(JTA) — The artist behind a political cartoon that showed U.S. government officials as puppets of George Soros and the Rothschilds has defended his work and accused the Anti-Defamation League of libeling him.
On Wednesday, Politico reported that Ben Garrison would no longer be attending a White House social media summit following complaints by the ADL and others that his Rothschilds cartoon from 2017 was anti-Semitic.
In emails to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency late Tuesday and early Wednesday, Garrison said he “got kicked out” of the summit.
Garrison also defended the cartoon in question, which shows Soros, a liberal Jewish philanthropist, pulling the strings of then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus. Above Soros, a green hand labeled “Rothschilds,” a well-known Jewish banking family, manipulates him.
At the time, various members of the “alt-right” — including Mike Cernovich, a radio host who commissioned the Garrison cartoon — were charging that McMaster and other Trump aides were sabotaging the president’s agenda on behalf of “globalists” and “Islamists.”
The Anti-Defamation League called the cartoon “blatantly anti-Semitic” and said “the thrust of the cartoon is clear: McMaster is merely a puppet of a Jewish conspiracy.” Soros is a frequent target of the right for his liberal and pro-democracy efforts in the United States and Europe, and some of that criticism has taken the form of historic anti-Semitic tropes, including notorious “puppet master” and “octopus” themes.
While the Rothschilds often appear in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about global control going back to the 19th century, none of the current family members are particularly well-known for their politics or social activism.
Nevertheless, Garrison defended his work by saying that the Rothschild family played a large role in the evolution of centralized banking, including by being “instrumental in the behind-the-scenes creation of the Federal Reserve.”
“All of this is not conspiracy theory, it is historical fact,” he wrote. “Yet nowadays anyone who even mentions the ‘R’ word is smeared as anti-Semitic. Now they want any criticism of George Soros to be silenced by the same means. They use the anti-Semitism insult as a tactic to silence critics.”
The Federal Reserve, the central banking system of the United States, was created by an act of Congress in 1913. The only claims that Rothschilds had a hand in its creation are found on various conspiracy sites. The ADL calls the claim that the Federal Reserve is controlled by Jews “a classic example of the hatemonger’s paranoid-style exploitation of legitimate concerns — in this case, the nation’s economy.”
Garrison told JTA that he had libertarian Jewish friends who will vouch that he is not anti-Semitic. He also sent along an email defending him that was signed by someone identifying himself as Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski and calling himself the “Grand Rabbi of Koblentz.”
JTA reached out to Kolakowski, who said he directs a chaplaincy program at a prison in Pennsylvania and took the title to honor his ancestor from the city in Germany.
Kolakowski also said that while he does not know Garrison personally, he “reject[s] the entire ideology of ‘Semitism’ and ‘anti-Semitism.'”
“There was no reference to the Torah faith or religion in Mr. Garrison’s cartoon,” Kolakowski wrote. “I believe that George Soros is an enemy to the basic fundamental ideas of America and he is a very dangerous individual.”
On his website, Garrison describes himself as “an independent political cartoonist based in Northwest Montana.” His cartoons have been posted on the right-wing site Breitbart and and the conspiracy site InfoWars.
“I’m a conservative libertarian cartoonist,” he told JTA. “I’m pro-constitution and pro-liberty. I’m anti-war, anti-big government, and especially anti-socialism, which I consider to be evil.”
According to his site, Garrison began drawing cartoons in 2009 “to protest the central banker bailout, bloated government and the slide toward tyranny.” The site also notes, as did a recent article in Wired, that his work has often been defaced by far-right internet trolls who add racist and anti-Semitic images and messages that he rejects.
Indeed, he accused the ADL of libel because the organization used one of those defaced cartoons as part of a guide on anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. The ADL posted a version of a cartoon on which others had juxtaposed stereotypical images of Jews. It doesn’t call out Garrison by name, although his signature is on the doctored cartoon.
“We’re thinking about suing them,” Garrison wrote. “One more thing — who are they to set themselves up as arbiters of free speech? They enjoy vilifying people and getting people fired for using free speech. The ADL is the one engaging in hate speech, not me.”
Critics of the White House decision to invite Garrison to Thursday’s social media summit — which is expected to focus on alleged anti-conservative bias among tech companies — noted that President Trump had been highly critical of a cartoon in The New York Times International Edition that Trump and many others called anti-Semitic.
The Times later apologized for that April cartoon, which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Star of David collar and leading a blind, yarmulke-clad Trump.
Asked about that cartoon, Garrison replied, “The newspaper should not have apologized.”
“The time for editors to be judicious is BEFORE such a thing gets printed,” Garrison told JTA. “If they want editorial cartoons to be inoffensive, then they will also become ineffectual. Cartoons are supposed to either make someone happy or angry. All else is political correctness.”