Not long ago, a 2018 Facebook post from U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., resurfaced. In it, she attributed the California wildfires to a space laser controlled by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which is owned by Rothschild Inc., and indicated that the land was burned in an elaborate scheme to construct a high-speed rail project. 

Her beliefs are unfortunately just another iteration of the “all-powerful Jews will do anything to make a buck” trope. Granted, it’s a pretty funny iteration. Many Jewish Twitter users posted about the theory, joking about the blatant anti-Semitism. After all, how could a secret Jewish space laser truly remain a secret with Jewish mothers everywhere wanting nothing more than to brag about their children?

We Jewish people tend to joke about widespread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories because, frankly, if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. Greene’s theory is just one of many that draw on age-old stereotypes about Jewish people to villainize them. While quite laughable, it isn’t much crazier than the anti-Semitic beliefs of many other holders of public office. We shouldn’t be surprised by politicians’ rampant bigotry, but we should be fighting it.

Anti-Semitism has a long and dark history in the United States, primarily beginning in the late 19th century. Many Jews immigrated from Europe to the U.S. at the end of the 1800s and at the beginning of the 1900s, arriving in America as propertyless immigrants. However, they quickly adjusted and advanced professionally, angering many Americans who were less successful. 

At this point, the stereotype was born in America that Jews controlled all the money and exploited government systems for their own financial gain. Needless to say, this belief pervaded American society and it continues to rear its ugly head, even today.

Unfortunately, the American political system is not immune to the widespread anti-Semitism in the U.S. Government officials on both the right and left have targeted, and continue to target, Jewish people, using the money-controlling stereotype to redirect the blame for economic and governmental failures. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a YouTube advertisement during his reelection campaign in which he claimed that the Democrats “have liberal billionaires like George Soros and Mike Bloomberg,” two individuals who happen to be Jewish. In doing so, he furthered the previously discussed trope that Jews control the money and use their financial power to control the government. Similarly, former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., published an advertisement featuring his Democratic opponent, Jewish Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., with an enlarged nose. In the video, Ossoff appeared with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also Jewish, while a voiceover claimed that the Jews were planning to “buy Georgia.” 

Of course, one cannot discuss anti-Semitism in American politics without referencing QAnon, a conspiracy theory in which Rep. Taylor Greene is a believer. One element of the QAnon theory is the Great Replacement

Supposedly, Jewish people are organizing a mass migration of people of color into predominantly white countries to eliminate and replace primarily white populations. Ironically, Pew Research Center’s 2013 study found that 90% of American Jews identify as non-Hispanic white. While this finding does not speak to the racial identity of Jews around the world, it is interesting that a presumably largely white ethnic group would orchestrate the elimination of white populations. But hey, Jews have all the power, right? If they want it, they’ll find a way to make it happen.

At the end of the day, it’s all the same. Jewish people are scapegoated for the country’s troubles, the reasoning being that they control the money and thus the world. This same anti-Semitic trope appears over and over again in American politics, so why is anyone surprised by Rep. Taylor Greene’s outlandish space laser theory? What is it, if not a more creative way of saying the same thing similar politicians have been saying for years: Jewish people control the money, and they use their wealth to make anything they want to happen?

While conspiracy theories like this are humorous, they are indicative of a much bigger issue. Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in the U.S. Non-violent acts of anti-Semitism are becoming acceptable in the American political system: anti-Semitic campaign advertisements, social media posts and conspiracy theories. We as American people are normalizing anti-Semitism, and as an American Jew, it’s scary.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to put an end to the rampant anti-Semitism in the U.S. When voting, we must focus not only on policy but on candidates’ character. Have they made bigoted posts on social media? Have they supported other bigoted candidates? These are questions we must ask before voting. We must also call out anti-Semitism when we see it and educate our peers on the dangers associated with anti-Semitism. 

Taylor Greene’s “Jewish space lasers” conspiracy theory is not itself the problem, but is rather a symptom of the bigger issue of anti-Semitism. We, as Americans, have allowed for its spread, but we, as Americans, can promote its end.

Ilana Mermelstein can be reached at imerm@umich.edu.

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