Analysts say conspiracy theories about Jewish philanthropist George Soros have soared in recent weeks as right-wing commentators blame him for playing a role in both the pandemic and the US race riots.
Soros, 89, is a well-known donor to liberal causes and has long been the subject of antisemitic suggestions that he is part of a shadowy cabal that runs the world.
However, analysis by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) now shows that suspicion of Soros online has skyrocketed, and that during periods of lockdown he has been the subject of more than half a million negative tweets a day. Researchers said this compared to an average daily mention of around 20,000 pre-lockdown tweets.
In the past three months more than 460,000 people have died of COVID-19 and protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement have brought cities around the world to a standstill, with Soros’s detractors seeing his hand in all of it.
Among the accusations being spread online are that he hires and transports protesters, keeps piles of bricks to be hurled at shop windows, and colluded with police to fake the death of unarmed black man George Floyd last month.
A billionaire investor whose Open Society Foundation funds liberal causes around the world, Soros is a regular target of nationalists, populists and autocrats, including the increasingly dictatorial Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, whose anti-democratic policies have been criticised by academics at a Soros-funded Hungarian university.
In 2018 another conspiracy theory suggested that Soros had funded and encouraged a convoy of US-bound migrants from Central America, which resulted in a far-right sympathiser mailing a pipe bomb to his home address.
One reason right-wingers hate Soros is his support for multilateralism, which led to his warning late last month that the coronavirus may lead to the break-up of the European Union if stronger members do not support weaker countries.