The gunman who killed 11 people this weekend at the Tree of Life Synagogue did what he did because he had been fed the narrative that Jewish people are somehow secretly funding the massive migration of Central Americans to our country. On the same weekend, our vice president Mike Pence announced at a rally that the Honduran refugee caravan was being secretly funded by “globalists.” If I were Mike Pence’s pastor, I would have a responsibility to confront him about his sin if he intended to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in my church.
Bearing false witness is a sin. What we are seeing today is evidence of how deadly a sin it can be when internet conspiracy theories motivate terrorism. And yet many Christians don’t recognize their regular trafficking in and pornographic use of internet conspiracy theory as sinful because it doesn’t directly relate to sex. It seems harmless to build hype and hysteria about the genocidal evil that your political enemies are supposedly capable of. A little hyperbole doesn’t seem like it could cause any actual harm.
But the way white supremacist and anti-Semitic violence becomes plausible for a white person is when that white person has psyched himself into thinking that he is in mortal danger of white genocide. That was the thought process for both the guy who sent the pipe bombs to Donald Trump’s critics last week and the guy who rampaged the Pittsburgh synagogue this weekend. Obviously it’s an insane thought process, but it doesn’t reach the level it has without a community of hyperbole and conspiracy theory to fan the flames.
There’s something specifically evil about conspiracy theories that involve “secret money” being funneled to support political causes: the Jewish billionaire George Soros being the name usually used in this conspiracy theory. The “secret money” conspiracy theories almost always have their roots in anti-Semitism. This was the basic conspiracy theory that triggered the Holocaust: that Jewish bankers caused World War I to happen in order to make money off of it.
It’s not just secret money that Jews are accused of providing to progressive causes; they are also accused of being the secret masterminds. A basic white supremacist ideological premise is that people of color do not have the capacity to advocate for themselves; they need (Jewish) “liberal elitists” to tell them what to do. For white supremacy, all progressive causes are secretly the product both ideologically and financially of rich liberal northeastern Jews who are trying to take over the world. White supremacy uses anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in order to ideologically erase the agency of people of color.Let’s talk about “political correctness” for example, and the famous new survey that all the moderate pundits have been writing about to proclaim that the “majority” of Americans are “exhausted” by the “liberal elitism” (of northeastern secular Jews). The reason political correctness has been such an easy narrative frame for trivializing political discourse over the past several decades is because centuries of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory have created the mythological character of a conspiratorial liberal elite who are always trying to sabotage the freedom of red-blooded Protestant white Americans.
If you don’t think “political correctness” has anti-Semitic undertones, consider the centerpiece issue of political correctness: the annual “war on Christmas.” At some point in the eighties and nineties, retailers started saying “Happy Holidays” in their marketing instead of “Merry Christmas.” Who knows whether this was the result of an organized movement or not? But the people I knew growing up who said it mattered to them were Jewish since presuming “Merry Christmas” to be universal erased their identity. One of Donald Trump’s primary campaign planks was to say that “we’re going to make people say merry Christmas again.” I don’t see how that promise is saying anything other than “We’re going to put those elitist liberal Jews back in their place again.”
The bottom line is this. Lies and oversimplified, hyperbolic social narratives can have actual deadly consequences. Don’t let the white supremacist myth-makers dictate for you what our most pressing social problems are. And every time you use the phrase “liberal elitist,” remember that concept was created by centuries of anti-Semitic ideology.