“Your Freedom is Under Attack!” warn emails the National Rifle Association sent to its members, urging them to vote for pro-gun candidates in this Tuesday’s midterm elections. Under attack from whom? Villains who have sent the political right into a froth this campaign season: “George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and the anti-gun elite.”
While the NRA has publicized Soros’s role bankrolling left-leaning causes for more than a decade, in the past year the group has seized on him as a useful villain in its election messaging. In 2018’s pantheon of “anti-gunner” enemies, the Hungarian-born Jewish hedge fund billionaire and liberal philanthropist has outranked Bloomberg (who founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a seed donor to The Trace that provides ongoing funding). Some of the tweets provoked backlash from critics who said they promulgated anti-Semitic tropes about cosmopolitan Jewish financiers manipulating politics.
The messaging is particularly odd because, while Soros has said he favors stricter gun laws, he has not sunk much into gun control causes in nearly 20 years.
Though Soros has contributed tens of millions to Democratic Super PACs, he channels his issue-specific giving through the Open Society Foundations, a collection of nonprofits he founded in 1984, originally to advocate for democratic norms in the former Eastern Bloc. Over the past three decades, the Open Society Foundations have ballooned into one of the largest philanthropic operations in the world, with an endowment of approximately $20 billion and an annual operating budget of nearly $1 billion.
In an emailed statement, Open Society said that, while it made one-time contributions to gun violence reduction efforts following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and this past February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, it has not had a gun violence program since the turn of the millennium. Spokesperson Laura Silber said that, over the past 20 years, Open Society has spent $3 million total on efforts to reduce gun violence.
The majority of that $3 million was directed toward the Funders’ Collaborative For Gun Violence Prevention between 1999 and 2002. The philanthropy’s annual reports and budgets from 2014 to 2018 do not mention guns or gun violence even once.
Despite Open Society’s turn away from the issue of gun violence, rumors circulated on the right wing that Soros funded the March for Our Lives, the post-Parkland youth protest movement. In February, Open Society issued a statement denying any connection to the demonstrators.
Facts aside, though, Soros makes a useful villain for the NRA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The group’s allies in the Trump-led Republican Party have already said, without evidence, that this “globalist” enemy is behind the caravan of Central American refugees heading north through Mexico.