Steve Simon, Minnesota’s Jewish secretary of state, found himself in an unusual position this past weekend: photoshopped as a Stephen King character and dangling from Jewish billionaire George Soros’ puppet strings in a campaign video from Kim Crockett.
Crockett, the Minnesota GOP-endorsed candidate for secretary of state, showed the video at the state GOP’s convention, which ran May 13-14.
“On the one hand, bizarre, on the other hand, deeply disturbing,” Simon told TC Jewfolk on Thursday. “This is the kind of thing you see from extremist social media trolls, not from serious people running for a serious office.”
Since going viral on Monday, Crockett’s video has been widely condemned for its blatant antisemitism. Soros, a Hungarian-Jewish banker and philanthropist, is often depicted by Republicans as being a secret mastermind controlling U.S. politics for his own interests.
That imagery feeds into an age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews control the world, says the Anti-Defamation League, one of the leading global authorities on hate and antisemitism.
“Even if someone else who’s not Jewish had been on the other end of the puppet strings in that image, it still would have been a troubling, hurtful, hateful image,” Simon said.
David Hann, the MN GOP’s chairman, released a statement on Thursday apologizing for Crockett’s video after speaking with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“The MN GOP strongly condemns the rise of antisemitism in recent years from all corners, including on both sides of the political aisle,” Hann said. “We wish to assure the JCRC and our friends in the broader Jewish community that the image was not intended to invoke hostility toward the Jewish people. It should not have happened, we apologize.”
The statement is a far cry from the MN GOP’s May 18 comment to Twin Cities Axios reporter Torey Van Oot, which didn’t mention the video and instead spoke about standing with Israel while calling Democrats “radicals.”
Antisemitism “should always be swiftly and immediately denounced,” Simon said. “It may be that [GOP] candidates have positions that are agreeable to Israel or the Jewish community, but that’s neither an explanation nor an excuse” for the video.
After speaking with Crockett, Hann concluded that the Soros imagery “was not intended as antisemitic…neither Ms. Crockett nor her creative team were aware that the depiction of a puppet-master invokes an old but persistent antisemitic trope.”
At the time of this article’s publishing, Crockett has not shared Hann’s statement on either Twitter or Facebook, nor did she respond to a request for comment.
Shortly after the MN GOP’s statement went live, the JCRC released their own, condemning “the invocation of a notorious antisemitic trope by the campaign for Kim Crockett.
“The JCRC is compelled to speak out against antisemitic rhetoric from wherever the source,” the statement reads. “Be that now, or in the past from Representative Ilhan Omar in the context of alleged Jewish control over Congress.”
The JCRC has offered to educate staff, candidates, and campaigns for both Minnesota Republicans and Democrats on antisemitism and the Jewish people.
Simon accepts Hann’s assertion that the video should not have been on view at the MN GOP convention. But by showing it, Crockett and her campaign have brought a new level of bigotry to Minnesota politics, he said.
“She is normalizing and mainstreaming” poisonous discourse, Simon said. “It boggles the mind that anyone seeking any political office would think this was okay, and would not be aware of the long, deep, disturbing history of these kinds of images.”
Crockett had any number of legitimate ways to criticize Soros. “He is someone who has been a benefactor of many causes. Some people don’t like those causes,” Simon said. “I think it’s fair game to criticize people for their politics or criticize them for the projects they choose to fund.”
Instead, Crockett used imagery that “fuels extremism and hatred, and possibly violence, against many people,” Simon said.
Simon was reluctant to answer a question about if he feared for his or his family’s safety after the video. “It’s certainly not helpful given the climate that we’re in, given, you know, some of the other threats that I’ve encountered,” he said.
On May 14, a white supremacist motived by an antisemitic conspiracy theory shot and killed 10 people in a predominantly Black part of Buffalo, NY. The attack has brought scrutiny to Republicans using antisemitic imagery and trafficking in conspiracy theories.
Crockett, who was suspended from a think tank in 2019 for racist comments, is expected to run against Simon in the midterm elections later this year.