by Jonathan S. Tobin, September 2, 2020

Feeding panic about militias and anti-Semitism amid urban unrest is gaslighting. The real threat to Jewish security and to all Americans is the breakdown of the rule of law.

It was a summer of discontent as the coronavirus pandemic raged on. The death of George Floyd, which set off a season of protests about police brutality and racial discrimination, further added to the nation’s woes as many of the demonstrations turned into riots along with acts of intimidation, violence and looting. If that wasn’t enough, now we also have to worry about armed vigilantes who have, in a few cases, sought to intervene in settings of urban unrest with predictably dismal results as the fatal shootings illustrated last week in Kenosha, Wis.

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The specter of armed extremists facing off against violent mobs is a prescription for not just bloodshed, but chaos with unknowable consequences. Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League is chiming in about this to hype fears that the presence of militias in this combustible mix will add anti-Semitism to the mix. The question is, are they telling us something we need to know about the situation or, as appears to be the case, is the ADL just riding their favorite hobby horse in order to promote their preferred political agenda and distract us from the real threat to both Jews and the nation in this situation.

As it happens, and as one ADL researcher[1] acknowledged, the groups of vigilantes that have arisen in cities where rioting took place don’t seem to have expressed any anti-Semitism when they showed up ostensibly to defend property threatened with destruction by the “mostly peaceful” demonstrators.

Yet the mere mention of militias—whether the vigilantes are connected to known groups or not—has been enough to push the usual buttons for Jews. This has predictably led some people to believe that the real problems at play here are not the riots, or what it is the Black Lives Matter movement’s leaders and apologists are after, but the familiar fear factor associated with white nationalists and anti-Semitism.

Let’s specify that the presence of vigilantes is almost always a bad thing. Such persons are no substitute for law enforcement and invariably make bad situations worse.

Yet after three months of riots that some on the left have been candid enough to describe as a general “insurrection,” there is only one word to accurately describe efforts to put the focus on vigilantes, rather than on those who have openly embraced radical positions aimed at thwarting democratic rule as an anti-Semitic threat: gaslighting.

We should never be complacent about anti-Semitism from the far right. But to pretend that the carnage in America’s cities is the work of anyone but the far left, associated anarchists and some elements of the Black Lives Matter movement is not merely false but a transparently politically motivated sleight of hand maneuver.

While Jews have not been a priority target for rioters—instances of vandalism[2] in Los Angeles and Kenosha notwithstanding—the connections between the intersectional ideology that is officially embraced by BLM ideologues, and anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, is a matter of record.

Since the death of Floyd on May 25, dozens have died[3] in violence that was in one way or another connected to the protests, the number of police officers that were injured was reported[4] to be 700 in the first week and has, no doubt, climbed far higher in the months since then. Many of the protesters have also been hurt, though hurt as a result of their engaging in violence against police. Incidents of organized attacks aimed at police, including in one outrageous incident in which left-wing lawyers passed out Molotov cocktails[5] to be tossed at New York cops, have added to the carnage.

To pretend that these acts were somehow committed in equal measure by the inconsequential numbers of right-wing provocateurs, or that it was all inspired by the Trump administration that has sought unsuccessfully to stop the violence against the wishes of their political opponents who govern strife-torn cities, is also gaslighting.

It is hardly surprising that left-wing and liberal groups that have, against the best interests of the Jewish community, endorsed[6] the BLM movement would buy into this myth in order to help their allies in the Democratic Party. But doing so is still an act of breathtaking mendacity.

For three months, much of the mainstream media has either downplayed the violence associated with the protests or encouraged and rationalized it.

Prime-time CNN host Chris Cuomo has consistently asserted, “Please, show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful.”

New York Times staffer Nikole Hannah-Jones, a conspiracy theorist and principal author of her paper’s misleading and wildly inaccurate “1619 Project” that alleged that America is an irredeemably racist nation, took pride in the burning and looting. She said “it would be an honor” for the violence[7] to be called the “1619 riots.”

An NPR show offered a forum[8] to Marxist author Vicky Osterweil, whose book, In Defense of Looting defended the violence as a justified tactic and mass theft as “a redistribution of property in an unequal society.”

But as the fall election campaign looms on the horizon, some on the left have awakened to the fact that the “unrest” and talk of defunding or even abolishing the police they have encouraged might help Trump’s re-election efforts. As a result, they are now seeking to shift the blame to him or to a vague threat of white nationalist anti-Semites rather than to the people who have been doing the rioting and those who encouraged them.

The main point to be derived from this shabby con game is not a defense of Trump’s discourse, his policies, or any specific political agenda of the right or left. Instead, it must be pointed out that the main threat to Jews and to Americans in general from recent events is not an epidemic of racist violence for which there is little or no proof or from the president. The real danger comes from the breakdown of the rule of law that those who lionized the riots and gave the movement that fueled them impunity have engendered.

A country in which both lives and property rights are not respected—and where law enforcement is so cowed by its critics that no one at risk from rioters has any reasonable expectation of police protection—is not one that is safe for Jews or anyone else.


[1] https://www.jta.org/2020/08/31/united-states/why-the-kenosha-killings-have-anti-defamation-league-analysts-nervous-about-the-coming-months

[2] https://www.jns.org/opinion/why-they-scrawl-free-palestine-on-synagogues/

[3] https://www.jns.org/opinion/why-they-scrawl-free-palestine-on-synagogues/

[4] https://nypost.com/2020/06/08/more-than-700-officers-injured-in-george-floyd-protests-across-us/

[5] https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/08/molotov-cocktail-throwing-lawyers-are-the-lefts-new-civil-rights-heroes/

[6] https://www.jns.org/opinion/what-are-jews-who-embrace-the-black-lives-matter-movement-endorsing/

[7] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/1619-project-founder-proud-to-have-iconoclasm-fad-named-for-her-work

[8] https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/08/27/906642178/one-authors-argument-in-defense-of-looting?t=1598683114434

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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The photograph is not from Tobin’s article. It is from https://www.businessinsider.in/international/news/shocking-photos-from-portland-where-federal-law-enforcement-agents-are-using-military-force-to-break-up-demonstrations-against-the-cityaposs-wishes/slidelist/77075911.cms/.