Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack last week on George Soros set off a round of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish financier, as well as authoritarian calls from key Trump supporters for the president to use state power to freeze or seize Soros’ assets.
Conservatives have long been obsessed with Soros, a key figure on the left who has supported a raft of progressive organizations, including Media Matters. Right-wing commentators frequently attempt to draw links, however tangential or absurd, between Soros and virtually any protest or action that happens on the left, seeking to delegitimize grassroots energy as the work of a shadowy billionaire. At times, that criticism is steeped in classic anti-Semitic tropes that have been used for generations to justify attacks on Jewish people.
In the latest attempt in this vein, conservatives have tried to blame Soros for the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. On Friday, Trump, apparently responding to something he saw on TV, amplified that criticism. He tweeted that protests against the pending confirmation of Kavanaugh had been “paid for by Soros and others”:
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
Not all criticism of Soros is anti-Semitic, any more than is all criticism of Sheldon Adelson, a major conservative donor who is also Jewish. Both are major players in their respective movements, and reporting on people who wield such influence is a vital journalistic endeavor. But such critiques must be made carefully because horrific acts have been justified by the notion that Jewish people control the political system.
It is impossible to imagine Trump — who has relied on anti-Semitic tropes in speeches, on Twitter, and in a campaign ad, and is beloved by anti-Semites and white supremacists — treating the issue with the required care. Given the comment and its context, many commentators have suggested his tweet had anti-Semitic overtones. Trump-supporting denizens of far-right fever swamps certainly interpreted it that way — they praised Trump for having “named the Jew,” a term bigots use for identifying the supposed Jewish masters of the world.
like here’s 8chan. this is chuck grassley, and the president, directly fueling antisemitic extremists. pic.twitter.com/D5CNr9QvwA
— Talia 👻 Lavin (@chick_in_kiev) October 5, 2018
The next day, Trump’s close allies began pushing for him to use the power of the presidency against Soros. Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, retweeted a comment calling Soros “the anti-Christ” and arguing, “Freeze his assets & I bet the protests stop”.
Bill Mitchell, a fervent Trump superfan with a radio show and over 380,000 Twitter followers, publicly fantasized about jailing Soros and seizing his assets for “seditious conspiracy.”
Bill Mitchell suggests seizing Soros’ assets, adds that he should also be jailed.
The president’s supporters are eager to use state power against his critics. pic.twitter.com/YhyHsoQ4ks
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) October 6, 2018
Many commentators have pointed out that those tweets also have anti-Semitic overtones. They also involve the president’s supporters literally asking him to do what dictators do — use the power of the state to punish his political opponents, explicitly for the apparent crime of opposing him.
That same morning on October 6, Tom Fitton, the head of the conservative foundation Judicial Watch, whose investigations are geared to benefit the president, honed in on Soros’ overseas pro-democracy work. Fitton, a favorite of the president and his Fox News propagandists, argued that the federal government should cut off its support for Soros’ non-governmental organizations. According to Fitton, Soros is aligned with the “Deep State” and the tax dollars funding the work of his NGOs abroad allow him to devote more of his own cash to backing progressive organizations in the U.S.
The explicitly authoritarian stuff opens up space for noxious demands like defunding Soros NGOs for obviously partisan reasons. pic.twitter.com/XC91leGSBe
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) October 6, 2018
Who benefits from cutting off funding to pro-democracy movements? Authoritarian leaders and nationalist parties across Central and Eastern Europe. The very forces that have spent the last several years demonizing Soros, often with anti-Semitic attacks that have driven rising concerns about the safety of Jews in their countries.
Fitton is effectively arguing to help out Vladimir Putin in order to own the libs. And considering Giuliani’s and Mitchell’s Twitter activity, it wasn’t close to the most authoritarian suggestion of the weekend.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters