Chasing the Ghost of George Soros

Deconstructing the myth of anti-Trump ‘paid protestors’

Photo: Michell Haindfield/Flickr/CC

The anti-Trump protests that ensued in the direct aftermath of this year’s presidential election were tainted by acts of vandalism and violence and a disturbing meme that refuses to die: that protesters were being paid for their participation by liberal cause célèbre billionaire George Soros.

This rampant conspiracy theory was “documented” in a fake news infused account that was reproduced in several places by lick spittle arch-conservative websites under the salacious (and bizarrely punctuated) headline: Here’s Proof =>That Soros Money is FUNDING the Anti-Trump Leftist Protest-Riots.

The “Soros Money” piece centers on a long-time Seattle-based non-profit called Washington Community Action Network (WCAN). It claims that WCAN was behind the anti-Trump rallies in Seattle and further states “the far left group is paying protesters to attend their rally.”

As evidence that WCAN is paying protesters there’s a screenshot of an ad the group placed on Craigslist. The ad is headlined: Fight the Trump Agenda! We’re hiring Full-Time Organizers 15/hr!

But there’s nothing in the ad that mentions being “paid to protest.” It’s reasonable to assume that “organizers” is shorthand for “community organizers,” a job that usually entails a number of different tasks being done throughout the community in support of a group’s stated mission, from handing out flyers to conducting workshops. It’s also reasonable to assume that these organizers would attend a protest rally sponsored by their employer, whether that’s a specific part of the WCAN organizer job, we don’t know.

I reached out to WCAN to ask them exactly what the job duties would be for those that responded to the organizer ad, but my inquires were apparently ignored; I never heard back from them.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that “organizers” is a Leftist codeword for “protesters.” I can’t say that for sure because I’ve lost my copy of the Handbook of Secret Leftist Codewords, which, as we all know, is mailed out each year in a plain brown wrapper to every self-described Liberal…

The piece also says “paying people to protest is illegal and labeled as treason under 18 U.S. Code 2389 — Recruiting for service against the Untied States” and it helpfully displays a screenshot of the law’s language. Small problem: the word “protester” doesn’t appear in the law, and this time there’s no wiggle room for secret codewords. This section of the U.S. Code is included in Chapter 115, which is labeled: “TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES,” however, it only applies to the recruiting of “soldiers or sailors within the United States… to engage in armed hostility against the same.” And the punishment is a fine or five years in jail or both.

That tremendous gaff should raise a huge red flag as to the veracity of the interpretation pertaining to any of the other reported facts in the piece, but let’s carry on…

The real “smoking gun” is supposed to be a press release from the Open Society Institute announcing that WCAN is the recipient of a $50,000 grant. And here’s where it gets good: OSI is indeed funded by George Soros money! However, you can’t skip over the fact that the grant isn’t “to support the hiring of paid protestors” (or even the hiring of paid organizers). Nope, the grant is to help WCAN expand its membership and donor base, particularly among small business leaders and to increase membership retention.

Another small issue: the press release is SIX YEARS OLD. It is reasonable to assume that WCAN didn’t have some kind of crystal ball six years ago that told them to hold on to that money just in case they needed it to hire anti-Trump protesters in 2016.

But again… for the sake of argument, let’s assume that OSI has a special place in its organizational heart for WCAN and for whatever reason has dumped another 50 grand in their pockets this year. (But one would think, if OSI put out a press release six years ago about such grants, they would be inclined to do so in 2016… but I couldn’t find any indication of this.)

So… on the back of some “suspend all belief” type assumptions, let’s say WCAN is now in possession of another $50,000 grant of Soros-backed OSI money, that’s supposed to be used for a specific purpose (we can reasonably assume OSI doesn’t hand out grants to fund “paid protestors”). But here’s the thing about grant money and non-profits: that grant money doesn’t sit in some bank account labeled “to be used only for OSI Grant XYZ.” Nope, that $50,000 gets co-mingled with other grant money, donations, etc., and becomes part of the general budget and could just as easily be spent on toilet paper, light bulbs or even… “paid protestors,” who knows? I say this having worked for six years as a communications director at a non-profit that was the recipient of dozens of grants (none of which ever went for “paid protestors.”)

But wait… here’s where it gets better…

You have to put that co-mingling of “Soros money” into proper context. So I tracked down the federal income tax returns for WCAN. Because they are a non-profit their tax returns are a matter of public record, if you know where to look. In 2010 (the year we are absolutely certain Soros money went to WCAN), WCAN reported total revenue of $621,034. So do the math and you’ll see that the Soros-funded OSI grant amounted to 8.1% of WCAN’s total budget. In other words, 8 cents of every dollar spent by WCAN could technically be considered “Soros money.” EIGHT CENTS.

More math: our alleged “paid protesters” are making the princely sum of $15 an hour, of which, 8 cents of every dollar is “Soros money,” which means our “paid protestors” are getting a whopping $1.20 per hour of “Soros money.” And if they work a rigorous 8 hour day on the protest circuit, it means they’ve earned an astounding $9.60 in “Soros money.”

So, it’s true that six years ago, Soros money went to at least one organization that subsequently sponsored an anti-Trump rally or two. If you can swallow the ludicrous assumptions stated above (and there are a lot of them) then you can claim that Soros money is flowing to “paid protestors,” all to the tune of less than $10 PER DAY.

I find such assumptions incredulous.

Now I can just imagine that wanna-be arch-conservative spinmeisters — the type that would see an unidentified long-haired man walking on water only to whip out their iPhone, grab a blurry snapshot and rush to Twitter with the breathless tweet: “Jesus Christ Can’t Swim!! Here’s Proof!!” — are likely to read all this and have a different take. Some will claim: “See, Liberals are so stupid that they’ll let Soros pay them $10 a day to protest!” Still others might snort: “Liberals hate Trump so much they’ll agree to protest against him for just $10 a day!”