Back in June, I added three parentheses to my Twitter handle, like this: (((Dave Schechter))).
I did this to support Jewish journalists being subjected to harassment online by the “alt-right,” a fairly benign name that belies its malignant speech. This melange of politically incorrect, anti-establishment conservatives has a bent toward anti-Semitism and white nationalism.
Alt-right members employed parentheses — “echoes,” they called them — to identify and target Jews. They professed allegiance to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and took his reposting of their comments as validation.
After the election I considered removing the “((( )))” self-identification. But the perpetrators have been emboldened by Trump’s victory.
A couple of hundred adherents who gathered recently in Washington heard speakers assert that America no longer benefits white people or treats them fairly.
“America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us,” said Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term “alt-right.”
Spencer is the president of the National Policy Institute, which bills itself as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”
In disparaging the news media, Spencer said, “One wonders whether these people are people at all or instead soulless golems, animated by some dark power,” a reference to the Jewish folktale of a creature magically formed out of clay to protect Jews from anti-Semitic attacks (golem meaning incomplete or unformed in Hebrew).
Spencer’s closing words — “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory” — elicited cheers and Nazi salutes.
These exponents of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance represented a fraction, albeit an attention-getting fraction, of the more than 62 million Americans who voted for Trump.
The campaign allowed (critics would say welcomed) them into its tent, and they basked in Trump’s post-election glow, even as the president-elect told The New York Times: “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”
If Trump is, as he said, curious about whether he “energized” these people, he might start with his own words.
To be clear, I found much of what he said on the campaign trail repugnant. I may not agree with many of the policies he implements. I take issue with some of his Cabinet selections. I am concerned about his learning curve on governance. I am wary of his pronouncements since the election.
The previous paragraph notwithstanding, I am less distraught than many about Trump’s occupancy of the Oval Office or about Steve Bannon, the on-leave executive chairman of Breitbart (“the platform for the alt-right”), who managed the campaign, whispering in his ear as White House senior strategist.
Our system of government — based on the checks and balances provided by the executive, legislative and judicial branches — has withstood challenges to its foundation in the past and will again as necessary. There are constraints on the office of president. A free press also serves an important function.
All of this helps me resist the apocalyptic visions — again, knock off the Holocaust analogies — so prevalent on social media.
I do remain concerned about dark forces loosed by Trump’s campaign.
“He has kicked the rotten log and now all the creepy-crawlies have slithered out into the daylight,” Mordecai Lightstone wrote in the online Jewish magazine Tablet.
The alt-right is not entirely trusting of Trump, worried that he’ll backtrack on campaign promises and that he is influenced by Jews, be they Israelis or his son-in-law.
“Donald Trump is a step forward, toward this new normal, but even he is deeply compromised by our society,” Spencer said.
I worry that among the creepy-crawlies are those whose anti-Semitism will not be satisfied by spray-painting a swastika or a slogan on a synagogue wall. I worry about the Muslims, immigrants, LGBT community and others who take at face value threatening language from whatever source.
I hope I am overstating these concerns, but for now, the ((( ))) stay.