On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, which included the horrific murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians. In response, Israel launched an unprecedented wave of deadly bombardment across the Gaza Strip, murdering thousands of Palestinian civilians, denying food, water and electricity to residents of the besieged enclave in an act of brutal collective punishment, and causing a mass displacement of hundreds of thousands that many are calling a second Nakba.
As Israel prepares for a likely ground invasion, the sudden descent into bloodshed has sent shockwaves around the world, with many worrying events could precipitously spiral into a regional war with catastrophic global implications. The U.S. Right has, in response, leapt into frenzied overdrive, ramping up Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism and war-on-terror saber-rattling while calling for repression of Palestine solidarity protests in the US. At the same time, a debate is unfolding on the Right regarding the nature and scope of U.S. support for Israel—a debate exposing deep fault lines in the MAGA coalition, and bringing ascendant varieties of far-right antisemitism closer to the mainstream.
As President Biden and the U.S. political establishment rushed to declare their unequivocal support for Israel’s assault on Gaza, leading voices on the Right have called for robust U.S. military backing. Republican Senator Tom Cotton stated on October 7, the day of Hamas’s attack, that “Israel will need reinforcements in this war,” and called on President Biden to “send everything that shoots on everything that flies.”
“This is not just an attack on Israel,” stated Nikki Haley, 2024 presidential hopeful and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. “This is an attack on America because they hate us just as much…this is the reason that we have to unite around making sure our enemies do not hurt our friends.” Senator Lindsey Graham called for “coordinated effort between the United states and Israel to put Iran out of the oil business by destroying their refineries,” should Hezbollah enter the war.
Belligerent calls for Israel’s escalation have accompanied these interventionist postures. Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw gloated “this looks like it will be the war to end all wars,” while Graham thundered “we’re in a religious war here, I am with Israel…level the place!” Not to be outdone, Haley offered “I’ll say this to Prime Minister Netanyahu—finish them.”
Christian Zionists have added their apocalyptic belligerence to the mix (a perspective Thomas Lecaque examines here at RD). Preaching next to an Israeli flag and draped in a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), evangelical pastor Greg Locke exclaimed to his congregation that “Israel should make the Gaza Strip a parking lot by this time next week! Destroy the whole thing!” Calling “open borders” an “opportunity for a bunch of Hamas sleeper cells to come into this nation right now and start killing innocent men, women and children,” Locke continued, “Islam is a Satanic death cult…the Muslim religion hates Jewish people to the core of who they are.”
Locke’s Islamophobic fear-mongering has been echoed by right-wing media which is awash with tropes demonizing Muslims as medieval and barbaric, with particular ire reserved for Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the latter of whom is Palestinian American. Portraying Palestinians as inherently brutal and violent, Fox Host Jesse Waters sneered “I don’t like how people try to differentiate between the Palestinians and Hamas,” while Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, arguing against allowing Gazan refugees into the US, claimed “if you look at how [Gazans] behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic.”
Predictably, the Right fixated on Palestine solidarity protests that were quickly organized across the country. Railing against these “sick meetings” where “sleeper cells” could be found, Donald Trump Jr. called on U.S. intelligence agencies to “stop spying on patriotic Americans and start spying on actual terrorists,” evoking the widespread anti-Muslim state surveillance of the post-9/11 War-on-Terror era.
In a similar vein, Senator Josh Hawley called for the eye of state surveillance to turn to campus activists, another familiar conservative culture war target, warning of “terror groups…infiltrating our campuses” and baselessly urging the Department of Justice to investigate the funding of student activism.
Some liberals, progressives and leftists have criticized voices involved in some of the nationwide protests which, in their view, excused or even celebrated Hamas’s massacre of civilians. But the Right took it magnitudes farther. To them, the protests reflected a fanatical, racialized fifth column, hell-bent on undermining America. Conservative leaders shared images of protests with commentary like “invade the world, invite the world” (a right-wing isolationist mantra coined by Steve Sailer who writes for V-Dare, an openly White supremacist website) and “diversity is our strength,” twinning xenophobia with motifs of American decline.
