It didn’t seem like much at the time, but last December there was this:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ program, where Trump praised Jones as having an “amazing” reputation and promised, “I will not let you down.” Jones is America’s leading conspiracy theorist – he believes the government was behind 9-11 and several other catastrophes.
Jones’ website Infowars.com has called him “one of the very first founding-fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement,” which believes the government was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jones has also pushed conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings.
Trump seemed comfortable with that:
Jones and Trump heavily praised each other during the December 2 interview. Jones claimed Trump has been “vindicated” about his false 9-11 U.S. Muslims celebration claim, said “90 percent” of his audience supports Trump, and told the candidate he’s “shown your knowledge of geopolitical systems.” Jones went on to say that Trump is “a true maverick,” and “what you’re doing is epic. It’s George Washington level.” Trump returned the favor, telling Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Trump is a sucker for conspiracy theories. He loves them. Maybe he believes them. Or maybe he just finds them politically useful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. He does know how lazy people are. Secret conspiracies simplify things for many people. He can work with that. Still, Jones is pretty far out there:
Boston Marathon Bombing: Jones and his website have labeled the Boston Marathon bombing a “false flag cover-up” carried out by the government.
Aurora and Sandy Hook Shootings: In 2013, Jones said the two mass shootings were staged: “You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody’s got to tell you the truth.”
The government did all that, to justify taking away everyone’s guns, so no one could fight back against the coming totalitarian tyranny or whatever. Trump hasn’t bought into all that, so far, probably because he hasn’t thought about such things much – but he does like Alex Jones – or he finds him useful.
But no one buys this crap anymore:
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic fabricated text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. The forgery was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. According to the claims made by some of its publishers, the Protocols are the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies.
Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the US in the 1920s. Adolf Hitler was a major proponent. It was studied, as if factual, in German classrooms after the Nazis came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. It is still widely available today in numerous languages, in print and on the Internet, and continues to be presented by some proponents as a genuine document.
Maybe so, but in America, the Jews are our buddies now. For years, Republicans have been saying that Netanyahu is the real leader of the free world, not Obama, and that defending Israel is just as important as defending the United States, or more important. That’s Jesus Land after all, but at the core of Jones’ thinking there’s this:
As a conspiracy theory, the term New World Order or NWO refers to the emergence of a totalitarian world government.
The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive power-elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government – which will replace sovereign nation-states – and an all-encompassing propaganda whose ideology hails the establishment of the New World Order as the culmination of history’s progress. Many influential historical and contemporary figures have therefore been purported to be part of a cabal that operates through many front organizations to orchestrate significant political and financial events, ranging from causing systemic crises to pushing through controversial policies, at both national and international levels, as steps in an ongoing plot to achieve world domination.
That idea has had its adherents:
Before the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two American countercultures, primarily the militantly anti-government right and secondarily that part of fundamentalist Christianity concerned with the end-time emergence of the Antichrist…
Right-wing populist advocacy groups with a paleoconservative world-view, such as the John Birch Society, disseminated a multitude of conspiracy theories in the 1960s claiming that the governments of both the United States and the Soviet Union were controlled by a cabal of corporate internationalists, greedy bankers and corrupt politicians who were intent on using the U.N. as the vehicle to create a “One World Government”. This right-wing anti-globalist conspiracism fueled the Bircher campaign for US withdrawal from the UN. American writer Mary M. Davison, in her 1966 booklet The Profound Revolution, traced the alleged New World Order conspiracy to the establishment of the US Federal Reserve in 1913 by international bankers, whom she claimed later formed the Council on Foreign Relations in 1921 as a shadow government. At the time the booklet was published, many readers would have interpreted “international bankers” as a reference to a postulated “international Jewish banking conspiracy” masterminded by the Rothschilds.
That idea then loops back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the Jews really are trying to take over the world – but surely Donald Trump wouldn’t go there.
Donald Trump didn’t go there, but Philip Rucker and Sean Sullivan report that he came close:
Donald Trump issued a breathtaking call to arms Thursday as he emphatically denied allegations that he groped and kissed multiple women without their consent, charging that his accusers were part of a global conspiracy to extinguish his outsider movement.
