Day 6·Analysis

How conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism turned George Soros into a bogeyman for the American right

The idea of George Soros as a puppet master and enemy of America has been around on the fringes of American politics for a long time. Now, those ideas have gone mainstream, with alarming results.

They've existed on the fringes of American politics for years but now they're going mainstream

George Soros is the founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundation. (Olivier Hoslet/Associated Press)
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by Brent Bambury

The Fox News network took the unusual step of banning a right-wing analyst last week.

Chris Farrell, of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch, was a guest on Lou Dobbs Tonight when he suggested the migrant caravan plodding through Mexico was funded by the "Soros-occupied State Department."  

It was a baseless claim, a George Soros conspiracy theory only slightly crazier than others attached to the billionaire philanthropist.

But between the time the program was recorded on Oct. 25 and rebroadcast three days later, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers in the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

The accused, obsessed with the caravan, was convinced Jews were behind it. 

The result was murder.

A caravan of thousands of migrants from Central America, en route to the United States, makes its way to San Pedro Tapanatepec from Arriaga, Mexico, on October 27, 2018. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Puppet master

There were many voices on Fox trying to connect Soros to the migrants. Farrell went beyond those, insinuating Soros had infiltrated the U.S. government.

It's an absurd idea, but not uncommon among the conspiracy theorists who traffic in anti-Soros hate.

"What you see running through these [theories] is that he's a globalist who wants to destroy American sovereignty, who wants to infiltrate European countries with immigrants, who wants Muslims to take over," Daniel Shulman said on Day 6

It's just as if he's behind everything — the protests in Ferguson, the Brett  Kavanagh  protests, the Women's March.- Daniel Shulman

Daniel Shulman is the deputy Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Mother Jones and the author of Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.

Shulman says the attacks on Soros belong to a brand of anti-Semitism common in the last century.

"Globalist isn't necessarily an anti-Semitic term, but it's freighted with a lot of baggage from the past," he said. 

"You hear him described as a puppet master who is manipulating world and financial events. Going back to the turn of the century when Henry Ford was attacking Jewish bankers, these were some of the very same conspiracies that were being woven."

A Rothschild logo is seen at the company's headquarters in Paris, France. (Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg)

Before that it was the Rothschilds.

Conspiracy theories flourished around the wealthy Jewish family of bankers with global interests, including the idea that they controlled the weather.

Myths around Soros are no less inventive.

"It's just as if he's behind everything — the protests in Ferguson, the Brett Kavanagh protests, the Women's March. He's been accused of running drugs," Shulman said.

"It just never seems to end."

Birth of a conspiracy

Soros, now 88, was born in Hungary. He survived the Nazi occupation and was subsequently falsely accused of collaboration.

A brilliant investor, Soros shorted the Bank of England in 1992, earning a billion dollars overnight. As a philanthropist, he has donated billions through his foundation committed to civil society.

In Eastern Europe, as communism collapsed, Soros became an advocate of open societies and funded oppressed minorities. His charitable activities in Eastern Europe earned the suspicion of the far right.

"I have by now a very great number of devoted enemies," Soros told the New Republic in 1994. "I am much happier with my enemies than I am with my friends."

Hungarian government posters at an underground station in Budapest read, 'Don't let George Soros have the last laugh.' (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

One of his enemies was fringe agitator Lyndon LaRouche. A perennial presidential candidate and leader of a political cult with anti-Semitic leanings, LaRouche launched some of the earliest and most bizarre attacks on Soros.

In 1997 a LaRouche publication printed two fevered articles assailing Soros: George Soros: The Queen's Drug Pusher and George Soros: a Golem Made in Britain.

"LaRouchian theories are really rooted in ancient anti-Semitic lies and rumours," said Chip Berlet, an investigative journalist and the co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.

"[LaRouche] claimed this cultural Marxism was the way that the secret elites were spreading their control mechanisms and this then was attached to George Soros," he added. 

In this Jan. 2000 photo, then presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche makes his way to a news conference in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)

LaRouche is now 96, and his organization continues to bait Soros.

Even at the height of his popularity, LaRouche's political incoherence marked him as a crank and his public persona was widely seen as a joke.

"He's definitely a fascist," Berlet said.

No longer the lunatic fringe

LaRouche's demonization of Soros was later amplified by Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly as the Soros conspiracy machine approached the mainstream.

Today the attacks on Soros come from the centre of power.

On Thursday, with no evidence, the President of the United States told reporters he "wouldn't be surprised" if Soros was funding the caravan.

Daniel Shulman says Trump's comments are predictable.

"It didn't surprise me at all that he would link Soros to the migrant caravan because if you look at the closing ad of his presidential campaign, he flashed a picture of Soros and it was about how this global cabal of financiers were rigging world finances against the common people," he said.

Shulman believes the Tree of Life slayings prove that the rhetoric aimed at Soros imperils Jewish people.

"The hatred isn't just directed at him but it ends up being channeled to an entire people. And it's clearly becoming quite dangerous," he said.

On Monday, Daniel Shulman cancelled a planned appearance on a Fox News podcast to talk about his book.

"I was flying to D.C. and I caught Fox and Friends. And, you know, one of the hosts was talking about the migrant caravan and was suggesting that maybe they would bring diseases to America," he said.

"And this was the very same rhetoric that was used during the early 20th century to de-humanize Jewish immigrants who were coming to the United States."

"I just decided that I just didn't want to be a part of it."

Earlier this month, pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and news organizations.

Among the recipients was George Soros. In response, his son Alexander wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that the hysteria and anti-Semitism targeting his father has increased dramatically in the past two years.

Alexander Soros called for civility, but he didn't hold out much hope.

"A genie was let out of the bottle," he wrote, "which may take generations to put back in."


To hear the full interview with Daniel Shulman, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.  

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