The allegations ran the gamut: The rally organizer was a “deep state” operative from Occupy Wall Street. Leftist protesters had dressed up in Nazi regalia. Billionaire investor George Soros had orchestrated the whole thing.
But Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) still seems swayed by the “false flag” theory of the white supremacist violence.
In an interview with Vice News that aired Thursday night, Gosar suggested that the rally was “created by the left” and carried out by an “Obama sympathizer.”
The congressman also brought up a thoroughly refuted claim that Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew who survived Nazi occupation during World War II, had collaborated with the Third Reich, prompting a strongly worded condemnation from a Soros spokeswoman.
Gosar’s remarks also drew a stream of criticism on Twitter. “Will other Republicans rebuke him,” asked Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. “If not, is this a party to which one can belong?”
“That drip-drip-drip of anti-Semitism,” wrote science writer Steve Silberman.
A spokesperson for Gosar didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment early Friday morning.
Gosar made the statements in a segment on his controversial decision to block his critics on social media. At one point the discussion turned to antifa, the anti-fascist activist movement whose adherents have sparred with white supremacists in recent public protests.
“In fairness, antifa is in the news because of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville,” Vice’s Elspeth Reeve told Gosar.
“Well, isn’t that interesting. Maybe that was created by the left,” he said.
Asked to explain, Gosar responded: “Let’s look at the person that actually started the rally. It’s come to our attention that this is a person from Occupy Wall Street that was an Obama sympathizer. So, wait a minute, be careful where you start taking these people to.”
Without evidence, he went on to suggest that Soros may have funded the neo-Nazis who marched in the city.
Nearly identical claims have circulated for some time in far-right circles, many of them promoted by Jones of Infowars, Trump ally Roger Stone, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza and websites such as Gateway Pundit.
The notion that Soros had Nazi ties has been proven false over and over and over. But it remains popular with his critics on the extreme right, many of whom view Soros — who is known for funding Democratic candidates and liberal causes — as a sort of left-wing boogeyman with an outsize influence in American government.
A spokeswoman from Soros’s Open Society Foundations addressed the fabrication in a statement to Vice News.
“He was 14 years old when the war ended. He did not collaborate with the Nazis. He did not help round up people. He did not confiscate anybody’s property,” the statement read. “Such baseless allegations are insulting to the victims of the Holocaust, to all Jewish people, and to anyone who honors the truth.”
The statement continued: “It is an affront to Mr. Soros and his family, who against the odds managed to survive one of the darkest moments in our history. He abhors violence in any form and has never funded it. Never has. Never will.”
Gosar also seemed draw from conspiracy theories about Jason Kessler, the conservative blogger who organized the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, where one woman was killed and others were injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.
Infowars and others have argued that Kessler was a supporter of President Barack Obama and Occupy Wall Street, the left-wing movement against economic inequality.
Kessler has acknowledged that he voted for Obama and attended an Occupy event in 2011. But according to Snopes, which interviewed Kessler in August, he has made clear that he became disenchanted with the Democratic Party during Obama’s second term and has publicly espoused white nationalist views for nearly two years.
Indeed, Kessler’s blog posts railing against what he called “white genocide” were part of what made him known among white nationalists starting in early 2016.
Gosar isn’t the only member of Congress to suggest the violence in Charlottesville was part of a liberal machination. In September, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) called the event “a setup for these dumb Civil War reenactors.”
“It was left-wingers who were manipulating them in order to have this confrontation” and “put our president on the spot,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
PolitiFact rated the statement “pants on fire.”