The Donald Trump campaign team sent out mailers in early April suggesting that “George Soros is trying to single-handedly purchase the American justice system so that he can weaponize it to crush ALL of his opposition.”
For most of the 21st century, Soros – a billionaire philanthropist and frequent mega-donor to progressive causes – has been that boogeyman for right-wing pundits, politicians and TV personalities. The efficacy of this trope is evident from its consistent presence in right-wing rhetoric and how easily it can be ramped up when the timing suits the agenda. Nearly all mentions of Soros are derogatory and inflammatory, meant to conjure the notion that shadowy forces, dark money and disloyal individuals seek to overturn and upend American society.
The Soros trope didn’t begin in the past few months, as Emily Tamkin, author of the book The Influence of Soros: Politics, Power, and the Struggle for an Open Society, notes. The trope goes back to as early as 1992, but it certainly has “intensified in the current political era.”
“If you want to stir people’s passions, and get them really invested in what you are doing, there has got to be an ‘other,’” Jacob Neihesel, a professor of political science at the University of Buffalo, said. “There has to be an ‘other’ to kind of define the broader ‘in group,’ and the ‘Boogeyman’ can change.”
Soros has become the extreme right’s go-to antisemitic trope, and its ubiquity speaks to the mainstreaming of antisemitic rhetoric in the United States. In short, the name “Soros” has itself become a trope that extremists have used – admittedly or not – to confirm the antisemitic belief that the U.S. is in danger of being destroyed from within by Jewish people and their leftist accomplices. Tamkin suggests that because some people, politicians and pundits don’t believe or acknowledge that Soros is a Jewish man, they feel they can attack and demonize Soros with impunity using standard antisemitic tropes, like that of the puppeteer or puppet master, and not see themselves or their rhetoric as anti-Jewish.
Some recent examples:
Kyle Rittenhouse, while a guest of former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson, expressed support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s overturning of the conviction of police Sgt. Daniel Perry for killing a Black Lives Matter protester, accusing the prosecutor of being “Soros-backed.”
Recently indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton echoed this sentiment, stating, “Unfortunately, the Soros-backed DA in Travis County cares more about the radical agenda of dangerous Antifa and BLM mobs than justice.”
In an interview with right-wing author Matt Palumbo, TV personality Candace Owens suggested that “because of his contempt for Americans,” it was “plausible” that George Soros, a Holocaust survivor, was actually “sympathetic to the Nazis.” Palumbo, author of the antisemitic trope-laden book The Man Behind the Curtain: Inside the Secret Network of George Soros, readily agreed.
The phrase “Soros-backed” has been used increasingly in right-wing and “alt-tech” media outlets, particularly since news of Trump’s indictment broke. Trump alleged, without evidence, that New York’s District Attorney Alvin Bragg was prosecuting him under Soros’ influence, employing a range of antisemitic tropes. He claimed that Bragg “wasn’t willing to stand up to Soros and the Marxists” and characterized him as a “SOROS BACKED D.A.,” alleging that Bragg received “in EXCESS OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS from Radical Left Enemy of ‘TRUMP,’ George Soros.”
Trump also linked to a post on the far-right conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit alleging that “corrupt DA Alvin Bragg wants to sue President Trump in a biased and unfriendly New York court because it will make his handler, George Soros, happy.” The antisemitic online channel “DismantlingtheCabal” echoed these sentiments, citing an article from the partisan site “Trending Politics” that declared, “George Soros Exposed as Major Force Behind Trump’s Prosecution and Imminent Arrest.” Tamkin notes that although the former president may not have openly called out Jewish people explicitly, he is perfectly happy to traffic in antisemitic tropes by saying that Soros “bought a Black district attorney” and is destroying democracy.
The Washington Post recently highlighted how ubiquitous the “Soros-backed” term has become in conservative rhetoric and how its usage “suffers from a naivete that’s common in American politics.” The assumption is that any candidate that receives a donation from Soros or his Open Society Foundations grantmaking network is thus beholden to his will – and that his will is anti-American. The phrase implies that Soros and his organization use wealth to control the government and shape events. Rhetorically identical to the centuries-old trope that Jews are using their inherent wealth to control the world to remake and control it to create what some white supremacists have dubbed the “Zionist world order” or the “Jewnited States of America.”
