Elon Musk Flirts With Conspiracy Theories About Texas Mall Shooting
On Tuesday, Twitter owner Elon Musk once more took to his social media network to complain about inaccuracies in mainstream media coverage — while trumpeting the site as a more reliable source of information. “News orgs like to control the narrative [and] hate being corrected, but at least people know they can come to this platform for a more accurate understanding of the world,” he boasted.
Barely half an hour later, Musk himself invalidated the promise of Twitter’s truthfulness. He did so by speculating that a gunman who on Saturday killed eight people at a mall in Allen, Texas before law enforcement fatally shot him, did not actually espouse white supremacist beliefs online — as reported by major newspapers and confirmed by the FBI.
Responding to a tweet that referred to this fact as a “psyop” — short for a psychological operation, usually employed by counterintelligence military personnel — Musk said it was indeed “the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!” He incorrectly stated that information about the shooter’s social media had originated from the nonprofit investigative journalism group Bellingcat — in fact, the New York Times broke the news about the man’s digital footprint, and Bellingcat researcher Aric Toler later found and reviewed his social profile on the Russian website Odnoklassniki, which included identifying information and photographs of his Nazi tattoos, as well as content related to his planning of the mall attack.
In a follow-up post, Musk acknowledged that this widely corroborated information “might all be true,” but again refused to admit it is, saying the shooter’s links to white supremacy deserve “extreme scrutiny.”
With these replies, Musk lent support to overlapping conspiracy theories.
Bellingcat has been baselessly smeared as a CIA front by its detractors, including those it reports on — and Monday, in a previous tweet exchange, Musk appeared to accept the claim that Toler is a “CIA operative” at face value. The person he’s been discussing this with, “The Redheaded Libertarian,” happens to be a political commentator known for collaborating with podcaster Tim Pool, who regularly platforms far-right conspiracy theorists and white nationalists. Toler found evidence on the Odnoklassniki profile that the Texas shooter was a fan of Pool’s and reposted his work, which is presumably part of the reason that Pool and his associates want to discredit the Bellingcat report. Pool has defensively labeled the shooter’s profile itself a “fake.”
Musk, too, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the shooter’s Odnoklassniki profile, saying it seemed “very odd that [the shooter] would have a Russian social media account when he doesn’t speak Russian.” This conveniently ignored that the shooter wrote in English, didn’t engage or follow other users on the site, and was possibly posting there because the network wouldn’t immediately suspend him for hate speech, as YouTube and Facebook often had. “It is possible that he was using this account as a sort of personal diary where he would not be subject to content moderation,” Toler noted in his findings. It was only on Tuesday that the account was finally taken down.
But even before reporters exposed the shooter’s social media, Musk and others on the right had been resistant to any conjecture that the Texas shooter may have subscribed to Nazi ideology, entirely on the basis that he was of Latino heritage — and therefore, they argue, could not be a white supremacist. The emergence of his racist writings led them to double down on this debunked rationalization by sowing uncertainty as to the authenticity of those disturbing materials.
On Monday, the day the world learned of the Odnoklassniki profile, Musk liked a tweet from Ashley St. Clair of the right-wing satirical site the Babylon Bee, in which she said the press was chasing a false narrative of the shooter. St. Clair further claimed in the tweet that he was, rather, a Mexican gang member. There is zero evidence of his connection to a gang or cartel, according to the Dallas Morning News‘ report on misinformation swirling in the aftermath of the mall massacre. (He did, however, serve a brief stint in the U.S. Army, but was kicked out before finishing entry training.)
Of course, stoking fears of violent Mexican criminals is part and parcel with hardline anti-immigration rhetoric on the right. So it’s no coincidence that while joining the chorus of denial over the shooter’s declared Nazi sympathies due to his ethnicity, Musk has liked a number tweets warning that U.S. border security is inadequate, with migrant caravans of non-whites posing a dire threat to the nation. One of those tweets, from St. Clair, included polling data about Latinos supporting a stronger U.S.-Mexico border, with St. Clair concluding, “It’s almost like border security has nothing to do with race.” Another, from an account called “End Wokeness,” complained that the “toothpaste aisle” at Target in San Francisco “has more protection than our southern border.”
Musk’s other recently-liked tweets include conservative media personality Megyn Kelly saying that the solution to mass shootings is to put mentally ill people in heavily guarded, locked-down asylums. And he liked one in which Rep. Marjorie-Taylor Greene called Daniel Penny, the Marine veteran who choked unhoused Black man Jordan Neely to death on the New York subway last week, “a hero.”
Taken altogether, Musk’s social media activity of late suggests he is in lockstep with the right when it comes to rejecting the reality of unchecked white supremacist violence in the U.S. while regarding poor migrants and the homeless as far greater evils. It also remains clear that he’s not above dabbling in conspiracist interpretations of current events. In October, long before voicing his unfounded skepticism about the Texas shooter’s racist beliefs, Musk amplified a fake news story alleging that a man who attacked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s husband Paul Pelosi in the couple’s house was a hired sex worker. He eventually deleted the tweet sharing the bogus article with his tens of millions of followers, but not before the story trended on Twitter.
Such is the new normal on the website Musk acquired for $44 billion last year, with the goal of salvaging a broken system. Instead, he’s made it a safe haven for hate speech as well as fantasy narratives that bear little relation to the news vetted and confirmed by journalists. And, to all indications, that’s just the way he likes it.
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