As any social media guru will tell you, it’s all about brand. And in 2016, white nationalists have clearly got the memo. Prominent Neo-Nazis are dropping the swastika for a more palatable symbol in an effort to mainstream. “Alt-right” leaders like Richard Spencer are popularizing a haircut once worn by a Hitler youth group — and calling it the “fashy,” short for fascist.
Now, some are trying to recast the very idea of anti-Semitism as “counter-Semitism.”
Rightpedia, a new Wikipedia-style online encyclopedia for “alt-right” views, describes “counter-Semitism” as a sort of evolution of the term “anti-Semitism” which has been “distorted” by media and a “neutral” term to describe a “self-defensive opposition and criticism of Jewish supremacism.” On the blog “Views from the Right,” a writer offered: “Counter-semitism implies not just an ill-defined hate, but a complete political program, that elevates Jews to the status of the Great Enemy.”
The term dates back at least to the 1990s, and may have originated in a piece by the writer Joseph Sobran, who wrote that the term anti-Semitism had become overused and that “counter-Semitism” was an attempt “to bring Jews down to the level of ordinary civil society.”
A commenter on the site Occidental Observer wrote: “The ‘counter-Semite’ meme redirects the scrutiny back on them, to their malfeasance. After all, Jews are now the foremost power-holders and the dominators in American life. They are not a powerless group of innocent bystanders. They are punching down. We are punching up.”
The preference among white nationalists for the term makes sense, says Brian Tashman, a researcher for Right Wing Watch. Members of the “alt-right” see themselves as a persecuted minority, oppressed from above (by “nefarious groups” like “globalist” Jews) and below (by immigrants and minorities).
“It’s part of this rebranding to make anti-Semitism more palatable,” said Tashman.