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New York Times assailed for Alice Walker interview endorsing ‘anti-Semitic’ conspiracy theorist

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker is under fire for a New York Times interview in which she spoke favorably of a book by David Icke, the prominent conspiracy theorist who has been accused of anti-Semitism. (Raymond Hagans/MediaPunch/IPX; Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire/AP) (Raymond Hagans/MediaPunch/IPX and  Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire via AP)

This story has been updated.

Critics call it anti-Semitic, saying it places Holocaust revisionism at the center of an odious and addled worldview. The same biblical phrase used as its title has also been claimed by followers of QAnon, a conspiracy movement that favors President Trump and peddles baseless theories about government secrets and cabals.

But Alice Walker, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple,” calls “And the Truth Shall Set You Free” by David Icke a “curious person’s dream come true.” She offered this endorsement in a New York Times interview published in print on Sunday, in which the 74-year-old author said that the 1995 book was among those resting on her nightstand. “In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about,” she said.

It was not Walker’s approval of Icke’s work that most troubled observers, who noted that she has previously declared her affinity for his delusive writing and stated, in a poem last year, that the evils of the Talmud could be discovered by watching YouTube videos. Rather, some decried the decision by the Times to relay her recommendation to readers without qualification.

The criticism opened a debate about the gate-keeping responsibilities of mainstream news outlets and the path taken by poisonous lies into polite discourse — matters of serious significance as societies newly wired by social media weigh how to separate fact from fiction, especially when false accounts are so often laced with hate. At stake in the flap were also charged questions about how to separate art from an artist’s worldview, as well as whether moral codes should police creative taste.

Icke is a former professional soccer player and popular BBC presenter who now disseminates conspiracy theories in self-published books and on YouTube. He claims to have had a psychic revelation nearly 20 years ago that led him to rebrand as “Son of the Godhead” and to promote the idea that a race of reptilian humanoids, widely viewed as a stand-in for Jews, is secretly running the world.

“And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” which draws on the infamous anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” includes this judgment: “I strongly believe that a small Jewish clique which has contempt for the mass of Jewish people worked with non-Jews to create the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Second World War.” The Nazi extermination, he wrote, was “coldly calculated by the ‘Jewish’ elite.”

Walker’s positive, though somewhat cryptic, evaluation of Icke’s work was rebuked by the Anti-Defamation League, as well as by Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg, who described the interview as “rather remarkable because the book is an unhinged anti-Semitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Semites.”

“Normally, this is where I’d say that it was good that the Times published Walker’s Icke recommendation because it lets us know who she is,” Rosenberg wrote. “But we have known who she is for many years. It is rather the Times and other cultural elites who have opted to ignore this inconvenient fact. Thus, the only thing that is accomplished by uncritically disseminating Walker’s bigoted book bon mots is ensuring that the racism is disseminated to more people.”

The ADL said it was “deeply disappointed” in the choice to print an “unqualified endorsement,” adding that it had asked the paper to update the interview with information about Icke’s incendiary positions, which also include fearmongering about vaccines and the claim that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were the product of an inside job.

But the Times on Monday defended its decision, saying Walker’s views were not those of the newspaper’s editors. The weekly “By the Book” column, where the interview ran, offers a “portrait of a public person through the lens of books,” a spokesman for the newspaper said in a statement to The Post.

The Times said it would not amend the column to discredit Icke.

“Moreover, our editors do not offer background or weigh in on the books named in the By the Book column, whether the subject issues a positive or negative judgment on those books,” a Times spokesman said. “Many people recommend books Times editors dislike, disdain or even abhor in the column.”

The agency representing Walker didn’t immediately return a message from The Post.

Icke’s 491-page book sits on Walker’s nightstand beside Somaly Mam’s “The Road of Lost Innocence,” an account of child sex trafficking in Cambodia; Daniel Black’s “Perfect Peace,” a novel about family and gender presentation in the Deep South; and Maya Angelou’s “Mom & Me & Mom,” the seventh and final book in the author’s series of autobiographies.

Walker, who was raised by sharecroppers in rural Georgia, wrote what would become her first book of poetry, “Once,” while she was studying in East Africa as a student at Sarah Lawrence College. After graduation, she went to work for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund in Jackson, Miss. — crediting the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. But she soon returned to writing, and she published her first novel, “The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” in 1970.

The 1982 work for which she is best known, “The Color Purple,” tells the story of Celie, a Southern black woman who struggles under the weight of patriarchal abuse. A bestseller, the book was adapted into the acclaimed 1985 movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical. The novel earned Walker the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983.

Walker has been active in politics, including as a voice against the Iraq War and a critic of the Israeli government. She coined the term “womanist” in her 1983 collection “In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens” to denote “a black feminist or feminist of color,” making her a leading thinker on issues of race and gender and their interconnection.

This celebrated identity is partly what has made her apparent appreciation for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories so disturbing to some readers. Rebecca Pierce, an African American and Jewish filmmaker, wrote that Walker’s statements were especially corrosive because the “anti-Jewish conspiracies she uplifted and adopted are part of the same white supremacist power structure she so deftly fought through her written work in the past.”

Walker has previously professed her attachment to Icke’s writing. In a BBC interview in 2013, she chose his 2010 “Human Race Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More” as the one book she would take with her to a desert island. In the 690-page work, Icke argued that the human mind is controlled by nonhuman entities operating on the moon.

And on her blog in 2012, Walker compared Icke to Malcolm X and explained that what she most admired about the conspiracy theorist was “the freedom of his mind.”

“Do I believe everything? I don’t think it matters,” she wrote, recommending videos of Icke’s appearances to her followers. She once recommended a video of a conversation between Icke and Alex Jones, the conspiracy kingpin and founder of Infowars. “I like these two because they’re real,” she offered.

Online videos have also been decisive in shaping Walker’s view of the Talmud, the main source of Jewish law and theology. A first-person poem she posted last year, titled “It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud,” advises that an “in depth study” of the ancient text was best begun on YouTube, which has come under scrutiny as a weapon of disinformation employed by the Russians during the 2016 election.

“Simply follow the trail of ‘The Talmud’ as its poison belatedly winds its way into our collective consciousness,” Walker wrote. The poem repeats a slew of anti-Semitic tropes, from the charge that Jews killed Christ to the notion that Jews view “Goyim (us)” as “sub-humans, animals."

Walker is no fan of President Trump, observing that he envies his predecessor, but her eyebrow-raising support for conspiracy theories led some to wonder, tongue-in-cheek, whether she was at the center of one particular pro-Trump movement.