Research briefing: why are reports of hate crime surging during the Israel-Hamas conflict?

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The history of linking media and words to real-world violence

Trevor Burrus writing for CATO points out that America has a history of demonizing content, from dime novels and penny dreadfuls to movies, radio drama, comic books, television, and video games (and now social media). These have resulted in Supreme Court rulings in 1915 and the Comics Code Authority. But the consistent theme is no actual proof

‘For as long as there has been violence in popular entertainment, there has been criticism that violent content is inappropriate for minors.’

  1. ‘The Grimms’ tales, of course, were far from the first entertainment to contain representations of violence.’ 

  2. ‘Homer’s Odyssey, in Judge Posner’s words, contains “graphic descriptions of Odysseus’s grinding out the eye of Polyphemus with a heated, sharpened stake”’

  3. ‘Shakespeare’s entertainment, in its non-bowdlerized form, is not for the faint of heart.’

‘In the late 19th century, “dime novels” and “penny dreadfuls” were blamed for youth violence. An 1896 edition of the New York Times told of the “Thirteen-Year-Old Desperado” who robbed a gold watch from a jeweler and fired a gun while being pursued.’

  1. ‘The boy’s friends say that he is the victim of dime novel literature,” the story concludes. Or Daniel McLaughlin, in an 1890 New York Times, “who sought to emulate the example of the heroes of the dime novels and ‘held up’ Harry B. Weir in front of 3 James Street last night.”’

  2. ‘In England, “penny dreadful” publications (so named because of their price and content) were condemned for glorifying criminals and reveling in graphic depictions of violent behavior. They were blamed for youthful delinquency by the media and parents alike. “There isn’t a boy or a young lad tried at our Courts of Justice whose position there is not more or less due the effect of unwholesome literature upon his mind,” opined the recorder for the City of London in 1885.’

‘Next, there were movies, which made dime novels look tame, as the Times wrote in 1909:’

  1. “The days when the police looked upon dime novels as the most dangerous of textbooks in the school for crime are drawing to a close. They have found a new subject for attack. They say that the moving picture machine, when operated by the unscrupulous, or possibly unthinking, tends even more than did the dime novel to turn the thoughts of the easily influenced to paths which sometimes lead to prison.”

  2. ‘In fact, the Supreme Court didn’t grant movies First Amendment protection until 1952, ruling in a 1915 case that movies could “be used for evil” and thus could have their content regulated.’

  3. ‘The Production Code was loosened in the 1950s and 1960s and was eventually abandoned, in favor of the MPAA film rating system in 1968. Movies are more violent, but no one would argue that our society is better for the cultural impact of the movies, TV, and music that has flourished in this free society.’ 

‘Movies might be bad, but violent radio dramas make listeners play out the violence in their heads, a fact which concerned some in the ‘30s and ‘40s.’ 

  1. ‘In 1941, Dr. Mary Preston released a study in the Journal of Pediatrics that claimed that a majority of children had a “severe addiction” to radio crime dramas.’ 

  2. ‘One 10-year-old told her that “Murders are best. Shooting and gangsters next. I liked the Vampire sucking out blood very much.”’

‘In the 1950s, America had a prolonged scare about violent comic books prompted by the psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham.’ 

  1. ‘Wertham exhorted parents to understand that comics were “an entirely new phenomenon” due to their depictions of “violence, cruelty, sadism, crime, beating, promiscuity,” and much more.’ 

  2. ‘Writing in the Saturday Review in 1948, Wertham chastized those who downplayed the risk:’ 

  • “A thirteen-year-old boy in Chicago has just murdered a young playmate. He told his lawyer, Samuel J. Andalman, that he reads all the crime comic books he can get hold of. He has evidently not kept up with the theories that comic-book readers never imitate what they read.” 

  • ‘Wertham’s activism led to congressional hearings and eventually the comic book industry creating the Comics Code Authority.’

‘Since the 1950s, we’ve seen periodic scares about violent television, movies, and now video games. Although the idea that violent entertainment might cause crime can’t be dismissed out of hand, empirical studies consistently fail to show a connection, just as with video games.’ 

  • ‘The most consistent correlation is that of older generations misunderstanding the pastimes of the youth, coupled with a hearty sense of nostalgia for the good ol’ days.’ 

Burrus highlights that the television, film, and music industries responded not with censorship but with guidance on how to navigate potentially challenging content for children

‘Cato filed a brief in that case that documented the history of complaints about uniquely violent entertainment and the effectiveness of industry self-regulation–such as the MPAA movie ratings, the ESRB ratings for video games, and the Comics Code–over ham-handed government oversight.’ 

‘Despite that, the ultimate governmental response to violence on television has not been to impose censorship but to encourage the industry to establish its own voluntary system to enable parents to make decisions for their families.’ 

  1. ‘In 1990, Congress passed the Television Program Improvement Act granting antitrust immunity to broadcasters to enable them to jointly set guidelines “designed to alleviate the negative impact of violence in telecast material.” 47 U.S.C. § 303c.’ 

  2. ‘In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress further required the television industry to devise a voluntary rating system, similar to that for film, to categorize programs based on the presence of violence or other sensitive content or allow the Federal Communications Commission to provide its own.’ 

  3. ‘The industry responded with the TV Parental Guidelines, a set of age-based ratings for television programs. The current version of the Guidelines went into effect on October 1, 1997.’

‘In the 1980s, many parents and teachers became concerned about the effects of music with “explicit” lyrics, generally concerning sex, violence, and substance abuse.’ 

  1. ‘Tipper Gore and other parents founded the Parents Music Resource Center and persuaded the Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation Committee in 1985 to hold hearings on the lyrics of popular music.’ 

  2. ‘This led to the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”) adopting “parental advisory” logo standards, which encourage music producers to place warning stickers on packaging containing songs deemed to have explicit content.’

A 2020 reanalysis of 28 studies involving over 21,000 young people from around the world found that “current research is unable to support the hypothesis that violent video games have a meaningful long-term predictive impact on youth aggression”

‘The researchers, led by Aaron Drummond from New Zealand’s Massey University, re-examined 28 studies from previous years that looked at the link between aggressive behavior and video gaming, a method known as a meta-analysis.’

‘The report, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday, found that, when bundled together, the studies showed a statistically significant but minuscule positive correlation between gaming and aggression, below the threshold required to count as even a “small effect”.’

Many researchers, including Christopher J. Ferguson, state that laboratory results showing a link between video games and violence do not translate into real-world effects. Many studies also fail to control for variables like family life and mental health

‘Researchers, including psychologist Christopher J. Ferguson, have challenged the position that video game violence harms children.’ 

  • ‘While his own 2009 meta-analytic review reported results similar to Anderson’s, Ferguson contends that laboratory results have not translated into real-world, meaningful effects.’ 

