Anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying graffiti on a Seattle synagogue is borne of a climate that empowers and gives license to those who feel their time has come in a newly reclaimed, whitened America.
THE last weeks have been a whirl of sickening sadness, an overwhelming outpouring of support and solidarity, and an enhancing of perspective, as the singularity of a heinous act lends insight into growing, troubling trends.
Even as the shock of anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying graffiti emblazoned on the wall of the formerly sacred space of my synagogue was still sinking in, the judicious coverage of local media and rallying together of communal partners salved the sting of an act of domestic terror intended to intimidate and silence.
The text itself seemed to be the work of the maliciously deliberate. The legible inscription packed much into a few wanton words: Holocaust is Fake History, with each “s” forming a dollar sign. As I shared with the press, it was a toxic mix of Holocaust denial, a stereotypically timeless equation of Jews with money and an element quite current in our cultural discourse: the meme of something decried as “fake.”
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Though employed by both sides of the political divide, the stigmatic label “fake” has become most associated with our current Commander-in-Chief. A few in the community felt that I had unfairly indicted President Donald Trump, carelessly invoking a causative link between this hateful act and the man himself. But as I endeavored to scrupulously point out, I saw a correlation, not causation. Yet that correlation evokes grave concerns that transcend who actually had their finger on the spray can.
There has been much documented about the intersections between Trump associates and the “alt-right” — a cleansing euphemism for white supremacy. Trump’s actual regard for vulnerable populations, Jews among them, is inconsequential to his intoning of the classic “dog-whistles” of anti-minority tropes. If he is truly aware of the implications of his words, it is troubling. If he plumbs the abyss out of mere political expediency, it is equally dangerous, displaying a reckless disregard for truth and propriety unworthy of the office he currently holds.
Coupled with an obsession with conspiracy theories and a textbook cultivation of resentment against a faceless cabal of “elites,” the president has, unsurprisingly, garnered the support of the anti-Semitic fringe by speaking in the codes and memes most closely associated with their base ideology.
The graffiti’s very specific employ of the descriptor “fake” encompasses much of the above with a symbolic terseness. Trump’s dismissal of all credible journalism that does not support his position or probes suspicious ties to foreign adversaries as “fake” is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes that have, among their many crimes, persecuted Jews.
Thus, it would not be a seismic leap for some of his more extreme, misguided followers to extend the meme to encompass the Jew-hatred of Holocaust denial. For isn’t this pernicious rejection of the historical record and diminishing of the unique genocide of a people a discrediting of “past news?”
Again, I am not blaming the president for directly inspiring the sick, the bigoted and the hateful to unleash their perversions of reality to intimidate. Yet I do not exonerate him for some responsibility in creating a climate that empowers and gives license to those who feel their time has come in a newly reclaimed, whitened America.
In time, these words of hate will fade beneath the painter’s brush, as we turn again to what lies ahead, perhaps a bit more chastened by this violation in the heart of azure Seattle, but fortified by the love of the larger community and the promise of a nation that will transcend the cycles of cynicism, tribalism and division that currently afflict us.