In political circles, anyone who mentions George Soros is sure to draw immediate responses from the right and the left. Conspiracy theorists mistakenly target him for funding liberal protest movements, controlling much of the world’s wealth and advocating for a global order. As an incredibly wealthy man, a billionaire hedge fund manager, he has the Rorschach-test-like ability to appear as a hero to some and a villain to others. Some conservatives consider him evil.
Examining Opposing Views
Liberals find commonality with him because he supports causes that they like, while some conservatives consider him capable of committing evil acts despite a lack of proof. Many even think of him as a power behind the scenes who exercises control over the global economy as well its politics. Long before Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly, the host spent almost 10 minutes to describe Soros as “off-the-charts dangerous” and an “extremist.”
The truth is that the 86-year-old George Soros did wield great power at one time. Through a complicated set of circumstances regarding England’s monetary system and interest rates, he took a chance that paid off by betting against the pound. The result of the risky venture produced a $1 billion return for Soros and a broken financial system for England.
A few years later, he made a similar deal during the Asian Financial Crisis. Since then, the conservative right wing has made him a target of unfounded conspiracy theories that may stem from having so few liberal peers. Some observers have noticed the ironic twist that allows the left to target rich people on the right with the same kind of conspiracy theories.
Coping with Injustice
Even though Soros, who is worth $25 billion, has given away nearly half that amount to organizations that support equality, justice, and freedom of expression, opposition groups consistently focus conspiracy theories on him. While he enjoys great wealth and influence today, he has endured equally significant discrimination, injustice and intolerance.
As a teenager, he lived under the Nazi occupation of Hungary which caused the murder of more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews. His family narrowly escaped the same fate by concealing their identity with false papers. Helping other Jews to do the same is something that he recalls clearly. “An evil force was much stronger than we,” he said. Not only did his family survive, but they “managed to help others.”
Taking the Long Trip to America
After WW II, the consolidation of power by the Communists in Hungary inspired Soros to leave Budapest in 1947 to work at odd jobs in England. While he studied at the London School of Economics preparing to enter the financial world in America, he worked part-time as a waiter and a railway porter. Conspiracy theorists who see him only as a wealthy man seem not to understand the losses and challenges that faced him. In 1956, he realized his dream of coming to America, and he formed Soros Fund Management 14 years later. By 1979, he had amassed a fortune that allowed him to start giving it away.
A hallmark of the Soros philanthropic legacy is a commitment to tackling problems that seem to have no simple solution. Inspiration may have stemmed from his formative years before WW II, hiding his Jewish identity, enduring separation from his family and fearing arrest by the Nazis. From his vantage point as a child fleeing persecution, his situation must have seemed to present a losing cause with no hope for resolution. Of his financial success in the markets, he acknowledges that it gives him “more independence than most other people.”
Nonetheless, his rise to the top echelons of American hedge fund managers during the 1990s attracted a lot of attention. Even more important to the conservative political wing was his support of groups that wanted to deprive President George W. Bush of reelection in 2004. His political positions, in addition to his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War, intensified the conspiracy theories that target him with influencing politics with evil intent.
Following an Interest in Politics
After seeing the influence of politics on his youth in Hungary, Soros puts his wealth toward political causes that matter to him, not unlike the practices of the Koch brothers who support Republican policies. His contributions may attract more attention than the Koch’s because “more ultra-rich Americans are politically conservative,” according to Timothy Melley, a Miami University professor.
By contributing to causes that are anathema to conservative political groups, Soros remains in the crosshairs of right-leaning sites like The Washington Times and Breitbart. A favorite accusation that they direct at Soros is that he paid the protesters who filled the nation’s streets at the March for Science and the Women’s March. Fans of Soros know that he has given money to liberal groups for many years and long before Trump’s election. Some of the recipients of his political philanthropy decided to march to express their deep-seated protests.
The obsession by the right wing with the support that Soros provides with his political involvement may create an exaggeration of the facts as well as a failure to recognize the truth. Conspiracy theories can present far-fetched notions such as one claiming that Soros associates with the world’s elite to develop nefarious plans to destroy the global currency. By focusing on the imaginary, conservative groups can overlook the facts. Accusations that he uses his money and influence to impact the direction of politics have actual merit. Still, some theories are so mind-boggling that they stretch credulity. Daniel Greenfield, a regular contributor to far-right media outlets, openly states his belief that Soros plans to capture the world so that he can transform it and make it more liberal.
Professor Melley said that Soros’ use of his money to achieve political power might make people fear his motives, but it “doesn’t exactly constitute a secret plot.” In fact, it is the same thing that prominent conservative donors do by supporting right wing political activities. Robert Mercer, also a hedge fund billionaire, has provided millions of dollars to support the pro-Trump super PAC “Make America Number One” as well as to fund favorable public opinion research. Observers note that anyone who has significant wealth and power is a likely target for others who have opposing political views.