George Soros conspiracy theories surge as protests sweep US
They say he hires demonstrators and hires buses to transport them. Some say he has people who stow piles of bricks to throw in glass shop windows or at the police.
George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist who has long been a target of conspiracy theories, is now falsely accused of orchestrating and funding the protests against police black killings that have plagued the United States. Online posts about Soros have skyrocketed in recent weeks, reinforced by an increasing number of people on the far right, including some Republican leaders.
They were accompanied by online ads bought by conservative groups asking the authorities to "investigate George Soros for funding domestic terrorism and its decades of corruption."
The 89-year-old Soros has donated billions of dollars of his personal fortune to liberal and anti-authoritarian purposes around the world, making him a preferred target among many rights. The Hungarian-American Jew has also been the subject of anti-Semitic attacks and conspiracy theories for decades.
Such hoaxes can now be spread further and faster with social media.
In just four days at the end of May, negative Twitter posts about Soros rose from around 20,000 a day to over 500,000 a day, according to an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London think tank dealing with extremism and polarization, found an even stronger jump on Facebook, where 68,746 Soros were mentioned in May. The previous record of 38,326 Soros mentions was in October 2018 when angry posts claimed he was helping migrant caravans to the U.S.
The new wave started when nationwide demonstrations of George Floyd's death by the Minneapolis police took place. Some insist that Soros funded the protests, while others say he worked with the police to fake Floyd's death last month. However, all available evidence suggests the protests are what they seem: gatherings of thousands of Americans who are upset about police brutality and racial injustice.
"I think it's partly an attempt to distract from the real thing - the pandemic, the protests, or the Black Lives Matter movement," said Laura Silber, communications director at Soros' philanthropic Open Society Foundations, about the theories. "It's pretty humiliating for the people out there who protest when someone says they all get paid. It's insulting."
A look at some of the claims:
- Soros pays demonstrators. No evidence was provided that demonstrators were paid by Soros or his organizations. It's a new version of an old joke: previous versions claimed that Soros paid for a long list of other events, including the 2017 women's march that took place immediately after President Donald Trump took office.
- Soros pays to transport protesters. Last week, a photo that featured two buses labeled “Soros Riot Dance Squad” received widespread attention. The photo was given as evidence of Soros' involvement in the protests, but it was a hoax. The original photo showed two unmarked buses; someone later treated it to add the language that Soros supposedly implies.
- Soros organizes the storage of brick piles near protests. Several false claims about brick stocks have been exposed, and no evidence has emerged that they were intentionally placed.
Experts studying conspiracy theories say that the new claims about Soros are a way to delegitimize the protests and the real reasons for them. Some see anti-Semitism or a new twist in the age-old hoax that a shady cabal of rich men - whether Illuminati, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Bill Gates or Soros - is manipulating world events.
The theories had real consequences. In 2018, online misinformation about Soros was linked to violence when caravans reported migrants heading for the U.S.-Mexico border. Florida-owned Trump-owned Cesar Sayoc mentioned Soros dozens of times on social media before sending pipe bombs to newsrooms, top Democrats, and Soros himself.
Despite thorough examination, no evidence was found that could bind the caravan to Soros. Trump, however, helped light the flames when asked if Soros was involved.
"I would not be surprised. Many people say yes," said the president.
Still, some Republicans have started to push back false claims about Soros' connection to the protests and those who are spreading the rumors. After several Republican Party leaders shared posts in a Texas county that claimed Soros was behind the demonstrations, the party leader urged them to resign.
Experts say conspiracy theories can become a problem if they lead to threats of violence or cause people to lose confidence in important institutions. You can take a back seat to reappear in times of crisis.
"Conspiracy theories, like themselves, are viruses," said Josh Introne, information science professor at Syracuse University, who researches conspiracy theories. “The characters can change a little and the theory itself can mutate. But they stay here. "
Klepper reported from Providence, Rhode Island and Hinnant from Paris.
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