The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Attorney general speaks out against anti-Semitism and racism

Attorney General William P. Barr speaks at the Department of Justice on July 15, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General William P. Barr condemned anti-Semitism and racism in a speech Monday at the Justice Department — comments that came a day after President Trump declared that some minority lawmakers should leave the country.

Barr, kicking off a day-long forum on combating anti-Semitism, decried “identity politics,” which he said sought to tear the fabric of American society, and he compared hatred based on religion or ethnicity to a cancer.

“A body politic must have an immune system that resists anti-Semitism and other forms of racial hatred,” said Barr. “My concern today is that under the banner of identity politics, some political factions are seeking to obtain power by dividing Americans, and they undermine the values that draw us together, such as a shared commitment to our country’s success.”

Barr’s speech fits into a broader argument made by conservatives over the years that Democrats use racial identity as a political wedge issue to demonize Republicans — but his critique could also apply to recent statements from Trump.

Over the weekend, Trump revived historically racist rhetoric when he tweeted that some Democratic members of Congress should “go back” to the countries they came from, and fix them before they try to run the U.S. government.

Trump calls on minority congresswomen to apologize

Trump’s remarks seemed aimed at four lawmakers who have been especially critical of him but have also fought battles over race inside their own party: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Tlaib was born in Detroit, and Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York. Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia; her family fled the country amid civil war when she was a child, and she became a U.S. citizen as a teenager.

Throughout U.S. history, nativists have often used the “go back to your country” language against unpopular immigrant groups, such as Italian and Irish, as well as people of color.

Democrats denounced Trump’s comments as racist; Republicans have largely stayed silent.

Nothing in Barr’s comments were aimed directly at the president but were in keeping with broader conservative critiques of Democrats.

Arrests in domestic terror probes outpace those inspired by Islamic extremists

His speech focused primarily on the surge in anti-Semitism reflected in FBI hate crime data and more-localized reporting from the New York Police Department and elsewhere.

“I’m deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes and political violence that we have seen in the last decade,” said Barr, who called anti-Semitism “the most ancient and stubborn form of racism.”

Barr said that horrific acts of violence such as the shooting last year in a Pittsburgh synagogue may capture the public’s attention, but that lesser forms of anti-Semitism often happen under the radar and need to be combated across society.

“In the United States today, we do not see state-organized violence, but increasingly we are seeing hate-inspired violence against the Jewish community orchestrated by individuals and groups,” he said. “We need to combat anti-Semitism on all fronts.”