WASHINGTON — As mass protests rage across the United States over the police killing of an unarmed black man, right-wing conspiracy theorists have turned to a predictable bogeyman: George Soros.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a new wave of false claims about the liberal billionaire has surfaced since demonstrations began to oppose systemic racism after George Floyd’s death.
In cities across America over the last week, peaceful protests have descended into violence and mayhem, with clashes between police and the public intensifying Monday after US President Donald Trump threatened to unleash the military on American citizens, and cops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
“We have definitely seen a very dramatic increase in the number of anti-Soros conspiracy theories,” said Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “It has been very common among right-wing pundits and leaders in the media to ascribe the activity on the ground to Soros, who they claim is paying protesters to show up and advance his alleged anti-American agenda.”
That unfounded assertion has been circulating on social media and other platforms frequented by far-right trolls. The group conducted an analysis of Twitter and found that the number of tweets opposing Soros had skyrocketed since the protests began.
“They went from around 20,000 a day to more than 500,000 a day,” he said.
The idea has been advanced by users with massive followings, such as actor and right-wing provocateur James Woods, an ardent supporter of Trump
“Let’s be clear,” he tweeted Monday. “Our problem today is not black versus white. Our problem today is George Soros versus America.”
Woods has 2.4 million Twitter followers.
Let’s be clear. Our problem today is not black versus white. Our problem today is George Soros versus America. pic.twitter.com/YquZH8aDDR
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) June 1, 2020
Yet these conspiracy theories have not been exclusive to the web.
Tuchman said the ADL spotted anti-Soros signs at lockdown protests last week. At the same time, these notions have become a common theme in conservative media.
On Monday, for instance, a guest on the Fox News Network called to throw Soros out of the country.
“Follow the money and I suspect you’re going to find Open Society Foundation and George Soros’s fingerprints,” said Republican activist Niger Innis on The Ingraham Angle, referring to Soros’s grant-making foundation. “That man should have been deported several decades ago. He is the destruction to our civilization and a clear and present danger to our country.”
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Tuchman said that there has been a range of such theories about Soros, but all essentially pin the blame on him for the widespread unrest.
“Some of them are relatively simple: it is people who claim without evidence that Soros is paying protesters, busing them in, things like that,” he said.
“Then you do have a more radical set of conspiracy theories where they not only say that he’s bringing the protesters in and paying them, but that this was actually part of his agenda to [bring about] the downfall of the United States or implement some globalist program, or lead to the confiscation of guns.”
Soros, who is Jewish, has frequently been the target of conspiracy theories, many of which are anti-Semitic by nature.
American Jewish leaders and anti-Semitism watchdogs have described him as a modern-day Rothschild, fodder for bigots to make baseless allegations that allude to wealthy Jews seeking world domination.
That said, Tuchman found that the recent Soros conspiracy theories surrounding the George Floyd protests did not focus on the US business magnate’s Jewishness.
“The number of these conspiracy theories that explicitly invoke anti-Semitism is very, very small,” he said. “There’s not this massive uptick in anti-Semitic George Soros conspiracy theories. The vast majority are focused on Soros as a political actor or as a social actor and are not focusing on his Jewish heritage.”
Still, he added, the dissemination of these ideas can often lead to more overt forms of anti-Semitism.
“Once a person believes in a non-anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, they are more likely to accept an anti-Semitic version of a conspiracy theory,” he said. “And we know that there is a thriving anti-Semitic subculture, which uses Soros as a shorthand for globalist, Jewish efforts to dominate the world and undermine the nation.”
Born in Budapest in 1930, Soros was 13 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary. He survived the Holocaust, and his family purchased documents that said they were Christians. By 1947, he had immigrated to England to become a student at the London School of Economics.
From there, he started his work in finance through a London bank, Singer and Friedlander, where he was a broker. Years later, he founded Soros Fund Management.
With his wealth, Soros has become a frequent donor to liberal and Democratic causes; his net worth is estimated to be roughly $8 billion, making him one of the richest people in the world.
But since entering the political fold, he has also been regularly inculpated for things he simply did not do.
In 2011, he was falsely accused of funding the Occupy Wall Street movement, and over the last several years, Trump has more than once wrongly blamed Soros for fomenting turmoil.
In October 2018, he claimed without evidence that the businessman was paying protesters to demonstrate against the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault, and spread a lie that Soros was behind so-called migrant caravans trying to infiltrate the country.