On February 20, 2023, at a re-election campaign event in West Palm Beach, Florida, former President Trump was asked by a supporter how he planned to combat the “alarming rise of antisemitism all across America.”
“We’ll get it stopped,” Trump responded, before immediately adding, “As you know, they’re after the radical Right now, and it’s very unfair.” Repeating familiar tirades against “Antifa” and “BLM,” Trump insisted of the “radical Right” that, “in many cases, these are people that love our country like nobody loves our country,” before touting his former administration’s far-right pro-Israel agenda. Trump’s defense of “radical Right” antisemites as “people that love our country” like no one else helped underscore the substantive alignment between the highest echelons of the MAGA movement and its radicalizing edge.
When Trump defended the “radical Right,” he was most likely referring to the virulently White nationalist and antisemitic Nick Fuentes, leader of the America First/groyper movement: a group of mostly Gen-Z White Christian nationalists who, inheriting the mission of the Alt Right, seek to pull the conservative movement towards a hardline agenda of authoritarianism, antisemitism, male supremacy, and exclusionary bigotry. Less than three months earlier, Trump hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner attended by Fuentes and Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) that drew widespread headlines and condemnation. Although he would later claim that he’d known “nothing” about Fuentes, during the dinner, Trump was reportedly “impressed” with the far-right leader, telling Ye, “I like this guy…he gets me,” as Fuentes urged the former president to pursue a militant, uncompromising America First agenda.
For months afterwards, Trump faced harsh criticism from the press and several GOP allies, likely denting the launch of his 2024 presidential campaign. However, much like his 2016 refusal to disavow David Duke or his infamous 2017 declaration that there were “very fine people” at the White nationalist Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump refused to disavow Fuentes after the dinner, wary of alienating a valuable part of his base.
Indeed, since it emerged in fall 2019, Fuentes’ groyper movement has proven itself an energetic, youthful, and loyal component of the MAGA constituency. They turned out in force at Stop the Steal rallies nationwide in late 2020 and at the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. In 2022, months before teaming up with Ye and meeting with Trump, Fuentes made headlines for drawing GOP leaders to Orlando for his third America First Political Action Conference, where politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar addressed the crowd and Fuentes praised Adolf Hitler and led a large crowd of young conservatives in pro-Vladimir Putin chants. By flanking Ye during the artist’s much-discussed tirades against Jews, Fuentes hoped to move antisemitism deeper into U.S. culture and the conservative conversation.
More broadly, antisemitism today has become a core driver of the illiberal, anti-democratic Right. Its flexible meta-narrative helps unify different sectors of the Right—from White and Christian nationalists, to self-interested billionaires, anti-trans advocates, nativists, and more—under the aegis of a common, all-powerful enemy said to be responsible for societal degeneracy and perceived victimization.
In the last two years alone, White nationalist individuals motivated by antisemitic conspiracy theories have committed mass shootings targeting Black and LGBTQ communities, and attempted to target Jewish institutions as well. White nationalist groups like the Goyim Defense League, meanwhile, have intensified antisemitic flyering, stickering and other harassment campaigns, hoping to elicit fear, outrage, and media attention. MAGA pundits have directed mobs to harass Drag Queen Story Hour and Pride events, oppose Black Lives Matter protesters, and even, in 2021, to storm the U.S. Capitol by convincing followers that they were rebelling against the tyrannical rule of George Soros and an elite pedophilic cabal. Indeed, in the half-decade since chants of “Jews will not replace us” echoed through the streets of Charlottesville, and the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history unfolded at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, open and coded antisemitic conspiracies, and the movements espousing them, remain a threat to Jews as well as all marginalized communities.
The Specter of Soros
Since Trump has left office, key tenets of White and Christian nationalism, and antisemitic conspiracism, have moved mainstream in both the base and the leadership of the MAGA movement. A 2022 YouGov survey indicated that 61 percent of Trump voters agree with the White nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory that “a group of people”—often named or coded as Jewish—“are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants and people of color who share their political views.” A 2022 Pew poll found that 67 percent of Republicans believe the U.S. should be a Christian nation, while another YouGov survey found that 57 percent of Trump voters believe it is definitely or probably true that “top Democrats are involved in elite child sex trafficking rings”—the central claim of the sprawling QAnon conspiracy theory, which draws heavily on centuries-old antisemitic myths.
