Archive for April, 2023

The untold story of the exploitation of immigrant labor – posted 4/30/2023

April 30, 2023 6 comments

Few subjects are written about more poorly than immigration. Fox News and the MAGA fascists have long controlled the immigration narrative and they talk about immigrants as two dimensional villains, not as fully developed human beings. They have endlessly touted the building of Trump’s wall while promoting xenophobia.

Besides the abject racism behind this perspective, a big problem with this narrative is what it leaves out. That struck me when I recently read Saket Soni’s book The Great Escape A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America. America has long relied on foreign-born workers. Soni’s book tells the story of hundreds of Indian workers brought to the U.S. on false promises who are then subjected to horrendous work and living conditions.

This happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006 when the massive storm damage left 600,000 homes and many businesses that needed repair. As Soni has remarked, it turned the entire Gulf Coast into a construction site. Soni’s book shows how much the rebuilding depended on low wage African-American and immigrant workers. You never hear the MAGA fascists acknowledge this work or express appreciation for this essential labor.

The story begins when Soni, a labor organizer then at the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, received a mysterious anonymous midnight phone call from a Mississippi area code. Being Indian, Soni immediately recognized the caller was also of Indian background.

What Soni ultimately discovers could not be more surprising. Signal International, a marine repair company, and a network of labor recruiters and an immigration lawyer lured workers from India to repair large oil rigs after Hurricane Katrina. The Indian workers, who were highly skilled welders and pipefitters, were promised green cards and good-paying jobs.

As part of the package, they had to pay $20,000 each to get into America. They were told they would be able to bring their wives and families nine months later. But none of this was true. There were no green cards, only temporary guest worker visas where they had no right to switch employers.

Hundreds of men handed over their family’s life savings. Some sold their Indian ancestral lands. Others paid by taking out high interest loans from loan sharks. Coming up with $20,000 was an enormous investment for these men. They were instructed to lie and tell no one about the $20,000 payments.

When the men arrived in Pascagoula Mississippi, what they found was entirely different from what they had expected. Signal International had built a labor camp (they called it a man camp) surrounded by a barbed wire fence on company property. The company placed trailers over a toxic waste dump and stuffed 24 men into each trailer.

The men were required to work 12 hour shifts in every 24 hour rotation. The company fed them an atrocious diet of stale bread and frozen rice. They were only allowed out of the camp chaperoned by security guards. Before they arrived, the men thought they would be housed in nice apartments but the company charged them $1000 a month to cover the cost of the overcrowded trailer housing.

The company saw their whole scheme as a way to get skilled workers at a fraction of the cost. They believed they could undercut wages and working conditions.

Without giving Soni’s beautifully told story away, I will tell that through highly creative organizing he was successful in essentially staging a worker jail break. The workers filed a civil lawsuit and a criminal complaint with the Department of Justice alleging human trafficking. The story includes many ups and down with a cast of fascinating characters. ICE played a despicable background role working in collaboration with Signal to flip the trafficking investigation into an investigation of the workers’ immigration status.

Many years later in 2015, a federal jury trial finally opened in David et al v Signal International LLC in New Orleans. There were 11 separate lawsuits against Signal, the recruiters and the lawyer involved in the scheme.

Ultimately the jury found against the defendants on multiple claims including trafficking for forced labor. The jury awarded plaintiffs $14.1 million in damages. Signal settled the remaining 10 lawsuits for $20 million and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They also settled an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) racial discrimination case against the Indian workers for $5 million.

Before I read Soni’s book, I had never heard this story which is probably not surprising. There used to be labor reporters who covered worker issues. That is like ancient history now. Immigrant workers stories are even rarer. This is a side to the immigration story that remains largely untold.

Guest worker programs remain in the shadows allowing more immigrant workers to be subject to exploitation by bosses. The Signal story is a case study. Shady recruitment practices, wage and hour abuses, dangerous work conditions, inadequate medical care and racial discrimination are all part of the story.

When Hurricane Katrina happened, it was supposed to be a once-in-a-hundred-year event but we now know it was only the first of many more intense and destructive superstorms. Just off the top, I could think of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in 2012, Harvey in Houston in 2017 and Ian in Florida in 2022. Climate change will have an ongoing and expensive infrastructure price tag.

Soni points out that his labor organization, now called Resilience Workforce, follows the workers who follow the storms. It is an easy scientifically-based prediction that the upcoming superstorms will require very expensive clean-up and rebuilding running into the billions of dollars. Soni’s dream is that immigrant and other low wage workers will be permanently accepted, will be well-treated, compensated fairly and recognized as providing he necessary labor they do.

