left his office.

So many precious lives stolen, a community torn by loss, would have been painful enough. But this massacre hit like a deafening thunderclap amidst a growing storm of political violence that had been unfolding over the previous days (and still continues as we write this), amplifying the fear, sorrow—and anger—a thousand-fold

Just three days before in Louisville, Kentucky, a white man attempted to enter a Black church, and when unsuccessful, went to a nearby Kroger supermarket and killed two Black people, allegedly telling a white bystander who took out a firearm in response that “white people don’t kill white people.” And for a full week before that, pipe bombs had been showing up at homes and offices of top Democratic leaders, particularly prominent Black figures (Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker); CNN (the news outlet frequently attacked by Donald Trump); and three wealthy liberals who were either Jewish or of Jewish descent; and others.

Cesar Sayoc, the alleged bomber, is a fanatical Trump supporter.

There have in fact been a growing number of acts of political violence by Trump supporters1 almost from the day Trump declared his candidacy in August 2015: mosques bombed, immigrants, Black people and anti-racist white people, beaten or murdered, Jewish cemeteries desecrated.

And all of this has been fed by the hateful and violent rhetoric of Trump himself as well as other Republican leaders who demonize immigrants as “rapists and criminals,” denounce journalists as “enemies of the people,” demand that leaders of the Democratic party be jailed, and, increasingly, allude to dark conspiracies of wealthy or powerful figures like George Soros (a billionaire donor to liberal causes), Mike Bloomberg, Janet Yellen (former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank), Lloyd Blankfein (former CEO of the Goldman Sachs investment firm)… all of whom “just happen to be” Jewish.

As the Republi-fascists battled with other sections of the ruling class over the just-past midterm elections, both the volume of racist and conspiratorial rhetoric from the top and the violence of racist action from below jumped to a shocking new level. Yet even in the wake of the mass bombing plot, Trump scaled up his hate speech. After officially condemning the bombing campaign—in a monotone statement that looked and sounded for all the world like a hostage video—Trump’s mass rallies and campaign ads featured shrill denunciation of the very people and institutions who were targeted by the bombs, as well as outrageous fear-mongering about the thousands of refugees seeking safety in the U.S.

This was a conscious move to further freak out and rev up his base, seeking to create an existential fear of Trump’s foes and of the unknown, and thus a spirit of being ready to act violently to “defend their way of life.”

Generally this frenzy of fear-mongering was presented in the media as a way to drive Trump’s hardcore base to the polls, but this is not the essence of the matter. Trump certainly wanted to win this midterm election battle, both to help consolidate his control of the government and to give his regime more of an aura of legitimacy. But the fascists have power now, and are not going to willingly give it up—nor back away from their drive to consolidate a fully fascist regime—regardless of the election. A fear-driven, angry and increasingly violent base was as much a means to assert, maintain and further consolidate power in the wake of an electoral setback as it is a way to win an election victory, and the mixed result of the election doesn’t change that.

The Low-Steady Drumbeat of Anti-Semitism Takes Center Stage

With the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, and with the Republicans intensifying campaign against George Soros and other prominent Jewish liberals, the low back-beat of anti-Semitism that has been there all along has leaped to the forefront, raising the specter of past terrors. People very broadly—and very correctly—are sensing that the beast of fascist violence is being ever more fully empowered and unleashed.

Voicing the fears of many, a 91-year-old survivor of the Nazi’s genocidal murder of millions of Jews in Europe during World War 2, told the New York Times, “This kind of evil makes me think of the Holocaust …”

In fact, anti-Semitism has been a consistent, if somewhat below-the-radar, thread in Republi-fascist rhetoric and fascist violence from the start, even if it was somewhat less prominent than the screaming racism directed at immigrants and Muslims.

