As John Earnest opened fire in a Southern California synagogue last Saturday, he reportedly shouted that Jews were ruining the world. His anti-Semitic statements represent a white nationalist ideology that right-wing politicians have been articulating with increasing volume – even here in Maine.

Last Sept. 13, the Maine Republican Party posted on its Facebook page that “Janet Mills’ allies (George Soros and Donald Sussman) are spending tons of money attacking Shawn Moody with baseless claims about education funding.”  The post also linked to a (now-deleted) memo sent to “members of the Maine press,” further characterizing Sussman (who owned the Portland Press Herald from 2012 to 2015) and Soros as two of Mills’ “big money backers.”

The post received 303 shares.

It was hardly the only time this past election cycle that Maine people were cautioned to fear Soros’ influence. Last October, Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, distributed a mailer claiming that “George Soros’ ” Maine People’s Alliance “will pull out every dirty trick to lock in a forced-diversity future for Maine.” (Disclosure: My wife works for the Maine People’s Alliance.)

Lockman also works with Maine First Media to amplify an anti-immigrant message, which regularly demonizes Soros in its news coverage. Self-described “American Nationalist” Matt Stone, who ran for Maine Senate in the 14th District, gave an interview to Maine First Media where he pledged that, if elected, he would work to stop Soros from making political donations in Maine.

White nationalists have long believed that Jewish “outside agitators” are behind every left-leaning protest and political cause. Indeed, in his article “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism,” scholar-activist Eric K. Ward explains that anti-Semitism is a core component of white nationalism. Rather than understanding that fights for racial and economic justice represent the interests and ambitions of groups that are left out by a dominant culture that is white and Christian, white nationalists hold that Jews are “manipulating the social order behind the scenes,” Ward notes.

Two examples are particularly illustrative: Last October, a flier was posted at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, stating: “Every time some anti-white anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it.” Depicted on the flier were several Jewish public figures, including Soros, with Jewish stars superimposed upon their foreheads. Former Gov. Paul LePage was making the same point when he recently claimed that the Democratic Party is funded “for the most part” by Jewish people.

Why George Soros? As detailed by Hannes Grassegger for BuzzFeed News, while Soros has long been hated by the far right because of his support for the liberalization of Eastern Europe, his notoriety skyrocketed after two American consultants convinced Hungary’s far-right authoritarian leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to make Soros the centerpiece of his 2014 re-election campaign. The campaign cast Soros as a “shadowy figure” who sought to bring socialism, secularism and refugees to Hungary, Grassegger explains: “Any organization that had ever received money from (Soros’) Open Society Foundation was painted as ‘Soros controlled.’ ” Although the campaign did not intend to demonize all Jews, it relied upon well-established stereotypes about Jewish secrecy and power.

The anti-Semitic view that it is inherently newsworthy when a politician or cause receives funding from Soros or other Jewish philanthropists has been echoed by mainstream media outlets, even in Maine. For example, on Feb. 4, 2018, the Press Herald ran an Associated Press article reporting that the Maine People’s Alliance had launched its campaign to promote a ballot initiative for universal home care, with the involvement of two “Soros-funded nonprofits” trumpeted in a subheadline.

To be sure, our political system relies heavily on fundraising, and transparency demands that the public know the identities and interests of major donors. However, when a story about fundraising focuses primarily on Soros and other donors with Jewish-sounding names, and ignores the identities of Christian donors, the article is playing into narratives about Jewish power.

The outpouring of support following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was overwhelming, and I know that Maine people have a deep regard for their Jewish neighbors, like myself. We still need your help.  Calling out anti-Semitism is an important part of making Maine a safe place for all people, regardless of race, religion, class, gender or sexual preference.


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