If I told you that Jewish bankers ran the world and there was a secret cabal who had manipulated history for centuries, you would dismiss me as a crackpot and anti-Semite (or at least you should). Apparently, if you change the name of the conspirators to the “cliques of bankers and financiers,” you’re a hero to some activists for exposing the evil plotters behind George Bush and Dick Cheney.
Last July 4 in Philadelphia, peace activists held an Emergency Antiwar Convention. It was staged as a coalition-building event and featured 9/11 conspiracy films, as well as presentations from conspiracy mongers, including former LaRouchite activists Lewis DuPont Smith and Webster Griffin Tarpley. The convention issued a statement crafted by Tarpley calling for “government by the people, not by cliques of bankers and financiers,” a phrase that sounds like it was borrowed from a Hitlerian diatribe against parasitic Jewish moneylenders. This type of rhetoric, which replicates the language of historic anti-Semites, discredits the antiwar movement.
Periodically, right-wing, neo-fascist, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists see an opportunity to recruit from the political left. This happened when Danny Sheehan of the Christic Institute began importing conspiracy theories about the “Secret Team” from the Lyndon LaRouche and Willis Carto networks. Both LaRouche and Carto are neofascist Holocaust deniers. During the first Gulf War, anti-Semitic rhetoric began to appear at rallies, sometimes traced to right- wing sources, and this has continued to divide activists seeking peace in the Middle East.
This year the Holocaust denial outfit, blandly called the Institute for Historical Review, bought a series of ads scheduled for the Nation magazine promoting their twisted publication, The Founding Myths of Modern Israel. After the first ad appeared in the May 3 issue, it was pulled when irate readers helped the Nation relocate its moral compass.
Let’s be clear that I do not think that any criticism of the state of Israel, its foundation, its policies, or the actions or ideas of specific individuals who are secular or religious Jews is automatically anti-Semitic. Philip Green examined this issue in the Nation in 2003 and it has reverberated several times since then. But any claim that there is a vast, longstanding, secret conspiracy involving Jews manipulating the government, media, and banks is anti-Semitic. Sometimes these conspiracy theorists replace “Jews” with phrases such as “cliques of bankers and financiers” (Webster G. Tarpley) or the “financial oligarchy run by the ‘City of London’” (Henry Makow) or the “neo-Venetian circles of the Anglo- Dutch philosophically liberal circles of rentier-financier power” (Lyndon LaRouche). Whether or not it is intentional, these phrases are historically linked to conspiracy claims about the vast Jewish plot that gained fame through Hitler’s favorite hoax document, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, forged in the early 1900s and spread by the Czarist secret police in Russia.
This is nothing new. In the 1800s August Bebel called anti-Semitic conspiracy theories the “socialism of fools.” In 1920 Lenin called the tendency toward opportunism and adventurism typical of many conspiracy theorists an “infantile disorder.” Bebel, a social democrat, was trying to get German workers to pay attention to the structural inequalities of the economic system rather than scapegoating Jewish financiers and bankers. Lenin, a Communist, was warning that sometimes people who claim to be on the cutting edge are actually dull blades ripping at the fabric of the movement.
The world according to LaRouche is a centuries-old conspiracy of “parasites” who have “powerful, Anglo- American financier-oligarchical patrons,” and the result of their secret conspiracy is the “accelerating descent of humanity into a new dark age.” Recent LaRouchite publications rail about neoconservatives, who include a number of high profile Jews, with titles including phrases such as the “Children of Satan,” or “The Beast Men,” both of which echo ancient anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Tarpley’s analysis is virtually identical to that of the LaRouchites; in fact Tarpley helped shape core LaRouchite obsessions. In 1995 when he was a LaRouche acolyte, Tarpley wrote: “An agent shared by Memmo with the Morosini family was one Giacomo Casanova, a homosexual who was backed up by a network of lesbians. Venetian oligarchs turned to homosexuality because of their obsession with keeping the family fortune intact by guaranteeing that there would only be one heir to inherit it; by this time more than two-thirds of male nobles, and an even higher percentage of female nobles, never married. Here we have the roots of Henry Kissinger’s modern homin- tern. Casanova’s main task was to target the French King Louis XV through his sexual appetites.”
Hominterm/Cominterm. Cute. In one paragraph Tarpley scapegoats Jews, Communists, and homosexuals. Note that this same linkage was central to the McCarthyist witch hunts in the 1950s—another borrowed idea. These days Tarpley is also a featured author on the Jeff Rense website, along with more obvious anti-Semites such as Henry Makow.
Could the language of Tarpley and LaRouche be an innocent coincidence? It doesn’t matter. People who claim such a vast knowledge of history and politics should know these phrases signal anti-Jewish themes and avoid them.
Even when conspiracist theories do not center on Jews, homosexuals, people of color, immigrants, or other scapegoated groups, they create an environment where racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice, bigotry, and oppression can flourish. We do not need conspiracism to challenge social injustice. There are other forms of analysis. With any form of conspiracism, serious questions of race, class, and gender are almost always shoved aside. Political and economic policies are framed as controlled by a handful of powerful and wealthy secret elites manipulating elections, foreign and domestic policy, and the media.
Tarpley shared the stage with Peter Dale Scott at a June 2007 Vancouver 9/11 “Truth” conference, along with other conspiracists. In an interview at that conference, Scott criticized the form of political analysis of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky as “structuralist,” saying this analytical model is superficial compared to the “deep politics” unveiled by the more “fundamental” understanding developed through conspiracy theories. This turns political reality on its head. It is precisely those forms of analysis that explore the structural, institutional, and systemic aspects of power that provide substantial “deep analysis” that help activists make effective strategic and tactical decisions.
A common perception is that the 1989 collapse of communism in Europe cast social change activists adrift without an ideological rudder. This is not accurate. For decades there have been other analytical frameworks used by organizers who stepped away from traditional Marxism and, instead, crafted approaches based in humanism, ecology, liberation theology, anarchism, and the politics of race and gender. C. Wright Mills’s famous study The Power Elite was published in 1956. Power structure research emerged from the student movement of the 1960s. Feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and other models grew in the 1970s and 1980s.
Well-known activists who follow these traditions include democratic socialists Barbara Ehrenreich and Cornel West and left-libertarian egalitarians (libertarian socialists), best represented by the work of Noam Chomsky. Today, academics such as G. William Domhoff, Adolph Reed, Jr., and Jean Hardisty—as well as journalist-activists such as Holly Sklar, Roberto Lovato, and Amy Goodman—have refined the power structure research model inspired by Mills. What all of these perspectives share is an analysis of complex systems of power, rather than a fixation on individuals who may or may not be involved in conspiracies. As Domhoff observes, our “opponents are the corporate conservatives and the Republican Party, not the Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderbergers, and Bohemians. It is the same people more or less, but it puts them in their most important roles, as capitalists and political leaders,” where they are “readily identifiable and working through visible…institutions.”
The process of individualizing history through conspiracy theories sets the stage for anti-Semitism. On the Tarpley, LaRouche, and Jeff Rense websites, legitimate criticism of the role of U.S. “neoconservatives” and others in staging the war in Iraq is mixed with historic anti-Semitic stereotypes. This issue of anti-Semitism goes beyond debates over the validity of conspiracism as an analytical model, strategies for the peace movement, or lingering questions about 9/11. These jerks have tramped anti- Semitic crap into our kitchen and it is time for the political left to hose out their dirt, and them with it.
Chip Berlet, analyst at Political Research Associates, is an investigative journalist specializing in the study of right-wing politics.