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Primary Source: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Dybbukast

Season 4

Guest Episode


Primary Source: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Host Aaron Henne: This is Aaron Henne, artistic director of theatre dybbuk. Welcome to The Dybbukast.

We have just completed our three-episode series connected to both William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and our own production, which expands upon that play.

As we shift our focus from The Merchant of Venice to the remaining episodes of Season Four, which cover a wide variety of topics, we want to take this opportunity to feature a guest episode from Primary Source, a limited series podcast from our colleagues at Stanford University's Taube Center for Jewish Studies.

In this episode, called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," Primary Source explores the notorious and fraudulent antisemitic text most commonly known by that name, taking a look at its history and its impact on world politics. We felt that this would serve as a meaningful companion to our popular Season One episode, "The Protocols, Henry Ford, and The International Jew," co-produced with the Association for Jewish Studies, which investigated, in part, the ways in which the Protocols were distributed in the United States and beyond.

And now, Primary Source: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.


Steve Zipperstein: In a world where it’s so hard to conclusively and persuasively explain anything, they provide an alternative to the power and the fullness of religious faith, and provide, in their own way, a sense of solace, even in their prediction of the possibility of absolute heinous despotism.

Josh Tapper: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion first surfaced in a small but influential right-wing newspaper in St. Petersburg, Russia, 118 years ago. But it has lived many lives since then.

Steve: The Protocols have been published in various forms and in a plethora of languages over the years since it first appeared in print in 1903.

Josh: This is Steve Zipperstein. He’s the Koshland Professor of Jewish History and Culture at Stanford University, and the author of Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History. He’s also one of the world’s foremost experts on the Protocols. The Protocols imagines an international conspiracy, one that’s orchestrated by a secretive cabal of Jews, who are bent on controlling the world. To be clear, it’s a fiction, a fantasy of Jewish power. And it’s written in the voice of someone on the inside, someone privy to the cabal’s dark secrets.

Steve: At its core is a voice — an elder of the Jews — speaking about how, at any moment, a Davidic kingdom will be re-established; in this instance stretching far beyond Palestine and encompassing — ruling the entire world.

Actor: The Jews are now a world menace and that the Aryan races must domicile them permanently out of Europe. Who are the elders? This is a secret which has not been revealed. They are the Hidden Hand.

Josh: This is the voice of our producer, Lily, who you’ll hear reading passages from the Protocols over the course of this episode. In the Protocols, the elder documents the depth of Jewish power but also a plan for the future. The voice is cunning, but as Zipperstein points out, almost benevolent. After all, the elder is revealing the cabal’s plans for the imminent destruction of the world order.

Steve: The elder, for reasons that are unclear, is boasting about this, explaining how it has come about, or will soon come about, through the manipulation of so many forces in modern society — the press, the financial system, and the use of liberalism writ large — to break down the stamina, the barriers, the morals — sexual and otherwise — of the world.

Josh: The specter of the Protocols hovers over much of the 20th century’s dark encounter with antisemitism, from the killing fields of the Russian Civil War to the concentration camps of World War II. And today, it has become grist for an even wider range of conspiracy theories. Because in its vision of an all-powerful conspiracy, the Protocols provides a timeless narrative for the paranoid and the prejudiced, ready-made for those willing to believe myth over truth.

We hear a recording of Rachel Maddow:

Rachel Maddow: Her contention is that the Jews are amazing with the space lasers — to start the fires as a false pretense to help the other Jews with their conniving plots.

Josh: Echoes of the Protocols are not hard to find in white nationalist fantasies of enemy races polluting American culture, or in dog whistles about the billionaire philanthropist George Soros subverting the democratic process. You can also hear them in QAnon’s fear mongering about a shadowy deep state pulling the strings of American government.

Actor: We have got our hands into the administration of the law, into the conduct of elections, into the press, into the liberty of the person, but principally into education and training as being the cornerstones of a free existence.

Josh: Welcome to Primary Source, a production of Stanford University’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies. I’m Josh Tapper. Now, if all of this sounds far fetched, that’s because it is. And yet the Protocols’ implausibility has done nothing to diminish its enduring power, nor detract from its allure. It tells a story of Jews spreading disease and fomenting socialist revolution; of Jews controlling global capital and feeding on Christian blood. When you get down to it, theProtocols is kind of a greatest hits of antisemitic tropes, weaving the religious, political, and social ingredients of antisemitic theory into one grand narrative.

