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The Rothschild family is a family of German Jewish bankers who have accumulated vast sums of wealth over the past two centuries. Jewish banker conspiracy theories often trace the entire international conspiracy back to the Rothschilds. The name Rothschild is derived from the German "Rotschild," or "red shield." Heavy use of the term "red shields" is a good sign you're in the more conspiratorial and anti-Semitic neighborhood of the Internet.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a court Jew to the Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel in the Free City of Frankfurt was the first in the family to gain prominence as a banker, and soon his brothers had opened their own bank branches as well. By the end of the 18th century, they had already started to amass a huge fortune. In the early 1800s, Jews were granted equal rights as citizens in German provinces. This caused an uprising known as the Hep-Hep riots, an outburst of Anti-Semitism in which two Rothschild houses were targeted. The Rothschilds just kept on making money, though. They became known for excessive interest.
Because the family had branches in multiple European countries by the 19th century, they traded tons of inside information that allowed them to pull off a number of financial dick moves. In one of the most well-known cases, a British Rothschild, Nathan, pulled off something that resembled a big short and distort scheme during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon had just been defeated at Waterloo, but word of the defeat reached Britain through the Rothschild information network before the British government's messenger had even made it back. With this advance knowledge, and knowing that others would follow his move assuming he had inside information, Rothschild sold all of his stock in British companies immediately. This caused a market panic and everyone sold, assuming the British had lost at Waterloo. Rothschild then bought up all the now dirt-cheap stock about the same time the official British messenger arrived to deliver news of the victory. Confidence was restored in the market and it returned to pre-crash levels. Rothschild then took the metric fuckton of money he made off of that scheme and bought up the entire British bond market, predicting that they would appreciate in value due to the end of the war. He later pawned them off for nearly twice what he had bought them for. It should be noted, though, that more current research (e.g., by Niall Ferguson) has shown that contemporary accounts of this incident produced by anti-Semites heavily embellished it by overestimating the value of the bond market and overlooking many of the heavy losses Rothschild incurred because of this, as he had also had large speculative bets on a protracted war. Nathan's fortune was actually built largely after the war. This also led to conspiracy theories about Rothschild ownership of the British government.
 Conspiracy theories
Mind-bogglingly rich Jewish bankers who funded wars and had a multinational network all the way back in the 18th century? Ripe for conspiracy theorizing!
Conspiracy theories about the family have been around for over a century. Usually, the main accusation made by theorists is that they're playing both sides of every conflict, ever. The Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, World War II, etc. All sides of each war were merely puppets of the Rothschilds, who would make exorbitant amounts of cash from repeatedly prodding nations into a cycle of endless warfare.
The modern Rothschild conspiracy theories started with the Nazis. Erich Waschneck made the film Die Rothschilds[wp] (international title The Rothschilds' Shares in Waterloo) which portrays the Rothschild family as profiting hugely from the Napoleonic wars. The film ends with a burning Star of David over a map of Europe, because the Nazis were all about the subtle allusion.
Alex Jones, Lyndon LaRouche, and many other conspiracy theorists view the Rothschilds as helping to create the framework for the New World Order. Their name often gets attached to any old NWO, Illuminati, or one world government theory.
This, of course, is nonsense. While the Rothschilds did make money by financing arms deals, they also had tons of money in bond markets. Political instability was bad for business because it would destabilize the bond markets. After the Franco-Prussian war, Prussia imposed demands for extremely harsh reparations on France. The Rothschilds, not wanting France to go bankrupt and declare war on Prussia, swooped in and bailed out the entire country with the help of other investors. During World War II, Adolf Hitler seized the Rothschilds' property and drove them from Germany — pretty sneaky, considering Hitler was supposed to be their puppet. In reality, the power of the family went into decline by World War I as American Wall Street based financiers began to overtake them.
Of course, in conspiracy-land, the ascendancy of the Wall Street firms was all part of the plan. The first step was in creating the Federal Reserve to concentrate power in their hands even further, so they would own the US as well as Europe. Then they took over the UN, they own the World Bank and IMF, all of it. They are the puppetmasters, and we are their puppets.
Back in reality, the Rothschilds aren't guilty of anything besides some dirty financial games and being obscenely rich, assuming you think being obscenely rich is something to be guilty about. They also do great wine (and fund the odd website).
 See also
- Fractional-reserve banking
- International Jewish Conspiracy
- Lynn Forester de Rothschild
- Political Vel Craft
- Goldman Sachs
- Rothschild archive
- Debunking claims about Rothschild ownership of the Federal Reserve and various other bank branches
- The family that bankrolled Europe, BBC
- An American Nightmare by Steve Hochstadt
- The Rothschilds' Shares in Waterloo (Die Rothschilds Aktien auf Waterloo) Viciously anti-Semitic propaganda film by the Nazis depicting a highly fictionalized history of the Rothchild family.
- The American Dream, more conspiracy, but now in cartoon form.