(Times of Israel) -Who runs the world?
If you ask Beyonce, it’s girls. But if you dive into virtually any conspiracy theory floated in the past 200 years, one name consistently emerges: Rothschild.
The once powerful and famous Jewish banking family has featured in practically every antisemitic conspiracy theory in modern times. If they are to be believed (they’re not), the Rothschilds have either caused or profited from every world war, control every central bank, hunt humans for sport, sunk the Titanic, are secret lizard people and, of course, caused COVID.
How did one family become such an enduring target for centuries of cranks, charlatans and crackpots?
Journalist Mike Rothschild – who is, he declares on the front cover, no relation – decided to dig deep into both the family’s history and the plethora of conspiracy theories in his new book, Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories.
“Almost all conspiracy theories are rooted in antisemitism, and almost all antisemitism is rooted in conspiracy theories,” writes Rothschild in the introduction to the book. “Jewish people will always be scapegoats for some people, and the Rothschilds are some of the best-known Jews in modern history. In many ways, the story of Rothschild conspiracy theories is the story of modern antisemitism. That is how inseparable they are.”
In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Rothschild said that despite growing up with the famous name, he knew little about the family before researching them.
“I really didn’t know much about them, other than they were really wealthy,” he said. “I certainly didn’t know their history, I didn’t know just how entwined they were with 19th-century European politics … part of it is, I think, because the family just doesn’t have that visibility anymore. There really is no Rothschild empire to speak of. They’ve sold off virtually all of their business holdings.”
And yet, he notes, the family continues to be namedropped in every dark corner of the internet, even in 2023, despite their greatly diminished prominence: “They’ve downsized a great deal – it just hasn’t caught up to the people who put them at the centre of every conspiracy theory.”
The book is named for a phrase somewhat falsely attributed to conspiracy theory-toting current US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who – it was discovered a couple years ago – once wrote a Facebook post blaming a Rothschild-powered space satellite laser beam for intentionally starting California wildfires. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait labelled the theory “Jewish space lasers”, and the phrase went viral.
Rothschild said he hoped the pithy title might draw in a wider readership.
“This is a book about some really dark stuff, and about 200 years of antisemitism – but I also think it’s a hard sell to get people to just casually pick up a book about centuries of antisemitism,” he said. But a “slightly glib title and a slightly glib cover, and it’s about conspiracy theories – that’s the kind of book that people are just going to casually pick up, and then they’ll get into the story”.
The novelty of a Rothschild writing about the Rothschilds is also bound to raise a few eyebrows.
“There is that theory that your last name chooses your career,” he joked. As he started writing about conspiracy theories in general, he said, “I would get comments [online] like ‘of course a Rothschild would say that’ … year after year of all those comments started to plant the seed of writing this book, and figuring out exactly who the Rothschilds are and of course, more importantly, who they’re not.”
Across 13 chapters, Rothschild explores the family’s rise to power, debunks some of the most common myths, no matter how outlandish, charts how such activity fuelled dangerous and deadly rises in antisemitism and explains the way such conspiracies have evolved and mutated but never disappeared.
Yet even a detailed 300 pages can only skim across the surface of the incredible deluge of antisemitic books, articles, films, speeches, cartoons and more which have been dedicated for centuries toward vilifying the Rothschilds.
The bizarre and the outlandish
The author moves through the material with touches of wry humour and occasional incredulity in the face of a wall-to-wall antisemitic onslaught.
“I really set out to write a book that was not just another travelogue of Jewish suffering,” Rothschild said. “We have a lot of those, and a lot of them are epic and legendary works for a reason. But I wanted to do something a little bit different that really leaned into how bizarre some of this stuff is and how outlandish a lot of these personalities and a lot of these accusations are.”
Rothschild doesn’t attempt to downplay the fact that, at its peak, the family was enormously influential, vastly powerful and extraordinarily wealthy. But he is careful to spell out the dark consequences of the attacks on them, and is cognisant of the inherent danger in exploring such topics.
“There is always a very, very thin line between covering something and platforming it,” he said. “We run into that all the time with mass shooter manifestos or really popular conspiracy videos … and I feel like I hit on a good balance here, by not quoting big chunks of a lot of these works, not trying to ‘both sides’ them.”
As the book moves into more recent history, Rothschild traces how such conspiracies have been mainstreamed by contemporary figures, from Alex Jones to David Icke and at times even former Fox News host Glenn Beck. The author outlines how many theorists have pivoted toward setting their sights on Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros – who “really is the Rothschild of the 21st century” – as their latest stand-in.
One thing that became clear to him after digging through centuries of vile hatred, is that such trends, theories and hateful lies are not going away anytime soon.
“Humans are simply too hard-wired to ever leave behind the demand for someone to blame their problems on,” he wrote. “And the need for that target to be Jewish and wealthy is almost hard-wired in modern discourse, as proven by decades of Soros conspiracy theories, which crawled out of the slime of centuries of Rothschild conspiracy theories, begat by millennia of antisemitism and prejudice in Europe.”