Right-wing leaders, following the trend, have doubled down on “great replacement” conspiracy theories and Christian nationalist claims, and have spoken at the events of, partnered with, and even hired White Christian nationalists as staffers. Compared to the Trump era, there has been surprisingly little pushback to these developments.
In this climate, antisemitic conspiracy claims featuring billionaire George Soros—a target on the Right for at least the last 15 years—have become overwhelmingly commonplace in right-wing media and among MAGA-aligned members of Congress. While in 2010, then-Fox News host Glenn Beck’s antisemitic rhetoric, casting Soros as a “puppet master,” led to widespread calls for his firing, today MAGA leaders like Trump, prominent House, Senate, and state GOP leaders, media outlets, and pundits routinely scapegoat the liberal Jewish philanthropist as the puppeteer behind criminal justice reform, U.S. funding for the war in Ukraine, immigration, transgender rights, and more. In 2022, former Fox primetime host Tucker Carlson aired a documentary, “Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization,” claiming Soros has “spent decades” waging “political, social, and demographic war on the West.”1
- 1 Carlson’s documentary recalled a similar 2010 production by then-Fox host Glenn Beck, entitled “The Puppet Master,” which helped introduce Soros conspiracy theories to a U.S. conservative audience.
Demonization of Soros reached a fever pitch this April, after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump for falsifying business records. Trump advanced the groundless claim that Bragg, who is Black, was a “Soros-backed animal”—a phrase that illustrates the interplay between antisemitism and anti-Black racism. Trump also slammed Soros and his “globalist cabal” in numerous fundraising emails and public statements, boasting about his refusal to “sell my soul to the globalist power brokers who’ve made a fortune off of destroying our country.” Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy likewise claimed Bragg was “listening to his master, George Soros.” Despite then being Trump’s presumptive primary opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—whose extraordinary firing of a progressive Tampa District Attorney in 2022 was justified in part by Soros conspiracy theories—claimed after Trump’s indictment that “Soros backed DAs” like Bragg are “a menace to society; they are a menace to the rule of law.”
The conspiracist script of QAnon—which repurposed centuries-old antisemitic blood libel myths from medieval Christian Europe into the contemporary movement’s lurid claims of elite liberal pedophile networks—has migrated into the heart of right-wing discourse as well. Politicians and pundits now regularly peddle the canard that LGBTQ folks, public school teachers, Democrats, and assorted liberals are “groomers,” pushing “gender ideology” and other progressivism in a ploy to prey on vulnerable children. The crusade against “Cultural Marxism”—also sourced from antisemitism and once the purview of the radical Right—now graces the book cover of establishment Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and DeSantis’ tweets and speeches.
While coded conspiracy theories targeting Soros, globalists, “groomers,” “Cultural Marxists,” or other imagined boogeymen rarely name Jews explicitly, they are built upon the scaffolding of modern antisemitism, with its tale of a shadowy cabal, quietly pulling the strings behind liberal and radical ideology, policy, and social movements in a pernicious plot to undermine White Christian civilization. Where they predominate, open antisemitism is commonly found as well. A 2021 survey found that 49 percent of QAnon adherents “agree with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims that the rise of liberalism has equipped Jews to destroy institutions, and in turn gain control of the world.”
The totalizing friend-enemy contrast of antisemitism helps authoritarian leaders the world over consolidate populist energy behind their exclusionary nationalist projects, granting license to pursue extraordinary measures, in conditions of apocalyptic urgency, against an invisible, omnipresent, and often internal foe. White Christian nationalist leaders like Fuentes use antisemitism to provide thought leadership and oppositional energy to the MAGA movement: dragging the spectrum of acceptable conservatism further to the ethnonationalist Right both directly and by serving as strategic foils for establishment conservatives, who define themselves against figures like the groypers while nonetheless adopting their ideas.
A Sturdy Firewall?
Here as elsewhere, it remains important to “right-size” the threat to Jews posed by the contemporary Right. The majority of U.S. Jews continue to report relatively high levels of economic and social well-being,1 and alarmist evocations of 1930s Germany, or misleading claims that Jews make up the majority of victims of hate crimes, cloud analysis and serve as faulty guides for strategy and action.