‘He also claims that much of the research into video game violence has failed to control for other variables such as mental health and family life, which may have impacted the results.’ 

  1. ‘His work has found that children who are already at risk may be more likely to choose to play violent video games.’ 

  2. ‘According to Ferguson, these other risk factors, as opposed to the games, cause aggressive and violent behavior.’

Public health researcher Cheryl Olson expressed her concern about legislation responding to the link between violence and video games because “we have way more questions than we have answers”

‘Cheryl Olson, ScD, who co-directs the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital said:’

  • “I’m worried about the rush to legislate because, as I see it, we have way more questions than we have answers… We need many more studies with clear definitions of aggression and validated measures.”

Researchers at Villanova and Rutgers published a study that found violent video games may reduce violent crime by keeping young men off the street

‘Some studies have shown that violent video games might reduce crime by keeping young men off the street and glued to their TVs.’

‘Researchers at Villanova University and Rutgers University have published a study comparing sales of violent video games with crime statistics in the United States. They found that crime numbers tend to drop when shooting game sales are at their highest.’

‘Although he believes that potentially violent people enjoy violent games, it does not follow that violent games create violent people. However, his research suggests that violent people playing video games are less likely to be doing something else.’

  1. ‘A game like GTA 5 can sell tens of millions of copies in a short period, and take up dozens of hours.’ 

  2. ‘These games tend to be played by the same demographic that features prominently in violent crime, that being young men.’ 

  3. ‘If you take millions of young men out of the social milieu for a few days, it might well have a negative impact on crime statistics.’

‘Markey stressed that more research is required into the issue, possibly in other countries, and that the explanations he has attempted to attach to the data are conjecture. But the findings do appeal to common sense.’ 

  • “It’s not unusual to find a person committing a crime who happens to be a 20-year-old male who also happens to be a college student who likes video games and that is why games get connected to violent crimes. But that goes both ways.”

Violence has become more common in movies but violent crime has dropped, disproving the idea that society has become more violent with our culture

‘The researchers hypothesized that because films had grown more violent through the years due to the ratings creep, there would be notable increases in gun-related homicides through the years studied.’

‘However, this was not the case, and the researchers found that violence and homicide rates decreased from 1985 to 2015 even after accounting for different variables that impact violent crime.’

More recent research suggests violent movies might enhance aggression only in those already prone to it. However, the study’s authors relied on speculation to conclude their results

‘The researchers scanned the volunteers three times: doing nothing, watching emotionally charged videos, and viewing a violent movie.’

  • “It wasn’t the whole [violent] movie,” Alia-Klein said, “just the violent scenes, one after another after another.” 

‘While the two groups of men responded similarly when watching the emotional video, their brain scans and blood pressure readings were strikingly different as they viewed the violent scenes.’ 

  1. ‘The non-aggressive men’s blood pressure rose and the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in impulse control and decision-making, sparked brightly.’

  2. ‘The aggressive men’s brains were much quieter and their blood pressures either stayed the same or in some cases dropped a little.’

‘To Alia-Klein, the blood pressure readings meant that the aggressive men were not disturbed by the violent scenes they were viewing.’ 

  • ‘And the lack of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex meant “they weren’t engaging the part of the brain that would say, ‘this is bad.’ It could be because this is congruent with their personalities, that it’s part of their ‘normal.’”’

‘She speculates that the impact may be to enhance the aggression that is already there.’ 

  • “At the right time, when they become violent, they may act out some of the ideas they have seen. The movies may offer them ways to kill or aggress.”

The maneuverings of the Censorship Industrial Complex during the Israel-Hamas conflict

FBI Director Wray stated that the most immediate concern in the U.S. is “that violent extremists — individuals or small groups — will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives.”

‘Part of Wray’s warning includes possible extremist attacks toward Jewish and Muslim populations in the U.S., who have already experienced an increased number of threats since the war began.’

  1. ‘”That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities,” Wray said.’

  2. ‘Wray added that “protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism is and remains our number one priority.”’

FBI Director Wray also warned that events in the Middle East will inspire extremists abroad to commit violence against Americans

‘Wray testified in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs:’

  1. ‘The reality is that the terrorism threat has been elevated throughout 2023, but the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to a whole other level.’

  2. ‘We assess that the actions of Hamas and its allies will serve as an inspiration the likes of which we haven’t seen since ISIS launched its so-called caliphate years ago.’ 

‘As evidence for the claim, Wray said that in the previous few weekends:’

  1. ‘Multiple foreign terrorist organizations called for attacks against Americans and the West.

  2. ‘The U.S. had also seen an increase in attacks on its military bases overseas, which Wray says have been “carried out by militia groups backed by Iran.’

FBI Director Wray noted that the FBI has been opening 60% more hate crimes investigations post-October 7

‘Wray said during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:’

  1. “We’ve been opening I think 60 percent more hate crimes investigations post-Oct. 7, then compared to the comparable period pre-Oct. 7.” 

  2. “And that’s on top of that already escalating increase that I mentioned,” he said, after noting that hate crimes reached a high in 2022.

‘The FBI director said “The biggest chunk of those are threats against the Jewish community, but there are of course attacks … against others as well,” pointing to attacks against Muslim targets.’

‘He told lawmakers in late October:’

  • “The reality is that the Jewish community is uniquely targeted by pretty much every terrorist organization across the spectrum. And when you look at a group that makes up 2.4 percent, roughly, of the American population, it should be jarring to everyone that that same population accounts for something like 60 percent of all religious-based hate crimes, and so they need our help.”

FBI Director Wray warned that ISIS and Al Qaeda have both called for attacks against the United States

‘The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has called for attacks on Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, and Al Qaeda issued a specific call to attack the United States, Mr. Wray said.’

  • ‘The call from Al Qaeda urged “Islamic movements” to form sleeper cells and support “operations against the Jews and their interests,” according to a person who saw parts of the message and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information.’

‘Mr. Wray said the message from Al Qaeda was the most specific call to attack the United States that intelligence officials have seen in five years.’

  • ‘“To have this many foreign terrorist organizations this explicitly calling for attacks,” Mr. Wray said, significantly elevates the potential terror threats to the United States.’

Christopher Wray has a habit of raising the threat of hypothetical dangers and then saying that the FBI needs the “tools” to stop them

Wray’s recent hypothetical comments include:

  1. ‘It would be absolutely devastating if the next time an adversary like Iran or China launches a major cyberattack, we don’t see it coming because 702, one of our most important tools, was allowed to lapse.’

  2. ‘What could anyone possibly say to victims’ families if there was another attack that we could have prevented if we hadn’t given away the ability to effectively use a tool that courts have consistently deemed constitutional?’ 

