In his statement condemning the Manhattan grand jury indictment of former President Donald Trump, Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis mentioned neither the former president nor the district attorney who will prosecute the case, Alvin Bragg, by name. But he did name check George Soros, a favorite target of antisemitic conspiracy theories—twice.
For some, the implication was obvious.
“It’s hard to even call it a dog whistle of antisemitism,” said former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew Weissman of the Florida governor’s statement in a cable news appearance.
Soros indirectly helped fund Bragg’s run for office, but he is uninvolved in the case against the former president, which is focused on an allegedly improper 2016 payment to former adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Soros and Bragg have never met.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and other Republicans similarly made mention of Soros in denouncing the decision to indict Trump.
Last week Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, a Republican who has been accused of trafficking in xenophobia and white supremacy, charged that Soros and Bragg “are trying to turn America into a third-world country.”
On Thursday night, a single hour of Fox News prime-time programming featured 10 mentions of Soros, including two descriptions of Bragg as a Soros “puppet.”
A Hungarian-American billionaire who funds progressive causes, Soros is frequently invoked as shorthand for a nexus of wealth, progressive politics and cultural clout.
“Soros offers a combination that is useful to his detractors: born abroad, Jewish, in finance, high profile,” Emily Tamkin, the author of a book about Soros, told Yahoo News. She added that because Soros is “genuinely influential in politics, finance, and philanthropy,” conspiracy theories about him are easily concocted.
As he was running to become the Manhattan district attorney in 2021, Color of Change, a group backed by Soros spent roughly $500,000 on efforts on Bragg’s behalf, such as mailers and voter turnout.
Trump, who is running for president again, is avidly using the indictment to solicit campaign contributions, depicting himself as the target of the “Soros Money Machine.” He has long faced accusations of antisemitism, although his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are observant Jews.
Trump has routinely trafficked in antisemitic tropes about dual loyalty, wealth and parsimony.
Last year, in a post on his social media platform Truth Social, Trump attacked American Jews — who mostly vote Democratic — for not rewarding his staunch support of Israel’s right-wing government. “Our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of [Trump’s record on Israel] than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S,” he complained.
Trump warned that “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel — Before it is too late!”
Thursday’s indictment allowed Trump and his loyal supporters of reviving a grievance-laden narrative that invariably turns the former president into a victim of nefarious forces.
“This was their mission,” Eric Trump, the president’s son, said on Fox News of Bragg and his prosecutors. “This is what they promised Soros. It’s why they received the big checks.”
Soros survived the Holocaust as a child. As an adult, he moved to New York, where he started a successful hedge fund. His philanthropy through the Open Society Foundations supports civic institutions in emerging democracies. Domestically, Open Society funds education, public health and independent media not-for-profit organizations.
According to experts in antisemitism, invoking the 92-year-old philanthropist serves to promote toxic ideas about Jews. “A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism,” according to the ADL, formerly known as the Anti-Defamation League. “But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.”
Trump allies including Tucker Carlson, the popular Fox News anchor, have promoted the “great replacement theory,” which holds that Democrats—purportedly funded by Soros and other elites—are trying to bring immigrants of color into the United States in order to create an electorally insurmountable non-white political bloc.
Fears of racial obsolescence powered the white supremacists who rampaged through Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 shouting that “Jews will not replace us” and, the following year, Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
During the racial justice protests of 2020, some conservatives falsely accused Soros of encouraging violence.
The most recent attacks on Soros come as the nation faces an unprecedented uptick in anti-Semitic incidents, the frequency of which began to increase around the time that Trump first announced he was running for the presidency in mid-2015.
“When in doubt, blame the Jews,” intelligence analyst and scholar Aki J. Peritz wrote on Twitter in response to DeSantis.
DeSantis recently hired Nate Hochman, a National Review writer who had previously praised the virulent anti-Semite Nick Fuentes. Fuentes also dined with Trump last year in South Florida.
Soros is a well-known supporter of criminal justice reform and has been funding the political races of progressive prosecutors for years. Once elected, some of those prosecutors, such as Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, have proven unpopular with voters. Soros’s involvement in funding their campaigns has sometimes been invoked by local critics — though rarely with as much apparent zeal as DeSantis.
When first running for governor in 2018, DeSantis described his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum as “Soros-backed.” He used identical language in his feud with state attorney Andrew Warren, whom he removed in what was widely seen as a bid to raise his profile with national conservatives.
Gillum is Black, as is Bragg. Warren is Jewish, like Soros.
Progressive activists have called the claim that Soros controls Bragg not only antisemitic but also racist. Last week, after Trump called Bragg a “Soros-backed animal” a group of Black and Jewish lawmakers from New York condemned Trump’s “incendiary racist and anti-Semitic” rhetoric.
Last year, neo-Nazis gathered outside a conservative conference in Tampa where DeSantis spoke, with banners displaying swastikas alongside one that read “DeSantis Country” and another touting “our glorious leader, Ron DeSantis.”
Although Florida has a large Jewish population and DeSantis has eagerly waded into other culture war battles, the governor said nothing.