On Friday, hours before the arrest and charges in the mail bomb case, the GOP nominee for Florida governor described what he called the threat posed by “Soros-backed activists.”
The attacks on the 88-year-old Soros, a multibillionaire who has underwritten left-leaning civic groups and political campaigns in the United States and abroad, come amid a larger effort by Republicans to portray protests on the political left as “mob” tactics as they seek to rouse base voters. But the attempted bombing of Soros and other prominent Democrats, and Saturday’s synagogue attack, have placed references to Soros in a darker light.
The Anti-Defamation League, before last week’s violence, connected an increasing number of mentions by mainstream conservative politicians and groups to a spate of far-right conspiracy theories involving Soros.
“Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by anti-Semites,” the group said. “A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate anti-Semitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.”
Trump and the GOP have been in lockstep on the attacks.
“The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers,” Trump tweeted Oct. 5.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is hoping to lead the House next year, tweeted early last week about Soros and two other Democratic megadonors of Jewish descent: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.
“We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election!” McCarthy tweeted.
McCarthy deleted the tweet last week. Asked for an explanation, his spokesman Matt Sparks pointed to a statement released last week after the attempted bombing but before the shooting: “Understanding the particular sensitivity of the past 24 hours in the political climate today that has led to specific threats on both sides of the aisle, we will redouble our focus on our agenda of results.”
The conservative group Judicial Watch has been among Soros’s most persistent critics. Its director of investigations and research, Chris Farrell, blamed a migrant caravan that is moving from Central America toward the U.S. border on a “Soros-occupied State Department” during a Fox Business Network interview Thursday.
The network subsequently denounced the comment and said Farrell would no longer appear on Fox.
Judicial Watch was a key source for a video that aired in May on the federally funded TV Martí, which broadcasts to Cuba, attacking Soros as a “multimillionaire Jew” and a “nonbelieving Jew of flexible morals.” The video, which Mother Jones reported Friday, is now under investigation by the U.S. Agency for Global Media after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) blasted the segment as “taxpayer-funded anti-Semitism” and demanded answers.
The Minnesota ad counts Soros among several figures who would “own” Democratic House candidate Dan Feehan, a decorated Army veteran who is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a liberal think tank. That group is supported by Soros’s main philanthropic vehicle, the Open Society Foundations.
An earlier ad in the race was even more explicit, casting Soros as a shadowy figure peering over Feehan’s shoulder — alongside NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick and far-left “Antifa” protesters.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the NRCC chairman, defended that ad in a Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” while noting that he had no control over the NRCC’s independent expenditure arm that created the spot and paid to air it.
“That ad is factual, and it also has nothing to do with calling for violence,” Stivers said.
Ron DeSantis, running for Florida governor, invoked Soros while attacking his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, at a church during a Friday campaign event.
“He would be seeding into our state government, you know, Soros-backed activists,” DeSantis said of Gillum, prompting some in the crowd to jeer, according to a video posted to YouTube and first reported by the Daily Beast.
On Monday, after the bomb attempt and the synagogue shooting, the Michigan Republican Party tweeted an ad attacking a Democratic candidate for secretary of state for being “funded by liberal out-of-state donors, far-left special interest groups and coastal billionaires all looking to rig Michigan’s elections.”
The ad depicts Soros, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). None of those three figures is listed as donating to the candidate, Jocelyn Benson.
Benson was supported in a 2010 run for the same office by the Secretaries of State Project, a group that received backing from Soros’s foundation. A successor group, the iVote Fund, is backing Benson this year.
Sarah Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Republican Party, said that the video was produced and initially published before the recent attacks and that Soros’s depiction has “nothing to do with his religion and everything to do with him financing Democrat candidates for office in Michigan.”
“We used Mr. Soros as an example because he is a well-known donor to liberal candidates and causes,” she said, adding, “We have not ever and would not ever use someone’s religion as a reason to support or oppose them.”
Benson spokeswoman Liz Boyd called the ad a sign of desperation: “They are facing head winds going into Election Day with a candidate who actually wants to make it harder to vote and who believes dark money is here to stay. That stands in sharp contrast to Jocelyn Benson, who actually wants to improve the lives of Michigan citizens, including making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
While the NRCC’s Soros ad remains up in Minnesota, other Republican groups have continued running sharp-edged spots that rely on other ways to motivate GOP voters. In the same race, for instance, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) super PAC is airing an ad highlighting the caravan, claiming that it is “full of gang members and criminals.”
Other ads released by the group in the past week tie candidates to the “liberal mob” and the “radical resistance” with images of rampaging protesters, not to mention a whole spate of spots that continue a long-running effort to target House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
A spokeswoman for the CLF, Courtney Alexander, declined to comment on whether the group would change its messaging in light of last week’s events. She said the group is not featuring Soros in any of its current political messaging.
Some Republicans have broached the issue of political violence with a softer touch. Two survivors of the June 2017 shooting in which a politically motivated gunman targeted Republican lawmakers at a baseball field near Washington are highlighting their experience in TV ads.
“I never thought that my friends and I would have to dodge bullets from somebody who just disagreed with us politically,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) says in one ad.
“Standing for your values is important, but it must be done with civility,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) says in another.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a statement made by a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The spokesman, Matt Sparks, referred to an earlier statement made before Saturday's shooting.