Movement on the Far-Right: A Look at Modern Anti-Semitism

By Anna Cumming

Statue of Robert E. Lee riding his horse, Charlottesville, Virginia
Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Source: Wikimedia Commons,

On August 12, 2017, hundreds of alt-right, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis marched down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia and through the campus of the University of Virginia chanting “blood and soil”, “Jews will not replace us”, and “white lives matter” [1]. Many were shocked at the presence of neo-Nazis and powerful anti-Semitic rhetoric. What many news outlets and commentators had expected was the presence of those advocating for the preservation of the statute of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The statues had sprung up in 1900 as a result of Jim Crow Laws and again in the 1950s and 1960s as a backlash against the Civil Rights Movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 1,503 Confederate places and symbols across the United States in a 2015 study.  Of these, 718 were monuments and statues with approximately 300 of these located in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina [2].  The anticipation was that those advocating for the presence of “southern heritage” would be focused on statue preservation. Many anticipated the demonstration would include “a hate-filled demonstration against African-Americans” given the context of the Civil War and the Confederacy[3]. The chants of “blood and soil”, “Jews will not replace us”, and “kill the Jews” came as a surprise to many [4]. For Jewish-Americans, anti-Semitism has always been present in American society as demonstrated by Clive Webb’s account in Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era. By May of  2017, reports of anti-Semitic events had increased by 86% [5]. In January of 2017, synagogues and Jewish community centers across the nation had received 140 bomb threats, had gravestones toppled, and in one instance, a gun fired into the window of a synagogue classroom [6]. Accompanying these events was the anti-Semitic rhetoric used by the Trump campaign and subsequent administration. While campaigning, “Trump’s Twitter account posted an image of a six-pointed star next to a picture of Hillary Clinton, with a pile of money in the background. Though he deleted the tweet, afterward Trump walked up to a brightly lit podium and defended the image, bellowing that the star was not a Jewish star” [7]. While many were surprised at the anti-Semitic displays in Charlottesville, a survey of the Jim Crow era showed that anti-Semitism often accompanied the defense of Jim Crow era provisions in the 1950s and 1960s. Just as the defense of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville attracted the attention of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the defense of Jim Crow era provisions attracted anti-Semitic rhetoric and propaganda from the far-right. In his narrative, Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era, Clive Webb looks at the stories of five far-right activists, Bryant Bowles, John Kasper, John Crommelin, Edwin Walker, and J.B. Stoner. Using these far-right leaders, Webb examines the interplay of anti-Semitism and Jim Crow following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education United States Supreme Court ruling. With Webb’s account we can understand the prevalence of anti-Semitism and its connection to the debate over Confederate statues.

Contextualizing the Far-Right Movement

Within the far-right movement, there existed conflict between segregationists and racially motivated militants. Segregationists, according to Webb, were reluctant to accept racial militants to their group due to militants’ advocacy of violence. Segregationist leaders believed that the use of violence discredited their movement. Militant leaders were typically associated with fascism, and with fascism came the association with anti-Semitism. Segregationist leaders were eager to avoid these associations, especially with the discovery of the Holocaust in the wake of World War II [8].

Robert E. Lee statue covered with tarp surrounded by people protesting
Robert E. Lee statue covered in Charlottesville. Source: Wikimedia commons

Webb’s examination of the far-right during the Civil Rights Era cautioned against the argument that far-right participants were socially exiled or existed on the fringes of society, arguing instead for a revision of traditional pathological evaluations of the far right and its participants. Far-right participants are frequently categorized as those existing on the social and economic margins of society. This idea that far-right members come from the fringes of society ignores the participation of those members with social and economic status. If we ignore the socially connected participants of the movement, we fail to recognize the far-reaching impact that such a radical movement has the potential to become. When those with resources become involved in the movement, it grants the movement some legitimacy and has the potential to draw in more members. This phenomenon was seen through the stories of John Crommelin and Edwin Walker, who both had military backgrounds. By placing far-right actions in the framework of a sole individual acting alone neglects to address the societal forces that are present for this to occur. In the same vein, dismissing far-right participants as “paranoid megalomaniacs” underestimates the seriousness of the threat to society. The values espoused by the far-right draw on “ideas and values held by the society around its adherents” [9]. The actions of the far-right do not happen in isolation. Even today, the far-right draws on the political and social climate to gain a platform and promote their views.

Navy Rear Admiral John G. Crommelin

The story of John Crommelin conveys the ways that individuals on the far right with social and economic status could attract followers. John Crommelin was born in Montgomery, Alabama. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he served for the U.S. in World War II. Climbing through the naval ranks to Captain, his peers heralded his leadership skills and fearlessness. He received the Purple Heart and Legion of Merit for his service and eventually was appointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April of 1949. The Navy forced Crommelin to resign in 1949, due to his opposition to the replacement of naval aircraft carriers with strategic bombers and his release of confidential government documents. At this point, he began the first of several attempts to run for public office in Alabama. Cultivating a platform based upon a commitment to continued racial segregation, withdrawal from the United Nations, and a prohibition on fluoride in water, Crommelin began his first campaign in 1950. What united these disjointed ideas together was Crommelin’s firm belief in the “cabal of communist Jews” that was attempting to overthrow American security and well-being [10]. In between campaigns, he joined the group “Ten Million Americans Mobilizing for Justice” in an attempt to protect the speech rights of communist witch-hunter, Senator Joseph McCarthy. The group ultimately fell apart due to Crommelin’s insistence on pushing his anti-Semitic agenda. He insisted that a “Hidden Force” of “300 top Jew Zionists” were attempting to control the world and seize control of the American government and the press [11].