During the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s campaign tweeted a meme lifted from a white supremacist web site that depicted Hilary Clinton, piles of money, and a Star of David (a symbol of the Jewish people). Then, not long after Trump took office, he issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that condemned the Holocaust, but “neglected” to mention the murder of six million Jews, and later defended this by saying that lots of other people were killed by the Nazis. Similarly, a few months later Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, made a statement that “Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,2” or at least not “on his own people”… when in fact Hitler used chemical weapons to murder millions of Jews!

All of this amounted to anti-Semitic dog whistles, meant to validate two key tropes of anti-Semitism: that wealthy Jews run the world, and that the Holocaust either didn’t happen, or is greatly exaggerated. These dog-whistles were heard loud and clear by neo-Nazi forces, like Richard Spencer, who had spoken to a rally celebrating Trump’s election by giving the Nazi salute and shouting “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory.”

And anti-Semitic attacks have also been escalating. Between August 2015 (when Trump launched his campaign) and July 2016, Jewish journalists, particularly those perceived as being critical of Trump received 19,000 anti-Semitic tweets from 1,600 users.3 Many of these were extremely vile—for instance, photoshopping the journalists’ faces onto pictures of Jews in concentration camps, or threatening to kill their children. There have also been many incidents of desecrations of Jewish cemeteries, or spray-painting swastikas on cars and buildings in Jewish neighborhoods.

And in the most shocking incident prior to the Tree of Life massacre, in August 2017, hundreds of white nationalists staged a torchlight march through Charlottesville, Virginia, evoking Hitler’s Brownshirt thugs, attacking counter-protesters, upholding the enslavement of Black people and chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us.” The next day, one of them drove a speeding car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. And in the wake of this, Trump insisted there were “very fine people… on both sides”—equating the neo-Nazi murderers with people courageously opposing them!

But Trump Can’t Be Anti-Semitic…

Many people argue that “Trump can’t be anti-Semitic, because his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish.”

But Trump’s personal inclinations are beside the point. We can be pretty confident that Trump doesn’t personally believe Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian fundamentalist mumbo-jumbo, nor spend his evenings studying the Bible. But he has fully embraced the Christian fascist movement—and been warmly embraced by it—because it is integral to his fascist program and vision of “Making America Great Again.” And in a different way, the same is true for the ideology and forces of anti-Semitism—whatever Trump’s personal views and relations, they are a necessary component of the fascist reorganization of U.S. society that Trump is spearheading.

It is also argued that Trump and the other Republi-fascists “can’t be anti-Semitic” because they so strongly support the Jewish state of Israel in its genocidal attacks on Palestinian people. But this support has nothing to do with concern for Jewish people (much less Muslims!). No, it is grounded in the role Israel plays in the world for the U.S., in particular as a bastion for its domination of the Middle East as well as the Christian fanaticism of a section of Christian evangelicals—the Christian fascists of whom Mike Pence is a key leader. These evangelicals hold that the return of Jews to the land of Israel, the restoration of Israeli land exclusively to Jews, and the rebuilding of the First Temple built by King Solomon, will signal the beginning of the “End Times.” Then comes the “Rapture” in which the souls of true Christians will be lifted from earth and welcomed into heaven. According to this sick fantasy, those Jews who convert to Christianity may be part of this Rapture. As to those who remain Jews, they will be “wiped out and sent to hell” for all eternity! Hardly an affirmation of the rights and humanity of Jewish people!

But to really understand the Trump regime’s attitude towards Jewish people, it is necessary to look at the intractable contradictions that the system Trump heads up confronts, and the approach of Trump and a whole section of the U.S. ruling class to resolving them.

Internationally, the U.S. has been unable to nail down control of key regions like the Middle East despite a series of devastating wars of empire, and is increasingly being challenged for world domination by China and other big powers. Domestically, decades of economic change and trauma have gutted the middle-class, leading to widespread alienation from the system. Women have surged into the workforce and increasingly demand to be treated as full human beings, and LGBTQ people have come out of the shadows, both of which threaten the entrenched structures of patriarchal authority which have historically cohered U.S. society and ruling class power. And demographically, the U.S. is heading rapidly towards being majority non-white, which threatens the essential pillars of white supremacy that have been central to U.S. social and economic structure since its foundation.

