Harris County Clerk Scrubs Soros Conspiracies from Site. Will Other GOP Leaders Follow Suit?

Under pressure, Republican Stan Stanart has dropped his anti-Semitic campaign pitch.

Left to right: Stan Stanart, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ted Cruz
Left to right: Stan Stanart, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ted Cruz Photos/Sam DeGrave, Justin Miller, Facebook, Illustration/Sunny Sone

After pushback from media and a top Houston GOP official, Republican Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart scrubbed his re-election website Tuesday night of George Soros-related conspiracies and fear-mongering. His website had featured an oversize photo of Soros’ face and a claim that the 88-year-old Hungarian-American billionaire, who is Jewish, “want[ed] to control elections in Harris County.” It also falsely alleged that Soros was pouring money into his race, and directed readers to a scurrilous 2016 blog post accusing Soros of trying to rig the U.S. Census to overcount people of color. But as of Wednesday, Stanart’s site has a new look. Gone is the link to the blog post and each instance of “George Soros” has been replaced with “liberal socialist Democrats.”

In casting Soros as the éminence grise of his race, Stanart, who runs elections in the country’s third most populous county, was just taking his cues from top Texas Republicans. In the last year or so, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Ted Cruz ramped up their demonization of Soros, sometimes deploying ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes. The worst offender is Abbott, whose campaign has referred to Soros in at least 30 emails to supporters since March. He’s accused Soros of orchestrating an effort to “attack Texas” and of installing “liberal puppets.” One subject line reads: “Soros’ Grand Plan,” which the reader finds out is to have Democratic minions undo Texas’ “sanctuary cities ban.”

Just last Wednesday — two days after a crazed Trump supporter delivered a pipe bomb to Soros’ New York home — Abbott told a crowd in Tyler that Soros was behind Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid. (Soros made an individual donation to O’Rourke last December, at the federal limit of $2,700.)

In fundraising emails of their own, Cruz has said that the Soros family is “ALL IN” on knocking him off and Patrick has called himself “Public Enemy #1” of the Soros machine. In recent weeks, Trump and congressional Republicans have also spread the absurd claim that Soros is behind a migrant caravan from Central America.

A billionaire who made his fortune in finance, Soros isn’t beyond criticism. And he does fund a variety of liberal causes, including criminal justice reform. But his opponents have a nasty habit of relying on toxic caricatures: the evil banker, the international puppetmaster and even the mastermind hellbent on gentile genocide.

Stanart’s re-election website before it was scrubbed.  Screenshot

“The oldest trope in the book is Jews are conspiring to undermine Western societies, by bringing in immigrants … bringing in nefarious ideas, manipulating the system to their benefit,” said Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Soros has become the stand-in for that anti-Semitic thinking.”

Any other time, Stanart’s Soros fear-mongering might have drawn little attention. But recent events have brought new scrutiny. On October 22, the pipe bomb was found at Soros’ home, allegedly the work of a man who obsessively posted Soros conspiracies online. On October 27, a virulently anti-Semitic man allegedly killed 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue — the deadliest attack on Jews in American history. Social media posts show the man blamed them for the Central American migrant caravan. As Beirich put it, anti-Soros rhetoric often “reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes, and the real world result is hate crimes and domestic terrorism.”

Under pressure, Stanart changed his tune and switched to relatively benign red-baiting of Democratic politicians. Will other Texas Republicans follow suit?

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected].org.

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