For Buzzfeed News, Hannes Grassegger writes about the origins of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories surrounding George Soros, a Democratic Jewish businessman. Jewish political consultants George Eli Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, who were working on the election of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, began a public campaign against Soros in 2013 to fabricate a common liberal enemy for their supporters. Grassegger writes, “The anti-Semitism that sprang out of the Soros campaign might not be too surprising, even if Finkelstein and Birnbaum did not intend it. They imported ancient themes and modern grievances into 21st-century communications technology.”
The New York Times’s Rick Rojas reports that a peaceful Muslim community called Islamberg in upstate New York has been the target of conspiracy theorists and anti-Muslim groups. Rojas writes, “Documentary-style videos portrayed Islamberg as a jihadi training camp and terrorist sleeper cell, and people who present themselves as national security experts have published reports online alleging a culture of ‘militant brainwashing,’ forced marriages and doling out lashes and other forms of draconian abuse for violating its rules.” Last week, three men and one minor were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack Islamberg with a stockpile of weapons.
The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino profiles Marlon James, a gay Jamaican fantasy writer who experienced a religious crisis as an evangelical Christian in the early 2000s. James’s new book, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which has been compared to both Black Panther and Game of Thrones, is set to be released in February. Tolentino writes, “I asked him about the spiritual question that reverberates through Black Leopard, whose world is thickly enchanted but whose characters don’t really believe in anything; this is one of the challenges the book poses to its genre’s metaphysics. ‘I do think I am still in the middle of a religious crisis,’ he said.”
TIME’s Liam Fitzpatrick profiles Thich Nhat Hanh, the 92-year-old Buddhist monk and activist. He writes, “The ailing celebrity monk—quoted by Presidents and hailed by Oprah Winfrey as ‘one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our times’—is refusing medication prescribed after a stroke in 2014.” Fitzpatrick adds, “In the West, Nhat Hanh is sometimes called the father of mindfulness. He famously taught that we could all be bodhisattvas by finding happiness in the simple things.”
The Associated Press’s David Crary reports that changes in state laws will make it easier for sex-abuse survivors to file lawsuits. These shifts are happening in the midst of the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis. New York is expected to soon pass a measure that would extend the time frame for victims pursuing legal action in the future and create a one-year window that allows victims to sue over past claims. Crary writes, “Nationwide, only a handful of states — including California, Minnesota, Delaware and Hawaii — have created these ‘lookback windows’ enabling victims to file civil lawsuits against institutions such as churches and youth groups that bore some responsibility for the abuse.”
Trump Administration Moves to Protect Faith-Based Foster Care Agencies that Don’t Serve LGBT Couplesposted on January 24, 2019
Deseret News’s Kelsey Dallas reports, “The Trump administration on Wednesday made a decision in support of a faith-based foster care agency in South Carolina, announcing that religious organizations are protected by federal religious freedom law and can receive government money even when they won’t serve LGBT or non-Christian couples.” The administration’s decision means that Miracle Hill Ministries based in Greenville can keep operating in accordance with its religious beliefs. The deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project said, “Prospective foster and adoptive parents should be judged only on their capacity to provide love and support to a child — not their faith.”
The New York Times’s Michael Gold reports that four suspects were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack Islamberg, a rural Muslim community in upstate New York. Authorities said that they recovered 23 firearms and three homemade bombs from three young men and one 16-year-old individual. Gold writes, “Over the past several years, Islamberg has been attacked by anti-Muslim groups and some right-wing conspiracy theorists, who have said that the town is actually a terrorist training camp despite its peaceful history.”
For The Washington Post, Sam Kestenbaum writes about The House of Israel (HOI), an American religious branch of Black Israelism whose members were recently involved in a now-viral confrontation between Catholic high school boys and a Native American elder in Washington. Kestenbaum writes, “Beliefs vary widely, but groups are bound together by the central tenet that African Americans are the literal descendants of the Israelites of the Bible and have been severed from their true heritage.” He adds, “With an elevated profile, Hebrew Israelite groups such as HOI have received significant pushback from organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League — which brand them as ‘hate groups’ for their inflammatory messages about white, LGBT and Jewish people — as well as from Christian groups that see them as a growing religious threat.”
NPR’s Lauren Frayer and Furkan Latif Khan write about the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious festival that began last Tuesday in which pilgrims bathe in India’s holy rivers as part of a spiritual cleanse. This year’s celebration which ends on March 4 is expected to involve 150 million participants, making it the world’s largest gathering of people at one event. Niraj Shukla, a 32-year-old from New Delhi, said, “You have work, you have tensions, you’ve committed some wrongdoings – you know these things deep down inside. Now you come over here, you take a dip, you feel that, ‘I am in the company of some holy people – some saints.”’
The New York Times’s Elizabeth Dias reports on the aftermath of Friday’s standoff between boys from Covington Catholic High School wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, an elderly Native American man, and a group of Hebrew Israelites in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky is part of an overwhelmingly white, Catholic, and Republican community. Dias writes, “By Sunday, after Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington apologized in a joint statement, the students were being threatened and their private information was being posted online.” Covington’s families and churches are now working to defend the boys from what they see as a politically motivated attack.