It all started with a name. Author and conspiracy theory expert Mike Rothschild, who is not related to the storied Rothschilds — a banking dynasty at the center of infamous antisemitic mythology — found that cranks often dismissed his reporting on the assumption that he was. Just because of his byline, he could be implicated in a supposed worldwide scheme that has unfolded in the shadows for generation.
Rothschild, who also found many references to the family when researching his previous book, The Storm Is Upon Us, about the QAnon conspiracist movement, wanted to understand why so much paranoid propaganda led back to these particular Jews. What he uncovered in his new book, Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories, out Sept. 19, is a densely woven web of rumor and subterfuge, infectious racism and stubborn ignorance, that extends from medieval Europe to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene‘s ludicrous claim that the 2018 California wildfires were ignited by a space laser controlled in part by the Rothschilds. (Hence the title.) The banking family has been accused of practically every form of corruption and crime since its first major patriarch, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, rose to influence from the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Germany in the Eighteenth century.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Rothschild discussed why Jews have been scapegoated for everything from 9/11 to the current moral panic over LGBTQ “wokeness,” what Elon Musk has in common with Henry Ford, and how we might deprogram people who have bought into antisemitic canards.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Best title ever, obviously. I feel like everyone will just be powerless to resist picking that up in the bookstore.
That was really the hope. Sort of a slightly glib title and cover to get people interested, [instead of] another black-and-white photo of mansions, or from centuries of Jewish pain. The pain is in there. You know, the vegetables in the mac and cheese.
You might even get like a genuine conspiracy theorist to pick it up, thinking it’s a straightforward, antisemitic tract.
You know, one can hope!
When did you first notice that your name activated a certain kind of trollish response online? What did you make of that?
Growing up with the last name Rothschild, nobody thought we were rich, nobody thought we were secret billionaires. I lived in a split level house and didn’t know any rich people. When I started writing about conspiracy theories, I started to notice that I would get these comments like, “A Rothschild debunking conspiracy theories, Matrix moment,” stuff like that. And I didn’t think a lot of it, but it just kept coming and coming and coming. And I started to wonder, “Oh, maybe I should have picked a pen name.” But then it looks like I’ve got something to hide, I’m concealing something. So it’s just something I started to live with. But then, particularly in writing the QAnon book, I started seeing all these references to the Rothschilds, and I thought, what is actually going on with this? Who is this family? And, of course, who are they not? That was really the impetus for the book.
Your book hasn’t come out yet, but have you tracked the response so far from the conspiracist right? Is it on their radar?
I haven’t seen it so far. The biggest rumor that I tend to get is involving these trafficking conspiracies, which is not part of the book. So the whole far-right media machine went after me a couple months ago, when I went on CNN and was talking about Sound of Freedom, but I so far have not seen much of a backlash for the book. But I’m sure that’s coming.
I’ve noticed that these anti-LGBTQ extremists have tried to link their fears about “grooming” and pedophilia to like a sort of Jewish liberalism. Why are they trying to draw that connection?
There’s an old tradition in antisemitism of blaming powerful Jews for the pollution of the white Christian bloodline. Obviously, you get a lot of this in the Nazis. There are all kinds of references to the “mongrelizing” of the West, paid for by Jews. So it’s really, I think, an extension of the idea that Jewish people are paying to somehow “dilute” the gentile race as part of their way of taking over the world.
What surprised you most in researching the Rothschilds — either the family or the legends?
Their failure to make inroads in America. I expected there to be all of these American Rothschilds and these palaces in the Catskills, but there wasn’t anything. In fact, the Rothschilds really failed in America. Nobody from the family wanted to come out to the United States, it was too much of a backwater, it was too far removed from the world that they knew — and they were also really confounded by the differences in federal laws, state laws, local laws. They Rothschilds had a very old-world way, where if the prime minister or the king needed a bunch of money to finance the war, they’d go to Rothschild, and Rothschild would loan them a bunch of gold at a competitive interest rates and that would be that. They just couldn’t deal with the realities of modern banking and in particularly in the United States, which was so anti-central bank.
It’s interesting that a lot of traditionalist, pro-Europe “return” guys would also be anti-Rothschild, even though they’re kind of consummate Europeans.
Totally, they are the epitome of old world luxury and opulence and palaces, all the all the stuff you’d use in a “which way, western man” meme. You’d think they’d love the Rothschilds. But, alas.