In addition to his inflammatory speech tactics, Crommelin committed, or was implicated in, various terrorist plots, centering on Jewish-Americans homes and places of worship. In 1958, the Reform Temple in Atlanta experienced a bomb blast. Circumstantially tied to the event, Crommelin insisted that the Jewish-Americans had blown up their own synagogue to “create public sympathy, discredit their political opponents, and encourage federal authorities to extend their influence over local and state affairs”[12]. Implicating Jewish-Americans in this bombing gave Crommelin the potential to demonstrate to his followers his beliefs that Jewish Americans were manipulative, liars, and motivated by the desire for political influence. While it is not clear what the impact of these implications were, accusing Jewish-Americans of destroying their own place of worship was another tactic by which Crommelin sought to build his base of support and distribute his beliefs. Throughout his several campaigns, Crommelin influenced young activists through his ideas about Jewish-Americans attempting to “mongrelize” the white race. One of these young activists was George Lincoln Rockwell, future leader of the American Nazi Party. As his political career dragged to a halt and having never won an election, Crommelin took a position as an associate editor to the The Crusader, the newsletter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1976.

Though he never saw victory in his various electoral campaigns, Crommelin’s presence on the electoral scene is still significant. In statewide elections, he consistently earned the vote of 100,000 or more people [13]. Further, the ferocity with which he campaigned made him an ever-present threat. Other candidates had to contend with his attacks and the possibility of violence that his presence brought. It may be easy to dismiss Crommelin as a right-wing, political outlier, but the impact of his presence should not be understated. Even if he did not win an election, his campaign efforts attracted the attention of younger right-wing activists, such as George Lincoln Rockwell, and earned the support of other right-wing leaders, such as David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan, particularly in the year 1976. Through these connections, Crommelin inspired a network of collaboration amongst the group. Leveraging political ties and using his own status, he attempted to link groups together for the formation of a network of terror. Additionally, his tactics placed fear into the everyday lives of many Americans, particularly Jewish-Americans and African-Americans. Though he did not win, he had a large impact on the climate of the era. His presence inspired fear in the lives of both Jewish and African Americans and left a lasting mark on race relations during this time.

J.B. Stoner stands at a Ku Klux Klan rally in St. Augustine, Florida.
Cover photo by Kathleen Kendall. J.B. Stoner stands at a Ku Klux Klan rally in St. Augustine, Florida.

Lieutenant General Pedro Augusto del Valle

Pedro Augusto del Valle, a close confidante and co-conspirator with Crommelin, also used his military success to garner support for the causes of the American far-right. He earned the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal for fighting on Guadalcanal and Okinawa. In his postwar life, del Valle came to believe that the United States would come under attack from a “global Jewish conspiracy.” Like Crommelin, del Valle believed in a cabal of communist Jews that had “reduced the federal government to a puppet regime, pulling the strings of the president.” [14] Further, he believed that the United Nations was being controlled by communist Jews attempting to create a “One World Order”. Together with Crommelin, del Valle established the Sons of Liberty, a group that planned to orchestrate a paramilitary overthrow of the United States federal government.

J.B. Stoner

J.B. Stoner
J.B. Stoner. Source: flickr

J.B. Stoner was a militant organizer of terrorist plots responsible for bomb attacks on schools, homes, and places of worship. A firm believer in fascism and Nazism, he believed that his mission was to fulfill the goals of the Nazi regime and create a white supremacist order “through the relocation or eradication of racial and religious minorities” [15]. Joining the radical right at a young age, Stoner believed he could reverse the civil rights movement while combating the alleged world influence of Jews. He believed that Jewish-Americans were “on the wrong side of the race issue”, given their support of African-American civil rights. Jews, Stoner concluded, were the masterminds of the civil rights movement, due to their power, money, and political influence. He published several pamphlets espousing his ideas including The Gospel of Jesus Christ Versus the Jews and Christ Not a Jew and Jews Not God’s Chosen People. Within these pamphlets he discussed his belief that “African Americans were nonetheless but a biological weapon in the hands of the real adversary of the white race”. Stoner continued by saying “the negro is not the enemy. The Jew is the enemy…using the negro in an effort to destroy the White Race” [16]. In addition to his pamphlets, Stoner was a certified lawyer under the Georgia State Bar and frequently represented violent white racial terrorists. He was known for defending Klansmen after they had bombed schools, homes, and places of worship.  By weaving the lives of African and Jewish Americans into a larger conspiracy theory, Stoner demonstrated his determination to undermine the rights of both groups. His work as a lawyer defending racial terrorists, combined with his outside efforts made him a potent figure that called many other racist leaders and groups to join him.

