Just days after officially buying Twitter, Elon Musk used the platform to float an anti-LGBTQ conspiracy about the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband from a right-wing website that frequently spouts conspiracy theories.
The tweet, which Musk later deleted, was in response to a post from Hillary Clinton sharing a Los Angeles Times article about the man who allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi after breaking into the couple's San Francisco home.
The suspect, David DePape, had posted about QAnon and shared antisemitic, anti–COVID vaccine sentiment online, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In her tweet sharing the article Saturday, Clinton wrote, "The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. 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."
"There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye," Musk responded Sunday morning. He linked to a post from a website called the Santa Monica Observer that claims DePape is a male sex worker who was in a dispute with Paul Pelosi, who was drunk, citing right-wing speculation on Twitter.
The claim has no basis, and the post makes no effort to verify it.
The Santa Monica Observer is a website masquerading as a news outlet that has published outrageous fake news in the past. Owned by David Ganezer, the website once claimed Hillary Clinton died and a body double was used to debate Donald Trump in 2016, that Trump appointed Kanye West to the Department of the Interior, and that sunlight could cure COVID-19 patients, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Multiple outlets have reported that DePape broke into the house to look for the speaker herself, calling out, "Where is Nancy?" Paul Pelosi was attacked with a hammer, authorities said. The speaker's office said he had surgery for a skull fracture and "serious injuries" to his right arm and hands.
Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Saturday night that her husband's condition "continues to improve."
The attack on Paul Pelosi has alarmed lawmakers, who have reported an increasing number of threats against them and their families as violent rhetoric, particularly from right-wing factions, intensifies.
In brief comments about the attack Saturday, President Joe Biden criticized the incendiary political rhetoric.
"It's one thing to condemn the violence. But you can't condemn the violence unless you condemn those people who continue to argue the election was not real, that it's being stolen ... all the malarkey that's being put out there to undermine democracy," he said. "It affects people's mentality. It affects how people think, particularly people who are not, maybe, as stable as other people."
It's unclear why Musk deleted his tweet. Twitter did not immediately respond to questions about it.
The takeover of the company by the self-described "free speech absolutist" immediately led right-wing accounts to test its misinformation policies, tweeting debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 election, Al Jazeera reported.
The Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks social media threats, also found that tweets containing the n-word increased 500% over the previous average as users on other radical platforms encouraged one another to amplify slurs.
Twitter's head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, defended the platform's policies, saying they haven't changed. The increase in slurs being used was attributed to a small number of accounts, he said, and the company has "taken action to ban the users involved in this trolling campaign."
After sealing the deal with Twitter, Musk released a statement to try to assuage advertisers concerned that the platform's toxicity will become worse under his leadership.
"Twitter obviously cannot be a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!" he wrote.