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Oct. 26 2016 4:30 PM

Has Alex Jones Gone Full Anti-Semite?

Has Alex Jones gone full anti-Semite? That is the question raised by a rant on Tuesday from the country’s second-leading purveyor of conspiracy theories.

In it, Jones focuses most of his fire on the brothers Ari, Ezekiel, and Rahm Emanuel and the outsized influence he claims they have as a family over American policy.

“They’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic,” Jones began, before calling the Emanuel brothers the leaders of the “Jewish mafia.”

“There’s mafias of all different stripes and groups but since you want to talk about it, the Emanuels are Jewish mafia,” he continued. “But, I mean it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.”

Superagent Ari Emanuel had a sizable investment in Uber, Ezekiel Emanuel was one of the designers of the Affordable Care Act, and Rahm Emanuel was a top figure in the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations before becoming mayor of Chicago. None of them are known to be in any mafia.

Salon notes that you wouldn’t be alone if you thought these latest comments sounded anti-Semitic. Vox, meanwhile, has pointed to the latest tirade as a sign that Jones believes “Jews run an evil conspiracy.”

But again, is this stuff new? And how much of it is anti-Semitism and how much is just Jones expressing his insane conspiracy based worldview that happens to overlap with lots of anti-Semitic thought?

The first answer is that Jones’ Jewish mafia talk is not new at all. In fact, he has made similar comments in the past at moments when he’s tried to criticize explicit anti-Semites for personally attacking him for the ethnic Jewishness of some of his family members.

In a 2013 interview with Howard Stern, Jones described how the alt-right fever swamps have regularly attacked him as a secret Israeli and/or Jewish agent because he was married to a woman of Jewish heritage and thus had children of Jewish heritage (he and his wife have since divorced). Jones said he felt that he and his family had been the victims of anti-Semitism while also saying he believed in a “Jewish mafia” and explaining what he meant by the term:

Every group has mafias in it. There’s a Jewish mafia, there’s a Muslim mafia, there’s Irish mafia, there’s Italian mafia, so what’s happened is that some of the Jewish interest groups like [the Anti-Defamation League] and others they’ve gone way too far demonizing people that criticize [someone like Bernie Madoff].
They try to use the anti-Semitic label to demonize anybody who is standing up for the Palestinians. … But separately, [I am] experiencing the fact that because my wife’s part Jewish, then they go, ‘well, that makes your kids little hooked nosed Jews, we want to kill them.’ And that’s all over the web where they want to kill my kids. So my issue is the nastiest people I’ve run into, I’ve got to say, are the Jew-obsessed folks, who by the way, think that no one can be successful unless they’re Jewish. So now they say, I’m Jewish. And I’ve never had any success with working hard, I’ve been successful because the Jews have done everything for me.

So, there he sounds like someone who at least understands that anti-Semitism is bad from personal experience. In 2011, he was also harshly critical of an explicitly anti-Semitic caller to his show.

“To sit there and then say that all the ills in the world are then caused by Jews is wrong. Jews are a very diverse wide group of people who have a lot of different political ideas,” he says. “I am Jewish. Now I’m not, but with talk like that—you want to kill the Jews you’re going to have to kill me.”

Again, here he used the “Jewish mafia” formulation while confronting that caller:

When you sit there and say wipe out all the Jews, there’s so many Zionist documents that are public where they admit, ‘oh this is great, Jews will be persecuted’ and then basically the Jewish mafia can sit on top of them and suck off of them and get donations from them and use them for their own power. How do you think the Italian mafia operated… Or the Irish mafia… That’s how these mafias developed. So we have spoken out against the Jewish mafia, and that’s what it is.

It was really hard for me to suss out my own feelings about this language. Whether intentionally or not, he’s clearly using anti-Semitic dog whistles—and has been for a long time—to criticize Israel affiliated groups and institutions. But these are groups that Jews themselves sometimes criticize, and he hasn’t historically framed the argument as Jews being at the top of some global conspiracy theory.

Here’s what he said on Tuesday:

Well why are you labeling the TPP Jewish, I mean it’s got Jews involved in it just like it’s got everybody else. It’s communist Chinese, global government, Japan, I mean all these groups—but again, I’m gonna skip this break, it’s injected into it that you must be anti-Semitic. So, I was just sitting back and—let me then, I guess I better do some exposes on the Jewish mafia.

To Jones, everyone with power is a member of some sort of mafia and hence Jews with power are part of the Jewish mafia. Again, this language is ugly and plays to the worst sort of anti-Semitism, but it appears connected to a broader worldview about global power tied in with Jones’ general conspiracy insanity.

I did, however, find this speech from the start of the first Obama administration, again specifically about Rahm Emanuel, in which Jones seems to attribute some sort of control of United States policy to Israel.

