George Soros hit the headlines last week after The Telegraph found that he had donated money to the Best for Britain campaign.
You might remember him as “the man who broke the Bank of England” in the early 1990s. But in certain corners of the web – and even some more mainstream outlets – George Soros is at the centre of dozens of conspiracy theories.
In many cases, accounts of George Soros’ alleged activities also include explicit or implicit reference to the fact that he’s Jewish.
For the purposes of this article, we’ve narrowed our focus to those theories that are, or have been, put forward by national governments or mainstream media outlets.
Here’s what we know.
Who is George Soros?
Soros is a Hungarian-born businessman and investor, who moved to the UK in 1947, aged 17.
He famously bet against the value of the pound in 1992, making a profit of around £1 billion when the Exchange Rate Mechanism collapsed on “Black Wednesday”. That trade earned him the title “the man who broke the Bank of England.”
Soros established the Open Society Foundations, “a network of foundations, partners, and projects in more than 100 countries.” His website describes how “after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he created the Central European University as a space to foster critical thinking—at that time an alien concept at most universities in former Soviet states.”
Soros “funded cultural exchanges between Eastern Europe and the West, playing a pivotal role in helping the Soviet society he had himself briefly lived in open itself to the world.”
Conspiracy theory 1: George Soros has a plan to “Muslimise” Europe
That was the claim made by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, in July last year, as part of an ongoing war of words between the two figures. That’s despite the fact that Mr Orban’s scholarship to Oxford was funded by the Soros Foundation.
In October, Mr Orban’s government sent out a letter to all eight million eligible Hungarian voters asking for their views on an alleged national “Soros Plan”.
The Hungarian government claims the “Soros Plan” consists of seven pro-immigration policies that they say Mr Soros would like to enact.
Mr Soros denies that such a plan exists at all, and has rebutted each of the claims made in the government’s campaign letter. He said “The statements in the national consultation contain distortions and outright lies that deliberately mislead Hungarians about [his] views on migrants and refugees.”
Mr Soros contests that four of the seven claims take his previous statements out of context, and that the remaining three are “lies”.
We looked at the possible basis for the first four claims to see whether the Hungarian government was indeed distorting Mr Soros’ views.
1. Hungarian government: “George Soros wants Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants per year onto European Union territory, including in Hungary.”
In 2015, Soros said that “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” and that “it must share the burden fairly.”
However, as he points out, in 2016, he revised that number down to 300,000 refugees per year. This revised figure was not reflected in the Hungarian government’s campaign letter.
It’s also worth noting that Mr Soros was referring to “asylum seekers” and “refugees” rather than “immigrants” as the Hungarian government claimed.
2. Hungarian government: “Together with officials in Brussels, George Soros is planning to dismantle border fences in EU Member States, including in Hungary, to open the borders for immigrants”
The Hungarian government’s claim that Soros wants to “dismantle border fences in EU Member States” seems to be based on a statement he made in 2015 about the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban:
“His [Viktor Orban’s] plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.”
But as Mr Soros points out, the Hungarian government’s campaign letter didn’t mention that in September 2016, he said: “the EU must regain control of its borders. There is little that alienates and scares publics more than scenes of chaos.”
3. Hungarian government: “One part of the Soros Plan is to use Brussels to force the EU-wide distribution of immigrants that have accumulated in Western Europe, with special focus on Eastern European countries. Hungary must also take part in this.”
This claim by the Hungarian government seems to come from Soros’ statement that the EU “must share the burden fairly.”
But as he points out, in 2016, Mr Soros wrote an article saying “The EU cannot coerce member states to accept refugees they do not want, or refugees to go where they are not wanted.”
4. Hungarian government: “Based on the Soros Plan, Brussels should force all EU Member States, including Hungary, to pay immigrants HUF 9 million in welfare.”
Soros points out that he did say “The EU should provide €15,000 per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs.”
But that “this would clearly be a subsidy from the EU to the Hungarian government”, rather than the Hungarian state paying out of its own pocket.
It’s fair to say, then, that on each of these four claims, the Hungarian government has taken Mr Soros’ views out of context.
Soros says that the Hungarian government’s remaining three claims – that he wants to reduce criminal sentences for migrants who commit crimes, sideline European languages to help illegal migrants integrate better, and “severely punish” countries that oppose immigration – are “lies.” Soros says in response to each of these that he has not made “any such statement.”
Soros said the campaign against him was “stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, and employing anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s.”
It’s not the first time Mr Soros has called out the Hungarian government for its alleged anti-Semitic messaging.
In July, he said he was “distressed by the current Hungarian regime’s use of anti-Semitic imagery” after a government billboard campaign across Hungary featured Mr Soros laughing alongside the slogan “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh.”
His spokesperson Michael Vachon said the posters were “reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours” and had “clearly anti-Semitic overtones.”
The chairman of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Federations, Andras Heisler, said at the time: “the campaign, while not openly anti-Semitic, clearly has the potential to ignite uncontrolled emotions, including anti-Semitism.”
A campaigner for Human Rights Watch, which is partly funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundations, Lydia Gall, told Reuters that she felt the government campaign against Soros used “imagery that evokes memories of the Nazi posters during the Second World War showing ‘the laughing Jew’” and “encourage[d] anti-Semitism.”
The Israeli ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, said the poster campaign “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear.”
The Hungarian government has denied its campaign was anti-Semitic, and the vice chairman of the ruling Fidesz party, Gergely Gulyas, said it was “outrageous” that Soros had described it as such.
