Elon Musk and the fight to X out hate speech

BY:Taryn Fivek| October 2, 2023
Elon Musk and the fight to X out hate speech


At the end of August, 38-year-old presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy appeared on CNN and was confronted with remarks he made regarding Ayanna Pressley, the first Black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress. In response to her critique of his campaign — one that insists on a “colorblind meritocracy” — Ramaswamy said at an event in Iowa that her words “are the words of the modern grand wizards of the modern KKK.”

CNN’s Dana Bash pressed him during the interview on these comments, pointing out that the KKK has waged violent terror for over a century. “Can you have an intellectually honest conversation when you accuse her of being a grand wizard of the KKK?” she asked.

“Yes, I can.” Ramaswamy said.

“They lynched people, they murdered people, they raped people, they burned their homes, simply because of [their race]… do you think that maybe comparing her to the grand wizard and the notion of what she said to being a modern leader of the KKK was maybe a step too far, or do you stand by what you said?”

“I stand by what I said to provoke an open and honest discussion in this country, because there is a gap, Dana, between what people will say in private today, what they say in public.”

Indeed, there are certain things said in private and certain things said in public. But a lot of ideological ground must be lost before someone like Ramaswamy feels comfortable enough to call a Black woman in government a grand wizard of the KKK. CNN’s Dana Bash expressed horror and disgust, as did many watching. Yet, it was being said out loud on CNN. It was being said by a young man running for president, and who is polling as high as 15% in some GOP primaries. What was once unthinkable is now being said out loud, on major television networks, by people who aspire to one of the most powerful offices in government.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, even more was being said out loud that might have previously only been said in private. In response to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) meeting with the CEO of Twitter/X aimed at regulating hate speech on the platform, a group of neo-Nazis started a campaign called #BanTheADL. On August 31st, it was the top trending hashtag on Twitter/X, and under it was found the most vile, disgusting, and miserable anti-Semitic propaganda.

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter in late 2022, the platform has become increasingly hostile to much of the audience that formerly utilized it as a place to discover and discuss breaking news. But this campaign was unprecedented, in part because of its virulence, but mainly because of the otherwise “mainstream” figures who stepped in to boost the campaign. Lured in by another user referencing the ADL’s work on busting myths of “white genocide” in South Africa as a reason to loathe the organization, Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, ended up agreeing that the “ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter.”

He said this even as the most horrific anti-Semitic propaganda was being spread on- and off-line. August 17th marked the 108th anniversary of Leo Frank’s death, a Jewish person falsely accused and wrongly convicted of raping and killing a young girl, which prompted ADL’s founding. Frank was later kidnapped from prison and murdered by a lynch mob in Marietta, GA. Neo-nazis used the occasion to create social media posts and fliers with images of Leo Frank, saying that the ADL was formed to protect rapists, pedophiles, and murderers. Meanwhile, posts were circulating on Twitter/X of two unmasked white men smiling and holding a sign that said “Shoah the ADL” outside of the gates of Auschwitz in Poland.

Transphobe and self-described “theocratic fascist” Matt Walsh boosted the “Ban ADL” campaign, as did Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, calling the ADL a “mass purveyor of anti-white hate.”

Progressive forces have their own grievances with the ADL. The ADL has attacked the notion of Israeli apartheid, failing to recognize the far-right nature of the current Israeli government, while minimizing ongoing attacks by Israeli security forces against the Palestinian people within Palestinian territory. Indeed, the ADL has officially distanced itself from the Black Lives Matter movement and even condemned many of its leaders for their support of the pro-Palestininian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. As a result, many organizations have advocated for the removal of the ADL from progressive campaigns and coalitions. But what’s important to note here is that the recent “Ban the ADL” campaign is not motivated by progressives, but rather the most wretched and disgusting white supremacist and fascist forces.

Between Vivek Ramaswamy’s comments and the increase of outright anti-Semitism on social media, something seems to be happening to public discourse — and not necessarily always in a progressive direction.

Shifts in the battle of ideas

The Overton Window is a U.S. policy concept developed in the 1990s regarding the window of acceptable discourse in a society. Within this framework, there are six levels to public acceptance of ideas:


The acceptability of certain ideas exists on a spectrum. An idea does not just go from unthinkable to popular. There is a process by which ideas move up and down along the spectrum, depending on other factors.

In the course of my lifetime, many ideas that were once unthinkable, like gay marriage or marijuana use, for example, have become policy. Likewise, other ideas — such as smoking cigarettes inside schools, offices and hospitals — have gone from policy to unthinkable. Through the impact of science, and propagation of information in doctors’ offices and in the media, policymakers were pressured into banning indoor smoking in most places.

Socialists also fight to push our own ideas along the spectrum towards policy. Free, universal healthcare has gained in popularity, as well as a higher minimum wage, and broad support and acceptance of unions. We also agitate against state violence, from police murder to family separation at the border to the cessation of war.

Yet we are not alone in the battle of ideas. The capitalist class invests unlimited amounts of money, time, and effort into trying to push its own agenda. When under pressure, politicians and policy makers move in one direction or another. When under threat, monopoly capital prefers fascism over socialism.

