“The Conspiracy” Review: A History of Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theory


“The Conspiracy” is a documentary that traces the history of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and it’s a movie you might be surprised no one has made until now. The subject, of course, could not be more topical. The film comes at a time when these insidious ideas, which seem to have the life of Hydra heads (you can cut them off but not kill them), reaffirm their return to politics and culture. Kanye West and his nutty tweets are making headlines, but it’s important to note that Ye’s perspective reflects the mindset of a growing number of right-wing true believers in Europe and America. This gives “The Conspiracy” a weapon value against injustice.

Beyond that, however, there is a vital and disturbing fascination in watching a film connect the dots of hate, fear and false narratives that have demonized the Jewish people by turning conspiracies about them into a greater mythology. than nature. The theories — that Jewish bankers, businessmen and media barons secretly control the world, that Jews are rogue agents of destruction — constitute a kind of alternate history. Yet, as “The Conspiracy” vividly argues, over the past 150 years these theories have been a continuous and essential part of the forces that drive real history.

There’s one thing the documentary doesn’t talk about, but I will. In the 19th century, the world, for the first time, became seriously unified thanks to the forces of the industrial revolution. Trade in goods went back further than that, of course, but it was about the increase in trade, travel and communication to unprecedented levels. It was the dawn of globalization, and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, hideous and fanciful as it is, is actually a myth of globalization, a vicious way of making sense of a world that has become unified a radically new way. If the world is unified, then who controls it? The answer is nobody, but the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory provides a degraded answer to this question, imposing a sickly order on natural disorder.

The roots of anti-Semitism can be traced back to Jews being responsible for the death of Christ and the 12th century “blood libel” which accused Jews of murdering children in private ceremonies in order to re-enact the Crucifixion. But according to ‘The Conspiracy’, the birth of true conspiracy theory about Jews dates back to the French Revolution, when Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel argued that the Revolution itself was a conspiracy, planned and executed by a network of corporations. secret. Barruel received a lot of fan mail, and one letter asked him why it was only in passing that he mentioned “the Hebrew sect”, which the letter writer linked, through the alleged influence of the Jews on gold and silver, controlled by the Illuminati. , the Jacobins and the Freemasons, “seeking to destroy the name of Christ wherever possible”.

Barruel, sharing this letter with powerful people around the world, became the person responsible for launching the modern theory of a secret Jewish cabal. After receiving the letter, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I became convinced that a Jewish conspiracy was invading Europe, and he began his rule by banning Jews from major cities, limiting where they could live to a desolate territory in south- west known as the Pale of Settlement. Throughout Europe, the question of whether Jews should have civil rights has been the subject of debate.

It all plays out like the piecing together of clues in a horrifying detective story. But then the documentary reaches the Dreyfus Affair, the famous case of French Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus (descendant of the Dreyfus banking clan, although his wing of the family were textile manufacturers), who was wrongfully accused of treason in 1894. Until now, the film has used snippets of animation to illustrate historical situations, but it turns the story of the Dreyfus affair into a long, self-contained animated sequence. The images, made with motion capture, have a black-and-pewter beauty, though they’re not particularly expressive, and they slow down the film.

“The Conspiracy” establishes essential links for us: how the Dreyfus affair (although it ended on a note of justice) seeded France with an anti-Semitic poison, how the murderous pogroms of the 19th century were all based on the destruction of the threat posed by the “hidden power” of the Jews, and how “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the scandalous literary forgery published in Russia in 1903, became, in fact, the formative artefact of the forgeries right-wing news. It was a mockumentary in book form, purporting to record a meeting of late 19th century Jewish leaders as they launched a plot for world domination.

I would have liked to know more about how “The Protocols” came out into the world, and how the lies they contain connect to the lies of our time. (There’s not much to do between the mythical demonization of the Warburgs and the mythical demonization of George Soros.) And I wish the film’s writer-director, Maxim Pozdorovkin (“Our New President”), s relies less on stubbornness and fervor, and rather simple storybook-like animation, which at times seems to do the job that a collection of archival evidence could have done much better. Even the voices of actors like Liev Schreiber and Jason Alexander can do little to ease the impersonality.

Yet “The Conspiracy” still accomplishes something important and, at times, opening-minded. It shows how anti-Semitic conspiracy theory was the snake that slithered through World War I, the Russian Revolution (most dramatically through the figure of Leon Trotsky, the heir to the Bronstein family who fantasized that the embrace of Marxism could wipe out anti-Semitism), and the rise of Nazi Germany. The film tells how Henry Ford, who had published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, made a substantial financial contribution to the fascist movement in Germany. And in doing so, it gives a new context to Hitler’s rise, a context that doesn’t allow us to say, as so many Holocaust documentaries do, “That was then, this is now.” The fact that the snake is still alive makes you wonder: where does it creep next?

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