The immigration debate has been broken and stalled for years now. That is true with the guest workers programs too. Sooner or later and hopefully sooner, we will have comprehensive immigration reform and clearly established paths to citizenship.

The immigrant threat narrative hurts the entire working class. It is in the common interest of all working people to reject racism and xenophobia. Only a unified labor movement can pressure employers toward better wages and working conditions for all.

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Ngo Vinh Long: An Appreciation – posted 4/23/2023

April 23, 2023 3 comments

To my generation of 1960’s progressives, I would say, without hesitation, that the Vietnam War was a central event in our collective lives. Opposition to that war was defining for many of us. It was our education about American imperialism but, at the same time, I would acknowledge that Vietnam is rarely even mentioned now. It has disappeared down the memory hole.

That reality struck me when I learned about the death of Ngo Vinh Long. Long died last October. For many years he had worked as a history professor at the University of Maine. I lived in the Boston area in the 1970’s and I remember Long for his highly visible anti-war activism. Along with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, Long was one of the strongest voices in the whole peace movement.

He became the most prominent Vietnamese scholar-activist against the war in the United States, speaking at teach-ins, lectures and demonstrations.

Long’s story is amazing. He was born in Vinh Long province along the Mekong Delta, 90 miles south of Saigon. His family was famous for producing scholars. Long’s father was a revolutionary who opposed the French colonialists who occupied Vietnam before the Americans came. At times, his parents had to disappear to avoid capture, leaving Long and his two siblings alone to fend for themselves, often for weeks. The French eventually did capture and torture his father but his father refused to work for them.

Initially Long was hopeful about the American presence in Vietnam. His father had told him America was “a beautiful country” and Long imagined America was an ideal place. It led him to study English. Long taught himself English by memorizing British novels. He read and memorized Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It was the first of many English language books he memorized.

At a very young age as a teen, Long moved to Saigon and he got a job working as a private tutor for the children of Saigon’s elite. Through his job, he was able to hang out at Saigon country clubs and he met many American officials. He convinced some that he could help them as a military mapmaker. His motivation was to help the Americans produce good maps. He reasoned that if the Americans were going to drop bombs, there was less chance they would bomb the wrong village if maps were highly accurate.

Long’s mapmaking job duties allowed him to travel widely but what he saw troubled him and made him question his role. He saw mass starvation and terrible suffering in the countryside. The Americans called what they were doing “pacification” but it was counterinsurgency, featuring population control, mass arrests and thousands of assassinations. The government moved villagers into strategic hamlets, a wildly unpopular approach.

Long saw Vietnam’s farmland defoliated and contaminated by dioxin. He was the first activist to provide evidence to Americans of birth deformities experienced by many victims of Agent Orange. He raised the issue of the indiscriminate spraying of herbicides by the U.S. military in Indochina.

Long was horrified by the suffering he had personally witnessed. He resigned from his job, returned to Saigon and he helped to organize demonstrations against the South Vietnamese government. Long’s CIA friends told him to stop demonstrating or there would be consequences. In 1963 he was asked to leave the country. He came to the U.S. in 1963 but he returned to Vietnam in 1964 where he resumed organizing student protests.

After an October 1964 demonstration was broken up by the Saigon police, Long ran to the home of Gen. Maxwell Taylor, a top American military official and an architect of the counterinsurgency strategy. Taylor’s wife was home; she was sympathetic to Long and she helped him out of a sticky situation.

Long had been accepted at Harvard with a full scholarship but the South Vietnamese government blocked him from leaving. Taylor’s wife intervened. The American Embassy helped Long get a visa and a one-way ticket out of Vietnam to Boston. Long started at Harvard in fall 1964. There were very few Vietnamese living in the U.S. then. At Harvard, Long had individual tutorials with Henry Kissinger and Samuel Huntington, two professors who had helped to formulate American policy toward Vietnam.

Kissinger and Huntington told Long he was naive. Long had tried unsuccessfully to convince them that the only way America could win the war was by destroying the country. Long went on to earn a Ph.D. in East Asian History and Far Eastern Languages.

From the moment he arrived in Boston, Long had high visibility, almost celebrity, because of his Harvard admission. Very quickly, Long connected with Zinn and Chomsky and he joined the anti-war lecture circuit. He often spoke last at teach-ins because Americans wanted to hear what a Vietnamese had to say. Long said it was a way to keep people seated for the entire teach-in.

