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Blaming Soros for protests, the right exposed its anti-Semitism – again.

Over the past week, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who brutally kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for no less than eight minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd died. These protests, met with support from many corners of the U.S., have also unleashed an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory alleging that the black-led activists leading the protests are actually a paid front group funded by Jewish billionaire George Soros.

The conspiracy theory has been spread by prominent voices on the political right, ranging from pundits with multiple millions of followers on Twitter to multiple newscasters on Fox News itself. Politicians as prominent as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have even gotten in on the act.

And it’s having an impact. Analytics show there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of people talking about George Soros on Twitter and searching for Soros on Google in the past week. It has gotten sufficiently mainstream that Soros’s own Open Society Foundations have had to formally respond and insist that no, they do not pay protestors. The Anti-Defamation League has also responded, saying that blaming Soros for the anti-police violence protests “invokes an antisemitic trope.”

This statement by the ADL is half right. The Soros conspiracy theories are indeed anti-Semitic. But they are not only that. They are also racist against black Americans, in ways that reveal important truths about how anti-Semitism and anti-black racism are always intertwined in the far-right imagination.

The reason for this is simple: Anti-Semitism is structurally necessary in the far-right imagination, because a central tenet of white supremacy is the belief that non-whites are genetically inferior to whites, with a particular focus on the grossly racist belief that “black people fare worse than white people because they tend to be less naturally intelligent.” Never mind the fact that scientists have repeatedly debunked this bogus claim. The persistent belief that white people are genetically more intelligent than black people, though absolutely unsupported and false, is a central tenet of far-right belief.

Naturally, this poses a problem for the far-right. If you believe, as they do, that black Americans lack the innate intelligence to organize civil rights movements, then you need an explanation for how these protest movements are starting. And that’s where Jews come in.

For decades, a common belief on the far-right has been, in the words of historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, that “the Jews are driving the civil rights movement with the aim of promoting interracial marriage, as they see the mongrelization of the white race as a crucial step toward achieving Jewish dominance over a debased Gentile humanity.” While black people are imagined by white supremacists as less innately intelligent than whites, Jews are imagined as more innately intelligent, and they use this cunning to make up for the fact that for centuries, they didn’t have a homeland or an army. Since the Jews could not fight on the battlefield, they would undermine the nation from within, using control of finance and commitment to abstract intellectual principles such as “egalitarianism” to weaken the white race. Civil rights protests are imagined by the racist far-right as a plot “to weaken the country’s ruling race.”

This conspiracy theory, both anti-Semitic and racist, has its roots in European nationalism, and was spread to the US through texts such as Henry Ford’s “The International Jew,” which accused Jews of working to undermine white America because they are “cosmopolitan.”

Joel Swanson | Artist: Noah Lubin

Joel Swanson | Artist: Noah Lubin

The belief became particularly widespread during the black civil rights movement of the 1960s, when groups like the John Birch Society blamed Jews for black activism. Even Jews involved in civil rights work worried about the perception that Jews were pulling the strings; as Rabbi Elijah Palnick put it, because the far-right thought the civil rights movement was “a Jewish conspiracy to mongrelize the South… you really had to be very careful in how you did things.”

This far-right belief in black civil rights as a Jewish conspiracy led to very real far-right violence against Jews. Most famously, white supremacists bombed an Atlanta synagogue in 1958, due to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild’s outspoken support for black civil rights and desegregation, and his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. By the late 1960’s, the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi announced an explicit strategy of targeting Jews as a way of fighting against black civil rights, leading to further far-right bombings of synagogues in Jackson and Meridian and of the homes of prominent Jews who supported civil rights.

And now, this age-old conspiracy theory has returned, with Holocaust survivor George Soros as the brand new face. Only this time, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, the conspiracies are coming from the White House itself.

When President Trump calls black civil rights demonstrators “professionally managed so-called ‘protesters,’” this slander has to be seen as a dog whistle to the Soros conspiracy theories — especially since Trump has a history of explicitly blaming George Soros for funding Central American migration to the US, a conspiracy theory cited by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.

The truth is, unless you’re a racist, you don’t need to turn to Soros to explain these protests. The obvious truth is that the movement rocking American cities right now is a black-led social movement for civil rights. There are so many reasons for it: The murder of George Floyd; the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, pursued and chased by a violent gang of armed white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood, who were not arrested for months after the murder; Breonna Taylor, killed while police officers searched for drugs being sold more than 10 miles away. And before that, Laquan McDonald. Renisha McBride. Atatiana Jefferson. Eric Garner. So many black lives that matter.

The protests are not just about police violence, but about the whole system of white supremacy that sustains that violence. The decades of federal underinvestment in black neighborhoods. The redlining that kept black Americans from building household wealth like white Americans. A “justice system” that incarcerates black Americans at five times the rate of whites.

And then there’s the pandemic itself, which is killing black Americans at more than twice the rate of white Americans — not, as some racist white politicians have claimed, because of lifestyle choices, but because of structural inequalities in access to health care.

Blaming George Soros and wealthy Jews for pulling the strings behind protests, as so many right-wing voices have done recently, becomes a way of allowing white America to avoid confronting these realities. By exaggerating the power and agency of Jews, these conspiracy theories simultaneously minimize the power and agency and black Americans in their own social movements. They enable whites to avoid confronting our own complicity in real structural racism and inequality in America, by deflecting blame onto Jews.

So yes, the Soros conspiracy theories are anti-Semitic, as the ADL stated. But just as importantly, they’re racist against black Americans. And we need to name both bigotries.

Joel Swanson is a contributing columnist for the Forward and a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, studying modern Jewish intellectual history and the philosophy of religions. Find him on Twitter @jh_swanson.

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