Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner, a Trump-supporting Republican who’s running to become the state’s next governor, says he was just joking when he went on anti-Semitic rant about George Soros, a billionaire business magnate who donates generously to progressive causes and organizations.
During an appearance last Saturday at a festival in Luzerne County, Wagner told a tracker that he thinks Soros harbors “hatred for America.”
“You know what’s amazing is that a guy who came from Hungary — a Hungarian Jew — and made a fortune, and think where he came from, and he has an opinion of America that he does,” he said. “It’s just amazing to me.”
Perhaps anticipating allegations of anti-Semitism, Wagner was quick to tell the tracker, “I have a lot of friends who are Jewish.” Shortly thereafter, one of his handlers cut him off, telling the candidate his comments to the tracker were “feeding into his bullshit.”
The footage — filmed on the same day Penn Live published an op-ed by Wagner in which he defended himself against charges that his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was too muted — wasn’t a great look. And when the Philadelphia Inquirer confronted Wagner about it, he took a page straight out of the Trump playbook and claimed the whole thing was a joke.
“This can be really vicious and brutal,” he said. “I’m trying to bring a little humor into it.”
President Donald Trump — whom Wagner has described as “a visionary” and “a leader” — has also repeatedly tried to defend controversial and inappropriate comments by retroactively claiming he was joking.
Wagner’s comments came a week to the day after an alleged Nazi-sympathizer drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 others. During an interview with his hometown newspaper, Wagner didn’t condemn white supremacists directly but rather echoed Trump’s widely denounced “many sides” statement by saying, “there’s no room for hatred of any kind in our society,” as the York Dispatch reported.
Soros has become somewhat of a boogeyman for white nationalist circles, a trend that manifests itself in different and sometimes contradictory ways. A meme that has spread widely on Facebook, for instance, accuses Soros of being a Nazi collaborator — even though he was 14 years old when the war ended and the man photographed in the meme isn’t even him.
In May, Wagner was involved an altercation with a tracker from liberal-leaning American Bridge, an organization that Soros has reportedly given more than $4 million to. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, videos shot by the tracker showed Wagner “angrily confiscating a video camera” during an event at a country club, which left the tracker with a bloody finger. Police were called to the scene but no charges were filed.