Eric Ward: Now, many of these tropes are contradictory, right? They place Jews as isolationist but, on the other hand, as cosmopolitan globalists; as exploiting capital but yet leading communist revolutions, right? Acting as militant aggressors, or as cowardly pacifists.

Josh: This is Eric Ward.

Eric: I am the Executive Director of Western States Center and a Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Josh: He’s also an expert on the role of antisemitism and conspiratorial thinking in white nationalist movements.

Eric: In truth, what the Protocols did well in these series of tropes was to ensure that Jews became the receptacle for, and the manifestation of, all things that a society despises.

Josh: So how does a text cribbed from an obscure 19th-century work of French political philosophy and cobbled together by far-right nationalists in the twilight years of the Russian Empire become not only the most notorious canard in the canon of modern antisemitism, but the ur-text for contemporary conspiracy theory as we know it? And what is it about the Protocols’ narrative that makes it so compelling and so enduring even here in the United States?

Eric: It captures the imagination. It titillates the audience. It makes it feel like we are a part of a grand epic story that is unfolding around us and that we’re the special folks who know what is going on. That is the power of the Protocols.

Steve: The text was written almost certainly — and we’re able to substantiate this with the use of what one Italian linguist calls “linguistic fingerprints”— it was first rather hurriedly produced in the immediate wake of the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903.

Josh: Kishinev is now Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. But in the early 20th century it was a backwater, tucked into the southwest corner of the Russian Empire. During the violence that came to be known as the Kishinev Pogrom, 49 Jews were killed, and hundreds more were injured and raped. The antisemitic upheaval sparked worldwide condemnation, even stirring up a debate in Congress about whether the United States should go to war with Russia. The international uproar was mobilized in no small part by Jewish organizations in the West. And it touched a nerve for a circle of far-right nationalists living in Kishinev, many of whom were involved in instigating the violence.

Steve: The huge tumult that follows in the wake of the pogrom constitutes proof of what they had long suspected; that Jews control world opinion and have an inordinate amount of hidden influence.

Josh: At the center of these reactionary forces was a highly influential, right-wing intellectual named Pavel Krushevan, a journalist and editor who had published a newspaper in Kishinev before moving to St. Petersburg in 1903. And as Zipperstein argues, he’s almost certainly the author of the Protocols.

Steve: He’s a figure of some intellectual authority. He’s a writer of great facility. He’s the author of novels, of a late 19th-century book about the deteriorating condition of Russia because of the impact of Jews — a book that is profoundly antisemitic, but a book that’s actually quite beautifully executed.

Josh: All the while, Krushevan masked a tortured, contradictory existence. Private papers suggest that his stepmother was Jewish, and that his sister married a Jewish student in Kishinev before emigrating to the United States.

Steve: He was a homosexual, whose sexuality he hid from others, perhaps from himself. And so there was a great deal of profound inner turmoil in Krushevan that then produced work of extraordinary and, in some ways, arresting turbulence.

Josh: Krushevan developed into an arch-conservative in the 1890s amid the rise of radical socialism in Russia, which threatened to destabilize the Romanov dynasty. This fear of radicalism sank deep into the psyche of right-wing nationalists like Krushevan. Growing skeptical of the Romanovs’ ability to preserve the regime, they looked for new ways to mobilize a conservative defense of Russia.

Steve: Increasingly, figures like Krushevan come to see antisemitism as that organizing principle, in no small measure because of the prominence of Jews as radicals.

Josh: In addition to their visibility in radical politics, over the previous few decades Jews had become more conspicuous participants in the national economy, occupying jobs in petty trade throughout the empire and financing major infrastructure projects, like building railroads.

Steve: They seem to be a force that is in some ways of almost equal power to that of the Romanov regime itself. And this notion of Jews being somehow as equally potent as the power of the regime itself is a notion that in some quarters persists to the present day.

Actor: It is from us that the all-engulfing terror proceeds. We have in our service persons of all opinions, of all doctrines. Monarchists, demagogues, socialists, communists, and utopian dreamers of every kind. We have harnessed them all to the task: each one of them on his own account is boring away at the last remnants of authority, is  striving to overthrow all established forms of order.

Josh: Krushevan serialized the Protocols in his St. Petersburg newspaper, the Banner, in nine installments. By the early 1920s, it had become clear that the Protocols was adapted from a little-known work of political satire called Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, which was published in 1864 by a now-forgotten French lawyer named Maurice Joly. That book is a withering attack on Napoleon III, and while it describes the perils of authoritarianism, it makes no mention of Jews.

