Far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have a pernicious way of bubbling over into the mainstream these days. An example of this emerged Thursday, when Vice News interviewed Representative Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican who was elected to office in 2013. He apparently believes that the doomed Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—during which opposition activist Heather Heyer was allegedly murdered by white nationalist James Fields in a car-ramming incident—was masterminded by philanthropist George Soros.
“Let’s look at the person that actually started the rally,” Gosar says, referring to white nationalist Jason Kessler. “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.”
Gosar goes on to mention Soros by name.
“You know, you know, George Soros is one of those people that actually helps back these individuals,” he says. “Who is he? I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis.”
Vice News asks Gosar directly if he thinks Soros funded the neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out? ” he says.
Newsweek reached out twice to Gosar’s office for further comment but did not immediately receive a response.
The congressman could be referring to a conspiracy theory cited by noted consipiracy theorist Alex Jones of InfoWars, who has blamed Soros for the Charlottesville violence—among many other things, including Chobani yogurt’s lawsuit against him—but it’s unclear whether that’s how the idea entered his consciousness, given how rapidly theories like these move from one place to another on social media. For an outside observer, it’s unclear how much Jones’s conspiracy theories are influenced by what far-right voices are already whispering on social media. Still, it’s undeniable that when he speaks, ideas like this become amplified.
While some consumers of news may be only peripherally aware of George Soros’s name, those involved in media know it well. Soros has made multimillion-dollar donations to liberal groups like MoveOn and the Center for American Progress, and has been a vocal critic of conservatism—meaning that far-right readers who believe the media is working to stop their agenda frequently accuse reporters of collaborating with the billionaire, or even working for him.
Open Society Network, a grantmaking group founded by Soros, forwarded Newsweek a statement in response to what was said, citing its chairman’s predisposed opposition to the type of Nazi imagery that was paraded around Charlottesville in August.
“George Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary, and he has spent his life supporting efforts to ensure that such terrifying authoritarianism never takes root again,” the statement says.
Open Society Network also forwarded a second statement addressing another conspiracy theory—one that suggests Soros collaborated with the Nazi regime—noting that as a child Soros was hidden with an official of Hungary’s Ministry of Agriculture. His father helped to hide the official’s Jewish wife in return for Soros being given a chance to pose as his Christian godson, according to the statement.
“This is how Soros was able to survive the Nazi occupation,” the statement says. “On one occasion the official went to inventory the estate of a Jewish family that had fled Hungary under duress. He brought the child in his charge along rather than leaving him alone in Budapest.
“To construe this as Soros collaborating with Nazis is false, malicious and deeply misleading,” the statement concludes.