Long challenged the Cold War narrative Americans liked to tell about how the war was an invasion from the North. He argued that Vietnamese opposition to the war was nationalist and that the widespread American bombing in South Vietnam was a massive human tragedy.

There is an eerie national amnesia about the millions we murdered in Indochina. As an activist and later as a historian, Long exposed the American war crimes. He bore witness. America probably has no greater moral failing than our continuing refusal to take responsibility for the countless Indochinese peasants we killed in violation of the laws of war. Tom Hayden once wrote:

“Our national forgetting is basically pathological. Our systems – politics, media, culture – are totally out of balance because of our collective refusal to admit the Vietnam War was wrong.”

In his scholarly books and in his articles, Long always provided independent analysis regardless of the risk to himself and there was significant risk. From 1975 to 1999, he was the focus of much hatred from right wing Vietnamese-Americans. He said about those years “my life was hell”.

In April 1981, Long survived an attempt on his life. After speaking at Harvard, a Vietnamese-American threw a Molotov cocktail at him, barely missing. The Boston Globe interviewed him afterward and he said, “They accuse me of being a communist agent. I am not”.

Long helped to found the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars and the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, later renamed Critical Asian Studies. He recognized the complicity of silence in his profession and he always remained the engaged anti-war, anti-imperialist intellectual.

In a remembrance of Long, his University of Maine colleagues, An Thuy Nguyen and Professor Douglas Allen wrote:

“Living consistent with his beliefs, Ngo Vinh Long worked for a democratic and socialist Vietnam. He worked for a Vietnam that would be diverse, inclusivist and pan-humanist”

Nguyen and Allen described Long as “very welcoming, kind, warm and hospitable” and with a great sense of humor. Ngo Vinh Long means “distinguished dragon”. That is entirely fitting.

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Last installment of Nation civil rights trip photos – posted 4/19/2023

April 19, 2023 Leave a comment
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Trump’s indictment through the lens of white collar crime – posted 4/16/2023 is

April 16, 2023 3 comments

When former President Donald Trump got indicted in New York, it seemed like a milestone. The media treated it as a big deal, like some kind of taboo was broken. Sen. Joe Manchin (D.-WV) and Gov. Kim Reynolds (R.-Iowa) both said “it was a sad day for America”.

TV coverage treated Trump’s drive to the court house like a breathless O.J. moment that was stunningly unimaginable. As he always has done when held to account, Trump cried “witch hunt”. Talking heads said the prosecution of Trump was dangerous because it could lead to prosecution of future presidents.

I would suggest this framing of Trump’s indictment could not be more off base. Presidents in America have long been above the law. Not holding presidents accountable for crimes they have arguably committed is an American tradition.

Going back I would cite: George W. Bush and the Iraq war, Barack Obama’s kill list and his use of drones for assassination, Ronald Reagan’s back channel Iranian hostage negotiating, and, of course, Richard Nixon, who was famously pardoned for all crimes by President Gerald Ford. As the writer Chris Lehmann has written, “…the Executive Branch has operated in a zone of near-total extra-legal impunity”.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D.-Maryland) has described Trump as “a one man crime wave”. That is getting closer to the truth. What is shocking is how long it has taken to indict him. No president has ever been accused of so many crimes. Bubbling up now, besides the Manhattan case, are the Fulton County Georgia case and Special Counsel Jack Smith’s cases around January 6 and Trump’s handling of presidential documents. Nor should we forget E. Jean Carroll’s sexual assault-related case.

During his life, Trump has been a litigant in 3,500 cases but he has never done jail time. He always skated through. From early on he deployed an attack-heavy, delay-and-deny, anti-legal game plan he learned from his mentor Roy Cohn. Trump has always cast himself as a victim while he aggressively smeared adversaries.

There is nothing sad about D.A. Alvin Bragg’s prosecution. It is a first step toward accountability. Our Founding Fathers did not want the President to be a King, above law. They had an appreciation for checks and balances they built into the constitutional structure. But Trump has said, “..I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president”. He was following the Richard Nixon understanding of the Executive Branch. Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal”.

Besides the grift that is part and parcel of his new run, Trump’s desperation to become President again is rooted in thinking that becoming president is the best way to avoid further prosecution. If elected, it would also enable him to try and pardon himself. Can there be any doubt that Trump would have the chutzpah to bring such a case?

I would locate America’s unwillingness to prosecute and hold presidents accountable inside our broader pattern of failing to prosecute white collar crime. As Jennifer Taub has written in her book Big Dirty Money, there is a double standard in our criminal justice system that reflects and perpetuates inequality.

