Elon Musk uses Twitter to push Pelosi attack conspiracy theory that’s quickly debunked by police

Musk tweeted and later deleted a link to a fake news site spreading "anti-LGBTQ garbage"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published October 31, 2022 9:15AM (EDT)

Elon Musk addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022. (CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
Elon Musk addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022. (CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

New Twitter owner Elon Musk shared and later deleted a link to a site notorious for pushing misinformation to suggest there may be "more" to the story of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband being assaulted during a break-in at their home.

Musk, who officially took over the social platform on Friday, tweeted a link to an article claiming that Paul Pelosi was drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute to his 112 million followers. The tweet was deleted hours later and police have said that Pelosi did not know his attacker before he broke into the home.

Paul Pelosi was attacked inside his home with a hammer after the suspect, identified as David DePape, broke in through a backdoor, according to police. Police have said that DePape assaulted Pelosi with a hammer. Pelosi suffered a skull fracture and injuries to his hands and right arm and underwent surgery following the attack, the House speaker's office said.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Twitter criticized Republicans for spreading conspiracy theories, linking to an article describing DePape's writings about QAnon and other far-right and racist conspiracy theories.

"The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories," Clinton wrote. "It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result. As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow."

Musk, who has increasingly aligned himself with far-right figures, responded to the tweet by pushing another conspiracy theory.

"There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye," Musk wrote in a reply to Clinton, linking to an article from the Santa Monica Observer that baselessly claimed the suspect was a male prostitute. The link was deleted about six hours later.

NBC News reporter Ben Collins noted that police have said on the record that Pelosi and his attacker did not know each other before the attack, which "directly contradicts conspiracy theories pushed by (and since deleted by) Twitter owner Elon Musk."

Police have said that DePape broke into the home and shouted "Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?"

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told The New York Times that she had seen nothing to support the idea that Pelosi and his attacker knew each other.

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The Santa Monica Observer is one of a growing number of websites that "masquerade as legitimate newspapers," The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board warned last year. The website, which is owned by former City Council candidate David Ganezer, is "notorious for publishing false news," the outlet reported, noting that the site once claimed that Hillary Clinton had died in 2016 and a body double was sent to debate Donald Trump. It later reported that Trump had named Kanye West to a senior position in the Interior Department, among other false claims.

Musk, who paid about $44 billion for the social network and immediately fired its top executives, has suggested that the social network would become more "free" and floated the idea of reinstating the account of Trump, who was indefinitely suspended after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Musk sought to reassure nervous advertisers ahead of the purchase, vowing that Twitter "obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences." He later said that a content moderation council would meet to decide any "account reinstatements."

Trolls emboldened by Musk's takeover quickly filled their feeds with racist, antisemitic and conspiratorial tweets. The Network Contagion Research Institute, which analyzes social media messages, found that use of the N-word on the platform spiked nearly 500% in the 12 hours after Musk's purchase was finalized.

"The new standard bearer of the company is setting the tone that Twitter will be a place where misinformation and targeted rumors can circulate with the approval of the man behind the curtain," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State Bernardino, told the Los Angeles Times after Musk's tweet over the weekend.

Los Angeles Times columnist Anita Chabria called out Musk for pushing a "vicious and false conspiracy theory" and "ugly, anti-LGBTQ garbage" on his own feed, noting that the conspiracy theory quickly spread from his account to other social channels.

"When the rich, powerful and influential become peddlers of antidemocratic ammunition, they become dangerous to democracy," Chabria wrote, warning that if "we don't hold Musk and others like him accountable now, we may not have the chance."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Elon Musk Hillary Clinton Nancy Pelosi Paul Pelosi Politics