Ella Nilsen: Inspired by Trump, anti-Semites are on the hunt – and they found me

  • The immense Swastika that adorned the main entrance to the Tempelhofer Field in Berlin, May 1, 1933. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 6/16/2016 12:15:00 AM

I usually start every morning with a routine check of my email and social media feeds, savoring an extra 15 minutes before I have to get up.

Saturday morning seemed no different; all was calm on my Snapchat and Instagram feeds, and there were no pressing work emails. I scrolled over to Twitter and tapped on my notifications.

And like a slap in the face, there it was.

My name and picture were on a Twitter list of 82 politicians, journalists and activists, many of whom are Jewish. The name of the list was “Train Depot.” The description underneath said, “These (((people))) awaiting Disinfection and Bath before entering Main Camp.”

The person who created it self-identified only as a white male. From his profile, it seemed he spent much of his time finding pictures of Jewish people and reporters who cover presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on Twitter and photoshopping them into the same crude meme that was plastered all over his page.

That meme showed a picture of Trump’s smiling head superimposed onto a Nazi uniform, his finger hovering over the button to activate a gas chamber. Underneath the grin, in big letters, was the word “SOON.”

Much has been reported on the contingent of Trump supporters who self-identify as white nationalists and anti-Semites, Trump’s tepid disavowal of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, and prominent Jewish journalists who have been barraged and harassed by Trump supporters on Twitter after reporting on the billionaire businessman.

In recent weeks, a new symbol of anti-Semitic hate speech emerged on Twitter: the three parentheses used to tag Jews. In turn, many Jewish people started co-opting the symbol and tagging themselves.

Journalist and Atlantic Magazine writer Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about the phenomenon of anti-Semites latching onto Trump’s platform, sharing many Tweets he had received of his face photoshopped into pictures of Auschwitz prisoners and photos of a trail of dollar bills leading into an oven.

“Again, the common belief, or hope, is that Trump will initiate a new Holocaust,” Goldberg wrote. “The Nazi-leaning Trump extremists never appear to address the fact that Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, and grandchildren, are Jewish, or that Trump spends essentially no time talking about Jews, and a great deal of time talking about Muslims and Mexicans.”

Many other political commentators and journalists, liberal and conservative alike, have received similar hate speech, and have spoken out about Twitter’s relative slowness in dealing with the issue and removing users who threaten them.

I had read plenty of those articles with a degree of alarm, but it always seemed to be an arm’s length away.

When I read my name on a list of people that an anonymous Twitter troll dreamed of sending to the gas chamber, to, as he put it, “#MakeAmericaGreatAgain,” that changed.

To say I was creeped out is an understatement. Immediately, dozens of questions raced through my mind. “How did this person find me? Why did he put me on this list? Did he do research on me? How can I delete my entire online presence?”

And then there was the matter of why my name was on the list.

Though I am part Jewish by descent on my father’s side, I’m not all that public about it simply because I’ve never considered it a big part of my identity. In fact, my family’s Jewishness is something we still don’t know a lot about, because my grandmother kept it a secret for much of her life.

My grandmother was the child of two Jewish immigrants from Russia and Austria-Hungary, but she chose to keep that origin a secret in large part due to anti-Semitism. She experienced it as a young woman in the 1930s, trying to find a job in New York City and getting turned down when she wrote down “Jewish” instead of “Christian” on applications.

As she was raising five young sons in the 1940s, the world was discovering that 6 million people in Germany had been sent to the gas chamber for their Jewish-sounding names. In fact, when my older sister once asked my grandmother why she decided to keep her heritage a secret, she talked about her fear of a second Holocaust and said she wanted to make sure our family was both secret and safe.

My grandmother fiercely guarded her secret for most of her life, and died still refusing to reveal her mother’s maiden name.

But as much as I am the great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, I am also the product of many ancestors who came from vastly different places, from Norway to New England’s Abenaki Indian tribe to the first British colonists who came over on the Mayflower.

Racism and anti-Semitism are very old concepts that will probably never go away. Until Saturday morning, I had just never encountered them personally.

I’m not a well-known journalist like Jeffrey Goldberg. I’m a young reporter still fairly early in my career. Though I reported on Donald Trump during the New Hampshire primary, the majority of my reporting is state and local news in New Hampshire.

So why this person took the time to find me and put me on his list, I’d rather not know.

What disturbs me more is that this person and others like him believe Trump speaks for them and are seemingly emboldened by his rhetoric against Muslims and Hispanics.

What disturbs me is how freely hate speech is flowing these days. As a young American, I’m afraid of the prospect of the people around me becoming desensitized to it. What disturbs me is that the new standard-bearer of the Republican Party has not yet disavowed his neo-Nazi supporters.

I don’t want to regress back to the world in which my grandmother was terrified of the consequences of revealing her mother’s Jewish-sounding maiden name.

I am disturbed because it’s 2016, and I am typing these words.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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