Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, on Sunday retweeted — and, a few hours later, deleted — a post containing misinformation about an attack against Paul Pelosi, husband to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Musk posted a response to a tweet from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referencing the attack on Pelosi, stating that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story.”
He linked to an opinion article in the Santa Monica Observer, a right-wing outlet that fact-checkers have classified as a “questionable source” with “low credibility.”
According to the British newspaper The Independent, the outlet previously claimed that sunlight can treat COVID-19, that Kanye West had been appointed to a government position by Donald Trump, and that Hillary Clinton would “very soon” face a criminal indictment.
According to the Observer story, Paul Pelosi had been attacked in his home by David DePape, who the website claimed is male sex worker Pelosi brought home from a gay bar.
The story has spread quickly among right-wing circles, where it has found a cadre of believers, who are skeptical of the timing of the alleged attack on Pelosi. They have suggested that the story is being trumpeted by the media in order to cast dispersions on right-leaning individuals in the weeks prior to the country’s upcoming midterm elections.
The outlet has since defended its story, saying, “The story is sourced. It is also posted as opinion, and is largely based on facts that are available to everyone.”
According to the New York Times, Paul Pelosi was attacked with a hammer inside his home by DePape, who had entered through the back door. Police said when they arrived at the home, they found the two men wrestling for control of a hammer.
Pelosi was hit in the head after letting go of the hammer, according to police. DePape is alleged to have shouted, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” during the altercation.
According to The Hill, the 42-year-old DePape is a former pro-nudity activist, had an active online presence, and frequently posted online about far-right or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon and claims that the 2020 election was marred by voter fraud.
DePape has been charged with attempted homicide, elder abuse, aggravated battery with serious bodily injury, and threatening a public official or family member.
Right-wing pundits and news outlets have seized upon reporting from a local Fox affiliate, which had initially reported that DePape was in his underwear at the time of the arrest — an assertion that the local affiliate later walked back by issuing a correction — to claim that the attack was staged or part of a hookup gone wrong.
In an interview on Sunday, Brooke Jenkins, the San Francisco district attorney, said she had seen no evidence to support the idea that Mr. Pelosi and DePape had known each other prior to the attack, according to the Times.
Musk kept the tweet linking to the Observer article up for a few hours, where it was visible by his more than 112 million followers, but later deleted it.
Musk did not offer an explanation for why he deleted the tweet, but later joked about the incident, showing a screenshot of the New York Times article reporting on the tweet, which claimed he had shared content from a website “known to publish false news.”
“This is fake — I did not tweet out a link to The New York Times!” Musk wrote.
While Musk does not appear to have broken any of Twitter’s current rules, the fact that he linked to the article has once again raised questions from critics about whether he will continue to allow conspiracy theories not based in fact to proliferate on the platform, in the name of preserving “free speech.”
Prior to purchasing Twitter, Musk has been especially sensitive to complaints from right-wing Twitter users that their First Amendment rights have been stifled by the platform’s moderators.
He has appeared to favor less policing of tweets that were blatantly in violation of Twitter’s policies, meaning he would not prioritize policing misinformation or instances of alleged harassment through actions such as deleting or removing accounts, sending “warning notices” to users, or partially blocking access to a user’s tweets through “shadow bans.”
Other right-wing figures have embraced the conspiracy theory about the Pelosi attack, usually in the guise of “joking” or in a deliberate attempt to annoy the “woke Left.”
Donald Trump, Jr. retweeted a photo of a hammer atop a pair of underwear that another user had titled, “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”
He also retweeted a screenshot of a meme showing a hammer with the caption, “Open Carry in San Francisco,” to which he mockingly replied, “Ban all hammers…” — a dig at the Left’s insistence on greater restrictions on firearms.
While many Republicans either remained silent on the issue, or offered condolences or well-wishes to Pelosi, some also used the opportunity to criticize Democrats.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) brought up a prior online dispute with Christine Pelosi, the Speaker’s daughter, who, following an incident in which Paul was attacked by a neighbor, tweeted that the “neighbor was right.”
“No one deserves to be assaulted. Unlike Nancy Pelosi’s daughter who celebrated my assault, I condemn this attack and wish Mr. Pelosi a speedy recovery,” Paul tweeted.
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said she was praying for Pelosi on Friday, but cast the attack as the result of Democrats’ policies regarding crime and public safety, tweeting that “violence and crime are rampant in Joe Biden’s America.”
“It shouldn’t happen to Paul Pelosi. It shouldn’t happen to innocent Americans. It shouldn’t happen to me,” Greene tweeted.
Former California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner made a similar argument during an appearance on Fox News, claiming in one breath that the incident shouldn’t be looked at in a partisan way, and in the next, denouncing liberals for being “soft on crime.”
“Soft-on-crime liberal politicians running to actually defund the police, release violent criminals, and not enforce our laws when it comes to the criminal justice system, are making law enforcement the enemy of the people. And this has to stop,” Jenner said.
“We have an election coming up in a few days. We have to get these people out of office. Because the crime wave across America affects everyone. It affects the rich, the poor, the powerful, whatever,” she continued. “Everyday Americans are facing this, and we see it in all these different cities. This crime wave has been happening for a long time. And voters, honestly, they need to do the right thing when it comes up in just a few days.”
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