Steve: Joly’s book, curiously, is a very sophisticated analysis of the nature of modern authoritarianism and despotism. What is produced in the Protocols is a book that draws on Joly, but at the same time offers a very simplistic view of the world.

Josh: In a foreword to the original publication, Krushevan himself raised important questions about the Protocols’ authenticity. Like why, as he pointed out, was it originally published in French? Or how did a text produced by a secret club of Jews, scheming behind the scenes to mastermind some grand plan, come into his possession in the first place?

Steve: He all but admits that the work might not be authentic, and, at the same time, insisting that he believes it is authentic. But to the extent to which it is authentic, it reveals the central coldness, the implacable coldness of the Jewish mind.

Josh: It was precisely those ambiguities, those lingering, unanswered questions around the text’s mysterious authorship, that imbued the Protocols with credibility. Over the next few years, the Protocols were reprinted a handful of times. But as Zipperstein points out, it was only one of a multitude of antisemitic texts in circulation in the first couple decades of the 20th century.

In the background, we hear newsreel footage of the time, detailing the Bolshevik Revolution.

Steve: It’s only in the wake of the Bolshevik takeover, the Bolshevik Revolution of October-November 1917, that theProtocols actually becomes a widely read document.

Josh: The Bolshevik Revolution gave way to a violent civil war, which exploded across the collapsing Russian Empire from 1918 to 1921. The conflict pitted communist revolutionaries against an ideological hodgepodge of anti-Bolshevik forces, from Ukrainian nationalists to imperial loyalists fighting to restore the tsar to power. As Zipperstein says, theProtocols resurfaced during the war, and circulated widely among opponents of Bolshevism.

Steve: The Protocols ends up being torn into pages, with these pages either handed out to anti-Bolshevik soldiers — so-called White soldiers — or read to them if they were illiterate. And one of the great attributes, if you will, of theProtocols is that you really don’t need to read more than one page in order to get the gist of its message that Jews are on the verge of taking over the world.

Josh: The Protocols provided a convenient explanation for the chaos, identifying Jews as the real engineers of Russia’s destruction. The idea that Jews not only stage-managed the Bolshevik Revolution but were also spreading communism as part of a plot for world domination birthed yet another conspiracy theory, one inspired heavily by the Protocols, that accelerated its transmission out of Russia in the 1920s: the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism.

Elissa Bemporad: It is an assumption of a deep affinity between Jews and communism, between Judaism and Bolshevism. Bolshevism is a destructive force that disrupts tradition, disrupts social order through violence, and Jews use Bolshevism in order to control society. This is the same idea that is conveyed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Josh: This is Elissa Bemporad.

Elissa: I teach Eastern European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Josh: Bemporad’s also the author of Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Land of the Soviets. And as she points out, the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism drew upon many of the same antisemitic tropes that animated people like Krushevan.

Elissa: The first point that I think we need to make when we consider the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, and the extent to which it builds on pre-existing layers of antisemitism, is the question of loyalty.

Josh: The canard of Jewish disloyalty took on new meaning in the 18th and 19th centuries as Jews were legally emancipated across Europe. Although Jews now lived openly in the non-Jewish world, to the anti-Semite they were still marked by obvious differences. While Jews resembled their non-Jewish neighbors in many ways, something always seemed off — in the food they ate, in the clothing they wore, in the languages they spoke. That Jews were spread around the world caused many to question —

Elissa: — the extent to which Jews can be trusted as allies in the national cause. Or the extent to which they emerge as a global entity, as an entity that cannot be trusted, that cannot be trusted as loyal citizens.

Josh: When thinking about Judeo-Bolshevism, just like the Protocols, it’s crucial to understand how even the slightest semblance of truth can inflame a dangerous myth. Because as Bemporad says, there are some truths in this story.

We hear additional newsreel footage of the time detailing the Bolshevik Revolution.

Josh: During and after the Revolution, Jews did embrace Bolshevism because of the promises it held for advancement in education and politics, though, as Bemporad points out, in smaller numbers than is often assumed. Still, Jewish revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky, who founded the Red Army, filled prominent leadership positions in the fledgling Bolshevik government.

We hear Vladimir Lenin speaking in Russian.

