Tucker Carlson film on George Soros is his latest antisemitic dog-whistle

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Tucker Carlson has been accused of promoting “antisemitic tropes” in his documentary Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization, which attacks the billionaire Democratic donor – and frequent target of antisemitic hate – George Soros.

The film, which aired last week, sees Carlson, a Fox News host with a long history of inflammatory rightwing rhetoric, travel to Hungary, where he tees up a selection of politicians and commenters to attack Soros, a wealthy philanthropist who has donated billions of dollars to Democratic causes.

Soros, who is Jewish and was born in Hungary, has been subjected to antisemitic attacks from conservatives for decades. Far-right activists and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory have accused Soros of funding violent protests, of supporting an imagined global ring of pedophiles and of driving illegal immigration, a recurring theme in Carlson’s film.

Carlson claims in the documentary that Soros has “spent decades” waging “a kind of war, political, social and demographic war on the west”. Carlson’s narration is accompanied by black and white images and screeching, dystopian music.

“Unlike the threats from the Soviets and the Ottoman empire, the threat posed by George Soros and his nonprofit organizations is much more subtle and hard to detect,” Carlson says. Later, he claims that Soros has plotted to “oust democratically elected leaders” and “install ideologically aligned puppets”, nodding to antisemitic tropes about a global cabal which controls the world’s politics and finances.

Soros has given at least $18bn to his Open Society Foundations organization, which offers financial grants to groups around the world, and has been a key donor to Democratic politicians and causes. He has long been a target of the political right, which has projected an array of conspiracy theories about the billionaire. In 2018 a pipe bomb was delivered to Soros’s home in Bedford, about 40 miles north of New York City.

“This so-called documentary, reviewed by Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, is nothing more than far-right propaganda at best, and at worst a dangerous antisemitic dog-whistle sure to be heard loud and clear by a large audience,” Jake Hyman, a spokesman for the ADL, said.

“Throughout the program, Carlson promotes antisemitic tropes that Soros controls world events and influences the global media, that Soros and the NGOs he funds are responsible for changing demographics in Europe, bringing in non-white immigrants and subsequently with that crime and violence to Europe.”

Hyman added: “It’s totally fair to criticize Mr Soros’ support of partisan policies or candidates, but casting a Jewish individual as some sort of puppet master who manipulates national and international events for malign purposes has the effect of mainstreaming antisemitic tropes and giving support to bona fide antisemites and extremists who disseminate these ideas knowingly and with malice.”

Billionaire investor George Soros is awarded the Schumpeter Prize in Vienna, Austria, on 21 June 2019.
George Soros is awarded the Schumpeter Prize in Vienna, Austria, on 21 June 2019. Soros, who is Jewish and was born in Hungary, has been subjected to antisemitic attacks from conservatives for decades. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

In the film, Carlson explains Hungary to his audience in easily understandable terms. It’s in Europe, he says, and is “about the size of Indiana, about the population of Michigan”. Carlson adds: “Like the midwest, it’s pretty flat here.”

Hungary, Carlson goes on to claim, is “an outpost of western civilization in the middle of Europe”. But for all Carlson’s fawning over the country’s direction under Viktor Orbán, its authoritarian prime minister, Hungary has lurched into political territory that demonizes immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other groups.

In 2018 Orbán, who came to power in 2010 and was interviewed by Carlson in Hungary last year, described refugees as “Muslim invaders”, and also said: “We must defend Hungary as it is now. We must state that we do not want to be diverse ... We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, previously wrote an open letter to Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News, after Carlson’s previous documentary Patriot Purge aired on Fox Nation in October 2021. That film sought to sanitize the January 6 insurrection, airing conspiracy theories and attempting to absolve Donald Trump’s supporters of blame. Two Fox News contributors quit the network in protest against the film.

After Soros vs Hungary aired, Greenblatt tweeted: “On the eve of #HolocaustRemembranceDay, it’s appalling to see Tucker Carlson & FOX invoke the kind of antisemitic tropes typically found in white supremacist media. There’s no excuse for this kind of fear mongering, especially in light of intensifying #antisemitism.”

The documentary aired on Fox Nation, Fox News’s sister channel, which is a streaming-only service. But Fox News promoted it, too, in a tweet, while the documentary was given an uncritical write-up on the Fox News website, complete with an embedded video of a trailer for the film.

A Fox News spokesperson pointed to remarks Carlson made in previewing the film, in which the host said, “Orban may be the only world leader who stood up to Soros directly”.

“And so we thought that was interesting enough, enough of a metaphor for the struggle that is going on globally between nationalists and people who oppose them. We thought it was worthy of our season finale documentary for our series Tucker Carlson Originals,” Carlson said.

The film does not address the decades-long antisemitic attacks on Soros, although at one point in the documentary Carlson claims that the media is quick to “claim any attack on George Soros is antisemitic”.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Laura Silber, the vice-president of Open Society, said Soros and the group “have worked for more than 30 years to support vibrant and inclusive democracies whose governments are accountable to the people they serve”.

“Mr Carlson appears to prefer authoritarian rule, state capture of media and the courts, crony corruption and rigged elections,” Silber said.

Some prominent Fox News hosts, including Carlson, have a history of making comments or advancing arguments that have been deemed antisemitic or xenophobic. In September Carlson was criticized for promulgating the “great replacement” theory about immigration. Carlson denied that he was being antisemitic.

As recently as 27 January, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Laura Ingraham displayed a mocked-up image of Soros clutching bank notes on her show, as she claimed Democrats were using “dark money” to control the Supreme Court.

In December 2021 Fox News removed a cartoon from its Facebook and Instagram which showed Soros as a puppet master manipulating a Democratic district attorney and Democratic attorney general.