Rep. Steve King (R-IA) falsely suggested in a tweet that Alexander Soros, the son of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, is the alleged whistleblower whose complaint sparked the current House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. The tweet -- which was also shared by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) -- came after the falsity had spread on social media and on a prominent far-right message board.
On November 14, King -- who has a history of embracing far-right and white nationalist figures and rhetoric -- tweeted a collage of four images of Alexander Soros with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), current Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), writing above the images, “Adam Schiff said, ‘I do not know the identity of the whistleblower.’ @RepAdamSchiff here are four strong clues.” (The collage had been previously used as part of the ongoing right-wing attacks on George Soros, who has been the target of anti-Semitic smears for years.) King has since deleted the tweet, and both George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and Alexander Soros criticized King for the false accusation.
Gosar soon after shared King’s tweet, adding, “Is it the dude on the bottom left?”
Before King sent the tweet, the same false claim with the same images had been circulating on Twitter -- particularly by those supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory -- as well as on Facebook and on 4chan.
How the lie spread
Early on November 7, QAnon-supporting Twitter account Eyes on Q tweeted the images of Soros with Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton, and Warren, writing, “What's this all about then?” While the account did not claim that the person in the photos was the whistleblower, many users inferred that from the tweet (including a contributor for the conservative website The Houston Courant), and it received thousands of retweets. Hours later, the account noted it was Alexander Soros in the photos.
A little over an hour after Eyes on Q’s first tweet went out, the same images were shared in a pro-Trump Facebook group, with the poster writing, “Here is the identity of the whistleblower. He's a Deranged Trump-Hating DNC operative.” That afternoon, another Facebook page shared the false claim and images in a meme, getting more than a thousand shares.
Around the same time, another QAnon-supporting Twitter account, @TrumpsWolfX, tweeted the images along with the photo of another person, a former Obama administration official who has received death threats after being falsely accused of being the whistleblower. The account wrote, “What is this guys name? ... Asking for a Nation.”
Later that afternoon, account @LJC36 tweeted some of the images she claimed showed the whistleblower, naming a different person than Soros, and sarcastically encouraged people to “please, PLEASE under no circumstances … retweet this picture.” (Media Matters has removed the alleged whistleblower’s name from the screenshots below.) The tweet received more than 5,000 retweets, including one from conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who, as Mother Jones noted, a few days later tweeted an article from an obscure right-wing site that had also pushed the photo collage and false whistleblower claim on November 8.
Shortly thereafter, another QAnon account posted the images, asking, “Are these pics of the #Whistleblower?” The account invoked the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” or “WWG1WGA.” It later acknowledged that the person was not the whistleblower.
That evening, another right-wing Facebook page pointed to Soros as the whistleblower; that post currently has more than 7,000 shares.
Over the next few days, the images and false claim continued to circulate around Twitter and Facebook (on both pages and groups with the latter). It also spread to 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/,” where users -- some citing the previous social media posts -- posted the images and continued asking if Soros was involved or accusing him of being the whistleblower.
On November 10, The Buffalo Chronicle, a site that previously posted multiple articles and Facebook advertisements pushing viral disinformation about Canadian politics, posted the images and falsely wrote it showed the “CIA employee and Democratic Party political operative who filed a 'whistleblower' complaint.”
A few days later, King and Gosar posted the images and the false claim from their own Twitter accounts, helping to further spread it on social media.