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Antisemitism has never been new

Mike Rothschild sits down with Coda to discuss why antisemitic conspiracies persist and what comes after QAnon

Hate crimes skyrocket, Kanye West airs his support for Adolf Hitler and American antisemitism hits a high-water mark. Journalist Mike Rothschild is trying to make sense of it all. 

Antisemitic incidents — assault, harassment and vandalism — in the U.S. climbed to an unprecedented level in 2021 and look set to rise again in 2022, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The number of incidents has averaged more than seven per day.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said, in a recent interview to Michelle Boorstein and Isaac Armsdorf in the Washington Post, that “empirically, something is different. The level of public animosity towards Jews is higher than it’s been in recent memory.” 

Rothschild tries to figure out exactly why antisemitism has become different. A journalist, book writer and a frequent presence on cable news networks, Rothschild specializes in conspiracy movements, disinformation, antisemitism and QAnon. He believes the present moment is an interregnum between two conspiracy movement cycles.

We sat down — virtually — to discuss the attempted coup in Germany, aristocratic conspiracy theories, the centuries-long hate campaign directed at the Rothschild family (he’s writing a book on the European banking family, but there is no relation) and what’s next for QAnon. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

It does sometimes feel like we’re in a never-ending tailspin, what with the Musk takeover, the U.S. midterms, the Germany coup and the Ye news. But I guess for you, as a conspiracy theory expert, the past month must have been extra crazy. Or was it just another month at the office?

There’s never a day where not much happens. During the runoff in Georgia, there was just cycle after cycle of these really ridiculous candidates, saying these disqualifying things over and over that built to a crescendo. A lot of people were really afraid about how it would turn out. But some of the worst conspiracy theorists and election-denier candidates did lose in the end. 

I think for the past few years we’ve become used to prepping for the most unlikely, outlandish scenario. But that didn’t quite happen this time. 

We looked down the precipice and we took a step back. Who knows if it will last. We’re in a time where we’re not completely rid of the last cycle of insanity yet. The next one hasn’t really hit yet. For now, things seem a little bit calmer. 

People mistakenly think Kanye West’s outbursts contain something new. What’s your impression of where he might be getting these narratives?

Well, it’s a really good question. The stuff he’s spouting, none of it is new. This idea of “Jews are too powerful and too wealthy” is as old as time.

One of the things he talks about is how there are 300 Zionists who run the world. That’s a really specific reference to the conspiracy theory of the Committee of 300 — that there are 300 Jews who run the world. It’s not a number he picked out of thin air. Someone put that in front of him. 

It’s really important to understand that there is an antisemitic industry and it never completely goes away. Is there anything that’s more popular than antisemitism? Right now, the answer is no. 

I personally feel we’re in a kind of holding pattern until we graduate to the next level of crazy. 

Right. We’re in this weird time between conspiracy movements. The ideas around the “stolen election” are really sort of petering out. They tried to get it going with the midterms, but it didn’t really take. QAnon’s branding, the iconography and the catchphrases are receding. So it’s a good time for public antisemitism to make a resurgence.

We’ve been seeing it called “the high tide of antisemitism.” Do you agree?

I would say certainly it hasn’t been this bad since before the Second World War. We’re now at a point where there isn’t an obvious enemy right now — there might be in the future — so it’s easy to focus on “Jewish power.”

I’m interested in what you said about QAnon receding. Can you explain what you mean?

All the decoding, “Q-drops” and hashtag stuff is receding because ideas about the deep state, Covid being a hoax and the pedophile cabals are being talked about at a very mainstream level. The ideas behind QAnon no longer need to be hidden behind riddles. There’s just no need for QAnon. 

What do you think of the German coup attempt?

I knew about the Reichsburger movement because they were linked to QAnon. It’s kind of a grab bag of conspiracy beliefs. There’s a bit of Q, there’s some sovereign citizen, “the laws don’t apply to us” stuff. But it’s also very German. They are monarchists, wanting to restore the Kaiser and go back to the German Confederation of 1871.

What gave you the idea to write a book about the Rothschilds?

I’d like to put “no relation” on the cover. The influence of Rothschild conspiracy theories is really still being felt. Look at Alex Jones, who has pushed Rothschild conspiracy theories for decades. He was inspired when he was a kid by a book called “None Dare Call It Conspiracy.” And that book was inspired by books that came out in the 1950s about Jewish influence on the Federal Reserve, which in turn was inspired by the work of people like Ezra Pound. So it’s just one cycle after another. And of course tropes about Jews and money go back thousands of years. 

I’m always curious about people who follow conspiracy theories for a living — day to day. What’s it like for you, particularly as you’re Jewish?

I do find myself having to close the laptop and go outside or take a walk or water the plants or something. I live in Los Angeles, and there have been a lot of anti-Jewish incidents recently, with people hanging banners over the freeway saying “Kanye was right.” It’s a reminder that there’s always going to be a part of the public who looks at Jewish people with suspicion and paranoia and conspiracy. Jew hating never completely goes away. It’s stuck around for century after century after century because people get something out of it.

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