In an interview with CNBC Tuesday evening, Elon Musk defended spreading conspiracy theories about the deadly mass shooting in Texas earlier this month.
On May 9th, open-source intelligence research group Bellingcat posted a story with details about the shooter that indicated he held white supremacist and neo-Nazi views. Bellingcat’s story included social media posts from the Russian social network Odnoklassniki that traced back to the shooter, including photos featuring a large swastika tattoo and body armor with a RWDS (Right-Wing Death Squad, a far-right slogan) patch. The Texas Department of Public Safety has also said that the shooter showed indications of holding neo-Nazi ideology, with an official saying that “He had patches. He had tattoos.”
But on Twitter on May 9th, Musk replied to a crude meme questioning details about the shooter, claiming that Bellingcat “literally specializes in psychological operations” and saying that “this is either the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!”
CNBC’s David Faber asked him about that tweet in an interview Tuesday evening. “I think it was incorrectly ascribed to be a white supremacist action,” Musk said. “And the evidence for that was some obscure Russian website that no one’s ever heard of that had no followers. And the company that found this was Bellingcat. And do you know what Bellingcat is? Psyops.” In its story, Bellingcat notes that it did not in fact discover the profile; its existence was first reported by The New York Times.
Musk added, “I’m saying I thought that ascribing it to white supremacy was bullshit. And that the information for that came from an obscure Russian website and was somehow magically found by Bellingcat, which is a company that does psyops.” Bellingcat’s report describes finding the profile by matching accounts against the shooter’s date of birth. The account had posted photos of identification documents, including a speeding ticket and a boarding pass that included the shooter’s name.
Musk’s comments about the shooting were part of an escalating series of messages that echo right-wing talking points. In the interview he similarly defended comments claiming billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theories, “hates humanity.” Last year he also shared a widely dismissed conspiracy theory about the motives for an attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. Later in the interview with CNBC, he reiterated his denial that the shooter held white supremacist views:
Faber: There’s no proof, by the way, that he was not [a white supremacist]
Musk: I would say that there’s no proof that he is.
Faber; And that’s a debate you want to get into on Twitter?
Musk: Yes. Because we should not be ascribing things to white supremacy if it is false.