It all began with a video by Nick Fuentes, one of the most prominent neo-Nazis in the United States, who has been banned from almost every online platform and visited Mar-a-Lago for a dinner with Donald Trump last year. The campaign quickly spread across Twitter, which has become a haven for neo-Nazis, racists, homophobes and misogynists.
Fuentes uploaded his video shortly after ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt met with X CEO Linda Yaccarino to discuss the platform's handling of hate speech and antisemitism. Greenblatt later tweeted the conversation was “candid and productive,” but noted that the ADL will remain vigilant and give Elon Musk credit if improvements are made.
For Musk's legion of fanboys, this signaled that X might begin to take action to curb such speech, taking to the platform to show their anger. Musk, alarmed his fanbase was upset, suggested conducting an X poll to gauge public sentiment about the ADL and made it clear that he would not allow the organization to dictate how he runs the platform.
From there, thousands of users demonized the ADL, and Musk engaged in public discussions with some of the leading neo-Nazis in the United States about his next steps. At the apex of this incident, he also provided arguments sounding as if they were taken from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, wrapped in his libertarian tech-speak, before making it clear that he, of course, despises antisemites.
Musk’s first argument: Jews bring antisemitism upon themselves. “The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform,” he wrote.
Musk’s second argument: Jews control the economy, and because of them, I'm losing a lot of money. “Since the acquisition, The @ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic,” He wrote, adding that the company saw a 60% decline in revenue due to alleged pressure the ADL placed on the platform.
“Elon Musk spent the weekend engaging with a highly toxic, antisemitic campaign on his platform”
“Elon Musk spent the weekend engaging with a highly toxic, antisemitic campaign on his platform,” says Jonathan Greenblatt from the ADL. “A campaign started by an unrepentant bigot that then was heavily promoted by individuals such as white supremacist Nick Fuentes and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.”
“Finally, we saw the campaign manifest in the real world when masked men marched in Florida on Saturday brazenly waving flags adorned with swastikas and chanting ‘Ban the ADL,’" he adds.
Are you surprised by what Musk is doing? “To be clear, the real issue is neither ADL nor the threat of a frivolous lawsuit. This urgent matter is the safety of the Jewish people in the face of increasing, intensifying antisemitism. Musk is engaging with and elevating these antisemites at a time when ADL is tracking a surge of bomb threats and swatting attacks on synagogues and Jewish institutions, dramatic levels of antisemitic propaganda being littered throughout Jewish and non-Jewish residential communities and extremists marching openly through the streets in Nazi gear,” he says.
“All of this is happening in a context of the highest number of antisemitic incidents that ADL has tracked in more than 40 years -- and just two weeks away from the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“And so, this behavior is not just alarming nor reckless. It is flat-out dangerous and deeply irresponsible. We need responsible leaders to lead, to stop inflaming hatred, and to step back from the brink before it's too late.”
Between June 2022 and February 2023, analysts identified 325,739 antisemitic tweets posted in English. The weekly average number of antisemitic tweets increased by 106% compared to the period before Twitter's acquisition by Elon Musk. The rate of antisemitic accounts has grown by over threefold. At least 65 accounts of neo-Nazis who were previously suspended from the platform have been reinstated.
The team responsible for monitoring hate tweets on X has been completely disbanded. Today, if a user reports an account that tweets antisemitic phrases like, "Gas the Jews," receives an automated answer telling them the tweet hasn’t violated X’s terms of service.
Last July, two European organizations took legal action against X for not removing antisemitic and racist tweets. Four of the tweets explicitly denied the Holocaust, one suggested "sending blacks to gas chambers and launching them into space with a SpaceX spaceship," and another compared the COVID-19 vaccine to the Nazi mass extermination camps.
Twitter ruled that three of these tweets did not violate their terms and didn’t respond to the remaining complaints.
Not only did Musk provide a platform for these people, but also actively encourages them. Long before the ADL controversy, he actively promoted a conspiracy claiming Jews are responsible for all the world's ills. Last November, he referred to Alexander Vindman, the Jewish officer who testified against Donald Trump in Congress, as a "puppet & puppeteer.”
In recent months, Musk has intensified his rhetoric. In May, he tweeted the quote, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize." The quote is often mistakenly attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire, but was actually said by neo-Nazi Kevin Alfred Strom.
There are so many similar examples of this that the Jewish magazine Forward began monitoring Musk's antisemitic expressions and actions in 2018. The list includes, among other things, his reinstatement of Kanye West, who was suspended after posting an image of a Nazi swastika combined with a Star of David; Musk’s tweet against George Soros – the Jewish billionaire known for his liberal views who has made substantial donations to human rights organizations – when he tweeted that "He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity,”; and the story of Yoel Roth, the former head of Twitter's user security team who was fired by Musk and had to flee his home due to antisemitic threats that came after Musk hinted that he was a pedophile.
155 million followers
"It's not really important whether he’s Musk is truly antisemitic or not," says Elad Nehorai, who writes about antisemitism for the Daily Beast and Forward news outlets and published an article titled Elon Musk is the most dangerous antisemite in America.
"There are many antisemites who don't come close to the level of danger Musk poses due to his power and influence. He has 155 million followers on Twitter. That alone makes him a huge cultural influencer who can shape conversations to an extent that traditional media can only dream of.