We have mass incarcerated poor young people, especially young black men, while we coddle rich white men who have committed far more significant crimes. Garrett Graff, author of Watergate: A New History, has written:

“The story of the Trump years is the sort of downstream unfortunate consequence of America’s chronic non-prosecution of white-collar crime. Even before you get to the specific precedent of prosecuting a president, if America prosecuted white collar crime at anywhere the level of the War on Drugs, the war on marijuana, all the mandatory-minimum sentencing for drug dealing, Trump’s presidency isn’t thinkable.”

Trump is the beneficiary of a system that stereotypes black men as the face of crime. The treatment received by a George Floyd or an Eric Garner would never happen to corporate defendants who don’t fit the “normal” racist model of what a criminal is. Judges have a track record of showing more leniency toward rich white people with whom they identify as members of the same social class.

Law professor J. Kelly Strader of Southwestern Law School has called the pattern the “white collar paradox”. Strader analyzed Supreme Court justices’ votes over a twenty-four year period. He found conservative justices, who typically vote to uphold criminal convictions, often did not do so for white collar criminal defendants.

In an article “The Judicial Politics of White Collar Crime”, he produced statistical support for his proposition. He found Justice Scalia voted for defendants in fewer than 7 percent of non-white collar criminal cases and nearly 82 percent of white collar cases. Chief Justice Rehnquist voted for the defendant in just over 8 percent of non-white collar criminal cases and almost 62 percent of white collar cases.

There is quite an irony in Trump always tweeting out “law and order”. Law and order doesn’t apply to white collar criminals from his own social strata. It is hard not to mention the complete lack of criminal accountability for those rich white people who crashed the economy during the 2008 financial crisis. No Wall Street executives ever went to jail. The double standard remains in effect for corporate criminals.

It is worth thinking more about why Trump and others of his social class have gotten such a pass. Criminal business people very rarely get thrown in jail. Around 100 years ago, Eugene V. Debs wrote:

“There is something wrong in this country; the judicial nets are so adjusted as to catch the minnows and let the whales slip through.”

That is still true.

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A tale of two justices – posted 4/12/2023

April 12, 2023 2 comments

Older readers may remember the relatively brief Supreme Court tenure of Justice Abe Fortas. Fortas was on the Court between the years of 1965 to 1969. He had been a law professor at Yale and he gained prominence because he was counsel for Clarence Gideon in the famous U.S. Supreme Court case of Gideon v Wainwright. In that case which Fortas won 9-0, he helped establish the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for indigent felony defendants in state courts. That was no small achievement for any lawyer.

A personal friend of President Lyndon Johnson with a reputation for being Johnson’s fixer, Fortas got appointed to the Supreme Court by LBJ. When Chief Justice Earl Warren announced he would step down from the Court in 1968, Johnson nominated Fortas to be Chief Justice.

The nomination for Chief Justice did not proceed smoothly. It was filibustered by Southerners, particularly Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-Ga), who worried Fortas would be too liberal on civil rights. Fortas did not help himself because of a personal extracurricular activity. He taught a summer school course at American University. However, American University did not pay him for the course. Clients from his old private law firm, Arnold and Porter, ponied up $15,000 to pay Fortas for this teaching.

That might not sound like that much but at the time, $15,000 represented 40% of a Supreme Court Justice’s salary.

The teaching gig violated no law but given the funding, it had a bad look. Supreme Court justices were held to a high standard of propriety and Fortas’s past clients had business before the Court. The appearance of impropriety certainly reared its head. Fortas lacked the votes to power through and he had to withdraw his nomination for Chief Justice.

Antisemitism also played a role in sinking the Fortas nomination for Chief Justice. Fortas was Jewish. Sen. James Eastland (D- Miss), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reportedly said,

“After Thurgood Marshall I could not go back to Mississippi if a Jewish Chief Justice swore in the next President.”

Things got further complicated in 1969 when Life Magazine disclosed that in 1966 the Louis Wolfson Foundation started paying Justice Fortas a $20,000 annual retainer for life in return for unspecified consultation. Louis Wolfson came under investigation for securities fraud. In September 1967, he and an associate were convicted of 19 counts of conspiracy and illegal stock sales. Justice Fortas returned the money but the damage was done to his reputation.

Life Magazine reported that without Fortas’s knowledge, Wolfson used the Fortas name in an attempt to stay out of prison. Fortas resigned from the Supreme Court on May 15, 1969 and returned to private practice. He denied wrongdoing but again, the look was very bad.

