Opinion: The toxic brew poisoning American society

Editor’s Note: Frida Gitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. He is a weekly columnist for CNN, a columnist for the Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The views expressed in this comment are her own. See more views on CNN.


In shocking news, even in a country where anti-Semitism, violence and wild conspiracy theories are becoming all too common, a man has been arrested for allegedly threatening to kill all the Jews in Michigan government, the FBI said. The story, which was prominent in some outlets, including CNN, appeared to be played down by other major media organizations.

The case, which was made public by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who said the FBI confirmed was one of the targets, it contains a toxic mix of many of the ingredients that poison American society: conspiracy theories, poorly regulated social media platforms and a country full of guns.

The result, as we have already seen, is not only a wave of anti-Semitic incidents and crimes – according to a historical pattern of Jews becoming the central targets of all kinds of false constructions – but also a red flag with a warning beyond a community. . That American Jews now feel unsafe in a country where they thought this could not happen is a sign of a society that is beginning to lose its moorings.

However, if the suspect has shown us the recipe for this toxic concoction, he has also revealed its antidote: to repel and remove as much of these same ingredients from our society as possible.

According to the FBI affidavit, a Twitter account was traced to the man named Jack Eugene Carpenter III. In February, Carpenter used the account in Texas, writing: “I am now back in Michigan threatening to impose the death penalty on anyone who is Jewish in the government of Michigan…” He was charged with threatening interstate communications.

Under Twitter’s crumbling safeguards, the account is, incredibly, still up at the time of this writing. It shows a trail of anger, threats and wild accusations against the Jews.

Some people will be quick to dismiss the posts as the rants of a mentally ill person – this mixture of anger directed back at a specific target, magnified and supercharged on social media, finds fertile ground in disturbed minds. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous, especially given the broader pattern of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Conspiracy theories aren’t just weird internet rants. They kill people.

Anti-Semitism, which has proliferated online, has consequences in the real world. The Anti-Defamation League’s most recent tally of anti-Semitic attacks in 2021 listed 2,717 incidents, a 34 percent increase from the previous year and the highest number since it began tracking anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.

Numerous incidents targeting Jews have been recorded in recent months. Just a few weeks ago, on two separate occasions, Jewish men in Los Angeles were shot leaving a synagogue by a suspect who has been charged with federal hate crimes. Last month, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in New Jersey. Last month, a Jewish man was attacked in New York’s Central Park by a man who shouted “Kanye 2024” and anti-Semitic slurs, police said.

Looking at Nessel’s comments on Twitter, I was struck by the call to take threats seriously. After confirming that she was one of the targets, she added“I sincerely hope that the federal authorities take this offense as seriously as the Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism Units that take on plots to assassinate elected officials.”

Why would he make this appeal?

Some Jews feel that their concerns do not always receive the attention they deserve.

Surveys show that most Jews in America feel that anti-Semitism has gotten worse, with many saying they have been personally targeted online and in person. While the majority of those who say they have been the target of online anti-Semitism say they did not report the incident, about 40% of those who did say they never received a response.

Too many elected officials and media personalities allow conspiracy theories to go unchallenged, with some openly promoting them.

Former President Donald Trump, for the first time, hosted one of the country’s most notorious anti-Semites at his Mar-a-Lago home in November. “The normalization of anti-Semitism is here,” Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, said in response.

Trump claimed he didn’t know who Nick Fuentes was and was only expecting Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. But Ye, too, had already entered the pantheon of anti-Semitic celebrities, with a series of anti-Semitic social media posts that sparked a wave of disturbing incidents, from vandalism to targeted anti-Jewish harassment, according to the ADL.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk-owned Twitter has welcomed back a notorious neo-Nazi who was previously banned.

The explosion of anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions is testament to the damage done by conspiracy theories spread on social media, attributing Jews to all sorts of malevolent forces and targets. And in the Michigan case, the suspect was found to be in possession of multiple guns, underscoring just how dangerous this growing trend is. Given how often we’ve seen other groups targeted as scapegoats, the spread of hate speech has broader implications.

This poses a serious challenge to the nation. Addressing the threat will require people across society to challenge these baseless ideas, help protect the people being targeted, and call out those who promote their baseless notions.

That’s why it was disappointing when the agenda for a recent House Democratic caucus retreat included talks about defending Asian Americans and the LGBTQ community against hate crimes and other attacks, but he kind of forgot about the minority making up by far the largest proportion of religion-based hate crimes, even as the statistics excluded some of the cities with the largest Jewish populations.

That a man was arrested after claiming he wanted to kill all the Jews in Michigan government should shock even a jaded country. That not only highlights the depth of the problem.

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