By Amy Spitalnick
September 17, 2023
When Mayor Adams claimed that the influx of asylum seekers to New York “will destroy” the city, extremists were soon celebrating his comments — including leading neo-Nazi hate website the Daily Stormer, which welcomed the mayor’s “based” and “insightful” words.
This would be disturbing enough on its own. But what’s worse is that the mayor should know better, because we’ve seen this story before — and we know precisely where such rhetoric can lead.
Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin and his LLC were defendants in a lawsuit spearheaded by my prior organization, holding them accountable for the white supremacist violence they orchestrated in Charlottesville in August 2017.
Fueled by deeply xenophobic, antisemitic, and racist conspiracy theories about immigrants replacing and destroying our society (see: “Jews will not replace us!”), Anglin and his co-defendants conspired to bring deadly violence to Charlottesville — leading to the murder of Heather Heyer and extensive injuries. In November 2021, they were all found liable by a jury, which awarded our plaintiffs multi-million-dollar damages.
The 2017 violence in Charlottesville didn’t happen in a vacuum. In so many ways, it was enabled by increasingly bigoted political language and policies — and it previewed the cycle of extremism that’s followed:
- Pittsburgh, the deadliest-ever attack on American Jews, in which a synagogue was targeted because of its work supporting immigrants and refugees.
- Christchurch, where more than 50 Muslims were murdered by a white supremacist motivated by anti-immigrant hate.
- Poway, where a similarly-motivated white supremacist attacked a synagogue on Passover.
- El Paso, the deadliest attack on the Latino community in modern American history, committed by an extremist who believed white people were being replaced by foreigners.
- Buffalo, where Black people were murdered for “the future of the white race.”
Every single one of these attacks was motivated by conspiracy theories that immigrants and Black and Brown people are somehow replacing and destroying America. And as such bigoted rhetoric has moved from the dark corners of the internet to the mainstream of our politics, these extremists are only becoming more and more emboldened.
Following Tucker Carlson’s xenophobic coverage of migrants at the southern border, the Daily Stormer labeled Carlson “literally our greatest ally.”
After Donald Trump urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in October 2020, the Daily Stormer told its readers to “get ready for war” — just months before extremists attacked the Capitol in a violent insurrection.
These neo-Nazis know that when political figures espouse bigoted rhetoric and conspiracy theories, it helps to normalize and mainstream extremism — ultimately giving license to violence.
So it was particularly horrifying to hear such disturbing language about asylum seekers “destroying” New York from my own mayor, who leads one of the country’s most diverse cities — a place where so many immigrants and refugees, including my own grandparents, were welcomed to build a new life of safety and success.
This isn’t to discount New York’s very real needs when it comes to asylum seekers: from expedited work permits, to real investment in social and health services, shelter, education, and legal support, this requires every level of government to swiftly act. The mayor is right that the city can’t manage this alone, and that we need deep support from federal and state partners — especially as bigoted far-right politicians continue to treat asylum seekers as political pawns, bussing them to Democratic-led cities.
But regardless of his intent, the impact of the mayor’s specific words is now sadly clear thanks to the Daily Stormer, and it further jeopardizes the safety of immigrants and so many other communities at a time of record level hate crimes and domestic extremism. One only needs to look to Massachusetts, where neo-Nazis directly targeted immigrants in the family shelter system, marching on their hotel in black shirts and masks, carrying flares and telling the “invaders” to “go home” — yet another terrifying illustration of where such rhetoric can lead.
Unfortunately, when confronted with neo-Nazis’ embrace of the mayor’s comments and concerns about his words further emboldening extremists, City Hall chose to double down — attacking the Daily News for “elevating” and “legitimizing” Nazis.
Make no mistake: the only thing that legitimizes neo-Nazis here is an elected official giving voice to language that so closely tracks the same conspiracy theories that has directly fueled a cycle of extremism and violence.
Asylum seekers are not going anywhere, and this situation requires real support and resources from all levels of government. But as the mayor continues to navigate their arrival, his words matter — and he has a fundamental responsibility not to give license to hate.
Spitalnick is the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. She previously led Integrity First for America, which spearheaded the successful lawsuit against the neo-Nazis responsible for the Charlottesville violence, and served as a City Hall spokesperson.