Josh: And in 1918, then again in 1919, Vladimir Lenin actually outlawed antisemitism, arguing that it was allowed to fester under the tsar in order to undermine working-class solidarity. This condemnation of antisemitism also drove many Jews to side with the Bolsheviks. These grains of truth, which seemed to locate Jews at the heart of the Bolshevik takeover, reinforced long-standing myths about Jewish subversiveness. In other words, Bolshevism fulfilled the prophecy imagined in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Steve: That’s what provides it with its power, the sense of its authenticity, and the feeling that what Bolshevism represents is a kind of empirical proof of what it is that the Protocols actually predicted.

Josh: Historians believe that the Protocols, now bottled in the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, spread throughout Europe and beyond with the wave of anti-Bolsheviks escaping the Soviet Union.

Elissa: You have thousands and thousands of supporters of the White movement, of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, who will flee the territories when the Bolsheviks take over —

Steven: — with not insignificant numbers moving to Germany, to France, and leavening what come to be fascistic circles there.

Elissa: But this myth becomes culturally acceptable even among, I would say, well-respected cultural figures in the West.

Josh: People like the British journalist Robert Wilton, who had reported extensively on the Russian Revolution for the Times of London and published a series of articles in 1920 arguing that socialism was part of a Jewish plot to overthrow the tsar.

Elissa: He will even go as far as to talk about the fact that the killing of Nicholas II and his family was a Jewish responsibility and Jewish orchestration, and it was an act of Jewish ritual murder.

Josh: The medieval accusation that Jews murdered Christian children and drained their blood for religious rituals fueled the belief that Jews were the instigators of a plot to eradicate Christian civilization.

Actor: When we come into our kingdom, it will be undesirable for us that there should exist any other religion than ours of the One God with whom our destiny is bound up by our position as the Chosen People and through whom our same destiny is united the destinies of the world.

Elissa: You know, Jews in a way are the primordial conspiracy theory material because of deicide, because of them having been imagined for centuries as the killers of the son of God or the killers of God.

Josh: The Protocols expanded this idea, transforming it from the narrowly theological to the broadly political.

We hear Adolf Hitler’s 1939 Reichstag speech, in German.

Josh: By the 1930s, the central narrative of the Protocols — that an invisible force was behind war, revolution, and the disorienting pace of modernity — had become deeply embedded in the consciousness of people who were seeking an easy explanation for the upheavals of the early 20th century. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf would draw on the seemingly contradictory claims that Jews both spread socialism and puppeteer global finance. That same paradoxical fantasy powered a 

worldview that would culminate in the Holocaust.

We hear more of Hitler’s Reichstag speech.

Josh: The Protocols also took root across the Atlantic, in the United States, where it was popularized thanks largely to the industrialist Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford owned a newspaper called The Dearborn Independent, and in 1920 he serialized the Protocols under the title, “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem”. Later published as a book, The International Jew sold hundreds of thousands of copies, often at Ford’s car dealerships around the country. As Eric Ward explains, the message contained in the Protocols and The International Jew resonated with strains of American white supremacy and white nationalism. After World War II, the ability of Jews to pass as white Americans, and to reap the benefits of whiteness, seemed to bolster the antisemitic claims of theProtocols.

Eric: It is, indeed, this idea of Jews as a separate race, who are perceived largely as white, that white nationalists frame as the greatest trick the devil ever played. You see, Jews, despite and indeed because of the fact they're seen as white, are seen as an enemy race that has infiltrated, and they must be exposed and eliminated.

Josh: For white nationalists, the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy helped explain the tumultuous social changes that emerged from the civil rights movement, which saw many Jews supporting the struggle for racial justice. Because as they saw it, Jews had been disrupting the traditional order of things for centuries.

Eric: It is this narrative that becomes the fallback explanation that they didn’t lose to Black people. In the minds of those who believe in white superiority, as I said before, that’s impossible. But it allowed them to shift the blame to what they saw as a global conspiracy to destroy the white race. And antisemitism became a paper upon which the white nationalist movement formed.

Josh: By the early 1980s, white supremacist beliefs had organized around the same dark vision expressed in theProtocols. There’s a clear genealogy from the Protocols to The International Jew to The Turner Diaries, one of the foundational texts of the modern white supremacist movement.