“Invade the world, invite the world.” https://t.co/CNopOCHMtJ
— Cernovich (@Cernovich) October 8, 2023
Diversity is our strength. https://t.co/wrNFfMcdgl
— Nate Fischer (@NateAFischer) October 8, 2023
The demonization of protesters followed the well-worn script of pre-existing culture war crusades. “What Hamas did to Israel is being watched closely by BLM race arsonists in America,” warned TPUSA head Charlie Kirk, suggesting Black protesters might violently attack U.S. civilians. Driving the point home, Donald Trump Jr. added:
“as we perpetually indoctrinate our children with weakness, feminize our boys, attack masculine men, glorify trans insanity…one day, the savages you see brutally attacking innocent civilians in the streets of Israel will be on your front door & you and your loved ones will have ZERO capability of defending themselves. That’s the future the left is creating for you.”
The Right’s culture war pivot reads as intentional and strategic. Right-wing pundit Christopher Rufo, who helped craft the Right’s anti-CRT talking points in 2021, called on conservatives to “create a strong association between Hamas, BLM, [Democratic Socialists of America] and academic ‘decolonization’ in the public mind. Connect the dots, then attack, delegitimize, and discredit.” Conservatives have a “tremendous opportunity” with this narrative, wrote Raw Egg Nationalist, an anonymous manosphere influencer and star of Tucker Carlson’s 2022 documentary, The End of Men, “to disrupt the massive racial-grievance machine that will be turned on next year to disrupt the election.”
In this climate, activists face increasing threats and intimidation. Right-wing pro-Israel New York City Council member Inna Vernikov was arrested for toting a firearm while observing a protest at Brooklyn College. At Harvard, a truck with digital billboards circled the streets surrounding campus displaying names and faces of students who signed an open letter concerning events in Israel, a harassment tactic utilized by pro-Israel campus organizations in the past.
Reports are circulating that Muslim American individuals and mosques have been visited by the FBI. And in Plainfield, Illinois, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was brutally murdered, and his mother injured, by their landlord, a conservative talk radio listener whose anti-Muslim belligerence had escalated as he became “obsessed” with the Israel-Hamas war. He reportedly yelled “you Muslims must die” during the gruesome attack.
As in the post-9/11 era, Islamophobic rhetoric is not solely the preserve of the Right. Democratic congressman Josh Gottheimer reportedly told fellow House Democrats that Muslim leaders “should feel guilty” or are “all guilty” for Hamas’s attack.
Counterintuitively, not everyone on the Right is clamoring for the U.S. to support a war in the Middle East. Influential voices have warned strongly against U.S. involvement, channeling a non-interventionism, also present in debates around U.S. backing of Ukraine in its war with Russia, that has long been a fixture of the paleoconservative, America First wing of the Right.
Daily Wire host Matt Walsh tweeted to his 2.5 million followers that “the absolute number one priority of the United States right now should be to protect American lives and avoid getting our nation involved in a disastrous conflict overseas.” North Dakota State Representative Brandon Prichard, a Christian nationalist, echoed Walsh, tweeting that “US tax dollars are better spent at our own border or on combatting addiction than being sent to Israel.”
On his show, former Fox host Tucker Carlson condemned Haley, Graham and others as “bloodthirsty” and “warmongers,” and interviewed presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, who affirmed that “we need leaders here who will look after what advances American interests.” Steve Bannon insisted, on his War Room broadcast, that “the globalists (a conspiratorial term with frequent antisemitic connotations) are trying to suck you into another massive war in the Middle East…they’re back to where they were with Bush spreading the bald-faced lies to get us into Iraq, with the same intensity…I’m so sick of these people that want to send your sons and daughters on these foreign battlefields immediately to die.”
