As the Occupy Wall Street protesters are swept out of their encampments around the nation, many are asking what the movement’s next step will be and whether the police actions might actually help the two-month-old populist outburst grow.

But even for those seeking to discern the future of this new movement, a more instructive question might be: What is Occupy Wall Street, anyway?

To hear the denizens of the far right tell it, the protesters filling public spaces in cities around the country and even abroad are unwashed hippies, lazy potheads incapable of holding a job, or homeless opportunists scarfing up free food and shelter. They’re Nazis. They’re Marxists. They’re anarchists.

Jewish worshippers at Occupy Wall Street

Jewish worshippers at Occupy Wall Street

To former Fox News conspiracy-monger Glenn Beck, Occupy Wall Street is part of a “Marxist revolution that is global in nature” and is helping to “indoctrinate our kids into Marxism.” To far-right WorldNetDaily’s Ellis Washington, the protesters are “liberal fascist mobs” given to “violence, conspicuous drug use, rantings, cursing, public defecation on police cars and promiscuous sex.” To Tea Party Nation chief Judson Phillips, they have “no problem with Nazis or the Communists” and support “forms of totalitarianism that directly killed about 250 million people.”

Most of these charges are simply laughable.

There was a little bit of violence around the edges of some encampments, but it wasn’t related to the protests. Doubtless, a few people in the crowds lit up a joint whose pungent odor was duly publicized by the watchdogs of the right, but drug use was actually almost nonexistent, according to a vast number of news reports.

The notion that the people who are gathering to upbraid the “1 percent” of Americans who control much of the nation’s wealth are fascists or National Socialists is backed by no evidence at all.

The one charge against Occupy Wall Street that seems to have some shelf life is that it’s rife with anti-Semitism. Initiated by the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel and amplified by a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, this claim must seem to these groups, along with the scores of others on the right who have parroted it, an easy sell. After all, it’s an ancient canard that Jews control the banks that Occupy Wall Street is protesting.

The brunt of the attack came in a video the Emergency Committee shot in New York. It shows a man holding a “Hitler’s Bankers” sign and shouting, “Jews control Wall Street.” Another shot shows someone shouting at a Jewish man, and a third shows someone suggesting the media is controlled by Jews. Separately, a YouTube video of a woman making anti-Semitic remarks at a related California protest was promoted for days on a whole array of far-right websites.

That’s it. There’s no other “evidence” of anti-Semitism in the Occupy movement.

As a matter of fact, as has been repeatedly pointed out, many of the people who comprise this movement in New York City are Jewish. Hundreds of Jews observed Jewish holidays at Zuccotti Park. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, while condemning the anti-Semitic incidents, pointed out that the movement isn’t about Jews, and the videotaped comments don’t represent its “larger view.”

But evidence has never hindered the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who noted that the 1 percent of Americans that Occupy Wall Street criticizes is equivalent to “roughly the percentage of Jews in the population.”

Limbaugh went on to suggest that this might mean that “this group is being organized and paid for by a bunch of anti-Semites.”

With that kind of incredibly sloppy logic, of course, Limbaugh could accuse the Occupy movement of practically anything at all.

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Mark Potok

Mark Potok is the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which monitors hate groups, antigovernment militias, and other extremist organizations.
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