He consistently asks for more tools:

  1. ‘Which leads me to my final point—I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that the FBI’s men and women have the tools they need to keep us all safe. And indispensable in that toolkit against foreign adversaries are the FBI’s FISA 702 authorities.’

  2. ‘And we owe it to them to make sure we’ve got the tools we need to do that.’

The media has been quick to report on surging hate crime statistics by anti-hate groups

CBS – “U.S. sees “unprecedented,” “staggering” rise in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents since the start of Israel-Hamas war, groups say”

CNN – “Reports of antisemitism, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias continue to surge across the US, new data shows”

NBC – “Reports of antisemitic incidents in U.S. spike after attack on Israel, Anti-Defamation League says”

Politicians have been quick to speak out and act. Ron DeSantis ordered universities to shut down student chapters over links to terrorism, while Nikki Haley tweeted that we should publish the names of pro-Hamas protesters

‘Last month Florida Governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis ordered universities to shut down National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters in the state over dubious connections to terrorism.’

‘The state said the ban was justified because the organization produced a toolkit that references Palestinian resistance and declares that, “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement.”’

  1. ‘“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” reads a letter from the chancellor of the state’s university system to the targeted Florida schools.’

  2. ‘“Publish every name of the pro-Hamas protesters in our cities and universities,” tweeted fellow presidential hopeful and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. “They are siding with terrorists who chant ‘death to America.’ That is unacceptable.”’

Gov. Kathy Hochul sent letters to social media companies demanding improved moderation policies and transparency about how hate speech spreads on their platforms

‘According to data tracked by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, there has been a 417% increase in online hate speech against Muslim communities since the war started last month.’

‘Citing that statistic and a similar increase in antisemitism, Gov. Kathy Hochul sent a letter in November to four social media companies – Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), TikTok, and X, formerly known as Twitter – demanding that the social media platforms improve their moderation policies, add more staff and resources for content moderation, and be more transparent about how hate speech spreads on their platforms.’

The White House expressed its concern over antisemitism and Islamophobia and announced the administration was working on national strategies against hate

‘The White House recently expressed deep concern over “an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages” on college campuses since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, which left 1,400 people dead, including protests calling for the annihilation of the state of Israel or genocide against the Jewish people.’  

‘On the national level, President Biden announced on Nov. 1 that his administration is working on a national strategy to counter Islamophobia. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement:’

  • “We look forward to continuing our work with community leaders, advocates, members of Congress, and more to develop the strategy – which will be a joint effort led by the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council – and counter the scourge of Islamophobia and hate in all its forms. For too long, Muslims in America, and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Arabs and Sikhs, have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks and other discriminatory incidents.”

Biden stated that anti-Asian hate crimes fell after he signed legislation. It probably fell because COVID became less topical yet the comment reveals his belief that you can legislate away hate and attitudes

‘Last year’s data also shows that overall hate crime levels remained steady, and hate crimes targeting Asian Americans fell by 38 percent after I signed legislation to combat anti-Asian hate.’

The Biden administration unveiled new actions to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses, including flagging online content and detailing intelligence agencies to engage with schools

‘The Biden-Harris Administration is today announcing new actions and resources to address the alarming rise of reported Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents at schools and on college campuses since the October 7th Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.’ 

  • ‘These actions will help protect students, engage school and university leaders, and foster safe and supportive learning environments.’

‘NBC News reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice are partnering with campus police to track threats and provide federal resources to schools.’ 

  • ‘The Biden administration is unveiling new actions to combat antisemitism on college campuses after an “alarming” uptick in incidents since the Israel-Hamas war started in early October.’

‘The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are partnering with campus law enforcement to track hate-related threats and provide federal resources to schools, according to the plan, which was shared exclusively with NBC News.’

  1. ‘Some of what they will be assessing includes specific and credible threats that are flagged online.’  

  2. ‘Dozens of cybersecurity and protective security experts at DHS have been detailed to engage with schools as they navigate incredibly tense environments, a White House official said.’ 

Anti-hate groups met privately with the Biden administration to discuss a course of action

‘Several prominent Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, gave Biden administration officials recommendations for increasing safety at schools after a spike in antisemitism on college campuses.’

‘During a closed-press meeting on Monday, a dozen Jewish leaders met in Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s Washington office to discuss steps the Biden administration is taking to counter antisemitism within K-12 and higher education communities. Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Deputy Education Secretary Cindy Marten, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, were also in attendance.’

Anti-hate groups have upped their alarming rhetoric during the conflict

‘ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “It’s clear that the hardened anti-Zionists from the far left are the photo inverse of the white supremacists from the far right. There is no argument anymore that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. I mean, that is as plain as day.”’

The ADL was intimately involved with Biden’s antisemitism plan

‘The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says it was “intimately involved” in developing the antisemitism plan and that it continues to collaborate with The White House as a part of this expansion.’

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)

The ADL released its annual antisemitism report on Wednesday announcing 3,283 incidents from 10 October 2023 to 7 January 2024, an increase of 361%. Two-thirds related to the Israel-Hamas war, while 1,307 incidents were rallies, 1,347 incidents were verbal or written harassment, 554 incidents were vandalism, and 56 incidents were assaults

‘The ADL released its annual antisemitism report on Wednesday, announcing that there were a stunning 3,283 such incidents from 10 October 2023 to 7 January 2024.’ 

  1. ‘That’s a 361 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to the organization, which noted the “American Jewish community is facing a threat level that’s now unprecedented in modern history.”’

  2. ‘The organization also stated that two-thirds of the total incidents could be “directly related to the Israel-Hamas war.”’

‘But without rallies, the US has seen a 176% increase in antisemitic incidents of harassment, vandalism, and physical attacks compared to the same three-month period last year.’

‘According to the ADL Center on Extremism, which gathers reports and tracks antisemitic incident data, these 3,291 antisemitic incidents from 10 October 2023 to 7 January 2024 break down into the following categories:’

  1. ‘56 incidents of physical assault.’

  2. ‘554 incidents of vandalism.’

  3. ‘1,347 incidents of verbal or written harassment.’

  4. ‘1,307 rallies, including antisemitic rhetoric, expressions of support for terrorism against the state of Israel, and/or anti-Zionism.’ 

‘For comparison, 2022 saw 3,697 incidents which broke down as follows:’’

  1. ‘111 incidents of assault’

  2. ‘1,288 incidents of vandalism’

  3. ‘2,298 incidents of harassment’

‘Of the 2023 total, at least 500 incidents took place on college campuses, and another 256 were reported in K-12 schools. At least 634 incidents were reported against Jewish institutions such as synagogues and community centers. About two-thirds of the total incidents could be directly related to the Israel-Hamas war.’

