The Text That Stoked Modern AntisemitismHistorians in the News
tags: conspiracy theories, Henry Ford, antisemitism
As Twitter accounts go, the FBI Records Vault is seemingly innocuous, tweeting out links to various public documents contained in the agency’s vast archive. But on Wednesday, it sparked a firestorm when it linked to a full copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ur-text of modern antisemitism, then apologized. Since the 1890s, the fabricated Protocols have fanned fears of a supposed Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. Historian Robert Singerman tracks how the antisemitic text got to the United States in the first place—and how an American industrialist ensured it would endure.
The text dates to the 1890s, when it was written by Russian state police in an attempt “to discredit liberalism and social change as Jewish-inspired movements,” Singerman writes. It purports to lay out the plans of a secret cabal of Jewish leaders intent on taking over the world, annihilating Christianity, fomenting conflict, and sowing evil. The document trades in antisemitic tropes and played on existing fears of Jews who did not assimilate into the dominant culture. As a result, it was ripe for embrace outside of Russia, too.
Boris Brasol, “the acknowledged leader of the Russian monarchist movement in the United States,” published the first English edition. It gained a fan in one of the most powerful men in America: Henry Ford. The industrialist was deeply antisemitic and saw Jews as responsible for everything from the vicissitudes of the market to labor unrest. His secretary, Ernest Liebold, also a rabid antisemite, introduced him to Brasol and the Protocols. Along with Liebold and Brasol, Ford turned his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, into a mouthpiece for their antisemitism.
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