Before reading, your book, I only encountered “which way, western man” as a meme. I figured it had some dark resonance. But I didn’t know just how just how bad the origin of that was. [Which Way, Western Man? is a massive 1978 tome by white supremacist William Gayley Simpson, who wrote that Jews were plotting to overthrow Western culture and civilization.]
I knew Which Way, Western Man? was a book. But I did not know the depths of how crappy a book it was until I started looking through it, and I didn’t read the whole thing because it’s 1,400 pages and incomprehensible. But it is one of those things where this meme that is sort of harmless actually has an extremely sinister origin.
A recurring theme of this book is just how much antisemitic propaganda is just plagiarized from earlier antisemitic writings. What do you make of this just blatant unoriginality throughout?
There’s a great deal of unoriginality to this stuff, it really does get repeated over and over and over. That’s part of what makes it so successful, is that you don’t have to learn anything new. And you don’t really have to do anything new. You’ve got Alex Jones, recycling the Waterloo narrative [in which the Rothschilds supposedly made a fortune off of early news of Napoleon’s final defeat]. You’ve got one of the most popular antisemitic books of the 1800s, this book I’d never heard of, The Original Mr. Jacobs, which is massively plagiarized from this French book from 1890, which was also hugely popular and hideously antisemitic. Whether you’re looking at sort of authors and pamphleteers of the Nineteenth century, or the content creators of the Twenty First century, you don’t do more work than you have to do. Because that takes away from time that you could be creating more new stuff. So they just recycle the same stuff, because they know it’s going to work.
I found myself wondering if any of these propagandists have ever, like, sued each other.
The only time that I know it’s come up was with Cleon Skousen’s book, The Naked Capitalist, which was basically a book-length review of Carol Quigley’s book on Nineteenth and Twentieth century economics, except hideously antisemitic and full of conspiracy theories. Quigley was not a big fan of Skousen, but I don’t think he did anything. A lot of these guys are just too busy building their own brands, whether it’s Alex Jones now or racists of 200 years ago.
And they’re on the same team.
It’s sort of like, you have a different interpretation of the same blues song. You’re not going to sue the guy who’s also covering the song, because it’s not like either one of you wrote it.
Lately on Twitter, or X, there’s an ongoing movement to “ban” the Anti-Defamation League, which has been encouraged by Elon Musk. But it sounds like, from these posts, it’s about far more than removing one Jewish organization from a social media platform. What are the true goals there?
I was incredibly disturbed when I saw Musk blaming the massive loss of value that Twitter has had on the ADL. Because, first of all, the ADL is not that powerful. I know people at the ADL, and they don’t rule the world. They’re a fairly small-budget nonprofit. But it is really a slicker version of the same scapegoating. It is blaming a Jewish advocacy organization, which is a stand-in for the Jews in general, for your own personal failures. This has been done over and over and over again, whether it’s blaming [George] Soros, whether it’s blaming the Rothschilds. What Musk was doing with this is not anything new, but the people who he is pandering to are immediately going to recognize it. So for me, this idea that we’re gonna ban the ADL and, like, suddenly Twitter will be free… It’s not about the ADL or Twitter. It’s just about using Jews as the punching bag for the problems in your own life.
He seemed to gravitate toward scapegoating them after he got a lot of backlash for specifically saying he hated Soros.
The Soros thing is the same thing. He’s attacking Soros, and maybe he has a legitimate problem with Soros. But, more likely than not, he’s just using him as a stand-in for generalized Jewish wealth and power.
How would you compare Musk’s flirtation with these antisemitic tropes on his website to Henry Ford publishing the Dearborn Independent? [The newspaper published a slew of antisemitic articles after the Ford founder acquired it in 1918.]
It’s very similar. I think it’s a wealthy and sort of admired industrialist who is using his platform to direct hate against a specific group of people. I was saying on Twitter the other day that I think it’s probably only a matter of time before Musk gives some sort of endorsement of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And it’s not because he knows what they are, or has read them, but he’s gonna respond to somebody who’s quoting from them, and he’s gonna say, “Oh, interesting,” or “Disturbing.” It’s the idea of this person who is so wealthy that they now feel like they can just get away with anything and say whatever they want, and direct people toward their own personal proclivities. It’s a very, very disturbing parallel.
Another recent bizarre moment for conspiracy theories around Jewish people was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., suggesting that Covid might be an ethnically targeted bioweapon that spares Ashkenazi Jews. Is there a precedent for this kind of junk science?
