In September 1983, a group of men gathered at a 60-acre farm in Metaline Falls, Washington, to swear an oath of fealty to white supremacist terror. The group of mostly northwestern, working-class neo-Nazis ― who would come to be known as the Order or the Silent Brotherhood ― swore “to do whatever it is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”
As historian Kathleen Belew writes in her 2018 book, Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary in America, these men were committed to “protecting and propagating the white race.” After a string of armed robberies of banks and businesses that they considered degenerate, the group fixated on Jewish talk radio host Alan Berg. One of the members had clashed with Berg on air and later called him a “filthy Jew.” On June 18, 1984, members of the Order drove to Berg’s home in Denver and gunman Bruce Pierce fired 13 bullets into Berg, killing him instantly. It was the group’s first ― and only ― assassination in pursuit of their goal of establishing a white separatist homeland in the United States.
To those unfamiliar with white supremacist ideology and rhetoric, it may seem surprising that such a group would choose a Jewish man as their first target. After all, the Order was most concerned with the purity of the white race, which is why its members abhorred interracial marriage and procreation. Yet according to the Order ― and to the white supremacist groups that have inherited its ideology ― Jews are the principal enemy of white supremacy.
According to the Order ― and to the white supremacist groups that have inherited its ideology ― Jews are the principal enemy of white supremacy.
Members of the Order embraced a conspiracy theory that the U.S. government was in thrall to a Jewish organization dubbed the Zionist Occupation Government. As Belew explains, they believed that ZOG sought to “admit immigrants … allow black men to rape white women, and encourage interracial marriages ― all this, they said, to destroy the white race.”
Thirty-four years after Berg’s murder, white supremacists remain no less fixated on Jews as the puppet masters. On the far-right Internet, conspiracy theories fester, and Jews return again and again to the fore. On the message boards 4chan and 8chan, on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, on the white supremacist message board Stormfront.org, the insistence that Jews control the U.S. government, as well as the media and world economic systems, is a recurrent theme, a dark absolute pulsing through a sea of violent rhetoric.
This week’s midterm elections are unfolding little more than a week after the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States, a massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that claimed 11 lives. The shooter, Robert Bowers, was inspired by white supremacist rhetoric that continues to assert that Jews are scheming to destroy the white race from within. But since the 1980s, this paranoia about the “dilution” of the white race has shifted from an obsession with interracial marriage to a fixation on immigration. Bowers’ final post on the far-right social media network Gab blamed HIAS, a charity formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, for bringing in “invaders” in the form of a caravan of migrants currently wending its way from Central America toward the U.S. border.
The language of “invasion” ― and of a sinister Jewish conspiracy ― has been echoed in the Republican Party’s full-throated, baying offensive against immigration. The closing argument Republicans have offered before Election Day is a dark screed against non-white immigration and against Jewish philanthropist George Soros, who multiple Republican elected representatives have posited, without evidence, is funding the migrant caravan.
Even white supremacists agree that the GOP’s campaign echoes their principles. In a recent post, Bradley Griffin, author of the white nationalist blog Occidental Dissent and a prominent member of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, put it succinctly: “The GOP is campaigning on White Nationalism.” Griffin and his fellow white supremacists have been emboldened by the ascension of President Donald Trump. In his rhetoric and policies, they hear their own fixations broadcast from a presidential perch.
Time and again, in the overheated confines of this election cycle, Republican candidates have found themselves fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists ― from Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, a militantly anti-voting rights official who has accepted thousands of dollars in donations from white nationalists, to Virginia senatorial candidate Corey Stewart, whose campaign has been staffed and bolstered by white supremacists. Across the country, from California to Illinois, candidates have run for office on the Republican ticket while issuing statements that once might have been relegated to the fringe. Last year, Patrick Little, an anti-Semitic extremist, bid for the U.S. Senate in California on a platform seeking to “Name the Jew,” a white supremacist term for exposing the supposed machinations of Jewish influence. He garnered more than 50,000 votes in a large primary field.
The GOP is campaigning on White Nationalism.
Bradley Griffin of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South
Despite the undeniable violence of white supremacists’ goals ― many today seek to create a “white ethnostate” purged of minorities by violent means, just as the Order did ― their ascendance has caught law enforcement largely by surprise.
At both the federal and local levels, law enforcement has failed to take far-right violence seriously, often minimizing its impact while focusing on social-justice-oriented leftist groups. Sometimes the sympathies of individual officers lie all too clearly with the white supremacists. The Washington Post reported recently on an archetypal case in Arkansas: a policeman who attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting and who persistently engaged in violent misconduct against people of color, culminating in the shooting death of a 15-year-old black child. Such sympathies are not shared by all officers, by any means, but it is clear that a certain willful blindness to violence on the far-right has hampered the pursuit of domestic terrorists.
In such times, it can be tempting to feel hopeless, to hold one’s loved ones close and renew one’s passport in anticipation of potential flight. For many American Jews, who are a tiny minority of the U.S. population, our position seems to be one of profound precariousness. Yet in the face of that, many young Jewish activists are standing up to declare their opposition to white supremacy: from protesters who gathered at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Republican Club to rebuke white nationalism, to young Jews who greeted Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh by moving the intimate mourning ritual of shiva to the public square.
On Tuesday, Americans face a complex set of choices among those who seek to represent them, but one aspect of the election could not be simpler. As the GOP embraces its extremists, the ballot box offers a rare chance to soundly reject anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
Talia Lavin is a writer and researcher based in Brooklyn, New York.