President President Donald Trump’s weekend dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes — two figures who have become the face of modern-day antisemitism in America — has shocked the political world. For Jews, the dinner was more than simply shocking: It was a reminder of an old and very ugly history of influential Americans mainstreaming antisemitism.
In 1918, industrialist Henry Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Ford was a brilliant businessman, the inventor of the Model T and founder of the iconic car company bearing his name. He was also a hardcore antisemite, blaming Jews for everything from World War I to an alleged decline in the quality of candy bars.
Ford turned the Dearborn Independent into a vehicle for promoting his antisemitic obsessions. In 1920, the paper published a series of articles, titled “The International Jew,” on the alleged nefarious activities of Jews in the United States and elsewhere. The series included excerpts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous Russian forgery that purported to be records of the Jewish conspiracy’s worldwide activities.
Because Ford required Ford Motors dealers to distribute the paper, turning it into the second-largest in the United States at the time, his pet conspiracy theories were sent to a massive audience. The impact was enormous; according to historian Norman Cohn, “The International Jew probably did more than any other work to make The Protocols world famous.” Ford’s propaganda set the stage for a wave of American antisemitism in the runup to World War II, including the rise of infamous antisemitic demagogue Father Charles Coughlin.
In 1931, with the Nazis on the brink of taking control of Germany’s government, a Detroit News reporter asked Hitler about Ford. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” the soon-to-be Führer replied, a framed portrait of the American industrialist over his desk.
Nearly 100 years later, Donald Trump — also an avowed fan of Henry Ford — would sit down with Fuentes, a man who denies that the Holocaust happened. Fuentes’s smirking, “just kidding” demeanor on his America First webcast barely hides his eliminationist antisemitism — and sometimes the mask falls off entirely.
“Historians have called the period between World War I and World War II the ‘high tide’ of American antisemitism. I think we may have to rename that: I think we are at the moment living in the high tide of American antisemitism,” says Pamela Nadell, the director of the Jewish studies program at American University.