“He's not just the owner of Twitter; he's also heavily involved in daily decisions about hate speech moderation. So even if he himself isn't the biggest antisemite out there, his actions are more significant than his beliefs.
“Why did he want to buy Twitter in the first place? He saw that activists and people fighting for minority rights gained power through the platform. He saw Twitter as a place that threatened his power, so he bought it at an exorbitant price and turned it into a mainstream hate platform."
Mike Rothschild, author of Jewish Space Laser, a book that explores 200 years of antisemitic conspiracy theories surrounding the Rothschilds, agrees: "I don't know how Musk feels personally, but it's clear he uses antisemitism to advance his agenda. He knows that many of his big supporters on Twitter are antisemites, and uses it to shield himself from criticism. He's very cynical and he's someone who thinks they can get away with anything."
Blaming Jews for bringing antisemitism on themselves or that they’re responsible for his financial losses makes it seem like he isn’t trying to hide anything. "That's what really drives me crazy. What he’s doing is very obvious. He deliberately gives the ADL a power they don't have at all. The whole idea that the ADL could cause a 60% drop in Twitter’s profits comes from a perception that Jews control the world."
Do you think he understands this? "I don't know if he does, and I don't think he cares. His rhetoric is completely antisemitic. When people ask him if he's antisemitic, they're asking the wrong questions; the question is why he's using such well-known antisemitic tropes and conspiracies."
"He encourages antisemitism because it makes him money. Remember, since he bought Twitter, he's failed in every decision he's made. Twitter's app ratings have plummeted, and advertisers are fleeing the platform; it's a massive failure. Everyone sees it," Nehorai adds.
In recent weeks, the true extent of Elon Musk's influence over the world and the U.S. government has become increasingly apparent. An investigative article by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker revealed that Musk owns government contracts on an unprecedented scale. For example, NASA can now reach space only via SpaceX, Musk’s space company.
Any attempt to expand the use of electric cars in the U.S. must be approved through Tesla, which holds 60% of America's electric charging stations. Above all stands Musk's ability to technologically intervene in the war in Ukraine, thanks to the Starlink satellite internet service operated by SpaceX.
"Antisemitism is a cyclical matter, and in the end, it all comes back to Jews"
When considering his vast influence, Musk's antisemitic behavior takes on a very frightening façade. "Antisemitism is a cyclical matter, and in the end, it all comes back to Jews," Rothschild says. "Now, being openly antisemitic has become very acceptable. Many people feel they’re allowed to say what they so far kept in their thoughts out loud, and Musk provides them with a platform for that."
This freedom of expression comes as a direct continuation of public hate speech against minorities at a level that the United States has not seen since the 1960s. Nehorai, who was born in the United States to Israeli parents, believes that the current openness of antisemitism has also arisen because these groups have gone after all of the other minority groups in the U.S. without being stopped.
"The situation of Jews in the United States is somewhat different to those from the rest of the world," he says. "Until recently, there was general opposition to antisemitism in America, at least publicly. We were most protected compared to minority groups persecuted by neo-Nazis. The reason we’ve reached this point is because we didn’t defend the other groups who were being persecuted.”
It seems that everything happening now can be traced back to Donald Trump. "He was certainly a turning point. All of this existed before him, of course, but Trump freed the racists, the antisemites, and the homophobes. I don't know if Trump is personally antisemitic, but it doesn't matter. He used his power to aid antisemitism, and therefore, during his tenure, he was also the most dangerous antisemite in America."
Two weeks ago, Musk responded to a tweet accusing the Anti-Defamation League of causing Donald Trump to be banned from Twitter after the January 6 riots with the word "Accurate." Two months earlier, he replied with a series of laughing emojis to a tweet by Andrew Torba, who is one of the prominent antisemites in the United States.
Torba regularly promotes the Great Replacement theory, which posits a deliberate effort to replace the Christian population with a Jewish one in the United States.
The ADL itself is a convenient target for Musk because it is a highly institutionalized organization that faces its fair share of criticism. Liberal Jews in the United States are upset that the Anti-Defamation League equates any criticism of Israeli government policy with antisemitism. Conservative Jews don't like the ADL because they see it as a liberal organization.
A disturbing phenomenon can be seen in the U.S. of Conservative Jews defending Musk against the ADL, as Jewish Conservative activist Ben Shapiro did on several occasions.
How do you feel when you see Jews defending Musk? "It used to drive me crazy,” Nehorai says. “Today, I think dealing with this is a waste of time. Most of these Jews won’t change who they are. It's also a mistake to think that if all the Jews in America stood together against antisemitism, things would be solved. Jews are a tiny percentage of the U.S.’s population, we’re not as important as we think.”
Most experts on antisemitism believe it may be too late to save Twitter in its current form, and the only solution may be to simply leave the platform, but it's not that simple. On the one hand, Twitter is a place people are very connected to, and also don't want to give in to Musk.
On the other hand, staying means supporting Musk's business. According to Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League is not currently planning to leave the platform, "but we stopped advertising on the platform."
Rothschild believes the solution isn’t to leave Twitter but to improve it. "I don't think Musk can continue in this state forever," he says, "because advertisers are leaving, and maybe a moment will come when he realizes it’s harming him financially, but I don't expect him to understand the true implications of what he is doing."