I’ve just got to say it, it was one thing with the last administration and I was hoping it was a fluke and was going to stop, but come on folks, every key person in the Bush administration and now in this next administration just so happen to be the sons and daughters of the founders of Israel and Mossad chiefs and people, and they’re openly not even really U.S. citizens, and they’re openly are at the head of the table in anti-gun operations in the U.S.

“Is it not enough that Israel had fingerprints all over 9/11?” he then said. “The executive branch is nothing but a nozzle to suck up the wealth and the treasury of this country and offshore it.”

So, yeah, that was pretty anti-Semitic. But again, it’s all part and parcel of a larger worldview that attributes everything to some unseen hands that some Jews just happen to be a part of. Either way, it’s a great thing that Donald Trump has brought this totally reasonable political figure into the mainstream American political dialogue.

Oct. 26 2016 4:15 PM

The U.S. Just Stopped Defending Its Cuba Embargo at the U.N.

In an annual tradition now in its 25th year, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But things were a little different this year as, for the first time, the United States abstained rather than vote against the condemnation of one of its own policies.

The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to normalize relations with Cuba, including a visit by the president to the island earlier this year and the resumption of commercial flights. But the vast majority of the trade restrictions under the more than 50-year-old embargo can only be lifted by Congress. And Republicans in Congress do not want to do that.

Explaining the abstention Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power called the annual resolution “a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working—or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve.” Rather than isolating Cuba, Power argued, it had only isolated the United States.

Indeed, in recent years the U.S. could typically only count on the support of Israel and several small Pacific islands in the lopsided vote. Last year, the first time the vote was held since the normalization process began, it was just Israel.

Still, it’s pretty striking to see a U.S. administration unwilling to defend the country’s own laws, and the fact that it feels comfortable doing so less than two weeks before Florida voters head to the polls in a presidential election, says a lot about how the politics surrounding this issue have changed. The Cuba embargo is increasingly unpopular, even among Cuban American voters in Florida, to the point that Hillary Clinton made her opposition to the “failed policy” a campaign issue in the state.

That doesn’t mean the embargo is going to be lifted: It still has some powerful backers in Congress who care more deeply about this issue than the embargo opponents. But at least the administration, and assuming Clinton wins, its successor, are no longer in the awkward position of defending a policy at the U.N. that they strongly condemn at home.

Oct. 26 2016 2:31 PM

The U.S.-Backed Offensive Against ISIS Is Expanding—and Getting More Complicated

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told NBC News on Wednesday that a U.S.-backed offensive by Arab and Kurdish fighters to recapture ISIS’s capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa will likely begin in a few weeks. This means that hard-fought battles in Raqqa and ISIS’s last Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, will likely be happening at the same time, both with U.S. support.

There’s good reason to get a Raqqa operation underway sooner rather than later. There are signs that ISIS fighters in Mosul may be planning to evacuate some fighters from Mosul to regroup for the next battle in Raqqa: Residents report that many of them have been shaving their beards to evade detection and moving to hideouts closer to evacuation routes to Syria. Fighting in both cities at the same time would be a challenge for the group, which has lost significant strength in recent months. Losing both Mosul and Raqqa wouldn’t eliminate ISIS as a terrorist threat but would effectively end its reign as a territorial “state.”

The anti-ISIS forces have been making fast progress clearing villages close to Mosul, but fighting within the center of the city, where ISIS forces have been preparing for weeks, is expected to be tougher. The battles in both cities will likely be long and arduous fights causing large number of casualties and the displacement of civilians. But the military obstacles are probably easier to overcome than the political challenge of continuing to hold together coalitions of local forces to do the fighting. That’s even more the case in Northern Syria, where the central government has little authority and wouldn’t be that helpful even if it did. The Russian-backed Syrian regime may work to undermine the coalition if they view it as more of a threat than ISIS. In what may be a grim preview of what’s in store, Syrian regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Turkish-backed rebels fighting ISIS in Northern Syria on Wednesday.

On both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, Turkey has emerged as a complicating factor in the two-front battle against ISIS. A Turkish-backed rebel force entered Syria in August, both to fight ISIS and to contain advances by the very Syrian Kurdish forces that the U.S. hopes will play a major role in the Raqqa battle. In Iraq, Turkey actually has surprisingly good relations with the Kurdish regional authorities, but it has enraged the central government by dispatching troops into Iraqi territory and insisting that it will play a part in the battle for Mosul without Baghdad’s permission, and refusing requests to remove them. Growing fears that Turkey and Iraq could be headed for war are probably overblown, but Ankara is definitely creating more knots for the next U.S. president to untangle after ISIS’s bloody last stand is finally over.

Oct. 26 2016 12:38 PM

Yeah, Brexit Passed. That Doesn’t Mean Trump Will Win.

