How the Alt-Right Helps ISIS
Thom Hartmann: Hello, I'm Thom Hartmann in Washington, DC and welcome to The Big Picture.
For more than a year on the campaign trail Donald Trump presented himself as the 'tough on terrorism' candidate, told his supporters again and again that he was the only candidate who could protect America and defeat "radical" Islamic terrorism. Trump assured his supporters that he would do everything from "bombing the hell out of" Muslim countries to banning Muslims from traveling into the United States, and even floated a national Muslim registry. Trump keeps repeating the lie that we're losing to Isis even though Isil's recruitment has plummeted from 2000 foreign fighters a month to around 50 foreign fighters and they've lost three-quarters of their territory in Iraq and Syria just since January of last year.
According to Trump, we're not just losing because we refused to say the magic words "radical Islamic terrorism", we're losing because the war on terror is "just too predictable":
Donald Trump: And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must... (applause) ... we must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.
Thom Hartmann: As president-elect Donald Trump has definitely achieved a level of unpredictability, especially when it comes to foreign policy. On the one hand, Trump's administration is definitely looking hawkish, he's already filled his cabinet with more generals than have been in any administration going back as far as World War Two.
But beyond that, Trump's policies toward Israel and the Middle East seem like a riddle. Steve Bannon is serving as Trump's chief strategist after making a name for himself as a mouthpiece for the anti-Semitic Alt-Right but that didn't stop Trump from announcing recently that he'll appoint David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. According to Reuters, Friedman has no diplomatic experience but he served as a "president of a U.S. group that raised money for one settlement and has advocated that Israel annex the West Bank".
The question is, can Trump walk this tightrope to maintain support among the Alt-Right and white supremacists like Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer while still promoting hardline Zionism?
Max Blumenthal: Good to be back.
Thom Hartmann: Always great having you with us. So, first of all, what do you think of Trump's pick of David Friedman. In fact, who is David Friedman?
Max Blumenthal: Well, he actually denounced me by name. He claimed that I was an adviser, a Middle East adviser to Hillary Clinton at a Trump rally in Jerusalem.
Thom Hartmann: I saw the clip.
Max Blumenthal: And that I was the leading anti-Semite in the whole world, in the whole world! I mean, bigger than any Neo-Nazi or anything. And so it's nice to be on a first-name basis with the Trump administration. I don't know if they knew my name in the Obama administration or not. David Friedman has written a column for a pro-settler website, it's actually based in the occupied West Bank called Arutz Sheva and he has called liberal Zionist Jews kapos. Basic kapos were Jews who served as camp guards at concentration camps: in order to survive as long as possible, they collaborated with the Nazis. So he's, you know, prone to that kind of language and to absurd claims like the kind he made about me.
He's obviously a supporter of the settlement enterprise and this has, you know, disturbed a lot of people who believe in a two-state solution, who would be maybe called liberal Zionists and it doesn't disturb me, doesn't disturb me one bit. I don't see much difference between David Friedman in practice and the former US ambassador to Israel as I referred to him as reciprocal US-Israeli ambassador Dan Shapiro. These kind of figures that have come into Jerusalem from American administrations, Democrat and Republican, since the first Bush administration have done nothing to stop the settlement enterprise. They have not stopped one step. They have not caused one established settlement unit from abandoning the West Bank. Not one.
I see no limitation on Israeli military aggression, in fact Barack Obama's just authorized a 38 billion dollar whopping loan for military gear to Israel, they've authorized the F-35 aircraft, something that Israel absolutely doesn't need, which will be used to kill children in the Gaza Strip and women and other civilians, has absolutely no purpose except to enrich military contractors in the US.
And I'd so I don't see what else David Friedman can do. These settlements that he's funding are the product of Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington in a bipartisan pro-Israel consensus which has created a one-state reality on the ground.
