“I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member,” Groucho Marx famously said.
“We insist on joining the club that refuses to have us as members” might as well be the mantra of some aspiring Jewish adherents of the racist “alt-right.”
A nebulous collective of internet trolls, neoreactionaries, and outright white supremacists, the alt-right has drawn widespread fascination in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, which it helped propel. Contemptuous of mainstream conservativism and explicitly embracing white identity politics, alt-righters are in many ways the mirror image of the racial minority and “woke” liberal activists they gleefully antagonize. This likeness is implicitly acknowledged by the alt-right’s use of the term “identitarian,” a designation that seeks to politicize whiteness.
Needless to say, these guys aren’t exactly fans of the Jews. One of alt-right’s leading voices, Kevin MacDonald, has written entire books positing that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” aimed at undermining white, Christian civilization.
But none of this seems to faze denizens of “The Jewish Alternative,” a newly launched website and podcast purporting to represent “The Voice of Dissident Jewry.” The alt-right, they say, is the only force willing to protect western civilization—and, by implication, Jews—from the hordes of Muslims, Black Lives Matter activists, and campus totalitarians trying to destroy it.
Joshua Seidel, one of the site’s proprietors and an occasional Twitter antagonist of mine, related in an interview that he went through a “pretty typical progression” in his politics. Starting out as a leftist in college, he became a “neocon after 9/11” before winding up where he is today as a wannabe member of the alt-right (or, “alt-light” as he puts it, acknowledging that he’s not as extreme as some of the movement’s more vocal spokesmen, who take pleasure in photoshopping Jewish journalists—including yours truly—into gas chambers).
The problem is that, while Seidel desperately wants to join the alt-right club, the feelings aren’t exactly reciprocal.
In August, Seidel wrote a piece for the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, entitled, “I’m a Jew, and I’m a Member of the Alt-Right.” Seidel’s self-profession of alt-right membership brought to mind Margaret Thatcher’s imperishable observation about being a lady: “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
For while the alt-right is an amorphous movement without any official membership roll, there do seem to be some ground rules, one of which is Jews Need Not Apply. “Alt-Right is explicitly white and jews are not white,” an individual known by the handle EthnoSwede wrote in the comments beneath Seidel’s article, which the Forward eventually disabled once they started to resemble a sewer more befitting Breitbart.com. “You’re not welcome.” Another commenter noted that there “is no such thing as a Jewish ‘alt-righter’” as the movement “is centered around the fundamental truth that Jews have been a cancer upon European civilization since the classical era.” A blunter message was delivered by one Alan S. Nackbarr: “Since you’re versed in the alt-right I assume you’re going to put yourself in the oven?”
Seidel isn’t the only alt-right-curious Jew having the door slammed shut in his face. Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, who claims Jewish ancestry, was recently targeted by a neo-Nazi website as “the single greatest threat our movement has at this time.”
Nevertheless, Seidel still wants in. His persistence might be attributable to the strange fact that one of the alt-right’s founders is himself a Jew. Paul Gottfried, a retired academic, is credited with coining the term “alt-right” along with a man named Richard Spencer way back in 2008. Then, the movement was more closely identified with the “paleoconservative” ideas espoused by Pat Buchanan: economic nationalism, isolationism and a belief that Western European racial identity is intrinsic to American nationhood. (“The alt-right is the direct heir of the paleoconservatives,” writes Jacob Siegel, author of an extensive profile Tablet magazine profile of Gottfried). Only recently, with the rise of Trump and the crass, internet meme-culture that rallied around him, has the alt-right become notorious for anti-Semitism.
The alt-right’s embrace of anti-Semitism might also have something to do with the increasing influence of Spencer, who has effectively become leader of the alt-right. Unlike his cranky mentor, Spencer is a self-described “revolutionary” who seeks to transform America into a white ethno-state devoid of Jews, not return it to some idyllic, pre-Civil Rights era past. When I asked Seidel about the recent Washington, DC convention put on by Spencer’s National Policy Institute, where the 38-year-old white nationalist yelled “Hail Trump!” amidst a room full of “fashy” haircut-sporting young men, Seidel was nonplussed. There was, he said, a “tremendous media overreaction to five people giving a sieg heil salute.” A similarly willful denial of reality permeates a manifesto written by Seidel and posted on The Jewish Alternative’s website. While left-wing and Muslim anti-Semitism is permanent and pervasive, he argues, right-wing anti-Semitism is largely overblown and provoked by Jews themselves. (That Jews, or their state, are responsible for the hatred directed against them is, of course, the same excuse one often hears for left-wing and Muslim anti-Semitism). Commenting on The Passion of the Christ, which many critics (Jewish and gentile alike) accused of promoting the contention that “the Jews” killed Jesus, Seidel asks, “Would Mel Gibson EVER have become an anti-Semitic icon had Jews not protested his work, calling him an anti-Semite before he had spoken on the subject?” Indeed, who among us, upon being picked up for drunk driving in Malibu, wouldn’t also declare that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world?”
The Jewish Alternative’s podcast, entitled The Skype Chat, appropriates what some alt-Reichers, hoping to evade Twitter censorship, have adopted as a code word for Jews. “Jew/kike=skype, Spic/Mexican = yahoo, gay (men) = butterfly,” explains one handy alt-right glossary. It joins the ranks of other alt-right podcasts like The Daily Shoah and Fash the Nation, something that must surely give nachas to the bubbies of its hosts, who go by the pseudonyms, “Ari ben Canaan” (the Zionist hero of Exodus played by Paul Newman) and “Reactionary Jew.” Ari sounds distressingly like Seth Rogen, if Seth Rogen dropped terms like “remove kebab,” (alt-right slang for ethnically cleansing Muslims), and mused about African immigrants “slinging their excrement on the Arc de Triomphe.”
Asked how Jews could make their peace with a movement that explicitly embraces an exclusionary white identity, Reactionary Jew responded that he actually doesn’t want his fellow Members of the Tribe to think of themselves as white; “they are fundamentally an other” who should nonetheless ally with white Christendom. Disclaiming white identity also has the benefit of annoying and confusing the left, which, according to Ari, “sees us as the whitest of the white” due to Jews’ cultural and political influence, high rates of educational attainment and wealth. Ironically, this way of thinking is very much in line with that of leading alt-right activists like the aforementioned Spencer, whom, when I once asked if Jews are white, cautiously replied, “Jews are Jews.”
The problem with this race obsession—and this goes for all people, not just Jews—is that it can obscure individual humanity. Despite their ideological antagonism, the hard left and alt-right display a similar mode of collectivist thinking when it comes to the Chosen People: There are good Jews and bad Jews. For the extreme left, the only good Jews are anti-Zionists, committed to gauzy notions of universalism; bad Jews are those who defend Israel or their own cultural heritage too vigorously. For the (non-Nazi) alt-right, the dichotomy is reversed: Good Jews are those who embrace their appointed role as tip of the spear in the civilizational struggle against the Muslim hordes, while bad Jews are those embracing liberal, non-racial pluralism.
Both of these options are nuts. Of all people, Jews should know that their well-being is best assured in societies that respect religious and ethnic diversity, pluralism, democratic values and the rule of law. That’s why Jews have so far succeeded in the United States of America. And it’s what makes the enthusiasm for Donald Trump—a man who waged the most divisive, authoritarian, scapegoating and conspiracy-peddling presidential campaign in modern history—among self-described Jewish alt-righters so noxious. In warming up to an explicitly racist and anti-democratic movement that frankly doesn’t want them, they are mimicking some of the most self-destructive behaviors in the tragic history of the Jews.