FILE - In this May 29, 2018, file photo, philanthropist George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations, attends the European Council On Foreign Relations Annual Meeting in Paris. The FBI and local police responded to an address near Soros' home after an object that appeared to be an explosive was found in a mailbox. The Bedford Police Department said it responded to the address in the hamlet of Katonah, N.Y., Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, after an employee of the residence opened the package. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)
George Soros has been the target of relentless verbal attacks by far-right conservatives © AP

George Soros’s foundation has demanded Campbell Soup take action after one of its executives promoted a rightwing conspiracy theory about the organisation on social media.

A Monday night tweet by Kelly Johnston, the food company’s vice-president for government affairs, in which he claimed Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations was supporting thousands of migrants headed towards the US border, came on the same day that a bomb was found at one of the billionaire financier’s New York homes.

Mr Soros, whose foundation provides funding to support democracy and human rights, has become the target of relentless verbal attacks by far-right conservatives.

Mr Johnston’s tweet, since deleted, referred to a caravan of Central American migrants which is making its way through Mexico. “@OpenSociety planned and is executing this, including where they defecate,” he wrote.

Before his career in government relations Mr Johnston worked in politics. Former positions included secretary of the US Senate in the mid-1990s and staff director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

Campbell Soup said in a statement on Tuesday that “the opinions Mr Johnston expresses on Twitter are his individual views and do not represent the position of Campbell Soup”, but Open Society said this response was inadequate.

“Those ‘views’ add to a toxicity in our communities and contribute to inciting hate and quite possibly violence,” Patrick Gaspard, the organisation’s president, wrote in a letter to Les Vinney, the food company’s chairman, and Keith McLaughlin, its interim chief executive.

Mr Johnston was “promoting lies”, Mr Gaspard wrote: “For the record, neither the Foundations nor its founder and chairman, George Soros, are funding this group of people . . . I am frankly shocked that your company would tolerate this sort of behaviour from a top official.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the organisation had hit out at its attackers in the wake of the discovery of an explosive device at Mr Soros’s New York house.

An employee of the financier found a package just before 4pm on Monday afternoon at the house in Katonah, an upscale hamlet in Bedford, Westchester, a county directly north of New York City. After opening the package, the employee put the device in a wooded area and called the local police.

The town’s police department said it launched “an extensive investigation” and the case has now been turned over to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“The politics of hate that dominates our discourse today in the US and in so many countries around the world breed extremism and violence,” Open Society said. “In this climate of fear, falsehoods and rising authoritarianism, just voicing your views can draw death threats.”

The left-leaning financier-turned-philanthropist has become a verbal target for the right due to his extensive donations to Democratic politicians and outspoken support for issues including the UK staying in the EU.

Mr Johnston’s remarks follow those from Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida, who also last week claimed falsely that Mr Soros was funding the migrant caravan.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has pointed to Mr Soros as a source of funding for protesters against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. “Look at all of the professionally made identical signs,” the president wrote in a tweet earlier this month. “Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers.”

The 88-year-old Mr Soros, who is Jewish, was born in Hungary in 1930 and lived through the Nazi occupation. He left Budapest for London in 1947 and made his way to the US, where he founded his hedge fund in 1973. He started donating money in 1979 when he gave scholarships to black South Africans living under apartheid.

A year ago he donated $18bn, the bulk of his personal wealth, to the Open Society Foundations, bringing his charitable giving over the course of his lifetime to about $32bn. The philanthropy has supported many other charities through grant money including Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance.

Get alerts on US politics & policy when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article