The danger of Sorosphobia
You don’t need to be a bigot to spread bigotry
Cesar Sayoc, Robert Bowers and Stan Stanart have very little in common.
Sayoc is the mentally unwell former male stripper who made a habit of sending poorly-made pipe bombs to prominent Democrats. Bowers is a Nazi who murdered 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Stanart, meanwhile, is the Harris County clerk whose only known crimes are his Q-tip white bouffant and his tardiness in reporting election results.
But the three men share one very unusual attribute: a tremendous fear of a Hungarian-American financier named George Soros, whose name has become a byword for the things that go bump in the night for a wide variety of American conservatives. Sayoc’s first bomb was found in Soros’ mailbox. Bowers believed that Soros is the puppet-master of a plot to import immigrants and displace the white race. Stanart believes that Soros is an “evil” force who is plotting to “control Harris County Elections” in order to infect Houston with his wicked “world views,” starting with the defeat of the re-election campaign of Stan Stanart.
You could be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Soros. He’s a billionaire with an extraordinary personal story who has given money to a lot of political causes. But the sum of the money that Soros has injected into American politics in the last few years is a tiny fraction of what other rich men have given. Conservatives fear Soros like some liberals fear the Koch brothers, but the fear of Soros is qualitatively different, darker and weirder. He is regularly accused of rigging elections and infecting entire nations with the germ of socialism and moral decay.
Soros hatred has long been loudest on the farright, but his name is appearing on the lips of elected officials in Texas with greater regularity than ever before. When
protesters started showing up at congressional town halls last summer, the Harris County Republican Party charged that they were paid by Soros. His name pops up again and again in the fundraising emails that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, among others, send to their most passionate supporters. Abbott even wrote an op-ed last year in the Washington Examiner outlining the danger posed by the “Soros network” to the integrity of elections in Texas.
The recent wave of Soros panic started to grow in Texas when Barack Obama left office. For years, Obama provided what Texas Republicans haven’t had in this state — an opposition. Obama was the evil-doer and Republicans were the good guys forever thwarting his menacing plots. The base responded warmly, bolstering the party’s electoral performance. But then he was gone. Republicans couldn’t blame D.C. anymore for what ails the state. They needed new threats.
Soros’s name substituted nicely because he was already a deeply hated figure — the fear of him inspires donors to open their wallets and tea party folk to drive to the polls. But why is he so hated? Soros’ most significant intervention in Texas politics has been to dump money into a few county district attorney races — including in Bexar County, where he successfully opposed an incumbent Democrat for re-election. Yet when the late Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn was funding much of the state Democratic Party on his own, many conservatives in the state hardly knew Mostyn’s name.
It’s impossible to explain why Soros is as hated as he is without acknowledging the fact that he’s Jewish. Soros fits neatly into almost every traditional anti-Semitic trope there is, and the rhetoric employed against him around the world is testament to it. Soros is a Holocaust survivor who has spent many millions of dollars bolstering higher education and democracy in Hungary, where he was born. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which lionizes the fascist leader that persecuted Soros’ family, has made him public enemy No. 1.
Orbán’s vile retro rhetoric has been migrating here. A pundit on Fox Business Network recently claimed a migrant caravan in Mexico was funded by the “Soros-occupied State Department,” echoing language commonly used by neoNazis to characterize supposed Jewish domination of government.
American conservatives, Stanart included, express outrage at insinuations that their fixation on Soros is related to anti-Semitism.
“I have many Jewish friends,” Stanart told Texas Monthly.
The outrage may be sincere. But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here: You don’t have to be bigoted to spread bigotry.
The anti-Semitic tropes that Soros is seen to embody — of the world’s puppet-master, the rootless cosmopolitan spreading decadence, the banker who pulls the strings — are older than anyone alive, and will be here long after we’re gone. They only die if people — the malevolent and oblivious alike — stop repeating them.
Sayoc, Bowers and Stanart represent three distinct flavors of Soros mania. There’s the fringe — like Alex Jones, who said during a deposition last year that Soros had engineered stronger strains of marijuana for the purpose of mind control. Then there’s overt hatred, the neo-Nazis who make memes of Soros in a gas chamber, or Soros as an octopus, his tentacles wrapped around the world. And then there’s the class of people for whom the fear of Soros is politically useful, which unfortunately includes a growing list of Texas Republicans.
The last group is more dangerous than they may know. They give poison an official gloss. Their rhetoric serves to give approval and encouragement to the ravings of idiots. It’s deeply disturbing to see so many elected officials shrug and join in, when they could simply choose not to take part in it and lose nothing. (After some pressure, Stanart replaced the Soros language on his website with generic copy about socialist Democrats.)
Anti-Semitism is a dangerous force and it’s tempting for politicians in need of a few bucks and a few votes to tap into it, even just a little. But they’re playing with fire. You don’t have to be an arsonist to mishandle a match. The actions of Sayoc and Bowers show us how hate can spread out of control. It needs to stop. Now.
George Soros will be a key backer of Immigrant Voters Win PAC, a new vehicle focused exclusively on turning out support from Latinos and other immigrant communities in the 2018 elections.