Stephens made no reference to anti-Semitic tropes in his original email to me. He had plenty of words for me—he declared that I lacked courage and intellectual integrity, and suggested that I was too much of a coward to say it to his face— but he did not come up with a supposed link between my joke and “totalitarian regimes” until the next morning, when Chris Jansing of MSNBC teased him about whether this was really the worst thing he had been called on social media. (He has agreed to come to George Washington University later this semester and I’ll have plenty to say to him in that setting.)
As I have noted elsewhere, this was never about online civility. It was about power. Bret Stephens believed that, by virtue of his comfortable position at the New York Times, he ought to be immune from insult or criticism. Stephens tried to use his social position at the New York Times to punish me for joking about him. Instead of apologizing when that gambit blew up in his face, he invented an entirely new rationale to justify his overreaction.