Between claims first made by author Jerry Oppenheimer in 2000 that Hillary Clinton called her husband’s 1974 campaign manager a “f—ing Jew bastard,” and Donald Trump’s failure to distance himself from David Duke and the KKK, accusations of anti-Semitism are flying thick and fast this election season.
Questionable actions and rhetoric from the Trump campaign have even drawn comparisons to a certain mustachioed fascist who cut his political teeth preaching in the beer halls of post-WWI Germany.
While overt anti-Semitism from either side of the aisle is unlikely even during this particularly tempestuous campaign, the presence of anti-Jewish bigotry in mainstream politics is nothing new.
Indeed, several candidates throughout US history have been quite outspoken in their distaste for Jews — as shown in this brief historical survey from the late 19th century through the not-so-distant past.
The sins and atonement of president Ulysses S. Grant
General Ulysses S. Grant cast suspicion on Jews during the Civil War when he issued a decree known as General’s Order No. 11, which barred Jews from his military district due to his belief that they had engaged in war profiteering. Later however, when he campaigned for the presidency in 1872, he humbly and apologetically courted the Jewish vote — which he won — as an act of atonement.
Of all the candidates on our list, he is the only one who became president.
William Jennings Bryan’s ‘cross of gold’
In his 1896 presidential campaign, Democratic Party candidate William Jennings Bryan, speaking to an audience of Jews, defended himself against accusations of anti-Semitism by saying, “We are not attacking a race, we are attacking greed and avarice, which know neither race nor religion. I do not know of any class of our people who, by reason of their history, can better sympathize with the struggling masses in this campaign than can the Hebrew race.”
This exhortation was an apology for a statement made to an audience of Protestant Fundamentalists.
“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns,” he had exclaimed. “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
Implicit was his assertion that the religious group responsible for the death of Christ was also the source of the United States’ economic woes.
If the anti-Semitic implications of that quotation were too subtle, Bryan further stated that the United States must not “put ourselves in the hands of the Rothschilds,” and that the US treasury “shall be administered on behalf of the American people and not on behalf of the Rothschilds and other foreign bankers.”
The Rothschilds were a prominent and powerful Jewish banking family with a presence in a handful of European countries, including France, England, Austria, Italy, and Germany. Later, those who escaped the Holocaust would move to the United States. Given their prestige, they have, for more than two centuries, been the subject of a number of conspiracy theories including one that asserts that they control the world’s central banks.
The United States must not ‘put ourselves in the hands of the Rothschilds’
Threads of anti-Semitism were woven throughout the 1896 election, particularly as a response to the Morgan Bonds scandal in which president Grover Cleveland struck an 1895 deal with J.P. Morgan to save the United States Gold Reserves.
A Populist outcry followed in 1896, with accusations of a Jewish conspiracy directed at Cleveland due to the Rothschilds’ involvement with J.P. Morgan.
Whatever effect this had on the election was minimal, as Bryan lost by a landslide. It may, however, have contributed to the shift from a Democratic White House under Cleveland to a Republican one under William McKinley.
Henry Ford and ‘The Dearborn Independent’
Perhaps the most obvious illustration of anti-Semitism on the part of a presidential candidate was Henry Ford’s notable contempt for Jews.
Ford, who ran for the Republican nomination in 1924, notoriously owned and sponsored “The Dearborn Independent,” an anti-Semitic publication.
The newspaper reached the height of its readership in that same year, boasting a weekly print circulation of 700,000 readers. The country’s largest daily newspaper (The New York Daily News) then had a circulation of only 50,000 more.
The publication operated as an arm of Ford’s campaign apparatus, publishing anti-Semitic articles on a weekly basis. Ford himself — who was not formally educated, despised unions, and looked down upon minorities of any stripe — contributed many articles to the publication, most notably a serial titled “The International Jew.” These articles eventually became a book titled “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.” The massive tome, written by Ford himself, concerned itself with “Zionism and the Jewish problem” throughout the world.
In 1923, regarding Ford’s campaign for the presidency, Adolf Hitler famously said, “I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections.”
“We look on Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America. We admire particularly his anti-Jewish policy which is the Bavarian fascist platform. We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated to millions throughout Germany,” said Hitler.
Charles Lindbergh’s ‘America First’ campaign
Ford and Bryan were not the only presidential candidates to present a platform that capitalized on distrust of foreign Jews. In his 1940 presidential campaign, the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, a noted anti-Semite, advocated strongly against US involvement in World War II, favoring an isolationist stance. He employed the slogan “America First,” which Donald Trump has since adopted.
Like Ford, Lindbergh was esteemed by the Nazi regime. In October 1938, in honor of the pilot’s services to aviation, the commander of the Luftwaffe, SA-Gruppenführer Hermann Göring, presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle on behalf of Adolf Hitler. (Incidentally, Henry Ford had received the award several months earlier.)
Lindbergh believed that Jews posed a threat to the safety of the United States, saying to an audience including pacifists and socialists that “their greatest danger to this country lies in [the Jews’] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”
He also believed that both the Jews and the British wished to draw the United States into war.
“I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people,” he said. “Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”
The Klansman with ‘Jewish friends’
Another presidential hopeful who was publicly friendly with Jews was none other than George Wallace, the 1960s Alabama governor with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
Wallace is noteworthy precisely because of his anomalous lack of public anti-Semitism. Wallace ran for president three times between 1964 and 1972 and, despite the robust Jew-hatred of his supporters, scarcely said a negative word about the Jews while campaigning.
Dan T. Carter, author of “The Politics of Rage,” wrote that “some of [Wallace’s] best friends in Montgomery were Jewish,” and, given the waning tides of anti-Jewish suspicions in America, “Wallace knew that anti-Semitic statements would devastate his campaign.”
Perhaps the pro-segregationist candidate wisely avoided isolating some of his powerful Jewish friends, but that didn’t stop him from courting the outspoken anti-Semitic voters from his base.
David Duke’s thinly-veiled white supremacist platform
David Duke, a one-term state senator from Louisiana, was also a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, serving as the group’s grand wizard, the position of highest authority within the organization.
A notorious anti-Semite, he unsuccessfully sought the presidency in 1988, winning the nomination for the Populist party, and in 1992, running as a Republican. Duke believed wholeheartedly that Jews not only controlled the media, but the Federal Reserve Bank and the US government as well.
On March 8, 1992, addressing an audience in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Duke did not mention Jews, as the campaign speech was broadcast live via C-Span. He was subtler, dog-whistling fellow anti-Semites by using euphemisms like “attorneys” instead of Jews.
“It’s about time we had a government of the people and not attorneys in this nation!” he said. “I have met a few attorneys that I have liked, maybe one or two in my life… there are some good attorneys.”
‘It’s about time we had a government of the people and not attorneys in this nation’
Despite the restraint he showed in the speech, he declared, “I am not a politically correct candidate, and it’s about time we had a lot more candidates who didn’t dare be politically correct, but politically right about what they stand for in this country.”
In the same speech, Duke railed against what he viewed as a “small clique of people who control” the levers of power in the world.
“We seem to be moving toward more government,” he said. “More social engineering in our lives, higher taxes — all on the auspices of this new world order. I don’t want a part of this new world order, where Americans lose their sovereignty and their rights. And that’s where we’re going. I say it’s time to put America first.”
But just in case you thought the country had jettisoned such bigotry from its elections 20 years ago, last month Duke announced his run for the Republican nomination for a soon-to-be-vacant United States Senate seat in Louisiana.