What Occupy Wall Street Was Not

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 if the police actions might actually help the two-month-old populist outburst grow.

But even for those seeking to discern the future of the OWS movement, a more instructive question might be: What was OWS, anyway?

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

To former Fox News conspiracy-monger Glenn Beck, OWS is part of a “Marxist revolution that is global in nature” and is helping “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 was not 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 non-existent, according to a vast number of news reports. The notion that the people who gathered to upbraid the “1 percent” of Americans who control much of the nation’s wealth were fascists or National Socialists was backed by no evidence at all.

The one charge against OWS that seemed to have some shelf life was the claim, initiated by the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel and amplified by a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, that OWS was thick with anti-Semitism. It must have seemed to these groups, along with the scores of others on the right who parroted their claims, an easy case to make. After all, it’s an ancient canard that Jews control the banks that OWS is protesting.

The brunt of their 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 that the media is controlled by Jews. Separately, a YouTube video of a woman making anti-Semitic remarks at a California OWS protest was promoted for days on a whole array of far-right websites.

That’s it. There is no other “evidence” of anti-Semitism in the OWS movement. As a matter of fact, as has been repeatedly pointed out, much of the OWS movement is Jewish and hundreds of Jews joined Jewish religious celebrations at the New York OWS encampment. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, while condemning anti-Semitism, pointed out that the movement is not about Jews and the videotaped comments did not represent its “larger view.”

But evidence has never hindered the likes of radio heavyweight Rush Limbaugh, who noted that the 1 percent of Americans being criticized by OWS 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 dimwitted logic, of course, Limbaugh could have accused OWS of practically anything at all.