Elon Musk is the richest man in the world. Like his fellow monopolist, Jeff Bezos, he has bought himself a very powerful media platform — perhaps more powerful than the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Under the capitalist laws of private property, Elon Musk can encourage whatever sort of discourse he likes on the platform, because he owns it. He can fire half the workers, alienate advertisers, and refuse to pay the company’s bills, because he understands the laws of capitalist ownership quite keenly.

He also understands that even if he breaks the law, the state will be hesitant to hold him to account, precisely because of his personal wealth and power. After all, he has control over a huge part of the U.S. space program through his private company, SpaceX, and has even leveraged that to intervene in Pentagon affairs.

Since his acquisition, hate has spewed from the website at a rate previously only seen on KKK and Nazi websites. Hatred against the trans community on the platform has resulted in an epidemic of bomb threats and attacks on hospitals, libraries, schools, and other community institutions who show any degree of support for trans people, especially trans children.

It’s easy for anti-Semites to shoehorn their way into such discourses. They blame Jewish doctors, psychiatrists, parents, librarians, and politicians for spreading “gender ideology”, just as Jewish people were blamed for spreading “race mixing” during the Civil Rights struggle.

With different contending forces in the mix, the ideological tug-of-war does not develop evenly. Progress made in civil rights results in pushback from racist sectors, including from big business.

Given monopoly capital’s dominant position at the political level, the fascist threat is looming larger than ever in response to gains made by our working class and people.

On the same day as tens of thousands of people from across the country gathered in Washington D.C. to continue Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of peace and justice for all, a young white man in Northeast Florida grabbed his guns and left his parent’s home, intending to murder Black people. He drove from Clay County to Jacksonville and began to put on his body armor next to the school library at Edward Waters University, an HBCU established in 1866. A security guard scared him off, but he got back in his car and drove to a nearby Dollar General, where he would unleash racist terror, murdering three Black people before turning the gun on himself.

What is the nature of the environment where this horrific massacre took place? This year, Jacksonville elected the first progressive mayor in decades, a white woman, a former newscaster who won office by saying she intended to unify the city. Jacksonville has, after all, been on the forefront of the antifascist struggle. It is both the city where Donald Trump was to be renominated in 2020 and also the city where Kamala Harris spoke earlier this year on defending Black history in schools.

It is also the birthplace of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for president on a platform of “Make America Florida.” He has left no stone unturned in his quest to strip African Americans, immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, the LGBTQ community, and women in Florida of their civil rights. During his tenure as governor, groups like the “Goyim Defense League” have set up public Nazi rallies, dropping anti-Semitic signs over overpasses, and even picketing outside of Walt Disney World with swastikas. A week after the massacre in Jacksonville, as part of the #BanTheADL campaign, two separate Nazi groups held fascist rallies in Orlando and in Altamonte Springs, just 10 miles from where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2011 for walking while Black.

In Jacksonville, such elements have been distributing anti-Semitic and KKK literature on the lawns of peoples houses, and projecting giant swastikas intertwined with crosses on skyscrapers downtown at night. The response to an increase in racist, hateful, Nazi rhetoric is an increase of racist, hateful, Nazi behavior. In his statement in response to the massacre near Edward College University, DeSantis didn’t even bother to say that the murderer was white, and his victims were Black.

Politics matter

As capitalism continues to come up short on being able to provide for the continued existence of the human species, the masses are waking up. Voters are choosing correctly when they fight for progress at the ballot box. Workers are choosing correctly when they struggle for power on the job, and for racial and gender equality in their communities. The voters of Jacksonville have had enough. But fascists don’t respect election results. They see their power as coming from the barrel of their AR-15s. Like a cornered animal, the fascist backlash is growing, and can be more powerful and deadly than we imagine.

As we move into the latter part of 2023, with an eye on the elections in 2024, we should be sure to point this out to workers. Young people frustrated at the lack of progress on student loan forgiveness might not be considering the ramping-up of fascist hate as they make their choice at the polls. Workers might not understand the line that runs between transphobia and racism, so we need to explain that to them. Your father-in-law might think that Joe Biden is just too old, and might not be thinking about the long-lasting damage to democracy that another Trump presidency might portend.

It’s scary to think about, but increasingly possible that in ten years’ time, unless our working class becomes more empowered and organized, we might actually be face-to-face with a fascist takeover of the government. Fascists, threatened by demographic changes and progress made by working people, understand theirs to be an existential battle to the death. Trump is facing the rest of his life in prison. A cornered animal is at its most dangerous, violent, and loud. So, too, must we hold fast to what Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels said about the struggle for socialism: we will win “either a revolutionary constitution of society at large or the common ruin of the contending classes.”

Images: Elon Musk / X by Fred Barr; Leo Frank by Bain News Service (Library of Congress); Charleston, WV Vigil in Solidarity with Charlottesville by Rise Up WV (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)  People march with leaders of the March on Washington by ADL (Facebook)


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