Among other concerning changes, the Donald Trump era has played host to a rise in white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and increasing incidences of the violence attendant to both. The most striking example occurred in October, when a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and murdered eleven people. The shooter had been active in anti-Semitic Internet forums, and had declared that he wanted all Jews to die. In doing so, he adopted a conspiratorial mindset with a long and ugly history, much of it traceable through twentieth century Europe. A new book tells that story.
In his new book, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Belknap/Harvard, 2018), Paul Hanebrink, an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, documents the persistent belief that Communism was tantamount to a Jewish plot to destroy Europe—the sort of belief that continues to underwrite much present-day anti-Semitism. RD’s Eric C. Miller spoke with Hanebrink about the project.
Much of your work traces the history of anti-Semitism, and you’re doing that work at a time when anti-Semitism seems to be resurgent once again. How do you situate this political moment within that larger history?
That’s an interesting question. Conspiracy theories flourish in times of political and social turmoil. The Judeo-Bolshevik myth was born amid a general crisis in Europe at the end of World War I that saw revolutions, labor unrest, and in places civil wars. For many people, it seemed a way to explain the breakdown in social and cultural order and the threats that a global ideological force posed to national sovereignty. Of course, the political instability in Europe and here in the United States today is nothing like that