Trump responds to anti-Semitism with anti-Semitism of the “False Flag” trope

First, let me say that I am reluctant to throw around accusations of anti-Semitism. When Bannon referred to the “globalist media” recently or even when the White House statement on the Holocaust failed to mention Jews, I did not think the accusation of anti-Semitism was fair. (I think the media is generally globalist, mostly in good ways, and I prefer for the Holocsust to be universalized for a general “never forget” message, whereas right-wing Zionists prefer exclusive narrow ownership of the Holocaust). Second, let me say that I think the problem of anti-Semitism is not nearly as serious as the crisis over deportations and over racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-women, anti-social safety net policies right now.

But this afternoon demands an explanation, especially in the context of Trump’s selectiveness with Twitter excuses, blame, and silence. The context is Bannon’s white nationalist media and their frequent use of “false flag” blaming-the-victim, and it is also a personal story in my engagement with a pro-Trump acquaintance a few months ago that was eye-opening.

This afternoon, Trump told state attorneys general the following about the recent wave of anti-Semitic acts:

When asked on Tuesday about the recent wave of anti-Semitic threats and property destruction, President Donald Trump allegedly said that ‘sometimes it’s the reverse.’ The remark was made to a gathering of state attorneys general, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “He just said, ‘Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people—or to make others—look bad,’ and he used the word ‘reverse’ I would say two or three times in his comments.”

This reply is certainly devoid of empathy. It may seem enigmatic or ambiguous, but to those who follow white nationalist websites, it is very familiar. Trump is suggesting that Jews are faking these attacks to make Trump supporters “look bad.”  It is called the “false flag” accusation, and it is a familiar trope in white nationalist circles. It is a win-win for white nationalists: they get to have their anti-Semitic act and they also get to blame a sneaky Jewish conspiracy for it. This false flag accusation is not limited to Jews. White nationalists have used it frequently about Obama and Muslims. See the conspiratorial nut Alex Jones for recent uses of the false flag accusation against Obama and the victims of the Quebec massacre of Muslims. Just Google “false flag” and you can go down a far-right-wing rabbit hole of racism and conspiracy theories.

The “false flag” comes from military terminology, a “ruse de guerre,” for when an army or navy used the other side’s flag to sneak past the lines, confuse, and sabotage the other side. Sometimes a “false flag” campaign was used as a pretext for war, to make it appear that another country had attacked, when in reality it was a covert operation to blame the other side. Some suggest that the burning of the Reichstag (the German parliament building) on Feb. 27, 1933 (exactly 84 years ago yesterday) was a false flag. The Nazis blamed a lone anarchist, but new historical evidence suggests it was a Nazi sabotage. Some have suggested that Mossad engaged in a false flag in Iraq around 1950 to blow up a synagogue, in order to get Iraqi Jews to move to Israel. There is no question that the “false flag” conspiracy does occur in history.

The problem is that white nationalists know some of this history, and they exploit it. I have spent time over the past year tracking Bannon’s Breitbart and Alex Jones’s Infowars, and following links down a rabbit hole into neo-Nazi websites. Keep in mind that Alex Jones is a racist nut who spread the Pizzeria/child trafficking conspiracy and who informally advises Trump. When two dozen kindergartners were shot and killed in Newtown, Connecticut, Alex Jones claimed it was a faked event to generate gun regulation. It seems whenever there is a racist or anti-Semitic vandalism, you probably can find a white nationalist site claiming it was a “false flag.”

I had one particularly disturbing exchange with a Trump supporter a few months ago, after a spike in swastika graffiti around the country, including my hometown of Bethesda, MD. I won’t name any names, and I am not suggesting that this acquaintance knowingly spread an anti-Semitic false story. This person probably spread it unwittingly after it was filtered through Trump sites. This acquaintance responded to my post by suggesting this same “false flag” conspiracy and linked to this story about the swastika vandalism at Northwestern by a prominent pro-Trump blogger:

“Fake Hate: Jewish students painted swastika.” Apparently the blog post’s title has been changed, but it stays the same in the original link:

I followed the links and dug into the background of this story. It turns out to be false. And it comes right out of neo-Nazi sites (“The Nationalist-Socialist Worldview,” “Stormfront” and other similar anti-Semitic sites). The posts claim that the two students, Matthew Kafker and Anthony Morales, were Jewish liberals. The comment section on the Gateway Pundit is a gateway into an anti-Semitic underworld of conspiracy theories and hate. As I kept digging, I saw how the “false flag” conspiracy was simultaneously a way to deny the existence of anti-Semitism while also engaging in anti-Semitism (the eternally conspiratorial Jew). I found similar themes in Breitbart comment sections.

Mike Huckabee read these right-wing sites and falsely made the same “false flag” claim, which he retracted later. It was also on MAGAfeed (a Trump site). It seems to start in the expressly neo-Nazi sites, it gets filtered through white nationalists sites, and then gets mainstreamed from Breitbart to the press. The same stories spread about Muslim false flags and other racist false flag conspiracies. It is no accident that Trump is spreading this filth, because his advisors feed it to him from the sewers of Stormfront/Breitbart/Infowars hate.

A seeming contradiction is how some Jews are comfortable in the Trump white nationalist coalition, and how white nationalists can co-exist with Zionism. But it’s quite simple: white nationalists believe every ethnicity should have its own nation, totally consistent with segregation. Blacks, back to Africa. Latinos, back to Latin America. Jews, back to Israel. For pro-Trump Jews (20-25% of Jewish voters?), the enemy of my enemy (Muslims) is my friend. Even if that “friend” is destroying my cemeteries and phoning in bomb threats at my JCC.



Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and political ambition (a cause of mass incarceration), and "The Imaginary Unitary Executive," on the myths and history of presidential power in America.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s