George Soros Image credit: Wikimedia/Niccolò Caranti

Last night, a series of packages containing explosives were mailed to the addresses of prominent symbols of liberal America, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the headquarters of CNN. But they weren’t the first to be targeted in his way. Earlier this week, a similar package was found in the mailbox of financier and philanthropist George Soros.

The bomb appears to be the latest manifestation of the deep hatred directed at Soros from many on the right, who see him as a kind of liberal bogeyman; a shadowy figure accused of secretly backing everything from the recent caravan of Honduran immigrants bound for the United States to the Parkland school shooting in February.

Last year, Soros entered the Australian news when Christian crusader Lyle Shelton accused of him of allegedly backing the Yes campaign in the marriage equality postal survey. But why is the international alt-right obsessed with the figure, and why do Australian politicians talk about him?

Who is George Soros?

Soros, originally György Schwartz, was born into a wealthy Hungarian-Jewish family in 1930. As an increasingly hostile and anti-Semitic Hungary pivoted toward Nazi Germany, the family changed its name to the less conspicuously Jewish “Soros”. During the Nazi occupation that followed, they avoided being sent to the camps by posing as Christians. After the war, Soros moved to England where he ultimately made his fortune as an investor and business magnate.

Over the last few decades, Soros has donated to a number of political causes, beginning, funnily enough, with financial support for Republicans in the 1980s and ’90s. More recently, he has thrown his weight behind groups campaigning to stop Brexit in the UK. Such campaigning has made Soros a popular punching-bag for right-wing populists.

Soros’ alleged rap-sheet is long. He is accused of being the head of a shadowy “globalist” conspiracy, working to destroy borders and leading to the Islamisation of the West. It’s claimed he’s responsible for orchestrating Parkland school shooting in order to ramp up support for gun control. Donald Trump recently accused him of paying protestors trying to block Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court.

The campaign against Soros gets stranger and more repugnant. A myth given animus by the doyen of American conspiracy theorists, Alex Jones, and supported by Donald Trump Jr., alleges Soros was a Nazi collaborator. In his native Hungary, Soros is despised by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s increasingly authoritarian government, which christened a law criminalising helping immigrants claim asylum a ‘stop Soros’ law. Earlier this year, the Hungarian agriculture minister accused Soros of wanting Hungarians to eat insects.

What’s the Australian connection?

The Australian right, always eager to co-opt the language of their foreign counterparts, have also been quick to find Soros’ fingerprints on things they don’t like.

In 2016, Australian columnist Jennifer Oriel claimed activist group GetUp! was the Australian arm of the Soros network. Oriel’s source was a trove of documents leaked by the Russian cyber-espionage group Fancy Bears, which purported to detail the myriad ways Soros’ Open Society Foundation was working to undermine western borders. The leaks didn’t get significant mainstream media coverage, but were widely reported on by outlets like Breitbart and Russia Today.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz also repeatedly entertained the Soros-GetUp! Theory, as did Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi. GetUp! denies ever receiving funding from Soros or his affiliates, calling the claims “a lukewarm conspiracy theory”. Last year’s same-sex marriage debate brought more Soros truthers out of the woodwork. A post on the Australian Conservatives’ Facebook page, accompanied by a picture of Soros, urged followers to “Vote No to stop the globalist agenda”. Then-head of the Australian Christian Lobby Lyle Shelton also made reference to Soros’ support for the Yes campaign.

Is the Soros myth anti-Semitic?

The alt-right presumably aren’t too concerned about the influence of money in politics when Murdoch or the Koch Brothers are concerned. What gives the vitriol against Soros such power is how neatly myths about him align with a very old brand of anti-Semitism. The trope of shadowy Jewish financiers secretly controlling the world dates back centuries.

Soros, a Jewish businessman, fits the trope perfectly, and has numerous historical antecedents. For example, the Soros of the mid 19th century was the Rothschild family, who were accused of profiting off the Napoleonic Wars, and who still frequently appear in online conspiracy theories.

The term “globalist”, tossed around disparagingly by Bernardi and his ilk to describe Soros is an anti-Semitic dog-whistle that recalls this notion of secret Jewish domination employed by everyone from the Nazis to former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke. The UK Daily Telegraph ran an article on Soros’ pulling the strings” behind the campaign to stop Brexit, a popular image among the far right.

Much like last week’s “anti-white” racism motion, the normalisation of the Soros myth shows how quickly ideas percolating on the reactionary backwaters of the conservative movement can be given the guise of legitimacy by sometimes unwitting mainstream politicians and commentators.