The latest chapter in the Chicago Dyke March controversy unfolded late last week after the group walked back its use of the term “Zio,” a pejorative brought into prominence by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and often deployed by white supremacists.
The group had tweeted “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes” to mock concerns about the march’s banning of women carrying Gay Pride flags with the Star of David at the center. And the journalist who broke the story last month was demoted following pressure from the march’s organizers, says a close friend who was with the reporter at the event.
In any case, critics argue that the Dyke March’s apparent attempt to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was offset by the violence of the prefix-turned-epithet.
“Sorry y’all! Definitely didn’t know the violent history of the term. We meant Zionist/white tears replenish our electrolytes,” the Dyke March tweeted.
Anti-Semitism linked to “Zio” can be traced back to the late 1980s, according a 2006 Philologos column in Mosaic magazine, when a student at SUNY Binghamton scrawled “Zionazi racist” and “Kill Kikes” near the campus’ Jewish Student Union — on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
“Zio,” however, didn’t become a common anti-Semitic slur until Duke made it famous over the past decade. A search of Duke’s radio archives reveals that “Zio” has been used 359 times in episode descriptions since January 2012, with 17 mentions in 2017. A search of “Zio” on Duke’s website yields 264 pages of results since 2002.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Duke posted that “lead bullets are not murderers.The real murders are not the bullets, but the Bullies of the Zio Media …. Guns did not create the horror in that little school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The Zio masters of the media did. They have devoured the real America. The masters of the media continue to take us down the path of human depravity.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2013 Duke discussed “the Zio control of Hollywood which not only promotes lies about the enemies of Jewish extremism, but literally poisons the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in West and all over the world.”
In 2015, Duke urged his followers to help stave off the “relentless Zio-haters” from their “brutal effort to silence my powerful, world-changing Videos and YouTube channel …. Without your help we will lose our greatest tool to expose & depose these tyrants!”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that some of the videos on Duke’s YouTube channel include “How We Can Defeat Zio Globalism,” “The War on Christmas – New HD Version” and “Wicked Witch Osama and Wizard Obama.” A 2013 video on the YouTube channel, highlighted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is titled “CNN Goldman Sachs and the Zio Matrix.” Duke warns: “People are learning that globalist Zionist supremacism is the greatest single danger to the entire planet, to all human expressions of life and culture and heritage on the planet, to all nations and peoples who want to be free and independent.”
Duke’s website still hosts a “Zio-Watch News Round-up” run by Duke ally Patrick Slattery that yields 62 pages of results since 2014.
While the term was generally used by white supremacists early in the decade, the term has gained traction on the far left in recent years, especially in Britain. In early 2016, the co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Party club, Alex Chalmers, resigned over the group’s criticism of Israel that he said had crossed into anti-Semitism. Chalmers (who is not Jewish) said he was leaving the “poisonous” club after it endorsed Israel Apartheid Week, adding that leaders of the group were “throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon.”
‘The capitalist offensive’
Soon after Chalmers’ resignation, a student running to head the London School of Economics’ student union said his opponents “want to win back LSE and make it Zio again.” The student, Rayhan Uddin, soon apologized, saying he was unaware of the term’s association with “far-right anti-Semitic groups.”
Later that year, the Shami Chakrabarti-led inquiry into alleged anti-Semitism in the party concluded that “epithets such as ‘Paki,’ ‘Zio’ and others should have no place in Labour party discourse.” The report added that members should have the sense not to make comparisons between Israel and Nazis.
One member, for example, posted an article accusing the “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie” and the “pro-Israel ideologues of the War on Terror” of playing a “vanguard role for the capitalist offensive against the workers. Another claimed that Hitler was a “Zionist god.”
Following the report’s release, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “‘Zio’ is a vile epithet that follows in a long line of earlier such terms that have no place whatsoever in our party.” Several months after the Chakrabarti report, anti-Israel protesters who interrupted a Friends of Israel society event spurred London’s Camden Council to consider a motion classifying “Zio” as an anti-Semitic epithet.
“This council acknowledges the unique and pernicious nature of anti-Semitism for cultural and historical reasons amongst various and sadly all too plentiful cases of racism and discrimination,” the council said in a statement. When the Dyke March Collective was originally confronted with the controversy surrounding the term, it responded: “Wow, trying to compare a group of queer people of color to the KKK, so fucked up.”
The Chicago Dyke March Collective describes itself as “an anti-racist, anti-violent, volunteer-led, grassroots effort with a goal to bridge together communities across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, size, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, culture, immigrant status, spirituality, and ability.”