Scrambling to turn around his floundering campaign, Trump declared war on the news media and multinational corporations, alleging that they are colluding with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to orchestrate “the single greatest pile-on in history” and undermine his campaign, which he said was an “existential threat” to the global establishment.
“The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure,” the Republican nominee said at a rally in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe and morally deformed. They will attack you, they will slander you, they will seek to destroy your career and your family… They will lie, lie, lie.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah – but then it got interesting:
In his Florida speech, Trump framed his candidacy in epic, global terms. He said the Nov. 8 election represents “a crossroads in the history of our civilization,” with his populist movement fighting to upend “radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people.”
Trump’s remarks, which he read from a teleprompter, were laced with the kind of global conspiracies and invective common in the writings of the alternative-right, white-nationalist activists who see him as their champion. Some critics also heard echoes of historical anti-Semitic slurs in Trump’s allegations that Clinton “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty” and that media and financial elites were part of a soulless cabal out to destroy “our great civilization.”
“It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” Trump said.
This sounded like a New World Order warning, which it was:
The speech bore the imprint of Stephen K. Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive, who until recently was the executive chairman of Breitbart, a conservative website that serves as the virtual town square of the alt-right movement.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted that Trump “should avoid rhetoric and tropes that historically have been used against Jews” and “keep hate out of campaign.”
Oops. As before, Trump doesn’t think about these things much, so he might not have realized what had been fed into his teleprompter, or maybe he didn’t care. He was angry:
Trump dismissed the claims of sexual harassment made by several women Wednesday as an “absolute horror show of lies” and labeled his accusers – as well as the journalists who reported their stories – “horrible, horrible liars.” He claimed he could prove that their accusations were false, but he declined to detail his evidence.
Trump also claimed that the women were “put forward” by “the Clinton machine,” although there is no evidence that the Clinton campaign was behind the women going public with their accusations. Two women who told the New York Times that Trump touched them inappropriately said they came forward after watching Trump, in Sunday night’s debate, deny ever taking such actions.
And there was this:
Trump lashed out at former People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff, who wrote in a first-person account published Wednesday that Trump kissed her without her consent at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in 2005 when they were alone before an interview with him and his then-pregnant wife, Melania.
“Take a look, you take a look,” Trump urged his supporters. “Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”
Everyone knew what he was saying. Look at her. Why would he grope an ugly woman? And as for those two women who told the New York Times that Trump touched them inappropriately, there was this:
Early Thursday, Trump’s campaign released a letter from lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz demanding a retraction by the Times and threatening a lawsuit. In response, Times general counsel David E. McCraw sent Kasowitz a letter Thursday defending the newspaper’s reporting. If Trump disagrees with it, McCraw wrote, “We welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”
The Times and David McCraw know bullshit-bluster when they see it. Bring it on. You’ll be sorry.
That was amusing, but overall, Josh Marshall was not amused:
Is it desperation? The themes and instincts of the anti-Semitic radicals and extremists his campaign stews in? A “global conspiracy” of the political elites, international finance and the media who have “robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put the money in the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities…”
Whatever Trump is thinking or means, the white nationalists and neo-Nazis he’s activated will hear his speech with glee because he’s channeling textbook anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, with all the code words and emotional tenor. I genuinely don’t know how much of this he even understands or cares about. But his rage and anger is in tune with these movements. And he’ll cast about for the most coherent and resonant storyline that captures it. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. It matters what he does.
This can lead to some dark places:
It is possible these are simply the tropes and storylines of international Jewish conspiracies repurposed with the Jews removed from the picture. But it hardly matters. The substrate of traditional anti-Semitism is just as toxic as what grows from it. These are the kinds of conspiratorial, revanchist fantasies that spur violence and attacks on the mundane ordinariness of democracy itself.
And Marshall also notes this:
I want to be very precise about what I say here. There’s a new conspiracy theory rapidly gaining traction among Trump supporters about the origin of the ‘Access Hollywood’ Trump tape which triggered days of new allegations about Donald Trump’s alleged history of sexual abuse. The conspiracy theory is rapidly taking on an explicitly anti-Semitic character. As far as I can see it has not been pushed by the Trump campaign itself, at least not publicly. But it’s catching fire with numerous supporters and surrogates – most notably Jerry Falwell Jr, a key Trump supporter among evangelicals and President of Liberty University, the school founded by his father.
