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Actually, Elon Musk Really is a Lot Like Henry Ford
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt walked back his comparison, but it remains apt -- for all the wrong reasons.
During an appearance on CNBC on October 7, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised Elon Musk by calling him "the Henry Ford of our time." At the time, Musk was the CEO of Tesla and was about to buy Twitter.
"I'm hopeful that it will go through," Greenblatt said, referring to the then-pending sale of Twitter to Musk. "I mean, look, as we've talked about before, Elon Musk is an amazing entrepreneur and extraordinary innovator. He is the Henry Ford of our time."
This was, to put it mildly, odd. Ford's legacy as an automotive entrepreneur is closely tied to his legacy as a Nazi sympathizer and purveyor of antisemitic conspiracy theories in the decades leading up to World War II. Greenblatt almost certainly knows this, as ADL's own website notes the role Ford played in popularizing the false, antisemitic screed known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 2020, Greenblatt himself even tweeted criticism of then-President Donald Trump after he praised Ford, writing, "Henry Ford as an antisemite and one of America's staunchest proponents of eugenics. The President should apologize. If he doesn't know why, our backgrounder on Ford's legacy will help."
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By that afternoon, Greenblatt had walked back his Ford-themed praise of Musk, tweeting a thread:
Admittedly, the Henry Ford reference was flat-out wrong. I certainly was not trying to praise Ford and didn’t intend to minimize his contemptible antisemitism in any way. And while I could have been much clearer, I was laying down a gauntlet about what we expect Elon Musk to do. As I have been saying for months, we have concerns around how Musk will handle hate and harassment on the platform.
As I’ve stated publicly time and again, we want to be cautiously optimistic about how Musk will run the platform because he successfully has innovated other industries and tackled incredibly complex problems. However it's alarming to see extremists exultant about his plans. And some of his ideas raise real questions about where he plans to take Twitter.
In the end, we would implore Musk to apply an equal level of innovation and resources, not just to optimizing the business model, but to stemming the flow of hate and disinformation so rampant on Twitter -- and improving public discourse as a result.
But Greenblatt was right! Musk is actually a lot like Ford.
Sure, there's the fact that Musk's Twitter takeover was followed by what the Network Contagion Research Institute called "a prolific surge in anti-Jewish rhetoric."
And sure, yes, then there's the fact that after West made even more antisemitic comments (which included a tweet in which he said he planned to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE” — yes, he probably meant DEFCON; yes, it was written in all-caps like that) he tweeted a Dragon Ball Z meme featuring him and West teaming up, adding, "Fun times ahead!!" (He'd later delete this without comment.)
And sure, of course, then there's also the matter of the second meme he posted featuring West (and this time Trump, who recently pushed the antisemitic “dual loyalty” trope on his own social media site) as the three musketeers. (Again, he'd later delete this one without comment.)
And yes, of course, then there’s the matter of Twitter’s algorithm suggesting that people follow West when they clicked on “The Jews,” which was the top trending topic on the site.
And sure, on Sunday, he tweeted his agreement with a quote in a tweet falsely attributing a quote by American neo-Nazi Kevin Alfred Strom to Voltaire. (Once again, he silently deleted this without explanation.)
And yes, of course, on Monday, he then threatened to sue groups like the ADL and NAACP for urging advertisers to pause their Twitter ad spending.
And then, okay, again, yes, also on Monday, he tweeted a meme featuring a photo of a Nazi soldier in 1940 France.
And yes, of course, there's the matter of him acting like the personal grievance concierge for the far-right.
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Twitter is to Musk as The Dearborn Independent was to Ford.
The Dearborn Independent was a newspaper purchased by Henry Ford in 1918. It became the vessel of choice for Ford’s antisemitic propaganda. On Twitter, Paul Fairie (he had a really great thread on the history of people arguing “nobody wants to work anymore”) broke down important moments in that paper’s history.
In 1918, Ford announced his departure from Ford Motor Company to launch a national newspaper (prior to his purchase, the Independent was only local).
Ford presented the Independent as a fact-based publication that “tells the facts. It is As Independent As Henry Ford.” Similarly, Musk recently tweeted that “Twitter needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world. That’s our mission.”
Six months later, the Independent was running front page headlines like this, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.”
And like most people with various bigotries, Ford didn’t openly identify as being bigoted. In fact, Ford went so far as to argue that he and the Independent were not antisemitic, citing “the fact that we employee 5,000 Jewish workers.” Ford claimed that what people were perceiving as antisemitism was just him showing his deep concern for “world peace.” Similarly, Musk said that he purchased Twitter “to help humanity.”
Musk also pretends to care about “world peace,” though his idea of “peace” seems to consist of asking countries being invaded to surrender.
One month after issuing a statement claiming that he and the Independent were not antisemitic, the paper ran a front-page story about “Jewish versus American Rights: Demands made by Jews in scores of American communities throw light on Jewish conception of their ‘rights.’”
Again, this sort of hypocrisy is common. Racists rarely say (or maybe even believe) they’re racist. Sexists don’t say they’re sexist. Homophobes don’t often say they’re homophobic. Transphobes don’t often announce to the world that they’re transphobic. And, well, you get the idea.
August 1921’s Independent front page included the headline “Jewish Jazz — Moron Music — Becomes Our National Music.” You know, normal stuff that people who totally aren’t antisemites would publish.