The Canadian branch of the Jewish Defense League is prepared to mobilize in Whitefish, Montana, where neo-Nazis are planning an anti-Jewish march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and do whatever it takes to “smash the Nazis.”
“We would be more than wiling to help in any way,” said Meir Weinstein, national director of Canada’s JDL. The FBI has designated the U.S. branch of the movement a terrorist organization.
Weinstein, who calls himself a “loyal disciple” of the JDL’s founder, the firebrand Jewish nationalist Meir Kahane, called “alt-right” figurehead Richard Spencer a Nazi.
“That guy’s going to get his head kicked in. He’s a Nazi, this guy’s a Nazi,” Weinstein said of Spencer in a phone interview.
Spencer does not call himself a Nazi and has publicly sought to distinguish himself from a previous generation of white nationalists — by using terms like “alt-right” and calling himself a white “identitarian.”
The neo-Nazi march is in support of Spencer, who lives part-time in the Montana ski town. Local human rights activists, including prominent Jewish leaders, have pushed back against Spencer’s brand of white nationalism for years. Spencer’s mother owns property in the small town and has complained some locals are pressuring her to denounce her son’s ideology and sell her building.
White supremacists see a Jewish plot and have mounted this march against Jews in Whitefish in defense of Spencer and his family, who they cast as the true victims.
Weinstein’s comments come just days after hardline Jewish Kahanists in New York hinted they would not defend liberal Jewish activists in Whitefish.
In an event held by Kahane supporters and organized by the Canadian JDL, Jonathan Stern of New York described Spencer sympathetically to Haaretz as a “white nationalist who stands up for white people.” Stern said that if liberal activists in Whitefish “provoked” Spencer and other white supremacists, then they would be on their own. In a message to the Forward, Stern clarified he is a Kahanist, and does not speak for the JDL.
The JDL was established in 1968 to “protect Jews from anti-Semitism by whatever means necessary.” Kahane’s slogans included “Never again” and “Every Jew a .22.” An Egyptian-American radical assassinated Kahane in 1990 in New York.
Since Kahane’s death, the JDL’s influence has waned in the U.S., but the Canadian chapter remained active. Now, Weinstein sees Donald Trump’s victory as a chance for the JDL to reassert its American presence. He said that he has an email listserv of 5,000, but not all of those are formal members. He also did not say exactly how these members might mobilize against white supremacy groups.
“We’re just trying to revive it in the States,” he said. “It’s been somewhat inactive.”
Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin instigated the Whitefish march on his website The Daily Stormer, but it is still unclear whether his plans will go ahead. Anglin has not applied for a permit with the city of Whitefish.
Anglin, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has written is “infamous for the crudity of his language and his thinking,” has mounted numerous online campaigns in recent years — but has never organized a rally of this scale.
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Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.