The claim is also being pushed by Breitbart and David Duke in various neo-Nazi web forums. Notably, in recent months Breitbart, with which the Trump campaign has now effectively merged, has itself more openly embraced anti-Semitism.
That goes like this:
The claim is that Dan Senor, a prominent GOP political operative, who is Jewish and married to former television reporter Campbell Brown, is behind the tape disclosure and part of a plot of “GOP elites” to destroy Donald Trump. In other words, in this conspiracy theory, Senor is now cast as the Jewish “traitor” working for the conspiracy of political elites, international financiers and the media who Trumped railed against today in his speech.
That sours everything:
Avowed anti-Semitic supporters are brought into the mainstream. Trump bellows about conspiracies of traitorous elites and global financiers – charges which don’t mention Jews explicitly but which closely follow the themes, vocabulary and villains of traditional anti-Semitic agitation. Then rabid Trump supporters who may not previously have thought in anti-Semitic terms or may have held only latent hostility toward Jews get swept into embracing and propagating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and political agitation.
In other words, it’s not just that Trump and his campaign are bringing marginalized extremists into mainstream politics. He’s radicalizing new people. This is backed up by public opinion data on other issues tied to Vladimir Putin, trade policy, et al. But it seems to be happening with anti-Semitic beliefs too. The Senor-Access-Hollywood conspiracy theory seems to be rapidly morphing into a vehicle for these attitudes and beliefs. Trump’s animosity against ‘Republican elites’ and the new charges about global financiers are getting wrapped together with explicit anti-Semitism even if Trump hasn’t made the connections himself.
Trump probably hasn’t made those connections – he’s not exactly a thoughtful person – but Josh Marshall thinks that everything has turned sour:
It is difficult to keep track of, to comprehend the totality of what’s going on. And by that I mean not simply Trump’s being revealed as a serial predator on what’s looking like the scale, if not the MO, of a Bill Cosby. We know many such men exist. But it’s also the man who’s spent a year and a half demonizing and targeting various ethnic and racial groups, mainstreaming white supremacists and anti-Semitism. He’s also threatened to upend core geopolitical ties around the world, been revealed as a serial con artist, from high-flying cons involving hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to the most penny-ante seminar schemes targeting the desperate and vulnerable.
All of it of course comes back to a simple reality. This is the consequence of a major political party tethering itself and its fate to a deeply damaged psyche. Not just the entire party but the entire country is forced into the chaos and drama that might only exist in such a person’s head and for his family members and work associates. People with severe personality disorders create drama and chaos around them. They create more when placed under stress. This is one of the most basic and enduring facts of human experience. We’ve seen it play out with Trump. As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, everyone who crosses into Trump’s orbit, into his gravitational pull, gets damaged. No one gets out unhurt…
Think of Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Manafort. I could list dozens of others. It is impossible to think of any of these men and not see their stature reduced, their dignity in tatters, and in some cases, quite possibly, their careers over. And these are the people who’ve tried to enlist with Trump or manage in his presence. It doesn’t get to the men and women he’s victimized. Of course, the ultimate victim is the Republican Party, and on a larger canvas, the country itself.
That may be the real problem here:
One of the greatest damages is that we’ve all come to see Trump’s chaotic emotions, violence and tirades as perhaps half normal. I had a hard time divining whether his angry bluster and transgressive antics in the debate would have any effect because we’ve all become so used to it. Like family members living in the home of an abuser, our sense of what is normal starts to get blunted and deformed under the weight of abuse. The whole country is damaged in a way that won’t soon lift under the best of circumstances.
Perhaps our sense of what is normal has been blunted and deformed by all this anger and lashing out, but there’s a remedy for that. Turn from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and turn to the Protocols of Decency. As Donald Trump was ranting about the vast international conspiracy of (Jewish) bankers out to take over the world, and steal the election from him, as Amy Davidson reports, Michelle Obama went the other way:
“I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics,” Michelle Obama said in a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday afternoon, as she responded to the latest news of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. “It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong.” She spoke with a passion that many feel, but few can deploy with such controlled, incisive force. And yet her speech was very much about politics – politics as the enterprise that the sordidness of this election may lead many to give up on, politics as a national inheritance, and politics as an ethical choice.
