Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Nothing proved the truth of Marx’s claim better than the farcical battle over the statue of St. Louis in, yes, St. Louis which followed hot on the heels of the tragedy of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The battle over the statue began as an exercise in identity politics, and before long it degenerated into an example of identity theft. The main protagonist in this story is Umar Lee, who was born Bret Darran Lee in 1974 to a southern Presbyterian family and grew up in Florissant, Missouri just outside St. Louis. Lee may or may not be Black, which is an ideological marker based upon but independent of biological fact, because he claims, according to The Jerusalem Post that he “has two younger siblings who are half African-American.”
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, leading to extensive rioting. After the death of Michael Brown, Lee got involved with the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, and was arrested on two occasions and, in his words, “locked up.” After getting fired from his job as cab driver, Lee became a full-time, but little known activist. In 2015, Lee noticed that statues started coming down in St. Louis, largely because of agitation on the part of St. Louis Jews. At some point during this period, Lee made contact with Ben Paremba, an Israeli restauranteur who was “passionate” about promoting Israel and other Jewish causes. At this point Paremba was as little known to locals as Lee, but all of that changed after the Jewish press took notice of their petition to remove the statue of St. Louis and began promoting them as social justice crusaders, if you’ll pardon the term.
In a series of tweets, Lee tried to establish his position as an aggrieved Muslim, bringing up the Crusades as the cause of his grievance, but the underlying source of his complaint was inspired by a group of Jews, who were incensed that the city where they had come to study had erected a statue in honor of a king who had burned the Talmud.
The petition was started by two people being myself and Ben Poremba (an Israeli Jewish immigrant) and we then asked Moji Sidiqi to join. The campaign is new. We will work on gaining more support. Just tonight a man told me he approached his rabbi.
— Umar Lee (@UmarLeeIII) July 1, 2020
Louis IX was an anti-semite who persecuted Jews.
Louis IX was a Crusader who attacked African Muslims in battle.
France has a long history of White Supremacy https://t.co/Ns2kPOGHQc
— Umar Lee (@UmarLeeIII) June 27, 2020
Once Lee mentioned the term “anti-Semitism,” the Jewish press began carrying stories which lionized Lee as a crusader for Jewish rights. Because of his philo-Semitism, Lee soon found himself lionized in the Jewish press. Writing for the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Ben Sales described Lee as “a local activist who started the petition and also took part in a successful drive to remove a nearby Confederate monument in 2017. Lee, Sales continued, “is not Jewish but started the petition because of Louis IX’s anti-Semitism.” Because Lee’s petition called St. Louis a “rabid anti-Semite” who “inspired Nazi Germany,” it began “drawing Jewish support” from St. Louis Jews like Rabbi Susan Talve, “the founding rabbi of the city’s Central Reform Congregation, who said taking it down would help advance racial justice in the United States.” According to Talve, St. Louis Jews have “been talking about that statue for a long time.” Talve then added that removing the statue would be “a very important part of reclaiming history, reclaiming the stories that have created the institutionalized racism that we are trying to unravel today. If we’re not honest about our history we will never be able to dismantle the systems of oppression that we are living under.”
“Susan Talve hated Cardinal Burke,” according to one Catholic familiar with the local scene. He went on to say that Burke told him that Talve had “an animosity toward me for reasons that I don’t understand.” Blinded by over 50 years of the failed experiment known as Catholic-Jewish dialogue, his eminence was evidently incapable of seeing that Talve’s animosity toward him was based on her ancestral animosity toward the Catholic Church, which he led in St. Louis at the time. Unsurprisingly, Rabbi Talve’s animosity toward the Catholic Church has turned her into an advocate of Lee’s attack on the statue.
St. Louis Catholics were determined to ignore the ethnic animosity behind the struggle. America Needs Fatima, a front group for the Brazilian cult Tradition, Family, and Property joined the fray, criticizing “limp-wristed politicians” who were giving in to “revolutionary extremists.” ANF Protest Coordinator Jose Ferraz, claimed that “American Catholics” who were “strong in their faith” were being “pushed around by anarchist revolutionaries,” but without identifying any of the actual players in the dispute.
After local activist Jim Hoft announced that a group of Catholics associated with his website Gateway Pundit was going to defend the statue, Lee issued a statement describing what he clearly knew to be a group of Catholics as “White Nationalists” along with “those on the alt-right such as those who held the infamous and tragic rally in Charlottesville.”
This is the guy behind the White Nationalist rally on Saturday at noon on Art Hill. This is why it's important for us to show up at eleven.
20-Plus Times Jim Hoft And The Gateway Pundit Were Absurdly Wrong https://t.co/UBGvC6vWu3
— Umar Lee (@UmarLeeIII) June 26, 2020
Hoft then responded by claiming that Lee deliberately misrepresented the Gateway Pundit rosary group as white racists: “We are Christians and Christian allies who believe we still have the freedom to practice our religion in America. We are organizing a prayer rally with Catholic and Christian men. And now we are being threatened — In America. We will not apologize for our Christianity. Not in St. Louis.”
The turnout is phenomenal! pic.twitter.com/1BvJAgYdlc
— نWalker More (@SirMarchmain) July 4, 2020
The leader of a local rosary group, taken in by Lee’s propaganda, began to suspect that local Catholic activists at the rosary protest “might be backed by white supremacists” and warned his group off. He then retracted his first tweet after he learned that the Rosary rally was being sponsored by local activist Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit and TFP-America Needs Fatima. Neither group talked about the Jews. As a result, neither group was able to discuss the conflict’s most significant player. Both groups as a result became proxy warriors in an exercise in street theater which kept the true dynamics of the conflict hidden.
In his article, Sales found a local Catholic who made a valiant attempt to defend the city’s eponymous saint, only to be shot down later by Talve, who opined that “Asserting that your way is the only way I think is always wrong” with no sense that this was precisely the gist of what the local Jews and their Muslim front man were imposing on the citizens of St. Louis.