Saturday, April 1, 2023

Back When Right Wingers Agreed With George Soros

With the announcement of Donald Trump's first indictment, right wingers are speaking in unison and blaming the whole thing on Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg - calling him a "Soros-backed prosecutor." But that's not new, as the ADL explains:

In the United States, Soros long has been a favored target of the so-called alt right and other right-wing extremists. Their online echo chambers reverberate with conspiracies about Soros, accusing him of attempting to perpetrate “white genocide” and push his own malevolent agenda...

But it's been equally troubling to see claims of Soros-driven conspiracies move into the mainstream. Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by antisemites.

A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.

So yes, these attacks on "Soros-backed prosecutors" is antisemitic. But it is also about igniting voter's fear of crime and blaming it all on liberals. 

To put this in some perspective, it's helpful to know just a bit about how Soros came to focus on the issue of criminal justice reform. Back in 2004, he donated over $20 million to defeat George Bush and elect John Kerry. After that defeat, Soros soured on investing heavily in campaign-centric causes and "shifted his giving away from pure politics, preferring to fund causes devoted to building up progressive infrastructure." That led to the creation of organizations like the Democracy Alliance in 2005.

Ten years later, Soros began his work on reforming the U.S. justice system.

While America’s political kingmakers inject their millions into high-profile presidential and congressional contests, Democratic mega-donor George Soros has directed his wealth into an under-the-radar 2016 campaign to advance one of the progressive movement’s core goals — reshaping the American justice system.

The billionaire financier has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district-attorney campaigns in six states over the past year.

The candidates Soros supported "ran on reducing racial disparities in sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of to trial."

All of this was prior to the police killing of George Floyd. But other incidents of police violence had alerted the country to the central role district attorney's play in holding police accountable. In many ways that wasn't happening because of this:

[The Reflective Democracy Campaign] commissioned research in 2015 that found that 95 percent of elected local prosecutors in the U.S. are white and three-quarters overall are white men. It also highlighted a Wake Forest University study that found that a vast majority of prosecutors — 85 percent — run for reelection unopposed.

But Soros wasn't the only one highlighting these issues at the time. Back in those days, criminal justice reform was the one bipartisan issue that was bringing Democrats and Republicans together. 

Given where we are today, here's a shocking headline from Politico back in 2015: "Charles Koch, Liberal Crusader? He’s one of the left’s biggest bogeymen. Now he’s teaming up with George Soros." 

The vast apparatus of foundations, advocacy groups, corporations and think tanks that Koch oversees and supports—what his critics darkly call the “Kochtopus”—was busy this winter launching programs and initiatives aimed at reeling in the worst excesses of one of the few industries larger than his own: the criminal justice-industrial complex. Koch had decided to help pull together a new coalition of left-right advocacy groups in Washington, including the Hillary Clinton-aligned Center for American Progress, to fight what he calls the “overcriminalization of America.”...

But Charles Koch isn’t the only one who has woken up to America’s self-perpetuating, out-of-control criminal justice system—a reminder of how far the best-intentioned government programs can, when left unchecked, do as much harm as good. And so this very rich right-winger has found himself fighting alongside the likes of [Cory] Booker and [George] Soros...Indeed, an increasingly loud clamor of activists from both the left and right, from city halls to Capitol Hill, lawmakers to lawyers, are taking aim at what both sides now term “over-incarceration” and the general unforgivingness of America’s justice system.

One of the organizations involved in those efforts was a group formed in Texas named "Right on Crime." Their mission was to highlight conservative criminal justice reform efforts in red states, like this one in Utah:

A bill that contained the measures, H.B. 348, passed out of the state Legislature on March 23. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed it about a week later.

Some of the changes that are set to take place under the new law include reducing first-time and second-time drug possession convictions from felonies to misdemeanors, expanding mental health and substance abuse treatment services for offenders, providing opportunities for inmates to earn sentence reductions by completing specified programs meant to keep them out of prison in the future, and offering greater assistance to people transitioning out of prison.

That is the kind of momentum that eventually led to the passage of the First Step Act in 2019. 

The First Step Act, which passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, takes modest steps to alter the federal criminal justice system and ease very punitive prison sentences at the federal level...Essentially, the law allows thousands of people to earn an earlier release from prison and could cut many more prison sentences in the future.

That bill passed the Senate 87-12 and the House 358-36 - something that is unheard of in these days of political polarization. 

All of that was before right wingers did a u-turn on criminal justice reform because they needed to fear-monger about crime in order to fuel their so-called "culture wars." 


  1. Nancy, it's good to see you back to blogging more regularly. I appreciate reading your perspective. -Tom

  2. Well, ok, but count me dubious. Very dubious. Was there ever really a golden age in which the right was up there with us fighting for the cause? Was there even ever a time when the right wasn't accusing liberals of being soft on crime? And it supposedly lasted, per the overall thrust of your post, till almost today?

    Ok, so Politico found one right-wing nutcase, whose nuttiness and utter hatred of anything resembling progress even this article of Politico's amply recounts, saying something that more or less aligns with our very real hopes of giving more people access to justice and reducing America's habit of mass incarceration. Um, great.

    But even there, I'm dubious. How about a libertarian, who by conviction distrusts government going absolutely positively anything, maybe a little averse to government authority, especially when legal action is directed at him? And how about the mainstream media once again going way, way out of its way to assure us that there are no good and bad points of view infecting politics, and why can't we all happily reclaim a shared center? Yuk.


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