“Nothing to Gain, Everything to Lose”

As Webb mentioned in his introduction, there is a common tendency to write off extremists as people that have nothing to lose and exist on the fringe elements of society. Through the three men mentioned, we can see how this is not the case. Crommelin and del Valle were men with high military standing and had earned high honors for their service. Stoner was a lawyer and licensed through the State Bar of Georgia. All three men had a place in society that afforded them great influence and access, thus demonstrating Webb’s point that radical movements do not simply exist on the peripheral of society.

Pedro del Valle in military uniform
Pedro del Valle. Source: Wikipedia

What was interesting about Crommelin and del Valle was their military background. While it may seem like the military would be safe from prejudice in the form of anti-Semitism, especially after World War II, many officials still harbored negative views of Jewish citizens. While many military officials became less accepting of the idea of a “Jewish conspiracy”, there were some who continued to hold anti-Semitic ideas. Additionally, some used rhetoric that mirrored ideas stated by radicals such as Crommelin. General George E. Stratemeyer, working from Korea, stated “There is some hidden force or some hidden power or something that is influencing our people. They don’t act like Americans, Americans are supposed to have guts…” [17]. The internalization of anti-Jewish ideas can be seen through statements such as this. The Cold War brought about fears amongst some military officials that the “civil rights movement was part of a communist Jewish conspiracy to subvert the social stability and internal security of the United States” [18].

Modern Day Lessons

Using the activity of the far-right during the Civil Rights Era, we can draw parallels to the events of today, such as the Charlottesville riot. Webb made the point several times throughout his account that people were eager to write off radical candidates for political office. However, Crommelin consistently received the vote of 100,000 or more people in the statewide elections that he participated in [19]. J.B. Stoner in the 1972 election had 5.7 percent of the total votes, or 40,675. He came in fifth place out of thirteen candidates. The Anti-Defamation League said that it was “inconceivable that in this day and age, Stoner should attract so many votes” [20]. While it is tempting to discredit candidates who seem to be illogical, the recent U.S. presidential election showed how these candidates hold appeal for some people and should be taken as a legitimate threat. This administration’s use of anti-Semitic rhetoric poses a threat, as summarized by Joelle Reizes. She stated ““It’s the people he’s riling up…When David Duke thinks he’s the best thing ever…it doesn’t matter what he feels in his heart” [21]. Trump may not hold ire towards Jewish-Americans, but his language and inflammatory ways appeal to many individuals who do harbor truly anti-Semitic views. After the 2016 election, there were thirty-four incidents of anti-Semitism linked to the election. In Denver, “graffiti posted in May 2016 said “Kill the Jews, Vote Trump.” In Florida in November of 2016, “a man was accosted by someone who told him “Trump is going to finish what Hitler started.” [22]. Rather than seeing these threats and statements as isolated incidents, we must look at the context in which these things are said. The current political environment lends itself to a breeding ground for hate and violence, as seen in Charlottesville. It is crucial to look at the historical circumstances to understand that this type of hate is not something that has just happened, but rather the current situation is a boiling over of anti-Semitism that has always been present in the United States.

About the Author:

Anna Cumming is a senior studying History and Political Science. Her undergraduate thesis work focuses on the experiences of Jewish liberators of Nazi concentration camps. Her research interests also include issues of anti-Semitism within the United States military, gender, and masculinity.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Heim, Joe. “Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death.” The Washington Post, 14 August 2017.

[2] “US Confederate monuments: What is the debate about?” Al Jazeera, 24 August 2017.

[3] Glanton, Dahleen. “Neo-Nazis, anti-Semitism and the cycle of hatred in America.” Chicago Tribune, 28 August 2017.

[4] Spencer, Hawes and Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “White Nationalists on University of Virginia.” The New York Times, 11 August 2017.

[5] Dooling, Shannon. “Fearing Anti-Semitism, Some American Jews are Reclaiming German Citizenship.” NPR, 9 May 2017.

[6] Jacoby, Jeff. “In the land where Jews feel welcome, anti-Semitism is on the rise.” Boston Globe, 12 March 2017.

[7] Wofford, Ben. “In a Time of Trump, Millennial Jews Awaken to Anti-Semitism.” Politico, 2 October 2016.

[8] Webb, Clive. Rabble Rousers: The American Far Right in the Civil Rights Era. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2010.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Ibid., 105.

[11] Ibid., 110.

[12] Ibid., 127.

[13] Ibid., 130.

[14] Ibid., 139.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 162.

[17] Ibid., 137.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 130.

[20] Ibid., 201.

[21] Wofford, 2010.

[22] “U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents Spike 86 Percent So Far in 2017 After Surging Last Year, ADL Finds.” Anti-Defamation League, 24 April 2017.

Images

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_E._Lee_statue_in_Charlottesville,_VA_IMG_4219.JPG

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_E._Lee_sculpture_-_protest_sign.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_del_Valle#/media/File:Pedro_del_Valle.jpg