Twitter CEO Elon Musk doubled down on a conspiracy theory he lent credence to, suggesting the gunman in the Allen, Texas, mass shooting was not a white supremacist, despite his Nazi tattoos and other damning evidence.
The tech mogul made the claims during an interview with CNBC on Tuesday evening.
On 9 May, Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence research group, found that the shooter — who killed eight, including several children, according to police — held white supremacist views. The group published a report detailing the shooter's ideological leanings and evidenced those claims using the gunman's social media posts.
Bellingcat's proof included photos of the shooter with a large swastika tattoo on his chest and a Right-Wing Death Squad patch that was sewn to his body armour. The details were taken from the shooter's profile on Odnoklassniki, a Russian social media site without moderation for hate speech. The shooter reportedly had been kicked off US social media sites, according to the report.
The investigators positively identified the shooter using photos of IDs and other identifying documents the shooter shared on the social media profile.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also said that the shooter appeared to support neo-Nazi ideology. An official noted that “[the shooter] had patches. He had tattoos.”
None of that was enough to convince Mr Musk, who said that there was “no proof” to the claims and that Bellingcat "literally specialises in psychological operations." He went on to call the report "either the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!"
Mr Musk's deflection is a common tactic among right-wing apologists following mass shootings and other events caused by right-wing violence. Republican lawmakers initially attempted to blame the Capitol riot on left-wing agitators and later blamed the FBI; conspiracy theorist Alex Jones infamously claimed the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a government hoax; social media comments sections about right-wing mass shooters frequently include allegations that the gunmen are government assets intended to stir up support for gun confiscation.
CNBC's David Faber asked Mr Musk about his comments during their interview on Tuesday, during which Mr Musk doubled down on his stance.
“I think it was incorrectly ascribed to be a white supremacist action,” Mr Musk said. “And the evidence for that was some obscure Russian website that no one’s ever heard of that had no followers. And the company that found this was Bellingcat. And do you know what Bellingcat is? Psyops.”
Bellingcat noted that it did not actually discover the Russian profile — the New York Times initially reported the profile's existence; Bellingcat just dug in further and produced their report.
Mr Musk continued, again claiming incorrectly that Bellingcat was in the business of psychological warfare.
“I’m saying I thought that ascribing it to white supremacy was bulls***," he said. "And that the information for that came from an obscure Russian website and was somehow magically found by Bellingcat, which is a company that does psyops.”
This isn't the first time Mr Musk has dabbled in right-wing conspiracy theory; last year he signal boosted another conspiracy theory claiming that the man who attacked Paul Pelosi was actually the man’s gay lover and that the incident was violence born of intimacy.