Elon Musk Among the Anti-Semites

Criticizing George Soros is not inherently anti-Semitic. But casting him as an avatar of evil is.

A photo of Elon Musk
Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz / Bloomberg / Getty

Updated at 9:18 a.m. ET on May 17, 2023.

Last night, Elon Musk made two rookie social-media mistakes: He tweeted after 10 p.m., and he echoed paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. “George Soros reminds me of Magneto,” he declared, likening the financier to the Marvel supervillain, both of them Jewish Holocaust survivors. In case the meaning was unclear, Musk quickly clarified to another user, “He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity.”

Criticizing George Soros is not inherently anti-Semitic. He is one of the world’s richest men and most influential philanthropists, as well as the Democratic Party’s largest single donor, and his views undoubtedly warrant scrutiny and debate. But Musk was not taking issue with a particular statement or position put forward by Soros; he was presenting him as an avatar of evil. He painted Soros as a literal comic-book villain.

This is the language of anti-Semitism through the ages, which perpetually casts powerful Jewish actors as the embodiment of social and political ill. Rather than treat Jews like humans, who are fallible and often mistaken, this mindset refashions them into sinister superhumans who intentionally impose their malign designs on the masses. In recent years, Soros has been a particular target of this treatment, but any Jew or Jewish institution that accumulates some measure of wealth or status tends to attract it, whether the Rothschilds or the state of Israel. In such cases, legitimate criticism is overtaken by conspiracy; the issue is no longer the conduct of the Jewish actor but their very essence.

Musk echoing such a sensibility might seem surprising, but it was, in fact, inevitable. The Twitter magnate has spent months marinating among the site’s most conspiratorial characters. One of his first acts as Twitter’s owner was to share, then quietly delete, a bizarre anti-gay rumor about the October 2022 attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Since that time, Musk has repeatedly replied to and bantered with QAnon influencers, and suggested that the recent massacre in Allen, Texas, by a reported white supremacist was actually “a psy-op.” As the BBC reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh put it, “These days, if you want to find the latest conspiracy theories trending on Twitter, the easiest thing to do is to check tweets Elon Musk replies to, you’ll find most of them.”

Seen in this context, Musk’s latest remarks are less a departure from past pronouncements than a continuation of them. Anti-Semitism is arguably the world’s oldest and most durable conspiracy theory. It presents Jews as the string-pulling puppet masters behind the world’s political, economic, and social problems. For those seeking simple solutions to life’s complexities, this outlook offers a ready-made explanation—and enemy. Anyone seeking a single source for society's travails may start with run-of-the mill conspiracy theories but will soon end up parroting anti-Jewish ideas. As I’ve written before, “Conspiracy theorists begin by rejecting mainstream explanations for social and political events in favor of supposedly suppressed knowledge and hidden hands. These individuals may not start out as anti-Semites. But anti-Semitism has a multi-thousand-year head start on their crooked conception of the world, and has produced centuries of material casting the Jews as its chief culprit. Once a person has convinced themselves that an invisible hand is manipulating the masses, they are just a couple of Google searches away from discovering that it belongs to an invisible Jew.”

It’s doubtful that Musk harbors personal animosity toward Jewish people. But he is a conspiracy theorist, and the arc of conspiracy is short and bends toward the Jews.

This article originally misnamed the town in Texas where a recent massacre took place.