By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO –Two ideas for fighting antisemitism and domestic extremism were offered Thursday by Democratic Reps. Brad Schneider of Illinois and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey during a Zoom meeting sponsored by the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA).
Schneider urged support for a bill (HR 350) that would require various agencies of the federal government — in particular the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense — to form an interagency task force to share information and develop a joint strategy for combatting these twin scourges.
Malinowski promoted legislation to reform major social media companies like Facebook and Google, which he said use algorithms to identify people’s interests and then to provide them with more and more links to people and groups with similar interests. This pushes people with right-wing views even further right, and those with left-wing views even further left. The resulting polarization of our society, Malinowski said, results because social media companies believe feeding people information that seems to corroborate their views will earn the companies more money.
The two members of Congress were separately interviewed by Halie Sofer, chief executive officer of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and by Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First For America, a group which is helping citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, sue organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in which a car driven into a crowd of counter-protestors killed Heather Heyer and injured 19 other people.
Schneider said he is pleased Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III is examining how white supremacist groups not only attempt to recruit members of the military to their cause, but also encourage young white supremacists to join the military expressly for the purpose of learning military tactics.
The Illinois Congressman said he is “struggling” with how to deal with antisemitic conspiracy theories such as those spun by Q-Anon that accuse philanthropist George Soros of funding the Black Lives Matter movement and paying for caravans from Central America to demand citizenship and amnesty — all in what neo-Nazis and other white supremacists describe as a “Jewish conspiracy” to replace white Christians with Black and Brown people.
Schneider disclosed that when he was a student at the University of Illinois during the 1970s, neo-Nazis had threatened to march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, which then had among its residents a large contingent of Holocaust survivors. He said that when students organized to take out a newspaper ad in opposition to the march, he was surprised that one classmate was too frightened to put his name to it, expressing fear that the neo-Nazis might come after him and other signers.
Antisemitism, now as then, needs to be condemned by members of both political parties, Schneider said. “If it metastasizes, it will have serious consequences,” he added.
In urging support for HR 360 in the battle against white supremacists, Schneider commented, “we are all in this together,” noting that there has been an upsurge of violence against Asian-Americans as well as African-Americans. “We need to build on our diversity.”
A questioner noted that Republicans have attempted to woo Jewish voters by expressing strong support for Israel and by suggesting that some Democrats on the left are anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. Schneider responded that Democrats who occupy the vast middle of the ideological spectrum should unhesitatingly condemn anti-Semites and extremists on the right and the left, no matter their party.
Rep. Malinowski joined the Zoom meeting after attending a closed-door congressional briefing which he said dealt with white supremacy, extremism and related issues. Whereas the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018, and Poway, California in 2019, were the acts of lone gunmen, he said, the January 6th riot at the Capitol was an act of violence involving thousands of people looking to kill members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence. It was an act that was totally deviant, yet those involved believed themselves to be patriots, Malinowski added.
He said groups that exploit social media — and social media itself — are responsible for having reinforced the biases of the people in that crowd, using algorithms to feed consumers more intense versions of what they believe.
Currently, federal law immunizes social media from what people say on their platforms. While the First Amendment protects free speech, even it is hateful, there is no reason why powerful companies should have to amplify it, Malinowski said. As he put it: “We have freedom of speech but not freedom of reach.”
A former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who now serves as vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Malinowski was asked what should be done about the growing internationalization of hate, exemplified by extremists not only coordinating in 2018 with the Pittsburgh shooter who murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but also with the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter who massacred 51 Muslim worshipers in 2019.
Malinowski said counterterrorism networks among the United States and its allies exist, but were not put to good use during the administration of Donald Trump. The implication was that there will be much closer coordination in the current administration of President Joe Biden.
Concerning punishment of people who participated in the January 6 insurrection, Malinowski declared flatly that those who stormed the Capitol “are going to jail — that is happening.” As far as those who inspired them, he said he has sponsored a resolution to censure Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, who urged people at a rally preceding the capital invasion to “take names and kick ass.” The matter is being studied by the House Committee on Ethics.
In the longer run, Malinowski said, school systems in the United States must not only stress science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, but also diligently teach history, civics, and digital literacy, so that students can learn to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
Donald H.. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via email@example.com
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