We hear an audio recording of the The Turner Diaries’ author, William Pierce:

William Pierce: That’s why they have promoted every sort of diversity, as they call it. Homosexuals, non-white racial minorities, feminists, their fellow Jews, of course. Everybody except normal, healthy, decent white men and women.

Josh: Published in 1978 by the head of a neo-Nazi organization called the National Alliance, The Turner Diaries is a dystopian novel that imagines the overthrow of a government controlled by Jewish elites. Sound familiar? Like theProtocols, it doesn’t explain why Jews are so nefarious, only that they must be stopped.

Eric: This fantasy of invisible Jewish power explains for white nationalists how Black Americans, a race of supposed inferiors could orchestrate the end of Jim Crow, or how feminists and the trans community and LGBTQ folks could upend traditional gender roles, and how immigrant workers could mount a successful challenge to economic inequality in America.

Josh: Today, the ideology thrives not only on far-right chatrooms, but also in tweets and memes about Jews buying elections and flooding the streets with immigrants, which have become an unremitting presence on mainstream social media. While conducting research for her book, Culture Warlords: My Journey Into The Dark Web of White Supremacy, the journalist Talia Lavin spent a year trawling online hate communities, where the Protocols, she found, has not gone out of style. If anything, it’s become something of a primary source for their beliefs.

Talia Lavin: You have kind of a literal engagement with the text, which does happen. You know, fascists love to point to what they perceive as historical prooftexts, whether it’s Confederate-glamorizing accounts; whether it’s eugenics texts from the 19th century. And certainly the Protocols figure prominently in that list of historical prooftexts, alongside, like, Mein Kampf.

Josh: For Lavin, whether white supremacists and their sympathizers actually believe the story of a group of Jewish elders is beside the point. Because for them, the Protocols reveal essential, long-standing truths about Jewish power.

Talia: I think if you’re spreading the Protocols, if you’re using the vocabulary of the Protocols, if you’re using theProtocols as a template for your behavior and beliefs towards Jews, I don’t really give a fig whether you are sincere or not. If you find the concept of nefarious, organized Jewish world control useful in your work, that’s really the material question to me.

Josh: The insistence that Jews possess a transcendent power has also seeped into open political and cultural discourse, where it acquired dangerous legitimacy in the early years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

We hear a montage of recordings of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump: I am the least antisemitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life….You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy? No, it’s true!…Maybe you could explain that to some of your people that say, “Oh, we don’t like tariffs….”

Reporter: Isn’t that antisemitic?

Trump: No, no, it’s only in your head. It’s only antisemitic in your head…Well, actually, you know I’m in a very Jewish business, okay…. Even these spoiled, rich Jewish guys, they can’t believe how good this is, you know?

Josh: And it eventually assumed a violent expression.

We hear a montage of news footage recordings:

Every available unit in the city needs to get to here now…Shots rang out just before 10 am…We’re under fire, we’re under fire…The chaos unfolding at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh…

Josh: The man who gunned down 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 was evidence of how popular and dangerous the Protocols are. He was obsessed with an organization called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish non-profit he blamed for the so-called “migrant caravans” flowing from Latin America into the United States. He was also obsessed with George Soros.

We hear recordings from right-wing politicians and media figures.

Glenn Beck: Who’s the puppet master? George Soros.

Alex Jones: And then they got weirdos that they’re allied with, like George Soros, who’s a literal Nazi collaborator.

Rudy Guiliani: Now we have Soros-elected, anarchist DAs. They’re not there to prosecute the law, they’re there to undermine the law. He put them there. I mean, why would Soros pay for DAs other than to undermine our government?

Josh: Across right-wing media, from InfoWars to Fox News, George Soros has become code for behind-the-scenes Jewish control. A Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, Soros made a fortune in global financial trading. And over the past few decades he has donated vast sums of money to liberal causes around the world. He plays an outsized role in far-right, anti-globalist conspiracy theories, many inspired by the Protocols.

We hear a portion of Fiona Hill’s testimony to Congress.

Congressman: Would you say that these different theories — these conspiracy theories that have been targeting you, spun in part by folks like Mr. Stone, as well as fueled by Rudy Giuliani and others, basically have a tinge of antisemitism to them at least?

Fiona Hill: Well, certainly when they involve George Soros, they do.

Josh: Back in November 2019, Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council Russia advisor, made this explicit when she testified before Congress at Trump’s first impeachment hearing.

