Rightwing personalities use X to bring antisemitic theories to light in US

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
November 21, 2023 at 12:31
Experts say figures like Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson bringing ‘great replacement’ theory mainstream signals growing extremism
Elon Musk on the screen of a mobile device with the X logo in the background in this illustration photo on 23 August 2023. Photograph: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
Elon Musk on the screen of a mobile device with the X logo in the background in this illustration photo on 23 August 2023. Photograph: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

The racist and antisemitic “great replacement” theory is encroaching out of the far-right and more visibly into mainstream US politics in the wake of its platforming by major figures like Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson, in a move experts believe shows the growing extremeness of rightwing politics in the US.

High profile users of Twitter/X including rightwing personality Carlson and the platform’s proprietor Musk, are helping to mainstream extremist narratives that are increasingly prevalent on the site, experts and advocates say.

Despite Musk’s aggressive responses to organizations that criticize X for promoting extremism, white nationalists and other extremists last week took to the platform to celebrate the role of Musk, his platform, and star attractions including Carlson for “shifting the Overton Window” on antisemitism.

The “great replacement” is a racist conspiracy narrative that falsely asserts there is an active, ongoing and covert effort to replace white populations in current white-majority countries. In many versions – such as those rehearsed in the manifestos of mass shooters in Christchurch, New Zealand; El Paso, Texas; and Buffalo, New York – the purported replacement is being coordinated by Jewish people.

From the middle of last week through the weekend, events on X followed a pattern that has become increasingly familiar since Musk assumed control of Twitter in October 2022: extremist remarks from Musk and other high-profile users received widespread criticism, more advertisers abandoned the platform, and Musk furiously portrayed his critics as unfairly picking on him.

On Wednesday, Musk described another user’s claim that Jewish oeople had pushed “hatred against whites” and implied they were responsible for “hordes of minorities … flooding” western countries.

The comments drew condemnation from Jewish groups, media commentators, and even the White House.

Heidi Beirich, extremism expert and co-founder of the Global Project on Hate and Extremism (GPAHE ), pointed to Twitter’s response to a 31 October GPAHE report showing that members of the white supremacist Generation Identity (GI) movement had returned to Twitter after widespread bans in 2020.

Following the report’s publication, 31 GI accounts were suspended, but 26 were reinstated within 24 hours.

“Somebody was trying to content moderate according to the rules and had the decision reversed,” Beirich argued.

“I don’t know if that’s Musk or [X CEO] Linda Yaccarino or someone else, but clearly they don’t care to impose their own rules any more when it comes to this type of hate content,” she added.

Last week, on Carlson’s self-produced show which has run on X since his acrimonious exit from Fox News, he and guest Candace Owens discussed what they called the hypocrisy of pro-Israel donors in threatening college funding over pro-Palestinian protests after allegedly remaining silent during Black Lives Matter protests and the implementation of diversity initiatives.

At one point Owens – on the show to discuss her public feud with Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro over Israel’s actions in Gaza – claimed that discussions of race on college campuses were designed to “breed white people out of the population”. Carlson asked donors: “Where were you the last ten years when they were calling for white genocide?” Carlson later added: “You were paying for it, actually … You were calling my children immoral for their skin color, you paid for it.”

Julie Millican is vice-president of media watchdog Media Matters for America (MMFA) who said that “as far as Tucker Carlson goes, he has always been a conduit for mainstreaming the Great Replacement theory. He used to push it on his Fox News show all the time.”

Following Musk’s remarks, companies including IBM, Apple and NBC Universal paused advertising on the platform. Musk attributed this to an MMFA report showing how ads from major advertisers being placed against extremist content including pro-Hitler material. Mush has threatened strong legal action against MMFA.

In conversation last week, Millican described the report as “a look at what the impact of X’s moderation decisions are, especially with an eye toward brand safety for advertisers”, explaining that MMFA was a member of the Stop Toxic Twitter coalition “that has from the beginning advocated for advertisers to cease advertising on the site or at least pause spending until Musk could would agree to rolling back moderation changes” at a site that has become a “playground for extremists”.

Musk responded by calling MMFA an “evil organization” and promised to launch a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against the nonprofit, blaming them for claiming that they had misrepresented user experience on X.

In an emailed statement Monday, MMFA president Angelo Carusone said: “Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate. Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win.”

Despite Musk’s pushback on claims that the site was fostering extremism, in the wake of his and Carlson’s remarks white nationalists and other far-right extremists took to X to celebrate the apparent alignment with their views.

In an X “space” (the platform’s name for real-time audio conversations) held last week, Irish white nationalist Keith Woods and “America First” white nationalist influencer and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes joined other extremists to celebrate the role Musk and Carlson were playing in “shifting the Overton Window” on antisemitism.

Woods came to prominence in September when Musk replied to one of his posts attacking the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) by claiming that the Jewish organization’s “demands to ban social media accounts” made them “the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform”.

Fuentes, who appeared in the Wednesday space under his latest X alias “Autumn Groyper”, attracted controversy a year ago when he dined at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate while working on Kanye West’s abortive presidential campaign, which itself embraced antisemitic, pro-Nazi and conspiracy-minded themes.

In the space, speakers welcomed the more permissive environment Musk had instituted on X, as well as his role in directly spreading antisemitic ideas.

In introducing the space, Woods remarked that “in a short space of time, it’s really incredible how far the conversation can move.”

Woods added: “Someone like Elon makes a comment like that, someone like Tucker, people that other kind of influencers look to and suddenly, you know, it’s OK to talk about this, it’s OK to question this.

“Very rapidly, you can see the conversation change where the fear of cancellation, the fear of being labeled an antisemite that used to totally stifle conversations around this topic, the power of that is disappearing,” Woods continued.

Later in the space, Fuentes remarked: “I think that Elon purchasing Twitter and the internet basically coming back online, that created the environment where things can happen.”

The Guardian emailed X’s press office for comment. In a return email, X press wrote: “Busy now, please check back later.”

Asked about the white nationalist response to Musk’s tenure at X, Beirich, said: “Hate content is proliferating on X. It’s coming out of the mouths of prominent personalities like Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk. Neo-Nazi accounts are gaining revenue on the site.”

Beirich added: “X is becoming one of the largest hate sites in the world.”

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