So now it's time for liberal Zionists, those who've been favoring this imaginary two-state solution which is as enigmatic and difficult to find as the moderate rebels in Syria, it's time for them to choose. It's do you accept the one-state, the one-state reality on the ground which is a unitary apartheid state, or will you favor a situation in which Palestinians are granted equal rights, the right to participate in a bi-national State on an equal basis with Jews. Do you accept full equality before the law as you do in the United States? Because there is no middle ground.
A two-state solution is completely off the table and we are already seeing Trump moving forward with plans to build the US Embassy, to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which means no Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Well, isn't East Jerusalem considered separate from Jerusalem...
Max Blumenthal: No. I mean, it is across the...
Thom Hartmann: ...At least by the Israelis? Or at least by the Netanyahu administration. Or am I...
Max Blumenthal: It's sort of governed separately, but basically because you see border police everywhere, the Israeli Knesset has passed laws allowing the military to operate there, East Jerusalem is, Palestinian East Jerusalem, and Palestinians in East Jerusalem face massive discrimination. You're seeing record settlement activity within East Jerusalem, particularly around the contested holy sites which are occupied holy sites.
And, you know, you can walk from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem. There is no division, but the city is absolutely divided in who gets services. I mean, I can point you to areas in East Jerusalem which are actually on the other side of the separation wall and are unable to receive services either from the Palestinian Authority which controls Palestinian areas of the West Bank or the Jerusalem municipality. And so these areas actually pay taxes to the Jerusalem municipality, massive amounts of taxes, and receive no public services at all. It's absolute apartheid.
Thom Hartmann: I get that and, you know, been there seen that, but I guess the basis of my question was, if, you said that relocating our embassy to Jerusalem would mean the end of the possibility of a two-state solution, of the Palestinians having a capital in Jerusalem as well. And I was just wondering, is it not possible that the Palestinians could have a capital in East Jerusalem and Israel could have a capital in greater Jerusalem or something like that. Forgive me if this is an astonishingly naÃ¯ve question, I mean, you know the area there and the situation far better than I do.
Max Blumenthal: Well, the international consensus is that Jerusalem hasn't been settled yet. It needs to be settled. Negotiations. That's according to resolution 242 of the UN.
Thom Hartmann: The outcome being determined.
Max Blumenthal: So the U.S. would basically void a resolution which declares that Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law by making that statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The Supreme Court just struck down an attempt by pro-Israel forces to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. So there are all these elements.
Thom Hartmann: So it isn't just a semantic argument.
Max Blumenthal: No, it's not a semantic argument, it's about international law. But the fact is that the two-state solution has already been destroyed. I mean, the settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, these are cities at this point Ma'ale Adumim is basically a city and it completely separates East Jerusalem from the Palestinian West Bank along with the massive separation wall which is not coming down until there is a bi-national state. And it's also not a border, it's simply a means of demographic control to preserve Israel's ethnic imperatives, which is to keep all areas under full Israeli control 70-percent Jewish.
And so that's what this is about and, you know, I don't, and again this is the product of a bipartisan consensus in Washington and David Friedman represents the far right edge of it. I mean. you mentioned. you know. his accommodation with figures like Stephen Bannon who said that through Breitbart - the online magazine that he served as editor of chief of - that he provided a platform for the Alt-Right, the Alt-Right being the artisanally handcrafted Neo-Nazis of the millennial generation.
And of course Friedman's able to accommodate with someone like Bannon or with actual anti-Semites because if you listen to an actual anti-Semite like Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the phrase Alt-Right, he has said in no uncertain terms what we want in the United States is an Israel for white people, an ethnically pure state for white people.
Thom Hartmann: So he's calling for basically apartheid here in the United States and he's acknowledging that Israel in his mind is an apartheid state, that's what you're saying?
