Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, has been a vocal critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.
On Sunday, Massie sarcastically tweeted, “You mustn’t question Fauci, for he is science.” Under those words, Massie posted an image that featured a giant hand crushing a group of much smaller people. The image includes a quote it attributed to Voltaire, the 18th-century Enlightenment writer and philosopher: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
Facts First: There is no record of Voltaire ever uttering these words. The quote is commonly attributed to Kevin Alfred Strom, a neo-Nazi who pleaded guilty in 2008 to possession of child pornography. Strom uttered a similar quote during a virulently antisemitic 1993 radio broadcast.
Strom said in the 1993 broadcast: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” The context in which he posed the question made clear that this was a reference to Jewish people.
The false Voltaire attribution for the quote has circulated online for years. The attribution has been debunked in numerous previous fact checks and in a 2017 blog post by scholar Nicholas Cronk, director of Oxford University’s Voltaire Foundation. Edward Langille, a St. Francis Xavier University professor of French and co-author of the book “The Quotable Voltaire,” also told CNN on Monday that the quote did not come from Voltaire.
Massie’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. As of Monday afternoon, his tweet had been retweeted more than 6,800 times. It remained online without any correction, even though others had been replying for more than 22 hours to note that the attribution was wrong.
Not the first time
Massie isn’t the first politician to be mocked and criticized for attributing the quote to Voltaire. In 2015, an Australian senator deleted all of his tweets after receiving criticism for tweeting the quote and wrongly attributing it to Voltaire.
Some other versions of the image Massie tweeted are explicitly antisemitic – featuring a Star of David on the arm of the giant whose hand is crushing the group below. Actor John Cusack was denounced for retweeting the antisemitic version of the image in 2019; he soon apologized. The giant arm in the version Massie tweeted does not feature a Jewish symbol.
Massie was criticized in August for tweeting out a different image that appeared to liken vaccination-card requirements at restaurants and other venues to how the Nazis had tattooed numbers on prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp complex during the Holocaust. He ended up deleting that tweet.