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Republican Rep. Paul Gosar told Vice News this week that he thinks "it would be interesting to find out" if billionaire progressive activist George Soros worked with "the left" to facilitate August's Charlottesville violence, returning to an oft-parroted far-right conspiracy theory.

Expand chart
Data: Google Trends; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why Soros? He's a figure often seen as a bogeyman by conservative pundits, who have latched onto both his Hungarian roots and massive success in the financial sector — such as betting against the British pound in the 1990s — to create shadowy associations with his extensive support of progressive causes and social justice. And his Jewish faith, which Gosar made the point of mentioning during his Vice interview, is frequently used as a dog whistle by the far right.

The trend: Spikes in media attention for Soros tend to crop up in two scenarios — a genuine political splash by Soros or a right-wing conspiracy theory brought about by a controversial and divisive event in the United States.

Soros' time in the spotlight over the past two years:

March 15, 2016

Trump's rise causes Soros to dump more cash into 2016 race: Soros viewed Trump's status as frontrunner in 2016 as particularly threatening to the liberal causes he supports, pushing Soros to dump tens of millions in additional cash to back Hillary Clinton. Soros similarly sunk huge amounts of cash into the 2004 presidential race behind John Kerry to oust President George W. Bush.

August 15, 2016

Docs from Soros group released by Russian hackers: Soros' Open Society Foundations was on the receiving end of a Russian cyberattack that led to the release of thousands of documents detailing his support for social justice projects as well as his opposition to far-right ideologies. The attack can now be viewed as a sort of preview to the larger incursions by Russia to influence the 2016 election.

October 24, 2016

Conspiracy theories that Soros owns voting machines: Far-right blogs kicked off a conspiracy theory that Soros owned Smartmatic, a company that controlled voting machines in 16 states, and planned to rig the 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton. Soros did not own any stake in Smartmatic or any other companies connected with voting machines.

November 14, 2016

Soros meets with liberal donors to resist Trump: Soros organized a summit in Washington the week after the election to rally together key Democrats to formulate a plan of action to oppose the Trump administration.

January 23, 2017

Rumblings that Soros funded women's march: Breitbart picked up an op-ed from pro-Trump journalist Asra Q. Nomani alleging that Soros funded the Women's March on Washington, one of the largest protests ever to descend on the nation's capital. Many of the partner organizations of the march did receive contributions from Soros' Open Society Foundations.

August 12, 2017

Far-right conspiracy theories regarding Charlottesville: Infowars falsely alleged that emails showed that the violence in Charlottesville instigated by white supremacist and anti-Semitic demonstrators was in fact orchestrated by Soros in an attempt to bring about "civil unrest" in order to facilitate martial law and ban all conservative voices from protesting.

September 26, 2017

Far-right conspiracy theories surrounding the NFL anthem protests: Alex Jones and Jack Posobiec alleged on Infowars that Soros funded the NFL anthem protests to incite a race war in the United States. For good measure, their report involved plenty of talk about the protests being designed to allow the rise of a "shadow government" planning a coup against President Trump.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

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