Last night’s midterm elections exposed deep divisions within the US over hot-button issues which have polarised the nation. But from immigration to gun control, they all had one thing in common - they have all been tied, through a web of convoluted conspiracy theories, to Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist George Soros.
Soros has become a divisive figure in global politics, especially in his home country of Hungary due to his significant funding of progressive or “liberal” causes, including Human Rights Watch, Black Lives Matter and multiple pro-EU organisations based in the UK.
A wide range of political voices have accused Soros of being entangled in conspiracy theories, from right-wing bloggers to Fox News. But while the majority are easily discredited, commentators have noticed a dark streak running through many of them.
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Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida, told Business Insider that “many of the claims waged against Soros could have an anti-Semitic slant” that are “similar to false claims that the Rothschild family secretly controls all of the world's wealth”, while Soros’ son has said that the demonisation of his father by the right-wing is “dripping with the poison of anti-Semitism”.
Who is George Soros and why has he become the target of outlandish conspiracies?
Who is George Soros?
Born to a Hungarian Jewish family in 1930, Soros and his family survived the Nazi occupation during the Second World War by obtaining forged papers identifying them as Christians.
After the War, he studied at the London School of Economics (LSE) before starting a career in finance that saw him work his way from London bank clerk to Wall Street billionaire.
In 1993, Soros founded the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a philanthropic organisation that funds progressive causes around the world.
As well as being one of the world’s richest men, however, he is also one of the most talked about in conspiracy theory circles.
What are the main conspiracy theories?
Most of the rumours surrounding Soros are connected to the OSF, frequently portrayed in “truther” circles as a nefarious organisation whose true aim is to weaken individual nations and establish an all-powerful global government.
As for Soros himself, over the past two decades “he has acquired the negative stature of John Milton’s Satan flitting over the entire globe as a shadowy eminence grise wielding his dark materials (finance) to wicked ends”, says Forbes.
In the former Soviet states, where Soros funded pro-democracy movements following the fall of communism, anti-establishment protesters are still frequently dismissed as paid stooges bought by Soros.
This line of thinking appears to have spread to the US, where Soros has been accused of orchestrating everything from police brutality protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to the nationwide March for our Lives gun control rallies in February.
Soros’s liberal politics and internationalist values, combined with his immense wealth, makes him a natural target for conspiracy theories. However, the spotlight placed on him by a reactionary fringe also has a more sinister historical root.
The figure of the wealthy Jewish “puppet master” secretly controlling world affairs has been a favourite subject of conspiracy theories since the 19th century, when the Rothschild banking dynasty were the chief targets.
In 2017, billboards put up by the Hungarian government featuring an image of a grinning Soros were compared to Nazi propaganda, The Guardian reports, with Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation calling the posters “poisonous”.
Although the most explicit anti-Semitism is generally confined to the most unsavoury fringe, even mainstream outlets such as The Daily Telegraph have come under fire for appearing to draw on anti-Jewish tropes in their coverage of Soros.
Simply put, Soros conspiracy theories have endured in the face of all evidence because “they have a core that has survived for years and years”, Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today, told Al Jazeera. “That core is anti-Semitism.”
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