Conspiracy theory 2: George Soros is a “puppet master” who controls senior figures and institutions in the US
This isn’t so much a single theory as a web of claims that all share a similar theme: that George Soros is controlling, or has controlled, senior politicians, public figures and institutions in the US.
The former Fox News presenter, Glenn Beck, has been one of the most high-profile proponents of this theory. In his time on Fox, Beck regularly used the phrase “puppet master” to describe Soros and his alleged activities.
On 15 September 2010, Beck suggested that Soros was the “king” to President Obama’s “pawn”. The following month, in a discussion about “progressive movements”, Beck described Soros as “the head of the snake.”
On 8 November 2010, Beck claimed that Soros has control of the press because he has “purchased the system.”
It’s true that George Soros is a significant political donor: between 2004 and 2008, he contributed $32.2 million to a range of Democrat-aligned funding committees.
But this choice of language about a Jewish financier is not a coincidence, according to some commentators.
Writing in the New Yorker in 2010, Hendrik Hertzberg said: “Beck pictured Soros as a deeply evil figure, a shadowy manipulator whose marionettes include unions, the Democratic Party, the media, and the President […] As it happens, these tropes correspond uncannily to those of classical anti-Semitism.”
Certainly, the Jew-as-puppet-master trope was a theme in anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s.
The claim that Soros was involved in political manipulation has also popped up more recently on the conservative commentator Alex Jones’ Infowars website.
In August 2017, Jones suggested that Soros and Hillary Clinton instigated the violence at Charlottesville that took place last summer when white supremacists clashed with anti-fascist protesters.
Jones said, “It was clear once Trump got inaugurated, they [Soros and Clinton] were going to go for civil unrest.” He also claimed that the Southern Poverty Law Center had hired actors to “dress up as white supremacists.”
Fact-checking organisation PolitiFact pointed out at the time that “Jones offered no evidence the Charlottesville protests were staged.” PolitiFact looked at the emails that Jones said would support his claims. They “couldn’t find any [evidence]” to back him up.
PolitiFact did find one example in the Wikileaks email database that suggested George Soros had asked Hillary Clinton (when she was Secretary of State) to bring “the full weight of the international community” to try and ease tensions in Albania during the country’s political unrest in 2011.
They also found an email from Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, in which it was suggested that Mrs Clinton would attend a fundraiser “to make Soros happy.”
It’s not clear whether Mr Soros has or had more influence over senior political figures than any other large donor would have over candidates they support.
Conspiracy theory 3: George Soros caused the 1997 financial crisis in southeast Asia
On 5 October 2010, Beck revived a conspiracy theory that Soros was responsible for triggering the financial crisis that hit southeast Asia in 1997. Beck said “many, including the Malaysian prime minister, believe it was billionaire speculator George Soros who helped trigger the [1997 southeast Asian] economic meltdown.”
Beck was referring to controversial comments made by the Malaysian prime minister at the time of the 1997 crash.
Addressing a rally, Mahathir Mohamad said “We may suspect that they have an agenda, but we do not want to accuse […] And incidentally we are Muslims, and the Jews are not happy to see the Muslims progress. The Jews robbed the Palestinians of everything, but in Malaysia they could not do so, hence they do this, depress the ringgit [Malaysian currency].”
Mr Mohamad reportedly said on 10 October 1997: “We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews, but in reality it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge, and coincidentally Soros is a Jew. It is also a coincidence that the Malaysians are mostly Muslim.”
But in 1998, the Bank for International Settlements’ annual report found that “despite often-cited anecdotal reports, there is little concrete evidence that hedge funds [such as the one run by Soros] as a group were heavily involved in triggering or even intensifying the series of South-East Asian currency depreciations.”
And in 2006, Malaysia’s former prime minister finally conceded: “Mr Soros said he was not involved in the devaluation of the Malaysian currency and that other people were involved. And I have accepted that.”
Conspiracy theory 4: George Soros and Nazi-occupied Hungary
This theory has had several outings over the years.
The specific claims range from Soros being involved in confiscating property from Hungarian Jews on behalf of Nazi occupiers to the allegation that Soros was an SS officer in Germany.
The latter claim has been fully de-bunked. It emerged on Twitter in November 2016 and was based on a picture purporting to show George Soros dressed as an SS officer.
But as fact-checking organisation Snopes has pointed out:
- Soros would have been too young to join the SS at the time (you had to be 17, and Soros was only 14 when the war ended),
- as a Hungarian Jew, he wouldn’t have met the requirement for “Aryan” heritage, and
- the picture purporting to be Soros was actually Oskar Groening, a Nazi officer at Auschwitz.
The claim that Soros was involved in confiscating property from other Jewish people during his childhood in Nazi-occupied Hungary seems to be based on an interview with Soros and journalist Steve Kroft on the US TV programme, 60 Minutes from 1998.
The interviewer, Steve Kroft said: “My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours, who swore that you were his adopted godson”
Soros replied: “Yes, yes.”
Kroft: “Went out in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews”
Soros: “That’s right”
That response has been interpreted by Soros’ critics as proof that he played an active role in confiscating property from other Jewish people during the Nazi occupation.
But less than a minute later, Soros says:
“…whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So I had no role in taking away that property, so I had no sense of guilt.”
Glenn Beck also appears in this saga. On 10 November 2010, Beck said on his radio show that Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.”
Abraham H. Foxman, who was then the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and who is himself a Holocaust survivor, responded to Beck’s comments, saying: “Glenn Beck’s description of George Soros’ actions during the Holocaust is completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top.
“For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say – inaccurately – that there’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that’s horrific.”
He went on: “To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”