The dan­ger of Soros­pho­bia

You don’t need to be a bigot to spread big­otry

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Chris Hooks

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.

Joshua Bright / New York Times

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.

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