The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
One of history’s most insidious hoaxes began in 1903, when a conservative Russian newspaper published what it claimed were the minutes of a late 19th-century secretive meeting between Jewish leaders. According to the minutes, the Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish domination, which would be brought about by Jews infiltrating and dominating the global media and economy. From such positions of influence and power, the Jews would act as agents saboteurs to weaken the Gentiles, by subverting their morals and undermining the foundations of their societies.
In reality, the minutes, which came to be known as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, were crude forgeries that first made the rounds in Russian right-wing circles. A Russian Tsarist official, Serge Nilus, edited several versions of the Protocols, each time with a different account of how he came by them. In 1911, for example, he claimed that his source had stolen them from a (nonexistent) Zionist headquarters in France.
From Nilus and his conservative circles, the Protocols slowly spread, before going viral and gaining widespread acceptance throughout Russia and the world beyond. For years after their creation, the Protocols languished in relative obscurity, confined to Russian right-wing circles. That changed with the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Bolshevik seizure of power later that year. Conservatives, whose ranks were rife with anti-Semites, sought to discredit the Revolution by painting it as part of a vast Jewish conspiracy for global dominance.
Their claims resonated, and it did not take long for the forgery to go from a Russian right-wing curiosity to a global phenomenon. In Britain, The Morning Post published the Protocols, with an introduction warning its readers of the Jewish plot: ” …the Jews are carrying it out with steadfast purpose, creating wars and revolutions…to destroy the white Gentile race, that the Jews may seize the power during the resulting chaos and rule with their claimed superior intelligence over the remaining races of the world, as kings over slaves.” In the United States, Henry Ford paid for the printing and distribution of half a million copies, titled The International Jew: The World’s Problem. In Germany, the Nazis cited the Protocols for propaganda purposes during their rise to power, and made them assigned readings for schoolchildren after they came to power.
As with many claims that reinforce preexisting prejudices and buttress longstanding beliefs, truth was immaterial. In 1921, The Times of London conclusively demonstrated that the Protocols were a forgery, and the evidence was widely reprinted around the world. It made no difference in right-wing circles, where the debunking of the Protocols was dismissed as self-serving “fake news” from the Jewish-controlled media. Convinced anti-Semites remained just as convinced of the Protocols‘ authenticity.
Today, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are no longer acceptable fare in the Western mainstream. However, they continue to circulate within anti-Semitic circles, white nationalist groups, the alt-right, etc., and since the 2016 elections, their circulation has seen an uptick in the US. Outside the West, the Protocols continue to be reprinted, recycled, and quoted, with little challenge to their authenticity.