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No, a Shadowy Figure Is Not Buying Tents for Columbia Student Protesters

A number of elected officials, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams, law enforcement officers, right-wing media outlets, and far-right extremists have boosted a baseless conspiracy theory that Jewish Hungarian billionaire George Soros or some nefarious shadowy organization is helping to fund the pro-Palestinian student protests at universities across the US.

They are promoting the well-worn antisemitic trope that a puppet master is behind the protests, based on the fact that many of the students at universities like NYU and Columbia erected tents of the same color, make, and model at the same time on their encampments.

But the real explanation for their proliferation is simple: They are cheap, and easy to find. As online publication Hell Gate NYC pointed out, the tents seen being used at the NYU campus encampment are being sold for as little as $15 at the retailer Five Below, while the green model seen at the Columbia encampment is available online from Walmart for as little as $28.

The tents being used by the students are among the top results on Google Search, and students searching Amazon for “tent” would have been prompted to buy the green Camel Crown tent for $35, listed as a best-selling item by the online retailer. It is also available with one-day shipping. Another popular tent seen at the protests has been discounted in recent days, and now costs less than $20.

On Facebook, WIRED uncovered dozens of accounts posting an identical message accompanied by the same picture of the Columbia encampment. The posts had all been published since Wednesday morning, and new posts with the same messaging were still being shared on Thursday morning. “Something odd about those campus tent encampments,” the posts read. “Almost all the tents are identical—same design, same size, same fresh-out-of-the-box appearance. I know that College students are not that rich or coordinated.”

Then it made its way to the Fox News airwaves, where host Bret Baier repeated the baseless allegations. Meanwhile, on NewsNation, Republican representative Virginia Foxx, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, said: “It’s obvious that someone is funding them. They were well prepared.”

On Wednesday, the conspiracy began to take hold online, with numerous blue-check accounts on X pushing the conspiracy. “Why are all of their tents the exact same make, model and color?” a blue-checked X account called The Persian Jewess wrote, alongside a picture of the encampment at Columbia. “Still think this is a grassroots movement? Hint: It’s not.” The post has been viewed almost 2 million times.

Dozens of other posts on X echoed these sentiments, many of them racking up millions of views and many of them pushing Soros as the source of the funding. “I’m sure this is all just a totally organic protest with their little matching tents and all,” wrote Sean Feucht, a prominent Christian nationalist who is planning a pro-Israel march at Columbia on Thursday. Meanwhile, far-right troll Matt Walsh took the conspiracy one step further by declaring that “the ‘Free Palestine’ movement is just BLM [Black Lives Matter] repackaged.”

In a statement this week, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine said that its members have been “misidentified by a politically motivated mob.”

So have their tents. Most of those claiming a conspiracy have shared the same single image showing only one type and color of tent at the encampment, but a quick online search of images of the encampment shows the reality is that a wide variety of sizes, colors, and models of tents have been erected.