An Attack, a Viral Lie, and Elon's Inferno
Everything just got worse
Before we get to the day’s big stories — the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband; billionaire sh*tposting; and the ongoing threat of political violence — let’s put all of this into some context.
On Friday, the federal government put out a joint intelligence bulletin warning of the threat of domestic violence aimed at “candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents.”
In the bulletin, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the U.S. Capitol Police warn that "violence will largely be dependent on drivers such as personalized ideological grievances and the accessibility of potential targets throughout the election cycle."
Then this weekend happened.
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After a right-wing troll shouting “Where’s Nancy?” attacked the speaker’s 82-year-old husband, a debate broke out about the role that anti-Pelosi rhetoric may have played in the attack. Top Republicans quickly retreated into whataboutism and denial…. even the guy who had actually posted a tweet of himself shooting a gun with the hashtag #firepelosi.
While the attack was widely condemned, even Good Republicans™ struggled to keep it classy. “Speaker Pelosi’s husband had a break-in last night in their house, and he was assaulted,” Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said. “There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re gonna send her back to be with him in California. That’s what we’re going to go do.”
Others didn’t even bother to try. Here’s California’s former GOP nominee for governor:
Now that “the bird is free” in the Era of Elon, right-wing Twitter celebrated with a cascade of crassness and conspiracy theories.
Within hours, timelines were flooded with bizarre conspiracy theories about a gay lovers’ quarrel. Even though the story was quickly and decisively debunked, it spread throughout the hellscape of social media — pushed by the usual cadre of grifters and trolls, including this well-known convicted felon:
This toxic bilge quickly went viral.
Back in the day, Donald Trump tried to name Monica Crowley a deputy national security advisor. Here she was this weekend:..
And this, from the former president’s grown ass son:
Amid the hilarity, Rep. Clay Higgins — a sitting member of Congress — weighed in:
For a brief moment, we wondered: how would Elon Musk react to the cataract of hate and defamation? Would he condemn it? Block it? Rethink his approach to content moderation?
Surely, you jest.
The shitposting billionaire jumped into the shitposting himself, pushing the conspiracy theories to millions of his new customers.
“There’s a tiny possibility,” he wrote, “there is more to this story than meets the eye” — and linked to “an article that is a compilation of tweets from random Twitter users claiming that Paul Pelosi brought home a left wing male prostitute after the bars closed and that there's a conspiracy to cover it up.”
Musk’s tweet was eventually removed (censored!?!!!!), but not before it was retweeted and liked tens of thousands of times.
So, on his very first weekend of being Chief Twit, Musk helped launched a toxic conspiracy theory that will now take on a life of its own. MMFA’s Matt Gertz explains how it all worked:
(I’ve unrolled his thread.)
2. Over decades, the right built a parallel media ecosystem featuring: A) Numerous outlets that generate conspiracy theories B) Food-chain mechanisms for their distribution C) An audience that demands them D) Minimal internal guardrails E) Barriers against outside media.
3. Police say the guy who broke into the Pelosi home and assaulted Paul Pelosi was targeting Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The assailant’s recent online footprint is a hodgepodge of recent right-wing conspiracy theories.
This is very bad for the right because those conspiracy theories are either trumpeted or excused at the highest levels of the right-wing media and GOP. They needed to come up with something else, fast.
5. The right’s conspiracy theorists went to work. They operate by putting existing facts – particularly ones from early in a story, when initial reports are often wrong – in new dubious contexts through wild logical jumps. In this case, they draw on two pieces of info.
7. And B) Pelosi was able to trick the invader, call 911 from the bathroom, and, while speaking to the dispatcher “in code” to avoid suspicion, the dispatcher said he referred to the home invader at one point in that call as a “friend.”
8. The right’s conspiracy theorists put those two pieces together, threw in some wild and baseless speculation, and came up with the theory that Pelosi was the victim of a gay lover’s quarrel.
9. That filtered up through low-level RW influencers to… the owner of this site, who is celebrated on the right and has now blasted to everywhere.
10. The site Musk pushed out is not remotely credible, but it reaches a conclusion that is extremely convenient for the right, and that's good enough.
11. Meanwhile, the right has come up with nonsensical explanations for why the assailant’s internet footprint was a forgery and he’s actually a leftist. They cannot accept the reality without taking on responsibility. So they find an alternate explanation.
12. The right-wing press has spent decades building a huge audience for these sorts of convenient conspiracy theories. And their regular denunciations of the mainstream press built a bubble to keep out reality – only the right’s commentators can be trusted.
13. As for those trusted commentators – there are no powerful actors within that bubble who knock down those conspiracy theories. That’s how you end up with Fox hosts pushing QAnon talking points and scoffing at its extremism.
14. So what happens next? I’d expect to see GOP lawmakers and prominent Fox hosts at least winking at the Pelosi conspiracy theory. Someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Tucker Carlson might even go all-in….
15. Credible news outlets will point out that this is all nonsense. But thanks to the right-wing media bubble, their facts won’t make it to the people inclined to believe it. And so this will become the explanation for the Pelosi attack for a sizable chunk of the GOP.
16. There's not much that can be done for the people who will buy into this. But what can be done is punishing Musk for his role in the fiasco.
While we’re talking about Musk… “Twitter is planning to start charging $20 per month for verification/ And if the employees building it don’t meet their deadline, they’ll be fired by Elon Musk.”
Twenty-bucks to Elon for a blue check mark? I’m thinking a lot of folks will react the way our friend Ben Wittes did last night:
Dems leading in key senate races?
Eight days before the election, we have our final* midterm surveys: polls of the four states likeliest to determine control of the Senate.
New York Times/Siena College polls
Pennsylvania: John Fetterman (D) 49, Mehmet Oz (R) 44.
Arizona: Mark Kelly (D) 51, Blake Masters (R) 45.
Nevada: Adam Laxalt (R) 47, Catherine Cortez Masto (D) 47.
Georgia: Raphael Warnock (D) 49, Herschel Walker (R) 46.
All considered, this is a pretty good set of numbers for Democrats. If they win three of the four Senate seats, they hold the Senate if everywhere else goes as expected. Here, they lead in the magic three of four while remaining highly competitive in the fourth — though it’s very important to caution that, unfortunately, most of this poll was taken before the Pennsylvania Senate debate.
IMHO that’s a pretty big caveat.
First, those of us still living on Earth One need to refer to the attack on Mr. Pelosi for what it was: an assassination attempt on the Speaker of the House which ended up putting her husband in the hospital. We need to reject the right-wing framing of 'an attack on Paul Pelosi.' He was not the intended target. The Speaker was. And the deranged individual who carried it out was fueled by hate and conspiracy theories promoted by right-wing media and its enablers in the elected class.
Second, off hand I can't name one tech billionaire who's made life better for anyone once he steps outside his lane. Not one. Anyone who thought an overgrown 8-year-old like Elon Musk would do anything except make Twitter more of a cesspool than it already is probably believed that Donald Trump would rise to the dignity and seriousness of the office he held.
The best we can hope is that Musk being Musk causes an exodus of advertisers, loses every penny of Musk's investment and sends Twitter into the outer darkness from whence it came.
I was so incensed by Elon's irresponsible shitposting that I deleted Twitter from my phone and closed the tab where it lives on my browser. Not only making light of a brutal, politically motivated assault on an elderly man, but using a homophobic conspiracy theory to do it? Nope.