Washington, DC – Just hours after Donald Trump’s historic arraignment on criminal charges in New York, the former president’s 2024 campaign put out an urgent call for financial contributions to bolster his bid for the White House.
Donations are sorely needed, the Trump team said in an email Tuesday because liberal donor George Soros is trying to “bleed our campaign dry by dragging us through witch hunt after witch hunt”.
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Soros, a Hungary-born businessman who has donated millions of dollars to liberal causes, has long been portrayed as the ultimate villain in conservative circles.
Now, as the New York criminal case progresses, Trump and his allies have suggested – and often explicitly saying – that Soros is behind the former president’s latest legal troubles, a false claim that critics have said perpetuates conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes.
Right-wing politicians and commentators have said Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney (DA) overseeing the case, is backed by Soros.
Joseph Uscinski, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, said for someone to become a villain, they must have some power.
Soros is indeed wealthy and has donated a lot of money to liberal groups, “so it’s not shocking that people have picked him to be the boogeyman,” Uscinski told Al Jazeera.
But the making of an all-powerful political opponent to be blamed for everything that goes wrong requires greatly exaggerating that person’s influence, he added.
“It becomes … deranged when we start ascribing superhuman powers to one person, when we give them the ability not just to have some sway or say in a conversation, but to control everything,” Uscinski said.
“It’s when we make the leap from ‘Oh, there’s some connection between George Soros and the DA,’ which seems pretty tenuous, and it becomes ‘He’s being backed by Soros’, or ‘He’s controlled by Soros.’ There’s no evidence for those claims.”
The ‘Soros-backed’ claim
Since Trump announced last month that he may be arrested in New York over a hush-money payment to an adult film star before the 2016 elections, many Republicans have pushed to brand Bragg – an elected Democrat – as “Soros-backed”, “Soros-funded” and “Soros-controlled”.
Even Trump’s top potential rival in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who has yet to officially announce his candidacy – invoked Soros when rejecting the charges against the former president.
“The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent,” DeSantis said in a social media post last week.
Soros-controlled Alvin Bragg is a DISGRACE to our country!!
— Ronny Jackson (@RonnyJacksonTX) March 31, 2023
Soros has refuted the claims that he backed Bragg, stressing that he has never communicated with the prosecutor or donated to his campaign.
A spokesperson for Soros has said that “many on the right are attempting to shift the focus from the accused to the accuser” in order to distract from Trump’s indictment.
“George Soros has never met, spoken with, or otherwise communicated with Alvin Bragg,” the spokesperson said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
“Neither George Soros nor Democracy PAC (a PAC to which Mr. Soros has contributed funds) contributed to Alvin Bragg’s campaign for Manhattan District Attorney.”
A PAC is a “political action committee”, an organisation that raises funds to influence elections and politics.
Soros, however, has donated money to a civil rights organisation whose political arm backed Bragg’s bid for the Manhattan DA office.
In recent years, liberals and progressives have focused on the policies of local prosecutors to address the issue of excessive charges for non-violent crimes, which disproportionately affects people of colour. With nearly two million imprisoned people, the US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Soros has been outspoken about his support for “reform-minded” prosecutors.
While I didn’t contribute to Alvin Bragg’s campaign, I have supported many other reform-minded prosecutors. Anyone who wants to know why should read this article I wrote in @WSJ. https://t.co/GBOwlrCkO9
— George Soros (@georgesoros) March 31, 2023
In 2021, Soros donated $1m to the Color of Change PAC, a civil rights group that had pledged to spend $1m independently in support of Bragg in the DA race.
The Soros spokesperson said the liberal billionaire and Democracy PAC donated $4m to the Color of Change PAC between 2016 and 2022, none of which was specifically designated for Bragg.
The Color of Change PAC, which had supported many candidates in other races that election cycle, also dismissed the alleged link between Bragg and Soros.
“Color Of Change PAC has many funders who invest in our broad strategy to root out injustice in our criminal legal system,” a spokesperson for the PAC said in a statement.
“Independent of these funders, Color Of Change PAC runs a review and interview process to endorse reform minded district attorneys each election cycle.”
Despite that indirect connection, there is no evidence that Soros influenced Bragg’s decision to pursue charges against Trump. And the indictment was approved by a grand jury – a group of randomly selected citizens.
On Wednesday, Bragg pushed back against allegations of politically targeting Trump, saying that the charges in the indictment – falsifying business records to conceal the hush-money payment – are a crime in New York “no matter who you are”.
Yet, allegations of involvement by Soros, who is Jewish, persist.
Many rights advocates have raised concern that the unwarranted right-wing focus on Soros promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about wealthy Jewish people pushing for global control.
“In the least surprising news ever, a Republican Party that protects and lionizes antisemites and white nationalists is once again falling back on their antisemitic George Soros conspiracy theories,” J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, said in a sarcastic tweet last week. “It’s as tired as it is dangerous.”
Good morning. In the least surprising news ever, a Republican Party that protects and lionizes antisemites and white nationalists is once again falling back on their antisemitic George Soros conspiracy theories.
It's as tired as it is dangerous. pic.twitter.com/B5HpYdn1hK
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) March 31, 2023
Uscinski, the professor, said it is difficult to determine the intent of those claiming that Soros controls Bragg, but nonetheless, the conspiracy theory promoted anti-Semitic tropes.
“Are there anti-Semitic overtones? Most certainly – because of who they’re blaming, and the fact that much of this language is tied to longstanding conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish people,” Uscinski told Al Jazeera.