Trump hits the panic button: Antisemitic attacks on special counsel Jack Smith betray desperation

When racism is the defense, Americans must prepare for potential violence

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 28, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Jack Smith (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Jack Smith (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

As detailed in historian George Fredrickson's landmark book "Racism: A Short History," there is a complex and overlapping relationship between the "religious" antisemitism of the European Middle Ages, the racist and white supremacist project of white-on-black chattel slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and then the Nazism and racial antisemitism of the 20th century. This translates into a type of path dependency, if not inevitable outcome: As the "conservative" movement becomes increasingly racist and white supremacist, it then becomes increasingly antisemitic. 

On this, Halie Soifer wrote in a 2022 essay at Haaretz that:

Where antisemitic hate speech once triggered near-universal and immediate condemnation across the political spectrum, that is no longer the case. Today's rise of antisemitism has been largely met with silence, or worse, an embrace or tacit acceptance by the Republican Party.

We saw this after Trump's ominous warning to Jews in mid-October to "get their act together…before it's too late," which not one Republican condemned. Shortly thereafter, Business Insider contacted 38 Republicans, in and out of Congress, to ask why they have been unwilling to publicly reject antisemitism. Their responses included "silence, deflection, and rehashing old statements," generously summarized as "minimal outcry."

While extremism may have once been relegated to the fringes of American society, today it has found a political home in the Republican Party.

Racism is not some type of buffet to be picked and chosen from or a value and belief that can be siloed or neatly switched on and off when convenient. In reality, racism is a way of thinking and being in the world that has a profound influence, both consciously and subconsciously, across a range of behaviors. Public opinion research, for instance, has repeatedly shown that white racial resentment heavily influences support for Republican candidates. Moreover, social scientists have also shown that a given white person's feeling of warmth and closeness to Black and brown people is one of the defining factors that influence support for the Democratic Party. The Republican Party and Donald Trump benefit from the opposite dynamic, whereby a white person's hostility and antipathy towards Black and brown people is predictive of support.

Of critical importance is how in response to the victories of the Civil Rights movement and Black Freedom Struggle, the Republican Party embraced what is known as the Southern Strategy, which involves racist "dog whistles" as well as more overt appeals to white racism and racial resentment as a way of winning over and keeping white voters.

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As Donald Trump finally faces serious consequences for his decades-long crime spree, he has become more antisemitic. This is true more generally for the MAGA movement, the Republican Party, and the larger right wing during the Trumpocene – but especially since the coup attempt on Jan. 6, and now the indictments of Donald Trump and his cabal for his and their crimes against democracy and society. Trump will only become more bold and gross as the 2024 presidential election approaches and the walls of justice close in

Antisemitism, like other forms of racism and white supremacy, must be exposed and directly engaged if it is to be driven out of American life.

Following his arrest and indictment in Miami for allegedly violating the Espionage Act, Donald Trump flew back to his golf resort in New Jersey, where in a speech to his MAGA cultists, the traitor ex-president railed against special counsel Jack Smith with racist and antisemitic tropes and stereotypes, as Chris Walker detailed in Truthout:

Citing the special counsel's remarkable legal bona fides, Trump somehow spun those attributes to formulate an attack against Smith that only his supporters would seemingly understand. He even appeared to suggest that Smith's work at the International Criminal Court was somehow indicative of his failings as a lawyer.

"It's no wonder this raging lunatic was shipped off to The Hague to prosecute warfare rules using globalist tribunals not beholden to the Constitution, or the rule of law," Trump told his adoring supporters.

Notably, Trump's criticism of Smith included the antisemitic "globalist" terminology, which alludes to a conspiracy theory that alleges Jewish elites are trying to run the affairs of the world behind the scenes. The anti-Jewish attacks against Smith, whose religious faith is not well-documented, isn't new territory for Trump, writer David Margolick, writing an op-ed for The Nation earlier this year, has noted.

Trump has attacked Smith many times by insinuating his real name isn't actually "Smith," and that he changed it — a charge that could be construed as an anti-Jewish dog whistle, Margolick said, noting that historically, bigots have viewed Jews changing their names as "evidence of a plot."

Indeed, Trump has used the attack before: in 2013, he used similar language to malign comedian Jon Stewart, to suggest he shouldn't be viewed as a trustworthy news source. "If Jon Stewart is so above it all & legit, why did he change his name from Jonathan Leibowitz[?]" Trump asked on social media at the time.

