In the weeks leading up to former President Donald Trump’s New York indictment, Trump and his allies have been trying to link Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor.
The”Soros-backed” trope is a longstanding anti-semitic dog whistle that’s popular on the right. And while the idea that Soros is somehow behind the Trump’s recent indictment in New York is unfounded, that hasn’t kept him from being blamed for Trump’s legal woes in New York.
Former President Donald Trump lashed out ahead of his New York indictment, slamming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in an all-caps Truth Social post for being “FUNDED BY GEORGE SOROS.”
“HE IS A SOROS BACKED ANIMAL WHO JUST DOESN’T CARE ABOUT RIGHT OR WRONG NO MATTER HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE HURT,” Trump later e-shouted at his followers.
The the use of the word “animal” or animal imagery to describe Black people also has a long, racist history in the US.
When news of the indictment broke Thursday night, the rhetoric was spread far and wide across cable news and online, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, calling Bragg a “Soros-funded prosecutor” and Donald Trump Jr. referring to the philanthropist in an interview.
To be clear, there is no evidence that George Soros has donated directly to Bragg. Right-wing claims that the district attorney is controlled by Soros are false.
The claims are based on the fact that a group Soros does fund — an arm of the nonprofit Color of Change — has donated to Bragg, though none of those funds were earmarked for Bragg, Soros’ spokesman, Michael Vachon, told Insider last week.
“George Soros and Alvin Bragg have never met in person or spoken by telephone, email, Zoom etc.,” Vachon told Insider in an email on March 23. “There has been no contact between the two. Neither George Soros nor Democracy PAC contributed to Alvin Bragg’s campaign for Manhattan District Attorney.”
Soros himself also denied knowing Bragg in a recent text exchange with Semafor editor Steve Clemmons.
“As for Alvin Bragg, as a matter of fact I did not contribute to his campaign and I don’t know him,” Soros wrote to Clemmons. “I think some on the right would rather focus on far-fetched conspiracy theories than on the serious charges against the former president.”
Rhetoric from the right linking Soros — like a boogeyman — to causes they largely disagree with is nothing new. Soros has for decades been the target of such made-up plots, which experts in Jewish history and extremism say stems from age-old antisemitic conspiracy theories that Jews have undue global influence and power.
The fact that Trump highlighted Soros’ tenuous link to Bragg’s campaign, as opposed to the sources of millions of dollars in direct contributions to Bragg, can be read as an antisemitic dog whistle.
The core narrative of antisemitism has always been that a “secretive Jewish cabal sits at the root of the world’s problems,” Ben Lorber, a researcher of the far-right and antisemitism, told Insider. To the far right, Soros represents a member of that cabal, said Lorber, an analyst at Political Research Associates.
“George Soros conspiracies have been a fixture of the far right in the US since 2010, and now they’re even more mainstream,” Lorber said. “The rise of the far right that’s occurred alongside the MAGA movement has led to the mainstreaming of antisemitism in this country.”
Soros-related conspiracy theories are common
In times of political unrest — whether it be widespread protests against the killing of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic, or protests in response to the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — online message boards light up with accusations that Soros is masterminding it all behind the scenes.
In March 2020, when protests and riots broke out across the country in response to Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, the Anti-Defamation League documented a 2,400% increase in tweets referring to Soros.
The number of tweets about the philanthropist soared from 20,000 on March 26, a day after Floyd was killed, to more than 500,000 by March 30, according to the ADL.
“For a long time, white nationalists have been afraid of white people losing their grip on power in the country, so the narrative that Jews are pulling the strings of the civil-rights movement, or pulling the strings of the Black Lives Matter movement today, are at the core of white supremacism” Lorber told Insider.
Whenever there is a progressive DA looking to enact progressive changes and criminal-justice reform efforts, there are conspiracies that “George Soros is behind that in some sinister elite plot,” Lober said.
Soros does support progressive prosecutors who campaign on promises to enact criminal justice reform policies.
Soros and his spokesman referred Insider and Clemmons to an opinion piece he penned last year for the Wall Street Journal, explaining why he supports progressive prosecutors — because their agendas prioritize “the resources of the criminal-justice system to protect people against violent crime.”
Soros’ son and daughter-in-law have donated directly to Bragg’s campaign.
Soros-related conspiracy theories are so common that the ADL has an entire landing page dedicated to them on its website.
“Even if no antisemitic insinuation is intended, casting a Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates national events for malign purposes has the effect of mainstreaming antisemitic tropes and giving support, however unwitting, to bona fide antisemitic and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice,” the ADL site says.
An Insider message to Trump’s press office was not immediately returned.
The American Jewish Committee also has a web page dedicated to tropes involving Soros.
A spokesman for the organization declined to comment to Insider on the topic, noting that their group is “aggressively nonpartisan.” But the group’s “Translate Hate” website entry on Soros lays out when and how references to Soros are antisemitic.
“Criticizing Soros or his politics and actions is not antisemitic. Indeed, those who have suggested that any criticism is antisemitic do real disservice to the cause of fighting Jew hatred,” the post reads. “However, when Soros is used as a symbol for Jewish control, wealth, and power, the criticism may be an updated version of traditional antisemitic tropes.”
Antisemitism is on the rise
Trump’s post comes at a time when antisemitic incidents and beliefs are on the rise in the US, according to the ADL.
The ADL tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the US in 2022, according to an annual report released Thursday — a 36% increase since 2021 and the highest number on record since the organization began tracking hateful incidents in 1979.
The ADL also found that 20% of Americans believe six or more antisemitic tropes, which is significantly more than the 11% that ADL found in 2019.
Among those tropes are that “Jews have too much power in the United States today,” “Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want,” and “Jews always like to be at the head of things.”
Rhetoric like this doesn’t just stay online either.
Last year, after the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago to search for classified records, antisemitic threats against Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Florida judge who signed the search warrant surged online.
The threats against Judge Bruce Reinhart were so specific and so credible that his synagogue canceled services.
Trump himself even called for calm after news of the threats, but hours later resumed his attacks on Truth Social, naming Reinhart specifically.
Lorber attributes the rise in antisemitic acts and feelings to the mainstreaming of these conspiracies by household figures. Last year, Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, proclaimed his love of Hitler, denied the Holocaust, and brought the white nationalist Nick Fuentes with him to a dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Trump.
QAnon — which became so mainstream that politicians, influencers, and Trump himself had made flattering comments about the movement — was built on the centuries-old trope that a secret, world-dominating cabal is posing a danger to children worldwide.
At the root of that conspiracy theory is that the cabal is made up of powerful Jews.
Lorber said the rise in antisemitism in the US can be “laid at the feet of Fox News hosts and Donald Trump.”