In the year 1666 the whole Jewish world went crazy. A manic-depressive madman named Sabbatai Zevi, aided by his loquacious PR flack, Nathan of Gaza, had declared himself the Messiah.
History hadn’t been kind to the Jews. Their self-image as God’s chosen, destined to rule over the goyim cattle, clashed with messy reality. Persecuted here, expelled there, despised everywhere, Jews felt themselves a nation in decline. Many were ready to follow a mad messiah who promised to “make Israel great again.” As the Sabbatean frenzy swept through Jewish communities across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, Establishment rabbis were powerless to contain it. Jews abandoned their businesses, sold their belongings, and did so much masochistic penance that the price of nettles soared. Those who could afford to bought tickets for the Holy Land. This was Zionism 1.0, and it set the tone for future iterations.
Fast forward 350 years to 2016. Another psychologically unbalanced individual, a certain Donald J. Trump, crowned himself with a red baseball cap and declared himself the redeemer who would “make America great again.” Like Zevi’s, Trump’s madness found an audience. Like Jews in 1666, (white male) Americans in 2016 were starting to feel like persecuted members of a nation in decline. TruTru And like Zevi’s proto-Zionists, Trump’s MAGA-hat-wearing lemmings followed their leader into madness, abandoning critical thought and embracing what more sensible people could see was a bizarre, mythical delusion.
Most obviously, both had good propagandists: Zevi was a nobody until Nathan started promoting him, while Trump built his political empire with the help of an army of flacks hired by MAGA-nation’s fake alt media. But even good propagandists need a viable product. And Zevi and Trump were both obviously clinically insane. Fortunately for their flacks, both suffered from mental illnesses tailor-made for selling them as false messiahs.
Zevi was a manic-depressive who, in his manic phases, did madly transgressive things. But according to Nathan, Zevi’s crazy criminal behavior was exactly what you’d expect from a Messiah! The whole point of being a Messiah, Nathan said, was to abolish the Law. (Sounds like something Giuliani might say in defense of Trump.)
Jews, who were probably sick of punctiliously obeying every last petty aspect of Jewish law, ate it up. A world with no more law, in which Jews would rule over the Gentile cattle the way God intended, sounded damned good to them.
Trump’s unique brand of craziness likewise played on the fantasies of his audience. Like Zevi, Trump broke rules and got away with it. Many working class Americans fantasize about living lives of egotistic opulence while flouting the rules. Through Trump—or, rather, their image of Trump—they could vicariously live out their fantasies. And like Zevi, who, rumor had it, married a prostitute and invited acquaintances to enjoy her, Trump is said to have married a “model” trafficked from Eastern Europe and to have led a dissolute life in many other respects, as Roy Cohn and “Katie Johnson” could attest.
Another fatal attraction: Both Zevi and Trump were satanic egotists, narcissists who demanded that people worship them instead of God. Zevi changed liturgies so Jews would stop worshipping Yahweh and start worshipping Zevi. He was a self-styled Antichrist who consciously stole the “man as God” motif from the Christians and applied it to himself. Trump, too, invited worship of himself, and was always the foremost and most enthusiastic member of the congregation.
Finally, one can’t help but notice that Zevi and Trump were both “crazy Zionists.” By that I mean that unlike “sane Zionists” (pardon the oxymoron) Zevi and Trump had complete faith in their own ability to madly defy common sense, geopolitical and historical reality, and the existence and independent volition of the people of the Muslim East, and unilaterally willthe supreme success of Greater Israel.
Zevi’s message to the Jews—”come to the Holy Land, I am now King of the World and the Ottoman Sultan is about to surrender to me so we Jews can subjugate and enslave the goyim cattle and retire in splendor and let them do all the work”—quickly collided with reality, in the form of the Sultan himself. Zevi was brought before the Sultan, who said: “If you are the Messiah, my executioners’ arrows won’t hurt you. If you aren’t, you’re an imposter who deserves death.” Zevi’s quick-witted response was a nominal conversion to Islam. The Sultan, who found Zevi mad but charming, treated the new “convert” with proverbial Muslim mercy and compassion, revoking the death sentence and appointing him to a high position with a good salary.
Zevi’s followers, like Trump’s today, were crestfallen. Like followers of Q Anon, Zevi’s cultists (the majority of Jews of 1666) had been dreaming up all kinds of unlikely scenarios purporting to explain why the “messiah” who was going to put everything right couldn’t seem to do so. “In spite of Sabbatai’s apostasy, many of his adherents still clung tenaciously to their belief in him, claiming that his conversion was a part of the Messianic scheme.” (Wikipedia). Likewise, there are still Q followers out there who believe Trump still is going to pull some kind of miracle out of his rear end, magically beam himself back into the White House, arrest the satanic pedophile elite, execute Biden and Hillary, and help America live happily ever after.
50 years after Zevi died in 1676, his self-proclaimed reincarnation, Jacob Frank, rebuilt his satanic Zionist cult and elaborated on Zevi’s doctrine of “redemption through sin.” Will a madman who thinks he is the reincarnation of Donald Trump similarly revive Q Anon during the final years of this century? Stranger things—as the story of Zevi and Frank and the creation of modern Israel shows—have happened.
Dr. Kevin Barrett, a Ph.D. Arabist-Islamologist is one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror.
He also has appeared many times on Fox, CNN, PBS, and other broadcast outlets, and has inspired feature stories and op-eds in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other leading publications.
Dr. Barrett has taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin; where he ran for Congress in 2008. He currently works as a nonprofit organizer, author, and talk radio host.