Trump's fundraising emails and other communications are also filled with antisemitic themes and threats that mirror the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other racist and white supremacist hate tracts. Such themes in Trump's and his allies' messaging include the conspiracy lie that there is a "deep state" that controls "the Democrats" and "the liberal media" through "globalist" "puppet masters" who are secretly "pulling the strings" and controlling the world and forcing the "Woke agenda" on "patriotic" Americans with the goal of making the country "socialist" or "communist"." Trump and the larger right-wing are also obsessed with George Soros (a Democratic Party donor who happens to be Jewish and a Holocaust survivor) and routinely launch antisemitic attacks on him.

Donald Trump and other leading Republicans have associated with and given other aid and comfort to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other antisemites. Such hatemongers now claim today's Republican Party as their natural home.

At the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi summarizes:

Who remembers how, in 2018 and just days before the deadliest attack on Jewish people in US history, a prominent US politician tweeted: "We cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election!"? The tweet was widely – and correctly – understood as dangerously antisemitic, particularly heinous in a period of rising anti-Jewish hatred. And whose tweet was this? If you thought the answer was Minnesota's Democratic representative Ilhan Omar then, well, you'd be wrong. The author was none other than the House majority leader at the time, Republican Kevin McCarthy.

And who can forget when Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has tweeted that "Joe Biden is Hitler", speculated that the wildfires in California were caused by a beam from "space solar generators" linked to "Rothschild, Inc.", a clear wink to bizarre antisemitic conspiracy theories. Incidentally, Greene, who has a long record of antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements, has been recently appointed, by the same Kevin McCarthy, now speaker of the House, to the homeland security committee.

Then there's former president Donald Trump, who dines with Holocaust deniers like Nick Fuentes and antisemites like Ye. In stereotypically anti-Jewish moves, Trump has repeatedly called the loyalty of Jewish Americans into question. Just this past October, he wrote that "U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – Before it is too late!"

In case it's not obvious, let me state it plainly. Today's Republican party has a serious antisemitism problem. The easy acceptance and amplification of all sorts of anti-Jewish hate that party leaders engage in emboldens all the worst bigots, raving racists, and far-right extremists across the globe, all the while threatening Jewish people here and everywhere.

Trump's "America First" MAGA movement slogan has its origins in the American Nazi movement of the 1930s, as New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait recounts:

Trump resurrected Buchanan's strain of populist nationalism. He's always nurtured business relations and personal ties with Jewish people, but his revival of "America First" — both the slogan and the ideas surrounding it — inevitably excited antisemites. In 2016, he tweeted out an image using a Star of David to symbolize Hillary Clinton's "corruption." The Trump campaign tweeted an altered version after an outcry but then ran an ad in the campaign's closing days decrying "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" coupled with images of Janet Yellen, George Soros, and Lloyd Blankfein — all of whom are financial figures who happen to be Jewish.

In the United States, antisemitism has been especially deadly in the Age of Trump and beyond. Hate crimes against the Jewish community are at their highest in decades. A mass shooter who targeted the Jewish community was convicted this month in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. The Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement continue to warn that white supremacist and other right-wing extremists pose the greatest threat to the country's domestic safety. To wit, neo-Nazis and other racial fascists played a prominent role in the Jan. 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol.

Antisemitism has become such a public danger in the Age of Trump and beyond that President Biden recently announced the first ever national strategy to confront such prejudice and hatred. 

"It sends a clear and forceful message. In America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail," the president said. "The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time."

A 2022 Quinnipiac University public opinion poll shows that despite the rise in antisemitic violence and other forms of hostility, a majority of Republicans do not believe that antisemitism is a threat to Jewish people in America. By comparison, a large majority of Democrats believe that it is. Relatedly, a majority of white Republicans (particularly Trump supporters) believe in the absurd white supremacist conspiracy theory that white people are being "replaced" or are in danger of "extinction" by non-white people in America and Europe as orchestrated by "globalists" and "elites". Likewise, a majority of white Republican voters, Trump supporters, and right-leaning independents also believe that white people — and not Black and brown people — are somehow the "real victims" of racism in America. 

Antisemitism, like other forms of racism and white supremacy, must be exposed and directly engaged if it is to be driven out of American life. When Trump or one of his MAGA spokespeople or some other member of today's right-wing "conservative" movement summons up language about "the globalists" and/or "George Soros" and "the deep state" and "puppet masters," simply replace those words and phrases with "Jews." Their claims and language still cohere but the antisemitic intent and menace behind them are revealed. Naked without the camouflage of rhetorical evasion or semantic smokescreens, the implicit and implied are made explicit and clear.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Antisemitism Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Fascism Gop Jack Smith Racism Republican Party