Max Blumenthal: Yes, yeah, he's like Israel's an apartheid state and we like that and we want that. And what's more, Israel can work once the Jews are moved out of the ethnically pure white Christian state that Richard Spencer would like to create, they can go to Israel.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Max Blumenthal: And that's the way that, you know, Israel has functioned. They've, you know, the Zionist movement has actively cooperated and collaborated with anti-Semites since its inception.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. It's been probably a decade since I've been in Israel. I used to spend a fair amount of time there and, but the last several times I was there there was a healthy debate going on in the Israeli press in particular and among, you know, Israelis that I know, about, you know, whether the settlements should be expanded, whether they should be torn down, whether terrible foreign policy decision. Has that debate evaporated in Israel?
Max Blumenthal: Well, the debate gets settled at the polls. Netanyahu wins the debate by being the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in history.
Thom Hartmann: Well, he pulled together a coalition, though, he never got a majority vote.
Max Blumenthal: His coalition is substantially to the right of him.
Thom Hartmann: Ah.
Max Blumenthal: I mean, you're talking about figures like Naftali Bennett who favors a bi-national apartheid state, very open about that, and completely ending the concept of Palestinian nationality. You're talking about figures like Miri Regev who has said that non-Jewish African refugees in Israel are a cancer. You're talking about figures like Tzipi Hotovely who is in Bennett's party and is the second-leading diplomat in Israel I mean you you just go down the line.
The Israeli police just honored someone, they just honored one of the leading anti African activists in Tel Aviv who has declared openly, "I'm a racist and I'm proud to be a racist", has led actual pogroms in Tel Aviv against African refugees. I mean, the whole idea of Israel's peace camp has been completely shattered and it mostly exists outside of Israel at this point, within this delusional liberal Zionist movement that's still living out this fantasy of a two-state solution which has been shattered.
Thom Hartmann: This is profoundly tragic. I want to get into where do we go with, you know, where does it all go and all that sort of thing in just a second. More with Max Blumenthal right after this break.
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back to The Big Picture. We're speaking with Max Blumenthal, senior editor for AlterNet's Grayzone Project and author of his most recent book The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza.
So, Max, you laid out a rather bleak characterization of the situation in Israel right now. If you were the prime minister of Israel or if you had the ability to, you know, if you were God, what would you do? How would you solve this problem?
Max Blumenthal: Well, I don't think I can be Prime Minister of Israel because I'm likely to get banned the next time I enter, considering.
Thom Hartmann: I understand that but it's hypothetical.
Max Blumenthal: They're right now trying to deport my friend Antony Loewenstein who is an accredited journalist from Australia who's Jewish because he asked a critical question of an Israeli minister at a press conference. So that's the Israel we see today. Zionism has moved very much into the realm of fascism, authoritarianism, and it's time to abandon this failed project which was conceived during the high period of European romanticism. It's absolutely out of place in a modern democratic world. I don't know how any American who considers himself liberal can support it. And so I just don't think that we can move forward without first abandoning the concept of Zionism.
Thom Hartmann: The concept of the Jewish state.
Max Blumenthal: The ideology of Zionism which requires an ethnically pure Jewish state doesn't mean that Jews have to leave. I don't see why it means that, but it does mean that they have to live within the region and the region has never been in worse shape. And so Israel's, part of Israel's strategic deterrence at this point is to exploit crises like Syria, to tell the outside world, 'stop putting pressure on us when everyone around us is destabilized'.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. We started this segment talking about ISIL and Donald Trump and the whole situation here and, well actually, you know, Steve Bannon and all this stuff, AOL recently reported that Neo-Nazis, this is the quote, "Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are targeting Jewish residents in Montana for harassment" after a "call to action" appeared on the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. So what does it say that the Daily Stormer has found its way into mainstream media news and is this evidence of the normalization of the Alt-Right in the United States. Where does that go?
Max Blumenthal: I don't think it's evidence of normalization, but let's look at this scenario: Richard Spencer, who has become, first of all, the poster child of white nationalism, because he gets so many profiles and so much attention from mainstream media as the dapper face of white nationalism, basically. It's a Nazi who can put on the three-piece suit.
