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Why do conspiracy theorists love to hate Rothschilds? A Rothschild explains.

Author and conspiracy expert Mike Rothschild talks antisemitism, Elon Musk and that new fake Rothschild heir

If you’ve ever heard someone slander the Rothschilds, you can pin the blame on Satan.

“Satan” was the pseudonym of journalist Mathieu Georges Dairnvaell, whose 1846 pamphlet, The Edifying and Curious History of Rothschild, The First King of the Jews, embellished already established lies about the famous banking family. 

“Satan” said that the Rothschilds, who emerged from the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt to manage the money of Hessian royalty and expand their business across Europe, had insider information about the victors of Battle of Waterloo and made a fortune off it in the English stock market. (The family may have known the outcome a bit early through a letter sent from an agent in Ghent, but likely earned just north of 7,000 pounds, not the millions or “entire British economy” often alleged.)

“Satan” also charged that decades later, James de Rothschild, head of the family’s French branch, who helped finance the French railroad, cut corners on the project, causing a catastrophic derailment. (The accident was just that — an accident.)

“Satan”‘s innovation was to argue that these instances were connected, part of a unified masterplan to dominate and hoard wealth that’s only grown more elaborate with time. 

Over centuries, myths around the Rothschilds, whose genius for lending made them Jewish royalty, and whose loyalty was constantly questioned wherever they alighted in the world, grew in inverse proportion to their actual influence. In the United States, where the family never gained much of a foothold, they were faulted in the halls of Congress for pushing the gold standard in the early 1900s. Cranks blamed the Rothschilds for centralizing American banks. In 1999, conspiracy theorist David Icke suggested that they are lizard people. And, in an infamous 2018 Facebook post, Marjorie Taylor Greene intimated that Rothschild-funded space lasers started a California wildfire.

In his new book, Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories, out Sept. 19, Mike Rothschild, whose family came from Nordstetten, Germany, and has no connection to those Rothschilds, dives into the vast history of how one family came to be blamed for all the world’s ills. 

An expert on conspiracy theories who delivered testimony on disinformation before the U.S. House of Representatives, Rothschild outlines the medieval restrictions that fostered Jewish success in finance, the evolution of contemporary antisemitic canards through 19th century pamphlet wars and how tall tales of the Rothschild business acumen launched a bestseller in 21st century Japan.

Rothschild, whose previous book chronicled the rise of QAnon, connects the dots between Satan’s Rothschild libels and contemporary anti-Soros rhetoric prospering in chat rooms, on Twitter, on cable news and in the United States capital, where it’s wielded by elected officials and insurrectionists alike.

“It’s about how these myths have been weaponized over and over and over again,” Rothschild said of the book. “We’re seeing that right now in the scapegoating of Jews, in public attacks on Jewish life and Jewish culture, certainly in the violent attacks against Jews, synagogues, vandalism — there is nothing new in the book. It’s just that every generation discovers it again.”

I spoke with Rothschild over Zoom about how these lies metastasized, the new phony Rothschild heir and Elon Musk’s decision to take on the Anti-Defamation League. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I know you kind of got into the conspiracy game through radio host Art Bell. Do you have a memory of when you  learned what your last name signifies to people? 

Mike Rothschild Photo by Terica Adkins

I always knew the last name “Rothschild” was significant, but I never knew why it was significant other than that they were rich. And I knew we were not rich, and so it never even crossed my mind that we would be related. Other than a joke every once in a while about a family discount on wine, it never came up. It really wasn’t until I started writing about conspiracy theories and I would get comments about “Oh, Rothschild refuting conspiracy theories.” “Of course a Rothschild would say that.” And I’m thinking to myself, maybe I should have picked a pen name rather than write about these things professionally with the name of one of the most talked about families in conspiracy theories, but I’m actually glad I didn’t, because people are going to figure it out anyway. And then it looks like you have something to hide. 

There were quite a few court Jews who made money like the Rothschilds and, of course, there were other banking families — including the Warburgs who actually did some of the stuff that the Rothschilds are accused of doing with the federal reserve. Why is it that they in particular were so attractive for conspiracy theorists?

The idea that the court Jew is the one who is secretly manipulating the ruler I think really meshes well with conspiracy theories. That there are these shadowy, wealthy string-pullers and nobody really knows anything about them. And they have their own customs and their own language and they’re very insular. That worked as a driver of myths and conspiracy theories back in the 1700s and it works as a driver of myths and conspiracy theories right now. There’s always going to be something appealing about the idea that a group we don’t understand is doing things to us.

And then the Rothschilds, in particular, were just the most conspicuous or the most wealthy?

The Rothschilds were definitely the most conspicuous, the most visible, they have their palaces everywhere, they had their art collections, they have their names on all sorts of hospitals and philanthropic organizations. So as the Jewish Diaspora brought many Jews over to the United States, they carried that knowledge of the Rothschilds with them, far outstripping the actual impact of the Rothschilds in the United States. 

There are so many libels and misconceptions about them: canards about Nathan Mayer Rothschild learning about the Waterloo outcome early and profiting off it on the British market, their net worth, them having a plan for conquest by sending the sons to different countries, funding both sides of every war. And obviously we get into space lasers at the end. What is the most consequential lie and the one that you see being repeated the most? And are there any that are easier to debunk than others?

Certainly the Waterloo myth is repeated over and over. We saw it in the 1840s. We saw it in Nazi propaganda of the 1940s. We saw it in some of the biggest conspiracy books of the Cold War. Alex Jones talks about it all the time. The details of the myth change and that’s because the details are meaningless. The actual events of what happened do not matter. It’s only the idea that a wealthy Jew knew the outcome of this battle. Whether [Nathan Rothschild] was there, whether his messenger was there — it’s not relevant. What is relevant is this wealthy Jew made a lot of money off of the misery and dying of British soldiers and is using it against us.

