Across the nation, protests have erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd. Floyd’s death in police custody was the tip of the iceberg for many — protests have also focused on the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others Black people murdered by the police and white extremists in the United States.
As quickly as protests began, right-wing conspiracy theorists began blaming George Soros for paying protestors to show up. As we are a Jewish culture site, and George Soros is famously a Jewish person at the heart of a fuckton of conspiracy theories, we wanted to address this small slice of what’s happening.
Let’s get into it.
Back up. Who is George Soros?
Soros was born George Schwartz in Budapest in 1930. His family changed their name to Soros in an effort to be less notably Jewish. When the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, Soros and his family survived by purchasing documents that identified them as Christian and hid their Jewishness. Soros’s father paid a Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture employee, Bambauch, to take George as his “godson.”
In 1947, Soros immigrated to England to study at the London School of Economics. He then became a banker. In 1956, he moved to the United States, and in 1970, he launched his own hedge fund. Fast forward, and Soros has become one of the most successful investors in the U.S. And so: He is now a billionaire philanthropist.
Okay, got it. What are the conspiracy theories surrounding Soros?
We actually have an entire article on this — Everything You Need to Know About the George Soros Conspiracy Theories — which we encourage you read first before we dive into the specific “paid protestor” theories.
Tl;dr is since he is a left-leaning Jewish donor in the U.S. (and Europe), many conspiracies basically see Soros as an evil force controlling the world economy.
Why are these theories anti-Semitic?
As the ADL wrote in an October 2018 report on anti-Semitism and George Soros, “A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate anti-Semitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning. This is especially true when Soros-related conspiracy theories include other well-worn anti-Semitic tropes such as control of the media or banks; references to undermining societies or destabilizing countries; or language that hearkens back to the medieval blood libels and the characterization of Jews as evil, demonic, or agents of the antichrist.”
Okay, I am with you. What’s up with the idea that Soros “pays” protestors?
As Vox writes in their fantastic explainer “George Soros is not a Nazi, explained,” “Soros has been linked by the right to virtually every liberal cause imaginable in an attempt to argue that any organic protest or outcry on the left is really the work of one sinister, shadowy (foreign) billionaire.”
By accusing Soros of paying protestors, right-wing personalities and conspiracy theorists undermine the legitimacy of those protests. By brushing them off as not real, they can ignore them. As Paul Waldman eloquently points out in the Washington Post, “The idea that every time liberals mount a protest, it’s not a genuine expression of Americans’ opinions but a play staged by George Soros is a remarkably persistent fantasy.” By calling them “paid protestors,” their opinions are discounted.
Soros has been linked to the following protests, among many others:
- Parkland students protesting. The Associated Press had to run a story stating, “Student survivors of a mass shooting in Florida who’ve organized to increase gun control and make schools safer aren’t being bankrolled by billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros, despite the claims of several false stories.”
- The Women’s March. (Fun fact: Politifact rated this story ‘Pants on Fire!’ because of how bad of a lie it was!!)
- The #StopKavanaugh Protests. President Donald Trump himself tweeted, “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.”
- Colin Kaepernick’s Take a Knee Protest. Yes, Tomi Lahren tweeted this.
The list goes on and on, including everything from Ferguson to the Occupy Wall Street movement, through today and the current Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation and globe.
So what exactly are people saying about Soros and the current Black Lives Matter protests?
Well, here’s a great starting point. This tweet got 5,000 retweets:
Many retweeted this with #SorosFundedRiots, #SorosFundsBLM, #SorosFundsAntifa (we’ll get into that), #GeorgeSorosEvil, and more. In this logic, Soros has paid these protestors — including any antifa groups involved — to rise up against Trump.
Here’s a pro-Trump cartoon, labelling him as “draining the Swamp” — the vulture is labeled Soros, and the sea is labeled Rothschilds (woah, another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory! Two for one!):
Here’s another example: On Fox News, on the morning of June 1, contributor Bernard Kerik said Soros has paid for the protestors. (Kerik is a former commissioner of the NYPD, later convicted on eight felonies, then pardoned by Trump. He’s pals with Rudy Giuliani.) Kerik was asked by host Maria Bartiromo, “But Bernie, somebody’s paying for the bail, right? Somebody’s paying for the bail to let those people out.” Kerik’s response: “Oh, for these guys? Yeah, in fact, some of the people that’s paying for the bail are Joe Biden’s staff… Joe Biden’s going to pay for the bail? Come on. I don’t know what’s going on, and who’s behind it. I have an idea — George Soros, for one…” (Here’s the full transcript of his exchange, courtesy Media Matters.)
The conspiracy has even reached Ireland?!
These conspiracy theories just keep spreading. According to the New York Times, “On Twitter, Mr. Soros was mentioned in 34,000 tweets in connection with Mr. Floyd’s death over the past week, according to Dataminr. Over 90 videos in five languages mentioning Soros conspiracies were also posted to YouTube over the past seven days, according to an analysis by The New York Times. On Facebook, 72,000 posts mentioned Mr. Soros in the past week, up from 12,600 the week before, according to The Times’s analysis. Of the 10 most engaged posts about Mr. Soros on the social network, nine featured false conspiracies linking him to the unrest. They were collectively shared over 110,000 times.”
We just want to emphasize how this is truly out of control — posts about Soros paying #BlackLivesMatter protestors continue to increase exponentially. It’s absurd that a Soros spokesman had to make a statement, but they did, saying, “We deplore the false notion that the people taking to the streets to express their anguish are paid, by George Soros or anyone else.”
What about the whole Soros-antifa conspiracies?
Soros is also accused of funding antifa, which is short for the “anti-fascist group.” (Here’s an explainer on antifa.) Antifa is not a coherent group or organization, yet many, many people say Soros funds them. Here’s a tweet from a guy who happens to be running for congress (he has no chance, but still):
“Antifa = George Soros” reads too many tweets. And once Trump called Antifa a “terrorist organization” — which, again, makes no sense because antifa is not an organization — the Soros-blaming just increased.
Soros did not pay protestors. It’s more anti-Semitic conspiracy bullshit trying to distract people from the fact that many, many people in this country are incredibly upset and fed up with the systemic racism and police brutality that leads to the murder of too many Black people.
Header image photo by John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.