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Why the Right-Wing War on George Soros Matters

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Scott’s recent post opens with a David Weigel tweet, in which Weigel responds to Jeff Flake’s comments about birtherism on Meet the Press.

Per Weigel, Flake’s lament might carry a bit more weight if the junior senator from Arizona had voted against confirming John Bush‘s appointment to the Sixth Circuit Court. But Flake isn’t wrong, GOP officials had a window in which they might have excised birtherism’s racist fantasia of conspiracy theorizing and alternative facts; nothing forced Fox News to promote it. But the Republican establishment decided to ride that tiger of resentment and anger in its bid to reclaim political power after 2008. The cancer metastasized. Trump is a symptom of this failure.

Of course, the cancer that has engulfed the party involves much more than just birtherism. Why do Flake and other Republicans—who, however craven, really are appalled at Trumpism—focus on it? Because Trump used birtherism to launch his political career in the GOP. This suggests an obvious broader lesson: allow these fringe ideas to enter the mainstream at your peril.

On many fronts, it’s not too late. There are numerous festering conspiracy theories and modes of thought at various stages of moving from the right-wing fringe into mainstream conservatism. One is the notion of a “Deep State” out to destroy the Trump presidency. This particular conspiracy theory, which Russian information warfare actively promotes, is extremely dangerous in light of the non-zero chance that Trump—or at least his associates—will wind up being indicted by Mueller.

But I want to focus on a different cancer within the GOP, one that, in principle, it should be easier for responsible parties to vocally and vociferously stand up to: the repackaging of  old-school anti-Semitism under the rubric of “globalism” and attacks on George Soros.

Last week saw a few developments on this front.

First, Stephen Miller—the Jew who makes neo-Nazis smile—attacked CNN’s Jim Acosta as a “cosmopolitan” for pointing out, albeit with a bit of hyperbole, that making proficiency in English a criteria for immigration might have demographic implications.

Second, the Daily Caller published a promo for Dinesh D’Souzza’s new book—un-ironically entitled The Big Lie—in which he runs through the greatest hits of slurs on George Soros. D’Souzza closes with a variation on the claim that Soros was a Nazi collaborator. This time, D’Souzza accuses Soros of being just like Joseph Mengele. Because Mengele’s circumstances were exactly the same as that of a thirteen year-old Jewish boy being hidden from the Nazis by a man who was also responsible for accounting for seized Jewish property.

Third, this happened.

It’s come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of “purging” dissenters and kowtowing to “holdovers” from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?” The Daily Callerpublished an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president’s foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It’s a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.

The provocative right-wing blogger and activist Mike Cernovich has launched a sustained attack on McMaster, including setting up a website called McMasterLeaks.com. When it launched, the main page displayed a large cartoon of the Rothschilds controlling a George Soros puppet, which in turn controlled puppets representing McMaster and former CIA director David Petraeus. (The hand labeled “Rothschilds” has since been relabeled “Saudis.” Cernovich told me he changed it because complaints about the cartoon’s anti-Semitism are “not a hill to die on,” and “if everybody wants to complain, then fine—I’ll just put the Saudis at the top.”)

Here’s the original image:

Once controversy developed, Cernovich cropped the cartoon so that we readers couldn’t see who was controlling Soros. Later, he settled on the Saudis as a substitute. Because nothing says “integrity” or “not playing your audience for suckers” like swapping around conspiracy theories on a dime.

Here’s what Garrison writes about it:

We know McMaster and Petraeus met with Soros at the last Bilderberg conference. The question is, why? To drain the deep state we must start with those who are corrupted by globalists such as George Soros, who is sponsored by the Rothschilds.

This cartoon was commissioned by Mike Cernovich who is on top of the matter.

–Ben Garrison

Additional: There is absolutely NOTHING anti-semitic about this cartoon no matter what the ADL says. The head of the ADL is pro-Obama and pro-George Soros, therefore he smears those who criticize them. The Rothschilds have amassed trillions of dollars over the centuries by war and inside machinations. I criticize them for their foul deeds, not their religion. Soros collaborated with the Nazis. The ADL does not get to decide or dictate what hate speech is. If they think they can, then they’re also evil. ’nuff said.

I guess it’s a small victory that people drawing and writing Protocols of the Elders of Zion fanfic feel the need to insist that they’re not being anti-Semitic. That’s often the case now: the relevant discourse is structurally isomorphic with libels against Jews, but it’s ‘merely’ about Soros or ‘merely’ about the Rothschilds. Indeed, as Jennings Brown and Jacob Steinblatt note in a piece chronicling the rise of Soros as a boogeyman in the American right:

Less than two years later, Glenn Beck joined Fox News and made Soros one of his main targets. In November of 2010, Beck dedicated two episodes to exposing the “puppet master” George Soros. With the aid of three giant chalkboards, a wooden pointer, props, literal marionette puppets, and his signature condescending professorial tone, he explained the twisted web of corruption and deceit that George Soros’ “shadow party” (does that sound familiar?) has wound around the American political system. Soros’ ultimate goal, Beck explains, is to build “one world government” and then take power.

