‘White nationalism is killing us’: Jews protest Trump, Fox ahead of Pittsburgh anniversary

In the week leading up to the first anniversary of the white nationalist terror attack that killed 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, progressive Jewish groups take to the streets to send an unequivocal message to Donald Trump and Fox News.

Author and activist Abby Stein speaks at a protest outside Fox News HQ held to commemorate the first anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, New York, October 25, 2019. (Gili Getz)
Author and activist Abby Stein speaks at a protest outside Fox News HQ held to commemorate the first anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, New York, October 25, 2019. (Gili Getz)

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, progressive Jews and their allies took to the streets in memory of the 11 killed, and to protest the white nationalism that led to their murder.

Early Friday morning, several groups including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), IfNotNow, and Bend the Arc: Jewish Action marched to Fox News’ headquarters in Manhattan. Creating a makeshift memorial site out of candles and rocks on the plaza outside the building, demonstrators held up banners reading “We Remember” in English and Hebrew, and “Fox News: White Nationalism is Killing Us!”

By focusing on Fox News, which frequently acts as a de facto state television network, the protesters sought to spell out the connection between the racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric of Donald Trump and large swathes of the Republican Party, and the acts of white terrorism that have struck at Jewish, Black, Muslim, Latinx and immigrant communities over the past few years.

Protesters march to the headquarters of Fox News, New York, October 25, 2019. (Gili Getz)
Protesters march to the headquarters of Fox News, New York, October 25, 2019. (Gili Getz)

“We gathered outside Fox News because of the free rein they give to bigotry on their network,” Audrey Sasson, JFREJ’s executive director, told +972. During the course of the protest, demonstrators read out statements from Fox hosts Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson in the weeks leading up to the shooting, which sought to blame “globalists” and “liberal elites” for migration to the U.S. — dog whistle terms for Jews. Such language is evidence of “the same anti-immigrant ideology that incited the Pittsburgh shooter’s violence,” Sasson continued.

“We know who to hold responsible for the Pittsburgh shooting, the El Paso shooting, for the separation of families and caging of children: it’s Trump, the GOP, and the Fox News pundits who are fanning the flames of all that hatred.”

This central message of the protest is backed up by the stats: a report released earlier this week by Political Research Associates and Bend the Arc notes that in the two months leading up to the Pittsburgh massacre, Fox News and five other major conservative news websites sought to connect George Soros and “globalists” to liberal causes in at least 345 articles.

In a nod to history, marshals for Friday’s demonstration wore armbands featuring a Yiddish slogan that has become a frequent sighting at left-wing Jewish protests in recent years: “Mir Veln Zey Iberlebn (We Will Outlive Them).” The phrase is thought to have originated with a group of Jews in Poland during World War Two, who — after being ordered to sing for the Nazis who had rounded them up — began calling out these words as a final act of resistance.

In Pittsburgh on Wednesday, a coalition led by Bend the Arc, IfNotNow and others organizing under the rubric of “Jews Against White Nationalism” marched to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where Trump was delivering a pro-fracking speech at the annual Shale Insights conference.

Once inside the convention hall, a group of Jews stood up during Trump’s remarks and chanted “Trump endangers Jews!” Video footage of the event shows Trump supporters booing and attempting to disrupt the protest, while Trump himself goaded his fans, saying “They don’t know they’re dealing with very tough people in this room… Go home to mom. Explain to mom that you tried to take on very powerful people, and many of them physically as well as mentally. That’s not a good thing to do — not in this room.”

Max Socol, campaigns manager at Bend the Arc, explained to +972 the message behind the protest: “When we learned that Trump was planning a return trip to Pittsburgh during the week of the anniversary of the killings — with no plans to honor the dead, but actually just to speak at a fracking conference — all of us were outraged, if not surprised.

“So we shut down the street by the convention center, and several of us, myself included, were also able to get inside the venue to deliver a message directly to the president and his supporters: we’re not afraid of you, we’re disgusted by your racism and we stand with the vast majority of Americans who want to see the white supremacist GOP driven from power, preferably for good.”

Socol, who was disrupting a Trump rally for the second time — his first such protest having earned him online death threats from neo-Nazis — was dragged out of the hall by a secret service agent, who insisted to him that “Jews love Trump.”

“In my opinion those of us who risked our physical safety to disrupt their hate-fest did them all a massive favor: we gave them their first peek in quite some time into what the majority of this country thinks of them,” Socol said. And that, he hoped, might prompt at least some of them to reexamine their views. “Fascism ultimately destroys all it touches, including fascists,” he added. “Everyone needs a way out of this mess.”

The first anniversary of the Pittsburgh massacre is on Sunday, Oct. 27.