Trump—and Pence and their whole regime—represent a section of the imperialist ruling class that believes that the way to respond to this is through the forcible recohering of U.S. society around open white, male, Christian domination, and the violent battering down of all who oppose or stand in the way of this, including women, “minorities,” liberals, and other ruling class forces. Then, on that locked-down and fanatically white Christian nationalist footing, this section advocates a hyper-aggressive approach to both allies and challengers internationally, including the threat—or actual use—of nuclear weapons to advance U.S. interests.

To carry this out, these ruling class fascists are relying on and unleashing backward sections of the masses who feel shaken and threatened by the big changes of recent decades, who yearn for an imagined “good old days” when white male privilege was exalted and not questioned; sections who also yearn for the “security” of an authoritarian leader blessed by the so-called representatives of the Christian god; and “vaccinated” against critical thinking by the U.S.’s piss-poor education system and indoctrination by Christian fundamentalist fanatics.

But here’s the problem—the ideology, and many or most of the organized forces of fascism, white supremacy and “Christian identity” in the U.S. that the regime is relying on, are intimately bound together with the ideology and forces of anti-Semitism. You can’t unleash the one without unleashing the other.

The Ideology of Anti-Semitism, Internationally and in the U.S.

Anti-Semitism historically has very deep roots in “Western Civilization,” going back to the Middle Ages when Christianity was the state religion throughout Europe, and a major current of Christian doctrine blamed Jews as a people for killing Jesus Christ. For centuries hundreds of millions of people grew up steeped in this hateful ignorance, and this was the basis for waves of persecution in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were tortured, exiled or murdered in Europe.

And in more modern times, the “theory” of an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers who pull the strings on all governments and run everything has been extremely useful to all manner of vicious and oppressive regimes. The “virtue” of anti-Semitism to the various kings, czars, capitalists and imperialists that have promoted it is that it funnels the anger of people on the bottom of society, as well as the fear and insecurity of people in the middle classes, away from the system that is responsible for the condition of society, and towards an oppressed minority. And because many Jews (for a variety of historical reasons) are in visible sections of the middle or even upper classes—in the arts, in academia, in business and so on—and some are even part of the ruling capitalist class, anti-Semitism can present itself as “punching upwards” towards the “elites” and the “powerful”… while actually protecting the system as a whole and the class that runs it. It’s easy to see how this synchs perfectly with Trump’s so-called “populism.” (For a deep and scientific analysis of the roots and history of anti-Semitism, go here and here.)

In the U.S.—which was built on a foundation of the enslavement of Black people, the genocide of Native people, and the plunder of Mexico and Latin America, and which still depends on the brutal oppression of all of these groups—one form of “the international Jewish conspiracy” that anti-Semites frequently rail against is the notion that Jews are conspiring to “dilute” the “purity” of the white race, so as to weaken and dominate it. This “theory” combines an utterly contemptuous view of Black and Brown people (as unable to organize and fight for themselves), with a vision of Jews of almost supernatural, “demonic” power to control everything, from civil rights organizations to Hollywood movies to newspapers and TV stations.

This was a major theme in the racist opposition to Black people’s struggle for civil rights in the 20th century. For example, in the 1940s, J.B. Stoner, a former Klansman, formed the Christian Anti-Jewish Party, which held that a wealthy Jew “spent $30 million financing organizations and writers that promote mongrelization [i.e., integration]. A race once mongrelized is mongrelized forever.”

Another example: in 1966, in an interview in Playboy magazine, George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party said that “the only world that [Jews] could rule would be a world of inferior beings. And as long as the white man is pure, they cannot succeed. But when the white man permits himself to be mixed with black men, then the Jews can master him.” When the interviewer pointed out that the main organizations fighting for integration were led by Black people, Rockwell said: “They’re just the front men. The Jews operate behind the scenes, pulling the strings and holding the moneybags.”

