Some of the first images and videos that came out of the white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia last weekend featured chants and imagery against Jews.
"Jews will not replace us!" the tiki-torch bearing protesters shouted as they marched Friday night. "Blood and soil!" (the latter is an English version of a Nazi slogan).
Throughout the day Saturday, marchers displayed swastikas on shirts, flags and posters, as well as quotes from Adolf Hitler. They yelled "Heil Hitler!" and "Heil Trump!" And they stood outside a local Jewish temple with guns.
As a result, some have wondered why white supremacists – a group associated with xenophobia and racism against people of color – would show such a strong outpouring of anti-Semitism.
After all, aren’t many Jews in the United States white? (According to Pew, 94 percent of Jews identify as such.)
Not according to neo-Nazis, who believe American Jews are a non-white race that is ruining the country.
Longtime civil rights strategist Eric Ward says anti-Jewish sentiment is at the core of everything the Charlottesville rally goers stand for.
"Anti-Semitism is part and parcel of the movement," Ward says. "It is the oxygen and the fuel that allows the engine of the alt-right and nationalist movement to thrive and breathe. It is the paper upon which all the other forms of bigotry are being written upon."
The white nationalist worldview, he says, suggests whites are a minority under assault, and that Jews are seeking to take away their rights.
Anti-Semitism throughout U.S. history
Anti-Semitism has long had a place in the U.S. The belief in Jews as a threat to the world order was imported in the late 1800s from European racial theories that centered on the role of Jews in undermining traditional society.
Those ideas were espoused even by U.S. leaders and businesspeople. In the early 1900s, industrialist Henry Ford, the legendary American founder of Ford Motor Company, espoused publicly that there was a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. He even helped start a series in Michigan’s Dearborn Independent newspaper called " The International Jew: The World’s Problem."
"During the first half of the 20th century, Jews were not considered white for many purposes and were often excluded from the same all-white neighborhoods as blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans," says David Levitus, who holds a PhD in U.S. political and social history from the University of Southern California.
At the time, white supremacy was mainstream and even written as law. As Jews came to be seen as more white, anti-Semitism grew more radicalized.
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, marginalized groups – namely African Americans – suddenly began to experience victories for equality. Laws allowed them to attend the same schools and hospitals, and even vote. The white supremacist movement – based off the idea that people of color and women were inferior to the white male – was left to think about how to explain it had "lost" to an inferior race.
So they blamed the Jews, Ward says.
Using Hitler’s Nazi movement as an ideological model, Jews became the arch-nemesis: a "mythological power ... manipulating the social order behind the scenes."
The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by White supremacist leader William Pierce, imagines a future where Jews have unleashed black people and other "undesirables" into the center of public life.
"Life is uglier and uglier these days," Pierce wrote in The Turner Diaries. "More and more Jewish."
To white supremacists, Jews are an all-present, parasitic evil that secretly controls the country, including television and entertainment, the media, banking, education and politics.
"The truth is the American media, and the American political system, and the American federal reserve … is dominated by ... Jewish Zionists," former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke announced Saturday at the rally.
Levitus says right-wing racists have become more extreme over the last decade in response to the increasing gains of groups of color, especially with the election of Barack Obama.
"There's a sense of marginalization, that 'we've lost our own country,'" he says.
Over the weekend neo-Nazi leader Christopher Cantwell
told Vice that he had hoped for a leader like Trump but who was "a lot more racist" and who "does not give his daughter to a Jew," referring to the marriage between Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism. "I don't think that you could feel the way about race that I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl, OK?" Cantwell said.
So what’s happening now?
To white nationalists, Jews have also been the driving force behind such modern advances as immigrants rights, Black Lives Matter, as well as women being able to push for opportunity and equity.
anti-Semitic groups present in Charlottesville over the weekend was the League of the South, which believes that Jews are now leading “numerous leftist organizations active in the streets of America.”
Members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement were also there. That group’s leader, Jeff Schoep, wrote recently in the organization’s magazine: “It is the Jew that is the true enemy of all humanity on this planet! All the other races and racial problems we have go back to the Jew, and the focus should never be removed from them.”
Richard Spencer, the founder of the self-proclaimed alt-right, mocked Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer. "How do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” Spencer asked. A crowd responded by shouting, "Jew, Jew, Jew."
Spencer and his racist followers have succeeded in bringing anti-Semitic thought and imagery to new audiences on the internet, explains Jewish journalist Yair Rosenberg in an op-ed today in the Washington Post:
"Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump’s alt-right supporters
barraged Jewish journalists with online abuse, including CNN’s Jake Tapper, the Atlantic’s Julia Ioffe and me, photoshopping us into gas chambers and concentration camps," he writes.
If last weekend’s rally proved anything, it’s that white supremacists are also eager to continue taking their anti-Semitic intimidation off the internet and into real life.
As Jews prayed at Charlottesville synagogue Congregation Beth Israel Saturday morning, "men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple," according to the temple’s president Alan Zimmerman.
"Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There's the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language," he writes. "Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols."
"When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups," he writes.
Zimmerman later learned Nazi websites had posted a call to burn the building.