“They said I’d make a good lampshade,” says Julia Ioffe. Ioffe is a journalist, who happens to be Jewish, and who happened to write a profile of Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, for GQ. She has since been barraged with insults and threats, many of them violent, and many of them anti-Semitic.
“Basically," says Ioffe, “I woke up to find that the Daily Stormer, which is a white supremacist website, wrote a piece saying that I had attacked Empress Melania, the wife of their glorious leader — those are their words, not mine — and they basically asked everyone to send me a tweet, saying how it made them feel.”
Mrs. Trump was born in Slovenia as Melania Knavs. She changed her name to Knauss to help her modeling career. Knauss met Trump at a party in New York in 1998, and they married in 2005.
Ioffe interviewed Melania Trump for the story, and traveled to Slovenia to interview people who knew her growing up. Ioffe presents a picture of her as an intelligent, responsible, hard-working, intensely private woman, devoted to her family. Ioffe also got the first media interview with her illegitimate half-brother.
The Stormer’s headline reads: "Empress Melania attacked by filthy Russian kike Julia Ioffe in GQ!"
Immediately, Ioffe says, “I was getting some pretty vile images in my email and Twitter feed. You know, caricatures of Jews being shot, execution-style; a Back To The Future poster re-done as Back To The Oven; suggesting I would look good on a lampshade.”
In a post on Facebook, Melania Trump criticized Ioffe for invading her family’s privacy and said the story contained numerous unspecified inaccuracies.
“While the tweets are disgusting and egregious,” adds Ioffe, “what’s been weirder has been the phone calls that I’ve been getting even late into the night regarding inquires I had supposedly left about caskets and homicide clean-ups at my house.” Other calls featured automated recordings of Hitler’s speeches.
Ioffe is not worried about these implied death threats. “It’s unpleasant to be sure, but I’ve gotten blowback for my pieces online in the past. You know, as a journalist, this is what comes with the territory. This is just going after my religion and ethnicity.”
“The volume, and the way that basically a whole army seems to have been snapped into action, is more disconcerting to me than the specific phone calls,” says Ioffe, “because it makes me think that, given Donald Trump’s hostility to the press, suggesting that we loosen our libel laws so it’s easier to go after journalists; getting people at his rallies to boo at the press; constantly vilifying journalists and attacking them … the question is, what does this imply for our country, and the healthiness of our public discourse, and the freedom of our press.”
Ioffe and GQ have yet to hear from the Trumps what they believe to be inaccurate in the story. “The only thing that Mrs. Trump did mention explicitly to me was that she believed I was invading her family’s privacy. I can understand that. She’s an intensely private person. And I think that, as uncomfortable as it is for her — and I know that this is one of the reasons that she wasn’t so hot on the idea of her husband running for president — this is unfortunately what comes with the territory of being the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee.”
“The story was thoroughly fact-checked. The GQ legal team went over it. We even had lawyers in Slovenia look at this piece," says Ioffe.
Ioffe’s family moved from the Soviet Union in 1990 to escape anti-Semitism.
“I don’t think and I don’t know that Melania Trump sent these anti-Semitic trolls to my virtual doorstep,” says Ioffe. “But she did express displeasure with my article. She named me. And this is what happened. This has happened to journalists before me, and I’m sure it will happen again.”