What Trump and other ruling class fascists are promoting today is just an updated version of this: wealthy Jews are allegedly financing and pulling the strings on everything. Nowadays Trump rarely gives a speech that doesn’t feature attacks on the supposedly all-powerful George Soros. Trump claims that the women who protested the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were paid by Soros. Rep. Matt Gaetz—a fanatically pro-Trump congressman—says that Soros is financing the caravan of Central American refugees heading to the U.S. that Trump calls “an invasion” and “a national emergency.” Rep. Kevin McCarthy—the House Majority Leader!—tweets that “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election.” (Bloomberg, like Soros, is Jewish; Steyer is of Jewish descent.)

As Talia Lavin, who monitors neo-Nazi forces, notes: Soros’s “name has become a synonym for a well-worn anti-Semitic canard: the idea that Jews are malevolent fomenters of social dissent, agitators slyly funding and masterminding protest, seeking to undermine a white, Christian social order.”4

In this light, it is very notable that Bowers (the alleged Tree of Life murderer) was set off by the work of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a 137-year-old group that originally helped Jewish refugees to the U.S., but which now helps people of many other nationalities. Bowers denounced the caravan of Central American immigrants heading to the U.S. as an act of “white genocide” (again, “diluting” the white majority in the U.S.) and, of course, funded by Soros! Just before the massacre, Bowers wrote: “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.”

IMPORTANT: The poisonous influence of anti-Semitism among the masses most oppressed by imperialism is not the subject of this article but cannot go unmentioned. Hatred of Jews as Jews has been propagated by Middle Eastern governments, Islamic fundamentalist and jihadist groups and trends, as well as movements among Palestinians, including the use of disproven and discredited anti-Jewish propaganda like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.5 Within the U.S., anti-Semitism has been fostered in particular by Louis Farrakhan, the reactionary nationalist who, not so coincidentally, also angles for a deal with Trump. The use of anti-Semitism directs masses away from the real source of the problem and from the real solution—revolution, and the emancipation of all humanity. Instead, it gives expression to the spirit of revenge and serves a program of getting over inside this system—for the “last” to try to become the “first” within a horrifically oppressive system and becoming just another capitalist ruling class with the “right” to exploit and oppress both “your own” and other oppressed peoples.

Unleashing Anti-Semitism—a Crime Against Humanity, a Danger for the Rulers, a Challenge to the People

It’s true that this anti-Semitism presents some problems for the ruling class—problems that in a sense are embodied in Trump’s own family and inner circle, which includes a number of Jewish people (Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and others). And in a larger sense, Jewish people are a major part of the economic, political and cultural structure in the U.S., so any open embrace of anti-Semitism, much less the carrying out of the full genocidal program of people and forces like Bowers would give rise to enormous social strife, internal struggle in the ruling class, and economic and social disruption.

But it is also true, as already stated, that the white supremacy which is at the very core of what the fascist regime is doing is closely bound up with anti-Semitism. At least up to this point, it has proven impossible to “tease out” these elements, to unleash racism without also unleashing anti-Semitism… and in the face of that, the fascist regime has done everything it can to avoid throwing cold water on the reactionaries. And in fact, the more middle forces are repelled by Trump’s increasingly obvious racism, the more necessity Trump has to whip up the hard core of his base on an openly fascist and increasingly violent basis—not to “win elections,” but to develop an active fascist movement, including shock troops. But the more he does this, the more the fascist character of the regime is thrown in people’s faces, the more people who are targeted by this regime, or who just care about justice and compassion feel that they are threatened in an existential way, and may feel compelled to act decisively against the regime.

How exactly this will play out going forward cannot be predicted, but it is highly likely that there will be further escalation of white-supremacist and anti-Semitic violence. This underscores the extreme danger of allowing this regime to hold onto the levers of power, and of allowing this system to remain in effect. And it points to the great need—and basis—for bringing forward another way for the people in what is now the United States, and for humanity as a whole.

