The Bizarre and Sinister World of Digital Anti-Semitism

Jan. 10 2019

In 2016, Jewish critics of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump became targets of online anti-Semitic attacks that often took the form of digital images, frequently featuring a humanoid frog in a Nazi uniform. These images—“memes” in Internet lingo—introduced the public to an underground online subculture of jokey neo-Nazism. Gavriel Rosenfeld explains the subculture’s development and its dangers:

Memes are videos, catchphrases, and images that spread and mutate from user to user through social-networking sites. . . . [A]s transgressive, attention-grabbing clickbait became an easy method of attracting eyeballs, a new phenomenon arose: the more popular the web image, the greater its likelihood of being “Hitlerized”—from memes of [characters from the children’s cartoon] Teletubbies with Hitler mustaches to jokey depictions of the Führer himself. I have called this the “law of ironic Hitlerization,” and it is anything but funny. This smirking irony helped to normalize Hitler and Nazism in certain precincts of the Internet.

The insidiousness of this trend is epitomized by the fate of Pepe the Frog. Created by the artist Matt Furie in 2005, the cartoon character was originally a likeable loser who did whatever he felt like (“Feels good, man!” was his slogan). Eventually Pepe became Hitlerized, at first for laughs, then as a coded message or secret handshake, and eventually as the ubiquitous symbol of the alt-right. Among his subtler uses was the mocking phrase, “Green lives matter.” . . .

The transformation of Pepe the Frog from innocuous Internet icon to de-facto swastika highlights the utility of memes for the alt-right. They are the visual counterparts to the idiosyncratic vocabulary and numerology used by the alt-right—for instance, “cucks” for mainstream conservatives and “1488” to signal the fourteen-word white-power pledge together with the salutation “Heil Hitler” (the eighth letter of the alphabet is h). The ostensible irony of these catchphrases provides extremists with plausible deniability. . . .

[In effect], ironic memes are gateway drugs. Various alt-right activists have reported that they were initially attracted to ironic memes as fun ways to troll liberals, and their prolonged exposure eventually led them to become “red-pilled”—in their parlance, “enlightened”—and embrace more overtly anti-Semitic imagery. This explains why some members of the alt-right eventually migrated from Pepe the Frog to “Le Happy Merchant,” a hooked-nosed Jew rubbing his hands together conspiratorially. The image was seen on the 4chan website as early as 2012 and is arguably the most widely used anti-Semitic meme on the web today.

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More about: Alt-Right, Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Internet, neo-Nazis

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey