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The latest episode of Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox Nation, titled “Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization,” is maybe the most straightforwardly white nationalist piece of television he’s ever produced — an alarming accomplishment considering his recent oeuvre.
The 27-minute “documentary” opens with a sweeping aerial view of the Danube River in Budapest, then cuts to two white Hungarian parents playing with their child in a park, the sound of laughter layered over the angelic voices of a church choir. The music suddenly turns loud and ominous as the viewer is presented footage of desperate, bloodied migrants at the Hungarian border.
The camera then slowly zooms in on a black-and-white photo of an old man sitting at a desk: George Soros.
“The influence of George Soros here in Europe is more powerful than in the United States,” Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, tells Carlson in a sit-down interview. “This is his main hunting area.”
Soros, a Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire investor and philanthropist who survived the Holocaust, has been the subject of vile anti-Semitic propaganda for over a decade. The far right — and Orban, in particular — would have you believe Soros is an omnipotent puppet master, using his liberal nonprofit, the Open Society Foundations, to hasten the end of the Christian West via open borders and nonwhite immigration. It’s a conspiracy theory that hews closely to classic anti-Semitic tropes about malevolent Jewish influence in politics and media.
Soros, Carlson says, “is waging a kind of war — political, social and demographic war — on the West.” In a recent interview about the episode, Carlson added that Soros’ aim is to make society “more dangerous, dirtier, less democratic, more disorganized, more at war with themselves, less cohesive — in other words, it’s a program of destruction aimed at the West.”
You could be forgiven for mistaking Carlson’s words for those written in the manifestos or social media screeds of white supremacist mass shooters. Robert Bowers, who in 2018 massacred 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, routinely posted similar conspiracy theories about Soros and Jews.
Carlson’s demonization of Soros is in stark contrast to his slobbering admiration of Orban, whose cruel and draconian anti-immigration policies have harmed asylum-seekers and frightened human rights observers across the globe. At one point in the episode, Carlson flies in a helicopter, a smile crawling across his face as he admires the sprawling, electrified, and razor-wired fence Orban erected below on Hungary’s southern border.
“Pretty great,” he says.
This isn’t Carlson’s first flirtation with Orban’s Hungary — he filmed his prime-time Fox News show in the country over the summer. Nor is it the first time he and other Fox News personalities have pushed anti-Soros messaging on air. But Carlson’s latest episode for Fox Nation, the network’s digital streaming service, marks one of the most significant and sinister invocations of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory by an American news outlet.
To better understand the implications of Carlson, one of the most powerful figures in American politics, targeting Soros in this way, HuffPost talked with Emily Tamkin, a senior editor at The New Statesman who authored the book “The Influence of Soros” and the forthcoming book “Bad Jews.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your initial gut reaction, your feeling, after watching Carlson’s trip to Hungary?
I had three main impressions. The first was how staid it was, right? How old these conspiracies that it pushes are, how old the sort of angle that it takes, how unoriginal and uninspired. This has just been around for a long time and so it’s been repackaged, and sort of Tucker-fied, but I was just really struck by how we’ve seen all this before.
The second thing that I would say is … I was struck by the callousness with which he speaks of immigrants. There’s a part at which he is, like, lovingly looking at this part of Hungary that, you know, these forests and vast spaces and “so there’s no migrants here, there’s no immigrants here, and isn’t that great that there’s no violence” and “with no people, there’s no humanitarian crisis,” which is, of course, not true, right? The fact that people aren’t there does not mean that they’re not elsewhere and suffering. It’s just a full-throated, xenophobic attack for 25 minutes.
And then the third thing is the level of the historical revisionism and particularly with respect to anti-Semitism, and the positioning of Jewishness in all of this. Can I give you one example that really jumped out at me?
You can give me many.
OK, great. So toward the beginning, they’re doing like Hungarian history 101, and talk about how Hungary after World War I lost all of this territory in the Treaty of Trianon, and then there’s World War II, and then, you know, then the Cold War and thus Hungary really knows what it’s like to lose to foreigners or, you know, this is sort of their line.
And it’s true that Hungary lost territory to the Treaty of Trianon, and it’s true that this was a traumatic thing for Hungarians, and I’m not trying to downplay that, but what they do not say is that as a result of the Treaty of Trianon, Jewish Hungarians who, up until this point had been some of the most assimilated Jews in Europe, and who had really seen themselves by and large, as part of the Hungarian national project, are scapegoated. This is the period at which you start to see anti-Jewish laws. It was in this period that the Soros family changed their name from Schwartz to Soros. So there’s this whole narrative of victimization that leaves out Hungary’s own, perhaps past agency, that leaves out the historic anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewishness that are an inherent part of the story. So to watch that and then, later in the special, to hear anti-Semitism dismissed as a media line … aside from being insulting it was extremely striking, because he is writing anti-Semitism out of the past and at the same time dismissing it in the present.
Can you speak a little about the history of the connection between conspiracy theories about Jews and immigration?
I write in my book that, in a way, it’s sort of a perfect anti-Semitism, because what is anti-Semitism? ... It often manifests as this conspiracy that Jews are all-powerful, yes, but there’s also always elements of Jews not really being of the nation, not really being of the society. And so here you have a conspiracy in which a Jewish person is powerful enough to flood the country with migrants or refugees or asylum-seekers, and also cares so little for that country that the goal is to degrade it, and to bring in these other people who will change it or warp it. Now, why would the Jewish person want to do this? Obviously, because they’re not really of the country itself. So, they’re more powerful than it, they’re apart from it.
That is in addition to being extremely xenophobic and stripping migrants and refugees — who have reasons to come to this country beyond “Soros told them to” — of their agency. To me it’s a modern interpretation of classic anti-Semitism.
Like you said, the history of anti-Semitism is obscured in the documentary. Can you talk a little bit about Orban and his political party and whether they are anti-Semitic?
Fidesz is the ruling party of Hungary. Viktor Orban was a pro-democracy, sort of outspoken youth when the East bloc was dissolving. He then came to power and has positioned himself as the sort of stalwart against “globalism,” which they claim is not an anti-Semitic buzzword, though to many people it is. And for the defense of Hungary and for its national sovereignty, in addition to Soros, they often attack the European Union — ”they” being Orban and his fellow Fidesz members.
So what they say is, “This has nothing to do with him being Jewish, it’s only the fact that he’s a globalist,” which again, is a buzzword, but that’s OK, let’s just leave that to the side for now. The fact that he is paying for these nongovernmental organizations that are in Hungary, and that, you know, “we were elected, the NGOs were not elected, Soros was not elected, so that’s what our problem is.”
OK. The problem with this is that they have been told numerous times for years now, that saying that Soros is, you know, a rootless speculator, or blaming this one Jewish person for trying to abolish the country’s borders and flood it with migrants, that is anti-Semitic. They, at this point, are deliberately ignoring those concerns.
The way in which they respond to this is often — and you could see it in the documentary, they show a clip of Soros saying, “I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God” — which is an extremely shallow understanding of Jewishness, and of the different ways that people relate to Jewishness, particularly, as you know, Soros hid out as a child in Hungary during the Holocaust. Or they will say, “Well, look at his relationship to the State of Israel,” as though one cannot be a Jewish person and have a complicated relationship or negative relationship to the State of Israel, which again, it’s just not true.
They have also found Jewish people, including [Benjamin] Netanyahu, the former prime minister of Israel, to also bash Soros. And basically the idea is that well — you know, you have Rudy Giuliani, who’s not Jewish, but who takes it upon himself to say, “Well, I’m more Jewish than George Soros” — and the idea here is that because Soros is not a Jewish person in the way that they think of as sort of being acceptable — “they” being these other Jewish people who are providing cover for what I and many others consider to be anti-Semitic propaganda — that it doesn’t count. It doesn’t count as anti-Semitism because, well, we don’t think of him as being Jewish and like, well, you can say that, but millions of people are hearing the dog whistles that you have been told time and time again are dog whistles.
When did Soros conspiracy theories really start spreading and what does it mean that Tucker is pushing it so explicitly now in America?
They’ve been around since as long as he’s been philanthropically active, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, but you really see them pick up in the United States in 2004, which was when he became politically involved to try to oust George W. Bush and supporting get-out-the-vote efforts around the John Kerry campaign. In 2010, Glenn Beck did, like, a three-part series on George Soros. This was not Fox News’ first foray into this.
When Orban came back to power in 2012, you start seeing him use it increasingly, and he had long been interested in this sort of historical revisionism and painting Hungary as a perpetual victim that Orban was unique in his power to protect.