Thom Hartmann: Friendly Fascism.
Max Blumenthal: Yeah. His family lives in white, I think it's Whitefish, Montana. His mother lives there, he's kind of pampered, you know, pampered upper middle-class kid, his mother owns a building and some Jewish residents have expressed, you know, some concern that Spencer is spending part of his time there, he's organizing there, and then he's going to Washington and throwing up Sieg Heil salutes and organizing bands of Neo-Nazis.
So the Daily Stormer comes along and we have to look at what it is. It's run by someone named Andrew Anglin who's a very suspicious character, showed up out of nowhere, within the white nationalist movement and faked allegations on white nationalist chat sites that he was some sort of spook or agent. His website has become a form for the most extreme and obnoxious racist language against Jews, against African-Americans, against the whole assortment of minority groups. And I often see his website as kind of a bulletin board for different white nationalists.
It may be that Richard Spencer or someone close to him went to his website to push back against the pressure that Spencer and his own family are feeling within his home town. He's maybe acting on behalf of Spencer, but this speaks to a wider issue, which is that as someone who's covered the white nationalist movement for over a decade, you know, I knew one of its major leaders, someone who preceded Richard Spencer when Richard Spencer was at Duke University organizing, you know, anti-immigrant speeches with future Trump staffers.
This guy Jared Taylor was leading the white nationalist movement when they were in the wilderness, when there was no Trump, when they were completely ignored by mainstream media. I was going to their conferences held out by Dulles and reporting on them. And I talked to Jared Taylor and he told me that we cannot engage at this point the JQ. What is the JQ? That's their code for the Jewish Question - what do we do about the Jews at this... He said that we...
Thom Hartmann: You mean, what do we do about the Jews as in the question that Hitler asked?
Max Blumenthal: It's very much like that, but Jared Taylor said we need to postpone the Jewish Question and actually work with the Jews - at least white Jews - who feel threatened by black people and immigrants. And he had actually brought Jewish speakers to that conference who accepted working with white nationalists against the interests of ethnic minorities and making a temporary alliance, even including a professor from the University of Illinois who writes for conservative websites now. I think his name is Robert Friedman. And so that question has now been settled, I think, with the new generation within the white nationalist movement and it's because of Trump.
That's because of the normalization of Trump. They feel so emboldened by Trump that they can come out with their open anti-Semitism and I think in many ways, you know, it's a lesson to many of the Jewish organizations that have insisted that the main force pushing anti-Semitism in the United States is the Palestinian solidarity movement and left wingers like myself.
I mean, I've been repeatedly called an anti-Semite. They're now realizing, wait a minute, there's this whole other force in the U.S. that comes from the right wing that's been active in the Republican Party for decades and is now within the mainstream of that party and they hate Jews and not only that they're targeting them by name at their homes, in their towns in Montana and that's a nightmare that's been created by so many mainstream groups either by ignoring this force or by normalizing Trump.
Thom Hartmann: So what's the appropriate response here in the United States to this?
Max Blumenthal: Well, the appropriate response, I wouldn't say there is any clear appropriate response. There are many different responses including working within politics to make sure Republicans don't hold power at an executive level, because this is what the Republican Party is now. But another response is, stop shaming people who actually go out, especially Latino immigrants and confront Trump rallies directly with direct action and that's what we saw a lot of liberals do during the campaign; liberals who didn't recognize the threat of fascism. But these Latinos whose family members stood to be deported, had been deported under Obama - record deportations - but stood to face an escalation of institutional racism under Trump. They understood the threat and they should have been respected.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Wow. After the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated, ISIL claimed credit for this and then Donald Trump of course attributed it to them. What does it do to American political discourse and frankly American foreign policy but, you know, more specifically the way that America views itself and when that sort of thing happens, it always seemed to me for example that Bush's reaction on 9/11 was exactly what bin Laden wanted and, you know, in fact arguably on steroids, you know, by going into Iraq on top of Afghanistan. And, well, I don't want to ask a leading question here, what are your thoughts on that?