Many conservative leaders avoid directly targeting Jews, even sometimes adopting a posture of benevolent protection. This could be due to a number of factors, including the social position of White Jews; the “Judeo-Christian West’s” post-World War II self-image as the savior of Jews (first from Nazism, then communism, then, since “the War on Terror,” Islam); the U.S. Right’s fervent support for the Israeli Right (itself resting upon deeply antisemitic Christian Zionist theology); and the enthusiastic participation of a minority of U.S. Jews in the MAGA movement.
Far from mounting open attacks on Jews as Jews, as scholar Jacob Labendz writes, “activists and politicians on both right and left regularly accuse their opponents of antisemitism, while touting their own defense of Jews. This reflects not only a shared culture of anti-antisemitism (a legacy of the post-Holocaust and Cold-War periods), but also deeply contested understandings of Americanness and the place of Jews therein, as individuals, a collectivity, and an idea.” DeSantis, again, offers an illustrative example: this April, even as he doubled down on his narrative of “Soros-backed DAs,” and his book bans allowed parents to remove Holocaust literature from public schools, the Florida governor traveled to Jerusalem to sign into law a state bill intended to crack down on antisemitic harassment from small neonazi groups like the Goyim Defense League.
- 1 Thanks to Arielle Angel, editor-in-chief at Jewish Currents, for bringing this point to my attention in her September 2022 piece “Beyond Grievance,” which remains highly relevant to this discussion.
While this protective firewall has limited the level of open conservative support for explicit antisemitism, there is little reason to believe that it is ironclad. In recent years, barriers to the open expression of Christian or White nationalism have precipitously crumbled on the Right, as conservatives began to explicitly critique cornerstone liberal values like pluralism and tolerance. Openly post- and anti-liberal ideology is ascendant, embodied in the increasing embrace of paleoconservative currents of America First nationalism and conferences like National Conservatism, as well as “trad-Cath” and other traditionalist Christian theologies.
These trends point to the continued fraying of the 20th century Western liberal consensus, which granted Jews a degree of social acceptance perhaps unparallelled in U.S. history. And the varied reactions to the antisemitism expressed by Ye last year illustrates the increased willingness of many conservatives to tolerate, or even embrace, aspects of an openly antisemitic message as well.
When Ye wore a shirt emblazoned with “White Lives Matter”—a slogan popularized by White nationalists—at a Paris fashion show in October 2022, Gavin Wax, leader of the far-right New York Young Republican Club, was jubilant. “I want more Republicans to sound like Kanye West,” tweeted Wax, capturing the excitement across a MAGA ecosystem that, eager to project cultural relevance, rushed to embrace Ye as one of their own.
Several days later, Tucker Carlson platformed Ye on his primetime Fox News show as a shock-value guest and MAGA avatar. Carlson strategically edited out Ye’s unhinged antisemitic and conspiracist proclamations in an interview designed to promote the musician as a fearless culture war crusader. After the interview, many conservatives rejoiced, with Chronicles editor Pedro Gonzalez—whose own White nationalist and antisemitic views, and support for Fuentes, was recently exposed—claiming “Kanye shifted the energy…Kanye’s power levels are over 9,000, we need to protect this man.” The next day, Ye began broadcasting his antisemitism openly, tweeting his plans to go “death con 3 on Jewish people” (sic), among other attacks.
The next month, when Ye announced a quixotic 2024 presidential campaign, enlisted Fuentes and Alt Right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous as key advisers, and proclaimed his love for Hitler during widely-publicized interviews, most mainstream conservatives recoiled, either repudiating Ye or quietly tempering their prior praise. But in the fallout, a few found room to legitimize Ye’s beliefs. Pundit Steven Crowder argued, to his nearly six million YouTube subscribers, that there was a “conversation to be had about secular humanists with Jewish last names…exploiting people…behind the scenes,” and a “disproportionate number of people with Jewish last names in higher banking.”
Other pundits, like Claremont Institute fellow Jack Murphy and former Trump speechwriter Darren Beattie, seemed to cheer Ye as heroic. Far-right tech mogul Elon Musk made repeated overtures to Ye on Twitter (a platform where Musk’s leadership has opened the floodgates of antisemitic trolling) well into the peak of his antisemitic tirades, before finally succumbing to public pressure to ban Ye’s account in December 2022. In 2023, Musk dipped further into antisemitism with tweets comparing George Soros to the X-Men villain Magneto (who like Soros, is Jewish and a Holocaust survivor), and associating him with other antisemitic conspiracy theory targets like the Rothschild family.