Then two things happen. One, through Netanyahu he meets this consultant named [Arthur] Finkelstein, whom many credit for — I think it is an overstatement to say that he invented it again, this has been around for decades — but he does sort of create Soros as this political foil for Orban. And then you have the migration crisis in 2015. And it’s one thing to bash, like, a philosopher, or a snooty Budapest intellectual; it’s another to bash on migrants who are even more different from you, right? Who doesn’t speak the same language or eat the same food, doesn’t necessarily pray the same way, who can so easily become the sort of fearful thing in the minds of the population or some elements of the population. And combine that with this all-powerful figure who, because of the fact that he’s Jewish, because of the fact that he works in finance, because of the fact that he is Hungarian and on the left, you can just say the name and all these different synapses light up. It was extremely politically effective for Orban. And we’ve seen it in the United States be effective, right in 2018. Trump speculated that perhaps Soros was responsible for the migrant caravan.
Why is Tucker doing this now? I know why Orban is doing it now, which is the same reason that he did it back in 2018, the last time that they had parliamentary elections, which is — you know at the end of special they’re like, “there’s an election coming up and it’s Orban v. Soros.” It’s actually not, it’s actually Orban versus a mayor named Peter Marki-Zay, who’s a conservative mayor from somewhere in Hungary. But why build up your opponent by running against Peter Marki-Zay? Isn’t it much more politically useful to have this boogeyman, this ghost, this specter and just challenge him? I would argue yes.
Why is Tucker doing this? I actually, at numerous points in this, watching this, I asked myself “Who is this for? Who is on Fox and is just craving a deep dive into Hungarian history and family policy?” But I think it’s for a similar reason. It’s because we’re also in an election year. And it is also effective for Tucker, to rather than grapple with reality, to joust with this version of a person. Because they’re not dealing with Soros the person, Soros the man. They’re building up and fighting with Soros the myth, and it’s proven politically useful so far and so they are going to continue to do it.
And the fact that someone as powerful is Carlson’s doing it, and that these conspiracy theories still have so much currency in the U.S. — what worries you about the kind of persistent spread of these conspiracy theories, especially by someone with such a big platform?
I have to say — I don’t mean to downplay the risk to Soros, or to the Open Society Foundations because he was sent the pipe bomb in 2018, and the Open Society Foundations offices moved out of Budapest and relocated to Berlin, so it’s not that they’re not under attack, but what I’m much more fearful for are those who are not billionaires but who will nevertheless feel the brunt of this, so by that, I mean other people who are doing civil society work, who may or may not have taken money from Open Society at some point. By that I mean protesters, like the Black Lives Matter movement who have had their agency questioned, their very reason for being out in the streets protesting questioned, by people who say that they’re just Soros stooges. And look, you know, I don’t want to be dramatic here, but the shooter at the Squirrel Hill, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, explicitly in his writings cited this idea that Jews were bringing in immigrants into this country. So you know, there are very real costs that are being dismissed by Tucker, by Fox News, but that cannot be dismissed by those of us just going about our lives.
Yeah. And in your experience, what are ways to combat this conspiracy theory or stop this conspiracy theory? Is there a good strategy out there?
I think about this a lot. I had somebody when my book came out, they asked me “Well, aren’t you just compounding it by writing a book on it?” Because in order to contradict the conspiracy theory you have to first repeat it, which is something I think about a lot. The hard thing is, there often is a grain of — maybe not truth, but, like, if you kind of squint your eyes and tilt your head, you can see where they got it from, right? So like Open Society does do work on immigration, they do provide funding to NGOs in Hungary that help asylum-seekers, which I personally don’t think is a bad thing, right? People have a right to seek asylum. But is that the same thing as “They’re trying to find these migrants and bring them to Hungary” or “They don’t want to have any borders”? No, it’s not, but it normally comes from, if not somewhere, then adjacent to somewhere.
I think, however, all that said, as a journalist, as a reporter, really, the only thing you can do is to continue to try to tell the truth, to tell the truth and to put the truth in its proper context. To say, “Actually, no, that’s not what happened. This is what happened. And here are the reasons that what you’re saying is conspiratorial, or anti-Semitic or racist or etc., etc.” I kind of think that that’s the only way out of this.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.