Donald Trump and his campaign are leveraging misinformation and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories to turn the media circus around the former president’s indictment in New York into a cash cow. The indictment stems from hush money allegedly paid to porn icon and sex work activist Stormy Daniels and potentially one other woman.
At an arraignment in Manhattan on Tuesday, a judge announced that Trump faces 34 low-level felony charges for filing false business records to cover up the hush money payments. Stormy Daniels is the stage name used by actor and director Stephanie Clifford, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and was paid $130,000 through Trump’s “fixers” for keeping the story out of the tabloids ahead of the 2016 election. Trump denies having sex with Clifford and any legal wrongdoing.
On the eve of the arraignment, Trump’s campaign sent fundraising emails to supporters and claims to have raised more than $4 million within 24 hours of the public learning that a grand jury had indicted Trump last week.
Trump’s fundraising emails are known for spreading dubious claims, fake poll numbers and rhetoric with an overtly fascist tone. It will likely be unclear whether the $4 million figure is accurate until campaign finance records are filed and released to the public in the coming weeks. However, the campaign is known for successfully using the misinformation and conspiracy theories swirling around Trump to squeeze huge sums of money out of his MAGA fan base.
Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and attempts at overturning the results were especially lucrative. According to the the House select committee that investigated the January 6 riot last year, the Trump campaign fleeced donors for $250 million by raising money for an “Official Election Defense Fund” that did not exist.
One fundraising email, signed by Trump and blasted to supporters on Monday, boasts that the $4 million haul is more money than Democrats raised during the same 24 hours last week. The email then lists nicknames for prominent Democrats his base is known to despise, including “Biden and Kamala” and “The AOC-Ilhan Omar ‘Squad.’”
Of course, politicians in either party rarely raise $4 million in 24 hours. Trump is milking the media attention for all it’s worth as he heads to court, with flurries of emails going out after major developments in media coverage of the case. Trump has publicly attacked both the judge presiding over the case and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Black Democrat who faced an onslaught of racist death threats after Trump called him an “animal” and warned of “potential death and destruction” if he were indicted.
The campaign’s latest emails cast Trump and his supporters as collective victims of a “baseless witch hunt” coordinated by billionaire financier George Soros and a “globalist cabal.” Such language plays on age-old antisemitic conspiracy theories about wealthy, nationless Jews conspiring with elites to shape world events, according to Peter Montgomery, managing director of Right Wing Watch, a media watchdog.
Montgomery pointed to a fundraising email sent on Friday that refers to Bragg as a “bought-and-paid-for Soros prosecutor” carrying out his “puppet master’s plot to put me in JAIL for committing NO CRIME.” The emphasis is Trump’s, and the “puppet master” bit is a well-known anti-Jewish dog whistle.
“That is such a blatant antisemitic trope,” Montgomery said in an interview. “Fox News took down a cartoon with the same ‘puppet master’ trope a couple years ago and issued an apology.”
Fact-checkers roundly dismissed claims that Soros paid Bragg to go after Trump. In 2021, Soros donated $1 million to Color of Change, a civil rights group that supports racial justice reforms. The group campaigned for Bragg and other candidates in 2021 but did not earmark the Soros donation for Bragg or donate directly to Bragg’s campaign. Soros is no stranger to controversy, but he has long supported progressive groups such as Color of Change and is a Hungarian American Holocaust survivor.
Montgomery said sociologists and pollsters know that Trump’s base is more likely to hold strongly Christian nationalist views and buy into conspiracy theories like QAnon, which pushes the idea of a “globalist blood-drinking Satanist cabal,” essentially a modern-day version of the blood libel conspiracy theory that led to the violent persecution of Jews for centuries.
“The whole globalist thing feeds into a long-running antisemitic stereotype of Jews trying to control the world — they are globalist, they have no loyalty to their country or any country, they are against nationalism and against populism,” Montgomery said. “His people are primed to respond to it.”
It’s a wild conspiracy theory to wrap around a case allegedly involving a brief affair with a porn star and white-collar crimes that prosecutors will likely argue were intended to influence an election. However, Trump has cast himself as a populist strongman since his first campaign and developed a cult of personality that authoritarian leaders often enjoy. Framing the case as a collective fight against a Jewish billionaire and a liberal prosecutor in an elite coastal city apparently inspired fans to donate millions of dollars over just a few days.
Trump’s narrative is spilling across social media and right-wing outlets as Republicans from all corners scramble to defend Trump and dismiss the indictment as politically motivated. Montgomery said conservative media cling to Trump in order to keep his fans glued to their screens, which further injects conspiracy theories into the mainstream political conversation.
“I think the rhetoric about Soros being behind this indictment has been everywhere,” Montgomery said.