Juan Williams: Hate speech is drowning out real debate

Last month, the FBI reported a 37 percent jump in hate crimes against Jews.

Meanwhile, the man identified as the leading Jewish villain in several right-wing conspiracy theories is being honored as the Person of the Year by The Financial Times.

George Soros is the winner for “the values he represents…liberal democracy and open society … [ideas that are] under siege from all sides, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report MORE’s America,” the FT, the world’s biggest business paper, wrote.

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To see the President of the United States described as an opponent of liberal democracy and open society is alarming. But the FT also made the case that the president has “peddled allegations” against Soros that “appeared to have partly inspired” murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Trump has political reasons to dislike Soros. The billionaire was a big backer of Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP lawmaker defends Chelsea Clinton after confrontation over New Zealand attacks Klobuchar: Race, gender should not be litmus tests for 2020 Dem nominee Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE.

But Trump went beyond politics when he remained silent as the conspiracy crowd blamed a Jewish charity for helping Latino immigrants as they traveled to the U.S. seeking asylum.

And after 11 Jewish people were killed at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Trump was asked if Soros is to blame for funding what the president called “an invasion of our country?”

“I don’t know who [is funding it] but I wouldn’t be surprised — a lot of people say yes,” said Trump, leaving the door open to the possibility the Jewish billionaire was to blame. That came after a pipe bomb was sent to Soros’ home by a Trump supporter.

Then Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOvernight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests MORE (Calif.), soon to be the GOP’s House Minority Leader, tweeted that Soros and two other wealthy Jews, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, a political activist, tried to “buy” the midterm elections for the Democrats. (Amid an outcry, McCarthy deleted the tweet.)

“There are so many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories targeting Mr. Soros that it is difficult to keep count,” the FT wrote. “Hardly a day goes by without a statement, a tweet or an image depicting him as a master manipulator of global politics.”

It is now time for every American to say this has gone far enough.

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As a columnist and television host, I celebrate the First Amendment. But the rise of hate speech today is drowning honest political debate. And it is stirring hatred against immigrants, blacks, and Jews. The FBI report shows an overall increase in hate crimes between 2016 and 2017 of 17 percent, with Jewish people the religious group most frequently targeted.

There is no looking away from this reality. In Charlottesville in 2017 white nationalists, including some Trump backers, chanted “Blood and Soil,” a Nazi slogan, and “Jews will not replace us.”

“We see people bringing a kind of toxicity into political conversations that we’ve never seen before,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told CBS in November.

And a former head of the ADL has specifically pointed at Trump. “He didn’t create them,” Abe Foxman told The Times of Israel last month. “But he emboldened them. He gave them the chutzpah, that it’s okay.”

Foxman is right. Trump uses conspiracy theories to unleash acid political passions to win elections.

He could also point to the soulless tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google. They say they have no responsibility while their platforms are used to spread hate.

Even now the hateful, looney conspiracy claims continue, with many falsely targeting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and the “Deep State.”

We have always had conspiracy theorists in U.S. politics. Recall the far-right John Birch Society grew in the late 1950s by suggesting that President Eisenhower was a secret communist agent and that fluoridation of drinking water was a communist mind control plot.

But history will soon record that 2018 was the year when these type of insane, destructive lies went beyond the political fringes to be regularly amplified by right-wing media.

This month, a popular conspiracy theory on the right argued former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was the victim of entrapment by the FBI and had been coerced into committing perjury.

But when Flynn went to court last week, he openly admitted his guilt. And said he was not trapped by the FBI. The conspiracy crowd is on the hunt for their next fever dream.

The Russians, meanwhile, are using conspiracy theories to undermine the FBI and Mueller as they probe Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The Russians, according to reports done for the Senate Intelligence Committee, went online to dismiss the investigation — as “nonsense,” according to The Washington Post — and to say stories of Russian interference are pushed by “liberal crybabies.”

The time has come to face the truth that constitutional democracy cannot last under such a steady barrage of lies.

Will the new congress do anything about this? Speaker Pelosi? Majority Leader McConnell? History is calling. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "'What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?' — Trump's War on Civil Rights" is out now, published by Public Affairs Books.