The more vague myths — things like they’ve funded both sides of every war, they own all the central banks, they’ve patented all these technologies that they use against us — are purposefully very vague. They’re very easy to pass down with each new iteration adding its own details, removing things that don’t work anymore, adding things that are more specific to their time and culture.

So the idea of the Rothschilds as these string-pullers, as these manipulators, is the thing that gets passed down; the details are totally fungible and do not matter at all. 

What’s the wildest myth that you discovered when you started your research?

The idea that the Rothschilds family has $500 trillion really appeals to me, because I think it’s like twice the amount of money that exists in the world. And it’s just fascinating to me why anyone would think that, and why anybody would look at the mega billionaires that we have right now and think, “No, that’s not anywhere near enough. Here’s this family that’s got trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars and have somehow managed to keep all of this hidden, but only this small group of truth-tellers know.” But of course, there are no Rothschilds on the Forbes Billionaires List, which you would think they would be if they had trillions of dollars. But they have an answer for that, too: “Oh, they manipulate the list to get their names removed.”

Is this a boom time for Rothschild conspiracies? George Soros is supplanting them a bit, as you note. 

The Rothschilds themselves as objects of conspiracy theories have definitely receded. They don’t have the profile that they used to have. Their name gets thrown around a lot just because it’s been thrown around a lot over the last two centuries. Certainly you don’t have the blaming of specific things on the Rothschilds the way you do with Soros. So, when it’s time to blame somebody for funding antifa or funding a color revolution in Ukraine, it’s not going to be the Rothschilds because the Rothschilds just don’t have that kind of visibility. The Rothschilds are more used as sort of a generalized example of the string-pulling power of wealth. So you’ll get people rambling about the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers and Gates and all of this other stuff, but it’s much more general. The specific acts are much more left up to Soros.

Another thread of this is a bit of a silver lining: that Jews can take pride in the Rothschilds. What do you see the family doing now or in the past that we can find hope in or kvell over? 

The Rothschilds have always been a beacon of hope. They’ve always been an example of a family that persevered through hardship, through discrimination, through antisemitism, and not only grew in stature, but kept their Judaism. Most people don’t quite fathom that the vast majority of Jews, particularly in Eastern Europe, were impoverished. They had nothing, and they constantly had governmental or societal or religious forces who were trying to take even that away from them. These are a group of people who are barely allowed to exist. And so they see the Rothschilds and they don’t look at them as string-pullers. They looked at them as “One day this could be us.” 

Bringing us up to current events. You start the book with a Rothschild pretender at Mar-a- Lago. Did you see that there was a new one — this false heir Kyle de Rothschild Deschanel, who inserted his way into high society and was just exposed by Vanity Fair. What do you make of that?

The name fits really nicely into a sweet spot, where people know that the name “Rothschild” is associated with wealth, with power, with influence, but they don’t have any real specific reason why. I could take that name and get into Mar-a-Lago, get into the Manhattan art high society by throwing some money around and looking the part. If I’ve got the name, and I’ve got the fancy watch, and I’ve got the nice haircut, and I’m buying the $5,000 bottle of champagne — why would anybody think I’m not part of that family? 

We’re speaking a day after Elon Musk declared war on the ADL to the tune of $4 billion

Blaming the ADL for destroying half of the value of his company, which is an astonishing trick for a fairly small nonprofit to pull off. 

How do you see it connecting to Jewish cabal conspiracy theories in general, and also what is your general assessment of X since Musk took over?

How it connects to historical antisemitism is it connects perfectly. It is a perfect example of Jews or a Jewish organization being scapegoated for problems that it had little to nothing to do with.

The massive loss in value of Twitter is not because of the ADL. The ADL doesn’t have that kind of power. Musk has that kind of power over his own company, which he chose to use to gut its engineering staff, completely destroy the power of verification, unban some of the worst people on the site and give them free rein.

It’s very convenient and very historical for Musk to single out some Jews who are just trying to carve out a place in the world and carve out their right to exist without harassment, and blame them for all of his problems. It is completely in keeping with the scapegoating, with the blame, that countless others have foisted upon Jews in general, specific Jews, Jewish advocacy organizations — there’s nothing new there. 

We end with a pretty bleak analysis in the book. The conspiracy mongers “will never stop because they never have.” But is there a way to combat this? The Rothschilds have largely opted for “no comment.” What can our tactic be?

In terms of combating institutionalized antisemitism, I don’t know that there is a way to do that because there really never has been. Jews and especially wealthy and visible Jews will always be an appealing scapegoat for a certain type of person. They were 2,000 years ago, they are right now.

Where we can fight it is the same way we can fight the spread of conspiracy theories in general: in our own lives. We can recognize the terms that are used — when somebody says “globalist,” when somebody says something is “Soros-funded,” or talks about “European bankers” — to understand what those terms mean, why they’re being used. We can recognize it in the people that we care about and our loved ones and call them out.

It doesn’t have to be public. It doesn’t have to be done on Facebook or Twitter, it can be just a private conversation, say, “Hey, there is a history behind that. The terms that you’re using, they are hateful. They have a history of violence and discrimination.” I don’t think most people want to be thought of as antisemitic. But I think most people just don’t quite understand the power of antisemitism and the historical appeal of it. So I don’t know that there’s anything we can do to make antisemitism stop, at least not at an individual level, but we can push back against it in our own lives and the lives of the people around us.

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