“Neocons are salivating,” lamented MAGA pundit Mike Cernovich, who railed against Christian Zionists as “useful idiots for neocons and defense contractors” and lamented that “people like me are stuck in the middle of anti-American, Never Trump war mongers and pro-Palestine Marxist anti-humans like AOC.” Far-right journalist Darren Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter and frequent Fox News guest, advised that rather than offer “slavish fanatical devotion” to the pro-Israel cause, conservatives should “focus on the BLM-Hamasification of our universities.”
For White nationalists, this America First anti-interventionism takes on a decidedly antisemitic flavor. White nationalists believe the U.S. supports Israel because a Jewish/Zionist cabal has seized control of American politics for its own benefit, harming patriotic White Christians in the process. White nationalists see a Jewish conspiracy around every corner, and this twisted approach to the US-Israel relationship is part and parcel of that broader antisemitic worldview.
“The United States of America has a Zionist occupied government,” railed white nationalist Keith Woods, who helped launch the antisemitic #BantheADL campaign last month that won support from Elon Musk. Woods’ tweet references the phrase ‘ZOG,’ long a mainstay in White nationalist propaganda. White Christian nationalist Nick Fuentes—who recently proclaimed “we need to eradicate the Jewish stranglehold over the United States of America”—called for “a patriotic conservative political movement that is totally independent of these Zionists. Otherwise America will always come second to Israel.”
This is diametrically opposed to the progressive approach. The U.S. supports Israel because it furthers the US’s own imperial interests for geopolitical control and dominance in the Middle East. In this relationship, Israel functions as what Noam Chomsky once called “a military offshoot of the United States.” Progressives support Palestinian rights, and an end to U.S. military aid, as part of a broader commitment to anti-racist and anti-oppressive politics everywhere, including the U.S. (which, like Israel, has its own ongoing settler-colonial legacy).
On his program Restoring Order, White nationalist Patrick Casey, who led the alt-right group Identity Evropa during the Trump presidency, made the contrast clear. “We should be thinking of group interests,” Casey explained, outlining his opposition to U.S. intervention. “Most of the people who would go and fight and die in a hypothetical war with Iran or some other Middle Eastern conflict would be White guys…as Americans, what is in our best interest?”
This antisemitism spilled over into mainstream ranks. Lauren Chen, a host at Glenn Beck’s BlazeTV, shared a clip from Fuentes’ America First show, claiming Fuentes provided “a more balanced and rational take on Israel/Palestine than the entire political class.” In response, Claremont Fellow Megan Basham, one of many conservative pundits who sought to cool the temperature on the anti-interventionist Right, tweeted:
“You can debate how involved the US should be in what’s happening in Israel without engaging in antisemitic tropes. Few, apparently, know this.”
For many conservatives, these arguments over U.S. support for Israel signal a deeper split within the movement ranks. “A powerful, if delicate coalition was forming,” lamented ‘intellectual dark web’ author Bret Weinstein, “preparing to make a stand to save the republic from the deep state. Events in the Middle East have predictably destroyed the momentum. People who admired each other last week eye each other now with suspicion.” In a similar vein, Vivek Ramaswamy told Tucker Carlson “I do think we have a real fundamental ideological divide in the Republican Party. And we ought to have that debate in the open. I think we’re not having it now. And I for my part will be unapologetic in putting the interests of this nation first.”
In the face of the U.S. Right’s long-standing staunch support for the Israeli Right, it remains to be seen whether this non-interventionist camp will make greater inroads and spark widespread debate within movement ranks, as has occurred with Ukraine. But the growing popularity of these views among prominent right-wing voices represents a marked departure from previous flashpoints of conflict in Israel/Palestine.
The one thing we can count on is that, whichever side of this divide they stand on, U.S. conservatives will almost certainly use the crisis to double-down on culture war crusades, fomenting Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian bigotry, and antisemitism in the process.