George Soros: Why Are Australians Flirting With This American Conspiracy Theory?

Last week, a pipe bomb was found in the mailbox at the New York home of billionaire George Soros.

He was one of several intended targets, which included Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, CNN's James Clapper, and even Robert De Niro -- all outspoken critics of Donald Trump.

A few days later, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jewish worshippers and injuring dozens more.

The attacks -- which many are calling to be labelled terrorism -- do not appear to be directly related.

But nor do they exist completely separate of each other;

In fact, they're both examples of what online hate expert Dr Andre Oboler has been warning about for more than a decade: that there's a direct correlation between online hate and real-world violence.

Who is George Soros, and how did he become a target of hate?

George Soros is a Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire, who, through his philanthropic arm Open Society regularly supported progressive organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood.

Although the right has been wary of him for decades, it was Fox News commentator Glenn Beck who first described him in 2010 as the "puppet master" pulling the strings behind global political developments.

But ongoing conspiracies around Soros have found new life with the rise of the alt-right. Following the 2016 presidential election these conspiracies  found their way into the White House.

If you've ever heard Donald Trump refer to "paid protesters", it's Soros he's referring to; other conspiracies include that he was a Nazi, and that he's funding the migrant caravan currently making its way from Central America to the United States.

Source: Twitter.

Alex Jones and InfoWars have waged such a war against Soros that Alex Reid Ross, author of Against The Fascist Creep, described conspiracies about him as "a marker or the radical right as opposition to mainstream conservatism".

READ MORE: Twitter Permanently Bans Alex Jones And Infowars

Even the term "globalist" -- often used to describe Soros -- has started to become a dogwhistle for anti-Semitism, because it is almost impossible to separate Soros conspiracies from the targeted hate.

As his own son, Alexander Soros, wrote recently for the New York Times, these ongoing attacks are "dripping with the poison of anti-Semitism".

What is Australia's involvement in all this?

Anti-Soros arguments have been creeping into Australian politics with barely a ripple, and plenty of it has to do with the false belief that Soros funds progressive campaign organisation GetUp.

The idea first came into the mainstream in 2016, via a Jennifer Oriel column in The Australian. She argued that GetUp was the "the Australian arm of the Soros network".

That refuted claim has been peddled by right-wing personalities ever since, including Senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz , as well as former head of the Australian Christian Lobby Lyle Shelton.

Bernardi tried to introduce a motion in 2017 that labelled Soros "a renowned globalist" who "seed-funded" GetUp.

Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi tried to introduce a motion calling George Soros a "renowned globalist". Photo: AAP.

It was narrowly voted down, but there was little argument against the claims being made.

Shortly after the same-sex marriage survey was announced, Shelton was declaring the "no" side the underdog, commiserating with 2GB's Steve Price that they didn't have the backing of Qantas CEO Alan Jones, GetUp, or "George Soros, the Hungarian-Jewish multi-billionaire philanthropist who funds left-wing causes all over the world".

What we're seeing is a normalisation of expressing hatred, said Dr Andre Oboler, a cyber security expert at the La Trobe Law School and CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute.

He's been studying online hatred since 2008, and told ten daily that anti-Semitism accounts for about 40 percent of his work.

"It tends to be the leading edge of the harm that's occurring," he said.

READ MORE: Calls For Proud Boys Founder To Be Banned From Australia

He's been warning for more than a decade that online hate left unchecked will spill over into real world violence, and last year he was proved right, when Heather Heyer was mowed down during a Charlottesville protest.

"If you don't address [the hate] online, you leave the door open for these sorts of things to happen," Oboler said.

He said that Australian politicians tend to look at cyber hate and real-world hate in separate vacuums, he said, but what's really needed is a holistic approach to both.

"There's either this inability or unwillingness to tackle the elephant in the room," he said.

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Photo: Getty