The ADL recorded 56 incidents of physical assault from 10 October 2023 to 7 January 2024, 111 assaults in 2022 as a whole, 88 assaults in 2021, 31 assaults in 2020, 61 assaults in 2019, 39 in 2018, 19 in 2017, and 36 in 2016

‘In 2022, the assaults could be broken down as follows:’

  1. ‘A total of 111 incidents were categorized as assault, defined as cases where Jewish people (or people perceived to be Jewish) were targeted with physical violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus.’

  2. ‘Antisemitic assaults increased 26% from 88 in 2021. The vast majority of antisemitic assaults (107 of 111) were perpetrated without the use of a deadly weapon and there were no assaults perpetrated against the Jewish community that resulted in mass casualties.’

  3. ‘Visibly Orthodox Jews were targeted in 59 of the assault incidents nationally (53%)’

  4. ‘Overall, the 111 assaults impacted 139 victims and resulted in one death.’ 

  5. ‘Sixty-six of the assaults (59% of the total) took place in the five boroughs of New York City. Brooklyn was the epicenter of assaults, accounting for 52. There were seven assaults in Manhattan, four assaults in Queens, and three assaults on Staten Island. Visibly Orthodox Jews were targeted in 64% (46 out of 72) of the assault incidents in New York State.’ 

  6. ‘Thirteen antisemitic assaults occurred in California, nine in New Jersey, four in Massachusetts, three in Maryland, two in Oregon, two in Texas, and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and North Carolina.’

The ADL has stated that assault figures include assaults on pro-Israeli students and assaults like the alleged assault of an Indianapolis man holding an Israeli flag

‘ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has stated that figures during the Hamas-Israel conflict “include violent assaults on pro-Israeli students on college campuses.”’

‘One such incident cited includes ‘On Oct. 12 in Indianapolis, IN: A man carrying an Israeli flag was allegedly assaulted by a pro-Palestinian protestor.’’

The ADL has not released its full list of incidents. It will likely later release an audit but this is unlikely to include a full explanation for each incident

‘The report’s full list of antisemitic incidents isn’t public, but under the new definition, it could even count anti-Israel protests by Jewish activists as antisemitic.’ 

The ADL affords the same statistical significance to murder as it does a report of graffiti written on a stairwell when listing ‘antisemitic incidents’

‘The ADL’s overall count of anti-Semitic incidents, Eric Alterman points out:’

  • “Does not allow for crucial distinctions to be made among them. A tragic massacre like that in October 2018 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or the Jews held hostage in a Dallas synagogue for 11 hours by a gunman last year, are accorded the same statistical significance in the ADL’s counting as, say, a report of graffiti written on a stairwell of a college dorm. In the ADL’s statistics, they both count the same.”

The ADL’s social media account tracks incidents but includes demonstrations, posters being torn down, and criticisms of Israel alongside instances of bomb threats and swastika graffiti

‘The group’s website suggests that many of the incidents in the new report were tracked on one of the organization’s social media accounts.’ 

‘That account compiles statements from political officials accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing, demonstrations organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, and people tearing down posters of kidnapped Israelis alongside instances of swastika graffiti and bomb threats toward synagogues.’

Some of the increase in antisemitic incidents is likely due to the ADL’s efforts to expand its sources of information

‘If you read the fine print in the footnotes of the organization’s press releases, though, you will learn that the ADL changed its counting method from previous years by partnering with several groups that provide it with more comprehensive data than it has had access to in the past.’ 

‘In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Aryeh Tuchman, a senior associate director at the ADL’s Center on Extremism:’

  • “Acknowledged that some of the increase in the number of antisemitic incidents recorded is likely due to the ADL’s ongoing effort to expand its sources of information, which include multiple Jewish religious organizations and security agencies.”

The ADL acknowledged to the Forward that it broadened its definition of antisemitic incidents following October 7th

‘But the ADL acknowledged in a statement to the Forward that it significantly broadened its definition of antisemitic incidents following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack to include rallies that feature “anti-Zionist chants and slogans,” events that appear to account for around 1,317 of the total count.’

‘Overall, a large share of the incidents appear to be expressions of hostility toward Israel, rather than the traditional forms of antisemitism that the organization has focused on in previous years.’

ADL staff have criticized the group for overstating the problem of antisemitism

‘A former senior ADL staffer who spoke to Eric Alterman on background said that the group’s Center for Antisemitism Research became upset over all this and, together with senior staff, objected to the way Greenblatt was portraying the group’s research to the media, believing that he was significantly overstating the problem.’

‘As a compromise, staffers were then instructed to use the qualified terms “materially higher” or “significantly higher” when talking to the press or to donors, rather than the misleading claims Greenblatt had been peddling, according to this staffer.’

The ADL stated in 2003 that antisemitism was as bad then as it was in America during the 1930s

‘The ADL has a history of exaggerating the degree of antisemitism in the United States. Back in 2003, its then leader, Abe Foxman, insisted that American Jews “currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s—if not a greater one.”’ 

‘As Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS series The U.S. and the Holocaust demonstrated, antisemitism was open and casual in America, accepted among the upper classes in a way that would have been impossible in 2003.’

The ADL has been criticized for conflating anti-Israel rhetoric with antisemitism and several employees have quit over the matter

‘Current and former employees of the ADL, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have criticized aspects of this approach in a series of recent articles.’ 

  1. ‘Jewish Currents reported last week that Yael Eisenstat, the head of the organization’s Center for Technology and Society, quit over Greenblatt’s relationship with Elon Musk and that three of her employees had leftover ADL’s stance against pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist protesters.’ 

  2. ‘Separately, an ADL researcher, Stephen Rea, resigned in October over Greenblatt’s criticism of a rally organized by two progressive Jewish groups calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.’

‘At least two employees who spoke to the Guardian have quit in response to its overt emphasis on pro-Israel advocacy since the Israeli offensive on Gaza began.’

‘The ADL said in its statement that it does not conflate criticism of Israel, which is not inherently antisemitic, with actual antisemitism.’ 

  1. ‘But experts question whether its widely cited annual audit of antisemitic incidents does just that.’ 

  2. ‘Some fraction of those incidents, for example, are probably actions by anti-Zionist activists who are themselves Jewish, such as Jewish Voice for Peace.’

‘Ben Lorber, an analyst of trends in white nationalism at Political Research Associates said:’

  • “It contributes to a distorted view. Parts of the ADL continue to do valuable work in monitoring and warning against the danger of the rising far right, but increasingly, that work is compromised by their reactionary approach on Israel.”

