How do the horrific events of Charlottesville, the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and a similar hate crime in California directly relate to the eye-rolling pronouncements by Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani, and other Republicans in defense of President Donald Trump?
The answer can be found in the Republican id, where a toxic brew of conspiracy theory, urban legend, photoshopping, and comment-board trollery self-organize into an alternate reality. While this alt-reality has only burst into wider public view during the Trump presidency, like the monstrous space alien exploding out of the bodies of the infected scientists in John Carpenter’s The Thing, I was in a position to observe its germination, more than two decades ago.
It is therefore refreshing that finally, a former national security council employee, Fiona Hill, has given widely publicized testimony to the House intelligence committee decisively exposing as a lie one of the linchpins of the conspiratorial Republican world view—the assertion that it was Ukraine, not Russia, behind disruption of the 2016 election. Previously, the media had sporadically raised the conspiracy theory, disjointedly explained it, and weakly dismissed it, allowing it to hang like an incubus in the air for the credulous to half believe.
What received less attention from the big media, however, was Hill’s elaboration of one specific component of the GOP’s imagined conspiracy. She said that lurking behind their Ukraine fantasy was the claim that billionaire George Soros was financing the supposed disruption operation, and that he manipulated not only politicians in Kiev but crucial components of the U.S. government.
Indeed, Republican performance artist Joe diGenova has alleged that Soros steered the State Department and FBI effectively to politically dominate Ukraine, and he echoed Trump fixer Rudy Giuliani’s false assertions that Soros was involved in faking corruption evidence against Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Hill likened these defamations to an infamous fabrication by the Tsarist secret police, more than a century old, called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In her words, that forgery was “the longest-running anti-Semitic trope that we have in history, and a trope against Mr. Soros was also created for political purposes, and this is the new Protocols… ”
How did we sink to the point where an approved talking point of one of our two major parties rehashes a long-refuted anti-Semitic calumny whose toxic effects helped bring on the nightmare of 20th century fascism and the most destructive war in history?
The major media are finally getting around to debunking the Ukraine conspiracy in detail, now that congressional testimony has given them permission, but it is useful to stand back and look at the bigger picture, of which Ukraine is only a part. What is the larger narrative?
We are expected to believe that Hillary Clinton, in concert with Ukraine, arranged for her private emails to be stolen, along with those of the Democratic National Committee, in order to sabotage her own campaign for the presidency. Why on earth? Doing so helped hand the presidency to Donald Trump, but it served the larger goal of falsely framing innocent Russia for collaborating with the Trump campaign, when the real culprit was Ukraine.
Oh, and George Soros was in there somewhere pulling wires and arranging things, because, hey, Jewish financiers are clever and you can’t expect much from blockheads like the Ukrainians.
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That, in capsule, is what Republicans earnestly endeavor to have you believe, although it sounds as if some of Catch-22’s more phantasmagoric passages got mixed up with Mein Kampf. Do Republicans believe it themselves?
Undoubtedly there are many, mostly elected officials, gamely going through the motions of believing it because the party demands it. Senator Kennedy (R-LA) has been waffling of late, his position probably dependent on how well his pollsters tell him the tale sells down in the bayous.
But there is also the vast Republican base of true believers of the type once described by political philosopher Eric Hoffer. Back in the 1990s, I knew one of them on Capitol Hill. I’ll call her Margaret, because that’s her name. It was through her tutelage that I became aware of the ubiquitous and omnipotent Mr. Soros. Margaret, being a movement activist, worked enthusiastically for an unpleasantly sanctimonious Midwestern Republican congressman (who later resigned after an affair with a staffer became public). He was at the legislative forefront of the 1990s epidemic of draconian sentences for illegal drug use.
She informed me that the worst thing about drug legalization (at the time an all but moribund cause), was that it was manipulated by Soros, who had given donations to drug legalization advocacy groups. He was poised, she theorized, to buy up brand names and cigarette production capacity in order to corner a future U.S. market for legal marijuana. Thus would the Hungarian-born billionaire condemn a whole generation of American youth to crazed depravity.
The tentacles of Soros even extended, according to her catechism, to sporadic efforts to reintroduce the growing of hemp as a cash crop for struggling Midwestern farmers because of its industrial uses. Hemp does not have the pharmacological qualities of cannabis, but through some metaphysical process that escaped my powers of insight, Margaret had deduced that Farmer Brown’s growing hemp for rope manufacturers would lead to an outbreak of reefer madness.
This was around the time things were heating up in the Balkans. Some thought that the United States had an obligation to intervene militarily, while others believed, per Bismarck, that blood vendettas there were the norm and the area was not worth the life of a single soldier. But one Republican foreign policy expert on the Hill informed me that we must under no circumstances intervene because something-something George Soros. Yes, his fine hand was stirring the simmering Balkan cauldron.
It is probable that Soros’s name was never mentioned once on the House or Senate floor, either in connection with the Balkan debate or national drug policy. In those days, legislators mostly kept up the pretense of sanity.
But beneath the surface, as in the world beneath the Planet of the Apes, there was an undercurrent of strange mutant ideas, confined at that moment to certain staff members (aside from a few certifiable wackos like Dan Burton). You could sometimes hear them after hours at the various watering holes frequented by Republican staff, or in the basement grill room of the Capitol Hill Club. In the ensuing couple of decades, these ideas took over the politics of Washington and the country.
In a sense, Charlottesville and the synagogue shootings were a predictable outcome, not just of Trump’s fueling of stochastic terrorism through his calculatedly hatemongering speeches, but of a whole generation of conspiratorial thinking whereby George Soros and Jewish banking plots seamlessly merge into the New World Order, Black Helicopters, a FEMA concentration camp in Beach Grove, Indiana, Muslim scares, cyclical moral panics about gays and feminists, wars on Christmas, and they’re going to outlaw barbecued ribs.
The incoherent discourses of Devin Nunes and Rudy Giuliani didn’t come out of nowhere, nor are they purely a sign of obedience to Trump. They had been germinating for ages in what was once called, without irony, the Party of Ideas.