Trump’s Brownshirts

(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

Julia Ioffe woke one day to a voicemail full of speeches by Adolf Hitler. On Twitter, she was barraged with anti-Semitic invective, including pictures of her face photoshopped onto the body of an Auschwitz prisoner. The crime that prompted this? A profile of Melania Trump she had written for GQ.


Jonathan Weisman found himself facing an onslaught of Jew-hating harassment on Twitter. One image depicted him in a gas chamber, with Donald Trump in an SS uniform flicking the switch. Another showed “[his] disembodied head held aloft, long Orthodox hair locks called payot photoshopped on [his] sideburns and a skullcap placed as a crown.” His wrong? Retweeting a Washington Post op-ed.


Bethany Mandel was told online that she “deserved the oven,” a message accompanied by a predictable image. She was called a “slimy Jewess,” and eventually felt so threatened that she bought a gun. Her offense? Supporting Republican Ted Cruz and arguing with a reporter for Breitbart, a popular pro-Trump conservative news site, on Twitter.


There are many more stories like this. Jewish Republican Rick Wilson “discovered a man looking through his windows and […] his daughter was threatened with graphic depictions of sexual violence,” according to Mandel. Radio host Erick Erickson has received such violent invective that he doesn’t allow his children to check the mail anymore.


All of this hate comes from the same online community, the fiercely pro-Trump “alt-right.” An influential movement motivated by a gleeful appreciation of anti-Semitism, sexism, racism, and anything else that could be cast as “anti-PC,” as well as by strong support for monarchism and authoritarianism, the alt-right remains secure in and empowered by its online anonymity. These are many of the same people who harassed women during Gamergate, and who recently crowned Taylor Swift their “Aryan goddess.”

They’ve been denounced as bigots, fascists, and Nazis – all accurate labels. They should also be condemned as Trump’s brownshirts. That’s not to say that Trump is Hitler, or even comparable to him behind a few narrow historical parallels, but rather to emphasize the dangerous mob mentality that characterizes the alt-right, and the incredible social power that it wields. As evidenced by the harassment of Mandel, Weisman, Ioffe, and many others, this is a movement with the ability to trigger online pogroms in an instant, and poses serious questions about how these assaults could move past the online realm into the real world.

While individuals being attacked can report the perpetrators to the police, as Mandel and others did, the phenomenon of a violently anti-Semitic, sexist, and racist community can’t be addressed through law enforcement. Arguably, this isn’t a situation that can be solved at all – but there are a few ways to tackle these groups.

The person who has the most influence with the alt-right at the moment – besides their deceased idols, Nazis such as Hitler and Himmler, but also the Columbine shooters and Elliot Rodger – is Donald Trump himself. It is well within his ability to condemn the anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism of his followers. Indeed, it his responsibility as a candidate for the Presidency to do so.

But, despite the fact that Ioffe’s harassment made headlines, and that Weisman just recently wrote about his experiences in the pages of the New York Times, Trump is unlikely to take this important step. In fact, in response to questions about the attacks on Ioffe, Melania Trump dismissed the anti-Semitism while also saying the journalist had “provoked” such hatred.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, before whom Trump embarrassed himself last year by asserting, “I’m a negotiator like you folks,” released a statement weakly condemning “any abuse of journalists, commentators, and writers whether it be from Sanders, Clinton or Trump supporters.” This is a bigger deal than it looks, however, because the RJC is funded by a major Trump backer, Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Trump, though, issued no response. Clearly, no criticism or condemnation, whether from victims or prominent supporters, will convince Trump to disavow his followers’ anti-Semitism. Mandel makes a compelling case that only one person can now persuade the Trump’s to denounce their brownshirt supporters: Ivanka Trump, Donald’s Jewish daughter. “How long can Ivanka, herself Jewish and the mother of three beautiful Jewish children, stay silent about the vocal anti-Semitic contingent in her father’s base?” she asks.

Still, there has been no noise from Ivanka expressing any disapproval. In the meantime, although we cannot expect Trump to reveal the bigotry of his supporters, there are other ways to combat them. Weisman had the right idea in his reaction to the anti-Semitism launched his way: publicize it. He retweeted almost every item he could, turning his Twitter profile into a testament to the hatred of Trump’s supporters.


Mandel writes that, “After all, if members of the Trump family won’t stand up against anti-Semitism online when their supporters dish it out against Jews and journalists, and in particular Jewish journalists, we shouldn’t hold out any hope that their response would play out differently in real life.” Given this, it is imperative to ensure that voters know the risks Trump represents, and broadcasting the vile invective popular with his base is an important first step.