Toxic Activism: Is Politics Your Drug of Choice?

The professor leaned back in her chair and asked, “What do you want to do when you graduate next month?”

“Well,” I responded, “I’m not certain. That’s the problem... that and the fact that I am forty-six.”

“What did you dream of doing when you were a child?”

I thought back to the time when I still thought as children do. All the normal dreams would have been before I turned thirteen. At that pivotal age I began my transformation from an idealist in the heart of an ultra-conservative religious organization into an antisemitic radical.

I spent the next 25 years obsessed with the ideas of the European religious far-right, dreaming only of helping to bring about a religious utopia. The obstacle was the “Judeo-Masonic New World Order.” The United States, my own country, was considered the enemy’s tool, exporting modern democracy and materialism. At thirteen, I stopped dreaming my own dreams and joined a crusade against the modern world.

How did a normal child from California end up in a convent in Vichy, France, indoctrinated by mentors who mixed Christianity with Holocaust denial and anti-democratic extremism? In 1978, when I walked into a church run by the organization now known for its Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, I had no idea that the conservative liturgical worship went hand in hand with a radicalized geo-political worldview. In the early days, I saw only the legitimate conservative religious aspect.

“So,” the professor questioned, “you didn't join because your family was antisemitic?”

Are you kidding? Growing up, my father’s best friend in Brooklyn was Jewish. He loved to tell me how, whenever he visited his friend’s home on Friday night, the mother put a plate of delicious fish in front of him and said, with a big smile, "No good Catholic boy is eating meat in my house on Friday!" My parents were devoid of any racism.

“And yet, you became antisemitic?”

Yes. I experienced why and how the Hitler Youth were radicalized and lost themselves and their futures to a utopian ideal. You join a group for a good cause. In my case it was a preference for the traditional Catholic liturgy. Warning signs that the group culture promoted antisemitism were ignored. The positive aspects of the spirituality led me to close my eyes and minimize the place of the "Jewish conspiracy theory." My eventual acceptance was based on the implicit trust I had in the leaders and the pernicious mixture of an evil political theology with authentic spiritual doctrine.

A child raised in an enlightened American home sets out to find God and finishes by believing that no Jews were gassed at Auschwitz, that America is the greatest threat to mankind, and that women should not pursue higher education. Such is the seductive power of toxic activism.