Fiona Hill: On the trope against Mr. Soros, George Soros, was also created for political purposes. And this is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Emily Tamkin: I’m with Fiona Hill on this one. When she was like, this is the new Protocols, I was kinda like, Fiona Hill, I agree.

Josh: Emily Tamkin is the US editor for the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros: Politics, Power, and the Struggle for an Open Society. Part of what’s so alarming for Soros conspiracy theorists is that he’s everywhere — collapsing economies in southeast Asia, inundating European countries with Syrian refugees, and propping up Black Lives Matter protestors on the streets of American cities.

Emily: The specifics change, but I think it’s kind of like a mad libs, right — where it’s like Soros is pushing noun through other noun in order to verb, and then the end of the sentence is always like, “and to ruin our country, ruin our democracy.” It’s always about this foreign force with too much power trying to corrupt the real root, the real country, the real society.

Josh: In that sense, Soros is sort of the Elders of Zion incarnate — the embodiment of a historically invisible force. For Tamkin, the Soros myth evokes the same interplay between Jewish control and Jewish destruction that we find in theProtocols.

Emily: It’s the perpetual other and outsider who can never actually be a part of the nation no matter how long he’s lived here. Who, because he can never be a part of it, doesn’t care about it and its well-being, and therefore wants to corrupt it, wants to infiltrate it with other outsiders, and wants to take it away from those who actually have claim to the nation.

Josh: The Soros myth provides its adherents with a twisted sense of reassurance, that uncovering a clandestine Jewish power is the first step toward eradicating it. As Steve Zipperstein says, this is the message at the heart of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Steve: They offer the prospect of redemption in as much as it’s not yet midnight, it’s minutes before, but all can be redeemed. And so, though their message is grim, they offer the prospect that if, in fact, people actually have the courage to understand what they’re saying, things can be changed.

Josh: In mid-March, just as we were wrapping up this episode, the Washington Post reported that a police officer on Capitol Hill had been suspended after a congressional staffer found a tattered copy of the Protocols at a security checkpoint, lying in plain sight. It was a shocking discovery. But maybe not that shocking, especially after the events of January 6, which revealed, among other things, deep and disturbing connections between members of law enforcement and members of white supremacist groups.

We hear a portion of a news recording from January 6, 2021:

Reporter: It’s the storming of the Capitol; Trump supporters forcing their way into the halls of Congress…

Josh: The riot on Capitol Hill revealed just how powerful conspiracy theories are in the thoughts and actions of the American far right. In many ways, the violence was justified by the fear that hidden forces control the levers of power, and must be stopped at all costs. That same narrative has deep roots in the Protocols, and it has consequences that reach far beyond the American Jewish community.

Eric: One of the impacts of the mainstreaming of this narrative, of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, in American society is that Jews and non-Jews have paid the price, whether we’re talking about African Americans targeted at a church in Charleston, South Carolina; or Sikhs targeted in their house of worship in Wisconsin; or Latinos, who were targeted while shopping at a Walmart, right? Or Jews, targeted while worshipping in Pittsburgh.

Josh: In those shootings, the gunmen were undoubtedly motivated by racism and xenophobia.

Eric: But what drove the killers in each instance was a belief that they were in an existential war with the Jewish community.

Josh: And while racism remains a powerful animating force in American society, the portrait of Jewish deceit and disloyalty depicted in the Protocols remains central to the logic of violent American white nationalism.

Eric: I often tell people that antisemitism in the United States may be more of a physical threat to non-Jews than the Jewish community itself.

Josh: Primary Source is a podcast by the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford University. I’m Josh Tapper. This episode was produced by Lily Sloane, with help from Ari Kelman, Shaina Hammerman, Shoshanna Olidort, Dan Shevchuk, and Katherine Kawalerczak. Music and sound design by Lily Sloane, who also did voiceover work for this episode. Thank you to Elissa Bemporad, Talia Lavin, Emily Tamkin, Eric Ward, and Steve Zipperstein.

Thanks also to Aaron Henne, the artistic director of theatre dybbuk and host of its podcast, The Dybbukast. We encourage you to check out The Dybbukast's new episode, "The Protocols, Henry Ford, and The International Jew," co-produced by the Association for Jewish Studies' podcast, Adventures in Jewish Studies. The episode is available on both of their feeds or wherever you get your podcasts.

For more about Primary Source, go to (*note revised web address: and subscribe wherever you listen. And please leave a review in Apple Podcasts and share with everyone you know so more people can find this show.

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