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Putin’s reference to George Soros was a dog whistle to far-right anti-Semites

In Helsinki, Putin brought up the far right’s biggest boogeyman.

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U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) hold a joint press conference after their bilateral meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. Getty Images

During President Donald Trump’s bizarre press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin invoked an odd name in trying to evade responsibility for the email hacking of the Democratic National Committee — Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, who happens to be at the center of far-right conspiracy theories around the world.

In response to a question about election interference, Putin brushed off allegations that the Russian government was involved. He compared the company that allegedly gave cover to the Russian intelligence agents to Soros — essentially arguing that an individual company doesn’t represent Russia, just like how Soros doesn’t represent America.

“You have a lot of individuals in the United States, take George Soros, for instance, with multibillion capitals, but does it make him — his position, his posture, the posture of the United States? No, it does not,” Putin said.

Putin could have named a big American company as an example. He could have named any wealthy American, like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. But he didn’t. Instead, he mentioned a man who’s been smeared by the far right as a liberal puppet master and, worse, a Nazi collaborator (though Soros is actually a Holocaust survivor). In elections from Hungary to Italy, Soros has been referenced by far-right political figures, often with anti-Semitic rhetoric following closely.

This isn’t the first time Putin has invoked the idea that there’s a connection between accusations against his regime and Jews. In an interview with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, he argued that Russian hackers might not be “real” Russians — and that they might be Jewish: “Maybe they’re not even Russians. Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

That Putin would name-check Soros in his press conference with Trump is no accident. Putin has sounded the dog whistle on anti-Semitism before, when on the spot about hacking. Now he’s doing it again, reaching the far right the world over.

Already, conspiracy theorists in the United States, like Alex Jones of Infowars and members of the Reddit board r/The_Donald, are celebrating Putin’s reference of Soros during the Helsinki press conference.

As I wrote in June, Soros is a longtime donor to progressive causes, and thus the focal point of right-wing (and increasingly anti-Semitic) conspiracy theories:

Though a GOP donor in the 1980s and 1990s, Soros has been the right’s most feared opponent since he spent more than $25 million to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, leading one conservative website to call him “a prolocutor in the congregation of Moloch.” Disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert even alleged that Soros’s fortune came from financing drug cartels overseas. Since then, Soros has spent billions on (largely progressive) causes from Ebola prevention to opposing torture and protecting LGBTQ rights abroad, and has donated to Democratic Party causes like Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

No wonder, then, that Soros has been linked by the right to virtually every liberal cause imaginable in an attempt to argue that any organic protest or outcry on the left is really the work of one sinister, shadowy (foreign) billionaire. Even Republicans have been victims of allegations of “scandalous” ties to Soros. A GOP candidate in North Carolina was the target of an attack ad alleging that he’d received “$80,000 in George Soros-backed campaign contributions” (he didn’t).

It’s worth noting that Soros is a controversial figure in right-wing circles abroad as well:

Soros has long opposed the autocratic regimes of Eastern Europe and American conservative politics, well before the two converged around Islamophobia and isolationism in recent years. As the two begin to look more and more alike, opposition to Soros has become a key bridge point. Domestically and internationally, particularly in Russia and his native Hungary, article headlines including phrases like “ties to George Soros” are signposts to believers that a cause, a website, a candidate, or a protest movement is inherently suspicious.

The Russian government has attempted to stop Soros’s fundraising and nonprofit activities in the country. In 2015, the Russian government banned two branches of Soros’s charity network — the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) — from operating in the country, stating, “It was found that the activity of the Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation represents a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation and the security of the state.”

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