She actually laid out those Protocols of Decency:
Obama started with what she had wanted to spend the last few months of her tenure as First Lady talking about: Let Girls Learn, an initiative for girls’ education. She had been inspired by the girls she’d met a couple of days earlier at a White House event; she had been feeling pretty good. “That was Tuesday,” she said, and the audience knew what she meant: it was before reports came out in which women talked about what it was like to have Donald Trump kiss and grab them against their will. And the audience had heard Trump call the women and the media outlets that printed what they said liars. This was in addition to an “Access Hollywood” video that came out Friday. Obama described watching that, too. “I can’t believe that I’m saying that” – she stopped, her voice catching – “a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.” It was at this moment that her speech became something extraordinary.
“And I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted,” the First Lady said. “So while I’d love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening, and to come out here and do my normal campaign speech, it would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to just move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream.”
But this wasn’t a bad dream:
“This is not something that we can ignore. It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season,” she said. People were afraid to let their children watch a Presidential candidate on television – “a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior.” That is another way of saying that politics was being made into a center of pain. Recounting Trump’s words, she said, “It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts.”
It reminded people of “stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers,” about how hard work was never enough to protect a woman or to allow her to advance. That, too, fed the impulse to run away from politics – to shut it out. “Maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable,” Obama said. “Maybe we don’t want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as women.”
But, she said, believe it. “New Hampshire, be clear: This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to – Democratic, Republican, independent – no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.”
She added, “I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual.”
And that means there are some basic rules:
“Strong men – men who are truly role models – don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful,” she said. And then, setting up the transition to the person she had come to campaign for, she added, “People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together. And that is what we need in our next President. And let me tell you, I’m here today because I believe with all of my heart that Hillary Clinton will be that President.” Obama spoke not just of Clinton’s competence but of her character, in familial terms: “And, if any of us had raised a daughter like Hillary Clinton, we would be so proud. We would be proud.” In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama had said that she trusted Clinton to protect her daughters; here, she went beyond that, saying, in effect, that she would be glad if Sasha and Malia were not only kept safe by Clinton but became someone like her.
A Trump victory, Obama said, would mean that “we’re telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country. How can we maintain our moral authority in the world? How can we continue to be a beacon of freedom and justice and human dignity?”
She had an answer. “We have everything we need to stop this madness. You see, while our mothers and grandmothers were often powerless to change their circumstances, today, we as women have all the power we need to determine the outcome of this election.” The audience, as it had at several points during the speech, applauded wildly. “We have knowledge. We have a voice. We have a vote.”
This was the answer to Trump – basic decency – and a few hours later her husband explained the alternative:
President Barack Obama on Thursday night tore into Republican leaders for “riding this tiger” of what he repeatedly called “crazy” hoaxes and conspiracies that created the conditions for Donald Trump to become their presidential nominee – and blasted anyone now trying to distance themselves out of what he derided as political expediency.
No one who stands by Trump this year, Obama said, can claim to be serious about family values or foreign policy. And nobody can claim higher ground than Trump if they spent the last eight years pursuing an agenda he said was pure opposition, embracing a right-wing media that regularly trafficked in conspiracy theories and accepting personal attacks on him from their base.
“They stood by while this happened, and Donald Trump as he’s prone to do – he didn’t build the building himself – he just slapped his name on it and took credit for it,” Obama said.
He wondered what the hell these people were thinking:
Clearly veering off-script, Obama turned to the example of proud Obama antagonist Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whom he didn’t name, but noted had ordered the state National Guard to observe the 2015 Operation Jade Helm military exercises after right-wing media exploded with conspiracy theories about how it was actually secret prep for an Obama-led junta. Abbott, Obama said, had said he didn’t know if the talk was true.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? What does that mean?” Obama said, leaning on the podium, his voice rising in anger. “They took it seriously. This is in the swamp of crazy that has been fed over and over and over and over again.”
Alex Jones has been feeding that swamp of crazy for years. Donald Trump has been mucking about in that same swamp, even if he probably doesn’t know what Jones is talking about most of the time. He only knows there are politically useful things down there in the slime, whatever they are. Republicans have been doing the same for years, for the same reason. Now they’re all covered with slime – but maybe that’s carrying the metaphor too far. There is such a thing as basic decency. There are protocols for that. Everyone knows them. That may decide this election.