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The antisemitic conspiracy behind the anti-porn movement

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No one looks to porn for its great morals and upstanding behavior; even ethically-made porn, which ensures respect, safety and good pay for everyone on set, can depict BDSM scenes that (consensually!) hurt or humiliate the participants, which many people find troubling. Mainstream porn sites, meanwhile, struggle to regulate revenge porn and underage porn, and often feature videos about incest.

So it wasn’t surprising when the organization Fighting Online Antisemitism (FOA) released a statement in August saying that they had found antisemitic porn videos trending on several sites, including videos roleplaying a scene of Nazi soldiers raping Jewish women.

It’s even less surprising that the videos have not been taken down — it almost seems naive to bother asking. Racism is an accepted norm in mainstream pornography, reinforced by race-based genre tags that promote the content to search engines, including multiple categories devoted to stereotyping Black performers, such as “Ebony,” “BBC” and “interracial.”

By comparison, there is no category for “Jew” or “Jewish” on Pornhub, though there are categories such as “Asian” and “Arab.” When I searched for Jewish terms, the search did not autofill; the videos flagged by FOA were on lesser-known sites.

The antisemitic conspiracy behind the anti-porn movement

Yet regulating porn in any way is not simple, and raises questions about issues such as consent, kink and role-playing — where do we draw the line on what is and isn’t acceptable when some sex educators urge us not to kink-shame and others view the entire porn industry as inherently derogatory or violent?

The debate is more than just a question of sexual morals — tied up in some campaigns to regulate or ban pornography are alt-right ideologies and antisemitic conspiracy theories. And while troubling pornography about Jews does exist, antisemitism in pornography is found more often in efforts to control and ban it.

The Evangelical question

Exodus Cry is one of the most visible anti-porn and anti-trafficking organizations, in part due to New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof featuring TraffickingHub, an anti-trafficking campaign “powered by” Exodus Cry, in a column on trafficking. Like many organizations involved in anti-porn campaigns, the Washington state-based Exodus Cry is evangelical with roots in a form of Christianity called dominionist Christianity which advocates for a Christian-run country.

Exodus Cry’s work goes beyond preventing trafficking, but its anti-trafficking advocacy makes it easier to disseminate its more extreme beliefs — who is, after all, pro-trafficking? The organization, however, is against sex work as a whole, a stance that often harms the very people it purports to protect by reducing their agency and earning potential; Exodus Cry’s site claims that “all porn creation and consumption is destructive to human sexuality and that eliminating porn everywhere would be a massive win for society,” so it clearly hopes to eradicate the entire industry.

Beyond its stance on porn, Melissa Gira Grant reported in The New Republic that the group has also advanced anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice and antisemitic views.

Gira Grant found that many of the religiously rooted groups that back anti-porn campaigns have similar stances. It’s easy to bundle the moral beliefs against pornography with moral arguments against certain identities, elevating more pernicious antisemtic or anti-LGBTQ beliefs alongside the easier-to-swallow anti-trafficking campaign.

Anti-porn and antisemitism

John Earnest, the man who opened fire on the Poway Chabad in 2019, wrote in his antisemitic manifesto that Jews are at fault for “causing many to fall into sin with their role in peddling pornography.”

This is not a new idea. Beyond the tacit antisemitism often deployed by evangelical groups, there is a more overt tie between anti-porn activism and antisemitism. Porn as a Jewish conspiracy to weaken white men or render them impotent is a conspiracy theory with deep roots.

“Many individuals in white supremacist communities have strong anti-porn sentiment,” Joshua Fisher-Birch, a researcher and content review specialist at the Counter Extremism Project told Vice. “There are numerous reasons for this, principally the beliefs that Jews control the porn industry, that it abuses and corrupts white women, normalizes interracial relationships, and disincentivizes procreation among whites. In many cases, porn is viewed as part of a Jewish-controlled anti-white conspiracy theory.”

