By: Mike Mustiglione
Anti-Semites have a new force to answer to. Mark Shepard, a rising Vassar College sophomore, has been taking it upon himself to confront celebrity anti-Semitism on social media. The 19-year old from Manhattan faced off with former NBA player Stephen Jackson on Instagram Live in head-to-head. Earlier in the month, Jackson had publicly defended anti-Semitic posts on Instagram uploaded by DeSean Jackson, the Eagles wide receiver who is not related to Stephen. The 14-season NBA star had also gone on to blast the Eagles organization for its condemnation of DeSean for his anti-Semitic comments. Jackson was hosting an Instagram Live discussion on July 7th, and Shepard who is one of Stephen Jackson’s 894,000 Instagram followers, tuned in and called Jackson an “anti-Semite” in the video’s comments section. As reported by the NY Post, this prompted Jackson to invite the college student to join the video discussion.
“We’re supposed to be having these conversations,” Shepard told The Post, about the obligation to openly converse regarding Black Lives Matter, following George Floyd’s death while in police custody. “As a white person, mostly what I should be doing in this movement is learning, listening … but when it comes to issues of [Jewish people] especially, I do have a platform there and sort of an obligation to speak out and make sure there’s no collateral injustice.” Shepard is Jewish and still deciding what to major in college. “I have a great deal of respect for him,” Shepard said referring to Jackson. “I wanted to pick his brain.”
In early July, DeSean had taken to Instagram to share with his 1.4 million followers, an anti-Semitic quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler which denoted a Jewish “plan for world domination.” Incidentally, after being critiqued DeSean later apologized, and even accepted a trip to go to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor. Condemnation from the Eagles organization was central to his reform—he had been slapped with an unspecified fine from the Eagles, who called his “conduct detrimental to the team.”
“The fact that [DeSean] put the quote out there and Stephen Jackson basically said, ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ that was an endorsement,” said Shepard. Shepard continued to explain that in calling out Jackson, his goal was to have “a constructive dialogue.” The teen admitted that over the past few months, he also had other public debates, mostly with white nationalists on TikTok. “The reality is we don’t know each other’s experiences,” Shepard said. “If we pretend that we do, that’s not productive.”
Shepard’s discussion with Jackson had carried on open-mindedly and respectfully, even when Jackson had referred to Jews who “control all the banks”. “I wasn’t going to excoriate him for echoing tropes that have been around [for years],” he said. “He didn’t say it in a hateful way … I feel like the better thing to do is explain to him why that’s not true.” The discussion had ended peaceably with Jackson saying to Shepard, “Much love, bro”.
“He’s not a bad person at all, not even a little bit,” Shepard said of Jackson. “He’s literally openly trying to facilitate a difficult discussion at a time like this.” A representative for Stephen Jackson didn’t return a request for comment, and Jackson has since apologized for the Jewish banks comment.