Junk science and Jews were long ago linked. The entire science of eugenics, all of the Nazi racial stuff, all of that is just absolute pseudoscience. It was directed at some of the most powerless communities in Europe. But it’s again the idea that the Jews are conspiring to wipe out certain groups of people, they’re engineering their viruses to get rid of Christians, whoever it is. This is this is the same sort of ham-fisted Bond villainy that has been directed at Jewish communities for millennia. To me it’s a more high-tech version of the blood libel, that the Jews are conspiring against us that conspiring to do horrible things to us. It sounds bizarre, and to most people, it’s completely ridiculous, but to a small subset of people, it’s exactly what they want to hear.
I saw that on Sept. 11, the Black nationalist extremist Ayo Kimathi and white supremacist David Duke held a livestream event about how Black and white people can work together to defeat a “common enemy,” with an ad featuring the Star of David over an image of the Twin Towers exploding. Is antisemitic fear-mongering a genuine coalition movement?
It really is. There’s actually a lot of research that’s been done on young jihadists, who will bounce back and forth between ideologies, and you also see young neo-Nazis do it. These people will bounce back and forth between far-right fascist movements and radical Islam. Because the ideology doesn’t matter. The details don’t matter at all. What matters is who you hate, and who you’re joining with in a community to hate those people. So they have the common enemy, the common enemy is always going to be the Jew. So whether you’re Black nationalists or a neo-Nazi, those people find common ground together, because ultimately, they just hate the same people.
Another rule of thumb seems to be that no matter how ornate or esoteric a set of conspiracy theory beliefs might become, they they can always be traced back to this antisemitic root. Do you think that will ever change?
Unfortunately, no. The Jews have been a reliable societal scapegoat for well over 2,000 years. Sometimes that would take the form of expulsion, sometimes it would take the form of an organized pogrom. Sometimes it just takes the form of, you know, dank memes. There’s always going to be a certain subset of people who need to blame the problems of society, the liberalizing of society, and their own personal failures on somebody else. And, going back to the point about these works kind of recycling and plagiarizing each other: all the work has been done to make the Jews your scapegoat. You don’t really have to do anything new. It’s just the easy default to go back to to say, well, this wealthy and powerful group who are maybe a little too wealthy, maybe a little too represented in certain fields, it’s their fault. They’re conspiring together to keep me down. That’s what makes conspiracy conspiracy theories in general so appealing. It’s not about ruling the world; it’s about keeping you personally down.
This is a tough one. But if you had an afternoon with Marjorie Taylor Greene to convince her that the Rothschilds and Soros are not evil supervillains, what would you say?
I would certainly talk about the decline of the Rothschilds as powerbrokers. The Rothschilds are now just another wealthy family. Their name is really well-known, but it’s not for anything that they’re currently doing. I would also probably talk about the history of Judaism in general, how Jews came from impoverished communities just the same way anybody else does. You get that a lot online, where I’ll talk about how historically, many of the Jews of Europe were in deep poverty, and people will say, “Oh, Jews weren’t in poverty.” I’m like, have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? The Jewish people are just as capable of being poor or making bad decisions as anybody else. It’s just the myth that has dragged behind this religion for so long. That completely distorts what people think about them.
Is the problem getting worse?
It is definitely cycling up. One of the things I found is that antisemitism really ebbs and flows depending on who else society needs to scapegoat. It sort of declines when you have something like the immediate post-9/11 aftermath, or the very early days of Covid, when the scapegoating was directed at the Asian-American community, or Asians in general. But it always eventually works its way back to Jews. So we are cycling up right now, at a particularly dangerous time because of this upcoming election, but also because a lot of the most prolific antisemitic content creators are really doing away with the veneer of politeness that a lot of this stuff had. Even in antisemitic works of maybe 20 years ago, you would get, “Well, it’s not all the Jews. We love the Jews, we love Israel. It’s just these powerbrokers who are doing it to us, and even other Jews should dislike the Rothschilds, and the Guggenheims, and all these other wealthy families.” That’s really gone by the wayside now, and it’s just, “We’ve got to get rid of the Jews, we’ve got to declare ‘death con three‘ on the Jews.” There’s no more politeness now. It’s much more public. You’re seeing out and proud Nazi marches in Florida, you’re seeing Nazis hanging banners on overpasses in LA. The the veneer of respectability that these people try to cultivate has completely fallen off.