With Fortas damaged (and before he resigned), then-President Richard Nixon saw an opportunity to move the Court in a more conservative direction. Nixon used Attorney General John Mitchell to pass along negative information to still-Chief Justice Earl Warren. Mitchell falsely told Life Magazine that the Department of Justice had opened a criminal investigation into Fortas. As might have been expected from Tricky Dick, Nixon connived extensively to engineer Fortas’s removal from the High Court.

Other justices had accepted fees from charitable foundations but none came to Fortas’s defense when he presented his problems to a conference meeting of all the justices. Nixon and his henchman Mitchell effectively pressured Fortas to resign. They successfully enlisted Chief Justice Warren to their cause and that spelled doom for Fortas.

I could not help but think about Fortas in hearing about the newest ethical allegations concerning Justice Clarence Thomas. Fortas’s ethical improprieties were much less than the allegations against Justice Thomas. We now know that Thomas accepted and failed to disclose 20 years worth of lavish gifts and luxury travel from a right wing Republican megadonor, Harlan Crow. The Los Angeles Times had first reported on the Thomas-Crow relationship in 2004.

Thomas took many luxury trips to faraway locations on Crow’s 162 foot superyacht . He also used Crow’s private jet. Although allegedly a public servant, Thomas has been living the private life of a billionaire. Over the last 20 years he failed to disclose this “personal hospitality” on his federal financial disclosure forms.

This is not an ethical close call. These gifts absolutely should have been disclosed. Not disclosing gifts likely in the millions of dollars is beyond being a blind spot. It is very arguably criminal. Supreme Court justices are required to disclose perks over $415 if not reimbursed. This includes any transportation that substitutes for commercial transport.

This non-disclosure is hardly Thomas’s only ethical lapse. I am not going to be encyclopedic here but let me mention what I see as ethically the worst. Thomas and his wife Ginni are at the center of a spider web of corruption. During the Tea Party days, Harlan Crow gave Ginni Thomas $500,000 to start her lobbying group. Crow funded Ginni’s $120,000 yearly salary. Justice Thomas failed to disclose his wife’s income on his federal financial disclosure forms that are required by law. That failure occurred repeatedly.

Justice Thomas has also refused to recuse himself from any January 6-related case. He was the only justice to vote to shield White House records and documents held at the National Archives from the January 6 Committee. Those documents include texts between Ginni Thomas and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Ginni Thomas was an active participant in the plot to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Justice Thomas’s conflict could not be more apparent.

We do not have a clear picture of how much Ginni Thomas was lobbying on other issues that have come before the Court. Nor do we have a clear picture of Harlan Crow’s financial tentacles. He is a director of the American Enterprise Institute and he serves on the board of the Supreme Court Historical Society. Whether he has personal business connections to specific cases before the Court, he has a profound investment in steering the Court hard right.

Because of dark money we don’t know the full extent of that investment. We don’t know how many amicus briefs Crow has bought or what front groups he has used to bring forward his agenda.

It is worth noting that while not disclosing the gifts he has received, Justice Thomas has long pushed to invalidate all political spending disclosure laws in America. He has insisted that donors have a constitutional right to anonymously influence politics with unlimited amounts of cash. Transparency is Thomas’s enemy which should not be surprising given his track record.

The sheer number of non-reporting events and the dollar value put Thomas in a class by himself as far as corruption goes. Fortas was a minor leaguer next to Thomas. Compared to the 1960’s, there is a greater degree of ethical laxness now. Thomas has taken the appearance of impropriety to a whole new level and nothing is done about it. How embarrassing and shameful for the Supreme Court! Is it any wonder that confidence in that institution has utterly plummeted.

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More scenes from the Nation civil rights tour down south – posted 4/8/2023

April 8, 2023 2 comments
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Scenes from the Nation civil rights tour of the South – posted 4/7/2023

April 7, 2023 Leave a comment
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The danger of antisemitic dog whistles- posted 4/2/2023

April 2, 2023 2 comments

I don’t usually pay attention to Donald Trump’s social media postings. However, I did notice that in his foaming-at-the-mouth about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the D.A. who is prosecuting him, he called Bragg a “Soros-backed animal”. Since he was indicted, Trump has repeatedly invoked the Hungarian-American billionaire, George Soros. He has tweeted on his social media that Bragg got over a million dollars from Soros.

Numerous other Republicans have followed Trump’s lead and they have also mirrored Trump’s invocation of Soros. Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Rick Scott and Elise Stefanik all cited the Soros-Bragg connection as has FOX host Tucker Carlson. They all at least imply Bragg has been bought by Soros.