Beck concluded by explaining that he himself has stockpiled a year’s worth of food and he encouraged his viewers to do the same. Then Beck said if nothing extreme happens within two years, “mock me all you want.”

Seven years later, Soros still has not taken control of the world. But those special episodes — which were heavily promoted on Fox News — made perhaps one of the strongest cases against a single private citizen to an audience of more than two million Americans.

At the time, Michelle Goldberg, author of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” wrote in The Daily Beast that the program “was a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.” She states that a lot of Beck’s ideas “only makes sense within the conspiratorial mind-set of classic anti-Semitism, in which Jews threaten all governments equally. And as a wealthy Jew with a distinct Eastern European accent, Soros is a perfect target for such theories.”

Walker believes Soros’ Jewish heritage is the reason he inspires wilder conspiracy theories than other billionaire political donors. “It’s not just everyday Republicans who don’t like him; there are also, for example, anti-Semites, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories can get pretty baroque,” Walker said.

Since the Fox News hosts began dedicated segments and episodes to Soros, the man has become a permanent fixture in right-wing conspiracy theory forums, blogs, and radio shows. In the last six months there have been more than 800 Soros-related posts on the subreddit /r/conspiracy, one of the most popular conspiracy theory forums. A Google search for article about Soros appearing on Infowars.com, turns up about 19,300 results. They range from the obvious (Backstab: Republican Leaders Funded By Soros) to crude (George Soros Craps In America’s Punch Bowl) to apocalyptic (George Soros Is About To Overthrow The U.S. and Trump Pulls World From Brink Of Nuclear War: Soros Outraged)

You may not like what Soros stands for politically—a lot of which involves funding civil-society and human-rights oriented NGOs—but there’s no conspiracy. Indeed, a big reason why autocrats dislike him—and this rhetoric is all borrowed from them—is because he’s an open and public thorn in their side.

So what we’re seeing is the normalization of anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric in the Republican party. It’s another cancer that’s on the brink of metastasizing; the window of opportunity to excise it is closing.

But I’m not holding my breath. Nothing in recent history suggests that Republicans will do the right thing. Moreover, the peculiar politics of Israel provide real cover here. Maybe your rhetoric is indistinguishable from actual neo-Nazis, but hey, how can you be anti-Semitic if you support Israel’s unfettered hand in the West Bank and unequivocally back Israeli policy in the wider Middle East? Of course, mixing pro-Israel politics with anti-Semitic tropes is nothing new for the American right.

To complicate matters, as Israel backslides, Netanyahu has also not merely targeted Soros but actively sided with right-wing aspiring autocrats.

But Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, raised the stakes in this feud last week when his foreign ministry issued a statement that, in effect, backed a Hungarian government propaganda effort against Mr. Soros and joined its denunciation of him. This contradicted earlier remarks by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, who had expressed dismay at the $21-million billboard campaign by the ruling party of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, that has targeted Mr. Soros for his support of services for refugees and immigrants. The poster campaign, which has also attracted explicitly anti-Semitic graffiti, “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” said the ambassador, referencing the fate of Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust.

The foreign ministry spokesman denied that the Israeli ambassador’s comments “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros” by Mr. Orban’s government. Instead, the spokesman went on to attack the billionaire philanthropist for “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments,” by his funding of organizations “that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Mr. Orban has personally accused Mr. Soros’s operations of “trying secretly and with foreign money to influence Hungarian politics” — a statement that appears to toy with an anti-Semitic trope about Jewish influence and yet strangely echoes the Israeli foreign ministry’s condemnation of Mr. Soros. It takes some gall on the part of Mr. Netanyahu to choose this moment to kick Mr. Soros while he’s down — not only because Mr. Soros is, once again, a victim of anti-Semitism in the heart of Europe, but also because he is being vilified in Hungary for trying to combat the same racist, anti-minority sentiments that led to the Holocaust.

Israel itself is playing with fire here.

Once upon a time, Orban’s praise for Horthy would have caused outcry across party lines in Israel, assessed Mudde, the Dutch researcher, who was in Israel this week. “The time has ended several years ago, when Likud and Netanyahu made the wrong assessment that Europe is anti-Israel and Israel should work with whoever is pro-Israel,” Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, said. “This has led to a formal and informal normalization of relations to the radical right in Europe and a bigger and bigger tolerance for anti-Semitic dog-whistles and historical revisionism by ‘pro-Israel’ forces.” This policy will immediately backfire, he predicted, “as it will weaken Israel’s critique of anti-Semitism or historical revisionism of ‘anti-Israel’ forces.”

Israel’s alignment is one of the stranger dimensions of the rise of transnational ties and rhetorical convergences among national right-wing movements. The effects Cass Mudde alludes to are not limited to Europe; they’re at work in the United States.

If there’s any ground for optimism about the GOP, it’s the anti-Semitism is a growing problem on the left as well—both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps attempts to use it as a wedge issue will encourage some Republicans to get their own house in order? Regardless, this is just one of many fronts that nominally responsible GOP officials and figures need to fight back on if they want to turn back the tide of Fascism Lite™ that’s swallowing their party.—and the country.

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