We cannot say we didn’t see it coming.
Charlottesville, Virginia, August, 2017: One woman dead in white nationalist riots. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October, 2018: Eleven Jews slaughtered during prayer at Tree of Life Synagogue. Christchurch, New Zealand, March, 2019: 51 Muslims killed at prayer at two separate mosques by a single gunman. Poway, California, April, 2019, : One woman murdered at a synagogue during Sabbath prayer. El Paso, Texas, August, 2019: 23 Hispanics killed at a Wal-Mart. And now Buffalo, New York, is in mourning for ten people gunned down at a neighborhood supermarket because they were Black.
Jews and Muslims at prayer. Black and Brown people out shopping. All the slaughters had one thing in common: All the alleged gunmen were white men with guns and grudges, who believe in a sick, twisted conspiracy theory called “The Great Replacement.” Here’s a simple explanation from the American Jewish Congress:
“The Great Replacement [is] also known as white replacement theory or white genocide theory. The conspiracy theory, rooted in white supremacist ideology, claims there is an intentional effort, led by Jews, to promote mass migration, intermarriage, and other efforts that would lead to the (quote) ‘extinction of whites.’.”
The shooting suspect in Buffalo made mention of this in his manifesto, which blamed Jews for pushing out whites. So did all the rest. They were pushed and encouraged on line by manifestos full of rage about the supposed downfall of White Christian male domination – here in our country and around the world.
The more the demographic trends move in other directions, it seems, the more angry and desperate they get to stem the tide, one or two or ten or 23 or 51 people at a time.
Back in 2017, when news programs showed streams of young white men in geeky polo shirts marching with hatred blazing in their eyes, shouting “Jews will not replace us!” – back then, we saw this white supremacist movement as a fringe element. As Jews, we took it seriously – we always have to. But we thought it was limited to small groups being radicalized in secret, dark corners of the internet.
We missed one big sign. The sign, in Charlottesville, was that these hate-filled white men were no longer hiding behind masks or inside white robes. They didn’t care who saw them, who identified them. They had been released from the shackles of the darkness.
The mass murders that followed Charlottesville, tell this story. Manifestos by the killers are posted, shared and quoted openly. The Buffalo shooter copied the killer in New Zealand by proudly posting video of his bloody crime. The killers in Pittsburgh and in Poway – consumed by racial paranoia — wrote that their attacks would spark a long-smoldering revolution, a violent race war, awakening unsuspecting white people to the “fact” of their imminent demise unless they took up arms.
We also missed a second big sign from Charlottesville: the shrug, the wink, the nod, that people at the highest levels of our government gave to the racist violence. Again, we believed it was a handful of people. Powerful ones, to be sure, but limited. We were wrong about that. There are a lot more powerful people spewing variations of this hatred, some more overtly than others. And there are lot more Americans than we’d like to think, who believe it.
And we’re just now catching up to a third big shift: the toxic mixture of Christian nationalism, white replacement theory, and other conspiratorial belief systems like Q-Anon and long-refuted allegations of stolen elections. Author Katherine Stewart, who’s written recently on this dangerous and deadly confluence, describes it as “a reactionary, authoritarian ideology that centers its grievances on a narrative of lost national greatness . . . this mind-set always involves a narrative of unjust persecution at the hands of alien or ‘un-American’ groups.”
Stewart says the targets may vary: gay people, non-white immigrants or Americans of color, religious minorities like Muslims or Jews, or that vague catch-all known as “secular elites.” Or, of course, all of the above.
That vagueness is well suited to the dog-whistles we now hear calling those who fall into this toxic morass – calls emanating from elected officials and “populist” media personalities. Some are true believers in “white makes right.” Others simply seek fame and fortune, higher office and high media visibility. Twitter followers. Loyal donors. Even those officials who are late to the “hate party” have learned how to stoke the hatred for personal gain and profit.
As Jews, we know where all this can lead. For millennia we have been the scapegoats who are bullied, exiled, murdered, slaughtered in numbers that were once unbelievable. It’s why we are quick to come to the aid and support of others now targeted by vicious and deadly hate, whatever their race or religion. It’s why we demand action from our government officials at all levels, to denounce the conspiracies and crack down on the violence.
We know that haters carry senseless grudges against “the other” – everyone and anyone who isn’t them. It’s why the echoes of “never again” always tug at our hearts and our guts – and require us to speak out against injustice always and everywhere.
When our Torah says “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof” – justice, justice shall you pursue – the rabbis take special note of the fact that the word for justice is said twice, a rare occurrence in the Bible, which uses terse language. One great Torah commentator, Nachmanides, teaches that’s because we cannot leave it to the judges or the justice system – we each have an obligation seek justice for all. Another sage, Abraham Ibn Ezra, teaches that it means you are obligated to pursue justice – whether it’s to your gain or not — to your last day on earth.
Sitting quietly is not an option. Not when we know where this toxic mix of baseless hatred, conspiracy theories, and beliefs in racial superiority lead. Too many lives have been lost already. Black and brown, Muslim and Jew. If each of us is, as Judaism teaches us, made in God’s image, and if no one’s blood is redder than another’s, then we cannot stand idly while our neighbors bleed. Hate has no home here. Hate must have no home anywhere.
Ken yehi ratson. Be this God’s will and our own. As we say together: Amen.
©2022 Audrey R. Korotkin
 Deut. 16:20.