Max Blumenthal: Yeah. Well, we have to recognize first of all bin Laden and this whole concept of violent jihadism which was really dormant for hundreds of years was unleashed by the CIA, Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani ISI in Afghanistan starting in 1979.
Thom Hartmann: Against the Soviets.
Max Blumenthal: Against the Soviets. That's where bin Laden was created. Bin Laden worked through the services bureau in Peshawar to recruit jihadist fighters. He helped the CIA build its complex in Khost on the border and suddenly he shows up as the architect of the attacks on 9/11. There's a lot that happened in between and there was an unbroken chain of US intelligence involvement with jihadist elements all along the way.
And so, you know, that the great Middle-Eastern scholar Eqbal Ahmed in 1996 said that these kind of proxy wars are not only destabilizing the Middle East, they threaten to throw the West into chaos. And that's exactly what bin Laden said as well and what he aimed to do. Starting with the 1998 bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, al-Qaeda's aim was to draw the West into a World War; endless wars that would drain it economically. Bin Laden even said it's great that they're going into Iraq because we will drain them.
There was an actual document that we talked about before on your show called the Elimination Of The Grayzone in Isis's in-house journal called Dabiq and the grayzone is the area where civil society and democratic, you know, cooperation and democracy takes place and particularly where Muslims are able to find their place in Western societies and assimilate into the democratic system. Isis aims to shatter that space by either claiming credit for or orchestrating spectacular terrorist attacks that inspire Islamophobia, that animate figures like Trump and excite his base to make life impossible for Muslims in the West, drive them out into the sanctuary of the Khilafah, the Islamic state.
And so we see Trump and the European far-right benefiting massively from these sorts of attacks like the Berlin market attack two days ago and we see Isis doing all they can to claim credit for it, when in many cases they had very, they had absolutely no operational role.
Thom Hartmann: Would it be over-the-top to suggest that Isis and friends are basically the hard right in the Islamic world and that they've created an alliance of convenience with the hard right in the United States including large parts of the Republican Party, and that maybe it wasn't George Bush acting stupidly doing exactly what bin Laden wanted but, you know, hey, the right knows the right and both of them benefited from it. You know, the military-industrial complex got rich. Halliburton was about to go broke before the Iraq war. Look at them now! Your thoughts?
Max Blumenthal: Yeah. I mean, that's clearly the case. You could call it objective collusion. Lee Fang at The Intercept reported on a meeting of weapons contractors and shareholders in 2015 and produced recordings showing I think it was the CEO of Raytheon celebrating the war in Syria and weapons sales to Saudi Arabia to use in Yemen, which is basically being just destroyed right now, and the whole instability that's consumed the Middle East as a boon for shareholders and company profits. And so there's a material interest and there's also a political interest for the far-right. You see Angela Merkel's about-face in Germany. Germany's accelerating...
Thom Hartmann: Oh, she's got her back to the wall right now.
Max Blumenthal: Yeah. I mean, they've accepted so many refugees and one or two refugees commit an attack, Isis claims credit and Merkel is finished. German parliamentary elections are coming up and you can expect, you know, the alternative the German alternative the Alternative for Democracy party to do extremely well. This is a party that has its origins in Neo-Nazism and they've already won massive amounts of support within Berlin alone, so it's a terrifying scenario. The grayzone is shrinking by the day.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, and the grayzone being that area of basically civil society?
Max Blumenthal: Well where, you know, a democratic multicultural society can actually thrive and that is really, I mean, that's directly in the crosshairs in Europe right now.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Remarkable. Max Blumenthal, always a pleasure to have you with us.
Max Blumenthal: Thanks for having me.
Thom Hartmann: Thanks so much.
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.