Christ Is King

Candace Owens' antisemitism was a feature, not a bug. And it's the whole Right that's infected.

Christ Is King

A week ago, news broke out of the conservative movement that online personality Candace Owens parted company with Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire, the conservative outlet where she became an online celebrity with a massive following. Owens has been a lightning rod for controversies for years, including accusing queer people of being "groomers," attacking healthcare for trans kids, demonizing immigrants, suggesting all vaccines are poison, and recasting world affairs as a battle between good and a near cosmic evil.

But what ultimately pushed her out were her comments about Israel and, by proxy, Jews.

The exact rhetoric that finally pushed her into a feud with Shapiro was ones that seem pretty familiar to those criticizing the increasing body count in Gaza as Israel continues an unprecedented campaign against the small strip of land. While it was criticism of Israel rather than antisemitism that led to her firing, her shifting political perspective reveals a changing logic in the conservative movement when it comes to the question of antisemitism.

"No government anywhere has a right to commit a genocide, ever," said Owens, a point that went over about as well as you would expect in right-wing circles. But while this sentiment has been repeated endlessly across left-wing media, Owens' commentary took on a different tone than what you would typically find at outlets like the Electronic Intifada. She focused on the number of Christians that were killed in Israeli rocket strikes, specifically signaling that this was another element of Jewish power targeting followers of Jesus. As her feud with Shapiro ramped up, she tweeted that "[you] cannot serve both God and money," which was read by many to have an antisemitic connotation. Owens said that the rising antisemitism was because of "political Jews" and "specific people" controlling Hollywood and Washington who "shield themselves from any criticism" with accusations of antisemitism, even suggesting that this "gang" was murdering opponents. 

Media reports portray Owens somewhat uncharitably since what initiated the accusation was primarily a criticism of Israel that was well-founded and what amounted to calling her boss greedy. But, angry at having to defend herself, she decided to walk her arguments further. She liked a tweet responding to one of her rabbi critics that asked if he had "drunk the Christian blood again," a reference to the blood libel: the medieval myth that Jews drink the blood of Christian children as part of their demonic rituals. Owens' behavior seemed somewhat unsurprising after she had defended Ye's antisemitic rants, something that has become a significant dividing line between the mainstream Right and the online world of fringe grifters.

But, in the end, what escalated the situation was a direct reply to Shapiro on Twitter, reading simply, "Christ is King." White nationalist and grouper leader Nick Fuentes then declared Owens victorious in her war against the Jews, leading to a string of supportive tweets, public declarations, and media appearances all built on defending this one the simple manifesto of Christian impunity. The connection between Fuentes and Owens is debatable in the same way that Fuentes may or may not have a connection to any considerable number of right-wing figures, from politicians like Marjorie Taylor Green to Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing (who defended Fuentes openly) to Donald Trump himself. "Christ is King" is regularly heard chanted by Fuentes Gen-Z followers, something that might echo off the walls as Fuentes takes the podium to deliver one of his conspiracy-laden rants; it implies a certain familiarity that she would likely prefer to remain unsaid.

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In a recent appearance of Nick Fuentes on white nationalist Richard Spencer's podcast, Spencer commended Fuentes for seeding the emerging current of right-wing anti-Zionism. Spencer is likely correct: as much as anti-Zionism is becoming a new perspective among the edges of right-wing politics, it is because Fuentes has helped to make it a comfortable expression of right-wing, nationalist values. Right-wing criticism of Israel presents a sea change in the way the American Right has dealt with Israel and, by connection, Jews. While antisemitism has remained a consistent part of the American Right, from the eschatology of Evangelicals to the conspiracism of the ultra-conservative base, explicit antisemitism has been verboten, in part because of the American political allegiance to Israel. 

However, a shift occurs as a new political ethos overwhelms the previous ubiquity of conservative "fusionism," replaced by equal parts populism and nationalism. As we head into the 2024 election cycle, we see two distinct, though overlapping, trends overwhelmingly dominating the party's future. On the one hand, we have the verbose conspiracism of the MAGA movement, led by Donald Trump, and the nativism and national populism of the National Conservatives, centered in organizations like the increasingly influential Claremont Institute and offering a more academically-toned version of the same. 

All of these political changes are happening at a time when youth conservatism has broken down as a coherent concept, with the "feeder" organizations in the conservative movement shifting further and further to the Right. For young conservatives, there is little to be gained by engaging directly with the Republican Party, and instead, all the attractive energy comes from the far-right. This shift ever deeper into the far-right is, to a degree, the appeal of radicalism: we are in desperate times, and revolutionary solutions make more sense than discussing tax reform. This dynamic became apparent with the alt-right but was further institutionalized as Turning Point USA became the primary institutional vessel for campus Right politics. These developments pushed a community that would previously have been defined by Beltway politics through local chapters of the College Republicans further to the Right, thus shifting the Overton window and allowing a more open white nationalism to percolate at the edges. 

Over the line from them lies the groypers, whose relatively small size says little about their influence. Instead, Fuentes and his movement have become the quiet favorite of this coterie of young conservatives, saying the "quiet part out loud" and sacrificing sacred cows about defining issues. None is more controversial than his comments about Israel and Jews, who he says have a "satanic" Talmudic religion, are wielding unaccountable power in the U.S., and manipulating foreign policy and economic policy in a way that unduly harms non-Jewish whites. Fuentes emerged from the alt-right and the world of explicit racialism. While he uses a Christian nationalist label and "American First" branding, he is more David Duke than Pat Buchanan. This origin point gives the question of "Jewish power" a permanent place of importance in his schema, a centerpiece of the problem he sees at the heart of democratic modernity. 

Part of the argument that Fuentes makes, and which Owens' tweet subtly implies, is that we need to rethink the defense of "Judeo-Christian" culture as a coherent Western value. 

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Judeo-Christianity is primarily a Cold War era construct that was used to create a unifying American position against "godless communism," a way of mobilizing anger over the Soviet Union's antisemitism and to paint over the stain of antisemitism after the Holocaust. But this depends on a particular "live and let live" attitude about Judaism, a religion that denies Jesus is the messiah and necessarily rejects the notion that America is a "Christian nation." This tacit neutrality on Judaism was acceptable for the majority of even stringent Christian nationalists since their vision required a forceful and monolithically Jews, Israel, and thus created natural alliances with some Jewish leaders. For their part, what Peter Beinart calls the American Jewish Establishment provided a pass to Christian Zionists, no matter how restrictive their political vision became since they were the most prominent American vessel for pro-Israel advocacy. We have ended up with a situation where the most significant antisemitic movements in the U.S., with hallmark Christian Zionist organizations, mega-churches, and Christian media companies, are largely left out of Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee reports on antisemitism since they side with Israel.

However, for Fuentes and the growing number of commentators at the fringe of the GOP, a position that Owens increasingly fits in is to gain an energetic following by attacking sources of power. For Fuentes, the Israel Lobby is ubiquitous since it is simply another piece of this infrastructure of Jewish power, and it is influencing the U.S., which he sees as a white, Christian nation, to work against its national interest. Instead, Fuentes and the white Christian nationalists offer a form of isolationism: we should solve our problems and avoid being ruled by an ethnic minority who denies the very nature of our salvation. In doing so, he provides a type of conspiratorial populism that derives its support from the increasingly alienated status of a downwardly mobile generation of young people desperate for nearly any solution to an increasingly volatile social and economic system. The center cannot hold, so Fuentes' version of radical nationalism is the only right-wing option that seems up to the monumental task of rebuilding society. Since Zionism was a staple of the old Republican Party, and because it is both ostensibly tied to a non-Christian ethnic minority and a foreign power, it fits within this model of right-wing counter-power, providing ideological cover for the undercurrent of antisemitism that exists in their movement.

Right-wing anti-Zionism, at least in the American context, exists on entirely different presumptions than the growing anti-Zionist movement that works in solidarity with Palestine. Fuentes has commented that one of the main consequences of Israel's violence in Palestine is that it will lead to increased non-white refugee resettlement in the U.S., which would violate the demographic majoritarianism he hopes for Christian whites. Support for Israel violates his "America First" foreign policy ideals, which are based less on the appalling nature of foreign wars because of their cost to native Americans and the uselessness of humanitarian intervention. While he and an increasing number of others offer that this brand of nationalism is a more peaceful option, this was never the motivating factor because it is part of a coherent vision to remake this country in the pursuit of white Christian supremacy and the end of democracy. Christ is king, after all.

It's difficult to pin this level of sophistication on Owens since her career is marked by a rather inconsistent set of impulsive conspiracy theories. Still, she has proven to have a well-programmed thermometer for where young conservatism is at. When she picks up on language offered primarily by groypers, there is a subtle acknowledgment that this is what her audience wants and that she is willing to give it to them. If we look at Owen's Twitter account right now, a string of supportive comments anchor each Tweet, some openly antisemitic, others simply cheering her for taking on the powerful. She has maintained her brand of far-right "anti-authoritarianism" by being willing to challenge a conservative movement staple. In the new nativist and populist attention economy, this gives her enough energy to maintain another year of relevance.