But there is no evidence that Bragg is controlled by Soros. No Soros money was ever ear-marked for Bragg. Soros and Bragg have never met or even spoken.

Bragg announced his candidacy for Manhattan D.A. in June 2019. On May 8, 2021, Color of Change, a progressive criminal justice group endorsed Bragg. Nationally, Color of Change was supporting progressive prosecutor candidates like Larry Krassner in Philadelphia. Soros gave Color of Change one million dollars and about $500,000 ended up going to support Bragg.

Trump’s statement that Soros gave Bragg one million dollars was false and an exaggeration. Soros never donated to Bragg directly. In the 2021-2022 election cycle, Color of Change spent $4.6 million. The money Color of Change gave to Bragg was 11% of what they spent in that election cycle. So it must be asked: why does George Soros figure so prominently in Republican social media? Why is he an obsession for Republicans?

For over ten years, George Soros has been a scapegoat for everything and has figured repeatedly in right wing conspiracy theories. While no one, including Soros, is beyond criticism, what has been going on with Soros is an antisemitic dogwhistle. At the core of antisemitic conspiracy theories is the narrative that a secret cabal of Jews run the world and they are at the root of the world’s problems.

Invoking Soros as Republicans consistently have is an updated version of the traditional antisemitic trope that goes back to the Rothschilds. Soros is a symbol for Jewish power and control. Republicans have not hesitated to try and jump start this ancient canard. It amounts to an attempt to mainstream antisemitism. Ben Lorber, a researcher of right wing extremist movements, writes:

“For a long time, white nationalists have been afraid of white people losing their grip on power in the country so the narrative that Jews are pulling the strings of the civil rights movement or pulling the strings of the Black Lives Matter movement today are at the core of white supremacism.”

The Soros dogwhistle is part of an attempted process to normalize antisemitism. While MAGA Republicans have a shifting array of enemies, the increasing antisemitism in America is a reflection of the prominence of identifying Jews as an enemy.

MAGA began with a Muslim ban and hatred directed at immigrants. It moved on to hating Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Now it is more focused on hating trans and queer people. Since Trump invoked Soros, Jews are being cast in an increasingly negative light. Candidly, it is not clear where the hatred will evolve to next.

As a Jewish person, who has studied Germany’s example, I would draw the parallel to the period of 1933 to 1939. Antisemitism in 1933 in Germany was a shadow of what it would later become. In the early 1930’s, antisemitism played a small role in attracting voters to fascism. That changed once the Nazis came to power. Still, the process of antisemitic indoctrination was quite gradual. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, wrote:

“ The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.”

Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda didn’t really focus on disparaging Jews until the late 1930’s. Certainly, antisemitism became increasingly normalized in Germany through laws and Hitler’s utterances through the mid-1930’s but the Nazis held back on their rage against Jews until the late 1930’s. Claudia Koonz has written in her book, The Nazi Conscience:

:”As the historian Raul Hilberg emphasized, the Final Solution depended not on the extremism of Hitler and a few top leaders but on the creation of a loose consensus, a “latent structure” that was “not so much a product of laws and commands as it was a matter of spirit, of shared comprehension, of consonance and synchronization.”

I think that lesson should not be lost on us. Antisemitism is not static. It creates a conspiratorial narrative to explain the disorientation and alienation experienced by many Americans. Trump has encouraged all kinds of erroneous and pernicious thinking including conspiracy theories like QAnon and white supremacist ideologies. He has falsely portrayed the white majority as oppressed.

Whether antisemitism re-emerges as a popular force in America is not pre-determined but the German historical experience dictates that it must be called out, exposed, and aggressively opposed before it gains greater traction.

Just mention of the name Soros conjures up all manner of globalist machinations among MAGA Republicans. The irony is that the Republicans are the party of Citizens United and dark money. Given their track record, it is rank hypocrisy to single out Soros for spending money. He does give much to liberal and progressive causes but is that any different than Republicans relying on super wealthy donors like the Koch and DeVos families for their causes?

The George Soros dogwhistle offers a clue into the MAGA mindset. It is too early to conclude that an American fascist threat is over because Trump lost in 2020 and he is facing criminal prosecution. If a MAGA candidate retakes the White House in 2024, MAGA enemies are extremely likely to face enhanced persecution. Fascist movements like the MAGA Republicans thrive on attacking their perceived enemies. All opponents of antisemitism and fascism must remain vigilant.

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