Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie on Sunday afternoon tweeted an image of a massive hand crushing a cluster of small bodies, accompanied by a quote attributed to Voltaire. “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize,” it read.
“You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science,” Massie wrote alongside the image, making it explicitly clear that he was doing some shitposting in the name of the GOP’s moronic anti-vaccine, anti-public health campaign to erode trust in the government (which includes Massie).
You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science. pic.twitter.com/KnqCcPXWSe
The problem is that the quote wasn’t from Voltaire. Instead, it’s a slightly misquoted version of a very famous statement by notorious neo-Nazi Kevin Strom.
There are basically two options for what happened here. One, Massie is an idiot, and his social media team dug up this meme from the last time it went around Facebook or Reddit and decided to toss it up on Twitter without Googling the quote itself. This is entirely possible! However, if they had done even the slightest amount of research they’d have found a USA Today article that exhaustively searched copies of Voltaire’s correspondence between 1742 and 1777 and found nothing resembling the quote. USA Today did, however, find this quote in Strom’s white nationalist screed “All America Must Know the Terror That is Upon Us” from 1993: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?”
The other option is that Massie knew where the quote was from, knew it had become a meme in and of itself among right-wing circles, and posted it on purpose to do a bit of Nazi dog whistling. This is always a possibility with the GOP, but when the choice is subversive messaging through memes or just clueless stupidity, I’m inclined to lean toward the latter.
This doesn’t make it ok, of course. Even if the quote was from Voltaire, Massie’s deployment of it against Fauci — the GOP’s stand-in for scientific and medical consensus — and the nature of the quote itself lend themselves to the greater far-right cause. It’s also not a stretch in any way to see the quote deployed (as it was originally intended by Strom) as an allusion to the anti-Semitic conspiracies of Jewish global control, which have been woven in and out of the anti-vax movement and wider far-right media environment for years.
Here’s Strom himself posting the exact same meme and claiming the quote as his own. The only difference between his post and Massie’s is the star of David on the giant hand and the quote’s accuracy.
What’s even more fascinating is the origins of the original image being used. The illustration, sans quote, is from a political cartoon against the use of child labor. In the original, the hand’s sleeve reads “CHILD LABOR EMPLOYER,” which, as some commenters pointed out, is funny considering Massie was the sole member of the House of Representatives who voted against a bill that banned the import of Chinese products made using forced labor. (To be fair, an enormous sector of the U.S. economy relies on cheaply made products created by children or other vastly underpaid workers in foreign countries, so Massie isn’t uniquely hypocritical in this respect.)
Still, the entire episode is an interesting case study in how right-wing and neo-Nazi talking points enter the mainstream. Is it likely that Massie’s staff deliberately cribbed this image from Strom’s neo-Nazi website? No. But it’s entirely likely that the image in some form of telephone filtered from Strom’s site to wider-known bastions of alt-right culture, like Reddit message boards or telegram groups, before eventually reaching Massie or someone who works for him who was looking for a quick handful of retweets on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, they happened to spread neo-Nazi propaganda to Massie’s more than 318,000 followers. Oops!
Massie’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone.