Throughout history, and even today, outspoken racists and anti-Semites have claimed to be part of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. Many have portrayed themselves as members of the true Chosen People, some declaring that the Jews are demonic impostors. What began as an egotistical theory used by British racists to justify imperialism has today evolved into fringe ideologies characterized by malicious Judeophobia and racial supremacism.
In 1840, British historian John Wilson published a collection of his lectures entitled “Our Israelitish Origin,” in which he claimed that the British people were descended directly from the ancient Hebrews. Wilson argued that humanity was divided into three “Grand Races” — the “Calmuc-Tartars” (Asians), “Caucasians,” and “Negroes.” Wilson claimed that the Caucasian race was objectively superior to the other two. According to Wilson, the warlike Calmuc-Tartars were “wanting in masterly wisdom,” morality and intellect, and the childlike Negroes were deficient in “reasoning power and mechanical ingenuity.”
Clearly, Wilson was racist, although his pseudoscientific conjectures about racial hierarchies predated the advent of scientific racism following Darwin’s 1859 publication of “On the Origin of Species.” Wilson primarily justified the alleged superiority of the Caucasian race on shaky theological arguments and the assertion that the Caucasians were of Hebrew stock. This Biblically-inspired racial ideology was known as “British Israelism.”
In Wilson’s worldview, the three Grand Races were primarily defined by their respective descent from Noah’s three sons: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The Calmuc-Tartars (Asians) were descended from Japheth, the Negroes from the cursed Ham and the Caucasians from Shem. These tenets of British Israelism, widely accepted by Europeans before and after Wilson’s publication, would be cited as justification for European colonialism during the 19th century.
Although the text of Noah’s curse of Ham never mentions his skin color, the curse of Ham became associated with dark skin and Africa; European states used the curse to justify the paternal imperialism of “sinful” Africans, who were said to be literally blackened by their cursed heritage. British colonialism in “Japhetic” Asia, on the other hand, was justified by a purposeful misreading of Genesis 9:27: “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant.” Imperial advocates claimed that the reference to the “tents of Shem” prophesied the dominance of the Semitic/Caucasian race and the “enlargement” of European empire in Asia. Curiously, however, Wilson espoused praise for the Jewish people, who he regarded as “an improved specimen of this [Semitic] race,” highly intellectual (although small-brained), and “beautifully proportioned.” The modern-day legacy of Wilson’s racist British Israelism is far less tolerant of Jews.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the contemporary Christian Identity Movement is a virulently racist and anti-Semitic ideology that claims whites of European descent are descended from the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, and that Jews are descended from Cain, secretly the child of Eve and the Serpent of Eden. As such, Christian Identity members believe that the Jewish people are descended from the Devil and are literally demonic. Non-whites are characterized as “mud people” and are claimed to have arisen without divine inspiration, before Adam and Eve. As a result, the Christian Identity Movement trades the paternalistic racism of Wilson’s three Grand Races for a much more explicitly hateful worldview that denies the basic humanity of non-whites and Jews.
In 1983, a radical white nationalist and Christian Identity group known as The Order formed in Washington state. The group explicitly sought an armed revolution against the United States government —which they characterized as the “ZOG” (Zionist-Occupied Government) — and the creation of a white ethnostate called the Northwest Territorial Imperative. The Order assassinated liberal Jewish radio host Alan Berg, bombed a synagogue and tried to finance their racial revolution through a string of bank and car robberies.
In December 1984, the FBI raided and dismantled The Order. Those who were eventually convicted became martyrs for today’s white nationalists. The Fellowship of God’s Covenant People — a church in Union, Kentucky — provides an infamous and enduring example of the Christian Identity Movement. The church’s website fallaciously asserts that the Jews are a multi-racial group that impersonates the true Israelites, commits ritual murder of Christian children, faked the Holocaust and controls world governments and finance. Jews are referred to as “wicked,” “mongrels” and “parasites.”
The Christian Identity Movement is unique because it claims true Jewishness while simultaneously vilifying Jews. Christian Identitarianism justifies anti-Semitism in both racial and religious terms. To the movement, Jews are not merely a distinct racial group opposed to the interests of whites, or misguided followers of an outdated religion; the Christian Identity ideology states that Jews are an inherently evil race descended from Satan and devoid of humanity.
Ironically, these white nationalist views are paralleled by extremist members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, claim that they are the true descendants of Israel and that Jews are Satanic impostors. Extremist Black Hebrew Israelites, such as members of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, harass white people and Jews on streets, promote anti-Semitic rhetoric, and allege the racial superiority of non-whites. This doctrine of racial superiority is, parallel to Christian Identity arguments, justified by theologically dubious claims of Hebrew heritage and Chosen People status.
Why is it that both black and white racial supremacists have sought to claim the history and identity of the Jewish people, while espousing hate against Jews? For Wilson and other proponents of British Israelism in the 19th century, claims to Israelite heritage were an easy way to feel more connected to Biblical stories and Christianity. Their beliefs also provided convenient justification for colonialist behavior and paternalistic rule over those seen as racially inferior.
Both modern Christian Identitarians and extremist Black Hebrew Israelites have seized upon the Jewish history of suffering and powerlessness as a means of political expression. White nationalist Christian Identitarians feel victimized by demographic changes, increasing secularism, and the reality of a multicultural America. Black Hebrew Israelites have historically embraced the history of Jewish oppression and disenfranchisement in parallel to the racism and segregation they have faced in American society. Both contemporary movements choose to claim the name and victimhood of the Jews as a way to reaffirm their group identity under external pressure.
The common thread, however, between all three instances of coopting Jewish identity — British Israelism, Christian Identity and Black Hebrew Israelites — is the misguided and selfish desire to claim the label of the Chosen People. These racial supremacists fundamentally misconstrue the nature of the Chosen People. According to the Torah, the Jews are chosen by God not to be superior to others but to carry a unique moral and spiritual responsibility to be a “Light Unto the Nations.” Those who would lay claim to Jewishness to justify racism betray their fundamental ignorance about the identity they seek to steal.