“There’s going to be a lot of Brexit happening in about two weeks” is a sentence you wouldn’t normally expect to hear from a candidate campaigning in Orlando, Florida. But with the polls looking grimmer by the day for Donald Trump, he’s been looking to last June’s anti-EU vote by the British public as a glimmer of hope.* Nigel Farage, former leader of the Brexit-backing U.K. Independence Party and a Trump supporter, has been traveling around the U.S. pushing this line as well, arguing that in both cases, polls undercounted fed-up voters who don’t normally participate in the political process, lulling elites into a false sense of politics.

The analogy, as Nate Silver, Byron York and others have pointed out, is a bad one. The average of polls heading into the Brexit vote showed “Remain” and “Leave” within one point of each other. Remain supporters may have had a false sense of confidence based on the status quo, but any informed observer should have concluded that there was at least a strong possibility of “Leave” winning. A Trump victory is also not impossible, but it would be a vastly bigger upset.

Brexit was actually a theme of the Trump campaign before he acknowledged that the polls weren’t going his way. After the vote, Trump said it was a “great thing” that the U.K. has “taken its country back,” and he has made some hay of the similarities between his campaign and Brexit, such as a focus on unfair competition from foreign workers and the anti-immigration stance. Trump sometimes seemed a little fuzzy on the details, such as when he arrived in Scotland tweeting that the “Place is going wild over the vote,” apparently unaware that Scotland had voted overwhelmingly for “Remain.” But clearly he sees Brexit’s passage as a beacon and sliver of hope for his campaign.

Like many of Trump’s shiny toys, though, the invocations of Brexit work best as applause lines when you don’t look too closely as the details. Brexit’s backers promised voters a lot, but to put it in terms Trump would understand, so far it looks like it’s going to be a complete disaster and one of the worst deals ever.

Correction, Oct. 26, 2016: Due to an editing error, this post originally referred to the Brexit referendum as an anti-U.N. vote. It was an anti-EU vote.

Oct. 26 2016 12:11 PM

Trump Has Used the Past Two Days of His Presidential Campaign to Promote Hotels


Last year, in a more innocent time, there were many who believed Donald Trump wasn't serious about becoming president—that his nascent campaign was just a publicity stunt that would benefit his business interests. And while his campaign has become all too serious—particularly to, say, undocumented immigrants and Muslim Americans—there's also a part of it that really is a ruse. For one, there's all the donor money that Trump 2016 is paying to Trump businesses. For another, there are the repeated infomercial-esque appearances at Trump resorts and hotels, the latest of which is Wednesday at the ceremonial opening of Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C.'s Old Post Office building. At least it's on-brand with the theme of the campaign (incompetence):

(The hotel's Sept. 26 debate-night special menu misspelled the word America.)

Just Tuesday, Trump flew to the key swing state of Florida ... to appear at the Trump National Doral Miami resort for a photo op with his employees.


Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

You may also remember the tour of the aforementioned D.C. hotel that Trump gave after his birtherism press conference as well as the press conference he held at a golf resort in Scotland during which he mused that the Brexit-driven fall of the British pound would be good for business.

The irony, as multiple outlets have reported, is that the close association between Trump 2016 and the Trump Organization is actually hurting the latter more than helping it. Hotel bookings are down; residents of Trump apartments are asking for his name to be removed from them. A new line of Trump-related properties will use the brand name "Scion" rather than "Trump." Scion 2020!

Oct. 26 2016 9:04 AM

Colin Powell Endorses Hillary

Retired Gen. and former Secretary of State Colin Powell has joined a long list of prominent old-school Republicans who've endorsed Hillary Clinton's candidacy, announcing at an event in New York on Tuesday that he will be voting Democratic this year. From Newsday:

“She is smart. She is capable. She was a good secretary of state,” Powell said. “She is balanced, she has temperament, and no matter what anyone says she’s got stamina. ... I think she is fully qualified to serve as the president of the United States and I think she will serve it with distinction.”

Powell was also heavily critical of Donald Trump, who he'd also slammed as "a national disgrace" in private emails that were hacked and leaked earlier this year. (Lot of hacking in this cycle!) Said Powell of Trump on Tuesday: “He insults us every day.”

The Powell hack also included criticism of Clinton's handling of her private email scandal. Wrote Powell to a Democratic donor on the subject: "Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris." (Powell resented Clinton's efforts to downplay her use of a personal server by pointing out that Powell has also admitted to conducting official State Department business using a personal email address.)

