Any reporter covering presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump knows they risk wading into the cesspool that is his online fanbase. Being trolled by members of the Make America Great Again team is just another part of the job description of a political reporter in 2016.
But his recent promotion, and subsequent defense, of an anti-Semitic image has underscored the particular kind of harassment that Jewish journalists ― and non-Jews who happen to have vaguely Jewish-sounding names ― have faced. He may deny that the image, which featured Hillary Clinton’s face next to a Star of David and a pile of money, had anti-Semitic undertones, but behavior from some of his supporters seems to suggest otherwise. The Twitter feed that Trump social media editor Dan Scavino sourced the graphic from had previously posted pictures of swastikas and other racist imagery.
It’s very likely that Trump and Scavino, who both have Jewish relatives, didn’t intend for the tweet to be anti-Semitic. But retweeting fans is a big part of the Trump social media playbook. In January, one study found that more than half of recent Trump retweets were of users who follow accounts that promote white supremacist propaganda. Trump’s racist supporters aren’t just encouraged by his messaging ― they’re directly influencing it.
Here’s the response one white supremacist website had to the Star of David tweet:
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that, while there aren’t necessarily more bigots than in the past, social media has made it easier for them to connect with each other and with potential targets. And unlike hate crimes in real life, online hate attacks are nearly impossible for law enforcement to crack down on.
“There’s no price to pay,” Cooper said. “The chances that you’re ever going to be held accountable for that speech is basically nil.”
As Cooper notes, Trump’s latest comments, even if unintended, have legitimized that kind of bigotry.
“The anti-Semitics, the David Dukes, and their younger supporters ― they’re having a field day,” he said. That’s why, he said, it’s important for Trump to make it clear to “these people who have crawled out of the sewers that he doesn’t speak for you, he doesn’t represent you, that’s not what America is all about.”
Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what Trump has done:
Many of us at The Huffington Post had never personally experienced anti-Semitism before covering Trump. Now, it’s an issue that frequently arises. Here is just a small slice of what we’ve been dealing with:
HuffPost Business Editor Alexander Kaufman received the image below both over Twitter and as a text to his Google voice number.
“Sadly, I’ve been getting this kind of stuff since before Trump,” he said. “But the frequency has definitely increased with the rise of Trump.”
It’s not just ugly images. HuffPosters have also received a barrage of hateful written attacks ― many threatening or suggesting violence. After writing about the Star of David backlash, one self-proclaimed Trump supporter told me it was “definitely time for you to pray for your sins.”
In a response to this story, one reader sent political reporter Christina Wilkie an email filled with anti-Jewish slurs and said that “Hitler was mostly right.”
In May, HuffPost Senior Editor Sam Stein was told, “I hope someone throws you in a wood-chipper feet first. You lying propaganda spreading liberal jewish sack of shit.”
One person replied to foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg’s story on Trump’s neo-Nazi fans by saying:
If you are going to attack Nazis, at least state their position clearly. If Holocaust Denial is so “abhorrent” why don’t you state the facts that these people trumpet? Oh, because then people would wake up to your Jewish lies.
Reporters outside of HuffPost have also experienced this kind of rampant anti-Semitism. After writer Julia Ioffe profiled Trump’s wife Melania for GQ, she received threats of physical violence, as well as phone calls from someone playing Adolf Hitler speeches and images of her face photoshopped onto Holocaust victims.
Ioffe filed a police report on the abuse. After receiving death threats to her personal Facebook account from Trump supporters, Forward’s Bethany Mandel bought a gun.
The Anti-Defamation League encourages victims of online harassment not to engage with abusers.
“The best way to respond is to expose, educate and inform the broader public,” said Steve Freeman, ADL’s deputy director of policy and programs. He added that “most social media platforms offer tools to block hateful and offensive content.”
And Cooper said platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could do even more to actively protect their users.
“Throw the bums off, permanently, zero tolerance. Set rules, set some leadership ― I think that could have an impact,” he said. “To allow this just to go pure and unadulterated is unacceptable.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.