The ADL counted 163 bomb threats to synagogues in 2017, but most were attributed to a disturbed Jewish teenager in Israel. These ‘harassment’ figures helped the ADL claim a 41% increase in harassment cases in just one year

‘In his book The Jewish American Paradox, Harvard Law School Professor Robert Mnookin notes that “Since World War ll, institutionalized anti-Semitism [in the U.S.] has virtually disappeared.”’ 

‘Mnookin describes “the alarmist approach by the Jewish advocacy organizations, especially the ADL,” as “often exaggerated.”’ 

‘He points to the ADL’s approach to the 163 bomb threats to synagogues in 2017:’ 

  • “Although virtually all of them had been attributed to the disturbed Jewish teenager in Israel (who has since been indicted), the ADL included them in its ‘harassment’ statistics for 2017 and insisted they were evidence of anti-Semitism. By including these threats in its 2017 report, the ADL was able to claim a dramatic 41 percent spike in harassment cases in just one year…I don’t think the Jewish community is served by such hype.”

The ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt has made it clear that he views anti-zionism as antisemitism

‘In 2022, Greenblatt made the organization’s position crystal clear when he announced:’ 

Speaking to an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival more recently, he instructed the crowd that the words “free Palestine,” when said to a Jewish person, were “antisemitic, plain and simple.”’

The ADL labels leftist college groups as extremist but its 2022 audit found liberal groups committed just two percent of antisemitic actions to which the ADL objected

‘While Greenblatt assaulted alleged “anti-Semitism” on the pro-Palestinian left, the ADL’s own “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents 2022” found that the liberal groups he focused on were responsible for just two percent of the “anti-Semitic” actions to which the ADL objected.’ 

‘Lara Friedman, a Middle East policy analyst and frequent critic of the ADL, points out that of these incidents cited, 53 out of 70 were attributable to a single marginal group in Ann Arbor, MI.’

The ADL previously listed Chaya Raichik in their glossary of extremism. Elon Musk claimed the ADL wiped out half the value of X

‘The ADL still lists Libs of TikTok (LoTT) as an anti-LGBTQ+ extremist social media account run by Chaya Raichik and asked a counterterrorism unit to investigate me because I criticized child predators.’

‘’Based on what we’ve heard from advertisers, ADL seems to be responsible for most of our revenue loss,’ he wrote, adding that the group ‘would potentially be on the hook for destroying half the value of the company, so roughly $22 billion.’’

The White House has spoken of how it “needs” the ADL

‘The ADL remarked that it shaped the White House National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.’

‘Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randal:’

  • “And we need the Anti-Defamation League. And we will continue to work alongside you. Because whether it’s the ADL’s COMBAT plan to fight antisemitism in our communities… your REPAIR plan to address online hate… or many of the other remarkable initiatives you have underway…. we share the ADL’s comprehensive approach to end the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

The ADL has massively increased its lobbying efforts since Joe Biden came into office according to Open Secrets

‘The ADL has repeatedly called out antisemitic tropes that Jews control money and power. But this has nothing to do with religion, any group that lobbies politicians is interested in achieving an outcome. The ADL has a section devoted to this.’ 

‘Open Secrets notes that:’

  • ‘A special interest’s lobbying activity may go up or down over time, depending on how much attention the federal government is giving their issues. Particularly active clients often retain multiple lobbying firms, each with a team of lobbyists, to press their case for them.’

The ADL has led efforts on provisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for hate crime and terrorism under the Biden administration. The ADL can raise over $1 million for a single gala

‘ADL led efforts on the following provisions included in the final bill:’

  1. ‘$305 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program – a 22% increase from the previous year’s funding. This program will provide critical grants to nonprofits and faith communities to protect against continued threats of hate-driven violence, including protecting synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions from antisemitic threats.’ 

  2. ‘Unprecedented levels of funding to improve hate crimes reporting, investigation, prosecution, and overall prevention with $10 million for programs authorized under the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act (doubled from the previous year), $25 million in grants under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (a 92% increase from Fiscal Year 2022), $10 million to support community-based efforts to prevent and respond to hate crimes (also doubling the previous year’s funding), and over $25 million for the Community Relations Service.’ 

  3. ‘$1.5 million each to fund the office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism (20% increase from the previous year’s funding) and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (50% increase from Fiscal Year 2022), as well as $1 million to counter global white supremacist extremism.’  

  4. ‘$2 million to fund the Never Again Education Act to support Holocaust education across the U.S.’  

  5. ‘Funding of several programs to study and combat extremism and hate on and offline: $7.5 million for domestic violent extremism research; $20 million for the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention grant program; increased funding to investigate extremist violence and domestic terrorism; and increased funding to further support prosecutions related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism cases.’

‘Its 2014 Annual Gala Celebration at the Beverly Hilton raised over $1.1 million to support ADL’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry.’

The ADL’s revenue has almost doubled since Greenblatt became Director of the Anti-Defamation League and Greenblatt earned over $1.2 million according to the ADL’s latest tax filings. The company provides first-class and/or chartered flights to key employees

‘Its filings indicate the organization provided first-class or charter travel to key employees or officers. Details are reported on Schedule J. also says Greenblatt earned over £1.2 million.’ 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) includes complaints from a wide variety of Americans, including public school and college students, doctors and other workers, protestors, and mosques

‘In an average 57-day period in 2022, CAIR received 798 complaints. People submitting complaints included a wide variety of Americans, including public school and college students, doctors and other workers, protestors, and mosques.’ 

‘This reflects a reality of the coalition opposing Israeli apartheid and occupation which includes people of the Jewish faith, Muslims, Christians, and a multitude of ethnicities.”’    

CAIR received 2,171 complaints over the first two months of the conflict. 34% were violations of an individual’s right to free speech, 22% were employment issues, 17% were hate crimes and speech, and 14% were education and bullying. It’s not clear however who is making these complaints

‘The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today released new civil rights data showing that it has received a “staggering” 2,171 complaints over the past 57 days amid an ongoing wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate.’   

  1. ‘At the national headquarters alone, First Amendment issues (33.94%), violations of an individual’s right to free speech and expression, remain the top reported case type since our last data release and are a growth category (63 percent increase in the last four weeks of the conflict over the first four weeks).’  

  2. ‘This was followed by employment (22.38% reports), hate crimes and hate speech (16.97% reports), and education and bullying (14.08% reports). The order of these incident types has not changed since CAIR’s initial one-month update.’ 

CAIR said:

  • “In an average 57-day period in 2022, CAIR received 798 complaints. People submitting complaints included a wide variety of Americans, including public school and college students, doctors and other workers, protestors, and mosques. This reflects a reality of the coalition opposing Israeli apartheid and occupation which includes people of the Jewish faith, Muslims, Christians, and a multitude of ethnicities.”    