Many white supremacist movements allege direct connections between the porn industry and Jews. In an article on antisemitism and porn, The New York Times found that Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen circulated a video titled “The Jewish Role in the Porn Industry,” among many other examples. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke posted a diatribe in which he alleged that pornography is motivated “by racial hatred against Europeans” and that Jews “see pornography as a weapon of revenge for real or imagined European wrongs against Jews from the time of Romans to the modern day.”

More recently, the focus of most public discussions related to porn has moved away from fighting the entire industry and has instead honed in on trafficking. But the debate is still deeply tied to antisemitic ideologies. In April of this year, Vice reported that photos were circulating on Gab, a messaging platform favored by white supremacists, depicting neo-Nazi symbols such as the swastika and sonnenrad along with anti-trafficking T-shirts and slogans such as “End Zionist sex trafficking!

But evangelical groups aren’t the only anti-porn advocates. More pernicious is the antisemitism subtly swathed in ideologies discouraging porn use or masturbation. Masturbation has long been stigmatized in Western society, likely rooted in religious prohibitions, and is tied to shame for many people; for those who imply it is responsible for weakness or societal evils, it is a relatively short distance to conspiracy theories that ascribe various issues to minority groups or secret cabals.

The Proud Boys, a self-professed “western chauvinist group,” forbids porn and limits masturbation to once a month for its members. While its founder, Gavin McInnes, has said that the policy has nothing to do with Jews, abstention from porn and masturbation is common within white supremacist groups, sometimes connected to religion and sometimes to ideas about maintaining virility or even receiving superpowers through what some anti-masturbation believers call “semen retention.” In internet forums about increasing strength through abstinence, conspiracies about a Jewish-led plan to weaken men through pornography flourish.

Mainstream masturbation

David Duke and the Proud Boys may seem fringe, but the ideology has eked its way into the mainstream through ideas such as No Nut November, a month-long challenge not to orgasm, and a Reddit page, r/NoFap, encouraging its members to abstain from pornography or masturbation for long periods.

No Nut November originated as a way to make fun of No Shave November, a self-explanatory challenge that was originally created to fundraise for cancer research. But the farce became real, generating an extensive and somewhat fantastical discourse about the benefits of what some adherents refer to as “semen retention.” For example, r/NoFap contains long threads about the nearly superhuman benefits of abstaining from masturbation or sex, as well as many users, mostly men, posting how ashamed they are to masturbate or look at porn.

The moderators of r/NoFap told Rolling Stone that they saw only a few trolls posting antisemitic content on their subreddit and the terms of use forbid discriminatory content. But adherence to the anti-masturbation movement can be something of a gateway drug into seedier corners of the internet that do traffic in antisemitic or white nationalist theories about porn, as well as racist or misogynist subcultures such as the incel (short for “involuntarily celibate”) community, which use similar rhetoric. It’s all part of the same ideological ecosystem; porn is seen as weakening and corrupting the otherwise pure white man — long a goal that antisemitic conspiracy theories have ascribed to Jews. It always comes back around.

None of this is to say that there are no legitimate issues in the pornography industry — nearly everyone can agree that it is rife with racism, misogyny and discriminatory pay, as well as being so poorly regulated as to allow a wide range of illegal content. Similarly, porn and sex addiction are real, and can be destructive just like any other addiction. There are many anti-porn advocates who have no connection to antisemitism or far-right ideologies, including a feminists who, in the 1970s, argued that pornography is inherently harmful to women.

But much of the rhetoric around the dangers of porn or masturbation vastly exaggerates the issues, framing porn and masturbation as forms of moral corruption instead of highlighting specific issues that should be addressed through therapy or policy changes. Where there is corruption, there needs to be a corrupting influence, after all. For anyone who knows the history of antisemitism, it’s easy to predict that Jews would be the convenient scapegoat.

Author

Mira Fox

Mira Fox

Mira Fox is a reporter at the Forward. Get in touch at fox@forward.com or on Twitter @miraefox.

The antisemitic conspiracy behind the anti-porn movement

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