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"[When] white nationalist groups rise and attack Jewish communities, display that kind of anti-semitism, it reveals the sort of political sophistication and connection to movements internationally," said Scot Nakagawa, discussing the rise of antisemitism in Portland, Oregon, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Part of this is that explicit antisemitism was the dividing line between a right-wing politic that could enter the electoral sphere and that which couldn't: it's how we knew who the open Nazis were. Nativist politics flow from the far-right into the mainstream right regularly, but when you see antisemitism creep in, you know that they are signaling a coherent white nationalist worldview. 

Shifts are critical for understanding how the Right is evolving, and the abandonment of unrestricted Zionism indicates that the Right is finally hearing the reality of Israeli apartheid and that they have more fully accepted an antisemitic conspiracy narrative and a strict isolationism built in American nationalism. The distinction between the Left's liberatory anti-Zionism and the Right's conspiratorial anti-Israelism can be easy to parse out when you see the associated commentary, such as right-wing pundit Jackson Hinkle's claim that Zionists are sexualizing children with video games since the claims have little to do with actual Israeli malfeasance. In the same way that scholar Shulamit Volkov wrote that antisemitism was a "cultural code" in Nazi Germany meant to communicate a person's rejection of modernity, liberalism, and abstraction, the New Right's deviation of anti-Zionism acts as its own "cultural code" indicating isolation, identitarianism, and a commitment to the true kingdom of America.

But far-right versions of anti-Zionism also intentionally obscure its motivations. This dynamic was perfectly encapsulated when former Richard Spencer podcast co-host Keith Woods launched the #BantheADL campaign, which used explicit antisemitism to argue the ADL was anti-white. The language Woods used sounded remarkably similar to the #DroptheADL campaign, created by organizations uniting to challenge the ADL's slandering of pro-Palestinian activism. The language is identical, but they remain worlds apart ideologically. Candace, for her part, followed suit, threatening the ADL for their supposedly libelous ways.

Owens may end up telling us what direction the wind is blowing, that antisemitism is becoming a more acceptable part of the mainstream Right. Right-wing Zionism was assumed by many in the Jewish establishment to be a protective field against antisemitism, and these shifts should disprove this assumption and act as a lesson about the inevitability of antisemitic rhetoric for a political movement built on conspiracism, Christian supersessionism, and demonization of minorities. The notion that right-wing Zionists are the secret friends of Jews has never been true, and many of the loudest pro-Israel voices have also pushed astounding antisemitic beliefs; even the veneer is fading. The reality is that this long history of Republican Zionism has done little to stem the accelerating antisemitism of the Right, and the only model for safety we have is to build alliances with other communities in the crosshairs of white Christian nationalism. 

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What Owens’ affair also shows is how interrelated antisemitic ideas are with the other types of bigoted vitriol she has trafficked in her entire career, and how ill equipped the “anti-antisemitism” infrastructure was to actually deal with it in its immensity. The Daily Wire ultimately fired her not because she had viciously attacked a persecuted minority group, that has been a feature of her entire appeal rather than a bug they needed to mitigate. Instead it was only when she discussed Israel as a political entity that the backlash came and she was suddenly without a job, despite signaling, for years, that she held ideas that have traditionally always led to blatant antisemitism. 

We are at a mass inflection point, with Israel-Palestine becoming the teetering political shibboleth that will divide generations and political boundaries. There will be more people like Owens because the actual state of Israeli society is becoming increasingly visible as they engage in what can fairly be called a genocide in Gaza. But this says nothing about the subsequent political choices that come next and whether or not those in power will take a page from the actual Palestine solidarity movement in terms of how to model mutual aid and solidarity as the alternative. We cannot expect more because we lack a shared starting point with the Right, whose vision of a “saved” humanity functionally excludes the vast majority of the human population. 

What primed Owens towards an antisemitic bent in the first place was likely never direct hatred of Jews, but instead an unchallenged conspiratorial worldview, persistent in her career since her earliest attempt to create an anti-bullying social media website in 2017. Conspiracy theories have a funny effect of priming recipients to accept and reproduce more conspiracy theories, and antisemitism is the logical conclusion for a thought pattern conditioned to answer fundamental questions with secret plots and hidden elites. Aggressive conspiracism is the foundation of the new political Right, which needs conspiracism as its method of capturing the energy of an increasingly unstable working class; without it, they have little to offer other than transparent handouts to corporations and the billionaire class. This reality should make any appeal to Palestine coming from the Right immediately suspicious, even when they are pointing out the obvious. 

The unifying feature of this Right is the extremity of their Christian nationalist ideology, one that promises to eradicate all dissidents and alternatives in its quest for an alluring sameness. While it had for years presented itself with an image of moderate pluralism, the populism of the New Right can no longer allow for this as it realizes the only way to maintain its recruits is with the politics of war. Owens knows who her people are. 

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