CAIR and various influencers made a story go viral about a Muslim man in Ohio who said he was seriously injured by a car driven by a person who screamed “Kill all Palestinians” and “Long live Israel.” The story was a hoax

‘Hesham Ayyad (the alleged hoaxer) & Khalil Ayyad have been charged with domestic violence and assault. Hesham is additionally charged with falsification, making false alarms & obstructing official business.’ 

‘Muslim Americans have long been involved in numerous high-profile hate crime allegations that turned out to be hoaxes, especially since Trump was elected.’

CAIR has claimed that “vitriol from elected officials from all levels of government is what led to the brutal murder of 6-year-old Wade Al-Fayoume”

‘CAIR-Ohio Outreach Director Victoria Hickcox said:’

  • “The anti-Muslim hate rhetoric directed at Representative Abdullahi is deeply troubling. This type of vitriol is what has led to a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence against our community and anyone who speak for the human rights of Palestinians. This vitriol from elected officials from all levels of government is what led to the brutal murder of 6-year-old Wade Al-Fayoume in Chicago. Such offensive language causes harm to individuals, especially when their identity is being targeted, and contributes to the rise in hate crimes targeting both the Muslim and Jewish communities.”

‘Abdullahi was called a liar on social media and accused of standing up for Hamas.’ 

‘Abdullahi was denied a chance to explain her vote by House Speaker Jason Stephens, who has full discretion on who can speak on the House floor. The southern Ohio Republican allowed only two speakers from each party.’

The White House criticized remarks by the co-founder and executive director of CAIR when he said he was “happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into their land that they were not allowed to walk in”. He claimed his remarks were taken out of context but then removed the full video of his speech

‘Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Nihad Awad said at a November conference hosted by American Muslims for Palestine:’

  • “Yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into their land that they were not allowed to walk in.”

‘White House’s deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said:’

  • “We condemn these shocking, antisemitic statements in the strongest terms.” 

‘CAIR claimed the remarks were taken out of context but then removed the full video.’ 

Trudeau appointed a former director of CAIR’s Canadian branch as the country’s Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia

Twitter and press release

‘Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of a special representative on combating Islamophobia that will advise the federal government on how to better fight discrimination against the Muslim community.’ 

‘Human rights activist Amira Elghawaby will be responsible for serving “as a champion, advisor, expert, and representative to support and enhance” the government’s efforts, the federal government said in a statement.’

  1. ‘She has worked with the Canadian labor movement on human rights issues, and spent five years promoting civil liberties at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM); that appointment ended in 2017.’

  2. ‘She also was a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit that tracks hate groups in Canada.’

CAIR has denounced politicians who criticized South Africa’s genocide filings as well as actions against protesters. It’s not clear if its figures include non-Muslim protesters or Muslims targeted for their views and not their religion or race

‘The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today said that the over 200 members of Congress who sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken denouncing South Africa, dismissing the nation as “Israel’s enemy,” and expressing their “disgust” at the well-substantiated genocide filing made against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), should be “ashamed.”’

CAIR had some involvement with the White House, including as part of a “listening session on Islamophobia” and in a document discussing commitments to fight antisemitism

‘The White House did not have an extensive relationship with the council, which goes by the acronym CAIR, but included an officer of the group in a “listening session on Islamophobia” in May with Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.’ 

‘Later that month, the White House listed the council among several independent organizations in a document discussing commitments to fight antisemitism.’ 

‘The White House removed CAIR’s name from that online document on Thursday after Mr. Awad’s remarks to make clear it was distancing itself from the organization.’

Is Biden using hate as an electoral opportunity?

Biden continuously references the battle for the soul of America and lambasts white supremacy and extremism. What is the solution? A Biden election victory

‘Biden has made many references to the battle for the soul of America:’

  1. ‘“I ran for President because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation,” he told his audience. I still believe that to be true”  he said in the video, which opened with images of the January 6, 2021, insurrection and abortion rights activists protesting at the US Supreme Court.’

  2. ‘”Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”’

‘After he won and officially became president-elect, Biden confidently declared that “in this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed.”’

  • ‘”It’s not hyperbole, now you need to vote to literally save democracy again,” Biden implored at a campaign rally for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland last week. “Will we be a nation of unity, of hope, of optimism — not a nation of anger, violence, hatred, and division.”’ 

‘Biden has called out the language of Republicans:’

  1. “Well, people don’t say that anymore.  I don’t think anyone today doubts democracy was at stake in 2020.  But I think it’s still at stake in these upcoming el- — elections.” 

  2. Listen to what they’ve been saying.  Listen to what the MAGA Republicans are talking about.  Listen to the language they use.  Listen to who they say we are.  Listen to say — what they will do if they gain power.”

  3. “You know, that’s why Kamala and I are running again, because we made progress, but our democracy is still at stake.” 

‘And Biden made clear that Trump is the threat of political violence:’

  1. ‘Now, there are a lot of reasons Donald Trump shouldn’t be president, but this one may be the rest [best] reason of all.  Folks, Kamala and I are asking the entire nation to join us in sending the strongest, clearest, most powerful message possible that political violence is never, never, never, never, never acceptable in America.  Never.  Never.  (Applause.)’

  2. ‘And Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy this democracy.  And while MAGA Republicans in the House have been fighting among themselves, struggling to elect a Speaker until just now, trying to shut down the government, and sowing division at every turn, Kamala and I are always going to defend, protect, and fight for our democracy.  That’s why we’re running.  It’s that basic.’ 

Jennifer Mercieca of Texas A&M says fear is a powerful motivator in elections, it can unify a disparate base.

‘Jennifer Mercieca, a professor in the School of Communications and Journalism at Texas A&M University said:’

  • “One way you succeed with elections is by telling the nation what to be afraid of,” said

‘With this speech, Biden is trying to define the election as being about something larger than inflation, said Mercieca, who specializes in presidential rhetoric.’

  • ‘”He’s providing this ultra-heroic frame,” said Mercieca, explaining that Biden is making the case that “this is an existential crisis, this is a threat to the nation, this is about our most important value,” she said.’

Finding a frame, a theme that ties together seemingly disparate ideas and events can be helpful when running a campaign. Take Democrat Pat Ryan. He just won a special election for a congressional seat in upstate New York in a race that was anything but a sure thing.’

‘He didn’t shy away from talking about abortion rights, or as he put it:’

  1. “Not pull our punches, not triangulate, not poll-test.” He framed the Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision as being part of a larger threat of extreme ideology.

  2. “We stood up and pro-actively said this campaign is about freedom, this campaign is about choice,” Ryan said. “These are unifying American values that I think transcend even the very partisan corners that everybody’s in right now.”

‘Ryan said campaigning on threats to democracy motivated Democratic voters and also resonated with independents.’

  • “I mean it’s very sad and dark that that’s where we’re at as a country, but that does represent, I think, that cumulative set of rights being ripped away and anxiety and division,” Ryan said.

