U.S. Capitol Attack Shows Far-Right Is 'Mainstreaming' Anti-Semitism, Holocaust Group Says

The rise of America's far-right is helping mainstream anti-Semitism in U.S. politics, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance—a global intergovernmental organization that promotes Holocaust education and tracks extremism.

Kathrin Meyer, the IHRA permanent secretary general, told Newsweek there is a growing trend of extremism and anti-Semitism across the world, exacerbated by the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and shaped by transnational social media platforms.

"What we're facing right now is a threat to the very heart of our democracies and open societies," Meyer said, warning that anti-Semitic beliefs are not restricted to any one nation or region. "There are hardcore, anti-Semitic beliefs in in our societies," she added.

Anti-Semitism watchdogs and hate group trackers have warned that the far-right has momentum across North America, Europe and beyond.

January 6 was the most pointed moment yet in the U.S., as a mob of far-right supporters of President Donald Trump sought to overturn the presidential election results and—reportedly—kidnap or kill lawmakers.

Though a relatively small group stormed the building, there were tens of thousands of people protesting that day. They were cheered on by Trump and by top lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

Anti-Semitism was not a driving force of the January 6 attack, but the groups that participated in it are riddled with such beliefs. Pictures of some protesters wearing shirts mocking the Holocaust horrified observers, but for many did not come as a surprise.

"Nothing is surprising anymore in this field, and that is the scandal," Meyer told Newsweek. Far-right groups will brand themselves as anti-authoritarians or "Western chauvinists," but traditional strains of anti-Semitism, fascism, white supremacy, and misogyny are present too.

"The storming of the U.S. Capitol has shown what this kind of understanding of nationalism and patriotism is," Meyer said. "This is where we have to be very clear and identify this as hardcore anti-Semitism.

"This is beyond just provocation. This is establishing anti-Semitic attitudes in the mainstream, normalizing it and therefore threatening all of us."

This "mainstreaming of these ideologies," Meyer said, is a serious challenge for Americans, Europeans and citizens of other nations grappling with extremism and anti-Semitism. "The more these ideas become mainstream, the harder it is to tackle them," Meyer added.

Once these ideologies burrow down into established politics—for example QAnon beliefs in the GOP, anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party, or homophobia within Poland's Law and Justice Party—they win protection and approval. Such movements risk being consumed and metastasized into something darker. "History has taught us what can happen when anti-Semitism is normalized," Meyer warned.

There is a reason politicians are drifting towards the fringes. Many voters are disillusioned—decades of centrist neoliberal governments pushed ahead with globalization, swelling corporate coffers but suppressing wages and allowing structural unemployment to fester. Some looked to immigration as the problem, others to the wealthy elites whose real estate and stock investments boomed while inflation eroded salaries.

Forever wars have cost blood and treasure with little to show for it. Still bogged down in the Middle East, the U.S. and its allies are already turning their eyes east to meet the next big challenge of China, a problem exacerbated by decades of commercialism that funded the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian entrenchment and human rights abuses.

In most nations, earnings still hadn't recovered from the 2008 financial crisis before the coronavirus pandemic hit, promising another decade or more of economic "recovery" and financial stagnation. For the young in particular, the future is bleak.

Even before coronavirus, the world's democracies were fertile ground for populism. Brexit, President Donald Trump, Brazil's election of President Jair Bolsonaro, deepening nationalist politics in Eastern Europe. Many observers diagnosed these as symptoms of the same modern democratic malaise, one that allowed extremist parties and figures to encroach from both sides of the spectrum.

Far-right politics is inherently a nationalistic, localist endeavor. But so many economic and political grievances being mirrored across borders makes the transnational leap easier for such ideologies, as does the pervasive nature of English-language social media.

"Anti-Semitism does not stop at borders," Meyer said. "It's a global problem...Social media doesn't know any borders. Ideologies do not know any borders anymore."

Extremist groups like the Proud Boys have established several foreign chapters. QAnon, a deeply American conspiracy theory, has become internationalized and spread to Europe, Brazil, and beyond.

Coronavirus has supercharged public skepticism of authority and vaccines, both of which play into anti-Semitic tropes of resistance against "globalist" elites and new world orders.

The pandemic has produced "extremely worrisome trends," Meyer said, whether conspiracy theories or economic turmoil. "Any form of economic problems often leads to extremism," she said, "extremism that feeds into anti-Semitism."

Anti-Semitism exists across the political spectrum, but those on the right are currently of greater concern. There have been far-right synagogue shootings in the U.S. and Germany in recent years, for example. There have been additional Islamist attacks on Jewish targets in nations including France, as well as a far-right attack on mosques in New Zealand.

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently warned Congress that the far-right threat in the U.S. is "metastasizing," and that the January 6 Capitol attack will serve as inspiration for future agitation.

Crime statistics show that the far-right is the biggest domestic terrorism threat to the country—an October report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said white supremacist groups accounted for 67 percent of all "terrorist plots and attacks" in the first eight months of 2020.

Though Meyer said all anti-Semitic ideologies are of concern, she added: "The right-wing extremists are more likely to take up arms."

Holocaust education and remembrance is central to how the IHRA fights anti-Semitism. Images of January 6 Trump supporters wearing clothes reading "Camp Auschwitz" or "work brings freedom"—the infamous slogan above the gates of the Auschwitz death camp—show these toxic conspiracy theories have permeated the MAGA movement, a movement that still holds sway in the GOP.

"There's no anti-Semitic ideology that does not have a distorting view of the Holocaust," Meyer said. "Some deny it, some distort it, but the focus of all anti-Semitic ideologies and movements is also very much on the already-murdered Jews. And so to keep the historical facts straight, and keep the knowledge alive about this, is crucial."

Far-right gathers in DC near Capitol
Crowds gather outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images