Oct. 25 2016 11:36 PM

Newt Gingrich Goes on Megyn Kelly’s Show, Accuses Her of Being “Fascinated With Sex”

Former speaker of the House, and born-again Donald Trump true believer, Newt Gingrich went on Fox News on Tuesday night to speak to Megyn Kelly. The underlying thesis Newt was peddling was: “The next two weeks are a contest of two parallel universes.” Sounds about right. Gingrich then went on to describe the totally real universe that he and a couple other guys live in where everything is a lie and Donald Trump is winning. The gaslighting continues, this time with a Gingrich aftertaste.

The interview didn’t shed much light on much of anything that we didn’t already know, but at one point, Gingrich accused Kelly of “being fascinated with sex!” The conversation started off about polling (yawn) and Gingrich’s dual-universe theory (ick) and somehow ended up, well, here.

To the transcript!

(The back-and-forth starts with Kelly recounting the sexual assault allegations against Trump and the possibility that he’s a sexual predator.)

Newt: You want to go back through the tapes of your show recently. You are fascinated with sex and you don’t care about public policy.
Kelly: Me, really?
Newt: That’s what I get out of watching you tonight.
Kelly: You know what Mr. Speaker, I’m not fascinated by sex, but I am fascinated by the protection of woman and understanding what we’re getting in the Oval Office and I think the American voters would like to know …

There does not appear to be any head-to-head polling on sex vs. public policy, in either universe.

Oct. 25 2016 9:08 PM

The Republican Nominee, Astonishingly, Has Given Up Fundraising for the Ticket and Party He Leads

The Washington Post snagged this astonishing, sign-of-the-times scoop Tuesday night: Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president and de facto leader of the party, and his campaign have stopped fundraising for the Republican National Committee. In fact, Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee for the party and the campaign, held its last formal fundraiser on Oct. 19, nearly three weeks before the election, the campaign’s national finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, told the Post. “We’ve kind of wound down,” Mnuchin said in reference to formal fundraisers. “But the online fundraising continues to be strong.” (Update, 11:45 p.m.: The Trump campaign issued this statement from spokesman Jason Miller in response to the reporting on its fundraising, “All fundraising, large and small including our Victory effort, will continue through the end of the election.”)

Just, kinda, wound down? Wound down trying to win? It seems pretty clear, if it wasn’t clear already, that both sides—the GOP and the Trump campaign—have given up on each other. Trump never appeared to care about building a governing majority, or governing in general, so it doesn’t seem like much of a shock that raising money for the GOP party apparatus wasn’t his bag. And, in fairness to Trump, his entire campaign was based on sticking it to the party apparatus, so giving big sums of money to Trump wasn't exactly traditional GOP donors' bag either. In the end, the big ticket fundraisers also likely wound down because there weren't many more funds to raise. Either way, from a party perspective, this could be a (the latest?) death knell, certainly for Trump, but likely for many Republican candidates in tight races up and down the ballot.

“The consequences of halting major fundraisers will compound the challenges facing a candidate and a party already straining to match Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s much larger and better-financed operation,” the Post notes. “Unlike Clinton, who has an extensive turnout operation of her own, Trump and many other GOP candidates down the ballot are relying heavily on the Republican National Committee to bring voters to the polls.”

By contrast, the Clinton campaign has 41 fundraising events lined up between now and Election Day, accord to the Post.* Hillary Clinton’s last fundraising gig will be Tuesday night, but the campaign still has dozens and dozens more lined up featuring other high-profile surrogates. Clinton has also been reportedly weighing her strategic options when it comes to redirecting funds to bolster Democratic candidates in tight races. Obama has also been on the road trying to take advantage of the GOP's top of the ticket weakness to pick off some congressional districts and Senate races that weren't considered winnable previously.

*Update, Oct. 25, 2016: This sentence was updated to make more clear that the Clinton campaign has 41 fundraisers remaining, not Clinton herself.

Oct. 25 2016 5:41 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Millionaire Ivy League Heir Wears Camouflage Hat

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

In 2016, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and New York real estate heir wearing a garment that has traditionally symbolized membership in the deer-hunting, tobacco-chewing rural American working class is actually something that makes perfect sense. What a world!

Anyway, Donald Trump is still doing poorly in the polls. Our danger level stays low.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons.

Oct. 25 2016 4:37 PM

Trump Brags About “Blacks for Trump” Supporters, Some of Whom Appear to Be White

Donald Trump held a rally in Sanford, Florida, on Tuesday. For the second time in less than two weeks, several Twitter users noted that a woman holding a “Blacks for Trump” sign appeared to be white.

Here’s the photo from Tuesday's rally:

And here’s one from a rally in Lakeland, Florida, earlier this month:

It’s possible that Trump has a lot of old very, very light-skinned black women supporting him. Or, as CBS suggested of the Lakeland rally, the women could have just picked up a wrong, poorly placed sign. It certainly seems like his team might start wanting to do more advance work with those signs, especially if the candidate himself is going to point them out to brag about his black supporters, who may or may not be white.