Paul Nehlen hates Jews. He doesn’t bother to hide it.
The Wisconsin Republican running to replace House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) once wrote that Jews are destined to “burn in hell.” He has mocked the Holocaust on white power podcasts. In January, Twitter temporarily suspended Nehlen after he posted neo-Nazi propaganda depicting journalists (not all of them Jewish) branded with the Star of David. When Nehlen returned to Twitter a week later, he posted a list of “Jews” (not all of them Jewish) he claims have attacked him. He didn’t last long. Twitter permanently suspended his account this week after Nehlen posted a racist image targeting Meghan Markle, the mixed-race fiancée of British royal Prince Harry.
An open bigot like Nehlen has little chance of winning election ― although the same was once said of Donald Trump ― but holding office might not be the point.
Nehlen’s Gestapo-light behavior has made him a celebrity among “alt-right” white supremacists, the social media-savvy millennial update of yesteryear’s skinhead thugs. Think fascism in polos and preppy haircuts. But it’s still the same hate. Nehlen lets this new generation of extremists dare to dream.
And his behavior has attracted other Jew-haters to his cause. Perhaps the most prominent of them is Nehlen’s campaign spokesman, Josh Smith, a 36-year-old Pennsylvania lawyer with an Anglo-Saxon patronym so banal that it hardly feels real.
A boisterous supporter of Nehlen’s “shall not censor” bill to prevent social media platforms from banning users for hate speech, Smith is even more anti-Semitic online than his boss is. On Gab, a social media platform favored by racists and fascists, Smith opposes women’s suffrage and writes things like “Get fucked, faggot” and “Who on Earth could ever take these filthy kikes seriously??”
He favors social media handles derived from “Ebolamerican,” the name of a parody Twitter account he created during the Ebola virus scare in 2014. When Twitter initially suspended Nehlen in January, it also indefinitely suspended Smith, who had been tweeting white supremacist fare under @ebolasweden and using an avatar of Dan Halen, the scheming cartoon villain from the Adult Swim show “Squidbillies.”
But Twitter suspensions are often little more than public relations bluster, and Smith quickly fired up @EmericaFirst, a dormant account he’d created in March 2010. He went right back to posting messages by white power icons such as Richard Spencer and Mike Peinovich. He promoted neo-Nazi groups like Identity Evropa and tweeted approvingly of white supremacist felon David Duke, whose radio show Nehlen went on recently.
Smith voiced support for a white ethnostate and urged white men to “wake up.” He spoke of “race war” and used Nazi terminology like “lugenpresse,” which means “lying press.” He put up a post denying the Holocaust and tweeted approvingly about expelling Jews from America:
Smith also tweeted about “cultural Marxism” and evil Jews, about Jewish control of the media and Hollywood, about Jewish censorship of right-wing speech and Jewish subversion of America through “deep state” plots. He wrote that “censorship of the goyim” runs through the “blood” of Jews.
He attacked Nehlen’s critics by asking if they were Jewish.
Last week, HuffPost asked him essentially the same question:
Were you raised Jewish?
Smith wrote back to say that he was.
Lawyers, Guns And Money
In January, HuffPost learned that Josh Smith hasn’t always been Josh Smith. He grew up Jewish in Pittsburgh as Daniel Joshua Nusbaum, the son of Maury and Barbara Nusbaum. His maternal grandmother, Sylvia Feldman, was buried last month in Pittsburgh’s Cneseth Israel Cemetery. None of Smith’s relatives contacted by HuffPost responded to requests for comment.
Smith’s father, who is also a lawyer, was the only one in the household who had any interest in Judaism. “My father insisted that I have a bar mitzvah, after which I was allowed to decide my level of future involvement with the religion,” Smith told HuffPost. “I chose ‘no involvement whatsoever,’ and never looked back. Judaism just wasn’t for me.”
But does Smith still consider himself Jewish?
“In the racial sense, yes, because one obviously cannot change one’s DNA. (Although I’ve not had my DNA tested, I’m certain that it would be some percentage Ashkenazi Jewish.) In the religious sense, no,” he said.
Smith said Nehlen and many others in the alt-right already know about his heritage. “I can’t say that they were thrilled about it, but trust is earned, not given, and they have come to realize that their trust in me is well-placed,” he said.
And his commitment to the cause appears sincere. “I refuse to stand idly by and allow Whites to be dispossessed of their homelands, and I will sacrifice my own self-interests to ensure that Whites may secure their existence and a future for their beautiful children,” he told HuffPost in an email, using a variation of the “14 words,” a white supremacist slogan.
In his youth, Nusbaum ― as Smith was known then ― was something of an academic prodigy, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh at the age of 18. But he only scored in the 75th percentile on the LSAT and matriculated to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he studied for two years before transferring to Cornell Law School. He was an editor at the Cornell Law Review and contributed one article as Daniel J. Nusbaum. He graduated in 2003 and also interned that year at the American Enterprise Institute.
After law school, Nusbaum worked for about a year in New York as a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, a prestigious white-shoe law firm that used to employ Peter Thiel. Nusbaum left the firm at the end of 2004, telling HuffPost that he found the work “miserable.” Nusbaum’s bankruptcy records list an approximately $11,000 credit card debt and the law firm as a co-debtor. Sullivan & Cromwell did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
It seems as if he is traveling under a black cloud, some of which he causes.Barbara Nusbaum, from an email that’s part of a court case file
Nusbaum moved back to Pittsburgh, where he would soon earn some notoriety. He claims on his résumé to have started work in November 2004 as the manager of legal affairs for a local information technology business. But he told HuffPost that he didn’t move back to Pittsburgh until January 2005 and didn’t start working for the IT business until several years later. By June 2005, he was employed as a waiter in the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, a fancy seafood restaurant with panoramic views of the Pittsburgh skyline. He earned $2,500 a month.
