Four years ago, in THE NEW HATE, I looked at the rise of the Tea Party and especially the explosion of anti-Obama conspiracism in books, radio, TV, and on the Internet, and traced their lineaments back to the Patriot militias that so hated the Clintons in the 1990s, the Minute Men, the John Birch Society, and other anti-Communist/anti-Government organizations that arose in the 1950s and 1960s alongside the Councils of Concerned Citizens and other neo-Secessionist groups that followed in the wake of Brown v Board of Education, the America First movement in the 1930s, and Henry Ford’s anti-Jewish crusades in the 1920s. The deep structures and even some of the explicit language of all of these groups’ publications, I noted, owed a deep debt to the THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION.
Looking back further still, I wrote about the anti-Catholic Know Nothings’ horror-mongering about sex-crazed priests in the 1840s, and the great anti-Masonic panics of the 1830s and 1790s, which uncannily mirrored the McCarthy period.
Deep, dark currents of paranoia have always been present just beneath the surface of the American polity, I wrote, and unscrupulous politicians have always known how to activate them and use them to their advantage. Once elected they stuff the genies back into the bottles and get back to business as usual, but one day, I warned, they may find themselves in the position of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Enter Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart Report has become the platform for the Alt-Right. A font of conspiracism, Trump was able to pump his messages directly into his millions of fans’ bloodstreams via Twitter and, thanks to his celebrity and well-earned reputation as a loose cannon, round-the-clock media exposure. He won the impassioned support of Alex Jones (who says that 9/11 and the Newtown massacre were false flags carried out by a US government that has been putting estrogen in the lining of juice boxes to turn America’s children gay) and was enthusiastically endorsed by white nationalists like Jared Taylor, David Duke, and Richard Spencer, who hailed him as the “white person’s” candidate. Trump’s final campaign commercial described how an international cabal of insiders and money people have seized the levers of world power. Though it didn’t use the word “Jew,” it featured sinister images of three powerful Jews: George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein. Al Franken called it a “German Shepherd whistle”; both its explicit and its subliminal messages came right out of the pages of the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION.
One of THE NEW HATE’s out-sized villains was Glenn Beck, who used his Fox News TV show to tell his listeners that Obama was a Marxist who hated white people. In a bizarre shift, he is now calling out Bannon and company as Nazis—and apologizing for the terrible things he said about Obama, who he now professes to admire. He sees what he helped create and doesn’t like it at all.
People in the mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to THE NEW HATE when it came out, because the figures it focused on were just too weird and off-putting and its historical excurses too far off in the weeds. Obama, after all, was elected and re-elected—-what long-term significance could the birtherism of people like Donald Trump possibly have? With Trump’s terrifying rise to the presidency, I think its clarifying perspective is badly needed. I hate to sound grandiose, but if people had paid more attention to it back then, they might have known to take Trump more seriously. I predicted that he could win as far back as September, 2015 in my New York Times op ed. But I confess that by the time of the Democratic convention, I’d convinced myself that he couldn’t possibly prevail.
I should have reread my own book.