As Ye’s escapades dominated headlines, Fuentes became a household name. His White Christian nationalist America First/groyper movement sought to use Ye’s incipient campaign to further their longstanding metapolitical goal of injecting antisemitic ideas further into the conservative conversation. Conservative college students announced a national “Students for Ye” campaign and shared hashtags like #YeIsRight, spurring activism on Florida, Alabama, and Wisconsin campuses and drawing the participation of a few Gen-Z MAGA influencers and TPUSA chapter leaders. They were tilling fertile soil; analysis of a 2020 survey found that “the epicenter of antisemitic attitudes is young adults on the far right.” In July, the Arizona branch of College Republicans United, a national student group with ties to the groypers, announced Fuentes would headline their annual convention.
When MAGA leaders adopt coded antisemitism as a central ideological plank, it helps normalize a conspiratorial worldview for millions of followers, and among the general public. This favorable climate nudges influencers like Ye or Musk to embrace explicit antisemitism, and that embrace, in turn, invites others like Crowder to adopt certain “reasonable,” “just-asking-questions” antisemitic postulates under the cover of plausible deniability. Dedicated White Christian nationalists like Fuentes, meanwhile, are provided favorable terrain in their attempt to relocate the goalposts of the conservative conversation further rightwards and to grant legitimacy for themselves and their project.
Building Safety with Solidarity
Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci’s 1930 observation, written from inside a fascist prison, continues to hold true for our era: that “the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” The “morbid symptom” of antisemitism draws from deep reservoirs in U.S. history. For centuries, Jews faced various legal and social restrictions on employment, political office, immigration, housing, and other institutional discrimination, as well as violence, harassment, and stereotyping—even while also experiencing some conditional acceptance from the Christian majority.
The figure of “the Jew” in today’s MAGA imagination remains what Labendz calls “intrinsically ambivalent.” Conspiracy theories targeting “de-Judaized” figures such as “globalists,” “Cultural Marxists,” or Soros (who, some critics insist, is “hardly a Jew”), offer plausible deniability for a movement marked by a steady rise of overt antisemitic attitudes and tolerance for open antisemites. Effusive support for Israel, and strong coalitions with right-wing and Orthodox Jews around domestic culture war issues, can thrive alongside sneering, overdetermined contempt for, and hostility towards the liberal Jewish majority who oppose their agenda. Rising Christian nationalist movements, meanwhile, strive to radically constrict the ranks of full belonging and inclusion in their longed-for “Christian nation.” This project carries an openly exclusionary (and apocalyptic) edge, threatens the religious freedom rights of the majority of U.S. Jews, and is correlated with higher levels of explicit antisemitism among adherents.
Attempting to navigate these sharpening contradictions, establishment Jewish communal organizations as well as politicians across the aisle have responded to rising antisemitism by calling to increase funding for police and militarized security at synagogues and Jewish institutions (in some cases by utilizing grant programs housed under the Department of Homeland Security). In places like New York City, some call for harsher criminal penalties, including a rollback of progressive bail reform victories, to deter would-be antisemitic attackers.
Far from combating antisemitism at its root, these appeals to state protection bolster anti-Black policing (harming Black Jews as well as non-Jews), as well as the “counter-terrorism” apparatus at the forefront of structural U.S. Islamophobia. Prominent depictions of antisemitism as “hate” or “extremism,” meanwhile, render this form of bigotry as an abstract prejudice detached from political conditions, letting the establishment Right off the hook and contributing to a misleading “both-sides” framing, which plays into the Right’s cynical strategy of using antisemitism allegations to divide and demobilize progressives.
A new approach is needed: one that recognizes antisemitism as a core driver of the anti-democratic, illiberal Right, which foregrounds the structural connections between antisemitism and other forms of oppression, and which centers solidarity as the response. In a world where our communities rise and fall together, fighting antisemitism is everyone’s business, and remains essential to blocking the advance of the authoritarian Right, protecting the foundations of our democracy, and fighting for a future where everyone is welcome and can truly thrive.