Donations to candidates from wealthy donors are a common theme across the political spectrum. Yet, the only person who has been turned into a trope or consistently vilified is George Soros.
Tamkin suggests that because he is Jewish, is foreign and works in finance, Soros ticks all the boxes for extremists, the conspiracy theorists and the ignorant. His very identity can and has been successfully manipulated into many of the endemic and lasting antisemitic tropes. Jews are, have been, and will likely always be frequent scapegoats. As a people, they have been considered a part of the body politic until they are not. They have been cast as outsiders masquerading as members of society, nonconformists playing at conformity, and a shadowy force plotting and planning behind the scenes to ensure their success and survival. From the “deep state” to control of media, society or government, to running the world finances, to being disloyal to their adopted countries, every one of these tropes has been evident in the history of antisemitism. What should give us pause is that each of these has also been used in association with George Soros.
Neiheisel asserts that the Soros trope has become “an acceptable way to talk about something that leads […] down the rabbit hole of increasingly more overt, antisemitic understandings of the world.”
The 2022 election was a high point for the usage of the Soros trope as a foil, and it was particularly evident in candidates’ social media campaigns or interviews. For example, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance accused an activist group of being funded by Soros to “organize [a] harassment campaign.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in an email to donors, “My opponent is turning to Leftist Super PACs and dark money billionaires like George Soros, who are desperate to infiltrate our state.” Jews as infiltrators is another common trope consistent with antisemitic history. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz, accused Soros of “clearing out Voter Rolls,” and Ken Paxton, again, accused all political opponents of being Soros-backed and preventing him from prosecuting criminals.
The hard right, at times, uses the words “Jew” and “Jewish” interchangeably with “Soros.” In election-related posts made by hard-right social media accounts, these terms rose and fell in conjunction with each around the November 2022 midterms.
The election was certainly a highlight for the Soros trope, but it did not stop with the election; recently, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., asserted that “No other person has undermined our democracy more than George Soros.”
Longstanding antisemitic tropes are clearly visible in the commentary and accusations against George Soros. Unfortunately, nothing is new about these accusations against Jews; what is new is how commonplace the shield of Soros’ name has become for those making antisemitic comments and assertions to hide behind for what has apparently become socially acceptable antisemitism. Tamkin notes that the Soros trope reveals the interconnectivity of antisemitism in other forms of extremism and how it can serve as a baseline or common denominator between other, seemingly disparate, hate groups. She suggests that “Soros conspiracy theories” can often “work in tandem with some other hatred […] because you’re assigning agency to Soros – which is to say to a Jewish person – and stripping it away from another group, be that Black Americans, be that migrants, be that LGBTQ people.”
Moreover, the Soros trope has become a rallying cry on alt-tech platforms and Twitter as a clear stand-in for Jews. SPLC has tracked the number and methodologies of multiple candidates and the Soros-related tropes they utilized on Twitter to their followers. These were displayed in political ads, rallies, speeches and Twitter posts. The wording, theme and accusations are longstanding attacks against Jews that have been employed from Henry Ford to the Third Reich to the “alt-right.” The only difference is the lens through which they’re projected.
Accusations by people in positions of power and influence suggest that, at Soros’ bequest, “deep state” operatives utilize dirty money to operate a shadow organization that controls the government and media and undo American society. Indeed, Soros has been accused of acting ultra-capitalistically by financing and spending money to influence politics and culture while simultaneously being called out and named as the power behind a supposed Marxist agenda. Jews have consistently been accused of being both hyper-capitalist and hardcore Marxists at the same time – most notably and publicly by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.
While Soros and his foundation have a long history of donating large sums of money to causes and candidates they believe in and support, no other large-sum donor faces the same level of scrutiny, ridicule or calls for revocation of his citizenship.
No other donor is so intimately and irrationally tied to the downfall of America. This could be because these donors to conservative causes align with right-wing thoughts and rhetoric – but it is reflective and symbolic of something far more sinister, and it has been taken as such by more than simply extremists and fringe groups.
Whether intentional or not, these individuals who traffic in the Soros trope add to the mainstreaming and social acceptability of antisemitism and the subsequent rise in overt antisemitic actions and rhetoric, as well as antisemitism as a common baseline for other racist attacks against other marginalized communities.
Photo illustration by SPLC