Elon Musk continued to boost a debunked conspiracy theory Tuesday, posting and later deleting a meme on X that referred to a fringe, far-right claim that sought to connect members of the Democratic Party with child abuse.
Musk wrote “does seem at least a little suspicious” alongside a meme drawing from the TV show “The Office,” which included fake dialogue superimposed on images of a character arguing that “Pizzagate is real,” a reference to a conspiracy theory that gained traction in 2016 and culminated with a North Carolina man’s opening fire in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. NBC News reviewed the post before it was taken down.
In another post replying to the first, Musk linked to an Associated Press article published by NBC News about an ABC News journalist’s pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges. NBC News could not locate any content related to pizzagate published by the ABC News journalist on his archived author page.
X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since Nov. 20, Musk has responded to tweets referring to pizzagate four other times. The posts are a recent iteration of the debunked theory focused on unfounded insinuations that journalists were part of the conspiracy theory.
Musk remains embroiled in controversy for an X post this month in which he boosted an antisemitic conspiracy theory. Since then, he has denied he is antisemitic, visiting Israel and meeting with government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mike Rothschild, an author who has written several books about the rise of recent extreme conspiracy theories, said the version of pizzagate that Musk is promoting is different from and more expansive than the original conspiracy theory that inspired the 2016 shooting.
That theory focused on the false claim that a child trafficking ring was being run out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant. No evidence has ever been found to validate that claim.
“Now it’s just code for ‘bad stuff elites are doing to kids,’” Rothschild said.
“There’s definitely a risk to him promoting this, even if he thinks it’s a joke,” he said. “He’s turning a lot of people who weren’t redpilled for pizzagate in 2016 on to hard-core conspiracy theories and antisemitism and giving it a major platform.”
The ABC News journalist Musk referred to was folded into online discussion of pizzagate when a fake New York Post headline circulated that was fabricated to say the journalist had had a hand in “debunking” pizzagate.
A similar headline was applied to a different journalist who also became the subject of posts from Musk. That journalist, who was featured in three pizzagate-related posts that Musk responded to, was arrested this month on charges of possessing and transmitting child sexual abuse material; there’s no indication that he had a central role in debunking pizzagate.
Musk’s replies included expressions of shock at the charges. He wrote in one post, “any reporter who is this horrifically evil obviously cannot be trusted.”
Musk, who has criticized journalists and media outlets for years, has become increasingly combative with the media and organizations he perceives as his enemies.
He sued Media Matters for America, which reports on politicians, journalists and media outlets, on Nov. 20 saying that posts from the outlet reporting on ads and antisemitic content on the platform were malicious and designed to adversely affect X’s revenue.
Media Matters President Angelo Carusone said in a statement that he stands behind the organization’s work and called the lawsuit “frivolous.”