I’m getting constantly attacked, basically online, on a daily basis, in various forms. On YouTube mainly by Nazis. on Twitter mainly by self-styled antifascists. The last time I wrote about this campaign, someone had plastered my neighborhood with physical flyers doxxing me and naming me as a “known antisemite” and “known holocaust-denier” among other ridiculous assertions. In the past 24 hours, Twitter trolls have terrorized gig organizers in New York City into canceling a show there, a journalist I’m nominally connected to via social media had his Twitter account hacked, and the videographer who has a lot of the videos of me playing live had his YouTube account hacked and most of the videos of me deleted. Anyone who has any contact with me on Twitter is likely to be the next victim of a serious campaign of harassment and intimidation. That’s my reality. You might want to avoid it.
When I try to lend support to any campaign these days, the attacks begin anew. If anyone has me on the bill at a protest or a concert, they’ll be inundated with hate speech relating to me — false accusations, deliberate misquotes, and all sorts of other stuff.
I also get a lot of messages of solidarity from people. Usually they’re not so clear on what the allegations are about, but they assume it’s probably related to my support of the Palestinian cause, and my criticism of Israel. They’re familiar with my many songs about the Nazi holocaust and other events related to the persecution of Jews and communists and others, and resistance to fascism, so they rightly figure that whatever these accusations are about, if they seem to be related to allegations of antisemitism, they’re bullshit.
Most of them (you) don’t have time to read through a dozen articles of mine and others to deduce what this campaign against me is all about, and somewhere down the line you hear the names Gilad Atzmon and Matthew Heimbach, you hear scary things, you don’t know who they are, and you’re left with more questions. So I thought I’d try to briefly but coherently explain, right here.
So, who is Gilad Atzmon? He’s an Israeli of Jewish Palestinian descent and an absolutely stunningly amazing jazz musician who has broken all kinds of musical ground in the world of jazz fusion. He’s also an author of various books, one of which I’ve read, which is a critical exploration of Jewish history and identity called the Wandering Who.
Almost a decade ago, I had a gig booked with Gilad in England, and I was asked not to do the gig, because Gilad was an antisemite. The person saying these things shared with me some out-of-context quotes, which did seem pretty distressing. But they were quotes from a book, I ascertained, and by themselves, I didn’t think they really made a lot of sense. So I bought my first ebook, and read it. I figured I’d find the antisemitic stuff, and I’d join the anti-Atzmon campaign with knowledge and certainty, as one should join any campaign.
Problem was, maybe I’m just stupid, but when interpreting the book through the lens provided in the introductory parts of the book — and that’s vitally important, as the author emphasizes frequently — I just couldn’t find the smoking gun of antisemitism I was looking for, that his critics said was so obvious.
OK, Matthew Heimbach. Matthew Heimbach was a teenage leftwing kid who came to one of my shows and listened to my music. He got very seriously sidetracked, became a prominent white nationalist, boosted by the rightwing media constantly. I hadn’t been keeping track of his career or anything, but I started hearing from him by email a couple years ago, and we corresponded back and forth a few times, with some very interesting, soul-searching (for Matthew in particular) discussions.
I wrote an Open Letter to the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer (cc: Antifa) and published it in Counterpunch. A friend asked me if I knew any members of those organizations to see what they thought of the letter. I said I didn’t know any rightwingers personally, but I knew a former one. I sent the letter to Matthew, who came back with a typically eloquent, thoughtful, lengthy email in response.
Then the siege on the Capitol happened, and I thought I’d interview Matthew for the livestream show I started doing during the pandemic.
After I interviewed him I found out just how famous he was, and I got loads of flak about doing the interview, including from people I actually know in the real world. I think it was a pretty good interview overall, but I agreed with some folks who said that if the interview were to stay up, it should be contextualized better than I had done, and I took it down, pending said contextualization, which is still pending (we’re all volunteers here).
OK, so if you’re with me so far, and you got who Gilad Atzmon and Matthew Heimbach are, the questions before you, before us, before me — the main ostensible reasons why me and anyone who associates with me is being constantly attacked — are these: is Gilad Atzmon actually an antisemite or a holocaust-denier, and is Matthew Heimbach still a fascist, or truly now an insightful member of the radical left?
In my critical opinion, based on my admittedly limited reading of both Atzmon and Heimbach — in Atzmon’s case, one book, and in Heimbach’s case, several dozen very long emails and one very long interview — Gilad is not an antisemite, and Matthew is not a fascist.
I readily admit that I am not an expert on either of these guys, and I don’t intend to become one. And there may be all kinds of things I don’t know. I am not here or anywhere to be a supporter or an advocate for either of them. I am not them. I’m just me. However, I have no interest in joining any campaigns to denounce either of them for being things that they do not appear to me to be. In fact, even if they were the things they’re accused of being, I wouldn’t bother with any campaign to denounce them, because they are not running any countries or bombing civilians. I’m much more interested in ending imperialism than in condemning some dude who wrote a fucking book that hardly anyone has read.
If they think Gilad’s an antisemite or Matthew is a fascist, they can feel free to think and say what they want. I guess that’s your God-given right or something. But I’m not going to agree with anyone just because they think they’re right, and they want to harass me and everyone I know. I thought Gilad’s book was interesting, and I think Matthew is one of the most eloquent, insightful, and well-read people I’ve met who is under the age of 40.
So for these people constantly attacking me, what I think of Gilad, and my supposed “platforming” of him and Matthew by interviewing them — and in Gilad’s case, playing gigs together as well — determines whether or not I myself am what they accuse Gilad and Matthew of being.
Because I disagree on their interpretation of a book (Gilad’s), and I think a former white nationalist (Matthew) seems now to have insight that’s worth hearing and seems also no longer to be a white nationalist, I am persona non grata, to be canceled, career destroyed, all associates badgered and harassed, gigs canceled, internet presence canceled whenever possible, accusations flying constantly everywhere.
This is what we’ve come to on the left. You can read up all you want on this stuff and you’ll never know enough. They can always sow doubt, and throw quotes or misquotes at you that make you wonder, or seem very sketchy, especially out of context. This is especially easy to do with Gilad’s writing.
But again, I’m not Gilad or Matthew. I’m me. I believe I should be allowed to come to my own conclusions about a book I read, and I believe I should be able to interview someone who I may or may not agree with, without being condemned for essentially having become someone else by virtue of talking to them and not denouncing them, or not understanding their writing in the same way.
We’re talking here about thought crime. This is 1984. I am so very obviously not a fascist. So very obviously an antifascist. I have written hundreds of songs against fascism, and played at hundreds of explicitly antifascist events, for decades. Half my family was killed in the holocaust, my nanny lived through the Blitz, one of my best friends survived one of Franco’s concentration camps. Come fucking on.
We’ve got some serious choices to make. Tear each other apart in a frenzied, puritanical callout culture backstab-a-thon, or find common ground and build a movement. The direction we’re going now is down the toilet, as far as I can tell from here amid the shit.