Eric Alterman, CUNY Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, says ‘the ADL’s addiction to alarmism is the same institutional imperative that drives virtually every other issue-oriented nonprofit: Bad news in the world is good news for the organizations committed to fighting it’

‘The motive for promoting the false idea of mounting anti-Semitism is clear. Eric Alterman, CUNY Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College writes:’

  • “A major reason for the ADL’s addiction to alarmism is the same institutional imperative that drives virtually every other issue-oriented nonprofit: Bad news in the world is good news for the organizations committed to fighting it. Climate change catastrophes fill the coffers of environmental groups. Attacks on choice fill the coffers of Planned Parenthood…” 

‘Alterman continues, journalists who write about escalating anti-Semitism:’ 

  • “are sufficiently intelligent to understand this phenomenon, but they tend to ignore it when reporting their stories and therefore pass along the ADL’s skewed and self-interested version of the problem as the political equivalent of scripture.” 

More reports of hate crimes could mean that people are more comfortable coming forward according to Dov Waxman, who directs UCLA’s Nazarian Center for Israel Studies

‘Dov Waxman, who directs UCLA’s Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, points out that even if the ADL had not changed its reporting method, a big jump would not necessarily imply a similar increase in the actual number of incidents taking place.’ 

‘Rather, it could merely mean more and better opportunities to report them and a greater willingness of victims and observers to do so. Waxman said:’

  1. “Our knowledge of hate crimes depends on people reporting them, but hate crimes have always been historically underreported, particularly when committed against marginalized communities.” 

  2. “But thanks to the work of various solidarity movements and media institutions, this is changing. Incidents of reported sexual assault and domestic violence have also risen recently.”

Why are we becoming more fearful and anxious?

Sociologist Barry Glassner says we’re “living in the most fear-mongering time in human history” and our fear is worth billions to companies who can exploit it

‘According to Lewis & Clark College president Barry Glassner, one of the country’s leading sociologists and author of The Culture of Fear:’ 

  • “We are living in the most fear-mongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.”

‘For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, your fear is worth billions.’ 

  1. ‘And fortunately for them, your fear is also very easy to manipulate.’ 

  2. ‘We’re wired to respond to it above everything else. If we miss an opportunity for abundance, life goes on; if we miss an important fear cue, it doesn’t.’

Andrew Huberman says our brain is mostly a stress-reactive machine to keep us alive which is why it’s easy to flip people into a state of fear. Many believe that our amygdala is responsible for these emotional triggers in the brain

‘Andrew Huberman, a Stanford neurobiology professor who runs a lab studying fear says:’

  • “The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn it’s not something that’s supposed to make you happy all the time. It’s mostly a stress-reactive machine. Its primary job is to keep us alive, which is why it’s so easy to flip people into fear all the time.”

‘In particular, when it comes to assessing future risks, there is a litany of cognitive distortions and emotional overreactions that we fall prey to.’

‘Many believe the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped region deep in each hemisphere of the brain, is the home of our emotional responses, specifically fear.’ 

  1. ‘The author Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijacking” to describe what inflammatory rhetoric and imagery are designed to do: trigger the emotional brain before the logical brain has a chance to stop it.’ 

  2. ‘This is what both the right and the left believe their opponent’s media are doing to people.’

However, fear doesn’t occur in the amygdala and the problem we’re talking about is not fear but anxiety says neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux. Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future

‘Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux runs a lab at New York University’s Center for Neural Science looking at human and animal brains – specifically, a tiny triangle of nuclei that sits on the amygdala, which is now popularly thought of as the fear center, thanks in part to LeDoux’s research.’ 

  • ‘The problem: Despite what countless psychologists, journalists, and teachers assert, fear doesn’t occur in the amygdala, according to LeDoux.’

‘“What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear,” LeDoux says. Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future. “It is a worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen,” says LeDoux.’

  • ‘So if someone opens fire at a concert you’re attending, you experience fear. But if you’re at a concert and you’re worried that a shooting attack could occur there, that’s anxiety.’

‘The biological difference, says LeDoux, is the worry and nervousness that we label as anxiety originate not in the amygdala, but predominantly in a small area of the stria terminalis – the pathway connecting the amygdala to the hypothalamus – known as the bed nucleus. It is this area that researchers believe is hyperactivated during generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety.’

  • ‘This may seem like a small distinction. But in actuality, it is everything. Because where fear is about a danger that seems certain, anxiety is, in LeDoux’s words, “an experience of uncertainty.”’

LeDoux says when Americans are polled on what they’re afraid of, they are listing anxieties, like government corruption, cyberterrorism, corporate tracking of information, and terrorist attacks

‘And that uncertainty is the exact lever that politicians regularly use to try to influence your behavior.’ 

‘According to last year’s Chapman University Survey of American Fears, a highly cited study in which 1,500 respondents were surveyed about 88 different fears, Americans are most afraid of corruption of government officials, followed by cyberterrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, and terrorist attacks.’ 

  • ‘These would all be anxieties, according to LeDoux. And the chief anxiety, about one’s own government, helps explain the attraction to Trump as a political outsider.’

‘But even more telling is what the Chapman survey says is the number-one way in which Americans respond to their anxieties: voting.’

When people get together and share their concerns, their views are likely to become more extreme after discussing their views, and will leave with less empathy for those with contrary views. This is known as the “law of group polarization”

‘What’s occurring in this meet-up group right now is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together.’ 

‘Theoretically, most people here, and in similar meet-ups around the country, will leave the room not just with stronger opinions but with less empathy for those with contrary views.’

Christopher Bader points out that fear and anxiety are inevitably intertwined with uncertainty. People can offer psychological relief to this anxiety by offering scapegoats, villains, and enemies to simplify a complex problem

Accompanying me at the meet-up is Christopher Bader, one of the architects of the Chapman survey. “The longer we delve into fears, the more I see fears as responses to uncertainty,” he says afterward.’

‘If there is a crack in human psychology into which demagogues wriggle, it is by offering psychological relief for the anxiety created by uncertainty.’ 

  • ‘When people are unsure – or made to feel unsure – and not in control of the safety of their finances, families, possessions, community, or future, their natural inclination is to grasp for certainty.’

‘This is where a good scapegoat comes in. Bader says:’

  • “That’s something Trump creates very well: There’s us – real Americans – then there are Muslims and immigrants. Fascist governments have risen in times of economic change because they offer simple answers to complicated personal questions. And one of the most popular ways people can have certainty is by pointing to a villain to blame things on.”

‘The crucial combination of uncertainty with the perception of an escalating threat has led historically, according to Bader and other researchers, to an increased desire for authoritarianism.’ 