But the clock is definitely ticking…


1. See “Here Is a List of Far-Right Attacks Trump Inspired. Cesar Sayoc Wasn’t the First—and Won’t Be the Last,” by Mehdi Hasan,, October 27, 2018. [back]

2. Cited in the Guardian, April 11, 2017. [back]

3. Note that these figures are from a study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization which very wrongly lumps together incidents of actual anti-Semitism with sharp criticism of the state of Israel, and this may affect the accuracy of these statistics. Nonetheless, it is clear from many, many reports from targeted journalists that the overwhelming thrust of these Twitter attacks is in fact hatred of Jewish people and not criticism of Israel. [back]

4. “Conspiracy theories about Soros aren’t just false. They’re anti-Semitic.”, October 24, 2018. [back]

5. A thoroughly disproven forgery first circulated in 1903 that claims to be the minutes of a meeting of international Jewish leaders plotting to take over the world, the Protocols have been widely circulated since, including by major U.S. capitalist Henry Ford, who distributed 500,000 copies, including at car dealerships, and by Adolf Hitler, who used it as a key justification for genocide. [back]

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People honor the 11 victims of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue with signs protesting Donald Trump, October 30. (Photo: AP)

Clearing Up the Confusion: Anti-Zionism Is NOT Anti-Semitism

The following is an excerpt from a article from September, “Opposing Israel Is NOT Anti-Jewish: Major Fascist Moves to Suppress Criticism of Israel”:

Jewish people have been the victims of bitter discrimination and oppression for centuries, which took on monstrous levels culminating in the Holocaust when six million Jewish people were mass murdered in concentration camps. As an oppressed people, the Jews of Europe sought many solutions. For most this meant seeking integration into the larger society, and for many it involved getting into projects for universal human emancipation—that is, seeking an end to the oppression of the Jewish people as part of seeking freedom for everyone. For a minority it meant the Zionist movement, focused on building a separate Jewish nation-state for all Jews.

The establishment of this nation-state, Israel, with the backing of British and western imperialism, consisted of waves of ethnic cleansing, military, and paramilitary attacks against Palestinian villages aimed at displacing Palestinian people and then occupying and destroying Palestinian villages to make way for the expanding Zionist settlements. By December 1947, the Zionists began mass expulsions of Palestinians. This wave of terror, known as the Nakba (from the Arabic word meaning “catastrophe”), continued into the early months of 1949.

During the Nakba almost a million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages, and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured, and killed… Zionists claim that they are the original and indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, but the question is not which of the many Middle Eastern tribal and ethnic group lived on the land thousands of years ago! It is that for many centuries, Palestine was overwhelmingly occupied by Arab people (with a very small Jewish minority prior to the 20th century) and moreover that a Palestinian nation was formed and forged there with its own culture, language, economy, history and so on which was violently uprooted by Europeans—in this case Jewish Europeans—working in close political and military alignment with major imperialist powers. So it is ludicrous for the representatives of these European imperialist invaders to try and claim the mantle of an oppressed indigenous people fighting for their rights!

Opposing the crimes of the state of Israel is not “opposing Judaism” or Jewish people. Israel is holding two million Palestinians hostage in the Gaza Strip, which they’ve turned into an open-air prison. The Israeli military enforces a blockade, preventing any aid from coming in, leaving people without access to clean water and proper medical care, even resorting to storming ships that are bringing aid and shooting down the courageous volunteers. And to top it all off, they drop U.S.-made bombs indiscriminately, including on schools and hospitals, commit crimes against the Palestinian people which, if committed by another country, would be condemned internationally as policies of genocide, mass murder, and brutal occupation. Israel is not a solution to the age-old oppression of the Jewish people as Jews. And opposing the brutal crimes of the Israeli state is not discrimination—it is not only protected political speech, it is right and righteous.

Read more: Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL


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