Misleading claims about the neo-Nazi gunman responsible for Saturday’s mass shooting at a Dallas-area shopping centre are reverberating across Twitter, in large part because of Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Musk has questioned whether the man identified by authorities as the shooter, Mauricio Garcia, really had an account on a Russian social media platform, and Musk suggested that revelations about the shooter’s background could be a “psyop,” or psychological operation, in which the public is misled about the real details of the shooting.
Garcia proclaimed his white supremacist views on social media and sported Nazi tattoos. Authorities and independent researchers have confirmed his interest in far-right extremism and white supremacism. When police killed Garcia, he was wearing a patch that read “RWDS,” an acronym that stands for “ Right Wing Death Squad.” “We do know he had neo-Nazi ideation,” Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Hank Sibley said a news conference on Tuesday. “He had patches. He had tattoos.” Musk also cast doubt on a Netherlands-based research group known as Bellingcat that released information about Garcia’s online history when he tweeted that it “specializes in psychological operations.” He offered no evidence to support his claim, but the attack led to a barrage of harassment directed at Bellingcat from Musk’s online fans.
“This is either the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!” Musk wrote in a tweet viewed more than 3 million times. Musk also responded to revelations about the gunman’s ideology, with posts suggesting he didn’t believe them. “Very strange,” Musk wrote in one instance. “This gets weirder by the moment,” in other.
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Garcia’s online history leaves little doubt that he harboured deeply negative views of Jewish people, people of colour and women, according to an analysis of his posts conducted by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, an Alabama-based nonprofit that tracks extremist groups online.
“Going back 10 years, the posts and diary entries show that Garcia held deep-seated white supremacist and neo-Nazi beliefs, as well as misogynistic and incel views, and a proclivity for violence,” the organization concluded in its report. “ Incel ” refers to “involuntarily celibate,” a term used by a largely online movement of men who blame women for their lack of sexual and romantic opportunities.
Musk has laid off much of the staff at Twitter dedicated to ferreting out misinformation and toxic content and has since emerged as a source of misinformation himself. A new Twitter feature called “community notes” was created to allow users to add context or fact check claims themselves. But no community notes were attached to Musk’s own Tweets about the gunman as of Wednesday.
Twitter did not answer questions seeking comment about Musk’s misleading tweets, and instead responded in its now regular fashion, with an automated email containing only the excrement emoji.
Musk wasn’t the only prominent user spreading false claims about the shooter on Twitter.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., shrugged off Garcia’s self-professed racist views, noting that he was Latino. “Only dumb white people would believe that a Mexican gang member is killing people for white supremacy.” Greene’s Tweet ignores the fact that white supremacist groups have long tried to recruit Latinos; some such groups have created Spanish-language versions of their websites. And Enrique Tarrio, a Cuban American, is the former leader of the Proud Boys, one of the nation’s most influential far-right groups.