  • “A conspiracy theory brings order to a disordered universe. It’s saying that the problems aren’t random, but they’re being controlled by a villainous group.”

‘It’s big banks. It’s ISIS. It’s the environmentalists. It’s the NRA. It’s Wall Street. It’s the patriarchy. It’s the feminists. It’s the right. It’s the left. It’s the Illuminati. Choose a single enemy and simplify your life – but know that it won’t make you any happier.’

Psychologists George Bonanno and John Jost found that 9/11 survivors embraced conservative ideologies that provided simple and rigid solutions, yet this didn’t make them happier. Likewise, they found that people who perceived the world as dangerous were more likely to be conservative (from a 2016 article)

‘Psychologists George Bonanno and John Jost studied 9/11 survivors and witnesses. They discovered that those exposed to the attack became more politically conservative, embracing ideologies that “provide relatively simple yet cognitively rigid solutions (e.g., good versus evil, black versus white, us versus them, leader versus follower) to problems of security and threat.”’

‘But, despite this, the political shift didn’t improve their overall state of mind. “On the contrary,” Bonanno and Jost concluded, “political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism and decreased use of humor.”’

‘Jost and his students recently went through more than 100 studies by researchers all over the world, involving more than 350,000 participants, and found similar results.’ 

  • “People who perceive the world as a more dangerous place in terms of crime, disease, and terrorism are more likely to be conservative,” says Jost. “And exposure to a terrorist attack – whether it is in the U.S., England, Spain, Germany or Israel – is a significant predictor of a conservative shift.”

Neil Strauss writing for Rolling Stone says decisions you make are a much greater threat to your life than someone else murdering you

‘Far more prolific, and thus even less news-worthy, are the 117 suicides in the U.S. each day (in comparison with 43 murders), the 129 deaths from accidental drug overdoses, and the 96 people dying a day in automobile accidents (27 of whom aren’t wearing seat belts, not to mention the unspecified amount driving distracted).’ 

Add to these the 1,315 deaths each day due to smoking, the 890 related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks, and liver disease, and the message is clear:’ 

  • ‘The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your safety.’

Fear is not logical. Probability neglect means we will pay more for flight insurance to protect us from terrorism than all causes. In general society, we’re more afraid of unlikely events than of everyday harms. Probability neglect is why we’re more likely to accept restrictions to prevent unlikely occurrences

‘In 2002, a law professor and former White House adviser named Cass Sunstein coined the term “probability neglect.”’ 

  1. ‘It suggests that when people are emotionally stirred by something, especially something they can vividly imagine, they will fear its outcome even if it is highly unlikely to happen.’ 

  2. ‘So, the fear of domestic ISIS-spawned terrorist attacks, for example, becomes far greater than the fear of everyday experiences that are much more likely to result in a fatality.’

‘There are countless examples from psychological research of how bad we are at decision-making, responding more to emotional impact than facts:’ 

  • ‘A 1993 study demonstrated that people were willing to pay more for flight insurance to protect them from terrorism than they were to pay for flight insurance covering “all causes.”’

‘One of the dangers of probability neglect is that, in the face of a highly visceral event or fear, Americans are more likely to accept invasions of privacy and restrictions of freedom that they otherwise wouldn’t accept, such as the passing of the Patriot Act weeks after 9/11.’

Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, says phones and social media create a false sense of involvement that we didn’t have before. Social media also allows us to create a digital ring of fire for our beliefs

‘“I’ve looked a lot at why we are more fearful now than 200 years ago,” says Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. “And one thing that keeps coming up is the immediacy with which we get the news. This makes it feel more emotionally charged. We start receiving notifications on our phones as soon as these disasters happen. So there’s a false sense of involvement that we didn’t have 150 years ago.”’

‘Here’s another recent revolution in news consumption: In an era in which so many news programs, radio shows, and websites look like news and sound like news but are just theater sets for partisan advocacy groups and commentators, anyone can create a digital ring of fire around his or her belief system that doesn’t allow other information to enter.’ 

‘When people tune all of their radios, TVs, Internet browsers, social-media feeds, and mailing lists to the same opinion, they tend to think that a marginalized view is common sense because everyone agrees with it, and any outlet that doesn’t is lying to serve an agenda.’

The world is how you assess it, your belief about agency determines your emotional outcomes, and believing you don’t have control leads to mental health problems. Learn to accept uncertainty and ambiguity says Kerr

‘Researchers in LeDoux’s lab cite a phenomenon related to uncertainty: agency – your capacity to exert your own power on your environment. Justin Moscarello, who works in LeDoux’s lab says:’

  1. “The world is how you assess it. It’s your belief about your agency that ultimately determines your emotional outcomes.” 

  2. ‘Believing you don’t have control over your own life can lead to depression, he continues, while believing that you have a voice and can influence a situation can lead to positive feelings.’

‘Of course, rather than grasping for control and certainty, one could, as University of Pittsburgh sociologist Kerr puts it:’

  • ‘Learn to have a degree of acceptance around uncertainty and ambiguity, learn to feel comfortable with change, and seek to understand things you may be afraid of rather than withdrawing from them.”’

University of Colorado psychology professor Tom Pyszczynski says if people change their cultural inputs, their outputs will change too. But this doesn’t mean you ban speech for everyone, you can regulate what you take in, including manufactured threats about your perceived enemies

‘Pyszczynski, of the University of Colorado, has a related theory. One day, he began trying to understand why religions that were promoting love and compassion as core values seemed to, at the same time, “whip up people to kill.”’

‘So he began running studies in which both American fundamentalist Christians and Iranian Shiite Muslims were reminded of the values of compassion central to their sacred scriptures, such as “love thy enemy” and “turn the other cheek.”’

  • “We found that reminding people of death typically increased hostility and the desire to fight the other, but when combined with compassionate values, death reminders had the opposite effect, leading Americans to have less hostility toward Iran and Iranians to have less hostility toward the United States – and less support for terrorist acts to stop Americans.”

‘So if people change their cultural inputs, their outputs will change too.’ 

‘The goal, however, is to separate real threats from manufactured ones. And to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we aren’t taking steps to protect ourselves.’

Jeremy Nicholson argues in Psychology Today that people pursue power when they don’t trust

‘Given the negative (and self-defeating) effects of pursuing power over others, why do people do it? The answer, quite simply, is that they are not trusting.  As Das and Teng (2001) explain, making alliances with others is risky.’ 

  • ‘You either have to trust that they are willing and able to cooperate (increasing everyone’s self-determination and personal control), or you have to seek external controls over them to forcibly influence their motivation and behavior (decreasing everyone’s self-determination instead).’ 

‘Put more poetically by Alm (2015), the choice is to build chains of trust that unite individuals in cooperation, or chains of control that enforce and coerce instead.’