This week, after a funeral in Rome, a casket draped in the Nazi flag received an enthusiastic stiff-arm fascist salute from mourners who lined the sidewalk of the procession from the church. Last week, a well-known conservative writer got into a Twitter war with a Jewish, left-wing economist. This in itself is nothing new, but what was disturbing was that rather than battling over policies, the conservative writer resorted to derogatory comments (with not-so-subtle overtones of antisemitism)—about the other’s guy’s nose.
The funeral on Monday at St. Lucia in Rome was for 44-year-old Alessia Augello, a member of the openly neo-fascist Forza Nuova group, blamed for violent protests against Italy’s prime minister last fall. As her casket—which was draped in the Nazi flag—left the church, two dozen people shouted “Presente!” (“Present!”) and gave the raised-arm salute.
The Catholic Church—from Rome’s presiding vicar to the priest who presided over the funeral—denounced the action and said they had no prior knowledge of the mourners’ actions after the Mass.
“This ideological and violent exploitation, especially following an act of worship near a sacred place, remains serious, offensive and unacceptable for the church community of Rome and for all people of goodwill in our city,” according to a statement from the Church.
The parish priest also distanced himself from “every word, gesture, and symbol used outside the church, which are attributed to extremist ideologies far from the message of the Gospel of Christ.”
Rome’s Jewish community also responded to the fascist display. “It is unacceptable that a flag with a swastika can still be shown in public in this day and age, especially in a city that saw the deportation of its Jews by the Nazis and their fascist collaborators.”
While the stiff-armed salutes and Nazi flag are pretty in-your-face, it is also alarming to see conservatives (not extremists) showing antisemitic inclinations.
We’ve come to expect—or at least not be terribly shocked—when someone on the left or far-left says something against Jews or Israel. But when conservatives start to hint at it and then treat it as nothing unusual, this signals the possibility of a troubling shift in our culture.
Bestselling author Douglas Murray recently called out Pedro L. Gonzalez, a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, in a column he wrote. Over the new year’s weekend, Gonzalez and David Rothschild, a left-wing Jewish economist, went a few rounds of tweet punches that sunk from policy to personal in a hurry.
Murray said Gonzalez’s comments were so “repugnant that it cannot be glossed over or ignored.” Gonzalez “unmasked himself, boringly and yet still wretchedly, as an antisemite. He did it casually, as though holding these noxious beliefs would be perfectly obvious.”
So, what did Gonzalez tweet?
“That Rothschild physiognomy is pure nightmare fuel.”
That’s right—he attacked Rothschild for his Jewish features (physiognomy is a reference to the facial features characteristic of an ethnicity). This kind of attack is reminiscent of how the Nazis used to post flyers of caricatures of Jewish men with ridiculously large noses.
And it’s not the first time Gonzalez has attacked someone’s physiognomy. In another Twitter joust, with a lawyer named Ari Cohn— “Oh, look another cursed goblin physiognomy” and then Gonzalez included a link to a very unflattering photo of Cohn.
Murray admits that this is a painful topic to consider for anyone on the political right, especially when terms like fascist, racist, and extremist have been overused.
“I think we can safely say that in these recent communiques, Mr. Gonzalez is sincerely enjoying playing with antisemitism. He is treating himself to some of it. Indulging in it. Enjoying it,” Murray concluded. “Specifically thrilled at the opportunity to revive execrable motifs and notions that recall Nazi eugenics and their obsession with uber and Untermenschen (terms surrounding Hitler’s obsession with achieving racial supremacy). All the while believing that while his foes all happen to have Jewish features, he—Gonzalez!—is in the position of the Aryan. His odious game playing…is a kind of proto-violence. It is threatening to go there.”