My in-laws have become obsessed with conspiracy theories, almost all of which are rooted in anti-Semitic paranoia. Despite being the kind of progressives who traveled to New York to canvass for Cynthia Nixon, both of them have internalized all the dog-whistle boogeymen about “international bankers,” “globalists,” and especially the Rothschilds. They deny they are actually anti-Semitic and, I think, sincerely believe their own rationalizations. But they definitely believe dark forces are conspiring—and those dark forces almost always have a Jewish name. My wife recognizes her parents’ views are problematic but struggles with how to respond to it. Her brother and sister (and their spouses) don’t share our concern and are in denial about their otherwise tolerant parents’ abhorrent beliefs. About three years ago, when my small business did some work for a much larger company owned by a locally prominent civic leader, my father-in-law explained to me during a family dinner that my client was “definitely Mossad” because he was Jewish and traveled a lot for business. It’s an absurd and offensive assertion, and I was doubly upset because it was personal. I lost my temper. My mother-in-law accused me of “bullying” them over their beliefs and started to cry at the dinner table. My siblings-in-law wanted me to apologize and be “open-minded and more respectful to all beliefs.” I refused. Since then, my in-laws and I have settled into an uneasy peace where they limit their baiting to subtle, passive-aggressive asides (“It’s just suspicious that Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations came through Sen. Feinstein’s office.”) that I choose to ignore even if it means leaving the room to avoid the conversation. That has avoided further blowups.
After the Pittsburgh shooting, I don’t know if I can, or should, continue to hold my tongue. I realize my wife is in a no-win situation, and I don’t want her to feel like she needs to choose between her husband and her parents. At the same time, our son will be 6 years old next month—old enough to understand what grown-ups are talking about. He shouldn’t be exposed to anti-Semitic bigotry, and he shouldn’t be led to think that such beliefs are normal or OK. I’d like my brothers- and sisters-in-law to join us in the united front that conspiracy-theory fever dreams are forbidden topics at family events, but as I say, they refuse to acknowledge the problem. Do you have any suggestions or strategies for convincing my siblings-in-law that this needs to happen?