In court documents, Nusbaum admitted to suffering at the time from “debilitating psychological disorders” such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and major depressive disorder. His doctor prescribed him Adderall to treat his symptoms, but higher and higher doses of the stimulant failed to have an effect. The doctor switched him to Desoxyn, which is lab-pure methamphetamine — literally meth. The drug is highly addictive and can cause psychosis and delirium. It can also suppress appetite, and Nusbaum, who stands only 5 foot, 6 inches and at the time weighed as little as 120 pounds, said his doctor had ordered him to eat at every opportunity.
“I have been directed to consume food whenever possible,” Nusbaum later told a court.
The Monterey Bay Fish Grotto tried to accommodate Nusbaum’s impairments with a special policy that allowed him to “scarf down” food he brought during eight-minute breaks — two per shift — throughout which he stood in a corner of the kitchen, eating while the restaurant staff watched him. But these sessions did not sate him. He was taking meth twice a day and wanted to snack on some of the restaurant’s food for free. Diners lodged a formal complaint about his jittery behavior. Nusbaum continued to flounder and filed for bankruptcy, having amassed over $130,000 in debt from unpaid college loans and years of bills he’d ignored. In January 2007, the fish restaurant canned him.
A few months later, Nusbaum sued the restaurant in federal court, claiming that the business had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to address his eating requirements. He represented himself and filed angsty motions that described the “megalomanic [sic] nature” of his boss. He skipped his own deposition.
The case dragged on, and Nusbaum moved into the home of a boyfriend he’d met online. The man owned a local business and shared an interest in bondage and sadomasochism. “I was the submissive one,” Nusbaum later told another court in a different proceeding. Living rent-free in his lover’s house, Nusbaum focused on lashing a settlement out of the restaurant.
Over the course of the next year, however, Nusbaum’s romantic relationship deteriorated, and he began to harass and threaten his boyfriend, who on one occasion had to barricade himself inside his room, according to court records. Nusbaum raged explosively. His boyfriend took to sleeping in his office at work, afraid that Nusbaum would attack him at home. When the man broke off the relationship in November 2008, Nusbaum refused to move out. That month, he also legally changed his name to Joshua Smith.
“At the time, I was not speaking with my family, and I decided that I did not wish to carry on the family name,” said Smith, as this piece will now refer to him.
In March 2009, Smith applied for a gun permit under his new name and omitted a key detail: As a 16-year-old, his parents had him involuntarily committed for two days to a psychiatric facility. Smith told HuffPost that the involuntary commitment happened after he discovered a family secret that prompted a dispute.
“I was released after two days. This was not a mental health issue ― my family was just highly dysfunctional back then. My parents have admitted it was a terrible mistake, and have repeatedly apologized to me for it. I have, of course, forgiven them.”
Back then, he was Daniel Nusbaum. But under Pennsylvania law, he still couldn’t own a gun as Josh Smith, and his attempt in 2009 to obtain one frightened people. His ex-boyfriend sought a six-month restraining order, which Smith protested in court. A judge looked at Smith’s “sufficiently disturbing” behavior and granted the order. Smith had a meltdown in the courtroom.
Smith unsuccessfully appealed the ruling, playing victim and later demanding $250,000 in damages in a separate proceeding that was dismissed. In one motion, he used racial slurs to liken a judge’s treatment of him to actual racism. “[T]his would be no different than if a court had a party before it who was of a certain racial class (say, for instance, black),” Smith wrote, “and the court stated, ‘well, all n****rs say that,’ or ‘all n****rs say the same thing in the end.’”
It’s worth noting here that the alt-right doesn’t know what to make of gay people. Some white nationalists like Richard Spencer don’t seem to care much about sexual orientation. Others such as Matt Heimbach believe white nationalism is only for straight, white people and consider everything else “perversion” and “degeneracy.” Andrew Anglin talks about executing homosexuals by throwing them off rooftops. But desperate movements can’t be choosy, and Smith’s sexuality, like his heritage, hasn’t disqualified him from membership.
When HuffPost asked Smith about his sexual orientation, he refused to discuss it. “It is now clear to me that such behavior (homosexuality, transgenderism, all of it), as well as the culture that surrounds it, is fundamentally degenerate and destructive to the very foundations of civilization, and thus can never be promoted in any healthy society,” Smith emailed.
A few years ago, however, he sounded a different note on an online radio show while defending an Indiana law that allowed Christian business owners to turn away LGBTQ customers. “OK, so I’m gay – openly gay, proud of it, it’s great,” Smith told the host.
One of the few subjects on which prominent white nationalist figures have near-unanimous agreement, however, is Jews. Heimbach sums it up: “Jews have zero place in our movement.” They see Jews not simply as a religious group, but as a distinct racial subgroup that is genetically predisposed to subverting white countries. So what might inspire a gay Jew to join forces with far-right extremists? Could it really be, as Smith contends, about free speech as imagined by a movement whose members routinely threaten journalists with death and make no secret of their desire to silence political opponents?